How to Plan a Florida Vacation! – 4 Months to go – Travel With Kids

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida
  6. 7 Months – It’s Not All About Disney
  7. 6 Months – ADR Time
  8. 5 Months – Countdown

4 Months to go: Preparing To Travel With Kids!

In today’s post, I’m going to be helping you figure out how in the heck to get to Florida with your kids and your sanity intact!

This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more, but I may receive a small commission for purchases, which helps to cover the costs of running this blog.

The Journey

In one of my previous posts, I suggested some essential travel items for any holiday/vacation; from suitcases to rest aids and ways to occupy the kids. Check out my Summer Travel post for those ideas. In this post, I’ll add some theme park survival must-haves, especially things we learned from our last trip in May 2018.

flying traveling with kids to Florida - things you may need

Must-Have Travel Items for Florida

Maybe this goes without saying, but Florida is HOT! There’s really no escaping that fact. In the summer months, it’s also very wet. We’ve been in May, June and October and they were all pretty even for heat. May was the wettest. But it was the wettest May on record, so what we experienced that visit wasn’t typical.

But unless you’re going in December or January, you should be prepared for long, hot days. Now, there are things you can do with your touring plan to reduce the impact of the climate, such as early starts and late nights with a break in the middle of the day. But I’ll cover that more in other posts, such as my Dining Plan post and the upcoming one on Fast Passes.

But all the scheduling in the world won’t help if the conditions are unprecedented. So here are some ideas for things to help get you through the days in the parks.

Cooling Towels

Disney does sell these but at a premium price! We found them absolutely invaluable, but I’m still glad we bought some before our trip and saved ourselves some money.

The basic idea with these is that you get them wet (drinking fountains or bathroom sinks will do the job throughout the day), ring out the excess moisture and drape them around your shoulders, or tie them as a bandana around your head and they keep you cool. Half our photos from our last trip feature these! We used them almost all day every day that we were in the parks. So take a look at the options and pick out the best colours and quantities for your family. You won’t regret it!

Solar Powered Charger

We bought one of these for keeping our phones charged up while we were out for the day. We got one with multiple USB sockets so we could charge all our phones at once. We have a backpack with a mesh section in the front and just put the charger in there to soak up those lovely rays as we walked around! It was so handy and meant we were never low on power for snapping pics or capturing magical moments on video!

Check out this one from Hiluckey. It’s also waterproof so will stand up to those sudden downpours that Orlando is famous for!

anti-chafe balm

Seriously, as someone whose thighs rub together, this was a life-saver! It can also be used on feet to stop shoes rubbing. I very highly recommend Body Glide.

Good Shoes

This gets repeated often, but not too often, IMO! You will be doing A LOT of walking. Several miles per day, on average. Good shoes that fit and are kind to your feet are the most essential thing you can take with you.

On our last trip I had, for the first time, Skechers Go Walks and I’ve barely stopped wearing them since. Wearing them is like walking on air!

Ponchos

As mentioned above, it can be WET in Orlando! Usually, it just rains for about an hour late in the afternoon, and brightens up afterwards and is hot enough to dry you out before dinner. But as we experienced last May, sometimes the rain is more relentless. So it’s a good idea to be prepared for the rain as well as the sun, with some ponchos for your party.

Again, you can get these on property, but you will pay much more for them. We bought disposable ones last time and each one lasted about two days. Being more eco-conscious than ever though, we will get reusable ones next time.

Umbrella

I somehow managed to forget to take an umbrella last time! So I bought one from the resort gift shop. But I’ll be sure to take it with me when we go back in March. If you want to get a new, themed umbrella for your trip to use in the rain or as a parasol, then check out the cute designs available on Amazon!

That’s all from me for now. I hope this post was useful. Let me know in the comments if there are any other essential travel items that you’ve found helpful in the past.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida
  6. 7 Months – It’s Not All About Disney
  7. 6 Months – ADR Time
  8. 5 Months – Countdown

How to Plan a Florida Vacation! – 5 Months to go – Countdown

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida
  6. 7 Months – It’s Not All About Disney
  7. 6 Months – ADR Time

5 Months to go: building anticipation

In today’s post, I’m going to be going over ways that you can start to build anticipation for your amazing holiday! From how you break the news to your kids, to creating a countdown that will fill your pre-vacation days with fun and excitement.

surprising the kids!

When we went in 2017, we kept it a secret from the children until Christmas. This did mean that ADR day had an extra layer of tension for us, as we were trying to make our reservations without the kids cottoning on to what we were doing! It was a Saturday morning, so they were right there in the house. But we managed it and they had no idea.

We had decided quite early that we were going to let them in on the plan on Christmas morning. I made a card that broke the news to them and put it in a big box, filled with colourful tissue paper then wrapped it up with their presents.

On Christmas morning, we made sure this box was left until last. With uncontained glee, we gave it to them to unwrap together. They opened it and dug through the tissue paper, looking for the surprise. They pulled out the card and read it… it took a moment for realisation to dawn, but when it did there was much jumping and squealing with joy!

