Last week we went on vacation to Disney World for a week (a different blog to follow about that). This was our second trip to Disney in 3 years and things were definitely different this time than last time. I am not a Disney expert and I'm not one of those Disney geeks, either, but I have helped a few people plan their trips or just offered advice that we learned from our first trip so I thought I would write down some new things that we learned this time around.
It is definitely harder to take 3 kids to Disney than just 2. I know that sounds like common sense but we really thought that since our first trip was so easy-going and relaxing that this trip would be, too. Boy, were we wrong!
The last time we went Kanin was 4 and Gracie was 15 months. It was such a piece of cake. We took things slowly, went back to the hotel in the middle of the day for naps and swimming and then leisurely went out at night. We thought we had things down to a science so there was no reason for this trip to be any harder than the last time.
What we didn't take into account this time is that Kanin is 6 and he is over 48" which means that he is able to ride every ride in every park. The last time he wasn't tall enough for the big rides so we would get to a big ride, Rock-N-Roller Coaster, for instance, and Scott and I would each do a single rider. I would go straight to the front and ride it while Scott stayed with the kids and then we would switch places. The whole thing would take maybe 15 minutes and then we were off to the next ride. This time, though, Kanin could ride everything which meant that we did rider-switches at every ride. I would go ride a ride with Kanin and ask for a rider-switch pass and then Scott would go and ride it with him. The 2nd parent rider didn't have to wait in the huge lines but the first one did. Each ride ended up taking at least 45 minutes for both parents to get to ride the ride. Meanwhile, Gracie and Caleb were stuck hanging out in the stroller. Caleb didn't really mind or even realize what was going on but Gracie definitely knew that we were riding rides and that she wasn't. The parent staying with them tried to ride baby rides or find characters but it was still a lot of down time for the little ones.
Lesson 1: If you and the adults in your party really want to ride the rides, I would suggest to go to Disney World either when they are all too small to ride the big rides and just do the single rider lines like we did in 2008 or wait until they are all at least 40" so that there are only a couple of rides that can't be ridden. You could also split up for parts of the day but my thought on that is that it is a "family" vacation and I didn't want to spend half of a day off with Kanin while Scott was with Caleb and Gracie. You could also bring along a babysitter to watch the younger ones in the afternoon while you take the taller ones out to ride the big rides but, once again, I'm not big on this idea just because I wanted to spend as much time with all of my family as possible.
In 2008, we stayed at the Polynesian resort. The Polynesian is considered one of the Deluxe hotels in the Disney resort family. It is decorated with a Polynesian theme and you feel like you have walked straight on an island. There is a volcano slide into the pool that Kanin loved and it is right on the lake, as well. All of those things are great but what really made the Polynesian stand out is that the monorail stops there. The monorail will take you straight to Magic Kingdom and it will take you to the Change Station which will allow you to switch to another monorail and head to Epcot. From the Polynesian, as well as, the Contemporary and The Grand Floridian, you can be at either Magic Kingdom or Epcot within 10 minutes.
For this trip I wanted to try something different. I saw the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and I thought it would be so neat to wake up and have animals right outside of our room. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is decorated in African decor completely with African drum music played throughout the day and night. Each room has a balcony that overlooks either the pool area or the savannah. We had a savannah view so everyday we had giraffes and zebras just a few short yards away from us. It was really exciting to get up early and see the animals all out.
The down side to the Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL), though, is the fact that to get to anywhere you have to take a bus. In fairness, they do not share buses with any other resort, but I'd say that is about the only good thing about it. The bus stop is down the hill from the front entrance and buses run about every 20 minutes. Animal Kingdom is the closest park and once loaded on the bus it takes about 10 minutes to get there. The other parks, though, are at least a 15 minute ride. This doesn't sound too bad but when you take into account that when you arrive at the bus station that your park bus may have just left, you could wait up to 20 minutes for a bus. Then, a 15 minute bus ride to the park. Then, you have to go through security and get your bag checked and then get your card out and enter the park. It easily took an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get from Animal Kingdom Lodge and get inside a theme park. That is a long time to wait and an especially long time to wait for small children.
Lesson 2: If it is possible and money allows, stay at the Polynesian, Contemporary or Grand Floridian--especially if you have stroller-aged children. The access to the monorail and being able to be hotel room to park within 15 minutes will make up for the extra expense of these hotels. This is especially true on those very, very hot days or when your little one is having a meltdown. Just hop on the monorail and head back to the room to relax a bit. By staying at these resorts, you only have to ride a bus to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney (if you choose to visit this).
