When your kids are still in that fantastical age range where all the magic and sparkle of the world has not yet worn away, traveling to far away places during the holidays can be daunting. How do you keep up the intrinsic air of mystery, excitement, and surprise in a hotel room with zero privacy or storage?
Today we are going to break down 10 ways to keep the magic of the holiday season alive even when you are living out of a suitcase.
1: Scope out your surroundings
Before you make any big plans, it is essential to know what you are working with. Thoroughly research where you will be staying and check in advance if they have any planned entertainment or activities that you might want to incorporate into your schedule.
2: Encourage kids to ask for smaller items
If you have prepped your kids for this vacation, then they already know that your holiday is going to be very special. Perhaps this is the perfect year for them to ask Santa for some of the smaller things they have been hoping for such as an awesome new watch, a gift card to use at Disney or even an iPod. Let your kids know that small presents are much better this year as they will be easier to get home and less likely to break in transit.
They probably shouldn’t ask for things that might be noisy, like Lego boxes or toys with sound effects that might go off at any moment. They might wake the other guests in Santa’s bag.
3: Bring music
Are you trying to recreate a certain feeling or ambiance but something is missing? The first thing to try is music. If you are used to bonding over special holiday music at home, whether it be peppy festive tunes or a more significantly religious offering, bring a small, portable speaker system with you and enjoy those familiar sounds in your hotel room. Not too loud of course.
It can be just what those family moments need to fill the air and feel like home.
4: Bring a tradition from home
Is there something that you enjoy doing as a family every year at home that you will miss by being away? Not all traditions can be brought with you; however, you might find a few that are easier to transition to your resort than you expect.
Do you make a habit of baking chocolate chip cookies for Santa? Make some ahead of time and bring them with you.
Does your family enjoy lighting a menorah? There are many travel versions on the market, make sure you bring one with you.
Do you have a holiday game of football with family and friends? Bring one with you (even if you leave it there at the end) and keep the tradition alive.
See the common thread of bringing it with you? If you can pack it, you can do it.
5: Start a new tradition
There will be plenty of traditions that you can’t continue while you are away, so instead of just pretending no one will notice, talk about it with your family. Decide on some substitute traditions that everyone can feel excited about.
For example, if you are going to be traveling too far to bring your Santa cookies with you, make a time to head to Disney Springs and pick out something scrumptiously special instead.
If you are missing any traditional baking you usually do at home you might enjoy visiting a local bakery that specializes in your cultural treats and keeping some in the room to share on important days.
Does everyone usually wear matching pajamas that are too bulky and heavy to bring with you? Try an alternative, like giving everyone an identical pair of funky, festive socks. Don’t be surprised if this one lives on well past your holiday, and even away at University your kid breaks out the Christmas socks on Christmas Eve.
Personally, I love a wreath for just about any occasion, and I can’t even fathom a Christmas without a tree. If you are longing for the holiday decor of home, then consider making your resort room feel a little more jovial with some decorations of your own. A small artificial tree with some battery powered fairy lights would do the trick!
If you have a long car ride to get to your vacation, put your children to use with some crafts in the back seat and get them to cut and staple together chains of colored paper to drape around the windows or bed heads.
For that added touch of sensory familiarity, bring your favorite holiday-scented room spray in a miniature bottle. It doesn’t usually last long but one big inhale of those smells from home can make your holidays even brighter.
7: Be prepared to share
One year, Easter Sunday fell right in the middle of our annual trip to Hawai’i and with the Australian tradition being a hunt Easter morning for chocolate eggs, my daughter was very worried that the Easter Bunny wouldn’t find her. Our son was only one at the time and didn’t really care where his chocolate came from as long as his sister didn’t have any without him.
It turns out, the Easter Bunny must have gotten up very early and left a hunt for the children all around the pool deck downstairs. Now, I am sure the Bunny must have checked with the hotel in advance, especially since the pool deck would have otherwise been closed for another hour or so until regular opening, but it was a lovely surprise for them.
Before long, all the children on the pool deck floor opened their balcony doors in delight and our daughter, who was 3 and a half at the time, asked them if they wanted to join in (while we collected consenting nods from parents who let their children outside).
It’s a good thing that Easter Bunny dragged so many extra eggs along on the trip!
8: Bigger presents need to be delivered home
Is there a chance that Christmas or Hanukkah might bring some gifts for your family that are too large to be delivered to your hotel room? Encourage your children to write Santa a letter to suggest that any big presents be left back at the house. Maybe he will be clever enough to bring some clues as to what they are, making it a little bit of fun and also a pleasant surprise to return home to!
Wouldn’t it be convenient, and cost-effective, if Santa brought Disney Gift Cards for your children to use in the parks, so they had their own spending money? I’m just speculating, of course.
9: Share the love
Need to kill time on the plane or activity for some quiet downtime in the hotel? Bring along a stack of small holiday cards and ask your kids if they would like to decorate and write in them. Once you have met a few staff members or neighboring guests, add in some names and give them out or slide them under the door. Spreading a little cheer around the holidays can never go astray.
It’s helpful to be conscious that those around you may not celebrate the same holidays as you, especially given that Disney is an international tourist destination, so try to find something appropriate like “season’s greetings” or “happy holidays.” I am not a particularly sensitive person when it comes to political correctness (I’m an Aussie after all), but I do think that when trying to make a kind gesture towards others, it is important to consider them.
10: Don’t rush
You’ve gone to all the trouble to create this vacation and make it special, don’t rush through the moments of your holidays just to get to the next place on time. Allow extra time on those days between plans to give your family that additional bonding time.
Take this time. Savor it and remember it. Break the rules, forget the plans and your use schedule as a guide, not a binding contract.
I can’t remember, did I already mention that a Disney gift card would be a great idea? That way they can spend their own money on that overpriced Pez dispenser or Lightsaber. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Take the hint.
No matter what holidays you celebrate as a family, take the time to bring some of that magic from home, with you.
Next time we will be looking at how to manage your schedule and the holiday crowds without losing your mind.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.