Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Switching Gears: Disney for adults vs Disney with toddlers

Disneyland with toddlers. This very sentence strikes fear into many parents hearts and emits a reply of, "oh no! Why on earth would you want to do that!?"

I wrote a post all about how to best do Disney with babies after our last trip. You can find that locatedHERE.
This time, I am mentally preparing myself for Disney with toddlers. And not just one toddler, but two. Whew, I feel tired already.
This time we will have to be prepared for children who may actually have an opinion on where they want to go (or, quite simply, WILL go whether I follow or not - cause they'll be mobile!) They will be eating regular meals, are guaranteed to have melt downs and may be too old to sleep in the stroller.

Thankfully, when we plan for a Disney trip we are able to allow for lots of time. At least a full week and a 5 day pass to explore the two parks. We plan for afternoons back at the hotel and one or two pool days to catch up on sleep.

But I am realizing that this trip specifically will really be all about the kids. What hubby and I want to do will probably be put on the back burner for the most part. It means maybe only hitting up our favorite coasters once during the week. It means spending a lot of our time in Fantasyland riding children's rides. And it means a lot of schmoozing and photo opportunities with our children's favorite characters.

I'm pretty sure I'm okay with that though. Out of seven trips to Disney, my favorite so far was the last one we took with our 7 month old son. Seeing his reaction to parades and the different characters he met were the highlights of my entire trip. And I think that's only going to get better!

So as sad as I might be to not drop everything and rush into the Indiana Jones ride when it only has a 10 minute wait, I greatly look forward to all the random little magical moments we'll have as a family.

And besides... There's always Nana ;)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Celebrating a 5th anniversary & a 1st birthday in the parks

I've only recently realized that if we do indeed book our trip for May 2014 that we will be celebrating two very big events at the same time.

The first big event (and likely to be happening while actually IN the parks) is my husband and I's 5th wedding anniversary. We were married on the Big Island of Hawaii on May 7th 2009 and use to talk about returning there for our anniversary. However, we changed things up a bit and did Hawaii last fall instead. Although Disney may not be the most romantic place to celebrate, I'm sure we can convince the grandparents to take our kiddos for an evening while we go for dinner somewhere. We aren't fancy food people, but I have always wanted to eat at Blue Bayou in the Pirates ride (without children!) so maybe we'll make some reservations for there.

The other big celebration is that our second son (due this May) will be turning 1! Although he isn't due until the end of the month, we know Disney won't care and will gladly help us celebrate. I plan to grab him a special birthday button to wear one day and maybe book some kind of character meal for his 'birthday party.' Hubby and I talked last night about the idea of not even having a birthday party for him back home. He doesn't need the toys and what's better then a 1st birthday at Disneyland!? He can get a special present or two from there and it would sure save us the money and energy of planning something once back home.
A few years ago I was in DisneyWorld for my birthday and I gotta say, it was pretty fun! I wore the free birthday button with my name on it and I have never been told happy birthday by so many people in my life! Everywhere I went random travelers and park cast members wished me well. It was awesome. Unfortunately I ended up with a stomach virus of some kind that week and we were never able to go out and have my special birthday dinner.

Has anyone else ever celebrated something extra special in the parks? What did you do?
I'm open to ideas :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Advanced planning

As previously mentioned, my family and I (aka my mother and me) are starting to look ahead to May of next year for our next trip to Disney. It's almost a year and a half away and while that may be discouraging for some, it's still exciting for me. Anticipation is half the fun! Plus, I've recently started a little home business as a cloth diapering consultant that is already providing us with some extra funds for our trip. Bonus!

There isn't a whole lot we can do to get ready at this point. No reservations to be made, park schedules to glance over or activities to look up. But I've already begun thinking through things.

Carsland and the new Buena Vista street will be the biggest change. Last time we travelled to Disneyland we missed the opening by all of two months, not that I would have wanted to be there during opening. But I am hoping that by next year things will have calmed down a little and we can avoid some of the craziness.

Since we will be travelling off season the likelihood of a major refurb or two is to be expected. However, since Indiana Jones just finished it's major overhaul I'm feeling pretty confident that my favorite ride will be good and open. The only thing that would really disappoint me is if Splash Mountain were to be closed. In all my many trips to Disney it has only ever been open twice. We somehow always hit the refurb time slot. We also be looking at shorter park hours and quite possibly shows only on the weekends. Not a big deal really, but something to keep in mind.

