December 15, 2014

Disney Planning - Part 1: Pre-Planning

Okay.  I know that title sounds crazy.  You are saying to yourself, "Elizabeth, are writing about planning to make a plan?"  And the answer is, yes.  This series of blog posts is going to serve as a walk through of my process for planning a multi-family trip to Disney World.  To give you some background, we are planning a trip to Disney World at the end of July 2015 with my Dad and step-family.  There will be 9 people going total.  Of those 9, 7 are adults, one kid will be 10 and my kiddo will be 2 (almost 3, which is important later).  If that sounds anywhere close to your family trip or even if it does not, this series is for you.  Going to Disney World is a big trip and quite frankly takes a lot of planning.  So, put on your Type A hat and join the ride.

So a big part of planning a multi-family trip is that you all have to get together to, well, plan.  For us this is taking place at our Christmas gathering, which is about 7 months out from our trip.  You want to have this planning session more than 6 months out from your trip because at the 6 month mark you can make dining reservations, so you want to know where you want to eat prior to that date.  To help this meeting to be the most productive, I have taken some time to pre-plan (you know, planning to make a plan).  I have highlighted things that are important for my family to do and see.  I have picked some of our top restaurant picks and scoped out different resorts.  That way, I already have some ideas of what may work or not when we get together. 

This is my first trip to Disney as a parent.  My sweet little toddler has no idea of what wonders await him.  But, I will warn you, I am learning how to do Disney as a parent as I go.  I will update you on what I learn as I go.  I am no Disney novice though.  I have been several times as a teen/adult and I am glad I have some experience to pull from when planning a trip for my little family.  The first thing I started researching was what options we have for resorts.  My child historically does best in hotel situations when he has a separate sleeping space from us.  Also, if someone has to take little man back to the hotel for a nap or early bedtime, I didn't want them to have to sit in a dark, quiet room while he sleeps.  With this in mind, I found three pretty good options:

Disney's Art of Animation Resort:  This is the newest resort and I am intrigued by the theming.  It is a value resort so it falls in the lower price bracket.  The sections are themed for The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Lion King.  I happen to live with a pretty big Nemo fan (2 if you count my husband), so the adorable rooms and huge Nemo pool seemed very exciting.  This resort also has family suits in 3 of the 4 sections that sleep up to 6 people.
  • Pros: Exciting themes, very nice pool, suit style allows for a separate sleeping space for at least napping.
  • Cons: The suits and regular rooms are not close together, the suit would be crowded, and my little dude would have to share a bed with someone.  
Pop Century Resort:  We have stayed here before and quite frankly, it may be the best resort for your money if you want a traditional hotel room layout.  We really liked the resort and the cafeteria style dining area cannot be beat.  The resort has some fun themes and still has a large pool and some fun icons around the grounds to explore.  The sections are decades, but everything is pretty close together so you can see anything on the grounds even if you are not in the decade of your choice.
  • Pros:  Most cost effective, great cafeteria and food, and the privacy of our own room with just our little family.
  • Cons:  We have stayed here so it would not be new, no separate sleeping space, and it is pretty far from the parks especially if you are using the Disney transportation.
Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs:  Okay, this is my top pick right now.  These are just too cool.  The houses are elevated 10 feet giving the feeling of being in a treehouse.  All around is green and wooded areas.  The 2 bedroom villas sleep 9 (perfect, right?).  We could all stay together in what feels much more like a house than a hotel.  One of the rooms has bunk beds, perfect for cousins! Saratoga Springs also has fantastic pools with water slides and whirlpools.  There is also a full service spa if you are into that.  Splitting the cost of a villa turns out to be very near the cost of either of the other options.  Plus, did I say they are treehouses?
  • Pros:  They are treehouses (cool factor), we can all stay together, separate sleeping areas, and amenities of an upper level resort without the extra cost.
  • Cons:  Slightly (maybe 100 bucks) more per person in overall cost, no cute character theme, and we all have to stay together.
Let me clarify that last con.  Going on a multi-family trip is great.  I will write a whole post about why I love going to Disney like this.  But, depending on your family dynamics, a week of never getting away from each other might not sound so fun.  Gage that before committing to sharing sleeping space.  Also, everyone has to be 100 percent committed when you make the reservation.  We have had trips where someone has planned on going, but was unable to afford it come time to make the payments or had to back out for some other reason.  If you calculate your cost based on splitting a room like the treehouse 8 ways and 1 person backs out, everyone else's cost goes up.  These are things to discuss at the meeting with everyone.

Now I have some picks for resorts so I moved on to looking into restaurants.  It is not as important to research your quick-service meals at this time.  You really only have to nail down your sit-down meals ahead of time.  Since we are traveling with a small child, character meals are a must.  We decided that the character breakfast at Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios was a must for our family.  This meal features the Disney Junior characters like Doc McStuffins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Sophia the First.  If you have a child under the age of 5, you must do this.  Another top pick for us was Coral Reef which is located in the Seas pavilion in EPCOT.  There are not any characters here, but you eat with a view of a huge aquarium full of all sorts of wonderful creatures.  Plus, the food is delicious.  T-Rex at Downtown Disney also made our list despite not having characters because of the immersive dinosaur theming for my dino-loving little dude.  Finally, Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom is a delicious buffet with the adorable characters of Winnie the Poo.  We have also considered Chef Mickey's but it requiring 2 dining points may prevent that from being an option this time.

Finally, I spent some time researching the ins and outs of traveling to Disney with a toddler.  I have made a list of rides he will be too short to ride (not many) and highlighted what I would consider are the most important rides and attractions for us to see at each park.  The bottom line is, it is virtually impossible to see everything in a week at Disney so you have to prioritize.  Some of the interesting logistical things I found about taking a 2 year old to Disney are:
  • Children under 3 are free at Disney (yay!)  There are implications to this.  My little guy will get a magic band, but he will not get a dining plan.  He can eat for free at buffets, but will have to share or we will need to purchase him a meal at any other meals.  
  • Since he is under 3 and does not have a park ticket, he cannot do the Pirate dress up activity (the boy counterpart to the Bippity Boppity Boutique).  
  • He will not have his own FastPass+ reservations, but as long as he is with an adult with a reservation, he can tag along.
  • There are wonderful Baby Care Centers in all the parks that offer much more than rocking chairs and changing tables.  There are also little tables and chairs with coloring books and toddler sized potties.  These may be a lifesaver when we have a hot and overstimulated toddler on our hands.  
Some great places to look when pre-planning is of course the Disney website.  Also, check out the Mom's Panel on the Disney website.  I learned more about the ins and outs of taking a toddler to Disney from this Q&A page than anywhere else.  Look for other blogs too (other than this one) on Facebook and Pinterest.  Nothing is more helpful than hearing other people's first hand experience.

So, happy pre-planning!  Look for an update after Christmas detailing the ins and outs of the big family planning session.     

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