SURPRISE, we went to Disney World last week!
It was a trip we had been planning for over a year and I cannot believe it's over. It was an amazing week and I am so incredibly thankful we were able to share this magical time with our kids. It was pure joy seeing them get "arms flailing, giggly excited" over a fun ride or character meeting. I will always cherish our Disney moments and they will be memories that I'll remember forever :)
As a way for me to remember our vacation and hopefully help someone else who is planning a trip I am recapping our week. If you're here for DIY and decorating tips don't worry, I'll be back to posting about DIY as soon as I recover from vacation mode, I promise!
We didn't tell our kids until about 3 weeks before our trip. I had big plans of surprising them that ended up not going as I had imagined. Maybe I shouldn't have watched all those videos of kids crying with excitement after finding out they were going to Disney.
I bought each of our kids their own little book bag and filled them with a ton of Disney gear and plane ride entertainment. Each kid had a set of Mickey ears, an autograph book, new Disney t-shirt and every and anything Disney related. I put everything in their book bags and placed them in a box that I wrapped in Disney paper. I attached a Disney travel tag and was sure they would get all the clues.
I called in the kids and said that there were boxes left by the door. Owen was eager to unwrap the gifts while Paige was very hesitant. (I later learned that she thought they were belated birthday gift's for Owen and even after being told one was for her she was afraid to open her box.) They eventually started ripping open the boxes and I surely thought they would pick up on all the clues. I was wrong, so wrong. Owen was more excited about his new toothbrush and hand sanitizer than anything else. As much as they have been wanting to go to Disney and as much as we have been talking about Disney I surely thought they would get it right away. We finally had to tell them we were going to Disney and they both just kind of looked blankly at us. Paige eventually got it and showed a little excitement while Owen started crying, saying he was scared to fly and didn't want to go. Total fail!
WHY WE CHOSE SEPTEMBER AND TO TAKE OUR KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL.
About 5 years ago we took our kids to Disney, our son was one and our daughter was three. We went the end of August into early September and it was the perfect time. The crowds were manageable since local schools were already back in session and the weather was a bit milder. I knew this time around I wanted to go in September, but didn't want to pull my kids out of school right away. My son was starting kindergarten and I wanted him to have a few weeks to adjust to his new schedule. Most people may not opt to take their kids out of school, but if you have ever been to Disney in the summer you will agree that the crowds are unbearable, the heat is intense and lines are insane. I've only been to Disney once in the summer and you could not pay me to go back, especially with kids.
WHERE WE STAYED
This was by far the hardest decision to make. It took me about 3 weeks to finalize our hotel reservation and it was not an easy task. Can you tell I am a VERY indecisive person? When we first went to Disney we stayed at the Contemporary for the connivence of the monorail. Overall, it was incredibly convenient for quick trips back for afternoon naps, but felt the resort was dated and not worth the additional cost.
This time around I priced everything from value resorts to deluxe resorts. The price ranged from $115 a night at a value resort (Pop Century) to over $550 a night at a deluxe resort (Contemporary). It was a HUGE price difference and I went back and forth many times regarding how much I wanted to spend and the pros and cons of each option. I knew we wouldn't be headed back to Disney anytime soon, so I could justify staying at a nicer resort. What I couldn't justify was paying thousands of dollars more to stay on the monorail. In the end, I settled on Wilderness Lodge, a deluxe resort located just a short 5 minute boat ride from Magic Kingdom.
This was the first time we stayed at Wilderness Lodge and it did not disappoint. The staff was friendly, the rooms were updated and clean and the food and restaurants were great. The resort has a large pool with water slide, an awesome kids water play area and beach access. The grounds were gorgeous and I enjoyed walking around and taking in all the beautiful scenery.
Our kids LOVED spending time in the pool and couldn't get enough of the water slide. Both the pool and water playground provided a great place for them to let out some energy. Owen even learned to swim while we were there and was able to go down the water slide and swim to the other end of the pool without swimmies!
(Our third floor balcony view)
We ate one dinner and breakfast at Whispering Canyon, which is a sit down Western restaurant full of fun antics located at Wilderness Lodge. The kids loved having to get up and stand on a chair to yell "we need ketchup!" Everyone who had ketchup then had to bring it to our table. I think we ended up with 12 bottles of ketchup!
I felt the Roaring Fork quick service restaurant was small and could sometimes be crowded. I can't even imagine how hectic it would have been during the busy summer months. The food portions were very large and we were able to split many meals, but the coffee was horrible.
FREE MEAL PLAN
Another major reason why we chose to travel in September is that Disney usually offers free dining meal packages at select resorts during September and October. There are a few meal plans to choose from and we opted for the basic dining package, which included 1 table service, 1 quick service, 1 snack and a refillable mug. In my opinion, this is the best option since it offers you the ability to make reservations at nicer restaurants while giving you the flexibility of not having your entire day scheduled. If you have ever been to Disney you know that scheduling your visit WAY in advance is a must. You can make dining reservations as far as 180 days in advance and I highly suggest you take advantage of early booking.
