Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Disney pre-trip report & tips

When I was about 13 years old, my family drove to Orlando, Florida in our old Volvo station wagon to spend February school vacation week at Disney World.  This was our first visit to Disney although we had been to Disneyland for a day trip when I was five years old.  (We were in California for two weeks.)  There was no internet back then so you were sort of forced to just go with the flow.  Not much to pre-plan in the old days.

We stayed at a hotel in Kissimmee - all six of us shared one room.  My memory is failing in my pre-golden years so I can only remember bits and pieces of our vacation.  I remember riding Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain (scary), and the railroad train.  There were only two parks - Magic Kingdom and Epcot - and I don't remember any crowds.  Characters roamed around freely - no long lines or queues.  Epcot was a touch boring for a teen.

I didn't step foot in Orlando again until January 2006 when Rich ran the Disney marathon.  I was halfway through my pregnancy with Abigail and in the midst of attempting to wean myself off of Zofran.  We flew out of Providence with several members of Rich's family, who were joining us for the marathon fun.  We were only there for a long weekend and we stayed at a Marriott timeshare (through my SIL) on or off of International Drive.  (I think.  Again, failing memory.)

Rich and I had a wonderful weekend.  The weather was beautiful and although we decided to not visit the parks, we discussed returning when the baby was older.  We even joked about how we could tell the baby that he/she had met Donald and Daisy after Daddy ran the marathon.  (Even after all this time, it still stings to think about that.)

2012 Plans

Who:  Us + Grammy for a total of 6 (which means that a gratuity of 18% will automatically be added to our restaurant bills.)

When:  I don't like to divulge when I won't be home on the internet (even though my brother, who is in law enforcement and has a big German Shepard named Sasha, will be staying at our house for most of our vacation) so I'll just say that it's going to be hotter than hell for our trip and we do have free dining.

Where:  We will be staying at Disney's Beach Club Resort.  Two, hopefully, connecting rooms.

How:  We will be driving again.  (That's 1,300 miles each way.)

So here's the deal - you don't need to stay on Disney property to have a completely enjoyable vacation.  Many folks consider it to be a requirement because they don't have a vehicle and use Disney transportation and/or they feel that staying onsite adds to the Disney experience.  I know folks who have rented houses in Orlando and still had a great vacation.  Staying offsite can often cost less.  I can be a bit cynical so I'm not expecting to think that I've been transported back in time to an east coast beachside resort by staying at Beach Club.  Just like I knew I was in Orlando and not New Orleans when we stayed at Port Orleans.

There are a few reasons why we decided to stay onsite.  Rich and I commute and sit in traffic all the time and I really don't want that to be a part of our vacation.  Especially not after driving 1,300 miles to get there.  Two co-workers of mine stayed at Beach Club last year and after hearing their reviews and doing some research of my own, I really wanted to stay there.  Plus, we don't vacation very often so we've decided to live it up.  (I did almost change plans to stay at a less expensive resort after Rich lost his job but we had already budgeted for Beach Club and because we will be going when it's hotter than hell, we plan to take full advantage of the pools.)  Beach Club is also appealing to us because we can walk to both Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios and there's a table service restaurant with a character meal at the resort.

I want to mention that when it comes to Disney resorts, you really do get what you pay for.  The resorts are categorized as Value, Moderate or Deluxe.  All have some type of counter (or quick) service dining available.  As you move up in category, there are more options.  Moderate resorts have table service restaurants and Deluxe resorts offer table service and character dining. Deluxe resorts are situated next to parks and therefore, offer walking or monorail access.

Lessons Learned

Make dining reservations:  We learned this lesson the hard way during our first trip with the girls.  I didn't make any dining reservations even though we were on the dining plan because I didn't know what our schedule would be and it's really hard to determine in advance how your vacation is going to play out with three 3.5 year olds.  After a few days in the parks and seeing first hand how impossible it was to get into certain restaurants without reservations, Rich spent some time on the phone one night and was able to secure a few reservations but that's not something I want to do again.

