Of all the trips I have made to Disney World, I have only flown 4 times: twice when I was a teenager, once in 2000 and once in 2004. The other eleven visits we have driven from Texas to Orlando. This is primarily due to the fact that my husband is happy to drive but less than happy to fly. My concern for his wishes, coupled with the fact that there are very few airline specials to Orlando from my nearest airport, has made driving our best option. I rather enjoy taking road trips myself and have learned some valuable tips along the way. I am happy to share them with you:
- When budgeting for gas expenses, I have found the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator to be extremely helpful. All you have to do is enter the make, model and year of your vehicle along with your starting and ending points and it calculates how much you will spend on gas. Here is a link to the site: http://www.fuelcostcalculator.com. I hope you will take advantage of this handy tool.
- We used to stop at a hotel on the way, then finish up the trip the second day. This kept us from paying the cost of a Disney resort room for our first night and shortened our driving time. A couple of trips ago, however, we decided to drive the whole distance in one day. After that, we decided we liked waking up on our first day ready to head to the park. You should definitely do whatever is best for your own family. If you plan to stop mid-way through your journey, try to find a hotel that offers free breakfast when you are researching your choices. Some even have specials where kids stay free and eat free so if you arrive before dinner they get a free dinner and a free breakfast.
- If you plan to stop at a hotel mid-way to Orlando, pack everything you need for that first night and the next day in one bag. That way when you arrive at the first hotel you won’t have to unload the whole car. For safety, when not unloading everything from your vehicle, try to park under a street light or in a spot right by your room if you can.
- When the kids were little, I packed little surprise gifts to give to them when we got ready to leave: coloring books, crayons, toys they collected, etc. It took all the strength I had not to give them the treats ahead of time but it was a nice surprise for the trip and was worth the wait as it helped to keep them entertained and made the trip not seem so long.
- I used to check out lots of Disney movies from my local library for the children to watch on the way. I still check out some movies and there is also a great selection of audio books to choose from now that they are older. Don’t forget to bring the car chargers.
- Printing out directions ahead of time from Yahoo Driving Directions or Google Maps will save you a lot of trouble. Also, set up your GPS device if you have one. You will get right to your destination.
- I have each child pack his or her backpack with the activities they want to do during the ride. Gallon-size ziptop bags are great for holding pencils, pens, markers, cast iron cars, and any other small items. They take their ipods and other electronic devices in there also.
- We like to drive in little or no traffic, so we leave at 3:00 a.m. and drive in the dark for several hours. This assures us very little traffic and the kids usually sleep until just in time to stop for breakfast.
- Bring plenty of pillows and blankets. Children are more likely to sleep in the car if they are comfortable.
- Stop for restroom breaks at least every few hours. This gives everyone a more comfortable ride and also gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs. Roadside rest areas are a great place or when stopping to get gas. It only takes a few minutes and will save a lot of hassle later.
- Our first few times, and of course when taking someone who had never been before, we stopped at the Visitors Welcome Centers in each state: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. We have taken pictures at each one. They are a great addition to the scrapbook later. Plus, many give you free drinks and information.
- We stop to eat breakfast and lunch on our way to Orlando. I always take my restaurant coupons with us and use them at these establishments. This saves us money and we can plan locations to stop ahead of time as well.
- Another alternative to buying lunch is packing a lunch and drinks in a cooler and then finding a great place for a picnic. We have done this a few times, stopping at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. They have a great picnic area with a view of the USS Alabama. This saves money and is a really enjoyable, fun time with family.
- Pack a first aid kit with any items you might need for the journey: bandaids, pain medicines, stomach aids, etc. On any road trip, you never know if someone is going to get car sick so, just like at home, I have cold water and a wash towel on hand. It is the only remedy I have ever found that cures nausea quickly. Just put cold water on the wash towel, ring it out, fold it up, and place it on the forehead for nearly instant relief.
- Research some car games before you leave. My kids still play some of their favorites. One is the alphabet game where they begin at A and try to find each letter of the alphabet in order on street signs and billboards. We all join in on spotting the letters. Another is the license plate game, using a list of the 50 states. We try to find a license plate from each state during our journey. Also, when we get to the resort, the first one to find another Texas license plate gets a reward.
- The way to Disney is always the better drive because we are all looking forward to what is to come. The ride back home is less than exciting as we are all heading back to work and school and our fantastic vacation is coming to an end. Don’t let your vacation end once you see the Disney welcome sign in the rear view mirror. Spend some time together talking on the way back about their favorite memories from the trip. Try to think of all the things that made the trip great. Jot down some notes on funny things that happened or that someone said. This makes a great addition to the pictures once you are back home and putting the photo album together.
- If you didn’t stop at the State Visitors Centers on the way to Disney World, stop on the way back and have them do funny poses by the state signs or record little one-minute clips of them making up rhymes about the state or acting like news reporters.
- Try to enjoy the trip back home as much as possible. This is not a good time to make your kids do their homework or, trust me, you will be in for a long ride. Preferably, have them do it before you leave unless it is a fun project they can work on.
Most of all, enjoy being able to spend this time together. It doesn’t take long before they are actually at the age you wish they were when they start bickering in the back seat, and I know about that all too well. Have a wonderful road trip and travel safely!
Brenda is a native Texan born and raised on the Gulf Coast. She visited Disney World twice as a teenager and always dreamed of growing her family Disney. She took her first-timer husband and their three children to Disney World in 2000 and they now spend every Thanksgiving there. Brenda writes with a comedic twist on various Disney topics. She will be sharing tips she has learned during her travels and also hopes to enlighten people on little-known freebies that Disney has to offer. She wishes she could have met Walt Disney and considers herself to be a student of Walt. In parallel to his dream it is her wish that everyone would take at least one trip to Disney World in order to share in its magic with their families.