The truth as I know it:

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life. But those who make their journey home across time & miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them, are carried on the wings of destiny and placed among us by God's very own hands. ~~~ Kristi Larson

Friday, February 27, 2009

Disney My Way!

There is so much information out there on how to do Disney, it's totally overwhelming to a "fly by the seat of your pants", unorganized, scatterbrained girl like myself. In fact, my sweet hubby had been urging me to book us a trip to Disney for a few months before I got up the courage to take the bull by the horns. Every time I would sit down to try to book, there would just be SO many decisions to make that I was paralyzed and ended up walking away afraid to make the wrong choices. This post is an attempt to capture, for the other "anally retentive challenged" folks of the world, the bare bones, "just do it" approach to Disney. I have a few friends who have upcoming trips planned and I took notes JUST FOR THEM! :) If you are not planning a trip to Disney, this post will bore your socks off so don't bother reading! :)

Things I wish I had packed:
  1. 2 pairs of shoes. I know this seems evident, but I took one pair of tennis shoes and wished SO badly that I had my crocs. A pair of Merrells, Tevas, Keens, etc. would have been the perfect alternate to the Crocs days. Tennis shoes were fine, but I would have preferred a little more room for my SWOLLEN toes'ies to spread out.
  2. Hand Gel... now, for some of you germ-o-phobes out there, I know this goes everywhere with you, but I do not typically carry this stuff. I really wished I had had it at Disney because it wasn't always handy to wash our hands before a meal. Plus, I'll show you on Monday the little gross incident that we had with the "World's dirtiest Lego." Ewwww, wish I'd had the hand gel.
  3. Take a brightly colored (I'm talking NEON) ribbon or some other easily removable "tag" to put on your rented stroller. Seriously, there are about 10,000 of them floating around the parks each day and even though you have a name tag on them, it would have been alot easier to go straight for the correct stroller if I'd had some type of identifying marker to tie to the handle.
  4. Band-Aids - My pinky toes could have used a break about day 3.
  5. Lotion... I ran out of lotion about two days in and my skin was cursing me for it.
  6. Tylenol and Advil for kids AND adults. I brought BC powders for myself, which was great for the achy feet at the end of the day, however, Liam got a headache one day and we had to head to Disney First Aid for some pain relief. I know, I know, how long have I been parenting? I should have traveled with all the essentials, but as I mentioned before, I'm very organizationally challenged. I'm very typically unprepared!
  7. Sunscreen... we really didn't need it, but if you have fair children, it would be a must.
  8. Hats, the sun can be brutal at times and the shade of the hat was great.
  9. More snacks than you would EVER eat in a week at home. Seriously... my kids ate their weight in gummy snacks, fruit roll-ups, peanut butter crackers, and the like. I would pull these out just about the time someone was starting to have a melt-down and it was really instant revival. They were like bottles for babies.
  10. 18-55 Lens for my SLR. (see below)

Things I am glad I brought:

  1. The "Unofficial Guide to Disney". This book was great once we were there. We would read the section for the particular park we were planning for the next day. We structured our days somewhat around the suggestions in the book. My thoughts are, IF you are as overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information as I was, my suggestion would be to ONLY read the introductory part of the book prior to visiting Disney. It will just give you some basic information (like maybe don't make the Magic Kingdom your first park, etc.) Then, read the individual park sections on the night prior to your visit to that park. That way, you'll have a good game plan for the day, but not have TOO much information to process at once.
  2. Snacks were brilliant on my part (seriously, this is SO unlike me to have had those with me) but I did not have enough. See number 9 above.
  3. Two cameras (my SLR and my pocket camera.) There were days when I didn't want to fool with the large camera and I was glad to throw my pocket camera in my... ugh... pocket. :) But... I do wish I had brought the small lens for the SLR. If you have the 18-55, it would be plenty of lens for every day except the Animal Kingdom day and the 25-300 is way too big to lug around all the time. My kids kept bumping their heads on the lens.

