all of us, Lyra

Disney World Part 1 – Be Prepared.

Did you sing “be prepared” like the song from The Lion King?
Oh, you didn’t?  Then this post may not be for you.

Back in March, we tried our hand at going to Disney World.  That trip to the park was very last minute and so we were woefully unprepared.  And Disney makes you be prepared if you are going to have any hope of a magical visit.  So what did I do for our next trip?

Prepared the shit out of our trip to Disney.

Should the S-word and Disney be in the same sentence?  Probably not.  Moving on.

When we came home from our Florida trip in March, contacted Disney, and then got tickets from them to go back, we went to work.  John and I looked at sites that told you what park attendance was like and matched it with how much Disney resorts cost during those periods and we decided we would take a chance on a middle of September visit.  We chose a day to go to Magic Kingdom when we knew there would be Extra Magic Hours and planned our hotel stay around that day.  The month of September, after Labor Day, and the month of February are the lowest of the low seasons.  The only problem with September is it is hurricane season so you are totally chancing it.  We knew that, but Disney has a policy that if there is any named hurricane that takes place within 5 days of your visit or where you are visiting from, they will refund you or change plans without a fee.  See — I prepared.  Ask me anything about Disney policies and I will tell you.  Rhianna Wells does not go into things unprepared.  Probably one of the reasons I was devastated after our first trip – I was way out of my comfort zone.  But that’s another discussion for another armchair.  Anyway, we chanced it on September, to make a short story long.

What do you need to know about planning a trip to Disney?  A (not at all) quick rundown of important things.

