Monday, July 6, 2015

Disney Lessons #DaileyDisneyAdventure

We've been home for almost a month. Pictures are downloaded (working on what to print & a photo book). Starting to think about what vacation to take next, though it won't be even half as big as this one was. I learned a lot planning this trip, some lessons that are definitely transferable!

1. Plan, plan, plan. Then plan a little more. Disney World is HUGE. You cannot see it all so plan what you MUST see and/or do so you can be sure those get done. And plan those for times when everyone is fresh & fed & happy! Be sure to make those reservations as soon as possible. The week of our trip, Fast Passes for Dwarfs Mine Train, Toy Story Midway Mania and to meet Anna & Elsa were non-existent!

1.a. Use the MyDisneyExperience App. You can see & make/change/cancel reservations from this app. You can see & make/change your FastPasses. You can get directions to your next ride/event. You can find out how long the wait is at every attraction (and if no wait time is listed, the attraction is not running). You can see what or who (character meets!) is near by. I also had a print out of the Excel sheet schedule I had made, which was good for looking at the next day, but day off the MyDisneyExperince app was my bible -- especially by our last day when I really understood it. The map piece with GPS - I really wish I had understood this one long before the 2nd to last day. I also carried a paper map which was good for all of us to look at together to figure out our next stop.

2. Don't be afraid to veer from your schedule. Life happens, you get hungry at odd times or someone gets crabby & just needs out of the heat/sun. Will you miss something? Yes. But again, you can't do everything anyway. As long as it wasn't one of your MUST dos, be okay with it. We never did stay at any park for fireworks. We were all tired & done long before. (Of course we could see fireworks from our hotel so we didn't really miss them). Honestly, I wish we had taken more mid-day breaks, but at the time, it always felt like the hotel was just so far away and by the time we got back to the hotel, we were DONE and didn't want to leave.

3. Eat breakfast every day. Even if you don't normally. I can pin point 2 days that would have gone much smoother if we had gotten up 30 minutes earlier and eaten a hot breakfast. The protein bars just weren't enough.

3.a. Plan all your meals in advance. The days I thought it would be okay to "play it by ear" ended up being our most challenging days. Make reservations at any sit down restaurant you think you might want to try. If you need to make changes, you can always cancel the reservation on your app [just be aware that some restaurants require some advance notice, but you can check that on the app as well].

4. Bring water & snacks in with you. I carried in 4 bottles of water & granola bars & fruit snacks. We still got in park snacks but it was nice to not spend $3 for water or have something to hold us over until we found a place to grab a snack. Maggie & I loved the Mickey ice cream bars & Jessie loved the strawberry bars. And any quick service restaurant or vendor with ice will give you a cup of ice or ice water for free.

4.a. I should have had Rocky or Maggie carry a small bag. I used a small messenger bag I got at the SHRM conference last year and I wouldn't carry anything bigger (it got quite heavy). If one of them had a small string backpack to carry the water it would have made my bag much lighter and would have been nice for all when we split up.

4.b. What else did I carry? Park map, lip balm, first aid stuff (band aids, ibuprofen, Tums, anti-nausea meds), autograph stuff, small bottle of sun block, ponchos (the $0.96 from Walmart kind), a print out of our schedule, park maps, external phone charger. And anything else the girls didn't want to carry. Though we did insist they carry any souvenir they wanted to purchase before the end of the day.

5. It is HOT. Unfortunately I didn't know how much the heat bothered Jessie. We brought some spray bottles but ended up also buying a mister there (the strap does make carrying it easier). Jessie had insisted on packing her umbrella and we should have taken that as a sign & let her take it to the parks. We took a lot of breaks. [Jessie recently said "Disney World is the funnest place in the world. And it is hot. It is the funnest place in the world and the hottest place in the world."]

