In addition to being a freelance writer, I work from home as the executive director of a non-profit organization. This May, I returned home from our annual conference wiped out, exhausted and in desperate need of a vacation.
A few nights later, late at night while researching possible vacation destinations, I booked a vacation for my family of four to Disney World. The next day, I woke up and wondered what I had been thinking!
When planning a trip to Disney with the kids, especially younger kids, I learned quickly that the first thing you need to do is get the right mindset. This trip was not going to be relaxing, was not going to be all about us adults and chances are, we'd come home from Disney needing a vacation from the vacation.
Since we had more vacation time then we needed for our trip, we purposely planned our travel so that we'd have a few days to recover and get back on schedule once we returned home. Knowing that we would have time to regroup before getting back into the daily grind put us at ease as we tackled the rest of our vacation planning.
Prior to booking the trip, I did lots of research on the best places to stay. Our children are 1 and 2 years old so we really wanted to stay in the park to eliminate the need for added transportation to and from the parks each day. We also wanted to be close enough to the parks, especially the Magic Kingdom, so that we could come home during the day for naps. Being on the Disney Dining Plan was also a deciding factor for us because we wanted to book our meals and pay for them prior to going on our trip. So for us, staying in the park was the best option.
With information gleaned from the Walt Disney World Mom's Panel and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, we decided on staying at the Villas at Fort Wilderness. With young kids, we wanted to have a separate room to hang out in after they went to bed and the option of taking a boat or bus to the Magic Kingdom. The Villas at Fort Wilderness gave us both.
While we were originally planning to go on a vacation, possibly to Disney at the end of the summer, when I learned that children under age 3 enter the parks free and can share meals with their parents, we decided to move our trip back a few months and to book right away. The timing was perfect for us to go to Disney to celebrate my daughter's 3rd birthday. In addition to all the birthday perks guests celebrating a special occasion receive, we learned that by booking our trip and arriving in Disney while our daughter was two, she would still be eligible to eat and play free after she turned 3 in Disney.
I also knew that having the right gear would make or break our trip. For the trip we invested in a Maclaren Twin Techno double stroller. Navigating the Disney transportation system with a lightweight, collapsible stroller would be so much more manageable than using two separate strollers or a larger double. While my nearing 3 year old doesn't typically ride in a stroller, there was no way she'd be able to walk the parks all day. When she didn't want to ride, I figured the extra storage space would definitely come in handy.
Since we booked a vacation directly through Disney, we were able to also purchase our airfare through them as well. While we could have had each child sit on our lap for the flights, that wasn't an option for us. We secured each child their own seat and rented a CARES Child Aviation Restraint System for each of our children off of eBay (doing so is much cheaper than buying two!) We didn't want to lug the car seats through the airport and since Disney's Magical Express or transportation system doesn't allow them anyway, this was a great option.
While I've always heard that booking character meals was challenging, less than 40 days from our departure date, I was able to secure an appointment in the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, followed by lunch in Cinderella's Castle, breakfast at Chef Mickey's and Mickey's Backyard BBQ with the dates and times I requested. I called first thing in the morning and within 10 minutes I had confirmations at every restaurant we desired. Since our daughter is totally enthralled with Mickey and the Disney Princesses, we were sure to include lots of character dining experiences. They'll be fun for her and give us all a much needed break from the summer Florida heat.
Disney offers lots of great resources on its website, and we took full advantage of them. Anyone can order a free vacation planning DVD and free personalized maps of Disney for their trip. With the maps you can enter your child's age range and it will customize a map for you based on age appropriate attractions. These have been helpful in helping us to plan out our days and decide what attractions are on our must see list. The video was great to show our kids and help prepare them for the adventure of their lifetime.
As I sign off here, our vacation plan is complete and we're t-minus a few days before our big adventure. When we get back, I'll be sure to let you know how my planning paid off!
Have you taken your kids to Disney? What are your best tips? What do you wish you had done differently and can you share any of your own travel tips with us?