Monday, October 10, 2016

Our Disney Trip: The Planning Process

About a year ago, I started to think about taking the kids to Disney this summer.  At least - I think it was about a year ago.  Time moves differently as a Mom so I can't be sure, but we are going to go with that.  Naturally, I took the idea to my husband - and he was almost as against it as I was for it.

"They aren't even going to remember any of it!" was his (frequently repeated) argument.

While I certainly couldn't ague with his logic, my determination won him over.  I argued that I would remember it.  I argued that they would never again be at an age that meeting their favorite characters would spark so much joy and magic in their hearts.  And finally, I argued, who cares???  It will be fun!  (Clearly that was the argument that won him over - ha!)

Once I had gotten him to agree that we would do a Disney trip this year, I suggested we invite the grandparents along.  I had wonderful memories of visiting Disney with my grandmother when I was young, and I kept thinking how much enjoyment Emma and Baby Sage (and their grandparents!) would get out of sharing this experience with them.  This was an easy sell to Dad, and an even easier sell to the grandparents.  They were all in!

Once it was decided we would all go to Disney this year, I bought a Disney book and started planning!  And by planning - I do mean PLANNING.  I would be willing to put money (I no longer have because we just got back from Disney) on the fact that I spent more time planning for this trip than I did our wedding.  No joke.

So, in case anyone has the misguided idea that you just book hotel rooms and buy park tickets (which may have been what I thought prior to all of my research and planning...), this blog post is for you.  I had many friends who offered helpful hints and tips to plan the perfect trip, and I'm going to share my own experiences with you, so that you can better plan for your family.

To start, I called Carey Sutton with Sterling Travel.  This was one of the smartest things I did, as she has done this a time or two (thousand).  One of the biggest things she helped me with was understanding all of the deadlines that come with booking a trip to Disney.  For instance, once we had decided on a timeframe (the first week of September worked best for everyone's schedules), she helped us book our trip - the last week of December.  Take note procrastinators:  that's roughly 8 months prior.

Beyond making our initial reservations, one of the first things she recommended was to set up an account on the My Disney Experience website.  This was a huge step and would be used for EVERYTHING we did.  Definitely don't skip this step!

Dining reservations were the next thing we needed to worry about.  Those were booked 180 days prior to departure (that's 6 months in advance!!!!  6 MONTHS!!!!!).  Of course, I had gone through and done plenty of research prior to that time so that we knew what we wanted for meals, dining times, etc.  And then... I turned that information over to Carey.  She got up early on that 180-days-out-morning and booked all of our meals for us.  She got us within 10 minutes of our preferred time slot every time!

Remember our account on the My Disney Experience website?  Carey linked our hotel and dining reservations right to it, and we were able to view and modify them whenever we wanted!  We used this same account to book our FastPass+ reservations - 60 days out.  Once again, I had done research on the parks prior to booking our FastPass+ reservations - and I totally recommend you to do the same.  This will force you to thoroughly research the parks, determine a route so you aren't wandering aimlessly, and you will get more out of your trip.

You can originally book up to three FastPass+ reservations per day.  Once you have used all three, you are able to book more, one at a time.  We used the My Disney Experience App on our phones to do this on the go.  It was a easy to use as the website, allowing us to book, modify, and even delete FastPass+ reservations.

Another decision we made based on recommendations from several friends was to rent a stroller for our kids.  Next to working with Carey - this was the best decision we made!  We rented from Kingdom Strollers, and booked the stroller six months in advance.  The stroller was delivered to our hotel, and we picked it up at the bell desk upon arrival.  (We dropped it off there when we left, too.  So easy!)  We rented the Double BOB, and I'm so glad we did.

We called the stroller our "hotel room on the go" - and it was.  The seats laid back for our kids to nap (which Baby Sage did EVERY single day), there was plenty of underneath storage, and the canopy was large enough to cover both kids fully, which was great in the hot September sun.  With great tires and suspension, it was easy to push for miles and miles every day.

We added the rain cover and cooler for FREE!  (I made sure to remind Sage that they were free - I loved being able to say something at Disney was free!)  We also added a case of water (24 bottles) to our order for $9 - that might sound like a lot, but compared to buying bottles after bottle in the park, it was super cheap!  Plus, it was so hot when we went, I would say it was just a must.  We got ice from the vending machine in the hotel each morning and iced down the water.  Pro-tip:  pack Ziplock bags.  We used them for the ice so the cooler didn't leak all over everything.  (Turns out the cooler is free for a reason...)

About the last thing we waited on before the trip was our Magic Bands.  We got these about a month before departure.  Of course, we had customized them by color and name prior to that!  Now, let me tell you - these are aren't called "Magic" Bands for no reason!  They were amazing!  They were our room key, park ticket, FastPass+ reservation, AND credit card!  You link everything to your Magic Band and just go!  It was a real downer when I got home and went to Kroger and I had to use a real credit card instead of my Magic Band - and don't even get me started on having to pull out a real key to unlock my house!  One thing I will advise:  If you fly to Disney, make sure you have your Magic Bands in your carry-on luggage because you will need it as soon as you get off the flight if you are taking advantage of Disney's Magical Express (complimentary motor coach service from Orlando International Airport to your hotel)  You don't want to have to try and find it in your packed luggage - or worse, deal with things if your luggage gets lost.

Speaking of luggage, packing and travel, that's what I'll dedicate the next blog in our Disney series to!  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on my planning process.

For those who can't wait to hear how the rest of our trip went, I will say that on the very first night we were there, my husband agreed that he was glad we had brought the kids and the trip was worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY to see the kids that happy.

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