We were going in May, so they still had a good few months to wait, but the cat was out of the bag and we were then able to work on building anticipation together.

Depending on the age/s of your child/ren, you may want to consider breaking the news to them much closer to the day you travel. Young children may not cope so well with a long lead up. Use your judgement on this.

creating a countdown

Once the kids know about the trip, you can start making plans together and having fun with the anticipation. I created a 100 Days of Disney countdown! We didn’t stick to it, as we found this was too much Disney, even for us. But it might be perfect for your family. Or you could pick and choose from a long list as and when you feel like it like we ended up doing. Alternatively, you could just do a week or a month-long countdown.

You could incorporate narrowing down your attraction options ready for booking your Fast Passes into your countdown. It’s a fun way to get the kids involved in making a touring plan and makes sure everyone’s wishes are considered.

Here are some ideas for activities to include in your countdown to travel.

  1. Make a physical countdown – There are so many options for this. If you’re into pin trading, then you can do a pin countdown like this. There are some lovely countdown ideas on that site, so take a look and get inspired! We’ve done paper chains for our last two visits. An activity was written on the inside of each paper loop and was revealed each day when we tore it off the chain. I was inspired by this image from Pinterest, but it looks as though the original blog that it came from doesn’t exist any more.

2. Explore the games on https://lol.disney.com/

3. Watch a YouTube tour of our resort.

4. Do Disney jigsaw puzzles.

5. Watch a classic Disney movie.

6. Write a letter to a character – the kids each wrote one; Thing 1 wrote to Tiana, his favourite princess; and Thing 2 wrote to Stitch. If you send your letters to the wonderful people at customer relations, you may get a reply! We got a signed postcard from each of the characters and a LOT of Mickey Mouse confetti! Do this in plenty of time before your trip as it can take 4-6 weeks to get a reply.

The address to send your letters to is:

Walt Disney World Communications

PO Box 10040

Lake Buena Vista, FL  32830

7. Do Disney colouring pages.

8. Read Disney books – we have a set of read-along books and audio CD for several Pixar films. We reused this activity on different days for each book.

9. Make Hama bead Disney characters. We made some based on these designs.

10. Watch ride videos on YouTube.

And of course, you can fill out your countdown with many wonderful films, from Snow White to Star Wars!

Have you got a countdown activity suggestion? Share away in the comments!

Tune in next month for the next part of the series.

How to Plan a Florida Vacation! – 6 Months To Go – ADR Time

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida
  6. 7 Months – It’s Not All About Disney

A Quick Note:

The observant among you may notice that it’s been nearly 2 years since I last posted. Life took me away from blogging, but I’ve always wanted to come back and finish this series. It’s even in my 101 in 1001 goals! I’ll blog on this separately.

The trip to Orlando that we were planning back when I started these posts in 2017 went ahead and all the planning really paid off. I’ll do a full write up on that shortly. For now, I’ve come back to this series because today marks the 180-days-to-go mark of our next trip to Walt Disney World! These trips come around so fast.

So, without further ado, let’s crack on with how to go about booking your ADRs!

6 Months to go: Advanced Dining Reservations

If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort, one of the magic days to note in your diary is 180 days before you check-in. This is the day you’ll be able to make your advanced dining reservations (ADRs).

You’ll want to spend some time leading up to this date researching the options because there are literally hundreds of places to eat on property. I won’t even try to list them all here! But here are a few essentials to consider.

Quick Service & Table Service

Quick service restaurants are your bread and butter of dining at WDW. You don’t need a reservation. You rock up, order at the counter (or use mobile ordering if it’s available), collect your food and go find a table. Simples.

Table service, however, this is what you’re booking on ADR day. These restaurants offer a sit-down service, with either a buffet or a la carte menu. Some of these options are also character dining experiences, where characters work their way around the dining area and interact with the guests.

There are table service restaurants at all of the theme parks and many of the resorts. They all offer something different – atmosphere, cuisine, characters, proximity to other attractions – so devour all the info you can and create a shortlist of options. One place to start is Disney Food Blog or their YouTube channel.

booking your Walt Disney WOrld Advanced Dining Reservations, ADRs. Here are my top tips.

Plan Your Bookings

Once you’ve researched the options and come up with a shortlist, you’ll want to start thinking about your touring plan. Have a look at what you want to do each day and slot your table service meals in where it makes sense.

What’s going to work for your party? Maybe you want to load up on a big breakfast and coast through most of the day before needing to eat again. So pick a character dining buffet breakfast in or near to the park you want to visit on a given day.

For example, one of our absolute favourites is Tusker House at Animal Kingdom. We eat here at least once on every trip. It’s an African-inspired buffet with something to suit every palette and you’re joined by Goofy, Donald, Daisy and the Mouse himself. There is even a fun parade, where children are encouraged to get up and move around the dining area with the characters.

Perhaps your family prefers to eat light in the morning and then indulge in a bigger meal in the evening, taking in a night show afterwards. In which case, Epcot has a wealth of options around the lake in World Showcase from which you can watch the fireworks and lights show on the lake (formerly Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, soon to be replaced with a new show).

