The Mother of Adventure

Walt Disney World: Why We Decided to Stay Onsite

The iconic Disney castle in Florida.

By Gwen Leron, Contributing Blogger

To stay onsite or not to stay onsite, that is the question…

OK, perhaps it’s not quite Shakespearean in nature, but once you make the decision to take your family to Walt Disney World, one of the first big questions is whether or not to stay at an onsite resort. For each family the choice is a personal one, but as with any big decision, there are a few factors to consider and the pros and cons of each must be weighed.

Our family visited Disney in August 2012 and our decision was to stay on site. Walt Disney World currently offers 18 onsite resorts to choose from, in three different categories: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Of course, each category has a different price point, so if your goal is to stay at a Disney resort, hopefully there will be one to fit your budget.

Here are some of the things that we considered before deciding to stay onsite:

Disney Packages – Disney offers several different vacation packages that contain things that guests cannot participate in unless they are staying onsite. Many of these amenities – such as the dining plan, transportation (see below) and special activities – were important to us.

Transportation – If you stay at an onsite resort, your transportation to and from the Orlando airport is provided by the Magical Express. The Magical Express will also care of your luggage. We checked our suitcases in at the Ottawa airport and did not see them again until they reappeared in our room the afternoon we arrived. Since we were travelling with two young kids, it was a major bonus to not have to wait at the carousel for our suitcases upon arrival in Florida. You are also entitled to use the Disney Transportation System that will take you to and from your resort and the parks each day.

One of Disney’s “moderate” resorts, located within the park’s boundaries in Florida.

Proximity to the Parks – Since all of the Disney resorts are on Disney property, travel time between destinations is minimal. Buses come frequently, so there is never a long wait. If you’ve ever had to wait for an indefinite period of time with two restless kids, you can appreciate the value this offers to parents! We visited in an off-peak season, so this may differ at other times of the year.

Car rental – Since all transportation is provided, there is no need to rent a car.

Convenience –At the end of a busy day at the parks, everyone is tired and just wants to get back to the resort to relax. Being onsite allowed us to do this; no need to get in the car, get into traffic and commute back to an offsite resort or hotel.

In the end, staying onsite is not for everyone. It is a personal choice based on your preferences and your budget. Frankly, it does cost more than if you were to stay offsite. For our family, however, convenience is so important when we travel. So naturally, choosing an onsite Disney resort was the answer.

Have you visited Disney and decided to stay onsite? Or did you stay offsite? What led you to your decision? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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Walt Disney World Resort: Chaos or Magic?

Resting our weary feet and catching a dance show (an example of when a stroller comes in handy).

By Stefania Moffatt, Contributing Blogger

Ah, the most magical place on earth has got to be Walt Disney World Resort. Perhaps some would argue with me that it’s not, but I’m sure they would lose this argument. I’m pretty sure that it is. Proof of that is that my family enjoyed the company of Mickey and his friends twice in the span of 11 months.

This post will focus on helpful tips on how to make your Disney vacation memorable. Hopefully you’ll return relaxed and with your sanity and relationship intact. When I refer to Disney I’m referring to Disney World in Florida. Our first vacation to Disney was in April 2011 and it was organized with the help of a travel agent. We decided to use an agent because it’s free of charge. Yes, it’s free! It was our first time visiting with our kids so we wanted to enlist the help of an expert. To plan for such an undertaking we enlisted the help of Christine Fiorelli, proprietor of Fairytale Dreams & Destinations. Christine was very helpful in planning our ambitious itinerary as we only had four days to spend at Disney.

In March 2012 we made a return trip to Disney. Although we had visited the parks not too long ago, there was still plenty to see and a general itinerary was still helpful. For this return trip we stayed off-site at a hotel not too far away from the park. This gave us some flexibility with meals and we were also able to do some shopping with ease because we had use of a rental car.

In both vacations we visited Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and in the evening, Downtown Disney (which has no admission). We’re saving the water parks for a return trip when the kids are older.

Granted, there are plenty of people who show up at Disney without doing any research (gasp!). If you treasure the relationship with your better half and value your sanity, I highly recommend reading about the parks and realistically determining how much time you have to visit what parks and when. If you plan to have the “Disney experience” (whether you enjoy it or suffer through it is up to you) and take in as much as you can, then I highly suggest you have some kind of plan in place. A conversation that goes something like this under a blazing Florida sun is sure to cause some discord, “I don’t know. What do you want to do? The wait time is HOW LONG?”

