Travelling to Disney from a different country brings its own challenges – one of these being jet lag! While it is far worse in the other direction, it really counts when you’re going to Disney – you want to be ready to jump in and enjoy yourself! I never think the time difference has much affect on me – until I fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon – turns out the Carousel of Progress is great for a nap! And we joke that my hubby had the most expensive sleep of his life when he slept through the entire showing of La Nouba – despite being woken up numerous times!
First things first – figure out what kind of time difference your body has to get used to. For all but three weeks of the year, the UK is 5 hours ahead of Orlando. Orlando is on Eastern Standard Time which is 5 hours behind GMT in the UK. They move to Daylight Saving Time in the summer and we move to British Summer Time – so we stay at 5 hours ahead. Unfortunately we don’t make that move at the same time. Orlando moves ahead on the second Sunday in March whereas we move on the last Sunday in March – so that’s two weeks where they’re only 4 hours behind us. We go back to GMT on the last Sunday in October and Florida moves back to EST on the first Sunday in November – so another week where we’re 4 hours ahead. But for the vast majority of the time, it’s a 5 hour difference – it could be much worse – Disneyland in California is an 8 hour difference and if you’re travelling from Australia, it must be a nightmare, but for us the 5 hours is still a fairly big change to get used to when you want to just jump in and enjoy your holiday. And really it is this time difference that is key – plenty of visitors will have had a long trip, it is the added complication of your body thinking it is bed time in the middle of the afternoon that can throw you out of sync.
I think everyone handles this differently, but my best tip is to do your best to make it through your travelling day without too many naps and then crash out when you get there. That however can be easier said than done, especially if you’ve got little ones who are used to set hours, can zonk out anywhere and aren’t tired when you arrive (while you’re about ready to drop)! If you know they’re going to sleep, try to get them down earlier in the flight – you’ll have been up early so hopefully they’ll be tired, and that way they still might be ready to sleep again when you finally get there.
The main problem is the length of that travelling day. Most flights fly out sometime between 11am and 1pm, UK time. Check in is usually 3 hours ahead of that so from 8am. That’s 3am in Florida (whose time you’ll be on by the end of the day) – not taking into account getting up, ready and getting to the airport. It’s not uncommon to be getting up before many in Florida are in bed – if we stay near the aiport, I’ll be up at 7am, but if we travel down that morning, I’ll be up at 4.30am – or 11:30pm the day before in Floridian time.
Then you’ve got the 9 hour flight. The price of flights keeps on rising and if you have to fly during school holidays, the cost for a family can be prohibitive before you’ve even started looking at hotels and Disney. For that reason indirect flights are becoming more common. They of course only lengthen the day and if you can, you really need to sleep either on your first flight or during your stop over.
Assuming you fly direct and you’re not delayed you’ll be landing in Orlando between 3pm and 5pm. Give it at least an hour to get through the airport and to the hotel and at best, you’re checking in at 4pm. In reality you’ll be pretty lucky to be in your room before 5pm even if you’re on the earliest flight. And that’s 10pm to our British bods, after a pretty long day. Skip dinner or grab a quick bite, get yourself to beddybyes and you’ll be right as rain and raring to go in the morning.
The problem comes if you’re delayed. A previous trip was a bit of a disaster, we’d travelled from home on the day rather than staying at the airport the night before and were then delayed so we were up for nearly 24 hours. By the time we were checking in I was so tired I was shaking and managed not to notice them missing our dining plan off our Keys to the World.
Making the most of the time difference
As a rule, if you can keep yourself going, and only let the kids sleep in the first half of the trip, then you’ll be fine. Have an early night (in Orlando time) and in fact you’re onto a winner. Get up at 6am and your body will think you’ve had a late night and a lie in because to us, 6am is actually 11am. And then you can make it to the opening ceremony at Magic Kingdom – it’s an easy early start!
Now here’s some advice that I never take myself. Go easy that first day – take some breaks and try not to stay up too late that night, just to get you properly onto Orlando time. If you’ve got kids they’re bound to tire early due to a combination of their body clocks being out and the heat so a nap at midday might keep them going till bed time. But it’s not a rule we ever manage to stick to – the excitement carries us through and we usually see Wishes that first night. Having said that we usually pay for it around the second or third day. We’ve twice missed our meals by coming back to our room to change and falling asleep instead! After that, we’re back on track!
The other thing we like to do is plan a water park day 4 or 5 days in. By this time you should be on Orlando time, but you’re probably pretty tired from all the walking over the past few days, while you’re still getting used to the time difference. Water Park days or half days are easier – we get there early and do the rides and then spend the rest of the time lazing around, reading, doing the lazy river etc the odd ride or two when we fancy it. Even if you spend the whole day on the go, you’re not doing the same amount of walking. It’s relaxing and if you do doze off, it’s not so early on in your trip that it throws your body clock back out again.
There are no easy tips for on the way back. You’re up all day and fly over night, and unless you’ve stumped up for the good seats, you don’t get any proper rest so by the time you get to bed the next night you’ve been up a LONG time! But who cares, right? It’s only work and/or laundry the next day – it’s not like you’re knackered when you’re meant to be enjoying yourself!