Do you want to hit the parks with Extra Magic Hours? Or do you want to avoid them? You can usually reserve dining in the parks before they open, getting in there early and being done and ready to head for popular attractions as the park opens and be slightly ahead of the crowds.

One trick we like to use is to make our Tusker House breakfast for around 9am on a day with EMH. We get to Animal Kingdom for rope drop at 8am and head straight for the safari. The animals are more active first thing in the morning before it gets too hot and you can walk straight onto the ride. Then we head back through the park as the crowds arrive and get out of the craziness for breakfast.

So make a rough plan and pick the times you’d like to book for each table service meal of your trip.

Making Your Bookings

On ADR day (you can work out when that is using this calculator), you’ll want to be armed with your timetable and ready to book!

Booking opens at 6am EST, you’ll want to convert that to your own timezone in advance. For us, today, it was 11am.

Using the website, the My Disney Experience app, or by calling the booking line, you can make the bookings for your party for up to 10 days of your vacation. We went for 3 weeks last time and are going for 2 weeks this time, so we couldn’t make all of our bookings in one go. If you’re there for less than 10 days though you can do it all in one sitting.

Whether you’re using the dining plan or not, you’ll need to provide a debit or credit card number when you book. This won’t be charged on booking but will be charged if you don’t show up for your reservation without cancelling it more than 24 hours in advance. There are just a couple of restaurants that do take payment upfront, such as Cinderella’s Royal Table. We had a mishap when booking this one last time. They charged hubby’s card when he booked it and we had to call up and get it refunded and switched to dining plan credits (this is also one of the few that uses 2 table service credits per person).

Hard-To-Get Reservations

Some reservations are harder to get than others. This may change over time, but the long-standing sell-out restaurants are Le Cellier at Epcot and Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom.

Le Cellier is renowned for its steak and is a tiny restaurant, so demand is sky-high. It books out 6 months in advance and stays that way. If this is at the top of your bucket list, this is the one you should go for first on ADR day.

Pro tip: Plan it for day 10 of your stay (or the last day if staying for less than this) and make it the first one you book. Most people will be starting from day one of their vacation and working their way through their list chronologically. So this may mean that you beat your competition who are booking on the same day as you.

If you don’t manage to snag this reservation, some alternatives to consider are Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club resort; Shula’s Steak House at the Dolphin Hotel; and The Boathouse at Disney Springs.

The aforementioned Cinderella’s Royal Table is a tricky one due to its location – inside the castle at Magic Kingdom! It’s also one of only a few ways to meet Cinderella herself. We managed to get this booking for our last trip using the pro tip above. Booking kerfuffle aside, it was a great way to maximise character-meet efficiency!

You meet Cinderella in the entrance lobby in a sort of holding area for diners. Then you’re granted entrance to the dining area and if you’re lucky, get a window table and get to peek out at the park. Cinderella doesn’t come around the tables, but several of her princess friends do; Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine, and Aurora were the characters who put in an appearance on our visit.

If you can’t get this one, or if you have concerns about using two dining credits or paying upfront for this one, the alternative is Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot. This is in the Norway Pavillion, next to Frozen Ever After. So one efficiency trick is to book breakfast here and then dash straight to the ride before the crowds pick up, saving you a valuable fastpass for something else.

If you miss out on any reservations that you were coveting on ADR day, then keep checking in case a spot opens up with a cancellation. A lot of people over-book their ADRs in order to keep their options open, so cancellations happen all the time.

Enjoy!

That wraps up my ADR tips.

Catch up with the rest of the series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida
  6. 7 Months – It’s Not All About Disney

Next month: Countdown!

Planning a Florida Vacation! – 7 Months To Go – It’s Not All About Disney!

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida!

7 Months To Go: Must-Do Attractions – It’s Not All About Disney!

I’m going to cover touring plans next month when I’ll also be guiding you through making your advanced dining reservations. But for this month, the focus is on narrowing down the things we want to do on this trip.

I started by quickly assessing what had worked and what didn’t work on our previous Florida vacations.

We’ve been twice and still not been to the Kennedy Space Centre, for example, despite it being something we’d talked about both times. We had even scheduled a day for it last time but ended up changing our plans due to the weather. We’re determined to make it this time.

We’ve still yet to get all the way around Epcot World Showcase and have tended to eat at the same restaurants each time too. So we want to get some more variety into this trip. I have already researched all of the dining options around all of Walt Disney World and created a shortlist (which is still really long – haha!) of places to eat. I made sure to do this nice and early due to the aforementioned Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), which guests staying on-site can book 180 days prior to arrival. For us, that’s next month!

We’ve also not been to SeaWorld on previous trips because we were boycotting them due to their unethical orca program. I was pleased to learn about SeaWorld ending the breeding program and orca shows, in favour of a “natural encounter”. However, the majestic animals are dying in rather disturbing numbers at the San Diego centre, so I think we’ll still need to give this park, and those owned by them, a miss this time. This includes Busch Gardens, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. One day, when SeaWorld has cleaned up its act, we will choose to spend our money there.

