Saturday, September 10, 2011

Disney Lessons Learned

As we've gone along, I have had some questions from friends about how we did this, or how we handled that on our trip. Rather than bury that information in the regular posts, I decided to do this final wrap post of things that went well and things we wish we'd done differently.

Transportation: We were staying at a Disney World resort, which means we had easy access to the Disney transportation system. There's no way I would drive around Disney World and pay for parking at the parks each day. It was much too easy to hit multiple parks in a day by hopping a bus. The biggest frustration was waiting for a bus at park closing time when crowds were the biggest, but we always made it on the first or second bus that came and depending on how busy it is, you'd often have to wait in line for a tram to the parking lot also, so driving wouldn't have saved us that hassle.

Carrying our Stuff: Disney with three small kids? Yeah, there was a lot of stuff. Especially with one kid being in diapers, we always needed to be carrying something. I intended to take a back pack and then forgot it. I blew it off and figured the diaper bag would do. That was a mistake. A back pack was a must have for us. So much of a must have that we bought one while we were there. Since we had the stroller, we could have just put stuff underneath it, but that wasn't feasible with the bus trips. Which brings us to

Strollers: We had to have a stroller because we had Secora. We didn't really think much beyond that about the stroller situation. Turns out it was completely unreasonable to expect Sedona to do all the walking by herself. More often than not, she rode in the stroller and we carried Secora. If I had it to do over again, I would try to borrow a double stroller from a friend or look for one of the add-on boards that attach to the back for an older child to stand on. When Secora WAS in the stroller, it was usually because she needed a nap, but that didn't work out so well either. As necessary as a stroller is, they aren't allowed inside any rides, restaurants or shows. There is designated "stroller parking" in most areas and you have to take the baby out and leave the stroller behind. At times, one of us just sat outside so she could still sleep, but when we had dining reservations, we had to wake her up (which made her oh so willing to sit through a meal without fussing!). You also have to fold the stroller up when you take it on a bus. On our stroller, that meant we had to put anything we'd shoved in the basket back in our bag so it wouldn't fall out in addition to waking up the sleeping baby. We would've woken her up to put her in a carseat if we were driving instead of riding the bus, but it was just something we didn't really clue in on ahead of time. I probably would've been a bit more selective in dining reservation times if I'd realized no strollers could be taken in. Transportation-wise, you do not have to fold strollers to take them on the monorail, so I would really consider a monorail resort (the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian and the Contemporary) if I had the money for them in the future and was traveling with a stroller again.

Baby Care Stations: So in case it wasn't clear, this trip was really kind of tough on a 9 month old. She wasn't getting naps as often or as long as usual, which makes for a fussy baby. She's also still not eating, so we had to work in time to sit down and nurse. Now, I'd heard there were baby care stations in each of the parks. At home, I made some snide comment about Disney trying to make nursing mothers hide away. I'm about as modest as you can possibly get with nursing a baby, but (being a lactation consultant and all) I see breastfeeding as the natural act it is and most especially with young babies, something that can be done anywhere (legally and morally). No one was going to make me hike all the way to the front of a park every time the baby needed a drink on a hot day. And I did nurse all over Disney World. I tried to find somewhat secluded corners and while it was too hot to put a blanket over her head, I did make sure to position myself and/or a blanket so that we were pretty much hidden from view (side note: the Finding Nemo ride was great to nurse was dark and the clamobiles were positioned in a way where other people couldn't see us). No Disney cast members ever made a comment about me nursing. But I was always a bit on edge and stressed (9 months olds can get rather squirmy and don't understand why society would be hung up on how they eat or why we insist on hiding away their food source) and before long, I found myself looking for that baby care station. There is one station in each park, usually near the front. The only one I didn't visit was Epcot. They all have nursing rooms which are either individual rooms or a group room that only mothers and babies are allowed in. The rooms are cool (so nice on a hot day), dimly lit, and stocked with rocking chairs. While I still wouldn't hike to the front of the park for every nursing, it really was nice to go once or twice a day and rock her while she took as much time as she wanted and I wasn't worrying about what comment I might get from someone. While I was nursing, there was another room stocked with a TV (playing Disney movies) and kid sized tables and chairs and high chairs, so the big girls could take a break from the heat while waiting on me. The baby care stations also have full sized, padded changing tables (they provide disposable liners to put on them)
And a microwave and bottle warmers for preparing baby food and formula
They also have a kid-size potty (usually with manual flush...all the other toilets in the parks are automatic flush). They sell baby supplies in case you found you've forgotten something. Diapers, infant medicines, onsies, baby food, formula, pacifiers. The prices are fairly reasonable too, in line with what you'd pay at a drug store. These stations are definitely helpful if you're traveling with a baby or toddler.

