The Trip Before the Trip to Walt Disney World

by Tanya Sheehan, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 31, 2004, Issue #258 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

I love Walt Disney World. It is the place that makes me feel happy and safe. I can forget about the daily stresses of life and just get to enjoy being a kid again. Of course, I live over one thousand miles away and hate to fly. Before kids, I would suck it up and get on the plane, dreaming of safely landing in the Orlando airport. Thankfully, the Orlando airport is a wonderful place to land and the magic of your vacation starts the moment you get off the plane.

However, once we had kids, flying became an entirely different experience. Now there were three of us and tons of stuff for this little person. Our first trip with child in tow went amazingly well. He was 18 months old and strapped in a carseat for the entire flight. Then child number two was born. He was a sweet and tolerant baby, but now we would be traveling with all the supplies for an infant and the needs of a very active toddler. The idea of trying to pack, get everything to the airport, and all of us surviving a flight in one piece became a daunting task. This marked the dawn of a new era -- the Family Road Trip to Walt Disney World!

We planned for our Disney vacation with the usual guides, Priority Seating choices, favorite must-dos, and the let's-try-that-this-time ideas. Along with that, we planned for the road trip. Of course we had fantasy dreams, like Clark Griswold in the movie "National Lampoon's Vacation," but we hopefully learned from his many mistakes and would do a better job of it.

With AAA TripTik in hand and supplies for the troops, we headed on our way. On our first road trip to Disney we had a 2.5-year-old and a 4-month-old, so we decided to leave in the middle of the night. This plan worked well and we were able to stop for our first long break at the North Carolina Welcome Center for breakfast. The stop was wonderful, both relaxing and refreshing, and we were so excited we had made it so far and still had the whole day ahead of us! Once we were back in the car and on the road, we realized that although we had made it through New Jersey (we started in River Edge, NJ), Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, the bulk of the trip was still ahead of us. Undeterred by this realization, we continued on with the goal of the Mouse in our heads.

We made stops along the way and found we enjoyed the welcome centers for their cleanliness, green grass for our oldest to run on, and secluded outside tables where I could nurse our baby. We planned to stop at the top of Florida or the bottom of Georgia. Unfortunately, there was a tornado warning along the coast so we figured we'd better just continue on and be safe. This, of course, pushed us farther than we wanted, and the last several hours were miserable for all involved. However, once we arrived, the long trip was forgotten and we had our vacation ahead of us to enjoy. Fortunately for us, our hotel had a room available so we could check in earlier than anticipated. We had a wonderful vacation and the trip home was much better because we stopped overnight. Barring the speeding ticket my husband got, it was uneventful.

Since that trip we have made six other trips to Walt Disney World. For one of those trips, we decided to give flying a try. After the security checks, getting three kids to the gate, securing our youngest son's car seat on the plane and packing a separate suitcase for our older boy's booster seats, we came to the conclusion that driving is the way to go for us. You are on your own timetable and you have the building excitement with each passing mile. My kids get to look for the "Jose" (South of the Border) billboards, and we get to enjoy the bonding time. Sure, there are moments when we question our decision to drive, but then there are the wonderful moments and conversations that we might not have had if we were not confined in our car seats for our journey to the Mouse.

Here are some of the things we have learned while driving to Walt Disney World:

1. Don't push it. Figure you can safely do around 500 miles a day. I will be honest -- our halfway mark is 550 miles, so we generally try for that.

2. Invest in a cooler that can be plugged into one of your car's power ports. I cannot tell you what a wonderful investment this has been. While it may seem a bit pricey, the convenience will more than make up for the cost. While an ice chest will work too, it is great not having the mess of the melting ice. I have loaned it to both of my brothers for their Disney road trips and they were thrilled with it, too. Generally we pack lots of cold drinks, some snacks, and our lunch supplies. There is something about having a family picnic at a rest stop picnic area that makes me feel like we have taken a step back in time, before the age of drive-through. Plus my kids tend to live on french fries while on vacation, so a healthy meal on the way down alleviates some of that Mommy guilt. The cooler also comes in handy once we arrive at the hotel. We are able to keep a supply of spring water, and of course milk for the morning for our two early risers.

3. If traveling with kids, be prepared. Have an extra set of clothes easily accessible. Some small toys and books will help make the ride go smoother. I pack surprise goody bags with car-friendly snacks, a few new small toys and books. We now have a VCR in the car, and this makes child entertainment even easier. I prerecord a variety of things and it is a surprise for the kids what is coming on next. I try to mix it up, because I am now appealing to an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 2-year-old. We of course bring some Disney movies and CDs to get us ready for the magic.

4. Pack an overnight bag that has all your supplies for your overnight stops along the way. This makes your stop along the road much easier because you are only opening and repacking one bag.

5. Take advantage of each state's welcome centers. They offer restrooms that are generally cleaner than any gas station or fast food place, and grass where the kids can run around. They also have picnic benches, and inside, a wealth of travel information. You can even make your overnight room reservations at some of them or find discount coupon books for lodging along the way.

6. Take advantage of the cruise control on you car. This will help you maintain a safe speed and avoid those nasty speeding tickets.

7. Most importantly, make sure you stop along the way and take advantage of what the road has to offer. The ride is part of your vacation. Relax and enjoy the opportunity this will give you -- time to bond with your family and make some old fashion memories of the "Family Road Trip."


Do you have any road trip tips? If so, we'd love to hear from you! Send your tips to


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.