Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tips for Your Next Walt Disney World Vacation

(c)Car Mama
In my opinion, February was too warm in California. I'm not in the mood to ski, or make hot chocolate, or bake cookies. I'm in the mood for shorts and enjoying umbrella drinks by the pool. Our pool at home is about 37 degrees Fahrenheit so I'll skip that one and wait until April to dip my toes in the pools at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. 

That's right: this crazy family is headed back to WDW -- it's a long flight from San Francisco to Orlando and we'll miss a week of skiing. But our kids love it (even the newly-minted teenager), I love it (even though I'm a cynic), and my husband loves it (because he's just a big kid). Since my husband plans the vacations, we seem to go to Florida every-other year. To make this vacation different, we are starting with a Disney Cruise for the four of us and then meeting my parents in Orlando for another 7 days of fun. This will be my dad's first trip to WDW, so we hope he learns to reluctantly love it, too. (Our two adorable, charming children will certainly do their best to help him have fun.)

Pretty in Pink
(c)Car Mama
We were last at WDW in 2011 (when I reviewed a nice little Volvo S40). Our other trips were in 2006 with my mother-in-law (who let our daughter swim in the Polynesian hotel pool with a regular diaper and we all learned what "maximum absorbency" means).  Our family went again in 2009 with my mother (her first visit) and had a great vacation. On the trip home, our son lost a school copy of James and the Giant Peach and his teacher wouldn't accept the new one we bought to replace it because it had different cover art. (Who knew that if cover art is different then the content is different as well?)

Since warm weather and walking 10 miles a day are on my mind, I feel compelled to share information gleaned from our Walt Disney World trip-planning mania and past experiences. Did I mention that my husband is an amazing trip planner and knows his way around some great discount gear sites? 

First Things First: Do Your Research (and then do some more)
Wilderness Lodge. The geyser is a nice touch
(and doesn't smell like rotten eggs).

(c)Car Mama
It's not possible to have a really fun and complete Disney experience unless you do some serious research, planning, and make reservations. If it were a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of place, then there wouldn't be so many websites and books about how to plan your Disney vacation. So take the plunge, do some reading, check out the touring plans, and pick a few that suit your family.

If you're really not able to take the time to plan, or just have no idea what you're doing, use a Disney "Earmarked" Travel Agent -- they are specialists and know all the ins and outs, and ups and downs of a Disney vacation.

Here are a few of the helpful websites we use: (also has app for smart phones called "Lines") (transportation calculator) (character meet and greet times/schedules) (Disney Forums) (food/restaurant reviews and a few recipes) (crowd calendars/crowd predictions) (comprehensive list of every single discount offered)

The book we use as a reference guide is The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

Make a Plan and Work The Plan: Touring plans are a must at the Disney resorts -- there are too many people, too many attractions, and never enough time. My friends who traveled to WDW without a plan for each day were miserable and cut their Disney time short and went to a hotel on the beach instead. You must make a plan A and a plan B for each day, and then you must stick to the plan, yet be flexible if something unexpected happens. A WDW vacation requires flexibility -- not something most kids have.

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Review
(c)Car Mama
Make Dining Reservations: No matter when you travel to WDW (or Disneyland), there will be thousands of other people with you. To make mealtimes a bit less stressful, call ahead 180 days and make reservations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This requires that you have a plan on where to go each day, but that's something you should plan well in advance as well (see above).

Go to The Hoop-Dee-Doo Review: This is a great show for the whole family at Fort Wilderness. Funny and good-natured in an air-conditioned venue with good food and pretty good Sangria. Totally worth it in my opinion.

We Roll with Carry-ons: Literally. Each person has a backpack and a perfectly-sized rolling carry-on from Costco. The suitcases can unzip and expand for our return trip, but we like to use the Ship-Your-Shit Home program (see below) so we can skip the slowest baggage unloading airport in the world: San Francisco. All the hotels have laundry rooms, our clothes are quick-dry, and who wants to wait at the Orlando airport upon arrival and miss one minute of the crowds, the giant turkey legs, and the pool-and-umbrella-drink time? 

Typhoon Lagoon even has cool cars.
(c)Car Mama
To Rental Car or Not: We usually rent a car in Orlando to help us get around (perhaps a trip to Universal Studios, Hogwarts, and Sea World would be fun), and we've used the car to get us to Disney's two water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. But this year we're going to use Disney transportation all the way from arriving at the airport to departing on our last day. We'll see how that goes, but Disney has a great system of busses, boats, and the monorail to get us from one place to another, and we've decided to skip Universal Studios this year.

Dress In Bright Colors and Quick Dry Fabrics: We have some favorite brands and fabrics to deal with the humidity, potential thunderstorms, sun, and lack of packing space. Quick-dry fabrics are a must. We also opt to wear bright colors so we can easily spot one another within the crowds. On the last two trips the boys wore bright orange and the girls wore bright pink. This trip we're diversifying a bit on the colors because our daughter (8) hates pink and our son (13) now has opinions about his clothes and everything else.

