What We Learned from Our Last Disney Trip

Hello dear readers! Wow, autumn is starting to happen all around me and I realized that I haven’t written in some time. I wanted to write a blog post while our last trip was fresh in our minds, but back to school means back to work for me, so, here we are!

We got back from our last trip a little over a month ago and it was different for us in several ways. For starters, we had an extra person with us–we usually just travel with our little family of 3, but this time we brought a friend of my daughter’s. My 9 year old isn’t as entertained by her parents as she once was, nor is Disney as sparkly and magical as it was when she was 5, so we invited a travelling companion. It worked out really well, and I wish I could afford to bring this friend on all our future trips. We also went at a new time of year. We usually go to Disney in November or December, to avoid high crowds, and high temperatures. Now that I’m a teacher, we really can’t just travel any old time of year. When free dining opened up, we took advantage of the extra week offered to just Disney Visa cardholders and went the 3rd week of August. I actually enjoyed many things about going this time of year that I didn’t think I would. The longer park hours, no holiday parties to cut into our Magic Kingdom time, more pool time in the afternoons, and in general just a more laid-back vacation. But the heat was a huge factor. I remember standing in front of the stage at Hollywood Studios watching “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” and feeling like I was standing on the surface of the sun. In addition, it was our first trip with our newer nicer camera. Which meant that we got a lot of great shots, but some shots failed miserably due to its unskilled user. I still have a lot to learn about digital photography.

So, without further ado, here are some things I learned on our last trip:

Be flexible.  When I book a Disney trip, I enter planning mode pretty much from the moment I click “check out” on the confirmation page. I am a detail-oriented spreadsheet kinda gal and my family might possibly get tired of me asking if they would rather eat at Skipper Canteen at 5:15 or 5:25. Vacationing with kids, however. means that sometimes you just have to go with the flow. We had a Be Our Guest dinner reservation booked for our first night of our trip, when it gradually dawned on me that the girls probably would neither appreciate the food, nor want to sit down for a long meal on our first day. So, with much gritting of teeth, I canceled, promising myself a meal there on our next trip. Also, when the girls got worn out from the intense heat, and I could see in their eyes that ALL they wanted to do was go back to the resort and hang in the pool, it was time to go. No matter how much I wanted to do Space Mountain one more time.

Pop Century pool
Sometimes you just need some pool time.
Being prepared for weather can make or break your trip. We knew what to expect of Florida in August, and we still were not prepared for the intense heat and humidity that greeted us each day. Luckily, I had purchased a number of items that saved us from fainting and kept us from getting too crabby and irritable. Cooling towels and personal fans really helped the girls get through the trip. The necklace fan proved to be the best purchase, as it was sturdy and we didn’t need to worry about forgetting it somewhere. We also bought a travel umbrella to shade us from sun and rain. I really prefer an umbrella to a poncho or rain jacket. It’s more versatile, and I have a hard time putting myself in a plastic sheet when it’s 90+ degrees and raining. Taking air conditioning breaks at any chance was also helpful. Cutting through a gift shop or ducking into Country Bears gave our bodies a chance to cool down.

disneysum2017 (281)
Beautiful but hot!
It’s not going to be possible to see and do everything. Okay, so I knew this already, but this trip really hammered it into me. I missed doing some of my favorite things on this trip. And…it’s…okay (taking a deep breath as I write this.) With young children, you have to make decisions about what to do and see, because they have a limited window of time when they’re going to be into it. We made some compromises with the girls. One day we missed rope drop (gasp!) at Hollywood Studios to let the kids sleep in, eat a leisurely breakfast and play in the pool. They really needed a rest! In exchange, we went to late night extra magic hours at Animal Kingdom that night to spend more time in Pandora (because there is never enough time to spend in Pandora.) We still had a great day and had energy for that late night. It meant that we missed meeting BB-8, but I had to just…let it go (like my friend, Elsa.) It’s harder if you know you can’t come back to Disney for a year, or 2, or ever, but just go with the flow and you’ll have a much better time.

Pandora at night. Photo credit: Athena Iluz via flickr
Well, these are my main takeaways from our last Disney trip. We had a fantastic time and I would definitely do a summer trip again. What do you think? Have you ever learned any valuable lessons while on vacation? I’d love to hear your comments. Stay tuned for some more from our trip, like a review of Pandora, and how free dining worked out for us this time.


Questions to Ask When Planning Your Disney Trip Budget: Part 5

So far in our series of questions to ask yourself when planning a Disney vacation budget we’ve looked at: where you’ll stay, when you’ll travel, what kind of tickets you’ll need and how you will get there. The next question we’ll tackle is, “What will we eat while we’re there and how do we afford it?”


