I am a planner by nature. I delight in it. There is something so thrilling to me about taking something – a trip, a weekend with visitors, or even a night out at a restaurant – and spending large portions of my little free time researching the best options to maximize the fun and enjoyment for all. When my family comes to visit they joke about my infamous itineraries. And by joke, I mean they ask when I’m sending it out because I’ve been known to whip up a quick Word doc and send it out so there’s not a moment where they don’t know what they’re doing. If I’ve booked a trip, I’m firing up Google Sheets so I can put together a multi-tabbed document that breaks out all the options possible: hotels, airfare, restaurants, things to do, etc. etc.
Planning is one of my biggest strengths. Although, one could argue it’s one of my downfalls too as I lack an inability to make plans on the fly. I would be in a panic if I were heading to a new city and hadn’t Yelped any restaurants, especially any delicious donut eateries. Yes, most of my planning revolves around food – how often I will eat and how well – but I firmly believe meals sound be the foundation for any good trip. So when we decided that we were going to take the kids to Disney when they were 5 and 3 respectively (which thankfully isn’t happening until much later in the year), I was initially excited about planning the mother of all vacations.
After a few Disney-related Google searches the reality sunk in and I realized that there’s a reason there are Disney-specific vacation planners. This place operates on a another level. I’m sure you could decide on a whim to visit and it would be perfectly fine and magical. But, according to all of the insider and Disney secret blogs I’ve read, that is not the way to do Disney. And when you’re dropping those dolla dolla bills you want to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for you buck.
Cue to me breathing into a paper bag not even knowing where to begin with my Disney vacation spreadsheet. The horror!
First, there is unpacking all of the Disney-specific language. On property, off property, dining meal plans, fast passes, character experiences, My Disney Experience, Magic Bands, magic hours, Disney magic express, park hopper pass, park hopper pass plus, etc. In English, please! Thankfully we have a friend that may be Walt Disney reincarnated who helped us to understand where to start and what the heck they were doing.
Secondly you have to decide when to go.Part of why we decided to go this year is that it’s the last year before AJR starts real school (lower lip begins to quiver) and we’ll have the flexibility to work around the peak Disney times. That said, I’m mentally preparing for a huge cluster F regardless of when we go.
Third, you have to decide where to stay. Joe’s hotel points thankfully took away this burden. Both in terms of making a decision and more importantly, the financial aspect of it. We did flirt with the idea of paying out of pocket to stay “on property” but it was either that or send the kids to college. We opted for the latter.
With those major decisions behind us, I now sit nearly 180 days until our vacation and am facing our next big hurdle: the Disney dining reservation systems. From what I gather, it’s a cutthroat system that will require me to wake up earlier than I normally would in an effort to secure the most coveted dining reservations – SIX MONTHS IN ADVANCE – lest I ruin the entire vacation. Your dining reservations can set the tone for your trip and allow you to plan the rest of your vacation accordingly. No pressure, right?
The dining options are all superb. Most are marketed as fantastic opportunities for your children to meet the characters they love so much without having to wait in the long lines at the parks. They are also more expensive than a dinner for my husband and I at a nice place in NYC. Given that my children have to be coerced, bribed, and threatened into eating the minimal number of calories to manage their usual mischief, I don’t know how many times I have it in me to shell out $30 per kid for a meal where they’ll eat half a yogurt and nibble on a Mickey Mouse waffle then ask me for a snack 25 minutes after we’ve left. I also don’t know what time to dine is best: breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s really a delicate balance of finding the time when we think our children will eat the most but also the time they are less likely to have a complete meltdown due to exhaustion and over-stimulation. Are you starting to understand my first world Disney dilemma now?
After some soul-searching, we decided that three reservations is probably the absolutely max of what we can do in a week. Here’s what I’m gunning for:
- Chef Mickey: kids apparently freak the F out to have Mickey in a chef jacket serve them breakfast.
- Askershus or Cinderella’s Royal Table: this is coin flip for me. Olivia does not know any of the Disney princesses. I take that back. She now knows Belle and Cinderella but only because of her nighttime pull-ups. Askershus is supposed to have a lovely princess breakfast, but a chance to eat in Cinderella’s castle? I don’t know if I can pass that up. I may try to get both and then cancel one of them once I know where I stand.
- The Crystal Palace: Winnie the Pooh and other friends from the Hundred Acre Wood are apparently the highlight of this dining experience. Again, while our kids don’t know these characters, there’s still six months to start brainwashing them.
This is a trimmed down list from at least 10-12 other places that all seemed fantastic and while it broke my heart to send them to the “no” list part of planning this trip is also balancing out all of these amazing things with the ages of our kids. At five and three I realize that there’s a good chance they won’t remember this trip at all. To which some people might ask – why not wait until they’re older to take them then? Well, a big part of why we wanted to take the kids at a young age was the flexibility to travel whenever, but also because there is something so pure and wonderful at a small child’s joy over certain things. That’s not to say that at 8 and 6 it wouldn’t be just as magical, but it will be magical in a different sort of way. This trip is definitely all about the kids, but it’s also very much about Joe and I seeing the magic through their little eyes.
All that said, maybe I need to take a deep breath and relax given that the expectations are low this time around mainly because these kids are easily pleased. I have to remember I’m talking about the kids that go bananas for the lobster tank at Wegman’s. I may have to wait a few years before I can see whether the grey stuff really is delicious at the “Be Our Guest” restaurant but it also means I don’t need to freak out about making an appointment at the Bippity Boppity Boo princess makeover station, or whatever it’s called.
Let’s see if this newfound zen will follow me when I’m 60 days out and have to make FastPass selections…