  • Stay on property.  Sure you could stay off and get some place cheaper but this is Disney and the trip, even a quick one like ours, is not going to be cheap so just go with it.  I also know I am totally coming from my middle-class white lady privilege with this.  Oh man, the tangents I could go on.  I’ll indulge this quick — Disney, a billion dollar corporation, could make things cheaper and more affordable but they always keep their prices JUST high enough to keep a certain socio-economic status population out.  This is just reality.  But no ethical consumption under capitalism, amirite?  This is just what this privileged white lady does under late capitalism so her three year old can see effing Mickey Mouse in “real life.”  Okay, I’ll stop.  But just assume all the information I’m giving you from here on out is coming from a place of intense privilege and I know that.
  • If you are only going to the Magic Kingdom, stay at Fort Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, The Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, or The Contemporary.  These are all the places you can stay near the Magic Kingdom.  The Lodge and the Campgrounds are a direct boat ride to the park, the other places are on the monorail.  This way you can get back to your hotel for a nap in the middle of the day or at the end of a very long day quickly and efficiently.  We stayed at the Fort Wilderness Lodge and loved it.  The Campgrounds are the least expensive but of the other resort hotels, the Lodge is the cheapest.  But it’s still super nice!  We originally were going to stay at the campgrounds but wound up transferring to the Lodge for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this post.
  • Set up your My Disney Experience profile and make sure you’ve added your friends and family.  Someone will be designated as the planner and can make plans for everyone.  Put the most type A person in charge of this.  Our party consisted of me (the Type A planner), John, Lyra, John’s dad, and his partner Mim.  I made sure there were no kinks in being able to link everyone to me so I could make plans for everyone.  Maybe here is where I tell you why we didn’t take Lucy.  We didn’t take Lucy because there is NO REASON ON EARTH to take a child younger than 3/3.5, maybe 4 depending on maturity, to Disney World, unless you are a local and can go to Disney whenever you want.  Lyra was a perfect age for a first trip to Disney.  I count her trip in September as her First Trip and when we take Lucy on her solo trip in like 2019 or something, that will be her First Trip.  Lyra is pretty mature for her age and man, she believes.  She believes so hard.  And it was MAGIC watching her at Disney World getting to meet everyone.  Once you get kids older than like 5/6 you run the risk of them not really believing and while it will still be magical because it’s Disney World, the complete and total awe that you see in their eyes won’t be there.  So my recommendation is make their first trip between 3 and 6 years old.  Just do it.  Then you don’t have to go ever again if you aren’t “Disney People.”
  • 180 days out, you need to make your dining reservations.  YOU NEED TO.  You need to set an alarm on your phone and at 7AM 180 days before you plan on walking your magical self up the Magic Kingdom, you wake up and hop on the My Disney Experience website and you make breakfast reservations for a time before the park opens.  You can get into the park before it even opens if you have breakfast reservations at one of the three options.  If you want character dining, go to Cinderella’s Royal Table but you have to be QUICK to get a reservation.  If you do not get it, keep checking to see if someone has canceled.  The Crystal Palace also has character dining if your kid is into Winnie the Pooh, my kid is not so that wasn’t an option.  The cheapest option, but not with characters, is Be Our Guest.  This was our first choice because we knew we’d see most, if not all, of the princesses later that day and we wanted something more affordable.  It was an awesome choice.  Getting into the park and eating breakfast early is key because then you are in the park before a majority of the people and can plop yourself in line for a ride or two and get right on so you don’t have to waste a fast pass on it.
  • 60 days out, you need to make your fast pass reservations.  YOU NEED TO.  Because you have heeded my advice from my first point and decided to stay on property, that means you get to reserve your fast passes 60 days in advance.  If you do not stay on property, you can only make them 30 days in advance like some peasant and let me tell ya, you ain’t getting on Seven Dwarves Mine Train until like 8PM.  You just aren’t, okay?  So once again, set an alarm and an alarm for that alarm and you make sure your ass is in front of a computer screen at 7AM and logged onto the My Disney Experience site so you can make your reservations.  What you decide to fast pass, you can only do 3, is up to you and your party and their ages.  The planner can make all these reservations for everyone.
  • 30 days out, order your food.  You can always change your order during the next thirty days, but if you want, you can order online ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it when you are there.  If you have any dietary restrictions you can select what you don’t eat and new menu options appear.  We wanted plant-based options so we chose that we wanted food that was dairy and egg free and we ended up with super delicious food that was still extremely decadent.  Disney is very accommodating to all kinds of diets, which is something nice to know if you have any restrictions.  We had no problem finding delicious food to eat the whole time.  And, bonus, they put a little “Allergy” flag in your food when it comes out because you are allergic to the Standard American Diet.  Woot woot!
  • Make sure your Magic Bands are personalized early on and send them off to be personalized so they can get to you before your trip.
  • Coordinate your flight plans with the Magical Express so that info is ready to go on your Magic Bands.
  • Strollers – I recommend either bringing a stroller or renting one NOT from Disney.  Since we got rid of our single stroller and did not want to bring just an umbrella stroller or lug the big double stroller since we only had one kid, I found Kingdom Strollers and got a Baby Jogger City Mini from them.  They deliver to your hotel and pick it up.  It’s better to have a stroller out of the park that way you can stroll your over-tired kid around to and from the park instead of just in the park.  If you just rented when you got to Magic Kingdom, you would have to return it before you left the park and then hold your sleeping three year old the entire way back to your hotel after you’ve kept them up way past their bedtime to watch fireworks.  Kingdom Strollers was great and they give you a free rain cover, insulated bag, and parent console with the stroller.  We saw a lot of people in the park that had rented from them.  We loved this service.  As soon as we checked into our hotel our stroller was waiting for us so we were able to take it to Disney Springs and all around the resort as well as take it into the Magic Kingdom.
  • For young kids, just go to Magic Kingdom and call it a trip, man.  So many families around us look so frazzled and crazy-eyed when they told us they were on their 3rd or 4th day with preschoolers.  And most of the time the kids were crying and way over stimulated.  Magic Kingdom is the only park you need to take little ones too.  Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have stuff for little ones, Epcot kind of does too.  But why subject your preschoolers to days and days of The Most Stimulus Ever?  Save the money and the long trip where you go to each park when they are older.  We plan on taking Lucy to one day of Magic Kingdom to meet the big guns when she is 3ish.  Then in another few years after that we will take the whole fam damily for a week of Disney to do the Whole Thing.  One day is more than enough magic for a little kid.