Our family is expanding this year from three to four, so we will be travelling with two children under the age of three. That on its own will take a little more planning (or a little less, depending on your perspective.) Nap/rest times back at the hotel will be a must as well as a shift in our thinking from, 'What rides do mom and dad want to get to' to 'What things would our toddlers enjoy?' We will absolutely be getting a five day pass as to allow as much down time as possible and we will for sure be doing our usual full week trip.

One big change we are looking at for this vacation? We are hoping to get into the Grand Californian. For those who are unaware, this is like the Mecca of Disney hotels. We are timeshare owners and have access to the 2 bedroom Villas at the Grand which can hold up to nine people comfortably. We always travel with my parents and two brothers, which would take our numbers up to eight people. The tricky thing is managing to get a reservations, as it fills up so quickly. We will hopefully be looking at booking it this coming fall as soon as availability is open.
If we can't get in, we will plan to stay at our usual and perfectly comfortable Staybridge Suites.

Another hopeful change? We'd like to fly into John Wayne airport instead of LAX. Cuts down on about half the travel time between the airport and the hotels and the price difference is very minimal. Hopefully ticket prices continue to be similar.

That's really all that is on the brain for now. I will be eagerly anticipating the release of the latest Unofficial Guide to Disneyland so I can soak up any new information and will continue to keep an eye on flight and ticket prices!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Money saving tips for your next Disney vacation

Doing a Disney trip is always at the top of my list for vacations, especially now that we've got a young child and another on the way. Because Disney caters to families, there really is no easier vacation. Throw in the bonus for us that Disneyland is only 2.5 hours away by plane and it trumps all other holiday locations.

Disneyland is also a fairly affordable vacation. Because it's so close, we can choose the amount of days we want to visit (as little as a long weekend) and the hotel options surrounding the park vary greatly according to your budget. In fact, Disneyland was my families first ever big trip and we stayed in a very low budget hotel.

For the past 12 years or so, we have upgraded our accommodations until we found a hotel we loved (See my review on the Staybridge.) We have also learned a few other tricks to help keep our cost as low as possible. As we begin to plan and budget for our next trip in (hopefully) 2014, I thought I'd share a few of our money saving tips.

We travel off season. This keeps our hotel and flight rates at their lowest and usually Disney offers some kind of buy 3 days get 2 free deal on their passes.
It's also wise to plan far in advance if possible, as you'll have your best pick of dates and some flexibility. If you can't do this because of work or what not, you can often find really good deals at a month or less. However, if you want to go during a peak holiday this is unlikely to happen.

As against it as some are (probably because they've never tried...) we've tried to get a few trips in before our kids turn three. Why you ask? A couple of reasons. First is that all kids under three get in the parks for free. That's a savings of $250 per child. And when you have more then one child it makes a BIG difference. Second, if you can fly with that child before they turn two you always get lap child airfare for free. Another perk? Younger children eat a whole lot less so you won't be paying so much for food.

Speaking of food, this is an area that can make or break the bank on your trip. We always always always stay at a hotel that has a kitchen. We do a grocery run on our first day of arrival and buy tons of snacks, drinks and various basic meal items. We plan to eat in the parks for only one meal a day and usually try to make it a light lunch (aka counter service only.) So far we have never, ever paid for a sit down waiter served meal at Disney because it will double the price. I'd like to one day, but it has to be factored into your budget.
Often for us, breakfast and supper ends up being made in the kitchen of our hotel room. Or, of you choose well, your accommodations may offer a complimentary breakfast and or appetizers.
Snacks in the park are also outrageously expensive. $2.00 for one banana? No thank you. Each morning we pack our backpack full of snacks and drinks to last us how long we will be in the park. Usually it ends up being a few pieces of fruit, a couple granola bars, small packaged cookies or chips and some water bottles. Yes it's slightly annoying to carry around a backpack, but we usually want one with us for camera or whatever else anyways.
Disney claims to not allow you to bring food into the park, and maybe they'd have a problem with it if you were trying to come in with a cooler full of sandwiches or a bucket of chicken, but we've never had a problem.

As far as souvenirs go, try to wait until your final day or two to make your purchases. This was a family rule for me growing up because as kids we'd change our minds so often. Now it just makes sense because it gives you time to see all the store selections and decide what you really want without over spending.
If you are interested in the photo pass CD and are traveling with a group, collect everyone's photo cards and put them all onto one CD. Its passworded, so you can all have access to it and get what you want without spending the money on individual CDs.

It is really easy to go over budget on a Disney trip. Lets face it, they are a business and are exceptionally good at sucking the money from your wallet. But if you plan accordingly and are prepared, it'll be a lot easier to say 'no' to those expensive add ons that you may come across.