We did it. We went to Mickey’s house. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since we returned from our Disney World expedition and I think I’ve finally recovered enough to write about it.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a ton of fun. But boy is it exhausting! A little background on our excursion before I carry on… I was set to go to Orlando for a business meeting in mid-January. My colleague and I have been chatting off and on for months about how we need to take Junior to Disney (he and his family are HUGE Disney fans and go every year). Long story short, he busted into my office back in October and said “I got it! You’re going to Orlando anyway in January so you MUST mix in a Disney trip!” I thought about it and said why the heck not? The timing was actually pretty great. January is off season in the land of Disney, our son isn’t in school yet so it’s no big deal to yank him out of daycare, he’s an only child at the moment which helps a ton, and I was going down there anyway. My wonderful colleague had accumulated some extra Disney Vacation Club points that were close to expiring, so he helped set up our lodging. How lucky are we?
So there you have it. Our family’s first Disney trip was locked down and I had no idea where to begin. I know from talking to other people over the years that families often plan for MONTHS in advance; every step they take, every meal they eat, every show they attend, every moment they sleep. But you know what? That’s not my style. For someone so textbook type-A, it’s odd that I really like to wing my vacations. I obviously did a little research on where we were staying and the parks themselves, but for the most part we decided to figure it out once we got there. I also had to factor in my back-and-forth to business functions, which is why we were heading that way in the first place.
Junior’s first plane ride was a breeze. He’s 4 so we didn’t have to take a bunch of extra junk; he just sat in the seat, waited eagerly for the flight attendant to bring him a snack, and flipped through the TV channels (thank you Jet Blue for your built-in entertainment). We arrived in Orlando, found our transportation, and got to the Animal Kingdom Lodge with no trouble. Once we settled in a bit we got our bearings and headed out. Now I’m not going to give you a play-by-play of our entire 5 days there because that’s overkill. What I will do is sum up our experience and offer some words of wisdom in a nice, tidy, bulleted list. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@mommybanter) probably saw the daily #DisneyLessons I posted each evening. You’ll see some of them in my list again Here we go…
- We only bought passes to the official Disney parks this time (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios). With only 5 days we knew it would be impossible to get to Sea World and some of the others. BUT we included a park-hopper to give us the freedom to bounce from park to park if we wanted.
- Mid-January is a PERFECT time to go. There were definitely some people there, but it was MUCH less crowded than a peak season week. The weather was good; a little chilly but we rarely needed more than jeans and a light jacket. After going in January I will never attempt to go in the summer. I will take my children out of school for a week before I try to conquer Disney World between May and October.
- Side note… You can totally tell who came to Orlando from Wisconsin or South Dakota or Maine or another freezing state. They were wearing tank tops and flip flops in 59-degree weather.
- Best thing we did? Bring the umbrella stroller. Of course our 4 year old was not thrilled when we told him to hop in, but getting him around the airport and the parks would have been an absolute nightmare without it.
- Side note… There is designated stroller parking all throughout the parks. If you go rogue and put that stroller somewhere else, a park employee will move it. So that means you panic and think someone has walked off with your stroller and all the crap you’ve stuffed in it. We learned that the first day.
- My anti-planning really only hurt us in one way – dinner reservations. We were on a budget so we had no intention of doing expensive character breakfasts and fancy dinners every night. But I did want us to have one “nice” dinner together at a sit-down restaurant. But reservations fill up fast and we came up empty. So we ended up doing the nice buffet dinner in our hotel one night – mainly because we couldn’t get a reservation anywhere else and we didn’t feel like having a sandwich. It was delicious but overpriced (go figure). All of the “quick service” food in the parks is pretty darn tasty, so we didn’t feel at all deprived. And it was better for our credit card anyway.
- The cool thing about Disney? They let you bring in your own snacks! A friend of mine told me that before we left and it was music to my ears. So we stuffed a backpack full of granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, etc. and it was a lifesaver. One thing we didn’t do that we should have is come with a case of bottled water or go to a convenience store (off property) to buy some. That would have saved us a little cash. Fortunately it wasn’t blazing hot like in the summer so we weren’t going through water like crazy.
- Another thing we started doing is having a big breakfast at the quick place in our hotel, and taking advantage of the inexpensive a la carte stuff that’s available. Our place sold baggies of sliced bread, so we used the free packets of peanut butter and jelly to make PBJ sandwiches for the afternoons at the parks.
- We spent full days at each park and made our way to Downtown Disney one night. And trust me, they are FULL DAYS. My husband and I both got Fit Bits for Christmas and we logged 20,000+ steps each day! Remember people, bring your stroller… No young kiddo can walk that much for 5 days in a row. It’s hard to say what our favorite park was, as each one had its own special things that we liked. Magic Kingdom obviously has the most rides, Animal Kingdom has an amazing safari tour, Hollywood Studios was great for daddy/son time — hello Star Wars — (I was in meetings that day), and Epcot has, in my opinion, the best food options. We chose to watch Epcot fireworks two nights in a row vs. fighting the crowds at Magic Kingdom. They were awesome.
- We also purchased the Memory Maker package to ensure that we got lots of family photos during our time there. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it to have 150 pictures at your fingertips without lugging a camera. And we could download all of them and share them with the grandparents.
- I had a lot of people tell me that we’d be way off schedule and we’d have Junior up until 11:00 every night, yada yada yada. That really wasn’t the case for us. We took our time in the mornings and paid attention to when he was starting to lose it in the evenings. He was in bed most nights by 9, except the nights we watched fireworks and that was closer to 10. It’s exactly what we all needed. My husband and I hung out on the balcony (usually with cocktails) while he fell asleep, and planned the next day’s activities. I had early wake up calls on 2 mornings because I had to commute 30 minutes to my business meetings, so a good night’s sleep was welcomed. Everyone knows their own kids and how they operate. Mine can stay up really late for a night or two, but he’ll eventually turn into a bear without an afternoon nap. And who wants to leave the park to go back and nap in the middle of the day? So we opted for earlier bedtimes instead. On our last full day we did go back to regroup and let him rest for an hour. My husband and I sat on our little balcony and started cocktail hour while he slept. Win win.
I could go on and on and on but I’ll spare you any more commentary. If you have specific questions about how we handled things just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you! Long story short, we took the plunge and crammed everything into 5 days that we possibly could. It was a great time, an exhausting time, and something we’d like to do again – in maybe 5 years. It’s not a cheap trip, but you can get out of there without breaking the bank if you try.
A coworker of mine said something to me once that really stuck: “There’s a big difference between a ‘vacation’ and a ‘family trip’.” Truer words have never been spoken. Unlike after a leisurely week at the beach I was ready to get home and go back to work, simply to have some sort of routine again. But we certainly appreciated the hospitality from Mickey and the gang while we were there. Mickey, we’ll see ya again real soon!