I have a whole two year old! When they tell you time flies and to cherish each moment with your child, they are telling the truth. These past two years have flown by and I can’t believe I just celebrated Jaden’s second birthday. We had the most incredible one week vacation in Orlando, Florida filled with fun, new adventures, and so much love. The funny thing is I didn’t intentionally plan this elaborate second birthday celebration, it came about because our family needed to take a break from NY and get some sunshine. It just so happened that a close friend of mine wanted to do the same so we made this a collaborative family trip in time for our kids second birthday. I have to say that this was the best family experience I’ve ever had and I’m so happy that I was able to do it all for Jaden. Of course this trip took a lot of intentional planning (because Covid is still lingering around), budgeting (listen Disney alone is expensive) and preparing (traveling with toddlers and combining multiple families.) I’m going to share all of the hacks, tips and must do’s for a fun and safe trip to Orlando. Let’s start with the first travel aspect… the flight.
I normally fly Jetblue because I like the experience. During the pandemic Jetblue kept an empty middle seat on each row and that was the selling point to me for this trip. Since Jaden was just turning two, we wanted to utilize the perk of not having to pay for his flight and also having an empty middle seat for him but right before this trip, Jetblue changed the plans and middle seats were no longer empty. Ugh! But regardless, they still have safety measures including anyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask during the entire duration of the flight, they provide Purell wipes and hand sanitizer gel to each passenger, lastly the air on the plane is renewed every few minutes. I of course brought my own Clorox wipes and wiped down our seat, our tray, the arm rests and the tv screens. Better safe than sorry!
So the next part of this trip was deciding where to stay. Of course Orlando has so many family friendly resorts to stay in and if that’s your preference that’s great. For this trip especially because of Covid and because we wanted more of a home base feel so that we could cook and relax and be away from people, we decided to stay at an Airbnb. Kissimmee, Florida is very close to all of the attractions of Orlando without all of the traffic. So we found a fully remodeled Airbnb. It was compatible for 8 guests with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Our Airbnb was about 20-25 minutes from all the attractions we visited, had a pool, game room, exercise equipment and children’s playground on the premise and a full kitchen and washer and dryer.
THINGS TO DO
Our first attraction was SeaWorld. We’ve been to SeaWorld in San Diego which was great but I enjoyed this experience even more because Jaden was old enough to be aware of what was happening. At SeaWorld you must buy a ticket and make a reservation. The great thing is children under 3 do not require a reservation or ticket so Jaden was free! For adults and children over 3 you can save $20 on one visit on select dates here. Otherwise tickets are $113.99. At SeaWorld we experienced the Orca Encounter, which is a 20 minute orca show which I loved. The best part of SeaWorld for kids under 5 is Sesame Street Land. At Sesame Street Land the kids rode Abby’s Flower Tower. Another small child friendly ride is Elmo’s Choo Choo Train. Sadly the Rubber Duckie Water Works was closed because of Covid protocols. Also it is mandatory to wear masks at SeaWorld.
Disney World – Magic Kingdom
I absolutely had to bring Jaden to Disney World. Disney World is comprised of three parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom. I chose Magic Kingdom because I wanted him to enjoy the true Disney. The most beautiful thing to me on this trip was him enjoying the magical experience of Disney. There was so much to do and so much to see. He especially loved the floats that sporadically went by on Main Street with different Disney characters (because of Covid, the characters are not walking around like they normally would be) and the kid friendly rides. For toddlers the best rides are Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party and Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid.
Of course we know Disney is pricey, between $109 and $138 depending on the day. You also have the option of the Park Hopper ticket which is between $180 and $203. With the Park Hopper ticket you can visit multiple parks in one day. Although I wasn’t able to find a deal for this, I want to encourage you to check the availability of the park first when planning your trip here (because of Covid, they limit the amount of people in the park) then purchase your ticket. To get the most out of Disney, arrive as early as you can and plan around the kid’s naptime. Also mask wearing is required in the park.