Universal

Universal Studios Orlando, main gate

(c) H.B. Lyne 2015

I have to confess, despite my love of Disney, and us choosing to stay at a WDW resort, my favourite theme park in Orlando, is actually Universal Islands of Adventure! Parts of Universal also rank in the top 2 or 3 attractions for our kids.

This is in no small part down to the epic scope and detail of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Split into two areas; one at Universal Studios, the other at IOA, connected via a ride on the Hogwarts Express, this amazing experience is an absolute must for any fan of the books or movies. The detail is exquisite, the rides are epic, the shops are amazing and the whole experience is worth the huge park ticket fee on its own.

On our first trip in 2012, the Munchkin spent one delighted, if wet afternoon going on the Flight of the Hippogriff ride over and over again while there was no queue!

In 2015, the highlight was the the Jurassic Park area, in particular, the River Adventure ride. I also have a massive sweet spot for the Suess Landing area of IOA, which is packed with lovely references to the books and has some of the most fun rides for the whole family of any theme park in the area. When in a silly mood, our family will still sometimes burst into spontaneous singing of the song from the One Fish, Two Fish ride!

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, Seuss Landing

We’ll be allowing 4 days for Universal, as they also have a water park now, Volcano Bay. With the Park-to-Park ticket, you can move between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure as much as you like throughout the day. This is definitely worth doing, as it gives you access to the Hogwarts Express and then you can assess queue times and adjust your touring plan based on crowd levels across the two parks, travelling back and forth to find the shortest lines.

Universal doesn’t offer guests any free Express Passes. You have to pay extra for these and the price is extremely steep, which is a major gripe I have with the parks. The price is simply going to be out of reach for a significant proportion of families, giving the wealthy a very different park experience to everyone else.

Disney gives every guest 3 FastPasses, with guests staying on site able to book them 60 days in advance. If you’re staying at some of Universal’s resorts you do also get the Express Pass included. So if Universal is your primary destination, rather than Walt Disney World, and you can afford one of the more luxurious resorts, then this perk is going to add heaps of value to your stay. It’s probably worth booking the better resort rather than one of the cheaper ones just for this, to be honest.

Universal is absolutely doable without the Express Pass, but you will have to be prepared to give some rides a miss or wait in 60-90 minute lines for a few of them. But with the app on your phone, you can keep an eye on wait times and dash about the park to jump into the shorter lines.

With young children, I’m not prepared to wait in a line longer than 30 minutes. It’s a waste of our valuable time in the parks.

Some other options for families trying to fit in as many rides as possible include:

  • Single Rider lines: these are usually much shorter than the main queue. So if you don’t mind splitting up for some rides, this can be an effective way to save time.
  • Parent Swap: for the bigger rides that your kids are too small for, parents can take advantage of the opportunity to wait in a special area near the exit with the kids while one parent rides, then when they exit the ride, the other parent can go straight on without having to stand in line.

Plan Your Top Picks

Now is a good time to look at park maps online and research things like height limits so you can start putting together a bucket list of individual attractions and dining experiences.

Disney announces park opening hours around 7 months ahead (any day now for us) so you can see which days the parks have Extra Magic Hours.

There is some debate over what to do about EMH in the WDW planning world! Some bloggers recommend avoiding the parks with EMH as the crowds are typically higher. While others suggest taking advantage of these longer hours in order to get the most value out of your park tickets.

I’m somewhere in the middle. What we found worked really well was booking a character breakfast inside a park with early opening. That way we get in well ahead of the queues and can get on a (gentle!) ride or two early before the crowds arrive after we’ve filled up on a good meal. Then we leave the park to chill out at the hotel or head to a different park for a while.

Likewise, the evening EMHs mean you can stay away during the heat of the day, then head back for the evening and enjoy the different atmosphere, watch the nighttime shows and events and ride some rides in the dark!

Once you know which parks have EMH on which days, and whether you want to attend or avoid the parks during these times, then you can make a rough plan for which parks to attend on which days. That way, when your ADRs become available you already know which restaurants you want to secure bookings for on which days and for which meals.

I plan our entire trip around these reservations because some of them are hard to come by! Cinderella’s Royal Table, for example, notoriously books out very quickly. So come countdown day 180, I will be at my computer with my list, ready to book as soon as the bookings open up for day 1 of our trip!!

On that note, I’m now going to give you a sneak peek at my Trello board for planning this vacation.

Trello board for planning a Florida vacation

This is my board. I have a column on the left for key dates to remember in our planning schedule.

Then a list for each park (not all pictured above). I’ve assigned coloured labels for each park to help see at a glance which park is detailed in which list. These labels will then come in useful in later lists for planning which park/s to do on which days.

In each list, I have cards for rides, attractions, dining and character meets for each park; both for old favourites and new things we want to prioritise this time.

Trello board for Orlando holiday planning

This is what a card looks like. A quick description of what’s on the card, followed by a checklist of rides we want to try.