My oldest holding up her almost-full autograph book.

Whether you’re a returning guest or visiting Disney for your first time, here are my helpful tips for making your trip relaxed and fun:

* If staying on the Disney resort, make use of a travel agent who will book everything including park tickets, dinner reservations and organize an itinerary that suits all the princes and princesses in your party. A qualified agent will also stay on top of Disney-related deals. For example, we dined for free during our first vacation as Disney announced a promotion after we had booked. Our smart agent deducted the meal plan from our total;

* Pack plenty of snacks even if you go with the Dining Plan. Kids kind of get cranky and hungry while waiting in line. Munching on some nuts will quiet the kids for at least in-between bites. Great snacks include: granola bars; dried fruit; crackers; and assorted raw nuts. Note: Disney is not peanut and nut free;

* Bring empty water bottles since the parks have water fountains throughout to refill. Older parks such as Magic Kingdom do have older pipes so the water is not as tasty so be sure to bring a bottle with a Brita filter;

* Bring gum as Disney doesn’t sell any;

* Bring an umbrella(s). It’s not all sunshine in Florida;

* Bring at least one towel, more if you have room. You’re likely to get wet on some rides and a towel comes in handy when the kids are eating ice cream under the blazing sun. The towel catches any sticky drips instead of their clothes and skin. Towels also come in handy after it rains to wipe down tables to sit and eat;

* Eat during off-peak times. The restaurants and cashes can be chaotic at times. If you go with a meal plan then ask for reservations at the beginning or end of meal service. Speaking of meal plans, I highly recommend having a meal or two with a Disney character visiting your table. It’s worth the price of admission to see your child’s face light up when Ariel exchanges jokes with your child. Staying off site? Visit a store and fill a cooler with food, water and plastic cutlery;

* Bring a notepad or purchase one on-site for autographs. Remember to bring or buy a fat pen since many of the characters have fat fingers, making it hard to hold regular pens;

* Set a limit. To avoid your child asking to buy everything in sight, explain how much they are allowed to spend and towards the end of the trip they are allowed to buy an item. Many of the gift shops carry a lot of the same items so if your child sees something on the first day then chances are they will see the item again;

Checking out the local cuisine when filling up our cooler at the grocery store.

* Rent a stroller. I can’t stress this tip enough. Whether you’re traveling with a three year old or a nine year old, bring or rent a stroller. Trust me on this one. Florida is hot, kids get tired and there’s A LOT of walking at Disney. It’s not uncommon to see older kids being pushed around. It’s also nice for the kids to sit in a stroller while watching the fireworks (yes, totally worth it). Rather than dragging a stroller to-and-from Ottawa we decided to rent one from Orlando Stroller Rentals. This company will drop off and pick up a stroller from any hotel in the Orlando area. Do yourself a favour and rent one that folds easily like the City Double Stroller, which seats two children comfortably;

* Lube up. What I mean is to invest in anti-chafe balm and apply it liberally on feet. This balm, while pricey (what is your sanity worth?), will prevent blisters. It can be purchased at running apparel stores;

* Take advantage of the FASTPASS service whenever possible and make a mad dash for it upon arrival. FASTPASS saves your place in line for an attraction while you enjoy the rest of the theme park (you return at the time indicated on your ticket); and

* Bring items such as sunscreen, camera, wipes, sunglasses, hats, sweaters for cool mornings and nights, etc.

If organization isn’t your thing, I truly advise you to at the very least to read up on Disney. Disney is huge. Figuring out what your kids want to do when you arrive at the park isn’t suggested. Some basic research of various rides and their locations will serve you well.

I joke that organization is key for an enjoyable trip to Disney but so is a sense of humour and a laidback attitude. It’s a vacation after all – there will be rain, lots of sun and whiny kids. Be open and have fun.

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Power packing!

Consider making a packing checklist – or buy one like this pad from Knock Knock.

Planning a major trip months in advance has the effect of making it seem somewhat surreal; at least that’s the case for me. We’ve known about my husband Ian’s assignment to cover the 2012 London Olympics for about half a year, and quickly made the decision that the whole family would go. Yet, the excitement of the trip didn’t really build until the final weeks leading up to it; perhaps because it was hard to imagine myself sipping a Pimm’s on a London patio while wearing a snowflake sweater under a parka and scraping ice off the windshield.