Our favorite brands are: Patagonia, Columbia, NikeAdidas, basically any sports-minded brand. The key is quick-drying material with names containing "cool," "dry/dri," or "wick." Another important article of clothing is quick-dry underwear -- something that doesn't hold water from Splash Mountain. You really don't want to be walking around in your quick-dry shorts that keep getting wet from your super-absorbent cotton skivvies. 

Two or three swimsuits per person is also a good idea. We go to the hotel pool every afternoon, and also spend a few days at Disney's water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Since swimsuits can take a while to dry in Florida's humidity, it's good to have extras.
When good kids go bad.
(c)Car Mama

Another VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Check your shorts/pants before you go for see-thruness. I recommend skipping white or light colored see-thru-when-wet shorts or pants. (Just ask my mom about her sweet grandchildren singing, "I see Grandma's golden underpants!" after a ride on Splash Mountain.) (It's true. We could see all the details of her hotel keycard that was in her back pocket.)

Walk 10 Miles per Day in My Shoes: Our preferred shoe brands keep our toes protected, but have some holes to let water out and air in. All of us wear classic Keens or Ahnu sandals, as well as Teva or Chaco. Our water socks this year are "Drainsocks" from Columbia. We find that water socks/shoes are essential for those hot walkways at the water parks. Who wants burning feet? We also take running shoes with good support that are broken-in so that blister potential is limited. I usually have New Balance tennies with bungie laces for easy on/off, and our son loves his Nike Free Runs. I'm also going to bring a pedometer to see if we really do walk 10 miles every day. My mom will bring her Fitbit. 

Socks: Smart Wool works best for us. They are short and thin, dry quickly and are anti-microbial, which means they don't stink like cotton socks. I also find that my feet get oddly cold and clammy in cotton socks -- a feeling that is rather distracting.

One of the many Disney
transportation options.

(c)Car Mama
Swim Shirts/Rash Guards: These help in two ways: The good ones are UPF rated so they protect agains sunburn on shoulders and backs; and they keep you cool even when it's hot. I get so cold when wearing a rash guard, that I have to wrap up in a warm towel. Sometimes our kids whine for hours about being cold when it's 90 and sunny. They take off their rash guards and they're fine. We have both long and short-sleeved just to cover all bases and any sunburned arms.

Hats and Sunglasses: Something to protect eyes and delicate ears. I like hats with chin straps so they don't fly off when I'm riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. But my kids and husband like baseball caps. We hardly ever wear our personalized Mickey Mouse ears in the parks; they're too precious. As for sunglasses, I buy good ones for the kids at REI or Sierra Trading Post that have UVA and B protection; and I like polarized lenses for better color representation. We also buy Croakies for the kids so we can secure those sunglasses to their sweet little faces.

3-out-of-4 riders find 
Expedition Everest fun.
(The other rider clearly 
finds it terrifying.)
(c)Car Mama
Photo Pass/Photo Pass+: We take a lot of photos while on vacation, and we usually end up buying the funny photos from the rides, but we also really appreciate the great photographers that Disney employs throughout all the parks. I'm usually the one taking pictures, so I'm never in any vacation pictures. By using Disney's Photo Pass (now there is Photo Pass+ that we've already pre-ordered), we get a few great family photos to use on the annual Christmas card, to print and frame and display, and to add to the digital photo album that clogs up my computer.

Disney Dollars: This past year my husband learned that you can buy Disney Dollars gift cards at Target and use your Target Red Card to get the gift cards at 5% off. Saves a few bucks, and when you're spending a butt-load on a vacation, every dollar saved is worth the extra effort.

Getting Your Loot Home: When we're at WDW or Disneyland, we utilize the deliver-to-my-hotel program at the Disney shops so we aren't carrying around bags of t-shirts and mugs. We have also used Disney's very effective ship-home program. You package up your loot and Disney sends it home for you. This saves us in several ways: we don't need to check any luggage on the way home, breakable items can stay well-packed in bubble wrap and cardboard, and we don't have to unpack everything on our first day back home. Packages shipped from the resort take a few days to get to our house. Just enough time for the kids to forget about their new Mickey bobble-heads and be super excited when they arrive. Also a good option for any gifts you don't want the kids to see before birthdays/Christmas/etc.

On the floor in my office is a big plastic bin labeled "Disney World." It's our drop zone for things we don't want to forget to pack. Right now it contains moleskin, croakies, band-aids, and a few pairs of water shoes. I'll start packing the suitcases next week now that winter has returned and we don't need our shorts and flip flops.

Enjoy your trip!

All photos (c) Car Mama.

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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