We bought a new double stroller for our trip. The new stroller allowed both Caleb and Gracie to lay down and take naps and each seat had ample overhead coverage. In 2008, we bought a sit-n-stand stroller to take with us. This stroller was great for allowing Kanin to jump on and off of the backseat and walk when he wanted to and ride when we wanted him to. The problem with the sit-n-stand, though, is that the back "stand" part had no umbrella to shade Kanin from the sun. The front umbrells barely covered Gracie so we were constantly lathering them up with sunscreen but they were so hot, even in September.
Disney does offer both single and double stroller rentals for anywhere between $15-45/day. I wanted to take our own stroller, though, for a couple of reasons. 1. The cost. I couldn't see adding an extra $45/day to our trip. 2. The bus stop at the AKL was quite a distance from our room. This would mean having to carry Caleb (27.9lbs) and hold him for 20 minutes while waiting on the bus, carry him up to the security gate, through the entrance and to the stroller entrance. This was just not feasible! LOL
If you have older kids, though, that could walk to the bus stations but may still want to ride around or they may get tired by the end of the day, you might think about renting a Disney stroller. The big benefit that I see to renting is that you don't have a stroller on the buses. All strollers have to be broken down when you get on the bus which, as you can imagine, creates little room on the buses and extra stress for parents trying to keep track of kids, bag and a stroller.
The stroller is another reason that I recommend staying at a monorail hotel. You do not have to break the stroller down when you are on the monorail. Kids can ride in the stroller and you just roll the stroller onto the monorail.
Lesson 3: Once again, if possible, stay at a monorail hotel if only for the convenience of not having to break down a stroller each and every time you travel to/from your hotel. Make sure that you have a stroller that will provide ample overhead coverage. If you have older kids, think about renting a stroller from Disney and save yourself the hassle of dealing with a stroller while in transit to the parks.
One of the best things about Disney is the variety of cuisines and restaurants offered. At Epcot alone there are 11 countries that each have at least one Table Service restaurant that you can choose to eat. I always check out the menus at home to make sure that everyone will like at least one thing on the menu and then I make my reservation. Then, I try to plan it so that wherever our Table Service meal is for that day, we go visit the park closest to it. Planning meals and the whole reservation thing is kind of a headache. You really need to start making dining reservations about 3 months out. Also, when planning your vacation, keep in mind that Free Dining is usually offered September-October. This offer usually comes out in April or May so I always wait to plan the trip once I find out when the Free Dining is going to be offered.
Just a personal note--I think EVERYONE should try to eat at Germany Biergartent at Epcot. The food is fantastic and there is a polka band that gets all kids involved in dancing and singing. We love it!
Lesson 4: To save money, wait until the Free Dining is announced and then plan your meal. Once you have chosen your restaurants, then plan what parks are closest to those restaurants so that you aren't wasting extra time in transit and you are already right at that park.
If you have a little girl who wants to be a princess, check out the Bippity Boppity Boutique at Downtown Disney. There is also one at the Magic Kingdom in Cinderella's Castle but it is really, really hard to get into. My friend, Julie, actually helped me with getting Gracie's makeover this last trip. There are several packages that you can buy. We chose the one that was $54+tax. We bought our own Cinderella costume and took it down with us. We went through the whole makeover and then went over to Epcot and had lunch with the princesses at Norway's Arrakesh. It was truly magical! Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine and Snow White were all there.
Lesson 5: Yes, it was a hassle. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, I would do it again just for the fact that Gracie truly believed that she became a princess. It made her trip and gave her memory that she is still talking about. I wouldn't trade it. If you have a little girl, visit the Bippity Boppity Boutique!
I know this has droned on for a while but here are just a few more little tips:
1. Bring ponchos for all adults and kids. If kids are in a stroller, make sure you have a poncho or rain shield to throw over the stroller. It will rain.
2. Take some small snacks packed in your bag.
3. Buy the resort refillable cup. It is $10 and you can fill it with soda, coffee or tea all week long for free. Plus, I use mine all of the time back here.
4. Ride Tower of Terror. It is fun.
5. Try to break up the big rides with some smaller family rides that you can all ride together.
6. Don't skip the shows. They are good. It's a Bug's Life at Animal Kingdom, The Muppets at Hollywood Studios and The Laugh Factory at Magic Kingdom are some of our favorites.
7. Go back to the hotel and take naps and swim in the hottest part of the day.
8. Check out http://www.wdwradio.com/ and look at the Forums. There is a lot of good info there.
Guess that is it for now. Hope this helps!!