Big Family Disney Adventures

We are back!  We arrived home last night after a straight 15.5 hour drive and all I could think was — that went great!!!  Of course there were a few hiccups, but what a wonderful time of family memories and warmth.

The only character worth waiting for, Claire and Mickey.

The good –

  • The price!  We saved money by driving, and staying off Disney property.  The trip was literally 1/3 to 1/2 of the price because of these two choices.  Just to give you an idea, you can rent a full house 20 minutes away from Disney, for a full week for $900!!!!  4 bedrooms, and a full kitchen!!!!  Our place was walking distance from a supermarket,which was a nice plus.  I did look a little into staying on site, but for our large family, the cost was really prohibitive.
  • The weather.  The first 4 days of our trip temperatures were above normal, in the mid 80′s.  The kids LOVED the amazing pool at our resort, nothing beats a waterslide and lazy river in the hot FEBRUARY Florida sun.
  • Arrive early and do shorter days.  We got there very early, and then stayed until shortly after lunch when the parks got really crowded.  The one day that we did not leave to go home by 1pm, things got ugly quickly.  Our plan worked especially well for the warmer days.  My older children swam at the resort while my younger two napped.  On the cooler days we could take some down time in the afternoon and then return to the parks for the evening festivities.  For a large family, with several young children, Disney World in smaller doses is perfect.  We extended our vacation an extra day to be more leisurely and keep up this great schedule.
  • Grandparent help.  My parents joined us mid-week and we rented a house big enough to accommodate them.  They helped us with babysitting on Thurs./Friday, so we got a break from baby Josie both days and one day we only took only the older 3 to Epcot.

A chilly morning in Magic Kingdom

  • Spending time with my oldest 3 kids.  They are great people.  I love them and I loved watching them explore things.  Gus (age 5) was especially cute, and very excited to be in Disney World.
  • Packing a lunch and snacks.  We ate breakfast at our house and packed our food.  This saved so much money and time!  No waiting in Disney food lines with lots of hungry kids.  We ate as soon as we were ready, but we were still able to get a few treats in the parks.
  • An early schedule.  We were at the parks by 8:30am and eating lunch at 11am.  We avoided all rushes this way and were able to relax, which was great!
  • The parks.  We were extremely impressed with Disney and their ability to organize and move people around.  Disney seriously needs to work as a consultant for our government.  They know how to move people, how to be efficient, and how to serve.  Everyone was so friendly and so nice.  What a pleasant place to be!
  • Fastpasses!  What a great system!!!!  You can go to a ride, and get a pass to come back at a set time so that you do not wait in line.  This was a great way to see all of the attractions without much waiting, BUT it does require a lot of planning to make good use of the fastpass system with a large family.  And planning is key to avoid lots of walking.  I’d highly recommend a travel book and travel websites to know which attractions are worth a fast pass and which ones to just do early in the day.
  • Staying with B-mama and her family on the way down!!!  From the Richmond VA area it is about 11.5 hours (including several short stops) to Orlando.  Loved that time with them.  I’m sure B-mama would love to open up her home to all our readers, haha!  Hotel G — the perfect stop on your way to Orlando!
  • The drive!  Yes, it went so well, I included it.  We will make the drive to Florida again, possibly next year.  Even our baby Josie traveled well in the car.  I spent about $75 on a grab bag of new books, sticker books, and toys for the car.  Every 1/2 hour I pulled out a snack or something new from the bag.

The bad –

Not Disney Ready.–Josie and baby G.

  • Mr. Red had a huge work issue arise on a deal he had been working on for weeks.  He had to spend a lot of time on the phone and then working while I took the older ones to the pool.  BUT the good news is that we stayed an extra day (a 6th Day in the parks) to make up for the inconvenience, and this didn’t count as his vacation time.  So he has successfully avoided a “Disney Vacation”…at least for now! Haha!
  • Josie, and sometimes Claire.  Disney with a large family is really hard with a mobile baby.  It is hard to push strollers in crowded parks, and Josie was pretty crabby because she missed naps AND was unable to get down and move around (she’s still crawling).  Taking two days off from tending to her needs really reminded me that babies are a TON of work, and most of it I don’t enjoy when traveling.  Big kids are great, and so much fun to do things with.  As parents, we need to do a better job of getting childcare for our babies and doing stuff with the oldies.  Disney is less fun when you are splitting up as one parent takes older kids and another bounces a fussy baby while chasing a toddler through crowds.
  • Our townhouse got terrible wifi and this caused Mr. Red some difficulty with his work.  I need to be better about asking about this next time!  It is worth the extra money.  I tend to be cheap with things, and so I need to check about his non-negotiables before I book anything.
  • Gianna threw up on Tuesday night.  Nobody else got sick, so we are thinking it was the result of something she ate, but the poor girl felt yucky for a day or two and she is always so joyful, so this made me sad.
  • The crowds.  We went in the “off-season” but it was still very crowded by 11am.  I would never go during the busy season, unless I made special preparations with extra adults AND there was no alternative choice.  Lots of kids and strollers in crowds is no fun!
  • Our flat tire.  We discovered this in the G’s driveway the night before our long trek to Florida.  Thankfully, Mr. Red and Mr. B-Mama went into super car mechanic mode, put on the spare, and drove the car to a repair shop just prior to closing.  B-Mama kept things lite by making me laugh so hard the entire time.  Gracefully, the G’s altered their mass plans to accommodate our flat.  AND Mr. B-Mama kept it classy the entire time, changing a tire in khaki pants without a single stain.