Now that the packing has started in earnest, the reality – and the excitement – of our trip has started to sink in. That extra adrenaline is a big help, as packing up your family for an overseas trip is a big job. Now that I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of trip preparation, I thought I’d share a few of my own tips with you:

Use lists

I’ve always been a list maker. I’m the type of person who goes to the grocery store and, if I don’t have a list, buys everything I need for spaghetti and meatballs…except the spaghetti. My fellow moms will understand this; as keepers of all family and household minutiae, mothers constantly have about 73 thoughts, logistics, to-do items and details swirling around in our brains. So when it comes to packing for a major trip lists are really helpful; especially since you’ll need to think of extra things you wouldn’t need for a quick weekend trip. You can make your own lists – simple using any sort of word processor – or you can even buy a pre-formatted packing list like the one pictured here.

Pack for the weather

I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I can honestly tell you that it’s hard to pack for a climate that’s totally different than your own. With Ontario in the midst of a massive heat wave, I really don’t remember the last time I put on a pair of pants. These days, my usual garb is a pair of shorts, a tank top and sandals; I have totally – and happily – switched over to summer mode. So it’s a bit disheartening to see that the summer so far in London has been rainy and cool, with average daytime temperatures in the mid to low teens. Accordingly, I’ve had to take a second look at our suitcases – in my case taking out eight of the nine tank tops and switching them for a few long-sleeved t-shirts and (*sigh!*) even a sweatshirt. I’ll also need to make room for a hooded raincoat for myself and everyone else in the family.

Try it on

This is especially important for travelling with kids, who grow and change so fast. Before throwing in a favourite pair of pants or leggings, take a minute and get them to put it on to make sure they haven’t inadvertently turned into capri pants. I swear my kids grow overnight – sometimes they emerge from their bedrooms and they just look taller…and they usually are! Another advantage I’ve found to trying things on is that I often find minor problems with clothing items that need to be addressed. A button fell off a shirt, or a mysterious stain appeared after last week’s art class. By checking your items in advance, you give yourself time for minor mending or shopping for replacement items when needed.

Be practical

They say that ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ but I think you have to take that with a grain of salt, especially when kids are involved. Sure, I’ll be hitting the streets of London (with a couple of days in Paris – woo hoo!) but I’m not sure it’s in my best interests – or those of my kids – to try to keep up with European runway fashions. The truth is: Most of my time will be spent visiting kid-friendly attractions. I’ll also be going up and down many flights of dingy stairs as we get on and off the Tube or double-decker buses. So do I really want to be teetering around in a pair of uncomfortable heels, or worrying that the vagrant in the subway might try to snatch my ‘Coach’ purse? No thanks. I’ll stick with my Columbia walking shoes and my MEC satchel if it means I can move around with ease and comfort; plus that’s more my style anyway.

While they might be awful for the teeth, a few secretly-stashed lollipops just might save your sanity and calm a fussy toddler in the middle of a trans-Atlantic flight.

Think like a kid

As a parent, I am constantly on the go. So the thought of sitting on a plane – while someone else brings me a beverage of MY choice – seems like pure bliss. Give me a neck pillow and I’m good to go. Not so with kids; unlike us, little people have endless energy and abhor being dormant for long. Of course on a plane, there is no choice; so you’ve got to think ahead and keep it fresh. One thing I did is to buy them each a new activity book; I found them at Costco for about $8 each. More than a simple colouring book, these have all sorts of educational activities; they are designed to help kids prepare for their next year in school. Since the apple never falls far from the tree, our kids are of the geeky variety that actually love homework so this is a treat for them.

Speaking of treats, don’t forget those; hungry kids equals cranky kids. There is always the possibility of unexpected delays with travel, so have some nourishing snacks on hand like nuts (our girls love almonds and cashews), granola bars, mini pitas or crackers. (Fruit and veggies are great, but bear in mind they are not permitted through customs so you’ll have to snack on them in the car or during check-in.) Stash a secret supply of Smarties or lollipops in your purse in case you need a quick fix for a fussy child. Don’t forget the water; air circulation is always brutal on planes and you’ll dehydrate if you’re not drinking frequently.

If your kids love their screen time as much as ours do, think about bringing a portable DVD player (with a few fave movies) or an iPad with some fun games. A small, blank pad of paper and a bag of crayons and markers, ‘Go Fish’ playing cards and dry-erase books are other entertainment ideas.

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