Hey all you Mayhem-makers! I’m so excited to welcome Valerie to Magic, Memories, Mayhem! Not only is she a great friend of mine, but she’s one of my recent Walt Disney World guests. She took on the World for the first time as a mom this past spring and lived to tell the tale. Check out a few of her tips…
First of all, there is something you must know about me. I. AM. CHEAP. So cheap that I haven’t paid for toiletries in over 3 years. I’m that crazy lady in the checkout line with all of the coupons. I love the thrill of getting something for free. So this sentiment may come as a BIG SURPRISE…
When it comes to Disney – GO ALL OUT! You won’t regret it.
Believe me, when traveling with a toddler, it really takes a load off. All of those little extras just make the trip more enjoyable.
Food choices are easy when the Dining Plan has it all lined out for you. I didn’t even look at the food prices once! There was no contemplating value vs. cost. It was wonderful, and so was the food!
Besides being cheap, I tend to micro manage. Wow, really throwing myself under the bus here! If I don’t tell someone to do something, it doesn’t get done unless I do it myself. With Disney PhotoPass, I just handed a photographer my card and the job was clear. Capture memories. I was actually able to enjoy seeing the awe and wonder on my little girl’s face as she met her favorite Disney characters. Without PhotoPass , I would be worrying about who had the camera. Are they shooting at a good angle? Never mind, hand me the camera, I’ll do it myself. I would have missed the magic.
With those three points in mind, I offer a few tips from my first Walt Disney World vacation as a mom!
Traveling with Toddlers
There is one thing you must remember about traveling with a toddler: All bets are off. Everything normal is out the window. Schedules, eating habits, potty training, you name it.
1. Packing for Your Vacation aka Pack Double What You Think You’ll Need
We flew Southwest, and two bags fly free. Since we had five people in our party, over-packing wouldn’t have been a problem. I thought we had enough of everything until…..
- She decided she wasn’t potty trained any more. I had packed an extra outfit for every day in case she had an accident, AND I even packed two small packages of pull ups because you never know. You would think that with these things, one way or another, we’d be covered. Despite the fact that I caught on very quickly and changed her into a pull up, they apparently don’t work in Florida where it is hot and hydration is a must. We went potty before and after each ride, meal, etc. But she still soaked through at least once a day. We used every single spare outfit and had to wash some. She even had to wait for the bus to the airport without bottoms on while they were drying in the hotel’s laundromat.
- She turned into a ravenous eating machine whose favorites were suddenly her least favorite food in the world. She ate her way through her snack supply only half way through the trip. But never fear, the dining plan is here! We each had a snack credit per day and easily purchased more snacks at no extra cost (and actually had to scramble to use the leftover credits before we left, there were so many). The dining plan also gave us the freedom to order whatever we wanted at dinner. Since she decided to turn her nose up at PBJ and Mac N Cheese, she ate a nice variety from each of our plates.
2. Packing for the Parks
Besides packing all of that in the suitcase, you’ll also want some of it while in the parks. This is where a stroller becomes your best friend. I didn’t want to lug around my big stroller, and I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg for something that could very well be in a questionable state when we returned home. We shopped around to find the smallest stroller with the largest storage capacity. We found one locally that was perfect then found a plain version of the same stroller online for only $25. It was helpful to have it on hand while packing so we knew what would fit underneath. It held a small tote and a good size cooler that contained six drinks and bags of ice. We also needed to tote along the normal toddler gear, camera bag and Disney specific stuff like autograph supplies and glow sticks (no way was I paying for one at the park).
My best tip for traveling to the parks with all of this gear is to assign an article to each person. Then when getting on and off Disney transportation, you know who is responsible for each bag, the stroller, and the kid. No worries about leaving something behind. This also helps with bag check at the entrance to each park.
And leave the life jackets and floaties at home. The resort has life jackets ready and waiting by the pool.
3. Consider Yourself an Army of One
You’re thinking: At least you didn’t have to worry about all of this yourself; you had your husband to help you out.
Well let me tell you about my parenting teammate. He stayed home. Instead in his place was a grown man child that didn’t have the opportunity to travel and visit all of these exciting places as a kid. Now my biggest mistake was assuming that we were still a team and he was also getting things ready to head to the park. While I was busy getting myself ready, her ready, packing drinks, snacks, etc; he was excitedly looking at maps and travel guides to plan his day. We get to the park with no pull ups and no change of clothes. Unfortunately his trip back to the hotel did little to restore the man child back to normal. Thank God for my dad and brother who just learned to ask: “How can I help you get ready to leave?”
4. Opt for the Disney Dining Plan
Dining plan, dining plan, DINING PLAN. Do it. Fall in love. This is a MUST for a toddler at Disney, and here’s why:
- Character Meals: Who wants to stand in long lines in the hot Florida sun? Not me, and certainly not a toddler. How about meeting them in an air conditioned building, while enjoying a nice meal, and they come to you? SOLD.
- Souvenir Mug: This allows you free refills at your resort. We stayed at Art of Animation. Their food court is an awesome place to use your Dining Plan credits. They have a wide variety of delicious food.***AWESOME TIP ALERT*** We met a lovely lady at the burger counter who told us to use our Dining Plan drink credit for a bottled drink that we could save for later OR milk for our little one. GENIUS. The four of us each got a bottle of milk that we put in the fridge in our room. We had enough for two days worth of milk. I had tested and brought with us powdered milk that she didn’t mind drinking. I could easily make a days worth the night before. If we had eaten at our resort a couple more times, it would have been even easier to provide her with milk. Also, I wouldn’t have had to pack the bulky packages of powdered milk and the large container to mix and store it in.