6. Character autographs. Everything I read said the park autograph books weren't worth the price so I made some for the girls using plastic photo books, scrapbook paper and mini- clipboards. The girls used stickers to decorate the clipboards. I bought a variety pack of Sharpies. We would have been fine with black. These weren't a lot of work and the girls were/are happy with them, but after looking at the books in the park, I didn't really save that much money doing it myself. The photo/autograph books in the park came with pens and were really nice.

7. Money. Disney is expensive. I didn't think the souvenirs were overpriced, but the food, definitely. We decided ahead of time to not worry about money and we had saved and planned accordingly. The girls also had their own spending money (not that we didn't help them out from time to time). We rarely said no [though I did refuse to purchase the $30 "princess hat" and talked Jessie into some different princess accessories]. You could easily drive yourself crazy worrying about how much money you are spending while you are there. Disney makes it easy to purchase whatever you want by putting the ability to charge to your room on your MagicBand. I'm sure you could do Disney on a tight budget -- you are allowed to bring food and small coolers into the park or if you rented a car, you could go off site to eat. Though, taking the expense of parking and car rental into consideration, paying a little extra for food on site was a small price to pay for us.

8. PhotoPass. This is a free service offered by Disney. They have photographers EVERY WHERE. They will snap a couple of pictures and then scan your magic band and within a couple of hours, you can see your photos through the Disney website. You can also give them your camera/phone and they will snap a couple of pictures with your camera or step out of the way for you to take the same shot. If you pay in advance, you can get the MemoryMaker (you can also purchase while you are there, but pay a little more). We did not purchase the MemoryMaker, but you still get to see everything as they upload it all. Rocky was able to add the ride photos from Splash Mountain and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with his magic band. There was also a short video of the mine train ride with video from their ride. The only photo that didn't show up was the one from Maggie's pirate makeover. I'm glad I had thought to have her recreate it while we were in line for the Little Mermaid. You have 30 days to make any purchases from the PhotoPass -- including downloads or actual prints. I downloaded my favorites and will upload to Shutterfly to make photo books and calendars later.

9. Disney's Magical Express. One benefit to staying at a Disney resort was the free transportation, especially to and from the airport! We booked our tickets about 6 weeks out and sent that information to our travel agent who got us all set up. About a week later, we received our confirmation for the Magical Express, which included luggage tags so we could check luggage without having to pick it up at the airport [we still had to pay the airline baggage fee]. When we arrived in Orlando, we followed the signs to Ground Transportation and were able to get right on the bus. Our bus made 2 stops ahead of us, but we were to our hotel about an hour after we landed. A Disney Cast Member came out to greet us and get us checked in so we didn't need to go to the front desk. Our return was just as easy. We were automatically checked in for our flights & the boarding passes were hanging on our door on check out day. We were able to check our luggage and we're done with it until Sioux Falls. We were also able to go through the TSA pre-check line which meant we didn't have to remove our shoes, take anything out of our carry-one or go through the full-body scan machines.

10. Use a Disney Travel Agent. There are a lot of them out there and I know a few [after we booked, discovered a Facebook friend is one!] Our agent did almost everything for us. We talked about our MUST DOs and she got our dinner reservations and Jessie's Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique scheduled once the window opened (180 days in advance). I made the reservation for Maggie's Pirates League makeover and I was left with a great appreciation for what the travel agent does, especially as the Disney Cast Member was trying to get Maggie scheduled for the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique! The Disney travel agents are free for the travelers and are paid by Disney. Really the only thing she couldn't do was set our FastPasses for us.

11. Remember, it is just a vacation and you are there to have fun! When you are crabby, or the kids are crabby, just take a break. Getting a family photo isn't as important as getting your overheated daughter out of the sun [and I am speaking to myself here and am thankful my husband reminded me that I really didn't want a family photo with Jessie screaming "I'm hot."] Don't sacrifice your sanity in an effort to do "everything."

While this isn't a trip you take every year, we are starting to talk about when to go back, which tells me we all had a great time.

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