Food, glorious food. I get pretty excited about planning meals for our trips. My husband might say that I’m obsessive about finding the perfect reservation at the perfect time of day. I love trying new places and revisiting old favorites, but I am aware that all those restaurant meals can add up quickly. Here we’ll look at some options for keeping costs down while still enjoying the culinary delights that Disney has to offer.

  • Consider bringing food from home. In our situation, we go “snack and breakfast” shopping at our local Aldi (a great discount grocery store) a few days before we leave for vacation. We purchase bars, cheese and peanut butter crackers, cheese cubes, salami, toaster pastries, soy milk and cereal, and trail mix, along with drink mixes to liven up our bottled water. I pack a plastic tote with our food, bring some zip-lock bags to pack with snacks each day, load it in the car and we’re set. If you’re flying, we understand you can’t bring all that food with you. Amazon is a fantastic resource for buying groceries and you can have them delivered right to the resort (for a small fee!) Just stop by the front desk and pick them up when you arrive. Another idea is placing an order at Walmart and choosing a store close to the parks. This is the closest one I found. You can set a time to pick up your order and it’s a free service. However you do it, just make sure you have a good assortment of snacks for long days at the parks. It stinks to have a hangry toddler when you’re about to meet Cinderella at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Think about checking out the Disney dining plan. This is a hot topic among Disney veterans. Some people can’t imagine a vacation without it, and some think it’s too much money for too much food. We’re somewhat in-between on the matter. On our first vacation to Disney, we paid out of pocket for our meals. We did some sit-down meals and a character meal, but we ate a good share of quick-service and I felt like we had to be really careful budgeting for our meals. With the dining plan, everything except tips is prepaid, so it feels like you can really treat yourself. On our last two trips, we had free dining. Even though we didn’t pay for the dining plan, I tried to maximize our dining credits. Meaning, I tried to find the most expensive character meals and ordered the most expensive entree at the quick-serve restaurants. We pride ourselves on finding the priciest snacks and meals that we don’t have to pay for!
    All this food for one snack credit? Yum!

  • The Tables in Wonderland card could work for you. If you are a Florida resident, annual passholder or DVC member, you are eligible for Tables in Wonderland. This card gives you 20% off all food at participating Disney restaurants. It does have an annual cost. Click this link for a list of restaurants that participate in the program.
  • Use the Disney website to get an idea of how much to budget for food. Once you have snacks bought, use the Disney website to look at menus and prices for the restaurants you’d like to visit. You can pretty much budget out every meal you’ll be eating on Disney property. For example, say you were interested in trying 50’s Primetime Cafe in Hollywood Studios. You might decide to have the meatloaf at $18.00 and skip the soda in favor of one of their famous peanut butter and jelly milkshakes ($6.00.) Now you know what you’ll be spending and how much to allow for a gratuity. The Disney Dining Calculator is another resource for meals like buffets, that don’t always have an exact price on the Disney site. You plug in the number of people in your party, and where you’ll be eating for each meal and it can help you decide if the dining plan will be a good value for you or not.
Entree Menu at 50’s Primetime Cafe

I hope these tips can help you navigate the world of dining at Disney. By no means is it cheap to eat “in the world” but it is good to have some tricks up your sleeve for keeping costs down.

6 Questions to Ask When Planning A Disney Budget: Part 3

We’re back with the next part of our Disney vacation planning series. The oh-so-important question this time is, “When should we go to Disney?” There are several factors to consider when deciding on the time of year to schedule your trip. Hopefully you have some flexibility in planning and can take advantage of our tips!

Weather: As I’m sure you are aware, central Florida can have some pretty extreme weather. The time of year you choose to go can make or break your trip. We have a zero tolerance policy for humidity and daily rainstorms, so we know to miss June-September. We always strive to visit from early November to December, and have been very fortunate to have wonderful weather.  Highs most days were in the 70’s and low 80’s on our recent trips, and lows were in the 60’s.  On our last two trips there were only 2 days when we needed to wear long pants to the parks during the day. Prices are lower during these times, due to school being in session.

