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Saturday, March 1, 2014

a Disney adventure by Hillary Fitzgerald

Thank you to Hillary Fitzgerald for taking us back through her extensive research and great detailed ideas for finding deals to get to Disney with the kids. 

This is a new MAGICAL series on the blog. Hoping to hear from more mommas who have taken their family to Disney World. I've heard from so many of you that you were interested in this, wanting to plan a trip yourself. Hope you find this helpful! 

Email me at if you have a Disney Adventure to share! 

All images from Hillary Fitzgerald

When did you go to Disney World in Florida? Who went with you?
We went November 16-23, 2013.  It was myself, my husband and the 4 kids (ages 8, 5, 3 and almost 2).

What did you do beforehand to prepare financially? How far in advance did you save money?
Honestly, this time I didn’t do much to prepare for this trip.  My grandma had passed away and left us money.  She loved going to Disneyland with us as kids, so it just felt right to take part of that money and make something good out of it. 

For our next trip, most likely November 2015, I will book as soon as I can (this July) and just start putting money in whenever I can.  All it takes is a $200 deposit, so we’ll pick away from there!

    How much did your trip cost, including flights, hotel, car, park visits, food, etc. (try breaking it down as much as you remember for us... $$ on hotel, for example, etc.)?
Flights on Jet Blue: $2400, that included the travel insurance
Car: We used the Disney Magical Express so no cost there
Food: Free Dining Promo
Hotel/Park tickets: $5800
Tips/Purchases while there: $800-900
Groceries: $140 (we had them delivered since we had a full kitchen)

   Where did you start researching for this trip? Any helpful books, movies, shows, Websites, travel agents you used, etc.?

I grew up Disney so I had a good understanding of how things worked. But my best resource for all the little details was the babycenter group “Disney Travel.” Those ladies there are crazy about Disney and someone there will know what you are asking. 

We did use a travel agent and honestly, I wish I hadn’t.  When using a travel agent, if a promotion comes out, they are the ones who have to call.  I didn’t like the possibility of me saving $2,000 for food was reliant on my travel agent, who honestly, didn’t really seem too concerned about when she called.  By the time she got through, the hotel we were originally booked for had no more rooms offering the free promo so we had to choose a different hotel.  Not a big deal now, but at the time I was ready to hurt someone!

   Did you receive any special discounts, coupons, or have some secret tips to share about saving money?
They were offering the free dining while we were there and luckily we were able to take advantage of that.  For us, that saved almost $2,000, so a good chunk of money. 

The other money saving tip I heard was if you have a Target Card, you can go and purchase the $50 Disney gift cards there and get the 5% off.  For a small amount, it doesn’t necessarily add up, but if you collect some each time you go and put that toward your bill, 5% off of $5,000+ can add up.

If you plan right, you shouldn’t need park hopper passes, which can save quite a bit of money.

     Best places to eat, stay, visit, etc.? Things you encourage families with kids MUST do while in Florida?
Once we got to Disney, we didn’t leave the resort.  There is already so much to do on property, I wanted to maximize our time there. 

We stayed in a 1-bedroom villa at Old Key West.  It was perfect for us.  Plenty of room, kitchen so we could eat a meal a day there.  Kids loved the pool and waterslide.  Busses were always running.  On occasion we had to wait 20 minutes for a bus to come for a specific park.

The places we’d like to eat again on our next trip: Tusker House (AK), Akerhus (Epcot), Cinderella’s Royal Table (MK) and that is solely for the experience though food wasn’t bad just not my favorite, Crystal Palace (MK) and Chef Mickey (Contemporary). For a quick service meal, Pinocchio’s Village Haus at MK was great. 

On days you visited parks, did you eat there, pack lunches, leave at a certain time, etc.?
Each day, we typically ate one meal in the room and then a sit down and counter meal at a park/resort.  Most meals in the room were breakfast so we weren’t forced to come back to the room for a meal mid-day if the kids were going strong.  For quick service meals in the park, I tried to have an idea of where we wanted to go so we weren’t wandering when it came time to eat and risk any meltdowns.  

