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Family travel in South Africa and beyond

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Five tips for taking a pre-schooler to Disney World

I love Disney. The closest I ever got to being a collector was when I was at university and I wanted to own all of the (then) 40 animated classics,…

disney world travel tips

A family holiday, five years in the making

I love Disney. The closest I ever got to being a collector was when I was at university and I wanted to own all of the (then) 40 animated classics, on VHS no less. I am probably one of few parents that actually says “hey, don’t you want to watch Frozen again?” to my son and have basically been force-feeding him Disney movies for the past year and a half (although he doesn’t actually take much persuading).

When I was pregnant, I came up with a plan. The year that Kai turned five, we would take him to Disney World, before he could outgrow the magic. It just so happened that this year – the year he turns five – I was attending a conference in the States, and so the plan actually came to fruition.

We ended up travelling to New York, Washington and Nashville before Florida and in the end we didn’t have much time to spend at Disney World, sadly. In fact, I can safely say that I spent three times as long planning as we actually did in the park. And it still didn’t actually go as I had anticipated, so I thought I’d share a few tips I picked up along the way. Perhaps they can help your dream trip run as smoothly as possible.

Plan, plan and plan some more

Want to dine with Cinderella in her castle? You better make that booking at least three months ahead of time. Looking to watch the fireworks from a boat on the lake? That’s not the sort of thing you can reserve a week ahead of time either. Do you want to go to one park for three days, or four parks for 10 days? Or if, like we had to, you’re squeezing your Disney experience into one sole day, which park should you hit? I pored over the official Disney website for hours and hours trying to decide which park to choose. They’re pretty smart and spreading out the attractions – the Star Wars stuff is all at Hollywood Studios, as is the Toy Story team (the official Toy Story Land opens on June 30th 2018). Nemo and Frozen – two of my son’s faves – are to be found at Epcot, while the classic Disney characters reside in the Magic Kingdom, along with lots of pre-schooler-friendly rides and of course the legendary parade. For most, it’s a once-upon-a-star-in-a-lifetime trip, so you don’t want to rock up at the gate saying “so, what should we see?!”

Get the app

These days there is an app for everything (seriously – I recently learned about RunPee, which tells you the best time to nip out of the movie theatre if your bladder can’t manage an entire movie. Which if you’ve had a couple of kids, is actually pretty useful). The My Disney Experience app is free to download, great for planning and invaluable while you’re in the park. It’s an interactive map with character greeting times and most importantly, up-to-date queue lengths so you can plan as you go. You can also make restaurant reservations and view all the pics Disney staff have taken throughout the day (presumably for those whose cell phone batteries have died). There’s free, fairly fast wifi throughout the parks, so you won’t need a local SIM to put the app into practice.

disney world children

Deep conversation with Pluto

Pack a picnic

The restaurants at Disney World are expensive. They’re expensive and not very good, unless you book a few months ahead for a proper sit-down restaurant. We simply grabbed a hot dog between queues (well actually, lunch turned out to be just another queue) and having polished off the overpriced, underwarmed sausages, my mum wiped her mouth and said “well, that was food.” I think she was actually being a little over-generous. But it is easy to avoid lining up to eat a crappy, expensive slice of pizza – bring your own picnic.

For some reason I had assumed you couldn’t bring your own food, but the guy in front of me looked like he had packed enough snacks for three days (or maybe three minutes if you have a son like mine). The only things you can’t bring are glass containers (unless it’s baby food) and booze. Booze is sadly in short supply at Disney World. From the park’s opening in 1971 there was no booze at all until 2012. These days you can get a well-earned beer at one of the sit-down restaurants – but you will probably have to book ahead for those.

Rent a stroller

I had ummed an ahhed about this for weeks before we left Cape Town. My son is four, but he’s the size of a six year old. He’s also not fond of walking long distances, but man he is heavy to carry around. Would he want to sit in a pushchair? Would he even fit? Should we buy a cheap one to take with? Rent one locally? In the end we did nothing until a day before we were headed to Disney World, when I mentioned the possibility of getting a stroller to him. I swear as we got off the monorail from the car park, he was more excited about sitting in a pushchair than he was about meeting Mickey. It was the best US$15 we spent that day (and you spend a lot of $15s at Disney World!) It meant that he had some shade, we had somewhere to balance our bags and bottles of water. It meant that he had somewhere to nap once the heat and the excitement got too much. And what it really meant was that we could fully enjoy our day at Disney World – without it, by 2pm he would have been miserable and wanting to go home and play Lego.

disney world travel tips

This face can’t stop smiling

Don’t underestimate the power of magic

I had planned our day around the rides I really thought Kai would most want to experience. It’s best to head to the most popular rides first, so we joined the queue for the fairly new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It was not a good plan. We waited an hour to board, which Kai managed admirably, but I think it kind of put him off rides for the rest of the day. Oh, and it scared the crap out of him. He’s not even a big fan of swings and slides, so I don’t know what I was thinking. I was starting to wonder if, even after all those hours of planning, I had made the wrong decision on which park to visit when we walked past the castle and heard a fanfare. We turned to see Mickey, Minnie and the gang up on the stage. Kai was mesmerised as characters from movies he’d never even seen put on an all-singing, all-dancing show. And then Olaf the Snowman came out. I felt the collective joy of 200 parents as Elsa and Anna followed.

