"When you called me to be a Mama, You didn't ask for perfection. But that with every breath, I'd point them to You."

Monday, October 17, 2016

One Last Disney Post // Tips, Advise... and a few more pictures

Having been to Disney several times now - but just recently for the first time as a mom - I feel as though I have lots of good advice and tips to offer those of you wanting to plan your very first visit  - or plan your first trip as a parent. Even though I have been before, it's a different animal when you're taking your little people with you. :)

So without further adieu, my last Disney post of them all - and my top 11 pieces of advice for those of you wanting to plan a magical getaway of your own. :)

1. You MUST plan ahead. If you are not someone who likes to plan or organize your trips far in advance, this might not be the right vacation destination for you. In fact, Disney itself requires that you do some things even a couple of months ahead of time. Start with research - Pinterest and blogs were a huge help to me. I highly recommend following Disney Tourist Blog on Facebook (@disneytouristblog), as he had the most helpful and frequent updates and pieces of information. He loves Disney but doesn't sugar coat everything either and is very honest in his critiques and recommendations. Make sure you download the MyDisneyExperience app to your phone and that you read through all the to-do's in detail leading up to your trip. For example, if you are staying on Disney property, you can begin making your Fast Pass reservations 60 days ahead of your check-in date. Some restaurants at Disney Springs allow you to call them directly to make reservations, which is what I did to get us into T-Rex when my DisneyExperience app said there weren't any reservation openings left. Your Magic Band personalization must be ordered before the one-month countdown of your trip. These are the things that if you don't have knowledge of ahead of time, could make life a little more complicated for you once you arrive.

2. Save Money. Yes, it's possible to save even when going to Disney World. Here's how we did it. First of all, visit the dollar store for travel games or search Amazon Travel Games for fun things to do with the kids in the airplane and in the hotel room. Pinterest has some fun Disney-themed word scrambles, searches and printable games. You don't have to stay at a high-end Disney resort to have a fabulous resort experience. We chose the moderate route for this trip, but we've also stayed at value resorts previously and may do so again during our next trip. If you're at any Disney resort, you will have a magical time and get treated like royalty. And one of our best decisions of the trip had to do with food. We used Amazon Prime to order from Amazon Pantry about two weeks prior to our check-in date. We picked out breakfast pantry items and some juices and apple sauce snacks for the mini-fridge in our hotel room and had everything shipped straight to our resort so that it would be waiting for us upon arrival. We ate breakfast in our hotel rooms every morning and took snacks with us into the parks by packing them in our little backpacks. Yes, Disney allows you to take food and drinks into the parks with you! Eating breakfast before leaving our room allowed us to get to the parks right at opening time without having to get up super early to visit the food court or restaurant ahead of time, and I only spent $40 total on our breakfast and snack food for the whole week by getting it from Amazon. We would have spent much more than $40 per day on just breakfast alone had we eaten at the resort. And taking the snacks into the parks with us allowed us to reserve all of our food money for those nice meals we made reservations for and wanted to enjoy. I was actually surprised when I saw our final bill from our entire week at Disney. Our sit down meals for lunch and dinner were the most expensive, but aside from that, we hardly spent any money.

3. Stay on Disney property. If your sole purpose for visiting Orlando and Florida is to be at Disney, this is your best route. Transportation is easy and complimentary. You get to enjoy Extra Magic Hours when everyone else isn't allowed in the parks. And probably the biggest benefit is that you get to make your Fast Pass reservations 60 days in advance instead of 30 days in advance for the people that don't stay on Disney property. That leads into my next item...

4. Make your Fast Pass Reservations 60 days in advance! If you stay on property, your window of opportunity opens up at 7am eastern time 60 days prior to your check-in date. Not only do you need to take advantage of it on day 60 but you need to be ready to check into your Disney account at 7am eastern on the money. Brandon and I set the alarm clock and woke up extra early on our designated day and logged into our account at 6am sharp. Even then, I was battling thousands of other people trying to get fast passes for the same attractions on the same days. I got lucky and scored a fast pass for everything I wanted, but in a few cases there was only one or two spots left and I was able to snatch them up. Had I waited even five minutes, they probably would have been gone. This Fast Pass thing sounds silly, but getting fast passes for the biggest attractions will save you hours in line and make your trip so much more enjoyable.

5. Plan, plan, plan but also be flexible and don't over-plan! That might sound like I'm contradicting myself a bit, but it's true. We planned, organized and strategized the things that we needed to - but also left plenty of room for flexibility - and definitely did not have our hours mapped out from one to the next. I had three fast pass reservations per day and the rest of our attractions were done when we chose to do them. I only made one dining reservation a day and the rest of our dining options were chosen on a whim. I made myself aware of the shows and parades that we might want to see but didn't restrict myself to seeing them unless we found ourselves with an open window of time, opportunity and desire to do so. Aside from the evening firework shows, every show and parade that we saw was unplanned for. But that's Disney. There is always something going on and you just can't see it all, but you can be assured you will still see a lot. So don't stress yourself out by planning out every single hour. Magical things will happen for you even if you don't plan for them to.

