Sunday, August 21, 2016

Disneyworld 2016: Planning

Just to ensure that we have a record of this trip somewhere....I'm back to blogging after over a year! The kiddos are now 6.5 and 3.5 and we took them to Disneyworld in June! The trip was a blast, the kids loved it, we loved it (even more than anticipated) and we can't wait to go back. So, with that said, we're looking to keep track of some things and the blog seems to be the best place to do it.

Pinterest if FULL of crazy Disney blog posts about what you need to bring with you to the parks, what you need to pack, where you should stay, how long you should stay, which rides you should ride, which FastPasses you need, the list goes on and on! I've got some of the ones I found useful pinned here.

First off, a few things about our trip:
1) We flew out early (too early - 7am is too hard with kids!) Monday morning and flew back mid-day on Friday. This way we avoided the weekend rushes, but we realized that we could have (should have) stayed longer - probably a full week.

2) We stayed on site and didn't rent a car. We took the Magical Express bus from and back to the airport to our resort. It was a little pokey, but way more convenient than messing with a car (and hauling car seats for the kids!).
3) We stayed at Art of Animation (the upper end of the 'value' resorts, plus it's the newest resort) and we LOVED it. We chose to stay in the cheapest, motel-style rooms - the Little Mermaid block. It was cozy, but just fine for our family of four. This resort also has family suites that look awesome, but it was almost $1000 more to stay there for our trip and it just wasn't worth it to us (especially since our kiddos don't sleep on their own!). Maybe next time....
4) We also purchased the standard dining plan (one snack, one quick service, and one table service per person per night of your stay). It's spendy, but if you plan it out right, it's pretty great. We used it to take advantage of the character meals!
5) Our general timeline -
Monday: fly in, get to resort, do the pool, head to a character meal for supper
Tuesday: Magic Kingdom - character breakfast before park opened, Be Our Guest for quick service lunch, head home when kids melted down, wait out thunderstorm in the hotel, supper, pool, bed
Wednesday: Animal Kingdom - character lunch, long day there, back for late night pool run
Thursday: late morning, pool hopping at resort, head back to Magic Kingdom after lunch in hotel, ride a few rides, head to Polynesian for happy hour-timed dinner, head back to Magic Kingdom for more rides and fireworks
Friday: breakfast in hotel, pack up, bus to airport and fly out!

Keeping those things in mind, here's some of our key pointers:
A) We had an Amazon prime order sent directly to our resort! We weren't entirely sure it would work, but after reading it on multiple blogs and in travel books, we decided to give it a try. We ordered it early, just to ensure that it would be there upon our arrival (we ordered Wed for a Fri delivery and we didn't get in until Monday - no issues!). Just make sure it has the correct address for your resort, your name and arrival date, and you should be set! What did we have shipped?
  • 12 pk Gatorade (used 2-3 per day as it was HOT!, but we still came home with 3.
  • 6 pack of apple juice for breakfasts (what we thought was a 6 pk turned out to be a 24 pk so we left a lot behind). Skip for next time as we could have gotten by with milk or OJ from the resort food court as you always get a drink with your meals (and the refillable to-go mug doesn't count, so you get plenty of fluids!).
  • Trail mix (didn't really use)
  • Dried mango (used, but not lots)
  • Trader Joe's coffee concentrate (we used this entire jug!)
Upon arrival, just ask for your packages at the concierge. Have your tracking number(s) ready!

B) Snacks we packed along (as they were cheaper than buying in bulk on Amazon):
  • Protein bars (only used 2-3 total)
  • Fruit snacks (box of 10, used most, mainly on the flight or while waiting in lines)
  • Fruit strips (didn't use much)
  • 8 pack of cereal boxes, plus bowls and spoons (used all, plus we got small bottles of milk with the dining plan kids meals and then just stored them in the mini fridge in our room - we did breakfast almost every day in the hotel to save some $)
  • Suckers and gum for the plane (and waiting in line) for the kiddos!
C) Overall, I think we packed too many snacks, especially since we did a bad job of using up our snack credits on the dining plan! We had leftover ones that we used up in the food court on snacks for the plane ride home. The kids also remained occupied enough that we didn't have to use snacks to distract them like we normally do! 
D) We should have had bottled water sent from Amazon - then we could have refrigerated or froze it in our mini fridge for taking into the parks. We filled up our reusable water bottles every day, but the water from the hotel was a little warm.
E) We brought Malibu and vodka with us for mixing cocktails at the hotel - we just purchased OJ or lemonade as mixers as part of our dining plan.
F) We took diving toys (torpedos) for the pools and the kids loved using them! They also had life jackets readily available, which was great for Fynn. They used hotel towels at the pools and you just needed to call to request more as needed.
G) We took our double stroller (no wagons allowed, or we would have done that). It was absolutely necessary for our two kiddos, especially in the heat, but it was hard to maneuver, especially when it was packed with all of our extra stuff.
H) Here's the deal about the blog posts regarding what you need to bring into the park - if you aren't planning on spending the ENTIRE full day in there, ignore them. Also ignore them if you have small kids and you aren't necessarily planning on waiting in every line possible. We learned the hard way after packing a bunch of random stuff we didn't need the first day in Magic Kingdom.

