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Few things throw off a family’s structure and routine like living out of a hotel room. We asked our Parenting Panel this week: What little tips and tricks have you come up with for staying in a hotel room with your family?


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Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

The late George Carlin, the voice of Filmore in the movie Cars, once said in one of his stand up routines that, when you go away on vacation, you tend to bring a smaller version of all your stuff along. This was to make you feel more comfortable while away. I think that idea is still alive and well as you and your family move into a room for a number of days. But keep in mind, the family dynamic can change quite a bit in a smaller space.

When it comes to our living arrangements while on vacation, I think some of the following thoughts and tips can be used regardless of family size or hotel arrangements.

Know your sleeping arrangements ahead of time. I think this one item can make or break any hotel stay for many families. When we first started vacationing, my wife and I were in one bed and my daughter had her own. It was a simple arrangement. When my son came into the picture, it was a bit different once he was big enough for a bed. Fortunately, my daughter, being nearly 10 years older, did not mind sharing a bed with her brother. However, I know that some siblings might not be as flexible. This is something to certainly discuss while still in the planning phases. In some cases, you might have to be flexible in your sleeping arrangements, even if it means that you are not next to your spouse at bedtime. This may especially be the case if your resort beds are not as big as what you have at home. (Going from a queen bed at home to a full bed at some resorts is not as inviting as you might guess.)

Keeping the room tidy is the key to peace. Nothing is more important as knowing where you placed your unpacked items as well as where you put your newly purchased goodies from around the parks. Having an idea of putting “everything in its place” will save a lot of frustration and time. After all, nothing can delay you more than not being able to find a certain item of clothing, a poncho, a camera, or your room keys. Some families may simply carry on their organizational skills from the home to the hotel. Others might want to (or respectfully, need to) consider this even more so while on the road. Keeping things tidy will also help the packing process and prevent lost or forgotten items.

Try to get ready in phases. Let’s face it – if you are a family of four trying to get ready for a day out in the parks all at the same time, you will bump into each other more often than not. For our family, we tend to take showers at the end of the day and then each get up one at a time for a morning routine. I usually start out followed by my wife, and then each one of the kids afterward. This way, we can prepare different things for our outing at different times with a minimum of disruption. I will admit that this took a bit of practice the first time we tried this method, but now it works like a charm. With this staggered approach, we tend to depart to our first destination within five minutes of our time goal.

Enjoy the resort hotel. This may seem like an odd one when it comes to how to live in a hotel room with each other, but many people think of the hotel room as a place to simply store belongings and sleep. Consider exploring the resort itself and everything it has to offer. Enjoy a beverage by the pool. Take a walk around the different buildings, taking pictures as you go along. Look at some of the great designs or pictures that line the walls. It very well may change your mind that the hotel room is just a place to sleep when you see that the resort itself is a destination to enjoy. (You may also read this as: The less time you are in confined quarters with your family, the better.)

Elizabeth, who posts on our MousePad message board as eabaldwin, has been a Disneyland Annual Passholder since 2010. She and her husband have two daughters, Katie (4) and Josie (2). Elizabeth writes:

Our children are younger, so our strategies for staying in a hotel are different for now. We don’t stay in hotels very often, which makes it harder for the little ones who are so used to their routines.

The biggest issue for us is getting everyone to go to sleep. In our own home, our girls have their own rooms and fall asleep by themselves. Their rooms are dark, and our younger daughter still has the white noise machine. It can be difficult to get them to fall asleep in a hotel room when we are all together. They are usually excited and over-stimulated, especially when we are at Disneyland. What we have started doing is keeping the room dark and quiet until they fall asleep. This allows them to fall asleep, but then we can switch a light or the TV on after they are asleep and still stay up for awhile longer.

At home, they are used to waking up and having something to eat. Even if they have a banana or a small yogurt, they almost always eat something before we have breakfast. We have learned to pack plenty of snacks so that we have something that we can give them as soon as they wake up. This help prevents meltdowns and cranky children before we even leave the hotel room. We have even brought milk and cereal so that we can feed them before starting our day. Most hotels (especially in/near Disney parks) have refrigerators, so it is feasible to bring food and snacks that need to be refrigerated.

If we are staying in a hotel for more than one night, I always unpack our bags and suitcases. Personally, I dislike living out of a suitcase and I feel much better when things are put away. The bags and suitcases get put in the closet and out of the way so we have more room in our hotel room. It is also helpful when my kids know which drawer has their things in it. They can still pick out their own outfits and help get us ready to go. They are used to getting themselves dressed at home, so it just helps to make staying in a hotel room more like home.

Another thing that we do, which may seem silly, is that we always unplug the phone. I do try to remember to plug it back in before we leave. Since we do not have a home phone our children are not used to seeing, or using, telephones. They are quite a novelty and rather than constantly telling them to put it down, or sitting there with my finger on the button to keep it hung up, we unplug it. After the first few minutes, they are usually finished with it, but it is just easier to leave it unplugged.