Photo credit: Benjamen Benson via flickr

School Holidays: I’m assuming that there are a few of you out there that are interested in sharing Disney magic with your children. If your children are school-age you may immediately think of visiting during major breaks such as Christmas, summer or spring breaks.  You have to remember that the rest of the nation has the same breaks more or less, meaning the crowd levels are insane and since those periods are in high demand, prices are sky-high. Only you can decide if you want to battle crowds and pay more, or take your kids out of school to visit during a slower time of year.We have taken our daughter out of school in 2nd and 3rd grades, and got her homework for the week before she left. We enjoy special discounts since we are traveling at slower times of the year, and to us that’s worth it. As our daughter gets older, we will have to re-think when we go, since taking her out won’t be an option. Long weekends with teacher work days are an option for shorter trips.

Crowds: Spring break, summer, Christmas, Independence Day. I strongly advise you to avoid these times when planning your trip. The prices will be crazy. The crowds will be crazy. The wait times for rides will be crazy. Get the picture? Besides bad weather, nothing ruins the magic more than large crowds. Yes, I understand the allure of wanting to spend holidays at Disney, but it’s just…not…worth…it. Our top recommendations for low crowds are January-February (excluding holidays), October-November (not Thanksgiving!) and early December. (You can still experience all Disney’s Christmas entertainment in early December.) If you choose to go on the busy times, proceed at your own risk!

photo credit: Brett Kiger via flickr

Special Offers: If you are looking for discounts for your Disney trip, there are some that become available throughout the year. Disney usually releases their specials 4 to 6 months ahead of time. This means if you want to travel in May, start looking for offers in December and January. The most common discounts are room only and package deals, and the free dining offer. Disney Tourist Blog has a  great post that talks in-depth about each discount offered. Do the math on any special offer to make sure it works for your situation. We prefer free dining to a room discount, because we stay at moderate or value resorts (which only get a 10-15% room discount) and it saves us more money to get 3 free dining plans for the length of our stay. If you are traveling as a couple and plan to stay in a deluxe resort, the room discount would be a better deal.

As you can see, the timing of your vacation has a big impact on how much you will shell out for your big trip, and how much enjoyment you will get out of your time in the parks. It will be one of the most important decisions to make about your trip so plan wisely. Use our pointers to help you plan for a trip that makes the most sense for you and your budget.


6 Questions to Ask When Making A Budget for Your Disney Trip: Part 1

When planning a Disney vacation there are so many questions that need to be answered when deciding on your budget. We feel that these questions are some of the most important factors in planning your vacation. We often talk about how nice it would be to be able to go at the drop of a hat, and stay at the Contemporary or Polynesian Resort. Unfortunately that is not in our budget! So how do you decide on what you can afford?

These questions will help you figure out what the majority of your budget will be spent on. By spending a little time planning at the beginning you will be able to figure out what works best for your party. You may save a substantial amount of money by looking at the trip this way. Over the next couple of posts we will go into detail about each of these questions.

The first one is “How will we get to Disney?” Your two choices, obviously, are flying or driving. If you don’t live within a day’s drive of Orlando, you will probably be flying. We don’t have much experience first-hand with air travel to Disney, but MouseSavers.com has an entire post dedicated to helping you find a cheap flight. So start looking at your options even before you book your exact travel dates. Many airline sites will give you the cost on a particular day and allow you to search the calendar around your chosen departure date for cheaper fares, so you may discover substantial savings if your travel dates are flexible. Florida does have quite a few airports, so flying to Tampa or Sanford may be more economical. If you do fly to another airport, you have to factor in the cost and hassle of a rental car. If you are staying at a Disney resort and you fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), Disney provides a free shuttle known as Magical Express, which, in addition to whisking you away to your resort in comfort, lets you bypass baggage claim and have your bags magically brought to your room!


If there are many people traveling with you, it may be more cost effective to drive to Disney. We are nine hours away, which is manageable as a day trip.  We have found that if we drive several hours and get a hotel room in Jacksonville, where we can find really cheap rates, we can get up early and get a full day in the park. Same thing when we leave. We left after a full day at the park after seeing Fantasmic! and drove 2 hours to St. Augustine beach, which made the drive the next day a little more enjoyable. And we got some much needed beach time after a crazy and fun-packed week.



Either way you slice it, you’re going to have travel-related expenses (unless you live in Orlando, lucky ducks!) but deciding what mode of transport works best for your family, while keeping an eye out for deals, will be your first decision of many in your Disney trip planning!

Stay tuned for Part 2, as we talk about the next important question, “Where will we stay?”


