When planning trips I am drawn to far off, exotic destinations. But I also know a Disneyworld trip is a must. As a child I was lucky to visit fairly frequently as we visited my grandparents in Florida every year. Of course I wanted my kids to experience that same Disney magic. Our first trip to Disney was in March 2013 and I will admit that I had mixed feelings leading up to that trip. We were going during Canadian Spring Break (read: busy!) and the idea of being swept up in crowds of people, waiting in lines for hours, just didn’t sound so appealing. However, that trip surpassed my expectations immensely. We planned for the crowds; got up early and got going and it was amazing trip. I don’t know how they do it, but every element of Disneyworld is magical.
This year the kids were a bit older and we didn’t have to worry about nap time and height restrictions as much. Did I mention that we surprised the kids with this trip, which was the most fun thing ever. They came home from school on Friday and we were like “get in the car, we are going to Disney!” – hilarious, they totally didn’t believe us. We had everything all packed for them and off we went. We drove down from Canada (24 hours straight) – to many people I know this sounds terrible. But to us, it just makes the most sense because it minimizes the kids’ awake time in the car and it gives us more time in Florida. Our kids are perfectly content to watch DVDs for hours, so it makes for a pretty pleasant drive. This is how we got to Florida each year when I was a kid and in doing this twice with our family, Paul and I have gotten in a good routine for the drive, alternating and sleeping in the passenger seat. We have yet to splurge out and stay in a Disney resort and have stayed at timeshares both times. This year we stayed at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek – a beautiful resort located right on Disney property. We don’t own a timeshare, but rented our 2 bedroom condo through Vacation Strategy – they were great to deal with and I had heard good things on the disboards about them. We booked fairly last minute and it was peak season so paid $1,300 USD/week. I have heard people paying well under $1,000/wk for less busy times. We avoided the time share presentation and although the resort was beautiful, we didn’t have enough time to fully enjoy it because we were maximizing our time at the parks.
We bought a 5 day Disney parks pass (about $1,600 USD for our family). We love Magic Kingdom and were there 3 days, 1 day at Epcot and 1 day at Animal Kingdom. We did Hollywood Studios last time.
Avoiding the Crowds
We used Undercovertourist and Touringplans to map out which days were best at which parks (they rate crowds at each park each day). All the parks were at 8/10 or 9/10 levels, so no avoiding the crowds entirely, but we would try to choose parks with an 8/10. We also used the Touringplans touring plans (pay about $15/year) to use their app and create our own touring plans. We never waited in line more than 30 minutes ever and usually much less because we had a plan. We got to the park at opening and the touring plan will have you ride high wait time rides early and optimizes when to get and use your Fast Passes. One day we went back to the resort in the busy early afternoon, but generally we hung out in the parks all day.
Keeping Costs Down
Staying off resort helps keep costs down, especially since we are a family of 5 and don’t fit into many Disney rooms. We also really like having a kitchen to eat breakfasts in each day and most dinners as well. We grocery shopped at Trader Joe’s on our way in (love, love this store – why won’t they come to Canada????). We also packed a lunch for the parks each day. Isn’t it so great that Disney lets you bring in your own lunch? We would then buy a treat (ice cream) in the afternoon. Way healthier, way cheaper. We did eat out a couple of times, notably Benihana for teppan yaki in Downtown Disney. We didn’t do any character dining this time (we did the Princess Castle one last time and it was nice), but the prices are crazy! Last time we did Bibbity Boppity Boutique and Pirates League, which the kids loved.