For us, it is currently all about trying to maintain some sort of resemblance to home. And trying to keep everyone well-rested and their bellies full. That is what helps us survive hotel stays.

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 11-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

In George Carlin’s famous comedy routine about “stuff” he referred to the things that you bring with you on vacation as “a smaller version of your house. It’s the second version of your stuff. Once you get in the hotel room, you open your suitcase and you put away all of your stuff. You start to get used to it, you start to feel OK, because, after all, you do have some of your stuff with you.”

[Editor’s Note: This is not déjà vu. Both Gusman and Chris Barry began their submissions this week with the same reference. I see it as a sign that great minds think alike.]

No truer words have been spoken about traveling with your family. First rule, especially when it comes to the kids, is make sure they bring some of their stuff with them. My kids have a small backpack that they pack the night before we head down to the Walt Disney World Resort or any vacation for that matter. They bring some books, some animals, some toys, and their portable video games. However, there’s always something in that bag that surprises me. One summer I noticed my son brought a small rock that he had painted on at day camp. I couldn’t believe that he brought a rock with him to Walt Disney World, but I guess it made him comfortable. It was something from home that he had been carting around, so he brought it with him on vacation.

Carlin was very observant, as always. People need their stuff and they need little places and spots in the hotel room for their stuff. On our trips everyone gets a drawer. Everyone gets a spot on the shelf or in the closet and the trick is to keep your spot your own. Don’t step on anyone else’s spot or their stuff and all is well.

There are two things that we feel are necessities in a Disney hotel room. One is the fridge. In addition to their stuff, everyone needs that little treat, snack or beverage that makes them feel at home or comfortable. It’s that box of cereal for my wife, the snack bars for my daughter or the Goldfish Cracker packs for the boys. For me that cold water at night and orange juice in the morning has to be there or I’m just not right.

The second thing has really become a necessity on our Disney trips, but it’s an equation that my wife and I learned a long time ago. A balcony = sanity. We always traveled with our kids no matter how young they were, but we always made sure that we had a balcony, that way there was someplace else for us to go if the kids were asleep or if they were bugging us. We’ve spent many a night out on the balcony of the Polynesian sipping wine while the kids were either asleep or watching the resort channel, or that Phineas and Ferb episode that we’ve all heard 100 times. The balcony is the great escape and keeps us sane.

It’s a respite for my wife in the morning, as well. She’s up at the crack of dawn when we’re at Walt Disney World. She goes for a run, then on her way back stops for a cup of coffee. When she gets back to the room and we’re inevitably still asleep, that balcony, her coffee and a bowl of cereal is her retreat. When we used to stay at Port Orleans Riverside…it just wasn’t the same. Once you get used to the separation that a balcony provides you’ll never go back. That’s become one of our No. 1 hotel room tips; splurge for a room with a balcony. You won’t regret it. It just might save your vacation.

Get a balcony. Bring some stuff. Bring your comfort snacks. Keep your stuff in your spot and respect everyone else’s. Those are our tips for hotel room survival. It’s worked for us so far.

Sheena, also known as Mermaid, teaches first grade in Arizona where she lives with her husband two children, Matthew (3) and Katie (2). She visits Disneyland as often as she can and has passed on her love of the parks to her little Mouseketeers. Sheena writes:

Hotel living: two words that scare my husband and I more than they should! We tend to stress about every hotel stay much more than necessary. As every parent knows, a lack of sleep is a surefire way to ruin everyone’s vacation. Because of this, we are pretty strict with our 7 p.m. bedtime, even when on Disney vacations. We like to stay at suite-style hotels so when the kids are asleep, we can watch TV comfortably in the other room. We really like the Homewood Suites and the Embassy Suites a few miles down the road from the Disneyland Resort. Until recently, we have had one child using the Pack 'n' Play and the other in the bed (first a blow up mattress and now my 3.5 year old sleeps in the sofa bed). My 2-year-old daughter has now graduated to the blow up mattress. The one we have is toddler sized and fits a crib sheet, so it does not take up a lot of space. This has been great for our kids when they were too big for the Pack 'n' Play but still too small for a real bed.

When we are staying at hotels where we are all in the same space, we do our best to divide the space using bed sheets brought from home. We have found our kids go to sleep easier when they can’t see us. We use binder clips to clip the sheets together and hook them around doors, cabinets, towel racks, whatever we have handy. When they were younger, we also divided their visual space using the same methods. The doorway almost always divides nicely into a small sleeping area for one child. Binder clips also work well when we have curtains that don’t quite shut all the way.

Our kids are still of the age where we bring sippy cups when we travel and we are not too far removed from the pacifier and bottle days. We bought a net bag that suction cups to the mirror which is usually used for bath toys. This has been so useful for drying wet cups and keeping them off the counter. We wash everything each night and let them dry while we sleep. In the morning, if we have well rested kids and clean dishes, we call the night a success!

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!



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(Send an email to Adrienne Krock)

Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being mom to her three boys. Adrienne, Matthew, Spencer, and Colin visit Disneyland frequently, usually with Dad, Kevin.