Food from home: We always travel with food from home. On the road, we sometimes ate out and sometimes made our own meal. All our snacks are always packed with us. Typically, we pack a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and jelly packets we've accumulated from eating out. Bagels hold up better than bread if you're worried about squishing things. For that same reason, we love pringles on the road. We've purchased one of the coolers that plugs into your cigarette lighter and that works really well to keep cokes, water and juice boxes cold (it doesn't cool them well if they start out hot, but if you take them out of the fridge in the morning, they'll stay just as cold in the cooler all day while you drive). Just before this last trip, I found some of the pouches of applesauce on sale (I think I paid $1.25 for a 4 pack) and those were MUCH more helpful than I expected. They were great to have in the car, or to take into the park with us. The girls could eat them with no mess at all and no spoons. I always pack a roll of paper towels and wet wipes for cleaning up on the road.

Food at Disney: We went to Disney during their free dining plan promotion. From what I've read, they do this deal every year around the first of September. I guess they are trying to get people in during a non-peak time when the kids go back to school (yay for homeschooling!). Being there with a free dining plan was a HUGE plus. We were on the regular plan, which gave us each a table service meal, a quick service meal and a snack each day. The table service meals cover all the character dining options if you're interested in that. The quick service meals are cafeteria style. Both of them offer A LOT of food. There were times we just shared one adult quick service meal and one kid's quick service meal and it fed everyone just fine. Most of our table service meals were all you can eat buffets. A typical adult quick service meal would be a grilled chicken sandwich, pasta salad, 20oz coke and cheesecake, all with good sized portions. A typical kid's quick service meal was grilled cheese, applesauce, grapes, and a juice box. On average, our table service meals ran about $100 and our quick service meals ran about $40-$50, so having those covered saved us a lot of money. The snacks can be used on just about anything. We used them to buy beignets at our hotel, frozen lemonade in the park, and those big swirly lollypops. We bought one souvenir mug at our hotel for $13 that allowed for unlimited refills. It could be used for coke or coffee and I feel like I definitely got my money's worth out of it. I would use that when I was eating a quick service meal and get a bottle of coke instead of a fountain drink for my drink so that I could save it for the drive home. When making dining reservations, I would advise NOT taking the first seating for any meal if the restaurant is buffet. When we went to Crystal Palace, we were scheduled for the first lunch seating and the line at the buffet was unreal because everyone got there at the same time. There were other times we had the very last seating and that didn't seem to be a problem. The staff kept the buffet stocked at all times. If you have food allergies, let them know. A chef will walk the buffet line with you and let you know which dishes contain the ingredient you need to avoid.

Staying Cool: We brought two spritzer bottle fans with us. We only carried one around the whole time and just shared it. I'm sure glad we brought it because they sell them at Disney, but if I overhead correctly, they cost $17. Especially with the newer rides, the line you stand in is usually indoors and well air conditioned, plus the gift shops are all very air conditioned, so you can get in out of the heat when you need to. We used our little fan a lot and we're well acclimated to hot weather, but I didn't feel like we had too much trouble staying cool. I think it would've been nice to have a fan that clipped onto the stroller so there was always something on Secora while she was napping. We often used our snack allowances for cold drinks or frozen lemonade when we needed something to help us cool down, but we also carried our own water bottle. A friend had mentioned taking one of the Brita water bottles with a built in filter, so we took 2 with us. The first night, we didn't have them with us and we stopped by the water fountain for a drink (in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom) the water was disgusting. So much so that we went to a gift shop and bought a liter of water instead. With the Brita water bottle though, we could fill up at the water fountains and the water tasted just fine.

