Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Disney Tips, Take 2

Any momma who's been to Disney, or is planning a trip as we speak, knows how overwhelming and intimidating it can be. Fun, magical, special, awesome? Yes. All those things. But intimidating? Yes. Definitely. I think, for me, I feel overwhelmed during the planning, prepping, and packing stages because I want to make the most of our trip. So. I do a lot of those three Ps: planning (6 months in advance), prepping (several weeks in advance), and packing (several days in advance). 

I wrote a very, VERY detailed blog post right after we returned from our first trip to Disney two years ago, which includes links to several awesome resources to help others with planning, prepping, and packing. So. For the many people who have contacted me with questions or seeking help or guidance, I refer you to that post first. It's what I used as a refresher when doing my three Ps for this trip. Please make sure you read it!

However. Now that we're back from Disney trip #2, there are a few updated tips I thought I could add to hopefully make your trip planning more on the easy-breezy side and less on the oh-sweet-Jesus-help-me side. 

So. Here are a few new tips from me to you:

Make the travel fun! Although we flew to Disney for our last trip, we opted to drive this go-round. And honestly? It was really fun! We let the kids watch Disney movies the whole way there, and I prepared special, surprise car activity bags, which I gave them as soon as we were pulling out of the driveway. They loved them! The bags contained everything from color sheets and games to special car snacks and costumes. It definitely made the trip a special one for them. It was also fun for my hub and I, who were able to just catch up and talk, talk, talk while we drove from South Carolina to Florida. Oh, just like last time, we started a very special countdown 10 days before we left for our trip, which the kids just loved!

Help for the nursing momma: If you are a nursing momma, have no fear! Disney has special "Baby Care Centers" at every park. I didn't know this until a dear friend and Disney aficionado (her hubby used to be one of the Disney characters!) texted me when we were en route. This saved me a lot of worry about where I would be able to plug in my pump at each park. The "Baby Care Centers" were really nice: there was plenty of space for mommas who had their infants with them at the park and needed a place to nurse as well as for those of us who were infant-free but in need of a central pumping location. I opted to pump and dump my milk since I am so close to being done with breastfeeding (less than 3 months to go!). BUT. For those wanting to save their pumped milk, there were refrigerators for milk storage. There were also sinks to rinse and clean all pump parts, and the rooms were a really nice and comfortable environment. I also used my pump times as opportunities to charge my phone to increase my battery life since I was snapping pictures (and thus, using up the battery) all throughout the day. So. Remember to throw your phone charger in your pumping bag as well. Oh, and although I was told there would be a place in the care center to store your pump, this was not the case. It was no big deal for me: I have the bookbag version and just wore it throughout the park all day; however, there were lockers available for rent if other pumping mommas out there don't want to carry their pumps all around Disney. 

Dress for comfort: Clearly, this depends on what time of year you go. Both times we've gone so far, it's been February, with Florida temps ranging from 40s/50s in the mornings to upper 60s/70s in the afternoons. For me, this translated to jeans and a Piko top the first day (with long sleeves to keep me warm in the morning but lightweight enough to keep me perfectly comfortable in the afternoon) and a button-up, vest, and scarf the second day (key word: layers). As far as shoes go, Disney isn't the time to try to rock adorable wedges. As seen in the graphic I shared during my previous post, you'll be walking a LOT. For goodness sake, wear comfortable shoes (for me, broken-in flats the first day; tennis shoes the second). Same goes with your kiddos' clothing: make sure they have lightweight jackets/sweaters and comfortable shoes (as well as ponchos, if needed, as they were in our case).

You are what you eat: We get the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan when we go. This means all meals/snacks are ready and waiting for us when we arrive. However, try to make all meal reservations 6 months in advance for prime eating times and to ensure a spot at the highly popular character meals. Keep in mind, this means you'll need to know which park(s) you are visiting which days so that you can make your meal plans accordingly. I called and spoke with a Disney meal planner who helped me sort all that out based on which parks we would be visiting. Also, eat a LOT. No really. Most of the meals are buffet style. You'll be going full-speed ahead, most of the time, most of the day, so you'll need those calories to keep the energy up (and even more if you're a nursing momma--we all know how many calories all that pumping/nursing burns!).

