Summer, summer, summertime! And I’ve got vacation on the brain – probably due to seeing so many friends’ vacation fun on Instagram and Facebook, right? We are having a great time so far this summer, but I’m afraid this is the busy season at my husband’s job so we don’t have any real plans for vacation until maybe this fall. So for Flashback Friday (I’ve decided that may be the best way to slowly move my best posts from the old blog over here to the new format) I thought I would revisit my Tips post from our last Disney Vacation (in February of 2013).
Where have I been?! If you look back through most of my recent posts I’m starting to sound like a broken record. “Ooops, sorry, neglected the blog.” “Crazy busy. Neglected the blog.” “Wow time is just flying by – neglected the blog.” So I’ll refrain from saying it again. But guess what we’ve been up to?!! VACATION! WOOHOO!
We kind of rushed into it and basically squished the vacation in among the craziness but when the boss says “if you want any vacation time this spring you’d better get it on the schedule!” you kind of just jump on the opportunity. So where did we go? Disney World!
And it was Awesome! Amazing! Fantastic! Oh so much fun!
I won’t get into the Play by Play of our vacation, but I would like to share a few of my take-aways from the trip.
#1 – it’s vacation so splurge a bit! Sure we could have gone the dirt cheap route and still had a lot of fun (and trust me there are tons of blogs out there with many many tips on how to do so). But going the rock bottom route feels (to me) like it takes a little bit of the fun out of the vacation. The trick is finding the good deals that still allow you to have fun without worrying too much about the money. Having done this a time or two before now, we went straight to the military travel office. We explored a few options, then knowing that it was a good price we went with a “moderate” Disney Resort instead of a “value” hotel or time share off the property. I’ve been stuck in a low priced hotel room before trying to squeeze into a double bed with the husband and hope to never try it again! 😉
And oh, how worth the small price of the upgrade it was. It was beautiful and magical, the service was fantastic, and the convenience of having everything right there…
#2 – Stay at one of the Disney Resorts if at all possible. We stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside and loved it. Every Disney hotel has it’s own character and theme and there is no one that pays more attention to detail than Disney. From the landscaping to the tiny Mickey ears on top of the shampoo bottles – everywhere you turned there were special touches. And the convenience. Sure you have to ride a bus to whatever park you want to visit, but even if you drove your own vehicle you’d have to pay an arm and a leg for parking then take the shuttle in to the park. And figuring out which road leads back to the hotel after 10 hours at the park – not my idea of fun. Plus you get all the added amenities like the fancy pools and the early Magic Hours at the parks. And there is always something fun going on there too. They had nightly movies outside, campfires and smores, random activities for the kids, etc.
#3 – When it comes to souvenirs there are a million options, including buying inexpensive ones ahead of time. If you’re going to spring for a fancy pair of Mickey Ears (and I highly recommend it), make sure you do so on the first day so they get plenty of time to wear them. My kids were in love with their ears and wore them almost the entire time. And once they had the ears they pretty much ignored all the other things offered at the shops so we didn’t have to explain to them over and over that we weren’t going to buy anything.
I also thought ahead and bought everyone Tshirts from the Disney Store online (they always have plenty of things on clearance or good sales), which we all got for Valentines Day (we went on vacation on Feb 18 so the timing was perfect AND I didn’t have to think too hard about Vday gifts hehe). They also offer free shipping if you spend $50 or something so I added in a pair of Disney pjs for Ty and a bracelet for Kate.
I lucked into finding some Mickey themed journals in the after Valentines section a few days before the trip so I grabbed them and stuck them in my bag of tricks. I ended up pulling them out on the car ride home when the kids got a little fidgety and got a “mom, you know me so well!” as a Thank You from Tyler 🙂
Our kids have started keychain collections so before heading home on our final day, we surprised them by detouring to the gift shop and letting them pick out a keychain. I’m not a “collections” person myself, but both of my kids seem to be and this is a rather inexpensive and compact option.
