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Sunday, March 2, 2014

a Disney Adventure! by Nichole Rutherford

Thank you Nichole Rutherford for sharing her very recent Disney World trip with us! This is part 3 of our Disney Adventure series. I love the idea of using an App to save your space in line so less waiting for rides, and great idea about taking water bottles for all and filling up at water fountains in the parks. The Pirates Adventure and the races she ran sound AWESOME! 

Thanks, Nichole!

1. When did you go to Disney World in Florida? Who went with you? 
My husband, 5 year old son and I just got back from Disney; February 19-26, 2014. We are from Maine so it was a great time to get away from the snow.

2. What did you do beforehand to prepare financially? How far in advance did you save money? 
We started planning two years in advance. We planned on using our tax return to pay for most of the trip. 

We used a Mickey and Minnie cookie jar to save spending money. This was a great opportunity to get my son to start doing chores and teaching him to save. He was very motivated to earn money for the trip. We told him that we would pay for everything but souvenirs. He really enjoyed having his own money to spend in Disney. 

We also saved any rebates that we got from purchased throughout the year. 

3. 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.)? 
The main purpose of our trip was to do the Princess 1/2 Marathon Glass Slipper Challenge and Kid's Race so we had to go during February vacation (it's is one of the busier and pricier times of year). 
The race itself is expensive, roughly $300 for all three races.
7 night hotel stay in a standard room at Art of Animation: $1,190
7 night meal plan that included a table meal, quick meal and snack each day: $1,029
Southwest flight: $675
7 day park passes with park hopper: $1,084
Memory Maker Photo Pass: $150 (buy this ahead of your trip-it's $200 if you purchase when you arrive)
Tips and Souvenirs: $400

4. Where did you start researching for this trip? Any helpful books, movies, shows, Web sites, travel agents you used, etc.? 5. Did you receive any special discounts, coupons, or have some secret tips to share about saving money? 
We used a travel agent so we could ensure that we could get all of our questions answered. It didn't cost us anymore then booking directly through You can actually go on there and price out different resorts and packages to get a sense of what it might cost your family without discounts--a goal to aim for. 

If you are willing to go during off times of year, you can sometimes get 30% off of your room or a free dining plan. Unfortunately there were no discounts for the time of year that we went and the resort we chose. If you book a resort and a discount comes up during the time you would be staying, Disney will honor the discount. 

I did most of my research by talking to other Moms and using Pinterest. There are some great blogs that show all the "must dos" for your child's age, packing lists, etc. I was very interested in maximizing the food plan and learning more about the races we were doing so these were some other great sites.

6. Best places to eat, stay, visit, etc.? Things you encourage families with kids MUST do while in Florida? 
We didn't go out of the resort because there was just too much to do within Disney. 

Eating: Hollywood and Vine Disney Junior Character Lunch-It was a buffet, but the food was great, the atmosphere was festive and my son go to meet some of his favorite characters. Be Our Guest dinner in the Beast's castle was amazing. It is hard to get into, so you need to make reservations early. The food was tasty and we got to meet the Beast. 

The Hoop Dee Doo Revue dinner show was an awesome way to start our trip. It is in Fort Wilderness which is a quiet woodsy area with horse drawn carriages. The show was very fun and the food was country style with fried chicken, ribs beans, corn and a huge strawberry short cake. Adult beverages come with your meal which is not typical of table service meals at Disney.
Experiences: We put together a pirate morning for our 5 year old. We started with the Pirate League. This is the boys version of Bibbity Bobbity Boutique (though many girls also adorned the pirate attire). We brought our own pirate costume to keep the cost down, but our son was fully adorn with Jake from the Neverland pirates hair and make-up, sword, sheath, treasure and an unexpected pirate confidence (he is typically really shy). We then moved on to the pirate tutorial where Jack Sparrow picks 4 children out of the audience to teach them how to sword fight. Then it was off to a Pirate Adventure. Here we received a talisman and treasure map and we were told to help Blackbeard find buried treasure in Adventureland. The treasure hints brought us to various decorative areas of the park and when we touched the talisman to the map symbol really cool things would happen, like cannons going off (seemingly through the crowd of people). My son could have done this all day. We finished our pirate adventure with the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (though not the best choice, it was still a little scary for a 5 year old).