I think those are all the things to be prepared.  Of course we were only staying 3 days, 2 nights on property with only one day at the park.  Going for multiple park days requires much more planning.

The last thing we had to do was wait and see.  Since we chanced it on hurricane season, wouldn’t you know there was a hurricane headed that way when we were supposed to be there?!  And not just any hurricane, but a hurricane that was supposed to be the biggest one to hit the Caribbean and the state of Florida ever, Hurricane Irma.

I watched and read the news about hurricane Irma like a mad woman.  John’s dad and Mim decided close to the trip that they weren’t going to come up to Orlando for Disney.  John and I remained hopeful that we would still be able to go so we waited before canceling.  We knew the hurricane was going to come before we were supposed to be there. It was projected to be there early Sunday and going through the state that entire day.  We weren’t scheduled to get in until Tuesday afternoon.  The weather forecast for the days we were supposed to be there looked gorgeous.  Sunny, cooler temperatures, no rain.  We had insurance on our flights and we knew Disney would refund us because of the hurricane should we need to cancel so waiting until the Monday before to make any major decision was the path we chose.   The weekend before we were in contact with Disney to change our lodging plans.  They were closing the campgrounds for the hurricane and we no longer needed to stay at the cabins since it was just going to be 3 of us now.   We changed our lodging to a room at the Fort Wilderness Lodge and it ended up being just a bit cheaper than the cabin we had originally reserved.  Room changed, I changed all our reservations to reflect that we were now a party of 3 instead of 5 and we waited and watched the news to see what Irma was going to do.

Thankfully, by the time Irma hit Orlando she was drastically downgraded and there wasn’t too much damage done to that area and Disney was planning on being up and running right after.  There was flooding in the campgrounds so that would remained closed, and there was a bunch of tree debris to be collected, but they came out of the hurricane relatively unscathed.  Our trip was still on and we were super excited!

As it turns out, planning a trip to Disney right after a hurricane is perfect.  The weather is usually nice and the crowds are low because many people canceled and day trippers just don’t come to the park.  So try and plan your trip for directly after a hurricane, okay?  It will be awesome.  Ew.  Just typing that out makes me feel weird.  You guys, I know, I KNOW we were EXTREMELY LUCKY.  I know that.  And this is long enough as it is, so our actual trip will be a separate post.  Catch ya on the flippity flip.

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our Magic Bands ready to go!

 

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all of us

Florida Trip – March 2017

In March we embarked on our first long road trip with both girls.  John’s father lives in Florida on Lake Okeechobee.  It is a long way from where we live, but then again, everywhere in Florida feels like forever away.

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a trip to Florida meant the girls got new Minnie jackets! and we needed them, it was COLD!

We left on a day John had to work so I was the one to pack the car up.  John’s mother, Irene, drove him to work in the morning and then the girls and I drove the van to his work to pick him up and get on the road from there.  We knew we were going to break up the trip – we had to – so we didn’t mind getting on the road a little later in the day.  We were hoping to make it to Jacksonville the first leg of the trip, but after frequent stops (three year olds have small bladders, imagine that!) we realized once we were stopped for dinner somewhere in South Carolina that we were going to have to settle for Georgia as a stopping point.  When we headed down 95 we started calling hotels for vacancies from where we were in South Carolina to Jacksonville and we weren’t having any luck.  We didn’t know how much longer we would be able to drive that night before needing to stop.   We needed gas once we were in Savannah so we got some gas, and then pulled our van over in the parking lot of the gas station, it was crazy busy, and John just kept calling hotels that were in the area they were all completely full.  We could only find one opening and the hotel happened to be at the exit where we were so we said we’d take it!  It was pricier than we wanted to spend for just one night but it was the only thing we could find available at the time.  This made me realize we should’ve put more planning into our trip and gone ahead to pick exactly where we would stop for the night and make reservations in advance, but we had no idea how busy it would be.  It happened to be Spring Break for many colleges and schools so everyone was going to Savannah or Hilton Head or heading further south to Florida and had snatched up all the hotels.  But this is how we found our favorite hotel chain, the StayBridge Inn and Suites.