You see, for a four year old, that’s not an aspiring actor in a suit, that really is Olaf, having stepped straight from the screen onto the stage. At that moment, as I literally fought back tears of joy at the grin on Kai’s face, we scrapped the whole plan and dedicated the day to meeting as many characters as we could. It cost around R7000 for the three of us to go to Disney World for one day (and that’s before we’d eaten anything or bought the requisite mouse ears). But it was worth every hard-earned cent when, standing in the queue to meet Buzz Lightyear my four-year-old son turned to me and said “mummy, my face can’t stop smiling.”

 

 

 

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Five tips for road tripping with kids

The school holidays are here again. Two weeks without the tedium of trying to think of something healthy and substantial to fill the lunchboxes every morning. Two weeks without those…

The school holidays are here again. Two weeks without the tedium of trying to think of something healthy and substantial to fill the lunchboxes every morning. Two weeks without those daily monologues: “Can you please brush your hair! Where is your other shoe? No, I don’t want to play Easter Bunny meets Batman now. Get in the car, get in the car, pleasegetinthecar“. You know – the kind of monologue that  leaves you needing a G&T at around 8.30am when you’ve finally dropped them off at school, hair brushed and both shoes in attendance (if not necessarily on their feet).

The holidays present a dilemma – on the one hand you really want to celebrate, get away, hit the road and at least deal with the daily refusal to get dressed in a different town. On the other hand, the roadtrip to get to said town leaves you in a state of panic only slightly smaller than when you’re told that it’s dress-up day tomorrow and you need to fashion a vegetable costume before daybreak.

I’m not going to lie and say “but roadtrips with small children can be fun!” – the sort of cheery crap that will have you reaching for the vomit bag even before your most nauseous offspring. But roadtrips with kids are doable – and here are a few ways to make them more bearable.

Plan your route

When travelling with small children, there is a simple equation: tap your destination into Google maps, note down the total estimated travelling time and add on 53%. You cannot begin to hope that your journey time will be the same with kids as it is without. Planning is required – check out farm stalls and restaurants along the route so that you can schedule stops for peeing and playing and eating the ice cream that you bribed them into their car seats with when you left the house…It sounds like a simple thing, but knowing that you’re only 47 minutes from a roadside cafe with a jungle gym and a petting farm is going to save everyone’s sanity. And of course, be sure to plan the longest stretch around your kid’s naptime, if you’re lucky enough to have such a thing in your life.

Prepare a soundtrack

This is something we usually pull out after three or four hours, when Kai is really starting to tire of sitting in his seat and even passing a big red truck is no longer newsworthy. Whip out your phone, or USB drive, or CD if you’re one of those retro types and your kids haven’t jammed the CD player full of coins and paper… Before you left the house, you would have carefully prepared a child-friendly soundtrack. It might be the kind of soundtrack that would typically have you reaching for the earplugs, but even It’s a Small World sounds amazing after 12 solid minutes of “when are we going to get there?” on repeat. I load my phone full of tracks from Moana, Trolls and yes, even Frozen. It kind of sucks, but when we’re all belting out He’s a Bit of a Fixer Upper together, it’s also kind of awesome.

Make a list of games and songs

Playing car games with pre-schoolers can be challenging, not least because they have an attention span that would make a goldfish raise his eyebrows. That said, I kind of rue the day I introduced Kai to I Spy, using colours instead of letters (“I spy with my little eye something that is red…”) for he will play that game for hours. That’s why you need to come equipped with a list – so that you can throw out a new game whenever you, or your kids, are getting bored. A few of our favourites are the car game (choose a colour each, first to see ten of their colour is the winner), guess the animal noise and (with limited success) 20 questions (using animals). We also love playing “Stop the music”, which Kai made up. One person starts singing and then when someone else wants to take over they simply shout “stop” and carry on the song. It’s simple, but it sure beats having to single 16 verses of Old McDonald by yourself (seriously, I once heard myself singing “And on that farm he grew some wine…”).