Trello board for planning an Orlando vacation at Walt Disney World and Universal

On a Trello board, you create as many lists as you need, scrolling to the right to see more. This is the next section over. You can see the rest of our destinations here.

Trello planning board for our Florida holiday

Scrolling further over to the right, I have created lists for each day of our vacation and listed a preliminary destination on each card, although these are almost certain to change once we know the park opening hours.

As we add dining reservations and fast passes to our schedule, new cards will go into each list detailing our touring plans.

That about wraps up the planning for this month! Thanks for reading. I hope this post has been useful. Next month I’ll be going into greater depth on booking those Advanced Dining Reservations, and my top picks for places to eat.

Next Month: Advanced Dining Reservations

Planning a Florida vacation - It's not all about Disney! Universal, other Orlando attractions, planning your top things to do

Planning a Florida Vacation! – 8 Months To Go – Fit for Florida!

**I want to preface this post with my deepest sympathy for everyone affected by Hurricane Irma. The destruction is absolutely devastating. I can only imagine what it must be like to live through a storm like that. Please know that my thoughts are with the families of those affected.**

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights

8 Months To Go: FiT for Florida

A holiday at Walt Disney World and/or Universal is exhausting. I’m not going to sugar coat this. If you’ve never been before then you need to know. The first time we went I was nursing a 5-month-old baby, so I had to take frequent breaks in the shade to rehydrate myself and feed my little one. It was hard work but I was forced to take care of myself and not overdo it. It was actually a heap load more difficult the next time we went when our kids were 6 and 3 years old!

I didn’t have the “excuse” (it wasn’t, but you know what I mean) to sit down often anymore. I had two young kids with alternating bursts of energy and lethargy in the humidity. We were a large party with varied needs and it was tough to meet all of those.

The walking – oh! The walking! A day in a theme park of the scale we are talking about here involves walking for miles and miles. Are you ready for that? Are your kids prepared?!

What You Need To Consider

When it comes to being physically fit for a Florida vacation, it comes down to a few essentials:

  • The heat & humidity
  • The walking
  • Long days

Adults and kids alike will have varying degrees of ability to cope with the conditions of a Florida holiday. Hubby’s nephews, for instance, coped brilliantly with the long days and heat. I hardly heard a complaint from them and they were perfectly fine staying up late for the fireworks. My kids, on the other hand, were falling asleep at dinner on both previous trips and last time they both slept through different, very loud portions of Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (with ear defenders on, admittedly)!

So it comes down to your family and what your unique personalities and habits are like. Plan the holiday that is right for your needs.

Planning A Florida Vacation - Fit for Florida, getting fit for the heat and walking

The Heat & Humidity

It is hot. For those of us from the north of England, where 60% of our days are overcast and we rarely see temperatures over 25 degrees centigrade, going to a place with daily highs in excess of 30 degrees is a bit of a shock to the system!

In order to cope, you need to stay hydrated. A lot of us are kind of crap at drinking enough water. In order to rectify this flaw, I began tracking my fluid intake a while back, in my bullet journal, of course! One of my daily habits that I track is to drink 2litres of diluted squash. I have had a lot of trouble drinking water since I was a kid. I remember hating it by the time I was about 5 and for years I would instantly bring up any gulp of water that I tried to swallow. I could/would only drink soft drinks – squash, juice and fizzy pop.

I am determined to change that, but it takes time to re-wire the brain to accept something that it has rejected for 30 years! So I am slowly reducing the amount of cordial that I put into my One Green Bottle, gradually decreasing the concentration so that I can eventually get to only drinking water.

I’m doing pretty well! A few months ago it was almost impossible for my drink to be too strong, now I can’t stand it if it’s more than about 1 part squash to 8 parts water. I’m going to be drinking pure water by next May so that I can stay properly hydrated in Florida.

On previous trips, I have drunk a LOT of cola. The re-fillable mug they give you when you have the dining plan, or that you can buy if you don’t, makes it oh so easy to just keep chugging away on the fizzy drinks all day long. That’s not okay, folks! It won’t hydrate you properly and all that sugar can do terrible things to your body.

It’s also worth considering that the heavier you are, the harder it will be to cope with the humidity. All that extra body fat keeps you warm and you do not need to keep warm in Florida. You need to keep cool! All the water rides and shady outdoor spots in Walt Disney World will not mean a thing if you are so heavy you can’t walk a few yards without breaking into a sweat (this is me, BTW, and absolutely NO judgement directed at anyone reading, no matter what size you are).

Last trip, I found myself almost stumbling, zombie-like, from one air-conditioned building to another, barely able to breathe in the open air. To be fair, it was unseasonably hot for October, locals kept telling us so on all the bus rides around WDW. But it helps to be prepared for these sorts of conditions.

The Walking

Miles, seriously, every day. You will be walking a lot. Having a couple of pairs of great shoes will be essential. But better yet, be fit!

Do you regularly walk 3-5 miles per day? In the hot weather? If you do, then, great, you’re all set! But not all of us are so lucky. I drive almost everywhere and have lapsed into a very sedentary lifestyle. This is something I have tried to change in the past and always ended up reverting to old habits.