Our hotel room was more like an apartment and it was so lovely.  The girls were SO excited as the stretched their legs running around the rooms.  After the frustration of our travel so far from not knowing if we’d have somewhere to sleep, it was nice to settle into a comfortable hotel for the night.  In the morning we packed our bags, got ready, ate breakfast, and then headed back on the road for the longer leg of the trip.  John’s dad’s house is kind of in the middle of nowhere.  Thank goodness for GPS because I don’t know how we would’ve found it without it.  There’s not much to say about our trip down, the girls were great in the car, we had frequent albeit quick stops, no crazy traffic, just a long drive.

We were so happy to get to our destination.  The house is on a little canal that connects to the lake.  We unpacked the car and settled in our room and set up some toys for the girls, and chilled out at the house.  We didn’t do much the first day, just hung out around the house and ate dinner, we got the girls down to bed and then the adults watched a movie.

The next day we took out the golf cart and road around the area which both girls loved.  They live in a quiet, country setting and it was fun getting to tool around in the golf cart outside.  Lyra also swam in the pool and hot tub.  When Lucy was down for her nap, Mim (John’s dad’s partner) stayed with her and the rest of us went on a boat ride.  John’s dad, his name is also John, had a couple boats and we took the bigger one out with Lyra.  She loved it.  We went all around the canal and up into a bigger part of water and saw so many alligators.  It was a little scary, to be honest, because they just appear out of nowhere and then they sink without a trace.  I wasn’t too worried about Lyra falling in, but that fear was still there – I mean, if any one of us had fallen in for any reason, we would probably be eaten pretty quick.  We did see a lot of baby alligators which were so cute, but we also saw quite a few big alligators which were … not.

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Lyra “driving” the boat

 

On our last day at John’s dad’s house we had a lazy morning with more golf cart rides and hanging out on the porch and then we packed up because all of us – John’s dad and Mim included – were heading to Orlando to do a day at Magic Kingdom the next day.  It was a two hour drive up to Orlando and we stayed at Buena Vista Suites which was close to Disney Springs.  It was a great hotel for being close to Disney even though it was not on property.  Once we checked into our hotel our family cleaned up and rested a bit before John’s dad and Mim got there, they left a little after us.  We decided to go into Disney Springs that evening to eat at the Rainforest Cafe and we also had to go to Guest Services to figure out something with our tickets to the park.  Dinner was fine and then we walked around a bit, it was raining at this point, and headed to Guest Services which was packed because people were sheltering from the rain.  We had a very long wait before we could be seen.  Lyra, however, didn’t mind – she was going around talking to everyone and making friends, my little extrovert.  While it wasn’t fun having to wait for a long time in a crowded area where all the seats were taken, I do have to share this sweet tidbit:  Lucy needed to nurse while we were waiting.  I am not shy about nursing in public but there was nowhere for me to sit so I asked a cast member if they knew of anywhere I could go with a chair so I could sit and nurse Lu.  A cast member immediately cleared out one of their offices and told me to go in there and take as much time as I needed, they closed the door for privacy as well.  I was very touched by this gesture.  They didn’t hesitate to assist and find a solution even though they were very busy at the time.

For posterity’s sake I’m going to write about this day at Disney, though it honestly brings back really unpleasant feelings for me, it has a happy ending, very happy.

