Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Back from Vacation

We've just returned from a family vacation to Florida - including a three-night stop at Disney World.

We had an awesome time. Disney really is amazing - though exhausting. We spent the first day at the Magic Kingdom, a humid, hot experience that left us wishing we'd built in a rest day before visiting Epcot. Still, my Little Bit got to visit almost all of the Princesses, plus ride the Dumbo ride twice, so she was happy. She actually became so exhausted, she asked to leave the Kingdom and go back to the hotel early - at 6 p.m.! Instead, she napped in the car and we drove to the Animal Kingdom, where we saw a giraffe, some sort of weird, horned cows and zebra before sitting down to an African buffet that was out of this world.

The next day, it rained mid-day - thank goodness, because that cooled everything off and got rid of some of the humidity that drug us down the day before. We really enjoyed Epcot - if you've never been, go. It's just such a nice change of pace after the Magic Kingdom. There are lots of interactive 'learning' things that you can take at your own pace. I even got to ride a Segway, which I've always wanted to try. We had a dinner with the Princesses in Norway, then enjoyed strolling through the various "countries" during the evening. I was disappointed to learn Epcot no longer had it's amazing closing parade - there's a fireworks show instead. Little Bit hates fireworks - she has some sort of bat-like hearing ability and loud noises freak her out.

Anyway, it was a good time. The next day, we drove across Florida - poor planning, that bit - and spent a few days helping my parents dog-sit in a beach house on the gulf. There was enough rain to give us a break from the heat, but enough sunshine to have a fantastic time. We even saw dolphins - possibly and porpoises - playing off the shore.

Since we'd already pre-arranged much of our vacation, I didn't use the family vacation planning idea I blogged about earlier. But since we were at Disney World and then opted to leave for a much more sedate few days at the beach, I did have to do a lot of damage control with my Little Bit, because I knew the beach would be boring after the Magic Kingdom. I also saw a lot of breakdowns - and endured two myself - at Disney. So here's what I learned about managing little ones during your vacation, whether you're vacation is go-go-go or sit and relax:

1. Always practice damage control. By this, I mean let your little one know each day what the rules are and what to expect. Each night, I'd tell her what would happen the next day, including any rules.
2. Build in conditions. By this I mean, tell them what fun thing they'll get to do - but also tell them when it will end and include a treat if all goes well. If all doesn't go well - then no treat. For example, I told her, "When we come back from the park, if we're not tired and you've eaten your dinner, then we'll go for a short swim in the pool." Another example: "We're going for a short swim in the pool, but it's late and we need to take a bath and go to bed so we can get up in the morning to go to see Papaw and Granny. So, when we say it's time to go, then you get out and come in with us - no crying. If you cry, I won't let you watch a cartoon after your bath." When I forgot to do this, we had a hard time getting her to move on to the next activity. When I remembered, life was much smoother.
3. Make sure one of your conditions is that your child eat - regularly. There was so much to see and do, Little Bit never wanted to eat. She was never hungry - until suddenly, she was a sniveling wreck of a child, totally out of control and inconsolable. I saw a lot of kids reach this state and after the first meltdown, I realized she had to eat regularly or we'd have many more meltdowns. So, we would insist she eat and say we couldn't go do X or Y until she ate. Usually, once we sat down, she ate like she hadn't eaten for months. (I also always gave her food she'd want to eat, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pizza, fries and fruit.)
4. Don't let an agenda interfere with sleep. Originally, we planned to be at the Magic Kingdom when it opened so we could follow the agenda set out by The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2007 (Unofficial Guides). It's supposed to cut down on lines and maximize your enjoyment. But when 11 p.m. came and our over-excited Little Bit was just going to sleep, I turned off the alarm and decided it'd be more pleasant if we let her wake us up and spent the day in a few lines, but with a well-rested child. Of course, it also helped that early October is a low attendance time for the park - which we knew when we planned the trip.
5. Buy a portable DVD player if your car doesn't have one. Also buy a headset so you don't have to hear the movie. This will keep your child quiet and happy - but more importantly, your child will stay awake. Ours quit midtrip. Little Bit slept while we drove - which meant she arrived very well rested and we didn't. This is never a good thing for parents. Also, she didn't want to sleep that night because she slept most of the day.
6. Spend some time at a playground. Kids don't need big amusement parks to be happy. My daughter was surrounded by a place totally catering to all her dreams - and she wanted to hang out at the hotel playground. Playgrounds give you both a chance to decompress.
7. Don't pack a lunch when you go to the beach - or too many snacks. This will force your child to get out of the sun, give you a chance to relax in the air conditioning, maybe watch a little TV and catch a nap. Little Bit wouldn't nap, so we all got in bed, put on some cartoons after the morning at the beach. We got a chance to snooze and she rested a bit, too. Once the worst of the day's heat was over, we reapplied the sunscreen and hit the beach again.
8. For Pete's sake, let the child play in the water. I remember the only thing I really wanted to do, no matter what the vacation, was to play in the pool. So, we included pool time. And when we were in Disney, even though I knew she'd look a mess the rest of the day and be damp for a good 15 minutes in the Florida sun, I let her play in the water. They have play areas with water spouts set up at various places throughout the park. Frankly, it just proves that those Disney people are absolutely brilliant, because it helped the kids cool down and stay happy. There was a nice one surrounding the line for meeting Ariel - you know, the Mermaid? Smart, right? And yet, since meeting Ariel is a photo opportunity, there were parents who wouldn't let their children play in the water. I thought they were crazy - and if they weren't technically crazy, I bet their unhappy, hot children soon drove them to it.

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