The Parks Info:

  1. Personally, my kids could have totally skipped the World Showcase at Epcot and not missed a thing. I enjoyed the beer in Germany and Brian and I had alot of fun walking "around the world", but honestly, the kids could have totally cared less. And we did Epcot on our first day based on the recommendation in the "Unofficial Guide", which was perfect, really. If I were doing it again, I would go to Epcot, do the Nemo's Undersea Adventure, the Test Track (which even young children can do) and Soarin', then we'd spend our extra time from that day at another park. (Of course, on the other hand, how can you go to Disney and not see SOME of the World Showcase?) However, you have to arrive EARLY to get a Fast Pass for Soarin' or else stand in line for hours. We didn't ride it because of this (we arrived late in the day and all the FastPasses were gone.) Nemo's undersea adventure was so great we rode it twice. The fireworks show at Epcot is really great, but I think it started at 9 on Sunday night so it was a little late if you've been going all day. But it is really good!
  2. At the Magic Kingdom if you want to ride Peter Pan's Flight, go early and get your fast pass immediately. We went to MK two days and both times they were out of FastPass by mid-morning. The Haunted Mansion ride is a little bit spooky for the kids, but Pirates of the Caribbean is great! Even young children can do it with no problem. The one thing that I would actually plan my visit around is the Spectro Magic parade. Liam and I caught this one totally by accident and we lucked into excellent spots for viewing... it's a nighttime parade and all the characters are lit up. We saw three parades and this one out shined the rest by 10 miles. It only runs two days though, so you have to plan around it. The fireworks are the best at Magic Kingdom.
  3. Animal Kingdom is a half-day park for most families, probably. Get your fast pass for Kilimanjaro Safari AND Everest if you hope to ride them both. The safari is a must do and the main attraction. I would NOT let my kids ride Dinosaur unless they are super brave. Liam rode Everest, Space Mountain, and Tower of Terror. He still thought the Dinosaur ride was fun, but he ranked it as scary. It's VERY loud and dark.
  4. Hollywood Studios was possibly our favorite park, but we love movies. Have one adult arrive at the park by opening and go IMMEDIATELY to Toy Story Mania for a FastPass. We arrived at 9:15 (park opened at 9) and the line for the FastPasses was already about 200 people deep. We thought we would be able to ride later in the day so we didn't bother, but by 10:30 the FastPasses were all gone for the day and the line never got under 110 minutes the whole day. I did hear that if you go during one of the Fantasmic showings that the line is short, but I wouldn't know because we were actually IN the Fantasmic show, which is a MUST do! It's fabulous. Hollywood is a good park to do on your third or fourth day because it's alot of sitting in shows, etc. and the kids are so pooped they don't mind sitting around. The Lights, Motors, Action stunt show was my VERY favorite thing I did the whole week. I was AMAZED in the first 10 seconds... it's great.
  5. I wouldn't bother standing in line for Prince Caspian unless your kids are major Narnia fans. It was just okay.

Good things to know:

  1. I could go either way on bringing your own stroller vs. renting one. The pro of renting the strollers there is that you don't have the hassle of folding up the stroller and carting it back and forth to the hotel, especially if you are using Disney transportation. I would rent the double, regardless of whether you have two kids to use it or not, it's nice to have an extra spot to stash stuff. The strollers are great, you can leave your stuff on the stroller and there are designated stroller parking areas everywhere. No one bothers them so you can just leave your big stuff on the stroller when you are in a ride.
  2. The Port Orleans resorts are fine in terms of a hotel room, however, they are really no big deal. There is nothing particularly "Disney" about them. I heard they have the best pools, but if that is the best Disney has to offer then I could help them with a few ideas. The pools do have slides, etc., but they are really not anything special. It's okay for what you pay and probably fine considering how much time we DID NOT spend in the room (we literally came there to sleep and that was it.) I have nothing to compare it to, but I would say if the budget is tight, the All Star resorts would be just as good (and probably more "themed" for kids.) And I am sure the Wilderness Lodge and the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which are both also moderately priced, are better in terms of the "Disney experience." However, one thing to consider is how many are in your party. We had to sleep six to a room so our choices were limited.
  3. The Disney Dining Plan turned out to be a very good thing for our family. I think we saved a bit of money in the end, but the main thing was the convenience. We did the two counter service meals and two snacks per person per day option. Meg was counted as an infant so we didn't have a meal plan for her but this was no problem because all of the portions were very generous and we usually had too much food at each meal. We loved being able to grab a snack whenever we wanted one without having the hassle of trying to be frugal with our money. Also, you can snack and eat from almost anywhere in the park. Based on which package you choose (counter service which is where you order your food from the counter and then sit or table service where you sit down and have a waiter.) We did not wish that we had table service options because we didn't want to take that much time out of our schedule, but if you are going for certain restaurants and wanting certain experiences in dining, then I would recommend the table service option. The thing I don't like about this is that it doesn't have many snacks on the plan and truthfully, we used the snacks a TON because you can get drinks, popcorn, pretzels, candied nuts from cart vendors, virtually anything Disney has can be used as a snack. The "refillable mugs" are not worth the hassle. You have to refill them in your hotel, which we did on the second day. But then we had to fool with the five mugs all day and it just wasn't worth it.
  4. I did not once wish we had a car. The Disney transportation is very convenient and the buses run so regularly we never waited more than five minutes for a bus. We even switched one day from monorail to bus for the downtown Disney transfer and it was no big deal. I could see how staying on the monorail would have been fun, but honestly, it probably wouldn't be worth the extra money in the end.
  5. We did Downtown Disney on Thursday morning before going to the airport. It was a great time to be there because it was not crowded. We went straight into T-Rex, were seated right away, and were allowed to even choose which section we wanted to sit in. If you have a kiddo who is into dinosaurs, then T-Rex is worth the money it costs to eat there. We sat in the ice cave and from there you could see the meteor shower that occurs every 20 minutes in the main dining area. Downtown Disney is optional in my opinion. I know alot of people love it and the Lego store is amazing, but for little kids there's not all that much that's ultra-interesting.