Our day at Disney was honestly kind of a bummer.  We didn’t know we were going to Magic Kingdom until a little before our trip and we didn’t have our tickets in hand until a couple days before, so we were unable to schedule fast passes and dining in advance.* When I got on the My Disney Experience app fast passes were unavailable for the things we wanted to do with the girls until night time when we weren’t going to be there. We hadn’t planned on taking the girls until they were a little older so we didn’t know how they’d do at the park.  It was also Spring Break and one of, if not THE, busiest times of the year for Disney World.  The park was very crowded.  We were shoulder to shoulder with people the whole time, we had a huge stroller that was hard to move through, by the time we actually set foot on Main Street USA we had already been waiting in some line or another for hours.  With two little ones, waiting in line, where you cannot take your stroller, is hard when wait times are 90 minutes +.  We weren’t able to do a whole lot.  Lucy was also cutting her molars at this time so she was super fussy.  We rode only a few rides because we had to wait so long, but at least Lyra got to meet Minnie Mouse and Daisy.  Towards the afternoon when the girls were way over stimulated and tired of waiting in line, we called it quits and decided to head back north. John’s dad and Mim were going to stay a little longer (they are both Annual Passholders, by the way, so they can go to Disney whenever they want), but not long after we were on the road they texted us and told us they decided to leave too because wait times were almost all over 2 hours and bus loads of high school kids were entering the park.  I was very upset by the whole day, I get teary just thinking about it.  We love Disney and we had such a horrible time.  I was crying on our drive back to Savannah because Lyra had asked why Mickey wasn’t there and we didn’t know how to explain to her that the line was over two hours long to see him.  I wanted so badly for it to be a fun day at Magic Kingdom and it wasn’t.  But it was in the car on the way home that John and I decided sometime before the end of the year, we would come back with just Lyra and take her to Magic Kingdom and do it the way Disney makes you do it, by scheduling every little thing far in advance so you could see the things you wanted.  I didn’t want to play that game, but I was going to if we had to.  And to make a long story short, John wrote to Disney to tell them about our experience and someone called us to talk about it, after speaking with us they gave us tickets to come back.  We have a lot of issues with Disney – it is a billion dollar corporation after all – but their customer service is one of the best.  So I started planning our trip and 180 days in advance I found myself waking up to make dining reservations, but that is a story for another blog post.  (Spoiler Alert, it was the best trip ever, so I promise this has a happy ending)

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It was actually really cold for most of the day, glad we had jackets.  Neither really wanted a picture at this point since we had already been in 3 long lines for hours just to get in the park.
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Lucy loved the Dumbo ride waiting playground.
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they were both happier than this picture would lead you to believe.
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Lyra on Dumbo!
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Daisy!
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We didn’t buy the photo pass photos for this trip so excuse the low quality pics.
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This was the brightest spot of the day – she LOVED Minnie.
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Lyra hugged her for so long, it was so so so sweet.
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HERO!
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me and my girl.  I love her so much.

*John and I hadn’t been to Disney since 2011 and at that time they were using the old fast pass system so we were unaware how the new one worked until it was too late.  If you are going to Disney World you need to schedule MONTHS in advance.  You need to schedule dining reservations 180 days in advance and fast passes you need to schedule 60 days in advance, at least if you are staying on-property, if you aren’t you can only schedule them 30 days in advance.  This new system makes deciding to do a day at Disney spontaneously absolutely impossible.  It also takes most of the flexibility out of what you want to do at the park which is hard when you have little ones.  You want to kind of follow their lead, but if you haven’t made your itinerary 60 days in advance, you’ll most likely be waiting in long lines if you are there during a peak season.  We understand why this system is implemented, but it still doesn’t make it fun if you aren’t aware how you have to play their game.  But we know now.

 

So anyway, the drive back to Savannah was quiet because the girls were tuckered out and John and I were both sad with how the Magic Kingdom turned out.  But we were so happy to roll back up to the StayBridge Inn and Suites that night, where we had called ahead and made reservations.  We got some take out food and brought it back to our hotel room, watched a movie, ate dinner, and passed out.

The next morning we took our time hanging at the hotel, eating breakfast, and then eventually got on the road and continued on home to North Carolina.

I hate that I had the sad chunk in this post, but it’s worth remembering.  We had such a fun and relaxing time down in Florida even though our one day was sour.  It was such a nice, quiet place and it was fun taking golf cart rides and boat rides and just catching up with John and Mim.  It did help that very quickly after this trip we had plans to meet back up with John’s dad and Mim at the Magic Kingdom to really do a day at Disney.