Taking Pictures: Of course you want to take your own camera. That's the only way to catch all of those candid shots of your kids lighting up when they see their favorite character, or enjoying their first ride on the teacups. But after spending all this money, you probably want pictures of the whole family too. And that's where Photopass comes in. Throughout all the parks, there are photographers with Photopass vests on. They don't really talk to you if you're just walking by, but if you go up to them, they are happy to take a picture of your entire family. They're good about framing the shot with Disney icons in the background and helping to get small kids to smile. After they take your picture, they will pull out a card and scan it, then give you the card. For the rest of your trip, find all the photopass photographers you can and have them take your picture, then scan your card. At the end of the trip, you can log on to the photopass website, put in your card number and pull up all of your pictures. There, you can add special Disney borders and things like that. If you want to buy a CD with all the pictures on it, it's $150. If you search around a little bit, you can find a code to purchase the CD for $100 if you do it BEFORE you ever go take any pictures. The trick to photopass is that it's YOUR job to walk up to the photographer and ask for the pictures. We ended up with over 200 pictures on our account, so it was well worth it. If you have ideas about a certain picture you want, be sure to tell them. I wanted a picture of all three girls with their mouse ears on looking at the castle and the photographer was happy to do that for me.

What did it really cost? I know in some circles it's rude to talk money, but people really want to know what did it all cost at the end of the day. So here you go, we paid about $4000 for the whole trip. That includes our travel (by car) from Texas and back home, 6 day/5 night stay at a moderate level Disney resort, park tickets with the park hopper option added on (that lets you visit multiple parks in one day--we utilized that a lot), Disney dining plan (included with our package), souvenirs, photopass CD, everything.

Was it worth it? You betcha. I went once when I was 18 and this was my second trip. Disney is totally geared to the kids. The girls were addressed as "princess" all day every day by every cast member we came across. Little things like walking through the was always, "right this way princess" or "hello princess!" Whenever we were in a store checking out, they would offer the girls Mickey Mouse stickers. Often, they would ask the girls how many stickers they wanted. If they said 4, they got 4. Sedona was crying one morning (I can't remember why, it was a typical 4 year old fit, nothing major) and a cast member stopped her and said, "hey! There's no crying in Disney World!!" and got her cheered up for us. At the end of a long day, we were walking along (probably looking rather ragged...I was leaning on the handle of the stroller) and a cast member jumped out at us with a big Mickey Mouse hand on and said, "no one may pass by until you give me a high four!" (did you know Mickey only has 4 fingers?) He really did make us all do it...including Secora...and we were all giggling and happy again. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME we saw the castle, the kids lit up and said, "LOOK! The Castle!!!!" At our hotel, they were given mardi gras beads (because it was the french quarter) and "gold" coins to throw in the fountain whenever we went to the bus stop in the morning. In the evening, Disney movies were shown in the courtyard of the hotel. I definitely want to go back. I'm hoping for a trip in another 4 or 5 years so Secora gets a chance at doing the little kid version and then another 4 or 5 years after that when they want to ride all the bigger rides.

I think that's everything I wanted to mention that didn't get mentioned in other posts. If I forgot anything, feel free to leave questions in the comments section!


Carolyn said...

Don't forget the Polynesian is on the monorail too!

And about the food allergies - if you have a severe food allergy, like gluten, and you're worried about cross contamination at the buffets, the chefs will make your food completely separately. I was able to dine at the 1900 Park Fare breakfast buffet with no problems. The chef made up everything in a special area in the kitchen, and I did not have even a hint of a reaction. Disney is amazing at handling food allergies.

The Hills said...

I forgot about the Polynesian! I'll change that.

Good to know about the food! I saw them walking the buffet line with people and had mentioned to Josh about cross contamination from guests dropping food into an adjacent bowl. That's really awesome that they'll make it up separately!!


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