Men at work. Look at Mr. B-Mama keepin it classy.

Things we might do differently the next time –

  • I think I would pay a little more to stay a bit closer and see if there is a resort with shuttle service to the parks.  The Magic Kingdom in particular is a huge pain with parking.  The lot is so big, you have to walk about a 1/2 mile or take a tram AND then ride a monorail into the park.  It takes over a 1/2 hour from the time you park your car until you walk through the gates.  AND parking is $14 per day.  At Epcot and Animal Kingdom self-parking is much easier as you can park right outside the park.
  • Book the trip more than 2 weeks prior to leaving so that we have more choices for accommodations (this was a last minute desperate get away for us!)  We were about 5 -10 minutes further away than I would have liked.  But the price was right and the pool was gorgeous.
  • Get there early EVERY day.  We had one day where we were delayed a bit, and it made huge difference in how smoothly our morning went.
  • Bring our jogging stroller.  We opted for our regular double stroller, mainly because of space in our car, but it was very hard to maneuver in the parks for a long day.  The jogger would have been better, and if we had it to do over, we may have strapped it to the back of our car on the bike rack.  If you have extra adults, multiple very small umbrella style strollers would also be ideal.

And that’s a wrap!  I’d love to hear about what did and did not work for any of our readers because I’m keeping these thoughts on file for our next trip.  We hope to go back in a few years when our youngest two are old enough to remember it!

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

    Wow, it sounds like on balance, this was a great trip for your family! I’m so glad that you got away and made some memories together. We’re thinking about a July trip to Disney, which is a terrible idea on paper but might be our best option…Has anyone done Disney in the summer, and if so, how was it?

  • Karen

    How did you do the straight drive home?

    • Kellie “Red”

      I was worried about it too, but it went really, really well! We packed our car the night before and had the kids sleep in their travel clothes. We awoke at 5am and were driving by 5:20am. I instituted a “quiet rule” in the car, no talking, no music, and no games until 8am. The kids slept until around 7 or 7:30am, at which point the sun came up and we passed around breakfast. I packed a cooler with breakfast and lunch and lots of dry snacks. We tried to time drinking juices boxes/water around stopping so that we would all stop together and use the facilities and get gas. I think we stopped 4 or 5 times, and most stops were around 10 minutes. We did one longer stop for dinner that lasted 40 minutes (because we bought food and ate it sitting). Eating while you drive helps a lot! We also had a portable DVD player that I used for the trip. The kids lasted the first 8 hours w/o it, but the second 8 hours they watched 4 movies. We did the same on the way down. First half no TV, second half movies. They were so excited to see a couple of new movies that it went really well! Mr. Red was a real trooper driving all but 3 hours each way. The only one to fuss a little was Josie, the older kids were all really, really good.

  • Karen

    Katrina- I read in one of my guide books 90% of the horrible experiences @ WDW happen in July – most crowded, most hot & most expensive. Would type, but holding a baby :-)

  • Juris Mater

    Awesome, Kellie. This is great. I can escape mid-Atlantic February in my imagination just through your descriptions. We were blessed to go to Disney twice in one year (EuroDisney once and Disney Land once) during our year of dissertation research travels, and I was so surprised to discover how much I LOVED it as an adult.

    And yes on little babies being a ton of work, interfering with enjoying truly fun activities w/older kids. What a juggling act. On one hand, I want my babies to spend their babyhood in my arms and not pawned off on a sitter, but on the other hand they can be all-consuming if I let them so that the older kids get no attention. It takes a village. I wish we had one!