#4 – The meal plan is absolutely worth it – at least it is if you plan to eat very many of your meals at the park (again, we got a deal through the military travel office. I’m not sure how the regular prices stack up, but it’s still probably a better deal than paying out of pocket for every meal). Otherwise even the snack shacks are PRICEY. But when you’ve paid for it all ahead of time and you see that $90 or $100 meal not cost you anything more than the tip – it’s actually pretty fun. There is no way I would have opted to pay that much for a meal, especially not twice a day every day. So with the meal plan not only did we get a TON of really good food (including desserts and snacks), we had the opportunity to try a lot of restaurants we wouldn’t have given a second look at based on price. Like the character dining – so fun! (We went to Tusker House in Animal Kingdom which is buffet style and that works well for our picky kids.) With all the extras we truly felt like we were spoiled – and that’s partially what being on vacation is all about. We also found it useful because with the kids now old enough not to need strollers we only wanted to carry the bare minimum of supplies and not tote around a cooler full of snacks.
#5 – Go in with a Plan, but only a very small plan. I found a lot of useful tips and websites before leaving on the trip (my favorite one is here) that helped with the planning. We spent some time looking at menus and setting up reservations for the fancier restaurants (trust me – you NEED reservations well ahead of time for those, like, as soon as you get the dates nailed down for your trip) and deciding which day we would visit each park. We looked up the times for the parades, shows and fireworks and picked a few that we didn’t want to miss (the Cars Lights Action stunt show at Hollywood Studios is impressive). And we picked our top 2-3 rides at each park. Otherwise we played it by ear as there is no telling how busy you will find it, how long the lines may be, when you might get tired and be ready to go home, what rides may seem too scary for the kids once you get there, etc etc. Sam found a phone app that told wait times for all the rides, character greetings and events – that was really helpful. Also make sure to hit the park first thing in the morning, getting there before the gates open if possible. There is never a time with shorter lines so hit your #1 ride right away and Fast Pass your #2 choice immediately.
#6 – You will get absolutely, completely, thoroughly sick of lines and crowds. Plan on it and be patient. But take advantage of the time you are standing around to make it fun. Look for Hidden Mickeys. Strike up conversations. I was amazed by how many friendly and kind people we met and how fun it was to chat with different people once we got the ball rolling. You never know when they may offer up a great tip or favorite thing that you may have otherwise missed seeing at the park. Take advantage of the Fast Passes and Parent Swap options. Know when splitting up will reduce wait time – like sending one person for Fast Passes while the other parent waits in line with the kids to see Mickey. But be aware that a lot of time can be wasted trying to meet up again if you aren’t careful – and don’t let the Fast Pass person go running off with the Autograph books! 🙂
#7 – I could go on and on but I will end with a few notes about the car ride. We had an 8 hour drive to get the parks and I was surprised at how quickly and smoothly it went. Part of that is because our kids are old enough now that they don’t require too many things for entertainment and part of it is due to planning – and luck. We of course stocked up on snacks and drinks for the car, then stopped for a potty break pretty much every hour or so. We added new apps and music to the kids’ Ipods and made sure both the Ipods and the Nintendo Dsi’s were fully charged. Between those, the mini DVD player (and a brand new copy of Brave which they were surprised to find in the case the first time they opened it), and some books and coloring/writing implements they were pretty well set up. I did make sure I had a few surprises to pull out when I felt they were getting fidgety. I already mentioned the Mickey journals. I also ran across some Lego sticker puzzle valentines that I grabbed and the kids happily put together the entire box of 16. I had found and printed out a car scavenger hunt (printable found here) that the kids enjoyed. And a “how to draw stick animals” instruction sheet that I never had to use. I’m also patting myself on the back for taking up a good chunk of the ride home typing up some journaling points about the trip which I can later just copy and paste when I scrapbook everything. Plus it allowed me to get input and impressions from the kids and Sam that I wouldn’t normally have been able to include in the journaling.
So there you have it – my little collection of Tips for Disney Trips. I’m pretty proud of myself for getting it all on the blog within less than 48 hours of returning from our trip, especially considering the huge Catching Up to do list for the weekend. I’m also itching to get into Crafting Mode so fingers crossed I can carve out some time for that (and blog it!) soon!
Linking to: BFF Open House, Home Matters Linky Party, Frugal Friday, Pin Me Link Party, Thursday Favorites, Something to Talk About, Made By You Monday, DIY Sunday Showcase, Lifestyle Link Up, Snickerdoodle Sunday,