Orlando as a destination is one of the most LGBT+ family friendly places we’ve ever been to. This was our second time travelling as a family and certainly won’t be our last.
We are just back from a month long trip with the kids to Florida. Everyone is asking how our holiday was. And it was great. It really was. But let’s get one thing clear. It wasn’t a holiday. As anyone who has travelled with small children can attest to- there are many ways you could describe packing up a young family and bringing them to a different country. And the word ‘holiday’ is not one of them. We had an incredible couple of weeks... but it wasn’t a holiday. It was travelling with kids!!
The lead up to our adventure abroad was pretty hectic to say the least. In the month before we left, I had the pleasure of launching the ‘Equality for Children’ campaign. Putting this into perspective, the evening before we left, I was in the Department of Health in a meeting with Simon Harris.
And although I’d been incredibly busy, I thought I was prepared. And for the most part, I was. I had researched the hell out of this trip. I had everything ready. We were packed to within an inch of our lives. Ready for the 10 hour plane trip. Snacks, toys, change of clothes, fully charged iPad and all the other million things you need for international travel with kids.
So there we are. Rocking on up to Dublin Airport, smug smile on my face. Delighted with life… I am an expert traveller. I’ve got this! Perhaps you can see where this story is heading?
We are checking in and the Aer Lingus staff members face falls. She sees our excited anticipation and doesn’t want to ruin it. But alas she must. She hesitantly tells me that ‘your passport is out of date’. What? No it couldn’t be?
*Here I must mention that I have dual nationality. I was born in America, so I have a USA passport as well as my Irish citizenship. Usually when travelling to the States I will travel in on my US passport and then come home on my Irish one. Of course I had checked all of our Irish passports but I hadn’t thought about the American one, as we hadn’t been back to the states in a couple years.
We are informed at that point that it is now a federal offence to travel into the States on anything other than your US passport if you are an American citizen. You aren’t eligible for an ESTA if you possess an American passport, even if expired. Catch 22.
So we had this dilemma at Dublin airport. Do we all stay behind in Ireland to get an emergency American passport for me? The baby had to stay with me because I’m breastfeeding. But there was no reason why Audrey and Ava couldn’t go ahead without me. We had about 10 minutes to make this decision- as if they were going to travel, they needed to get through customs. And that’s how I found myself sobbing in departures in Dublin airport at the total screw up on my part- and the prospect of my little family being torn in half.
We decided there was no reason for us all to miss the flight, so Audrey and Ava went ahead. Thankfully my father in law was able to come and pick us up and bring us home. The thought of a taxi ride and having to interact with anyone at that point was too much. I just needed to get home and regroup.
So there I am in the back of his car, trying not to cry... and it dawns on me. Audrey is not legally allowed to travel out of the country with Ava.
Passport/Travel Issues for LGBT+ families
I am constantly speaking about the many difficulties that our families face when it comes to things like travel and getting passports for our children... and now here we are in a really horrible situation- and adding insult to injury, there is a chance that my wife may not be allowed to travel with our child. It hadn’t even crossed my mind until a little bit later that there might be an issue. Why would it? Audrey is Ava’s mom. She is her parent, just as much as I am. We are equals. This is not something that should be a problem. Yet because of current Irish laws, I am the only legal parent to our children. Both of the girls have my surname and so a customs official would have been well within their remit to question them.
Sitting in the back of that car, I felt sick to my stomach that I was being put in this position of uncertainty yet again. Yet another moment of feeling as though my family are different and being penalised because of it. And let me tell you- I didn’t breathe until I heard they had cleared customs. It really hit home for me how much our daily lives are impacted because of the lack of protections for our children. And it only strengthened my resolve to keep fighting for full equality for all of our children and families.
On to the rest of the trip. After all that drama, I managed to get an emergency passport and we got a flight to Orlando two days later. I was so relieved to be reunited with my girls and get on to enjoying the rest of our time together.
Orlando is an absolutely beautiful place to visit with your LGBT+ family. As I mentioned before, I was born in the States, and I’d grown up visiting Orlando every year. Speaking from experience, it’s not a place you want to be visiting in the height of summer. I think we caught the weather at the perfect time on this visit. It was early November, the locals might think it’s chilly, but the mid 20’s are exactly what you want. The other lovely thing about visiting at this time of year is that you are getting the lead up to two of the biggest holidays- Thanksgiving and Christmas. The decorations are absolutely out of this world.
We were in Florida for a month and we did the ‘tourist’ thing for 10 days. Orlando, the home of Disney, is hands down one of the most LGBT+ friendly places you could ever visit. Everybody and anybody is welcome. After all- it’s the happiest place on earth.
Tickets to the parks aren’t cheap. Yes they are worth it, but when you have kids who are so young, it makes sense to look for cheaper and sometimes free activities.And there are many lesser known destinations that don’t come with the same price tag as the main theme parks. One of which is Disney Springs.
We stayed in the Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista, which just happens to be the closest hotel to Disney Springs. As in, it’s a 2 minute walk from one to the other, which turned out to be absolutely ideal for our family.
I had heard the name Disney Springs before, but to be honest, I had no idea what it was. Turns out that it’s an outdoor shopping and dining destination which also has various family entertainment and event options. The atmosphere there is fantastic and it felt like being in Disney, but slightly less hectic and with less pressure. We arrived just in time for the ‘Christmas Tree Trail’- a free exhibition featuring Christmas trees, each decorated as a different Disney movie. It was magical!
One of our favourite family nights of the whole trip was at Splitsville Luxury Lanes in Disney Springs. It’s a massive bowling alley with an extensive restaurant and bar. We bowled for an hour and then our food was brought to our lane where we enjoyed a delicious meal. The service and staff there were second to none and we can’t wait to go back next year when hopefully Arya will be old enough to join in the fun and bowl with us!
Another great family evening was at Wine Bar George- a wine bar in Disney Springs with an impressive menu. We were a bit apprehensive about dining here as it seemed quite fancy- and when bringing two kids along you are always a bit wary of ‘fancy’. However we couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome both as a same sex couple and as parents of young kids.The overall vibe of the place was very chilled out, while still serving exceptional food and drink. The highlight of dining here, were the open windows looking out over the water at sunset.
There are so many theme parks and attractions in Orlando. You could do a different location every day for a month and still not run out of activities. We took a trip to Aquatica, which is a water park run by SeaWorld. We went on a day that was overcast and almost had the whole place to ourselves. The kids area was amazing- really well thought out and easily accessible for toddlers. The entire place is centered around families and so the facilities were excellent. There is a fake beach, many dining options and countless slides and rides. We took turns on the rides- and the girls thought we were mad! We will definitely be going back here again next year.
Another really fun place to visit is the Orlando International Premium Outlets- though please don’t blame me for your spending when you visit here! It’s a place to bag some amazing bargains.
All in all, I’d highly recommend a visit to Orlando for you and your LGBT+ family. It’s a place where we felt entirely welcomed and comfortable at all times. Be sure to check out the lesser known attractions and make sure to follow me on Instagram @ranaevonmeding for lots more LGBT+ family travel and tips.
**This article also appeared in the Travel edition of GCN- January 2020.