For this trip, we currently have dining reservations for:

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall 
Cape May Cafe
The Crystal Palace
Cinderella's Royal Table

Park hopper passes:  These cost more than your standard park passes but allow you to visit more than one park a day.  If you have small children, visiting more than one park in one day may not be realistic.  We did not purchase hoppers for this trip because I found them to be a waste the first time around.  

Disney rewards credit card:  Yes, we have it.  (I don't exactly want to promote credit cards but we pay our balance off each month.)  So far we have accumulated 500 points, which equates to $500 Disney dollars to be used at the parks and restaurants as cash.  Grammy has around 300 points.  Tips are not included in the dining plan so we plan to use our Disney dollars to pay for that and souvenirs.  Hopefully, we shouldn't have any out of pocket expenses once we enter Disney.

(Note that we received some points as a bonus for signing up for the credit card.)

Which days to tour the parks:  Parks with Extra Magic Hours (aka EMH) tend to be busier than parks without.  With three young children, we don't plan to take advantage of EMH this time around so we will be touring the parks on days when they don't have EMH.  It is also rumored that Magic Kingdom is busier at the beginning of the week as most families arrive over the weekend and visit that park first.  We actually witnessed this first hand during our last vacation. has a lot of good (free) info regarding timing and calendars.


Mairin said...

I made my first Disney visit last year at age 21. I remember walking around the Beach Club and thinking that it would be an awesome place to take kids. The pools were amazing looking and had some renovations going on. Let's hope they have everything in great shape for you guys!

Tinkerbellemommy said...

You will LOVE the Beach Club!!! It's our fav resort out of all of them. Be warned though, my girls had so much fun at Stormalong Bay they didn't want to go back to the parks. :)

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

What's your recommendation on the best age for a first Disney visit? Our girls will be 3 1/2 this summer, but that still feels early to me. But...I don't want to wait until they're too old to believe in some of the "magic".

Thanks for the great tips!

Anonymous said...

The Beach Club is definitely worth the extra expense. We took a day off from parks and spent the day relaxing by the pool which allowed everyone to gear up for the rest of the week at the parks! The character dining wasn't nearly as crowded as some of the others (Chef Mickey's). Walking to Epcot was wonderful as we could spend the days in the other parks, go to the hotel for a break, and then walk to Epcot for the firework/laser show. The kids were 3 and 4 and loved it!

Souza Sisters said...

I think you will love staying at the Beach Club! We stay at the Boardwalk and love being in that area. It's so nice being able to walk to 2 parks and not having to deal with the buses!! We LOVE the Akershus. It was my favorite meal last year. This will be the first year we aren't driving. We didn't want to take the girls out of school for the extra time we would need to drive from Maine. I love hearing about peoples Disney plans! My dream job is to be a vacation planner for Disney!

saraheeyore said...

tusker house for breakfast needs to go on that list :)
you can never have too many character meals even if everyone else tells You otherwise :)

KC Squared said...

We are headed there for our honeymoon soon! We are staying at Port Orleans - First time staying on-site at Disney.

Have a blast!

Deanna said...

We are planning a Disney trip in December 2013, when our twins will be 4 1/2. I am bookmarking all the great tip posts I am reading in the meantime!

erica said...

Awesome! I can't wait to take Cinderella there! Your tips are helpful.

pyjammy pam said...

you've got me dreaming of the boys' first trip. hopefully next august. fingers crossed!

Kaitlyn said...

I've followed your blog for quite some time now (not exactly sure how I found it, but it's one that I find myself constantly checking). I used to nanny for a family with (now 4 year old) BGGB quadruplets (in TX) but now I live in Florida and I work at Disney World!
I just wanted to say make sure you use the discount you get with your disney rewards visa! I believe it is 20% or maybe 10% (but every little bit counts) when you spend over $50. That's not one of the discounts that is automatic... you have to make sure to tell the cast member!
I hope you guys have a magical time and maybe I'll run into you :)

Souza Sisters said...

Thanks for letting us know about that website!! It's awesome!

Disney Vacation Homes said...

Thanks for sharing such a great tips!