Technology is your friend: Download the "My Disney Experience" app on your phone. No, seriously. Download it now! This thing is AWESOME! I had it linked with our meal reservations as well as our FastPass reservations (more on that in a minute), and it was so great to have those reminders readily available on my phone. Also, and this is amazing, I could see the wait times for different rides, LIVE, when using the app! Isn't that awesome? It really helped us decided where/when to go next (as did the detailed itinerary I  created in the weeks prior to our trip. See my 2012 post for more on that). And as far as FastPasses go, you can reserve three FastPasses per day, and they allow you to schedule these two months (I think? I can't remember but they'll send you a reminder in the mail beforehand) ahead of time. This is why it's good to have a good idea about which rides/shows/character greetings are high priority for you. Go ahead and reserve your FastPasses and then you can plan your day around that, as you'll know which areas of the parks you'll need to be in at certain times and can hit the rides around that area before/after. 

This is part of the flexible itinerary I created for our trip, which included our meal reservations and FastPasses. This helped us get the most bang for our buck BIG time!

Take advantage of the magic!: Make sure you are signed up to receive Magic Bands. These are new since our last trip and are incredible. Basically, everyone in your party gets one of these bands (you can select the color for each person-so fun!) and not only does it serve as your Disney resort room key (just hold your band up to the door and it unlocks-so cool!) but your credit card and identification are linked to it. What does this mean? YOU DO NOT NEED TO TAKE A SINGLE PHOTO ID, CREDIT CARD, NOR CASH into the parks with you. All you need is your Magic Band. No really! Your meal plan is linked to this, too. Want to buy souvenirs? Swipe your Magic Band. Have Fast Passes? Swipe your Magic Band. Need to pay for your meals? Swipe your Magic Band. It is the best!

Say cheese: There are professional photographers at every character greeting to snap your photo. Indulge them. They'll insist. But also? Ask them to take your photo with the characters using your OWN camera (whether DSLR or iPhone or whatever else you use). They don't mind and that way you get your photos for free. Plus, this will allow YOU, momma, to actually be IN some of the family photos. ;) 

Two birds with one stone: You know how I said to book meals six months in advance to reserve good times/characters? Well, keep in mind that when you book character meals (i.e., meals that have set characters assigned to be there, who walk around to each table to meet your kiddos and snap photos with them), you are freeing yourself from having to hunt down said characters in the parks and wait in lines to meet them. So. Book the character meals. Meet the characters. Snap the photos. ---> More time to ride rides, take in shows, and avoid character greeting lines. 

Plan for the unexpected: If it's not abundantly clear by now, I am a planner. An organizer. A prepper. I actually enjoy these things (what is wrong with me?). Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the backpack my hub carried throughout the park (which is the only thing we carried [aside from my pump]), which housed our "good camera" and our jackets, also included a little first aid kit "just in case" we should need bandaids, chapstick, sunscreen, etc. There are certainly first aid stands available in the parks, but it was nice having our own kit readily available should we need it. And whatever you do, don't forget the hand sanitizer!

Take it all in: Yes, we all know by now I am a photo-taker. I took well over 200 photos during our whirlwind trip to Disney last week. But. I also took many, many more mental snapshots. I put the camera down and tried to memorize the magic that danced across my children's faces for most of each day; what it felt like to squeeze my oldest's hand as we traipsed through the parks; how my daughter's face looked when she felt like a beautiful princess after her makeover; how my hub never tired of each swash-buckling request made by his son. All of it. I took it all in. I took mental snapshots. And I just tried to enjoy the moment. It was awesome. I'll hold tight to those mental snapshots, the ones that only the four of us experienced together, forever and always. I highly recommend it. :) 

Whew. There you have it. Just a few new tips. I hope that helps! Enjoy the magic! We'll be heading back that way in just a few short years, and the countdown is already on. I can't wait!

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