We also enjoyed the badge program at the Animal Kingdom. We stopped at various wilderness stations and learned about different aspects of nature. We all learned a lot and it was one of the things that my son talked most about after the trip.

Disney Run: 

If you are a runner or even a fast walker, I highly recommend doing a Disney Run. For the Princess weekend they had 5k-1/2 Marathon runs, plus kid runs that included a diaper dash to 1 mile race. Most people dress up in princess costumes, the route is very well supported and their are character photo ops, great music and a large cheering squad along the way. The kid's race is short, but the kid's loved giving Goofy a high five at the end and receive a medal. The races are done before the parks open so you are not cutting into park time.

7. On days you visited parks, did you eat there, pack lunches, leave at a certain time, etc.? 
We are a morning family, so we opted to start early and end each day around 5- 6 pm. We diverted from this plan when we wanted to see fireworks. On those days, we took a rest in our room around 3 or 4, ate dinner at our resort, then headed to the fireworks. We brought our breakfast from home and packed snacks. 

With the meal plan we found that you have more than enough to eat with a quick meal, table meal and snack each day.

8. What is your best advice for visiting parks... pack ___ in a backpack? wear swim clothes? etc.? 
Our bag included: ponchos, extra socks, long sleeve shirts, snacks, wipes, tissues and sunscreen. 

We packed a water bottle for each of us and refilled at water fountains. 
We also brought water flavoring as the water doesn't taste great in FL, but purchasing water is super expensive.

Schedule in down time. We opted not to go back to our hotel most days, so we scheduled lunch followed by a couple of shows each day so we could be off of our feet for a bit. 

Use the My Experience App if you have a smart phone. We were able to check for the shortest wait times for rides, find out where the nearest rest room was and manage our fast passes from our phone. We hardly ever waited in line and it was a busy time of year. We also used Magic bands which held our reservations, fast passes, food plan, room key, etc. You could charge any purchase to your room using the band, so you didn't have to bring money with you.

Bring a container with pennies and quarters. There are penny pressing machines EVERYWHERE. These are fun and cheap souvenirs. 

If you do purchase souvenirs throughout the trip, you can have them delivered to your room free of charge so you don't have to carry them around.

9. Top 3 travel tips in general - getting to and from location with kids... (car seats? bring iPad for plane ride? pack snacks? etc.) 
Snacks and water bottles were key for us. By using our My Experience App we didn't have to wait in line very long so we didn't need to bring stuff to occupy our kiddo in line. We did bring an iPad for the airplane, but he fell asleep both ways. If you stay in the resort don't over pack as you can do laundry at the resort.

10. What would you do differently if you went again on this trip?  
We spent the most time at Magic Kingdom, which was great, but if we did it again we would spend more time in Epcot and Hollywood Studios and spend more time at the resort pool as this was the only place we could actually relax.

11. 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? 
Our son was 5 and we didn't have to use a stroller which was awesome. He was also able to communicate with us about what he wanted to do and very often it was different than what we would have expected. 

He is at the age where everything is real. This is good in that everything was so magical for him, but bad in that he thought everything was real so he got really nervous when he saw villains. 

12. Misconceptions: Something you think people don't know or are confused by when making plans to travel to Disney World? 
Just because it's crowded doesn't mean you have to spend hours in line. By planning ahead and using our My Experience App it was a very enjoyable trip with minimal melt downs (from child or adults). 

While planning is super important you also need to be really flexible and willing to change plans as needed. 

While it is really expensive, create a savings plan and do it. We started planning two years earlier, but in the end it was worth every penny and the time came and went way too quickly.

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