It’s hard, folks, I know it is. But with a holiday like this to motivate me, I know I can smash my fitness goals and make healthy choices for LIFE!

With only 8 months to go (just under at time of writing), I need to step things up a notch as I have yet to make much progress on this goal. I have an app on my phone that tracks my steps and my goal is to get my daily steps up to at least 10,000 on average.

Last week I rejoined the gym after about 2 years absence. Just telling myself to walk instead of taking the car wasn’t resulting in actual behaviour change. So it’s time to try something else.

I’m going to be doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) and lifting weights. The HIIT is the best kind of cardio training to increase heart health and build stamina. Weightlifting builds strength, which boosts the metabolism, which helps cope with heat too. I could write an essay on my exercise choices and why they are right for me, but you need to research this and decide what is right for you.

So, have a think about whether you need to increase your fitness to cope with all the walking you’ll be doing. Give yourself enough time to meet your goals too.

Long Days

A big part of why we are going for 3 weeks this time, instead of the more usual 2, is because none of us really manage well with really full, long days. If we’re going to really enjoy everything that this vacation has to offer, we want to be able to really take our time. It doesn’t suit us to hurtle from one ride to another with just the occasional break for food.

We want to enjoy the fireworks and other evening entertainment this time, instead of dozing through it. So we want to have leisurely afternoons at the hotel and head back out to the parks later. 3 weeks gives us more time to do this.

But the days will still be long. None of us is used to actively napping these days, so chances are we will be awake from early morning to midnight or beyond for many days of the holiday. Being fit and healthy will help with this too. The sleep we get will be deeper and more restful (being overweight can cause sleep apnea or snoring – which affects everyone in the room).

The Elephant in the Room

I have to mention this one, which is personal to me and won’t apply to everyone reading. I can’t look back at the photos from our previous trips that include me. I do not like seeing myself that big, and I’ve gotten much bigger since our last Florida vacation.

So my final Fit for Florida goal is to learn to love my body, whatever its size. I want to look back fondly and love the smile on my face in every picture. I don’t want to see a self-conscious, awkward me looking back at me from the photo album. Whether I achieve my physical goals or not (although I WILL), the one thing that absolutely has to change is how I feel about myself.

So I practice daily affirmations to send a little love to myself every day. I have phrases such as “I am beautiful – just as I am” and “I love and accept myself in every way”.

I’m also changing my visual diet. Evidence shows that the images we consume every day shape our feelings about bodies. People who frequently see very thin, unattainable body shapes, will only be attracted to those bodies and often feel negative towards their own body if it fails to measure up. Those who frequently view larger bodies are more likely to be attracted to larger bodies and feel better about their own size.

I’m never going to look like Kate Moss, nor would I wish to, my fitness goals don’t include fitting into a size zero. I want to be healthy, leaner than I am now, physically stronger, but most importantly, happy in my own skin (and fat and muscle).

In My Bullet Journal

Obviously, if you know me, you know I’m tracking all of this in my bujo. Never encountered that term before? Check out my introductory post here.

I have this spread near the start of my current journal to track my fitness goals for this vacation.

There are a couple of goals on this spread that I haven’t talked about in this post yet. Just to touch on them quickly:

Disney is really accessible. There are really no rides or attractions that are off limits due to a person’s size. Universal is a slightly different story. Wide hips can be problematic for some of the seats. So that top goal is about that. I don’t want to have to even worry unnecessarily about whether I will be too big to fit into a seat. It should just be a non-issue.

The other is that I have not always been great at avoiding foods that irritate my gut. I’ve gone through periods of avoiding dairy and gluten, but not stuck with it. I don’t really want our next big holiday marred by frequent dashes to the toilet because I ate something that bothered me! So I just want to increase my discipline there.

Planning a Florida Vacation - Fit for Florida in my bullet journal, bujo fitness inspiration

Having goals isn’t enough, you need action steps if you’re going to reach them, so these are listed here, along with mini-mouse goals at the bottom of the right-hand page 😉

I check back in with this spread often, reminding myself of my “why”, my goals and action steps.

Having something positive to look at is inspiring and is helping me to get closer to achieving my goals.

So, let me know in the comments what your fitness goals are for your Florida vacation! Had you given this a lot of thought already? Or are you just realising that this might be a good idea?

Next month I’ll be back to cover how we go about choosing which attractions top our wish lists and I’ll give you a sneak peek at my Trello board for planning this vacation.

Planning a Florida Vacation! – 9 Months To Go – Saving & Booking Flights!

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.

 

Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan

9 Months To Go: Saving & Booking Flights

So, you’ve booked your accommodation and it’s starting to feel a bit more real now. You’re actually going to Walt Disney World!

If you’re super sensible, then you didn’t even book until you had the total sum of your budget for the holiday in the bank. Or maybe you’re reading this well in advance of ever booking and are looking for saving tips to get you ready for booking. That’s fab. But if you’re anything like me, then you already booked and you’re realising now that you need to save thousands in time to pay for the damn holiday. Eek!

