Whenever my mother, sister, and I travel, we usually start planning our next vacation while we're still on the current one. I think it's our way of coping that our time together is coming to an end and so we reflect on our trips together and come up with new adventures.
Without a doubt, our most special vacations have been when we've come to Disney to celebrate my mom's birthday as well as each grandchild's 5th birthday. A total of 4 trips since 2006 for this Goofy crew; see what I did there? We have used our trips to Orlando to also visit Sea World, Universal Studios, and Legoland. During this, our final birthday trip to Walt Disney World, I asked our troop of nine "Cast Members" what they thought about our Disney adventures and what advice they had.
Sara Ann, my mother is a well-traveled woman and enjoys all that life has to offer. I like creating travel itineraries with her and I know her main concern is that we plan meals in a way that doesn't lead to wasting money or food. She recommends trying to get a room or suite with a kitchenette so you can maximize making your own breakfast, reheating leftovers, etc. We like starting the day by eating breakfast in our room and revieiwing our plans for the day, not feeling rushed at a restaurant. The immediacy of the coffee was quite helpful to the adults too. Definitely research the Disney Dining meal plans as they might work for you. We have just had too varied itineraries during our trips to Walt Disney World (WDW) that none of them made sense for us, but if you are staying at a WDW property and focusing on exclusively going to the Disney parks, it's worth a look.
Mary Susan, my sister is a terrific organizer and planner and uses every amenity that is afforded to her. She's the one who reads the manual upon every purchase and recommends doing the same on vacation; know the details on where you are staying and all that they have to offer. For example, at our stay at Disney's Boardwalk, she found the "hidden" pool that no one was using and had a glorious time. Mary (and really, all of us) recommends staying at a WDW resort; your access to the parks and other resources such as concierge services increase the overall value of your money spent and well, just makes things easier. Specifically, staying at a WDW resort affords you access to the transportation system throughout the entire WDW (shuttles, monorail, and ferries). However, my sister's long-standing joke is that Disney's Magical Express is neither magical nor express. So...
Allow for extra time, allow for extra, extra patience.
Andy, my brother-in-law is a foodie and a wine lover. There are many great restaurants to explore at WDW - we focused on Epcot during this trip. Absolutely make all the dining reservations you are able (usually 180 days before the first day of your reservation). This is especially true when you have a large party and when any dining includes meeting characters. Our time with the princesses at the Royal Akershus Banquet Hall was so much fun. You start with a lovely Norwegian appetizer buffet and then have your dinner while characters visit your table; a dessert platter is brought while your children go through the banquet hall for a parade with the princesses. We were smiling and laughing the whole time.
Steve, my partner in crime who loves the technology side of things will tell you A) Get a Magic Band. Wear Your Magic Band. A constant conversation had among us was, "But, I'm going to the pool. Wear your Magic Band. But, I'm going to bed. Wear your Magic Band..." The Magic Bands are pretty brilliant, a customized key entry and pay system all right there on your wrist. and B) Download the My Disney Experience app and have it ready at all times because knowing what the wait times are for rides will make you the smartest person, like ever, to your kids.
Charged Cell Phones, Sunblock (under clothes too) and Water are your friends. Use them early, use them often!
The kids, Eli (15), Sara (12), Jack (8), and Anna (5) - Like a chorus, in unison, FAST PASSES! I have to tell you that I find the whole fast pass procedure incredibly confusing, but using them is an absolute must. We avoided a 120+ minute wait at the new "Frozen Ever After" ride at Epcot because of these magical time machines linked to our, you guessed it, Magic Bands! You have to prioritize which rides are really important to you and use your passes wisely. Eli, along with Steve, was great at strategizing what rides we could do while we waited for our Fast Pass time slot (each slot is a one-hour timeframe). Of course, there was whining and complaining. I think a key phrase we used was, "Disney is about making tough choices, kid."
I think Jack thought this ride was neither magical nor on a carpet.
Yours truly - planning and organizing my "Cast Members" is both tiring and gratifying. I know we are blessed to spend this time together, but I can get a little crazy trying to make sure everyone has a good time. I tried to focus on what I knew my mom and Anna, who turned 5 this year, would enjoy for their birthdays and planned accordingly. Being flexible and making changes as new information becomes available is key when visiting Disney. Granted, the flexibility part is especially tough if you have children who don't handle a change to the itinerary well, but this is where communication and using them as helpers with the map, the app, the overpriced water mister/fan thingy, helps.
If you are heading to Disney in the near future, I hope my two blog posts on the House of Mickey have been helpful to you. If you'd like a personal travel planning consultation, all you need to do is meet me where iced coffee is served.