Walt Disney World Resort — Photo courtesy of Garth Vaughan
A vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is almost a rite of passage for kids, and no doubt the Magic Kingdom feels truly magical at times. But the crowded, sprawling parks are not known for being a relaxing destination, and the truth is, they can leave parents feeling exhausted and depleted.
But with some smart planning and by tapping into the region’s top luxury resources, a family vacation to Disney World can feel like an actual vacation–one that mom and dad will love just as much as the kids. Maybe more.
Here are the top 10 ways to plan a luxurious, relaxing family vacation to Walt Disney World.
St. Pete's Beach, a short drive from the Orlando airport — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
1. Don’t jump right in.
Travel is exhausting, so plan a buffer day before you hit the parks. Take a short drive to the water to clear your minds on St. Pete’s Beach. The new boutique Hotel Zamora features gulf views and an outdoor pool next to the bar and whirlpool. With the top-notch Castile restaurant right on premises (try the scallops!), you won’t need to leave. But you’ll want to make a stop at the famous Dali Museum. With the Picasso exhibit, consider it adult Disney World.
The balcony room from the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
2. Don’t stay on the Disney grounds.
Put a cushion between the chaos, er, excitement and your downtime. Stay at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, 15 minutes from Disney World (transportation is inexpensive), but settled on 500 acres of open space, a golf course and a private farm, you’ll feel like you’re days away. Kids will love the cupcakes and cookies, playground and educational Ritz Kids program, and parents will love the free childcare, fountain-side hammocks in the garden and the cask wine.
3. Refill at Highball and Harvest.
Save your belly from ice cream and popcorn at the parks and enjoy dinner at the Ritz’s newest restaurant. Instead: bacon-vinaigrette Brussels sprouts, blackened grouper, braised lamb shank and squash soup with candied bacon. Enjoy with signature cocktails or a glass of unoaked chardonnay. Oh, and mac and cheese for the kiddos.
4. Don’t forget Epcot.
Epcot tends to draw smaller crowds–and alcohol is served here. Two reasons to plan an evening touring the different “countries.” Let your child pick out a pearl in the Japanese village, and end the evening sipping margs in “Mexico” watching the fireworks.
Meet five different princesses at a relaxing breakfast — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
5. Ditch the character lines.
The lines are the worst part of Disney World. Instead, book breakfast with the princesses at Citricos at the Grand Floridian. The sit-down meal is surprisingly scrumptious (try the meat and cheese platter with a mimosa), and the princesses come to you. Your little ones will enjoy more quality time with their favorite characters and leave with a wand and a belly full of pastries and chocolates.
6. Plan a spa day–for your daughter.
Book time at the Bippity Boppity Boutique in Downtown Disney. Here, your child can pick out a new gown and have her hair, nails and makeup done by her own fairy godmother, while you relax off your feet for a good hour. Celebrate and show off on the beautiful and relatively calm BoardWalk.
7. Plan a spa day–for yourself.
No one makes it through a Disney experience without sore feet and exhausted muscles. Recover at the Ritz-Carlton Spa with the Grande Citrus Escape: a whole-body orange exfoliation, hydrating body mask, scalp massage and hot-stone massage. Dedicate time afterward to relax by the private, adult-only spa pool while your kids learn about the Florida environment in a Ritz Kids program.
8. Escape Orlando for a day.
You've done your time at Disney World, so now go explore Mother Nature’s amusement park: the Florida beaches. The closest beach to Orlando is the Space Coast. Spend a day surfing or sunning by the Cocoa Beach Pier.
Every room has an ocean view at the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront — Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel
9. Keep your toes in the sand.
Better yet: Stay a few days on the Space Coast, and stay at the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront, with a beachside bar and pool steps from a quiet beach with perfect powder sand. The diverse buffet breakfast will please even the pickiest of kiddo eaters.
10. Indulge in Florida’s best seafood.
While on the Space Coast, head north to the port for freshly caught golden lobster, oysters and crab claws at the fisherman-run Seafood Atlantic, or experience expertly prepared scallops in blueberry sauce at the Fat Snook. For something new, ask about the catch of the day.