It’s okay, you’ve got this.

Your Budget

By this point you should be familiar with your budget; you know how much your entire vacation is going to cost. So now is the time to look at how much you have already paid up front for the deposit and how much you have already got saved up for the rest. The Worksheet that I shared back in the first post in this series will help you if you feel a bit lost here.

Your budget will be unique to you, so I don’t want to put figures into your head. Just remember to consider:

  • Accommodation
  • Flights/travel (inc to and from airports)
  • Travel expenses (food on the go, books or magazines for the journey etc)
  • Car hire
  • Parking
  • Food
  • Souvenirs
  • Park Tickets
  • Extra paid events e.g. shows like La Nouba (if you’re going to WDW this year, it finishes forever on 31st December 2017!) or seasonal parties like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
  • Laundry – some rooms and resorts have free laundry facilities, but you may need to budget for the machines and detergent

I’ve made a handy Florida Vacation Budgeting Worksheet for you to help you figure all of this out.

Saving Up

If you don’t already have several grand in the bank set aside for this, then you’re going to need to figure out how much money you need to put aside each month in order to be able to cover everything.

Take the total cost and divide it by the number of weeks or months until you need the total (remember that your bill for the accommodation will be due a few weeks before you travel, but you won’t need souvenir money until you’re actually there). This gives you a saving schedule to follow. So for example, if you need £5,000 and have 35 weeks to save up, you will need to put away £143 per week.

You can flip this around and start with how much you can realistically put away each week or month. Say you can manage £400 per month and have 9 months, then you can save £3,600 in total.

Using My Bullet Journal

If you’ve been following my other blog posts, you will probably know by now how much of a fan I am of the bullet journal! My bujo is used for all aspects of planning in my life, and this vacation is no exception. I have a spread for tracking my savings, another my fitness goals and various pages dedicated to planning notes.

There are an infinite number of ways you could track your savings and there are fantastic ideas on Pinterest, so check there for inspiration.

This is my spread.

Bullet journal spread for tracking my savings for our Walt Disney World vacation

Booking Flights

Flights tend to start being available to book around 10 months ahead of travel, so it’s around now that you can organise this part of your travel plans.

Prior to this, it’s impossible to get an accurate quote for the cost of your flight. You can search flights with different dates to get a rough idea, but as flight prices vary so much by season and how far in advance you are booking them, this isn’t a reliable method. This is the most significant hitch when it comes to budgeting for your Florida holiday. As a general rule, when we are planning a year in advance, we estimate flights at £500 per person. When it comes time to book flights, we try to find an airline offering flights for around this price.

While it is possible to get late deals on flights much closer to the time of travel, I don’t recommend relying on this in your budget. You might not be able to get flights for the right dates, and they might not be as cheap as you were hoping. It’s better to overestimate the cost and get a nice surprise saving, leaving you a little extra room in your budget for souvenirs or extras.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share on booking flights? Or on budgeting for a big family vacation like this? I love to hear from readers, so drop a comment below.

I’ll be back next month with my top tips for getting Fit for Florida!

Budgeting and saving money for your Walt Disney World Florida vacation
Budgeting for your Florida vacation - printable PDF worksheet

Unschooling – Why We Don’t Need Holidays

We’re an unschooling family.

With the schools breaking up for the summer, it seemed like the right time to talk about the fact that we don’t take a “school” holiday. There a lot of myths around home education, one of which being that we have to follow school terms. We don’t!

home education homeschooling taking vacations, we don't need holidays

What Is Unschooling?

There are a lot of special terms, or jargon, around education. So let’s just get this one out of the way. I described us as an “unschooling family”. What on earth does that even mean?!

Unschooling is an educational philosophy or style based on the principle that children have an innate curiosity and desire to learn and that traditional schooling actually damages this. The idea is that when children are allowed to direct their own education, they will gladly learn anything they are interested in, and crucially, retain the information far better than they do if they are force fed information.

When children come willingly to a topic, they genuinely want to know all they can and they will absorb the information, or develop the skill, with no need to be “taught” by someone else. They can acquire the information through a variety of sources, and it is the parent’s role to provide access to those sources.

No limits are placed on education, or no arbitrary ones, at least. We don’t follow a schedule, or have a bell that tells us “that’s enough maths, time for geography”. If they want to spend four hours measuring things, they can do so. If they want to obsess about dinosaurs for eighteen months, they can do so. This actually happened. The four hours measuring never did, that was just an extreme example to illustrate the point.

Educational Value in Everything

Those eighteen months where all the Munchkin and the Bean were interested in was dinosaurs were AMAZING. The level of obsession was a bit intimidating, sure, but they came through it with encyclopaedic knowledge.

We read books, looked at pictures, watched videos, did volcano experiments. They learned so much about the history of the planet, geology, palaeontology, fossilisation, and reproduction! Not to mention special effects in filmmaking.

That knowledge has stuck with them. The Munchkin is now reading, totally self-taught, and can confidently read words like “Carnotaurus”, “Diplodocus” and “Tyrannosaurus”.

