We surprised our girls with their first trip to Disney World, and it was one of the most special family adventures we have taken in our journey.
I never blog anymore.
I just need to blog about this to chronicle our experience for next time around. (And because I am still on a Disney High, already thinking about "next time"!!!)
And there WILL be a next time. We decided that lying in bed after the first full day. Enter new budget item: DISNEY.
After Lindsay took her family last fall, we knew that our ages would work out just about right to take the girls this fall--just before Ansley would turn 3 and still be free. At their encouragement we opened a Disney Rewards Visa. Best. decision. ever. We put all of our expenses on this card--treating it like a debit card--and over the course of 9 months, earned enough rewards to put just under $500 toward our trip!!!
The second thing I did was go to the library and check out these books:
The Complete Idiot's guide one was just a good one for getting information, and the Birnbaum's Disney book was my "go-to" manual that I packed in my travel purse. It was sooo helpful and pocket-sized. I took these books to Addison's ballet class last spring, and I struck up a conversation with my ballet mom friend, Katie, who introduced me to the "free dining" specials that Disney will run in May for a fall month. We had initially thought we'd go in October--RIGHT before Ansley's birthday, but when the special came out, it was for May, and we very easily changed our plan. Being on the Disney Dining FREE plan saved us $500-600!
Since it was MAY, and I was planning a trip for SEPTEMBER, I started feeling the pressure. I was nervous that we would not be able to book the character meals and make the reservations that we needed. I talked to a friend who had just returned, and she recommended using a mutual acquaintance/friend to help plan our trip. I called Liana Blackburn at Neverland Travel, and the rest is history. She was able to book our resort and the character meals that I requested (more on that later) with no trouble! She was very helpful in deciding what activities would be a good fit for us, taking the ages and interests of my girls into consideration, and she loves Disney World, so that only fostered the excitement that I had been building.
Something that I learned about using the free dining plan is that the moderate resort is the way to go if you are on a budget (which we definitely were). The value resorts use a discounted dining plan, but you need to stay at a moderate resort to reap the full benefit. While we had been interested in staying at The Art of Animation resort, we opted for a princess room at Port Orleans Riverside and didn't pay much extra. Princess Tiana hosts this New Orleans-style resort, and a "Royal Room" (a mere ~$20 total extra) includes framed pictures of all of her princess friends as well as silhouettes of their respective princes and a letter from Tiana herself. Behind the beds were firefly-like lights and special effects. This was a cute perk for my little princess lovers.
The only differences that I learned about between a moderate and a value resort are the room size (possibly a little bigger), pool (more options with water slides), restaurants (sometimes a sit down option--we didn't use that), and bus lines (potentially shorter). That will not deter us from staying at a value resort next time, but it was interesting information to have.
I am, by nature, a procrastinator. After I had contacted Liana and we had all of our reservations in place, I kind of sat on it (not working on anything for our trip) for awhile. Before I knew it, we were 45 days out from our trip, I was paying my balance, and beginning to freak out--mostly in a good way. That very night that I paid our balance, I couldn't sleep. I woke up at 3 a.m., and after an hour of trying to go back to sleep, I got up and went straight here: my friends Ashley and Cristin are Disney gurus, and they teamed with another friend to write this super helpful series: Keys to the Kingdom. I had my notebook and made TONS of notes and got CRAZY excited. It got me on a roll, so the very next day, after teaching at the University of Phoenix, I headed over to Opry Mills and picked up these goodies. Since the entire trip was a surprise for the girls, much of this was done in secret which built up my own excitement.
I got the girls princess light up shoes (They have BOTH begged for light up shoes FORever.) at Stride Rite. They were Buy 1, get 1 half off, and they were already marked down. I was able to get both girls' shoes for $40. I knew they would need good walking shoes for the park, and I thought these would be perfect! Next, I went to Old Navy and picked up vintage tees for me and Patrick and Pooh and Piglet tees for the girls. (I got them--the girls' shirts--on clearance for about $5.)
When I started my back to school sewing, I decided I would go ahead and make the girls' Birthday party outfits since they are having a joint princess party. I planned to give them to them when we left for Disney. My friend Haley shared her pattern--thanks again for that!!! (I ordered these blank dresses from Dharma Trading Co.)
Then, my friend Karen, who has gotten some mad skills on her embroidery machine, made these adorable shirts for the girls. I might have cried when she sent me a picture text of them. (Little did I know those would be the first of many tears I would shed.)
Right before our trip, when we got our travel documents, we discovered that we were eligible for the Magic Bands that Disney has been experimenting with. We ordered them, and two days later, they were on our doorstep. The Magic Bands are personalized, adjustable wristbands that have your room reservations, park passes, dining plans, FAST PASS reservations, and credit card informations on them. Right now they are in the trial stages with certain resorts, and Disney plans to fully launch them next month. We had NO problems using the wristbands, and we adored the ease that came with them. Our favorite part was definitely the way that you could reserve fast passes. We would enter a ride, scan our Magic Band, and the cast member would say, "Welcome aboard, Kristy." Brilliant! We also appreciated being able to scan them to "pay" for our meals. Disney really does think of everything!
The last thing I did before the trip was make autograph books for the girls. My crafty, thrifty, AWESOME sis had done this and had saved a PDF file for me to use. I like these books because each character had a personalized page. The characters themselves all loved the book, and I am in the process of turning into a scrapbook for the girls by putting their pictures with each character by their signatures. This book actually shaped how we approached our park days because the girls' main goals on this trip were finding the characters at the meet and greets. Those moments were some of our most magical!
All of the planning was so much fun and SOOOOOOO worth it. Next up: the BIG REVEAL!