I’m not sure what I love more. Vacationing or planning the vacation! I get such enjoyment from building the perfect vacation; researching where to go, what to see, and how to save money. Since our family has lakehouse property and we enjoy spending the warm months there, most of our vacationing takes place during winter. It helps us get through the cold Western NY days when there is a palm tree destination in our future.
We have tried many different types of vacations over the years; stateside rental homes, tropical all inclusive resorts, and cruise lines. But nothing compares to Disney. When you talk about Disney, there are two groups of people – the lovers and the skeptics. I went to Disney for the first time in 1999 on a high school chorus trip and instantly became a lover. My husband, however, was a skeptic. In 2013 we made the trip as a family, and ever since then… Disney has become the choice vacation for all of us!
For those of you who love Disney and desperately want to visit – this post if for you! We realize Disney is expensive and can feel overwhelming. Don’t let that stop you from exploring your options! To help you in your planning, here are our family’s top 5 Disney tips.
First. Find a Disney travel agent and book through them. A travel agent costs you nothing and, since they are educated in every aspect of the parks, they are an invaluable resource to you. They will find discounts and can book as much, or as little, as you would like: resorts to stay at, park tickets, dining plans, restaurant reservations, Magical Express transportation, and FastPass+. It will save you time and stress!
- You are still able to make changes to your day-to-day schedule through My Disney Experience (make sure you download the app) without needing to involve your travel agent. From the day we book a trip, which is usually at least a year in advance, to the day we walk into the actual parks, I am constantly moving things around in our itinerary.
Second. Decide the best time of year to travel and which resort best fits your needs.
- We look at crowd levels and price projections when making a decision about when to travel.
- You can choose to commute to the parks from Orlando hotels, but we prefer to stay on property in order to take full advantage of Disney’s on-location benefits. We have stayed at several resorts (All Star Music, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside) over the years but, for our family of five, the Art of Animation remains a favorite. It is considered a value resort and is themed for children, but their family suites have two bathrooms and a separate master bedroom – giving us all a bit more space and privacy than the standard resort room.
Third. We love Disney’s food. With that being said, there is a lot of controversy when it comes to the expense of purchasing a Disney Dining Plan. There are 5 ways to go about food in parks and at the resorts.
- A La Carte: Pay as you go and bring your own drinks/snacks to help offset the costs. (FYI – all Disney restaurants are required to give you tap water for free upon request.)
- Quick Service Dining Plan: 2 quick-service meals and 2 snacks/nonalcoholic drinks per person per night of stay.
- Standard Dining Plan: 1 quick-Service Meal, 1 table-service meal, and 2 snacks/nonalcoholic drinks per person per night of stay. (This option is our family’s preference. We typically use our counter service credits for breakfast at the hotel. Table service credits go toward Character Dining experiences, helping us avoid those long character lines in the parks themselves. And, since I love my coffee and sweets, I take full advantage of snack credits on the largest Starbucks drink and the most delicious looking sweet treats I can find.)
- Dining Plan Plus: 2 Meals – any combination of table-service and quick-service and 2 snacks/nonalcoholic drinks per person per night of stay
- Deluxe Dining Plan: 3 Meals – any combination of table-service and quick-service and 2 snacks/nonalcoholic drinks per person per night of stay.
Fourth. Most everyone knows the standard things to pack for vacation but, in Disney, there are a few “odd” things to consider.
- Disney requires a ton of walking. You will want a stroller for any child under 50lbs. While jogging strollers are great for most places, they are bulky to maneuver through the Disney crowds and, if you are using Disney’s complimentary public transportation, your stroller needs to be completely collapsible. We love our Summer 3Dmini. It has all the perks of a larger stroller but is the size of an umbrella stroller.
- During the winter months, evenings get cool. Everyone in our family, kids included, carry backpacks to hold sweatshirts and other personal items.
- Gift shops are expensive – buy your souvenirs at home and pack them in your luggage to enjoy using on vacation.
- Mousekeeping cast members, Disney’s housekeeping, work hard to create the best possible experience. Before our trip begins we have the kids create handwritten thank you notes, including a $5.00 tip, for each night of our stay. This has been a great outreach opportunity for our family.
Finally. Land and Sea is the way to go! Disney World (and Disneyland) are incredible, but they leave you needing a vacation after your vacation. The Disney Cruise Line is our favorite way to end any Disney trip. Disney Cruises are still 100% Disney… but are also 100% relaxing. From delicious meals and onboard entertainment to Disney’s private Bahamian island and spacious staterooms – it is truly a one of a kind experience.
Disney may not be the vacation spot for you, and that is okay! We will talk about several of our favorite vacation options (Airbnb, staycations, and what to do around Rochester, NY) in hopes that something will capture your interest.
We encourage you to prioritize some kind of vacation this year – even if that means pitching a tent in your backyard. We all need to take an opportunity now and again to enjoy time off; to spend special moments making memories with the people we love while allowing God to fill our hearts with joy and thankfulness as we enjoy His many blessings. Vacation is a reminder of that.
It is impossible to share everything about my family’s Disney experiences in one blog post. If there are any specific questions you have, please reach out. I would love to connect.