Monday, October 21, 2013

Disney with Kids: Where are you staying? Hotel? Disney Resort? Condo? House? - Post 2

You know you're going to take the family to Disney, but you need to pick dates and book your "home away from home" for your stay.  Every family's needs and wants are different, and I certainly know that importance of convenience, the overall price tag, or other needs will impact the decision as to what is right for YOU.

Disney property:
You start doing the research, and the convenience of staying at a Disney hotel or resort sounds fabulous: free shuttles from the airport, free transportation to the Disney Parks, have some of your Disney purchases delivered to your room, extra Magic Hours, Magic Bands, early reservations for restaurants, and resort entertainment.  Then, you see the price tag, and you don't want to have to put a lien on your house to afford this magical experience.  The transportation between resorts and parks (no, you cannot just walk from one to the other) is sometimes slow.  The buses DO drop you off right at the front doors, so there is no parking and walking/shuttling to the entrance.  Disney is great about accommodating food allergies as well, but it can also be a hassle if you need to go through that routine 3-4 times a day for 4-8 days.  They try to make it as easy as possible, but outlining each person's needs for someone else at every meal just isn't "easy" if you have several food allergies and special dietary needs within the group.  This also isn't conducive to making meals in your room or putting the little ones to bed before the adults go to bed unless you pay for a suite which can be upwards of $2K per night - UNLESS you stay in a cabin at Fort Wilderness which is an amazing option. Ultimately, this didn't seem like the "right" choice for our family with the kids still being so small and traveling with another couple, but we are really looking forward to it for our next trip!
Disney World Grand Floridian
Rental home or condo:
With VRBO and HomeAway, there are SO many options for places to stay.  We have selected different homes around Disney during our trips, and we have found some homes and areas that we love.  There are some that are less than 5 minutes to the gates of each Disney Park.  Many have strollers available for you to use during your time there.  Some have Disney themed bedrooms for the kids (but still nothing like a TRUE Disney hotel themed room.)  Most have pools (and legally required locks for child safety.)  Having separate rooms for the kids, a full kitchen, multiple bathrooms, etc. all are high on our priority list. We found all of this in a 6 bedroom only 2 miles from Disney for 9 days for roughly $1,500 (a week was $1,240 in low season, $1,350 in mid season - when we went, and $1,530 in high season.)  We shared the home with some friends of ours, so it was only about $750 for each family for NINE days.  Look at the listing and make sure that it has reviews, read them, and be certain you are not the very first renters.  We have never had any issues, but it's good to do your research.  Not all of the homes are in the best neighborhoods.  In fact, some of the rental homes are in some sketchy areas.
You will also need a rental vehicle with a house/condo, and the Disney Park parking lots are huge (but very well marked.)  I would encourage you to take a picture of the lot name you park in each morning or write it down.  We really like the flexibility of a rental and leaving the stroller in the car at night, being able to run to the store, etc. 
The Princess room at the last home we rented.
Spreadsheet I use to compare potential properties (will work with hotels and resorts, too.)  We were considering traveling with 2 other families which would have made the 6 bedroom home only $463 per family.  I shared this spreadsheet with the other families so that we could find something that fit everyone's needs, and then we selected our place together.
Having been to Disney before, we know how much our family can handle in a day and how many days we can go before we need a "day off."  We can do 2-3 days, and then we need an "off" day.
There is a Costco and several grocery stores, so come with your grocery list and meal plan to make it an easy stop upon arrival.  This is also a HUGE relief when you have little ones with food allergies; the constant stress of eating out for every meal is gone.
We had breakfast at the house every morning.  That left only 2 meals per day that would potentially be on Disney properties.
We packed lunches and snacks for most days.  I have a fold-flat insulated drawstring backpack that we ALWAYS take to Disney for lunches.  It's awesome, because it's a flat rectangle when not in use, but it can keep sandwiches or water bottles cold through lunch time.  One frozen bottle of water can act as your ice pack, and it can be the one you save for the latter part of the day.  You can find them on Amazon for about $10-$20.  If you don't want your sandwiches to get squished in a backpack, plastic pencil cases can hold 2 sandwiches.  We throw the whole thing in the "basket" under the stroller so fruits and crackers don't get beat up too badly.
With kids, snacks are a must! 
We eat a dinner or two at the house as well on days that we finish early or take a "day off."  Even if you don't love to cook, there are so many options for easy menu ideas that can save you a fortune when you want to really splurge on your other Disney Table Service meals while in the Parks

Character Meals:
As soon as you book your hotel/house/condo, figure out your preferred timeline and BOOK DisneyWorld character meals (here for Disneyland character meals) and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeovers in Magic Kingdom or Downtown Disney (here for Disneyland BBB.)  These book up WAY ahead of time, so if there's something you really want to do, book it early. You are able to book them 189 days before your trip if you are staying at a Disney property.  Even if you don’t get in when you call at first, keep calling! Set a reminder to call once a week in the months prior, and call daily the month of your trip.  Even while you are at Disney, call every day if you are looking for a specific reservation, because you may be able to get in.
*Please don't double book your meal reservations at multiple restaurants.  Although I completely understand that you don't truly know if you'll want Mexican food on Saturday night 6 months from now, when you book reservations at multiple restaurants, you take that opportunity away from other families.  Let's be respectful of others and spread the magic!  (Besides, now they charge you a fee for reservations that aren't cancelled 24 hours in advance.)
One thing we did on this last trip that I wish I had thought of sooner was to have the characters sign articles of clothing with their picture on it.  The characters will want Large pens or markers to hold, so be considerate of that even though small Sharpies are convenient for you, they aren't for puffy hands.  I digress....Our son was wearing a personalized Mickey Mouse shirt, and we had Mickey sign his shirt during our character meal.  You know exactly which characters you'll be meeting during that time, so it's a great opportunity to have them sign a shirt or hat or something that the kids can use often long after they return from Disney.  It also gives them something to show the character and "connect" during their meeting.  (More on personalized autograph books can be found here.  They were VERY well received by the characters and even allowed them to "talk" about "I remember you from last time!  You've grown SO much.")
The customized shirts the kids were wearing for the character meal (before Mickey came over.)
I bought them on Etsy - far left is Perry the Platypus, middle is Mickey Mouse, right is Minnie Mouse.
Once we had a general idea of where we were staying, we were able to plan out meals and create a budget.  This budget was more than generous for what we spent, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.  We didn't commit to reservations for all of our meals, but we knew how many meals we anticipated at home and how many at the parks.  Then, if the kids were "done" earlier than expected, it was okay.
Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.  
Next up - Disney with Kids: Preparation and Packing

Other Disney trip topics:
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
Autograph Books

All Disney posts.

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