Disney Springs has a little bit of everything for everyone, from shopping to dining to play. The Marketplace Carousel (cost is $3) and Marketplace Train Express (cost is $3) were great for kids under 3. For shopping, Jaden explored the M&M store and enjoyed his first taste of M&M’s. (Let’s just say I’ve had to hide the rest of the bottle of M&M’s because he would sit and eat them all if he could. Lastly, and most importantly Jaden’s favorite experience of this whole family vacation was the T-Rex Cafe. I’ll talk about that later in the “Places to Eat” section of this post.
At Crayola Experience kids can truly create in different activities with crayons, markers, and moldings. (Unfortunately the indoor playgrounds were closed due to Covid precautions.) Jaden thoroughly enjoyed molding his crayola molds and using the rolling pins and molding stencils they give you as part of your admission. We were also able to name and wrap his own crayon. There is so much for kids to do at Crayola Experience. Regular general admission is $24.99 but the online price is $21.99. You must make a reservation to visit. If you visit later in the day the late pricing is $14.99. Lastly you can save $4 on Crayola Experience here.
Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure is more geared to older children and adults but Jaden did get to enjoy himself at Dr. Seuss Landing with four rides, Caro-Seuss-el, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, The Cat in the Hat, and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride! Here, characters aren’t walking around because of Covid but they do have story time with characters every few hours.
Like all of the other theme parks, everyone must wear a mask and you must buy tickets and make a reservation. Ticket prices can be purchased here and range from $115 to $140 depending on the day. Children under 3 enter for free! The one thing I do suggest for this park, especially if you (adults) plan to get on rides is the Express pass. Yes it’s pretty expensive (an additional $139 to $219) but we were able to get on way more rides by entering on the Express line. There is also a Child Swap option where one parent can ride a ride while the other parent stays with the child and then once the first parent is finished on the ride, the parents can swap without standing back on the line. This option was amazing because unlike at Disney where we had more families in our group, at Universal Studios it was just us 3 so there wasn’t a way for both of us parents to enjoy the ride together so this was our best option.
My absolutely favorite part of Islands of Adventure was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As a Harry Potter reader back in the day, I loved experiencing Diagon Alley and the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The ride was a terrifyingly fun 3D adventure. I also wanted to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure but you have to reserve a time slot and it books so quickly.
Our family theme for Islands of Adventure was Jurassic Park. Jaden loves Dinosaurs and he was so excited to see the dinosaurs in this area of the park especially the “baby raptor.” Here we used the Child Swap pass and we each were able to ride Jurassic Park River Adventure. I again was terrified on this ride but loved it.
PLACES TO EAT
Jaden’s favorite experience of this entire trip (yes Disney World and Universal Studios included) was the T-Rex Cafe. This pre-historic themed restaurant is kid friendly. Every 20 minutes the dinosaurs come alive and there is a meteor shower. Jaden absolutely loved experiencing this. His face lit up every time this happened. He also loved his dinosaur themed souvenir cup. I had a burger and fries but they do have a full adult and kids menu. If you go to Orlando, you definitely should experience this restaurant.
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace is a Winnie the Pooh themed restaurant located inside of Disney World, Magic Kingdom. You must make a reservation in advance. I chose this restaurant because I wanted Jaden to experience a Character Dining meal but of course there were no characters due to Covid. However our meal was delicious, I had the Blackened Catfish with Sweet Potatoes and Creamed Spinach. This is a family style restaurant that starts with bread for the table and a salad and ends with a shared dessert. This is a great experience when traveling with a small group.
I really wanted to experience Chef Mickey’s but they were booked up. If you visit Disney check it out and let me know.
We had the most amazing trip to Orlando. Now that Jaden is at the age where he can really explore things and enjoy himself, seeing his eyes light up on the rides, and especially seeing the dinosaurs was everything a mom could ask for. Have you been to Disney World? Do you have questions about anything mentioned above? Would love to hear from you on the comments below!