10 Things We Love about Walt Disney World: Pt. 1

I think a lot of people are confused when we tell them how much we, the adults love being at the Disney parks. Yes, a huge part of it is sharing Disney magic with our 8 year old, especially when she was in her six year old full-blown princess obsession. Even at eight, watching her eyes light up when she met Cinderella’s Prince Charming was unforgettable. Aside from that, there are many reasons why we are so in love with this most amazing place. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Main Street, U.S.A. Walking through the gates of the Magic Kingdom into Town Square, bustling with activity, and making your way through the crowd to Main Street (representing an American town between 1890-1910) is a first you’ll never forget. There are so many things to love about this section of the park. The Main Street Trolley Show is a song and dance show that takes place every morning with dancers in seasonal turn-of-the-century costumes. The Main Street Vehicles take weary visitors up the hill towards Cinderella Castle. There are countless details to take in. Make sure to read up on all the little details the Imagineers conjured up, like the party line telephone where you can listen in on some good old-fashioned housewife gossip. Don’t hurry through this part of the park. There is so much to discover.

    Main Street Trolley Show
  2. The Monorails: What can I say about this mode of travel around the Seven Seas Lagoon, and to Epcot, except that it’s pretty darn cool. Especially when it goes through the Contemporary Resort. It’s transportation that is so uniquely Disney!

    Monorail at Epcot
  3. The parades. Specifically the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom. Watching for Maleficent’s mechanical dragon to breathe fire never gets old. The costumes are, well, fantastic, and the floats are so imaginative and fun. It’s also a great chance to see many characters, from princesses and princes, to Mickey and his buddies.

    Colorful Dancer at the Festival of Fantasy Parade
  4. The food. Yes, for a theme park, Disney has some amazing food. We love the character buffets, such as Crystal Palace, at Magic Kingdom, and Tusker House, at Animal Kingdom, for meeting characters and filling up for the day, but there is literally something for everyone. For example, Epcot has a veritable world of dining options for every taste in World Showcase, from Moroccan to Norwegian to French and beyond. We recommend “eating around the world” if your stomach (and wallet) are up for it.

    Epcot’s Very Own English Pub
  5. The Characters. Yes, I’ll admit it. I get giddy when meeting my favorite characters from childhood, whether it is Tinkerbell, Mary Poppins, or Piglet. There is just something magical about interacting with characters you’ve read about or watched in films. I think what makes it so special is that the cast members who play the characters are so completely committed to bringing those characters fully to life. It was so much fun to hear Anna talk about her adventures with Olaf and Kristoff, and to listen to Mary Poppins give my daughter advice on cleaning her room. I can’t stress this enough-you don’t have to be a kid to meet and enjoy the characters. Just willing to let a little magic in your heart!
Anna Sharing Stories from Arendelle

How to these compare to your favorite things? Look for the next five things we’re crazy about at Walt Disney World coming soon!


Getting Excited for Your Disney Vacation


When it comes to planning a Disney vacation, the research and trip planning most likely will happen months and months before you actually travel to the Sunshine State. After you book your dining reservations, the next six months until vacation time tend to crawl by. It may be hard to stay motivated to fill the jar everyday and forego the Starbucks when you’re majorly craving a Frappuccino.

Fear not. We have a few tips for getting through the days and keeping the excitement going until the day you arrive at your resort.

  • Create a countdown calendar. It can be as simple as a dry erase board that the kids change every day or a little fancier like this if you’re handy, or feel like you deserve a splurge. Get creative. If you are online, you can also create a virtual vacation ticker on a site such as distickers.
  • Watch Youtube walkthroughs of the parks. Get the family together and queue up walkthrough videos of all the parks. This can be really helpful in becoming familiar with the layout of the parks and is one of our favorite ways to rekindle our enthusiasm. There are also videos of fireworks, shows, parades, you name it. If it happened at Walt Disney World, someone has filmed it.
  • Disney movie Night. Grab a couple of DVDs and some homemade popcorn and watch some Disney! Introduce the kids to some classics or find a new favorite together.  Do a Princess movie night, or watch films that feature animals (Robin Hood, Lion King and Bambi, perhaps?) It means so much more to the kids when they meet a character at the park that they have seen in action in a film. Talk about what questions they may have for that character when they finally meet.ak_upcountrylandingchar_7517218736
  • Purchase your warm weather clothing. It may be a perfect time to assess your wardrobe needs while waiting for that trip to begin. We plan a couple of trips to the thrift stores to look for comfortable light-weight clothing and hopefully a few Disney shirts.
  • Have a family meeting about what everyone is most looking forward to. Talk to your children about their favorite characters and what they want to say when they meet them. Ask each family member what ride or unique treat they are most excited about trying. Having these things in mind will help when it’s time to finalize your itinerary and get everyone in the family filled with anticipation for your upcoming adventure!