Planning ahead is an advantage!

   What is your best advice for visiting parks... pack ___ in a backpack? wear swim clothes? etc.?
I never felt like I had to overpack when going to the parks, because if needed, I could always go back to the resort.  I packed: an extra change of clothes for Ben because he was newly potty trained, extra outfit for Ellie, diapers and wipes, hats, sunscreen, my camera, my phone, little snacks, a light jacket for each kid.

The best thing I did was purchase a cooler that is made to fit on my stroller between the wheels.  I put juice boxes and waters in there every time we headed out.  Much cheaper than grabbing a drink every time the kids were thirsty. Would probably work with most strollers, it was baby jogger brand. 

    Top 3 travel tips in general - getting to and from location with kids... (car seats? bring iPad for plane ride? pack snacks? etc.)
  • If you are taking Disney’s Magical Express from the airport AND you think your kids can make it on the plane buckled and sitting AND are old enough, DON’T take a car seat.  You can’t use on the DME so Ellie’s seat just took up space in our room, but she was too young for me to feel comfortable not putting her in a car seat.  It will be one less thing you need to lug around. 
  • You can never have enough snacks.  It will save you money to have your own and sanity when your LO is melting down. 
  • BE FLEXIBLE.  Even though going to Disney does require a schedule to a certain degree, you won’t enjoy it and your kids won’t enjoy it if you’re not relaxed.  When you’re scheduling meals and fastpass times, try and plan them around when your kids are at their best (we did mid-morning and later afternoons) and never had to miss something.

What would you do differently if you went again on this trip?
For our next trip, I’m only planning on doing a half day at Animal Kingdom and half-day at Hollywood Studios.  There are some different restaurants I’d like to try.  And I may look into renting DVC points (Disney’s version of a time share).  If we rent points from a DVC member, we will be able to get a 2-bedroom villa for less money than we just paid for our 1-bedroom.  Something to look into if your family can’t fit in a standard room and you want more space.  You can just google “DVC rentals.”

    How old were your kids when they went on this trip, and do you think they got a lot out of it, remember it, etc.? Was it a good age span to go on this trip?
     Kids were 8.5, almost 6, 3.5 and almost 2. We are 3 months out from our trip and Ellie (now 2), will surprise me with things she remembers from our trip.  I’m sure as time passes and the trip is talked about less, that will stop but for now she is still loving it.  And Noah, even though he thinks being 8 has made him so cool, he loves it there just as much as the other kids. 
    I honestly don’t think you can go to Disney with kids at a bad age.  We made sure to have things for each one and it worked out well. 

Misconceptions: Something you think people don't know or are confused by when making plans to travel to Disney World?
It really isn’t as overwhelming as people thing it is.  Yes it’s a lot of information, but with the amount of time you can have to plan, it’s doable. I would say as long as you make reservations at least 7 months out, that will give you time to research dining reservations before the 180 day mark and book anything else you may want.

Disney can be done on any budget. 

Kids of all ages love it.  I hear so many people say they don’t think their older kids will enjoy  it or that their younger ones are too young to enjoy.  You can’t go and not have a good time because there are things that appeal to every age.

Anything else you want to add?
  • Main Street Electrical Parade is a must.
  • If you have a little girl, look into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  Packages in all price ranges.  So great to see the complete joy watching Maddie get made into a princess!
  • Try and make a breakfast reservation at the Magic Kingdom before rope drop.  You can get some amazing pictures on Main Street in front of the castle before the crowds come in.
  • If you have a LO who has never had a haircut, the Harmony Barber shop in the MK is a great first experience and photo op.  Best deal in the park: $18 gets you the haircut, hair in a little bag, a first hair cut certificate and Mickey ears that say “my first haircut.”
  • If you can, get the memory makers package, especially for the kids first visit.  It is great to have the pictures of Maddie on Space Mountain for the first time or actually have a whole family picture. 

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