I am not into all the "stand here by x time and send someone for ice cream at x place while others hold your spot" kind of stuff. So for our family, it was a very good choice to go in February because we never waited more than 40 minutes in any line (that was for Lights, Motors, Action.) The majority of rides were at around the 15-20 minutes time frame, which in Disney terms is the same as no wait. We walked right onto most rides that we had FastPass for. As far as traffic goes, we were there at a very "uncrowded" time, and even so, it seemed packed to me. With very little preparation we were able to have a wonderful experience and felt so happy with all the stuff we were able to do. I think that each time you visit Disney you could have a totally different experience because there is SO much to do and for us, just happening upon things was some of the fun. We didn't have a list of "must sees" other than Fantasmic and were just excited to discover what was next without the stress of a major plan. I am sure there are others out there who would say, "I can't believe you missed x, x, and x." but it's sort of like choosing a wedding dress... all the other folks seeing you didn't see all the choices you had so the one you come down the aisle in looks perfect. Same with Disney. I am sure there are things we didn't do that we would have LOVED and that are awesome, but the things we did do were awesome to us and we didn't know it if we were missing something better so what we did was fabulous. And as opposed to being overwhelmed and stressed, I think for OUR FAMILY, the way we did it worked well. There's not that much that I would change, but I would stay in a different hotel next time.

From a sign I saw in a store:

"My prince already came... His name is Jesus!"


Tiger & Kar said...

Thanks for the tips Ondrea! Growing up in FL, I've been to Disney a bizzillion times, but NEVER as a parent and the organizer!! This will be great info for when we take Ilya on his first trip.

Speaking of did Meg do? Do you have a recommended age for a first trip? Ilya will be 2 on 3/21 (YIKES!!) and we were thinking of taking him when he's 3. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Sounds like other than the hotel, you guys had a great trip! Did I mention I am jealous?

Kim Abraham said...

I can still hear the excitement (and perhaps a little exhaustion) in your writing. Thanks for the great tips! We LOVE Disney and have our own way of doing it too, but it's always nice to benefit from the other's experiences!

How did the boys' school react to taking them out before Spring Break? I ask becasue our oldest two may be going public next fall. As homeschoolers, we always do Disney off season. Yes, we're totally spoiled and hate waiting even 10 minutes in line. :(

Carey and Norman said...

Thanks for the break down. We were planning to go next February for our son's fifth birthday. The kids would both be five and would hopefully remember the parks and still be young enough to enjoy. Thanks for letting us know that February is a great time of year to go! I'm going to copy and paste this information into Word to keep!!

Carol said...

Welcome back. We had an awesome time when we went in january. Didn't think of doing a post like this :), BTW Jan. is a great time to go too, No lines. P loved the rides, he didn't care if it was the monorail, bus, escalator or elavator, anything that moved. P napped in the stroller every day for at least 1 1/2 hours and slept great every night!

I'm The Momma, That's Why! said...

So glad you enjoyed your visit to our neighborhood! You did luck out by getting some of our cooler weather - which REALLY makes such a big difference. I've gotta tell you, nothing like our heat and humidity to ruin a good time at Disney!

I would suggest that anyone coming from the north avoid our summer months if at all possible! I know it's hot and humid everywhere - but combine it with acres of cement and asphalt - and about 10 jillion people - and about 3 jillion unhappy, hot, sticky kids that want to get in the pool .. .. .. well, you get the idea!

BTW - I try to hit at least one park once a month ~ it never gets old!

Grannie in Florida