6. You can't do it all. You just can't. You could be there two weeks and still not see and do everything. Disney World is exactly that - it's a world. There is plenty of things I swore we would do during this visit that we just didn't get around to, but we did the things that were most important to us, and we still managed to come home with no regrets. I didn't make it on Tower of Terror. Dad didn't see the Hall of Presidents. I completely forgot about the Beauty and the Beast castle. If anything, it just incentivizes us to go back again in a couple of years, which makes our boys very happy to hear. ;)

7. Choose the Park Hopper pass option. You can't see and do it all, but the park hopper passes sure do help get you closer. We loved being able to bounce around from park to park each day and not feel confined to staying in one park the whole day. We got rained out at Epcot Monday night, but it didn't matter because our park hopper allowed us to go back two days later. We loved Animal Kingdom and made some incredible memories there, but we couldn't have spent a whole day in that park because it has the fewest attractions and no nighttime entertainment (yet). The single day passes are fine if you're planning on going to Magic Kingdom during a visit to Florida but you don't care to see any of the other parks. If you want to visit every park and only have a few days to do so, Park Hopper is your friend.

8. Time of year is important. If you don't have to go in the middle of summer, don't. If you're not a teacher and can get time off work outside of holiday and school breaks, do so. Do not go over Christmas break or spring break, and please do not attempt New Year's Eve or you'll end up one of the unlucky ones that gets locked out of the park when they reach capacity and have to shut their gates down. And even if you don't get locked out of the park, you'll be stuck in the park when it's at its absolute busiest and you're literally standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of strangers and all their kids. We have gone in the summer. We have gone over Christmas break. We have gone in early December and in January and now - in the fall. We've hit it all. Crowds are at their lowest in September and in late January and February. September is still hot and rainy, but the longest we had to wait in line was an hour and we only had to do that once. It's Disney - there's always lots of people - but the crowds were not a factor for us on our trip this time, and that made the heat more manageable. October is starting to get busier again now that more schools are implementing fall breaks. Early December - before schools let out - is unbeatable, in my opinion. Not only is the weather comfortable, the rainy season has passed, and let me tell you - no one decorates for Christmas like Mickey does.

9. Don't be afraid to take a good camera along. You can take your bags and cameras with you on each attraction without having to leave them behind, and I will never regret all these pictures. I found a balance between getting the shots I wanted, while also enjoying the moment without living it behind the lens. And if you're going to spend all that money, you might as well make sure you remember it all years down the road. These pictures mean a lot now, but I know they'll mean even more when the boys are grown.

10. Be comfortable! Pay special attention to what shoes you choose to wear, as you will walk MILES. Don't try sandals as even in her most comfortable pair, my mom still got a blister. Don't wear tennis shoes you just bought either - you want your feet to be used to what they're wearing and to be fully covered. I bought my shoes a month in advance and wore them a lot before the trip. The boys wore their worn-in tennis shoes, as did Cody. None of us had any feet problems, but it can be a huge hindrance if you're feet and toes start getting blisters and you still have half a day of walking ahead of you.

11. Last but not least. HAVE FUN. It's a huge trip, it's a huge expense and it takes lots of planning and preparation. Once you get there, you've done what you can do and now it's up to you to make the most of it. It was hotter the week we were there than it was in all of July, but we were in Disney and we had the time of our lives because we chose to have a good attitude about it. When the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train broke down right at our Fast Pass Reservation time, we waited nearby for 10 minutes and sure enough, they opened the ride back up and let us on without a wait. When our evening at Epcot got rained out, we went back to our hotel room and ordered pizzas for all of us and stayed up late watching fun Disney movies from our Mickey beds. When the boys started acting tired or a little weary, we took breaks and didn't force ourselves to keep moving unnecessarily. Relax, enjoy, remember where you are and how lucky you are to be there, and then soak up that family time. My favorite part of our trip was the "Disney bubble" I felt that we were in, as I've been describing it to other people. I felt like we were in an alternate universe during our trip, without any outside distractions from social media, breaking news headlines, election politics or work e-mails. I had my family and hours stretched out ahead of me to focus on them and make memories. This time with them was so important to me and to Cody, and we both commented on our first night back at home that we felt a little out of place NOT being at Disney. Like we were our true and most happiest selves there because we weren't distracted by anything other than each other. That's hard to replicate anywhere else. Soak. It. Up.

Oh, and one more thing...

PACK THE PONCHOS. It's Florida. You will use them. :)