Children are learning all the time, so by not placing limits on their learning, we don’t ever prevent them from learning something. That would damage their relationship with education, put them off, or hold them back. Likewise, we don’t insist on them learning anything.

We appreciate that learning is lifelong, they do not have to cram everything they will ever need to know into a fixed time frame. If there is something they need to know, according to their needs, not some prescribed idea imposed on them, they will learn it.

As they go through life, they may decide they need to know how to run a business, or bake a cake, or fix a car, or design a web page. Once they decide, they will know how to find out. That is the central ethos behind unschooling: ensure they love learning and know how to learn. Then they’ll be set for life.

We have never forced numeracy or literacy. Both of them are particularly attuned with numbers. We talk about maths all the time, we explain principles, we illustrate with examples – when they ask questions. As a result, the Munchkin has a profound grasp of the theory of mathematics. So he can figure out the answer to any sum he needs. He understands the principles. If we had drilled him in his times tables and made him learn by rote, I don’t believe he would a) love maths the way he does, or b) understand it.

Likewise with reading. I’m a writer and hubby is an avid reader, so this is super important to us. I was adamant that our children would love stories. I never wanted to put them off reading or writing. So there is no pressure to do either. The Munchkin is 8 now (yikes!) and has been read to almost every day of his life. Our home is filled with books and he sees his parents and grandparents reading all the time. In his own time, in his own way, he has learned to read.

It really only clicked this year, but I wasn’t worried because I knew that this is really common. That when children are given the space to direct their own education, they typically learn to read when they are ready, sometime between 6 and 10 years old.

Our education system pushes reading at ever younger ages. It was bad enough that four-year-olds were having to do reading home work. I hear now that some preschools are forcing toddlers into phonics lessons at two or three years old (parents talking in Facebook groups, I wish I could cite a source as I find this really shocking). To me, this is madness and the only certain outcome is a generation of people who, at best, tolerate reading when they must, at worst, despise it!

Learning While Living

Unschooling families don’t divide up learning from living. Education isn’t something that happens Monday to Friday, from 9 am until 3 pm. Learning happens all the time. When a child isn’t squashed into a time table, they are open to learning from all sorts of activities, at any time they are awake! Their brain even goes on processing information while the child is asleep.

We don’t have a “school room” or “learning area”, because of this basic philosophy. We don’t need to sit at a desk to learn. Really, home education is a bit of a misnomer. A great deal of our education happens outside the home. It happens at the park, in the woods, at museums, at the cinema, at friends’ houses. It happens in the car on our way places, around the table in a cafe.

We don’t follow an educational schedule and we don’t have term times and holidays.

Because learning is not separate from life, and because education is not a negative thing; hard work and unenjoyable; our kids don’t take breaks from it. They don’t get exhausted from needing to focus for six hours a day. They don’t need down time to just watch cartoons – they can watch cartoons whenever they like! They often choose to do other things, but even cartoons can provide learning opportunities.

I was once asked by a well meaning relative if I gave the Munchkin time off for the summer. This was when he was 4. I was so stunned by the question that I don’t think I gave a very good answer.

So let me say now what I wish I had said then:

He’s four. He plays all day, every day, enjoying his childhood. We don’t do sit-down, formal work. So no, I don’t “give him time off”. Time off from what? Being a happy, engaged child? No, I don’t. He is free to be that all the time, all year round.

He may be eight now, but the same is basically true. The Bean is five, so yeah, the above is totally on point for him.

freedom

We enjoy an enormous amount of freedom and I want my children to truly appreciate that.

When I say we don’t take holidays, I don’t mean that we don’t go away anywhere. We travel! We love to travel. But do we go to top tourist destinations in August? Er… no. We don’t. We avoid doing that deliberately!

One huge advantage to home educating is that we are free to travel all year round, whenever we like. We can take advantage of off-peak travel deals, saving us a lot of money! We can also pick quieter times, and avoid big crowds. We don’t have a school to answer to (or fines to pay) if we go off to the USA for three weeks.

Taking a “holiday” or “vacation” is a chance to get away from home and do different things, but the kids don’t “need” to do this in order to relax or get away from school stress.

Also, really crucially, because of our belief that learning is always happening, we totally acknowledge that there is a lot to be learned from travelling. Contrary to what the schools seem to be saying – that if you are on holiday, your child will fall behind because they need to be at a desk being forced to learn during set hours!

Some of it is obvious; visits to Rome or Athens or Egypt are obviously going to be enormously educational. History, culture, geography, art, architecture, politics, archaeology, all without really trying. But then there are the more subtle things, like using another currency, speaking and reading another language, coping with a different climate, entertaining oneself on a plane. These are all important skills.

Being part of the wider world, grasping globalism, understanding cultural differences; being shut in a school room simply doesn’t allow this sort of education to happen.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

I hope this post clears up any misconceptions you may have had. I hope you like what you’ve read and have a greater understanding of unschooling.

What are your thoughts? Is this something you would like for your family? Do you disagree with this approach? Polite debate is always welcome 😉