Pack a giant bag

Get the biggest bag you can fit on the back seat and fill it. Fill it with snacks and juice, with teddies and books, with toys and paper and pens, bubbles and for that last half hour, when all else fails, a fully charged tablet filled with education games (or crap cartoons – no-one is judging). Don’t forget the nappies (if you need them), a change of clothes (for the inevitable juice spillage), sunscreen (for pit stops) and hats. And perhaps a photo of your destination, just to remind yourself why you’re doing this…

Just do it

I know people who love road-tripping, but once their children were born they didn’t take a drive of more than an hour or so until the kid was in double digits. This is madness! For a start, when they’re really little, road trips are so easy unless you have a rare baby that vomits instead of sleeps whenever they’re in a moving vehicle. All you need to do is stop every so often to feed them, let them wriggle and change a nappy at the side of the road. But even when they start to crawl and walk and talk, don’t let it put you off. Yes, a five-hour road trip will turn into seven hours (and will probably feel like nine) but once you arrive at your holiday house/campsite/luxury hotel, all will be forgotten. Like many things about parenting, you do have to make compromises – maybe you have to sit in the back with the kids, maybe you have to stop every hour for a half-hour break, or maybe you have to listen to Let it Go on repeat all the way from Cape Town to De Hoop, but like many things about parenting, the rewards will make it all worthwhile.

What are your top tips for a road trip with the kids? Which games do you like to play on the road? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Babes on a plane: 5 tips for flying long-haul with an infant

Although we’re now past the nappy and dummy years, we flew long-haul a few times when Kai was still under two. It’s never going to be easy but I thought…

Although we’re now past the nappy and dummy years, we flew long-haul a few times when Kai was still under two. It’s never going to be easy but I thought I’d share a few tips that helped us to stay sane.

1. Have a glass of wine

Or beer, or G&T – or whatever it is that helps you to relax. And not just because relaxed parents tend to lead to relaxed kids. The first few times we flew with Kai, I was so stressed about how annoyed other passengers would get if he started to cry. Then I read this superb article on why we need to stop apologising for our kids behaving like kids. That advice  and one or two of those miniature bottles of merlot – have gone a long way in helping me ignore everyone else on a plane, even if Kai is having a mid-flight meltdown.

2. Bring something to suck on

Whether it;s bottles, boobs or an arsenal of dummies, stuff to suck on is possibly going to be your saviour on a long-haul flight (and it’ll also help guard against popping ears). It’s always a good idea to check, but usually bottles filled with formula or milk do make it through security. If your baba, like mine, won’t contemplate a cold bottle of milk, be sure to plan ahead once on board. I found that bottles of milk tend to come back at a temperature that could melt rock, so allow plenty of time for it to cool down. Breastfeeding moms are at an advantage in keeping babies happy on board, but of course there’s the issue of protecting your modesty. Grab a window seat and practice with a blanket or feeding apron if you’re shy about flashing your boobs to fellow passengers. And as for dummy lovers – my son was – be sure to stock up. If that sucker pops out in the middle of the night, scrabbling around on the floor in the dark while baby bawls is not the ideal in-flight entertainment. I used to sleep with a dummy hooled over every finger, ready to slip a new one in if he dropped one on the floor.

Happy mommies make for happy babies…

3. Plan your layovers carefully

Kai took his first long-haul flight at the age of 10 months. We thought it would be best to keep the journey time as short as possible, leaving layovers of less than an hour between connections. This turned out to be a terrible idea. He had just learned to crawl, wanted to move and we ended up simply running – in a state of permanent stress – from one flight to the next, with no chance for him to stretch or explore or even get into a new onesie. We have also tried the opposite and learned the long and very tired way that a 10-hour layover is no fun at all (although that could be said for travellers without kids). There’s a balance to be found here – I’m hoping to discover it one day…

4. Forget the routine…and your principles

This would actually be one of my main mantras for travelling with little kids. When you travel, your routine is all over the place so you can’t expect baba to still be down by 7 and to sleep through the night (if you’re lucky enough to have a child that does such a thing). Whatever time you board the plane, the cabin lights will still flicker on once you’re up in the air and the plane will soon bustle with pre-drinks and movie screens, trays of food and the clink-clink of complimentary gin and tonics. To stay sane you kind of have to put your parenting principles on hold while you’re in the air – think of it as international waters, where anything goes. Let them stay up late, let them watch cartoons – it’s only one day and after all, you are on holiday…

5. Accept help

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to refuse all offers of help without actually considering them first. It’s just a knee-jerk reaction to instantly say “Oh, thanks but I’m fine”. But the first time I flew solo with Kai on a long-haul flight, I made a pact with myself wo accept every piece of assistance I was offered. Let the kindly old lady across the aisle hold your child while you go for a wee. Say yes to the young gent who offers to carry your hand luggage through the terminal. And try not to choke up as an army of people pile your absurd array of luggage on and off the airport train. Not only will it make your journey easier, you’ll also realise that in fact, most people love kids and not everyone who sits by a baby on a plane is silently wishing they were bumped to another flight.

 

What are your top tips for flying with a child under two? Please share in the comments section.

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