More details, dates, and deadlines than I ever wanted to know…
Hi Everyone! We returned from our very first family trip to Walt Disney World last week, and I am recovered enough from all of our fun to write a few coherent sentences–at least I hope I am!!! This post is probably going to be more information about planning a trip to Walt Disney World than you ever wanted to know, so get comfy and grab a cuppa. You’ve been warned. I am also going to post a daily diary of how we spent each day, but getting to the “magic” takes a bit of planning, so I will write up the veggies before getting to dessert, so bear with me. All the work to plan the trip is so worth it. Disney offers an exceptional customer experience, and gives easy access to all the planning tools needed. Between the advance planning and their commitment to ensure a good time, I felt like we fit a great deal of fun into 6 days. We may or may not have already made our reservations to return next year.
Have any of you seen this clever piece from HuffPo about “vacations” vs. “trips”? After our last misadventure to Maui and reading those hilariously helpful tips, I really wanted to get as close to a vacation feel as possible. So many of my reservation and dining choices were made in that spirit rather than the goal of being as thrifty as possible. I do love that Walt Disney World can be done in many price brackets, from luxury to economy, depending on a family’s wants and needs. I needed a vacation, and I was willing to pay a little extra to have it. Some of the initial expenses, like the deluxe dining plan, actually saved us money too. It all boils down to what kind of trip (or vacation!) you want, because there are literally endless options to meet everyone’s needs. I was fortunate that I have a couple of friends who are Disney junkies to help me with my numerous questions, and I am so grateful for them sharing their knowledge.
To achieve the vacation feel traveling with a 4 and 2-year-old, I had a vision: travel via air, no car seats or rental cars, no kitchen, no cooking and no cleaning. I wanted to enjoy some yummy food and get decent sleep, children permitting. I also did not want to constantly be the cruise activity director or go to the parks during peak times. My picks: round-trip air via American Airlines, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Park hopper tickets, and the Disney Deluxe dining plan. I’ve rounded up my thoughts and ideas into the four Ws of Walt Disney World travel planning: WHEN, WHERE, WHAT & WHO.
- When–I used the crowd prediction calendar to determine a low occupancy time that worked for our schedules. That is not to say that is the only time to go! The crowd levels will determine how quickly you can move around the parks, literally, so my park itineraries were based on lower crowd levels. If I were to go during peak times, I think it would be fine as long as the planning was made with that in mind. With such young children, I knew waiting in long lines would be problematic.
- Where–There are so many amazing places to stay in Orlando! I chose to stay “on property” at a Disney Resort because it gave us earlier access to make some of the hard-to-get advanced dining reservations (180 days out) and to fast passes (60 days out vs. 30). It also includes airport transfers, Disney’s Magical Express service that includes transferring checked bags to your resort room, plus easy transportation between resort and park. I chose one of the 3 resorts on the monorail for extra efficiency. Where to eat is another big part of the planning. It is good to familiarize yourself with the restaurant offerings and locations. The website and app both allow you to search dining by location. Where different attractions are located in each park, and what other attractions are nearby is probably the biggest, and most difficult part of planning. The parks are all extensive, and I didn’t really know my way around as well as I should have ahead of time. That learning curve is probably a necessary one, however, as it is a lot to remember even if you have a photographic memory. Study that map to minimize unnecessary walking and loading/unloading your stroller if kiddos are young. It works really nicely when you can park your stroller and go on Dumbo, The Barnstormer, Mad Tea Party, and meet the characters that are nearby.
- What–Again, using the crowd prediction calendar, I determined what park we would go to each day, and that made narrowing down the restaurant list to make reservations for each day easy. During December, Mickey has a Magical Christmas Party starting at 7:00p on certain nights. Those days were always the lowest attendance at Magic Kingdom because the park essentially closes early and the Christmas Party costs extra. Since we were easily finished with our day in the park by 4:30p and didn’t stand a chance of the kiddos being awake for fireworks, these lower crowd days worked well for us.
- Who–I thought it would be most fun for our family to do most of the activities as a group of four to experience it all together. Who was tall enough for the ride and whether it was of interest to my children helped me determine the itinerary for fast passes. I only divided our group twice during the entire trip for two rides that I knew my older son would love. If you have a younger child who isn’t tall enough for rides, and doesn’t mind, you can request a “rider switch” so each parent can go with the older child, and the older child gets to ride twice. What worked best for us was to give my mini her own special ride with mom while her brother did his ride. She and I rode Winnie the Pooh with fast passes while my hubby and son tackled the Seven Dwarves Mine Train.
Well, if you’ve made it this far, and your coffee isn’t too cold, I’ll share the best W of all–Why! You’ve earned your montage of cute Disney pictures reading all of that, after all!
I will stop there with the pictures, but I could go on and on…so many beautiful memories of this trip! Our family bonded together on so many levels, from taking in new experiences to working as a team to hustle to dining reservations, to just chilling at the little beach. I can’t wait until we get to go back! Looking forward to reliving all the magic in my daily diary posts and sharing them. Want a peek inside my suitcase? Check out my Disney fashion for moms post! xo, Karen