Our First Trip to Disney – The Plan

Mickey And Minnie Mouse Welcome Everyone To Hong Kong Disneyland ResortThis will be the first in couple of posts about our first family trip to Disney World. I’m writing this, in part, to help other mothers (or fathers) as they prepare to take their first vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. I’m also writing this because I want to see how I “planned” (notice, this is a common theme in my life, ha) for this trip to go vs. what will actually happen when we get there.

So here goes…our (sike….MY) master plan to conquer Disney World in just seven days.

Over the past month, I’ve been scouring Pinterest, blogs, articles and the world-wide web in order to plan the perfect Disney World trip to Orlando. A bit about me, I’d like to consider myself a vacation aficionado.  I work at the best hospitality company in the world, Hilton, in their corporate headquarters in the Tyson’s Corner area of Northern Virginia.  I may be a tad bit biased, but this job only deepened my love for travel. I get great discounts at some of the best properties in the world. Plus even before joining Hilton, I was a member of a vacation club and also often used my parents’ timeshare for vacationing. Travel has always been a priority in my life and I pride myself in planning some pretty decent vacations on a budget.

Growing up, Orlando Florida was a frequent destination for my nuclear family.  I remember going to Disney World at the ripe age of 12 . I was a tad bit “too cool” for Mickey Mouse and my 9-year-old sister, who was trying to be just like me at the time, was feigning being unimpressed by all of the “magical-ness.”  My mother, however, was excited enough for us all! She gleefully squealed once we entered the park, her first time there and exclaimed, “Can you believe we are here!!” My dad shook his head but deep down, we all enjoyed Disney as much as my mother outwardly expressed.

Given my history with Disney, I am eager to plan a trip for my 4 and 5-year-old.  I feel like this is the perfect age for them to enjoy the true meaning of Disney, plus….Orlando is timeless! We can go back to Florida year after year and as they grow, so can the attractions we visit, i.e. Universal Studios vs. Disney in their older ages.

So back to my research.  I’ve found you need quite a few things in order to make your trip to Disney a success (things I never had growing up, but that’s neither here nor there).  Here are some the tips and Disney hacks I’ve learned over the past month.  I’ll also share our itinerary with you as well, just so you can see how I planned our week.  Once we come back after our trip, I’ll post pics and tell you how much of this worked and how much was a disaster.  I mean, misstep… misstep is a better word, right?

So first, let’s start with our flights. I was debating whether to fly or drive to Florida.  From where we live in Maryland, the trip is a solid 12 hours.  I know some of you are thinking, 12 hours, with two small kids?! No way! This actually didn’t scare me because growing up, my family unit were road trip warriors. I will say though, we were a lot older than my kids are now, so I guess I should take that into consideration.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t daunted by the idea of renting a car and driving. I figured, I’d research plane ticket prices and if I saw a great offer, I’d get them. Otherwise, we were driving.  Well, ladies and gentleman, Jet Blue had an amazing deal I couldn’t say no to. I scored tickets in February from DCA to MCO airport for a family for 4 for the low price of $505, total including fees and taxes! I put those babies on my Costco Visa, which automatically includes trip protection and never looked back.  So far the scoreboard reads Erika – 1; Disney – 0.

Accommodations. As I mentioned earlier, I had planned on staying at one of our amazing Hilton properties. In fact, I had secured reservations at the Hilton team member rate at the Waldorf Astoria, Bonnet Creek, a coveted resort that boasts of a lazy river, water slides and good restaurants.  I was ecstatic to get this for the reasonable team member rate of $55/night.  Then I ended talking a friend of mine who had just gone to Disney for Christmas. She told me, with two children, a hotel room for the week would be extremely tight and the close quarters would probably get on my nerves.  She advised, get a suite with a kitchen unit or you’ll regret it.  So I reached back in my bag of tricks and decided to see what our timeshare, Diamond Resorts had to offer through our exchange network, Interval World.  I searched and searched for a Hilton Grand Vacations Timeshare property because: Brand Loyalty. However, my search was fruitless. I did find a Premier rated timeshare at the dreaded “M word.”  You know the one…Marriott. We could exchange our vacation points to the Marriott Lakeshore Reserve Resort for the low price of $159 for the entire week! SCORE! Plus the unit came with the kitchen, a full dining table and area to wash dishes and warm up food. So we could save a little cash in the parks and keep drinks, snacks and other perishable items in our rooms, as well as quick breakfasts for the kids in the AM before starting our days.  Needless to say, I booked there and got a suite for a family of four.  Honestly, I think either location would have been amazing! Both Hilton and Marriott properties were family friendly, with water slides and attractions.  Perfect for those lazy resort days when you want to lounge and enjoy the amenities that come with the hotel room you paid for.  While I am fiercely loyal to Hilton, I believe we’ll have a great time at the resort whose name we don’t mention, lol.  The scoreboard is up in my favor….Erika – 2; Disney – 0.

