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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!