My Top Five Tips for Planning your Walt Disney World Vacation

Monday, 13 April 2015

Over the years, between growing up the daughter of a travel agency owner to working as a travel consultant myself, our family has had our fair share of trips to Disney. In fact, my mom is such a Disney nut that my first visit was when I was about 8 weeks old. As a kid, we went as a family or sometimes just with my mom nearly every year, sometimes twice in a year. Because of this we became little Disney experts. When I met my husband, one of our first trips together was to Disneyworld, and since venturing out on our own, my hubby and I have been a few times since we've been married, most recently in 2011 when I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World.


This year however our Disney trips will take a turn for the better – as I write this at 30,000 feet I am en route to our first Disney trip since I gave birth to Miss P nearly two years ago. Not only will my husband and I be taking Miss P, but my parents as well as my brother and sister in law will be joining. I did mention we are a Disney family, right? Certainly we [adults] are more excited for the trip than Miss P, but regardless we are all so thrilled to share the excitement that Disney brings into her life.
One of my early visits to Disney

As a travel consultant, I’m frequently asked – what is the “best” way to “do” Disney? Well, every family will have their own tips, tricks and booking hints – but here are a few things that work for our family which I would personally recommend:

  1. Visit in non-peak times – for the shortest lines, best prices and smallest crowds, it’s best to avoid major holidays (Christmas, New Year’s, Easter) as well as summer vacation. In addition to being super busy in summer, it’s also miserably hot. Small kids + long lines + hot temps  does not a good combo make. I recommend late spring – after the spring break crowds have left, or in the fall after schools have resumed, or even in January and February. Just be careful to avoid major event weekends – Walt Disney World hosts several races, including the Disneyworld Marathon Weekend in early January which will effect price and availability.
  2. Book Early – with so many items available to book in advance of your trip, it’s best to book early, once you’ve decided on your dates. Disneyworld frequently offers sales and booking promotions which can be added to your reservation even after you’ve booked! Our family got in on a spring promotion where we saved 30% on our room costs.
  3. Stay on Property – I know this is a major point of contest for many travelers. Some swear by staying on property some swear by staying off. I have done both and I have to say if you’re only visiting Orlando for Disneyworld, on property is the way to go. These are my top reasons for opting to stay on property:
    1. You don't need a car rental (thus eliminating costs in rental fees, taxes, insurance, gas, and parking!) and your trip will include the use of Disney’s Magical Express – a complimentary transfer service from Orlando International Airport.
    2. There are 26 Disneyworld resorts to choose from ranging from their value resorts, moderate and luxury properties. There is literally something for everyone. Once you return to your room, the Disney magic doesn’t end.
    3. Staying on property gives you unlimited use of resort transportation. Buses, boats, monorails – you name it – it’s easy to move around the resorts and parks, and time saving as well.
    4. Extra Magic Hours – certain parks will open early and stay open late just for resort guests – which gives you “Magic Hours” to visit the parks with fewer guests.
    5. Pre-Book Fast Passes – by pre-booking your fast passes (passes which allow you to skip to the front of the line during your allotted time period) you get to skip long lines at the parks and ensure that you’ll be able to visit top attractions. For us, this is the Frozen Sing-a-long! You’re able to choose 3 fastpasses per day 30 days in advance of your visit – and once those are up, you can obtain more at the parks, however this gave us a guaranteed spot for some of our favorite rides or character experiences.
  4. Park Tickets – as a rule, the longer you stay at Disney, the less expensive your per day cost becomes. The per day rate on a five day park pass is much less than a single day entrance. I recommend 4-5 days at the parks for families with small children. There are four parks, plus two water parks and that is usually enough time to see it all without becoming to exhausting for small children. There are multiple options for tickets - straight park tickets, park hopper options (multiple parks per day) and finally Park Hopper plus water parks. We will end our stay with a weeklong stay at our time-share in Daytona Beach to relax and recuperate before heading back over the pond. 
  5. Disney Dining Plan – For me, I’ve always been a fan of “All Inclusive” – once you get to your vacation, it’s nice to put the wallet away and know that you’re covered. When the Disney Dining Plan was first introduced several years back, we tried it as travel agents, and got hooked. There are several plans to choose from based upon your family’s wants and needs. We have opted for the Moderate Dining Plan  which provides each member of our family (Miss P excluded – she will share with mommy and dada, or we will purchase on site for here when necessary) one counter service meal, one sit down meal and one snack per day. These can be redeemed any time during your stay at Disneyworld Resorts at any of the park or resort restaurants* (Some more expensive restaurants require more than one credit – we have avoided these). The dining plan was $250 per person as a part of our package over 5 days. Occasionally, the plan is offered free of cost when booking, or discounted – watch for those sales! If not, it can be added onto your package if desired. 
What are your tips for planning and booking your Disney Vacation?