WHERE WE ATE
In order to take advantage of our meal plan and limit time spent in line waiting to visit characters I made as many character meal reservations as possible. The only down side of character dining is that the majority of restaurants are buffet style. They want to get people in and out as fast as possible, which sometimes means rushed meals and not so great food. At least the kids were happy!
Crystal Palace with Pooh and friends
Hollywood & Vine
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
We were able to meet most of the princesses and other characters at meal times, which saved us from spending valuable time waiting in long lines. We did wait for Merida from Brave and Owen was over the moon for her.
She thought he was the cutest thing and even gave him a kiss of the cheek. We waited in lines for a few other characters, but they always ended up taking breaks and the wait times ended up being crazy long. You are able to get fast passes for character meetings so if your kids are really looking forward to meeting someone special I suggest getting a fast pass.
RIDE WAIT TIMES
(Toy Story Mania)
September-October is one of the best times to visit Disney. Not only do they offer free dining, but wait times are minimal compared to the dead of summer. Standing in line for an hour in 100 degree weather just doesn't make for an ideal vacation. Thankfully, most of our wait times were less than 15 minutes and some rides were even much less. We used fast passes for the really popular rides (Soaring in Epcot, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom, Toy Story Mania in Hollywood Studios, Frozen Sing Along Celebration in Hollywood Studios, Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom, and many more). There were a few rides that we would have liked to get on, but the wait times were ridiculous. I'm talking upwards of an hour and in my opinion NO ride is worth waiting over an hour for.
I was so proud of Paige for braving the Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest!
NOT SO SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY
When we decided to go to Disney in September I knew I wanted to pay the additional fee for tickets to Disney's Not So Scary Halloween Party. I had seen highlights of the party and my daughter always expressed interest whenever we watched Disney specials. We went on a thursday, which I thought would be less crowded and I WAS WRONG!
(I brought a costume for Owen, but he didn't want to dress up!)
Let me first say that I am not someone who handles crowds easily. I get overwhelmed and hate being squished between people who are pushing and running you over. With that being said, in my opinion the $68 per person price tag for this party is NOT worth the cost. The party starts at 7:00, but you can enter the park as early as 4:00. We arrived around 5:00 and the crowds were minimal and we were able to get on a few rides with very little wait times. At 7:00 cast members began handing out candy and even though the lines were long they moved rather quickly.
Disney does hand out treat bags, but they are fairly small. If you plan on leaving the park with a haul of candy I suggest you bring your own bags. I actually bought a few Halloween bags (purchased for $1.00 a piece at Walmart), which worked out great for our kids.
The major problem I had with the party was after the sun went down. It became VERY crowded and was hard to see and get your bearings as to where you were. It was hard to maneuver through crowds and people were pushy. We went to the earlier parade and had to find a place to stand about a half hour before the parade started. After the first parade we hit a few more trick-or-treat locations before getting frustrated and calling it a day. We didn't even try and stay for the shows and fireworks.
I don't regret the party, but I certainly won't be attending again, especially since it cost our family an additional $300 to attend.
My kids are 7 and 5 and renting a stroller was hands down the best money spent. To avoid dealing with a stroller in the airport I opted to rent a large double stroller from Magic Stroller. It was about $115 for 7 days and they were amazing to deal with. They deliver the stroller to your resort on the day of arrival and pick it up from the resort on your departure day.
(Paige at Hollywood Studios)
(Owen excited at the Stunt Show)
HOW WE SAVED MONEY
- We brought a lot of our own snacks.
- Since our meal plan was free (you have to pay gratuity) we spent minimal money on food.
- We used our free mugs (provided with the meal plan) to fill up drinks at our hotel, which we then took to the theme parks. This helped us from spending crazy amounts of money on food and drinks.
- I bought Disney light up toys, glow sticks and Disney related items at Target instead of at the parks.
- We brought our own ponchos (purchased at Walmart) instead of buying the expensive Disney ones.
- We rented a stroller from a private company instead of renting the ones at the park. A double stroller at the parks are $30 a day and they are NOT comfortable or provide places to store drinks.
- We used CASH! Instead of just scanning our magic band for what we did buy we used cash. This helped us keep track of what we were spending and not spend frivolously.
- We used our meal plan and snacks sparingly. In order to stretch our food and limit what we spent we planned our meals and even split meals. We ended up having 11 snacks leftover on the last day and you can bet I used every one of them. The kids loved the chocolate muffins so I brought a few home as well as snacks for the plane ride.
The trip still ended up costing us a lot of money, but it was worth every penny. The kids had an amazing time and we created memories that will last a lifetime.