    • maryalice

      I also don’t love Disney while pregnant, so ironically we have found that the best time to go is with a pretty small baby who can hang out in a front carrier and be nursed in some dark quiet rides, but is not old enough to want to get down and crawl. We have done that twice, once when the twins were about 4 months old and once when Jimmy was tiny, and both times it was successful.

  • Karen

    We pack our food too, not only is it cheaper, but better for traveling tummies. Usually we stopped to eat, I think this wastes a lot of time. I hate all those crumbs in the car, but maybe we will try it next time. What did you find to be the least messy for car food? Humus in pitas and cheese sticks worked good for us. Glad you had a good time.

    • maryalice

      We brought a lot of granola bars in the car and were shocked to arrive at our halfway point, the home of some older, civilized friends, with kids covered in sticky crumbles! We won’t be choosing that particular snack again, so I’d ditto your request for suggestions.

  • http://happilyeverjohnson.blogspot.com Queen B

    We love Disney in the off-season! So glad you had a great time, Kellie. I would second that off season is really the way to go, Kat. I know you have school to juggle, but the trip is so much less expensive and so, so much more enjoyable without the massive summer crowds and heat. Ahhh, I get misty just thinking about Magic Kingdom. I had so much fun with our kids there that I cried on the way out of the park on our last day! :) Is that sappy or what?

  • Lisa

    Ooh – I love travel tips/thoughts. First, an answer to Kat’s question, then a question of my own for the Builders. Kat – a friend of mine describes Disney vacations as either very expensive or very, very expensive. So, even if you go in July as opposed to the off-season, you’re not missing out on a cheap vacation! It is expensive whenever you go! Also, my family went over the summer when I was a kid, and I had a great time. Yes, we waited in tons of lines – but we expected to do that. If summer is your only option, as it was for my family, don’t not go just because it will be crowded and hot and (very very) expensive! JM and Kellie, you both mentioned the impact of going with a baby in tow, and I wonder – I’m a fellow ’03er (I remember a few of you from Agape!) and with our 10th Reunion coming up, I had originally planned on taking my infant daughter, but a family member offered to keep her for us, and I’m thinking maybe that’s better?? There seems to be in your post/comment a point about travel that is inherently not suited for infants probably being more difficult/less enjoyable when infants are there. Not that I could see taking a long vacation without her, but maybe for this (long) weekend that is inherently not designed for babies, we should let her stay with family?? Any thoughts on Reunions with infants are welcome – thanks!

    • Kellie “Red”

      Lisa, If you trust the child care and nursing isn’t an issue, I would leave the baby behind. Reunions with small children is difficult, unless you have childcare help with you! I know there is a great temptation to have everyone meet and interact with your kids, and of course that would be wonderful, but there is very little interacting, the meeting your children part takes only a few moments, and then small ones require a lot of work that makes it difficult to catch up with old friends. This is just my opinion, perhaps the other builders have a different one?

      • Kellie “Red”

        Oh, and one last thing regarding traveling to Disney in the summer or during peak times–I’d REALLY recommend against it. I know several people who could not even get into the parks on certain days because of crowds, AND Disney is way more crowded now that 15 or 20 years ago. Before thinking about how to make a peak season Disney trip work, I’d think about ways to make an off-season trip work with your schedule. Missing school is COMPLETELY WORTH IT! If there is any way to go in the off season — DO IT!

  • JMB

    The last time we went to Disney was in late August. I found a special deal at the site which included airfare and two rooms for the same amount that we would spend renting a house down at the shore. I assumed the crowds would be thin because of the season but boy was I wrong. I had never in my life seen so many obese people in one place that I spent most of the week just gaping in shock. It was really an eyeopener for me. Then we stayed at a resort that had “cafeteria” style dining. It was great for the older kids, but for the toddler and baby it was really tough to get everyone’s food on trays while pushing a stroller. My husband and I got into a knock down drag out fight in front of the bus when he threw my Peg Perago stroller into the street. It rained like cats and dogs every day at 3 pm. We lost our son at the water park. We laugh about it now but if I had to do it all over again I’d – stay home or at least wait until youngest child is four or five to go; stay shorter and at a better resort, go in November or December and take a chance with the weather. I feel sorry for my youngest child because I have no desire to ever step foot in a Disney park for the remainder of my life. She doesn’t seem to unhappy about being too young to remember Disney. If she really wants to go, she’ll get there someday.

  • Kellie “Red”

    JMB, your comment made me lol. From what I have heard, almost everyone who goes in the summer feels a lot more of the negativity you described above. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it very much if it was even more crowded and brutally hot!