Thursday, October 29, 2009

Disney Tips for Frazzled Parents

I'm far from an expert on Disney, but I have learned a few things from our trip this week as well as our trip 2 years ago. Now, I'll share my magical tips for those of you contemplating a Disney vacation with one child, two children, twins, two sets of twins, or anything in between.

Budget: The key to our ability to visit Disney World has been sticking to our budget. When we visited in January 2008 we thought we were getting a great deal because we only had to pay for one child. Because we are a military family, we bought tickets through Shades of Green and got a small discount. In 2009, Disney generously offered free admission to military and discounted admission for their families. The discount was HUGE! We're talking $99 for a 5-day ticket. Big time savings. We set aside a little bit of money every month to pay for this vacation and we had almost a full year to save for it. Planning in advance really helped with that.

Another big factor for making our trip possible was that we are saving on both food and lodging. I'll cover that more below. Everyone is different, but this is just what worked best for us.

Food: We have opted not to eat in the parks whenever possible. We eat breakfast before we head out for the day so everyone starts off feeling good and full. I pack lunches the night before so we can just grab the lunch bag and go out the door. Then we try to leave the parks around dinner time and head back to the house to eat. Of course we don't always make it back in time and we have had to eat in the park before, plus it's nice to go out for special occasions (Matthew's birthday) so we plan for that one night. Every other night I cook dinner just like at home.

For lunches, I pack everything up in a soft Land's End insulated lunch bag. (I won mine from 5 Minutes for Mom!) It's small enough to fit under the stroller and has a carabiner clip to attach to the stroller if needed. Two of these bags are enough for our family of 8 to bring lunch and snacks each day. I freeze water in our Klean Kanteens the night before so we have cold water always available. In the lunch bags I make sandwiches for everyone (usually non-refrigerated stuff like Nutella or peanut butter and raisins.) I love to freeze grapes and the kids think it's some kind of special treat. I bring yogurt and other cold or frozen snacks in the lunch bags and then some munchy snacks (crackers, granola bars, etc.) in a separate bag. I usually have enough food to last the entire day and that's saying a lot when there are 8 mouths to feed. We save a ton of money by bringing our own food.

Lodging: We would love to stay in a Disney resort but it's just not in the cards for us. Those places are ridiculously expensive and even the military resort (Shades of Green) costs more than we can afford. Instead, we opted to rent a townhouse just outside of the Disney gates. It's got 3 bedrooms, a private backyard and pool, and my washer and dryer is inside the house. We have all the luxuries of home! And because we are vacationing during the off-season, we are paying less than $100 per night. I love the place we chose to stay and it has been fabulous so far. The trade-off has been that we have to pay for parking, but it's a small price to pay for such huge savings.

Transportation: Another key to our Disney trip has been having our own vehicle. Having 6 kids in carseats means we can't fly anywhere. At least not easily. As you know, I drive everywhere. We have our van, with our carseats, and we can easily get around to the parks without relying on public transportation. Having flown into Orlando before and rented a vehicle, I can tell you that it has been much, much easier this time.

Strollers: Along with having our own van, I have our own strollers. I know some people love the rental strollers in the parks, but we can't afford it. The rentals are around $30 per day for a double stroller. After 5 days, you've paid for the cost of a brand new double stroller! That's crazy! Besides, we needed a quad and they don't have those for rent. We opted to bring our Chicco double and 2 quad strollers, I bought a used Foundations Quad just before we left for the trip because I wasn't sure if "The Beast" would fit everywhere in the parks. After the first (miserable) day of pushing the Foundations quad around, I decided to ditch it and just use "The Beast." It really is so much easier to push! Needless to say, I'm going to sell the Foundations quad because that was a big waste. However, I am so glad that we have our strollers with us and it's been really easy to get around.

The Logistics: We have found that the hardest part of taking our kids to the theme parks is just the attention. We get stopped in every crowd and people are constantly taking photos of us. It's more than a bit unnerving. Otherwise, we have been doing ok! The babies nap in the stroller and we try to time it so that the big kids can ride on something or see a show while the babies nap. Jason and I are doing the whole parent-swap-thing so one of us rides with Matthew and then the other person rides with Joshua while the little kids rest in the stroller. It's working out really, really well!

Potty runs have been a minor issue since I usually carry a potty seat with us but didn't on the first day. Now I'm carrying the seat again and if we're far from a bathroom, Leila can duck behind a bush and use the little potty. Sometimes it's not possible to drag 6 kids across the park to find an accessible restroom.

Waiting in line has proven to be a big challenge for Matthew but we're working on that. Usually we don't have to wait for very long (30 minutes or less in most cases) and we just don't ride the rides that have longer lines. When we are all riding something together, we park the double stroller outside the ride and take the quad right up to the ride entrance where a cast member usually lets us leave it nearby. Obviously we are outnumbered by our offspring and I think most people are pretty understanding of that.

That's all I can think of at the moment... But if you have Disney questions, leave a comment and I'll answer them in a separate post. Just remember, I'm not an expert. But I do know about talking trash cans and erotic foliage.

Like father... son.

I love this place!

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