My wife, Amy, wrote the following helpful tips for families who will be accompanying their significant other to TechEd in Orlando:
You’ll most likely be in a hotel on or near International Drive. There is a trolley called the I-Ride Trolley that runs up and down the street. Buy the 7 day ticket pass at your hotel’s concierge. The trolleys run about every 15 to 20 minutes at stops all along the drive. There are well marked signs for the trolleys and they are so much more comfortable than walking in the heat with kids.
There’s tons to do on International Drive. Lots of different themed mini golf places, the Wet ‘n Wild water slide park, an upside down museum (WonderWorks), and a go-kart park. Be sure to check your hotel for discount tickets and coupons – they’re everywhere.
There are not a lot of “kid” places to eat, just a Denny’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s, and a
huge McDonald’s with a fun zone. If you order in, like pizza or something, remember that there are thousands of guests in town for the conference and it could, and probably will, take well over an hour to get the food delivered. The other restaurants get very busy in the evening, so call ahead for reservations. There are no grocery stores are nearby.
Take advantage of the breakfasts at your hotel and grab a few extra pieces of fruit for the room and hungry kids for later. Have your husband or wife bring back extras of all the snack handouts from the conference. You could practically feed off of these alone for the week. It’s usually all grab and go, prepackaged stuff from granola bars, to cookies, to Power Bars.
Remember it’s going to be hot and humid, so be realistic about how much you and your children can do. I find that mine are very happy to get the afternoon off to just play in the pool at the hotel. It also helps if your hotel offers an adult “happy hour.”
Most hotels offer shuttle service to Disney World and other parks (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Epcot, Sea World, etc). Check at the front desk the day before, as you might need to reserve a seat.
Theme parks are all fun but choose wisely based on your children’s ages. If they are over 10 then Animal Kingdom in Disney World would be OK, but might be bored with the rest of the “princess” thing. Universal Studios is fun for older kids, but not for younger ones due to height requirements on most rides. Islands of Adventure is a good dual choice with things for older and younger kids and is near a nice “downtown” area called CityWalk with restaurants and shops just outside the park.
If you have a car, Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral is not that far away. It’s only about 40 minutes, but remember that there are toll roads all over the state so have lots of change handy. The Kennedy Center is amazing and worth going to if you can make it. You can spend the whole day there. If no car, check with the concierge for a tour group. Allow a full day to enjoy it all. It will be in the mid 90’s and humid, so hats, sun block and lots of water are a necessity.
UPDATE – My husband just got back from TechEd Atlanta and told me that it would be in Orlando again next year. It reminded me that I had written up some tips for him to post the last time in 2008 and I wanted to take the opportunity to update that info.
In 2008 Orlando, my kids were 8 and 12. If we go next year, they’ll be 12 and 16. I say “if we go” only due to the difficult timing with school ending the same week. Otherwise, we would definitely go again! The kids still mention things we did that week and ask when we can go back. We’d probably do most of the same things again, but as ours are now older, perhaps not Disneyworld.
I reviewed my previous blog to see what I might change and I do feel everything is still pertinent with a few notes.
GatorLand was a place I forgot to mention, which is just a short drive outside Orlando. It was fun and kitschy. It’s a little place, but great in quirky sort of way; like a mini zoo.
I would also recommend renting a stroller at the big parks. Even if your kids are old enough to walk it, what with the heat and humidity it was nice to have someplace to put them (even with legs hanging over the side) and not have them complaining (except about whose turn it was). Also it gives you someplace to put your backpack and water bottles. What with my oldest being 16 next year, maybe I can ride in the stroller next time and have him push me. I can just hear the, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me”, now.
Lastly, I can see an opportunity for a beginning of the week get-together/meet-and-greet for spouses with or without children. If you’ve gone with your spouse before, you know we basically don’t see them all week. It might be nice to have an opportunity to meet each other at the beginning of the week and see who you might want to hook up with. Who knows, with enough interest, maybe we could qualify for group discount admission to the theme parks.
TechEd veteran and mother of an 11 and 15 year old
Do you have other tips for TechEd travelers with families? Leave a comment below!