More on the Disney Dining Plan below.
The only welcome change for us was that she actually slept in her stroller every day. Since she was born, I can only remember ONE time that she fell asleep in the car. This is one area that I had no expectations for at all. We were just going with the flow. It went quite well, we didn’t have to return to the hotel for nap time and getting less sleep in an unfamiliar bed didn’t seem to bother her. It probably went well because it was the ONLY thing I didn’t stress about.
The Disney Dining Plan
If you are researching a trip to Disney, you’ll find a lot of info out there about the Dining Plan. Is it worth it? Unanimously the answer is always…….YES……or NO. Every bit of info I could find said there was no gray area. It was absolutely worth it, or it was a total rip off. Well, I’m not going to be any different. I’m on the love it side. But I can totally see how some people wouldn’t like it. It’s takes a little planning and you have to know how to use your credits to your best advantage.
Skip the Disney Dining Plan if…you like to be impulsive when you are on vacation. You must make a reservation for a Table Service meal or you will just waste precious fun time while you are waiting.
Get the Disney Dining Plan if…You don’t mind a little planning. The planning was simple when working with a travel agent: We made a list of our top restaurant choices and our preferred meal times, and then the lovely Jessica handled the rest. You will have to plan your park visits around your reservations. Once again, Jessica had that covered. She set us up with Park Hopper tickets (a ticket add-on that allows you to visit more than one park per day) so we could come and go as we liked. She also had some handy suggestions based on the expected park traffic for each day of our trip.
Skip the Disney Dining Plan if…your family can hardly sit still at Disney in anticipation of the next thrill (or go with the Quick Service Dining Plan).
Get the Disney Dining Plan if…your family enjoys a break after a long day and prefers to sit down for dinner. Ours does, so it was right up our alley.
But What About the Cost?
You may question if the Dining Plan fits in your budget. Well we found that not only did it fit, it helped with budgeting. My little brother paid for his trip all by himself. *TEAR* He’s growing up! The Dining Plan allowed him to get a pretty accurate estimate of the total cost of his trip. Be sure to note that gratuity is NOT included.
I’m all about getting the most bang for my buck. Now I’m not going to be like some of the folks out there and say look at each menu and only make reservations for the most expensive restaurants. I didn’t even look at the prices on the menu, that’s a HUGE accomplishment for me. What I will say is if you plan on having a character meal, the Dining Plan really pays off. We ate two meals with the characters, and the Dining Plan more than paid for itself. With young kids, you could potentially eat every Table Service meal with the characters. But be aware that some meals do count as two credits.
Jessica chiming in here! Cinderella’s Royal Table and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ are the two character dining experiences that require two table service credits on the Disney Dining Plan.
The food is amazing. There isn’t much variety on each menu, but I imagine it would be difficult to have a huge menu at many restaurants at each park. Each restaurant has more than enough choices that everyone is sure to find something to their liking. My brother loves fancy food. His favorite thing about going on a cruise is the food. He said that Disney food is better than cruise food!
Plus all of the Disney favorites are included.
Oh, and we can’t forget all of the fun Mickey shaped food!
There is more than enough food. Being the Money-Savin-Maven that I am, I told the men in the family not to waste their snack credits on a drink when we could bring them into the park with us. Men don’t always follow the directions. They “accidentally” used their credits for a drink. And I admit I used a couple too.
That still left us with a TON of snack credits. I couldn’t just let good money go to waste! So on the last day we were scrambling to use them up. We used ‘em up all at once at Goofy’s Candy Shop in Downtown Disney.
You can find Mickey shaped rice crispy treats all over Disney. But only at Goofy’s can you create your own chocolate dipped, candy covered, GIANT heaven on a stick! All for the price of…ONE snack credit! We ordered up several and told them we were taking them on the plane so they wrapped them up nice and tight. Then we enjoyed them with our family when we got home.
Psst! Click up there for more info on PhotoPass+
You’ll want to take pictures to remember your wonderful (expensive) vacation. So you fumble for your camera, ask a unsuspecting passerby to take the picture, teach a total stranger how to use your camera, and maybe only end up with a picture of a bunch of frustrated people with their eyes closed. That’s IF you can get the kids to sit still that long. Or you could leave it to the pros. There are Disney photographers stationed throughout the park to capture all of those iconic photo ops. And they just might throw in some extra Disney magic too…
But what about PhotoPass+?? Well, let’s just say our trip just wouldn’t have been the same without it. It was worth every penny. The stories just don’t cut it. Of all of the photos of our trip, the attraction photos really tell the story of who we are.
The very first ride we went on was Test Track. The people in the front seat kept looking at us funny. I just couldn’t figure out why. Then we got off the ride and visited the photo monitors…
WE ARE THOSE PEOPLE
It didn’t stop there.
In our family we like to have fun. It’s never a dull moment. We were, after all, raised by this man:
And your memories can live on too, IF you learn from my mistakes. Make sure to get your PhotoPass+ card SCANNED AT THE PHOTOPASS COUNTER FOR EACH RIDE. This was not clear to us. We got home and found these incredible images missing from our account. So we had to fall on our knees and beg for mercy at the feet of the Disney photo department. They came through and we can relive the fun for years to come.
Another tip from Jessica: If you’re riding one ride multiple times or your group was split into multiple ride vehicles, write all the numbers down from the monitors. They actually have a cast member with slips of paper available for this very reason. That way you can get all of your ride photos for that specific ride in one shot. No need to go through the PhotoPass line after each ride.
Many thanks to Valerie for sharing her experiences!! I even learned a couple of new tips, too!