Items we didn't need:

  • First aid kit
  • Bubbles (for distraction)
  • Kids' activities (also for distraction, if waiting in line)
  • Fan (we tried one from the Dollar Store, it broke, we didn't miss it)
Items we did use:
  • Cooler bag that attached to the side of our double stroller, with Gatorades and our reusable, insulated water bottles! We filled the water bottles with just ice from the hotel and it melted throughout the morning. We also packed a few snacks, just in case (but remember that we didn't do a good job of using our dining plan snacks!).
  • Cooling towel (yes, those weird things that you get wet and put around your neck, like at the state fair - totally worth it, especially for kids!)
  • Thin, foldable blanket - we didn't really use it, but it could have be useful for fireworks, parades, etc.
  • Ponchos! We purchased 8 at the Dollar Store and always had a set of 4 on us. We used one set at Animal Kingdom and avoided the downpours the other two days.
  • Autograph books and Sharpies for character autographs (we only got autographs at character meals - you don't really see characters walking around the parks like they did when I was a kid). We bought Dollar Store books and the nice retractable Sharpies in multiple colors.
  • A few glow items, for the night time parade and fireworks (we still bought each of the kids one light up toy, though!)
  • Most importantly, I think, was the power pack that we used to charge our cells! The phones really do drain in the parks and you want to be able to use them for updating FastPasses, checking wait times, maps, etc! Now it goes with us for car trips or other long outings - so useful!
I) Other random items:
  • We did use a little bit of detergent to wash dirty clothes in the hotel sink.
  • We brought too many shoes!! The kids were okay in tennies or good walking sandals, we wore our Keen sandals everyday. Just used a set of flip-flops for trips to pool. (There was a photo that showed just how many shoes we brought, but it got lost when my micro SD card on my phone crashed - and I lost almost EVERY ONE of my photos from Disney. Oh - that reminds me, take advantage of the photo plan they offer and then find every possible photographer in the parks that you can and use them!!)
  • In June, the warm layers we brought we definitely not necessary - except for maybe on the plane.
  • We also packed a few items that we could surprise the kids with in the hotel - from Mickey and Minnie.  ;)  They got Disney flip-flops and sunglasses the first day and some items to take on the plan for the flight home. The kids loved it!
  • We brought a couple of travel games for the hotel, but didn't need them as all free time was spent in the hotel pools!
  • Could do a large caribeaner to hook water bottles or the Disney refillable mugs to a stroller or backpack for inside the parks (saw quite a few people do this!).
  • We forgot to shop, so we ran out of time! Luckily, we were able to order some souvenirs on the new Disney Parks app on our way home.
Dining Plan notes:
  • We had the standard plan - one snack, one quick service meal, and one table service meal per night per person.
  • Be sure to reserve your table service meals ahead of time or you may run into issues getting those used up! We did almost all character meals for these - Chef Mickeys at the Contemporary Resort our first night there (a great way to start!), Breakfast at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom with Pooh and Piglet, and lunch with Safari Donald and friends in the Animal Kingdom Tusker Hourse. Our last one was used on the O'hana buffet at the Polynesian Resort - our best meal by far!!
  • We did a quick service lunch at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom - it requires reservations, but it's a great opportunity to go to that restaurant without using a table service credit (if you didn't want to)! Unfortunately, it was our first real day at Disney and both kiddos were conked out halfway through our lunch!!
  • Anytime you can use a breakfast to get into the park BEFORE the park opens, use it! That way you are already in the park when you're done eating - we did this at Magic Kingdom and were able to take advantage of very short lines in Fantasyland that morning.
  • Use up your snacks right away! Our faves: Dole Whips and any size Starbucks drink (inside Minnie's bakery on Main St). (Unfortunately, if you order rum with your Dole Whip, it doesn't count on your dining plan - but so, so worth it! Go for the dark!)
  • Next time, we'll also shoot for cupcakes, ice cream, cotton candy, and caramel apples at the Main St Candy shop!
  • Our resort had delivery pizza, but it counted as a table service meal, so it wasn't cost effective. Instead we did the quick service monster slices of pizza and took them back to our room ourselves.
  • We shared some of our quick service meals at the hotel food court to spread them out a bit more (plus we didn't always need that much food!).
  • Those refillable mugs that you get with the dining plan don't count as your adult beverage that comes with your quick service meal, so be sure to grab a bottle of something with your meal (this is how we got milk or OJ for breakfast or booze).
Art of Animation notes:
  • We LOVED it!
  • Little Mermaid rooms were best for our family size and sleeping arrangements (kids slept together, but we all went down at same time). Next time we may want to upgrade to a family suite - Cars or Lion King? The Nemo ones seem to be more busy since they are the main section, near the big pool and the lobby and food court.
  • We tried all of the pools (there are 3!), but we spent the most time in the Little Mermaid pool on our end, just for ease. All of the pools are less than 5ft deep, which is AWESOME for not having to worry about the kids! Fynn stayed in a life jacket (they provided) and Mia was able to swim without anything.
  • The Nemo pool is the big main one - it's pretty cool, but always busy. They do have a splash pad, which would have been critical if the kids had been younger. If you put your ears under the water, you can hear music playing! This pool has the bar, so that's a big bonus!
  • The Cars pool is the smallest, but it has cool traffic cone cabanas that you can hang out in.
  • Busing to and from the hotel was super easy! You just have to fold up the stroller to ride the buses (not on the monorail, though).
  • If we were to go back and go to the higher end, we'd do the Polynesian - it's on the monorail or you can ferry to Magic Kingdom, super good food, awesome pool, and a white sand beach to play in and watch the fireworks from!
Whew! Okay, I need sleep as I start faculty workshop for my 4th academic year tomorrow morning bright and early!! I'll try to do another post soon - with photos and info on our time in the parks! All in all, we LOVED DISNEY and can't wait to go back!