Planned vacation itinerary.  So we arrive on a Saturday and leave on a Saturday. The more I thought about it when I was planning everything out, the more I realized both travels days will be a wash, due to logistics, obtaining and returning our rental car and our arrival and departure times.  Essentially, we only have Sunday through Friday to work with. As I mentioned above, we like to have a day or two of being lazy…I like to call those “resort days.” I have also heard great things about Clearwater beach which is only a short drive away, so I figured we have to get in a beach day as well.  And of course, the main attraction, the Disney parks.  I heard trying to do more than 2 days in a week with two young children was a challenge for my friends who had recently gone in early July of this year. I figure my kids were a bit older than theirs, so my husband and I settled on 3 days of “parking it up.” Then I thought out the pros and cons of each of the parks to decide which ones we’d attend. I heard great things about Animal Kingdom, one of the new parks that wasn’t there when I growing up.  My kids are very into animals and love learning about the jungle, African safaris, etc. And Magic Kingdom wasn’t even an option to not consider.  That was THE place to go.  I also researched some touring plans (free ones in Pinterest!! I didn’t pay for any) and discovered most recommend 2 days in Magic Kingdom if you are there for a week, so you can see everything, especially with children my age.  So – here is the final itinerary outcome, all things considered:

Saturday – Travel Day

Sunday – Clearwater beach day

Monday – Magic Kingdom Day One

Tuesday – Resort/Lazy Day

Wednesday – Animal Kingdom

Thursday – Magic Kingdom Day Two

Friday – Resort/Lazy Day

Saturday – Travel Day

I think this will allow for us to enjoy the parks without being burnt out.  I’ll let you know how this “plan” goes. I did get the “any park tickets” so if we decide that we don’t want to do a day two of Magic Kingdom, we may switch it up for Disney Studios instead. Epcot wasn’t really a major consideration for our family for this trip.

Travel time. We decided to go in August after peak time dies down in Disney, so hopefully we will enjoy shorter wait times on rides and slighter cooler temperatures.  And by “slightly cooler” I mean the average temperature is only 2-3 degrees cooler during the day in August vs. July. Most people gasp when we say we are going to Disney in August, but if you actually research weather trends, July is the hottest month in Florida, not August. July also one of the busiest times to visit Disney World.  We are going the last full week in August, right before school starts up again. Based on the Disney ticket website itself, we will even save a couple of bucks (literally, only $2 per ticket, lol) as this is ‘Value’ season.  I’m hoping that will make our experience a little bit more pleasant, as I’ve heard the heat and crowds are serious business during the summer months.

Lastly, other “Disney things” that I was told were “must-haves.”

  1. Matching Family Shirts – Yes, we will be that lame family with matching shirts on…I cannot WAIT! I went on Etsy and ordered Star Wars and Mickey/Minnie themed family shirts.  I got my kids names customized and my husband and I are donning the “Mommy/Daddy” shirts.
  2. Refillable Personalized Water Bottles – I got “My first Disney trip” water bottles customized for my kids with their names to save money and also have a cool souvenir.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine are obsessed with water bottles, so this was a no-brainer!  I read there are free water fill ups at each restaurant in Disney ($$ saver). It also keeps the kids hydrated and they’re super cute ways to let everyone know this is the kids first time there.
  3. Magic Bands – I went ahead and ordered Magic Bands. These cool “bracelets” are electronic bands that hold your park tickets, FastPass+, reservations and your Memory Maker Photo Pass.  If we were staying on a Disney property, it would also be the key to our rooms! It seemed like an easy way to go paperless as well as enjoy a cute Disney keepsake.  My daughter got a Princess Tiana magic band and my son got a Star Wars one.  My husband and I got generic pink and blue ones.
  4. Character Dining Experiences – We also booked an ice cream social on Princess Tiana’s Riverboat (where we can also watch the parade in a special viewing area), as well as a an early dinner with Disney characters for our dining experiences.  I think I am most excited about this way for my kiddies to connect with the Disney characters as well as enjoy some of Disney’s legendary hospitality and food and beverage options.
  5. Mickey/Minnie Ears – Another Disney Hack I learned from the wise mothers of Pinterest. Buy all of your merchandise BEFORE you head to the parks. That means using Etsy, Amazon and even the Disney Store (sales items only) to buy items for your kids. Then “surprise” them either the nights before you head to the park or that morning with all of the cool Disney items you’ve (already) purchased. You’ll end up saving tons and the kids won’t know the difference, especially when they’re young. I’ve already purchased Mickey/Minnie ears for the kids for the low, low price of $5. That’s right, we only paid $5/set of ears. Based on my research, those could run you upwards of $30/pair once inside the park.  SCORE!

WHEW! I think this is it. I hope my Disney hacks will help you in your planning, if you have an upcoming trip to Disney World.  Also, if you have anything to share with me, please leave a comment or shoot me a quick message. We are open to all suggestions, tips and hacks.  We are a little less than 30 days out from our trip.  I’ll keep you all posted on how everything goes in a follow-up ‘Disney World – The Trip” post.  If it went anything like our adoption went, the plan will be blown out of the water, but everything will turn out amazing, in spite of them going awry 😉

Stay tuned!