6 Tips for Entertaining a Toddler on a Long Haul Flight

Friday, 10 April 2015

Burning that energy in the airport!
This week we began the first leg of our big adventure for the month of April - Michigan to celebrate Miss P's second birthday, followed by Disney World and a week at Daytona Beach! We left stunning weather in Northern Ireland - it was literally 60 degrees and sunny for the nearly 2 hour drive to the Dublin airport. Unfortunately for us, although Belfast actually has 2 airports, as it is a part of the UK, it falls under a higher rate of airline taxes than does the Republic of Ireland. So it is almost always less expensive for us to travel from Dublin than it is from Belfast. Hopefully this will someday change!

Once daddy dropped us off at the airport, it was through security we went. Something unique about departing from Dublin is that you actually clear US Customs and Immigration in the Dublin airport! Once you arrive in the US, it's just like coming off a domestic flight! So once that happened we didn't have much time to waste at the gate before pre-boarding began.

I will always recommend pre-boarding when you're travelling with a little one. It gives you a bit more time to get on board and get settled, not to mention breakdown strollers and corral your little ones to their seats. I opted to gate check our pencil stroller and used my gate check bag to keep it nice and clean.

Once on board, we had less than stellar seats.... but sometimes, that's how it goes! Miss P and I were in a middle seat with people on either side of us. At first I wanted to panic about this, but I have to say she was so incredibly well behaved , and both of our seatmates thanked us for that - yay Miss P! We'll make a seasoned traveler out of her in no time.

The flight from Dublin to JFK was 7.5 hours. As always, I had brought a few things to do that were new to Miss P before this trip to keep her busy. Here are a few things that worked for us:

1. Sticker Book - Frozen themed of course. This came from the Pound/Dollar store. We spent a good while sticking stickers on the pages and talking about the characters and the sticker backgrounds on the pages.

2. Magnetic Drawing Board - another dollar store purchase. This was a big hit and we spent a lot of time scribbling and erasing and scribbling some more. A well spent dollar.

3. Snacks - I had brought mini breadsticks, fruit roll ups, granola bars, fit newtons, lots of variety and plenty of each since it was a longer flight. Snacks are a great way to keep her ears clear through eating and swallowing, and also a great way to pass the time and keep her blood sugar level. Although there is a meal served on a transatlantic flight, there is usually one meal per seat and it isn't the easiest to eat using a tray table with a little person on your lap!

4. Movies - We're finally at the age where movies can keep us entertained for a while which is fabulous! We were able to watch part of several movies which kept Miss P rather entertained. I did buy some kid-friendly headphones but for whatever reason she won't wear them - so we watch the movies rather than listen. We flew Delta which has a great entertainment system and several options for kids - there were at least ten animated movies to choose from so we were kept rather busy. 

5. Walks - About five hours in Miss P was ready to get up and move - so we walked laps of the plane probably five or six times before settling back in for another movie. 

6. Gummy Window Decor - you know those funny gummy things you get at the dollar store for decorations? Well P is obsessed. I took the Easter ones that I had on our kitchen window that she's been playing with for the past month and threw them in my purse. We had tons of fun with those while passing time on our layover at JFK. I don't know what it is about them, but she absolutely loves them. 

Sticky Window Things = a big hit!

Everything went stellar until we had about 30 minutes to go and P decided we were done... That's when I pulled out my emergency stash - lollipops. It kept her entertained, quiet and sitting still on my lap until we landed and could unbuckle and get off.

So safely and happily we arrived in Detroit where my parents were waiting! We have just a few days here in Michigan, then we're off to Disneyworld!

I can't stand middle seats... Where do you like to sit on the plane?