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 ūüėČ

Planning A Florida Vacation – 10 Months To Go – Dining Plan

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 Out – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months Out – Accommodation

10 Months To Go: Dining Plan

So, you’ve decided to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort and either created a short list, or already picked out the exact one. It’s time to book and time to decide about the Dining Plan. Is it right for you, or can you manage without?

For me, personally, this is the number one perk of staying at a Disney property. The Extra Magic Hours and complimentary transportation are nice, but nothing adds more value to a vacation than the Dining Plan.

3 Options

There are 3 basic tiers of Dining Plan. As you might expect, they increase in cost and value:

  • Quick-Service Dining Plan
  • Disney Dining Plan
  • Deluxe Dining Plan

I haven’t included prices in this post, as they are subject to change without notice. For up-to-date Dining Plan prices, check with Disney directly.

All three options work basically the same way. At the start of your vacation, your meal and snack credits are pre-loaded onto your Magic Band; a wristband that each guest can wear throughout their stay, which acts as room key, Fast Pass, park ticket and credit card (kids’ bands can’t be used to charge purchases to your credit card, don’t worry!) When you opt to pay for a meal or snack with your dining plan credits, you tap your Magic Band to a reader that the cast member has and the credit is deducted from the total.

It’s ridiculously simple and convenient!

Also, you don’t have to use your credits on a given day. Although you are allocated a certain number of credits “per night of stay”, you can use them whenever you like. If you really wanted, you could use them all on the first day or save them all until the last! But I don’t fancy eating that much food in one day. But if you venture off property for a couple of days, to check out Universal, for example, you don’t “lose” your Dining Plan credits for those days if you don’t eat at WDW. You can use them another day.

Snack credits can go a long way. A number of times on our last vacation, we got the kids their breakfast using just their snack credits. This left us two meal credits to use elsewhere. There are a number of tricks you can use to maximise the value you get from the dining plan. More on that later.

Quick-Service Dining Plan

The Quick-Service Dining Plan does what it says on the tin; each guest gets 2 quick-service meals per day, plus a drink (non-alcoholic) with each meal, 2 snacks per day, and a refillable mug. There are over 50 locations around the whole of WDW that you can redeem these foods and beverages at.

This is the cheapest option and really good value, especially if you aren’t that bothered about having table service meals. The moderate resorts often offer this tier of the dining plan for free when booking during promotions.

Disney Dining Plan

The middle tier is the one we had last time. With this plan each guest gets for each night of their stay:

  • 1 table service meal
  • 1 quick-service meal
  • 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable mug

You can redeem these credits at over 100 locations, and character dining experiences are included in the table/waiter service credits. Some dining experiences cost 2 table-service credits, but this often works out cheaper than booking without the dining plan.

This dining plan is the one included with deluxe resorts during promotions. We got it for free when we stayed at Saratoga Springs in 2015. We didn’t quite use all our credits. Just before boarding the coach to the airport at the end of the two weeks, we were rushing around the resort quick service dining area loading up on snacks that we could take on the plane!

Deluxe Dining Plan

I honestly can’t imagine ever needing this much food. Given that we left with credits to spare last time, and that the quick-service meals and snacks can still be substantial enough for the average person to only require one table service meal a day, this plan seems excessive to me! But if you really want to eat three huge meals at the best restaurants Walt Dinsey World has to offer every single day of your trip, then go for it!! Each guest, for each night of their stay, gets:

  • 3 table or quick-service meals
  • 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic drink per meal
  • 2 snacks
  • Refillable mug

You probably get the best value out of this plan by booking a deluxe resort with a promotion on the Disney Dining Plan and upgrading to this plan for a reduced cost.

When looking at your budget, make sure you check for Dining Plan promotions, because it may well be worth upgrading resort in order to get free dining. Without the Dining Plan, you’ll want to budget for food. Obviously, all families are different, but most will want to allow about $60-$100 per person per day. You can eat for less, especially if you buy groceries off-property and take hand-made lunches into the parks. But if you want convenience and sit-down meals more often than not, then the dining plan needs serious consideration. If a free dining plan is on offer when you book, and the difference in accommodation cost is less than your food budget, then don’t hesitate!

Dining Plan Hacks!

Walt Disney World Dining Plan Hacks to save money and get great value

On the surface of it, all three tiers of the Dining Plan look costly. But make sure you run the numbers and be realistic about how much food you eat and what it might cost without the Dining Plan. Then be sure to factor in these hacks in order to assess the full value of the dining plan.

  1. Turkey legs only use a snack credit, but they are HUGE! They could easily serve as a lunch on the go for one adult or two children!
  2. Be Our Guest offers a unique experience: you order from a monitor on entering, then take a seat and your food is brought to you. It’s a sort of quick/table service hybrid. But it counts as a quick service credit on the dining plan.
  3. Breakfast can easily be acquired using just snack credits. Muffins, croissants, fruit and drinks all use snack credits. Don’t be afraid to use snack credits for drinks throughout the day either!
  4. Epcot World Showcase offers delicacies from around the world as snacks. Strolling from one stall to another sampling these can make for a full meal.
  5. Some quick service meal options are much larger than others. For example, the breakfast bounty platters offer exceptional value for one quick service credit. Whereas the Mickey-shaped Waffles cost the same credit but are a much smaller portion. Without the dining plan, the bounty platter costs $11.49, whereas the croissant sandwich is $6.99, both use one quick service credit. Maximise the value you get by picking the more expensive options (or not! Your choice.)
  6. Character dining experiences give you the chance to load up and have a huge meal, as well as getting to meet your favourite Disney characters.
  7. Table service credits include dessert for lunch and dinner, but not breakfast. So only use a table service credit for breakfast if it’s a buffet, as you can eat as much as you like and maximise the value of the credit.
  8. The system doesn’t differentiate between adults and children’s credits, so if your child eats little and often, you can use spare adult snack credits to keep them going.
  9. You can use a quick service credit to purchase 3 snacks.
  10. For kids who are big eaters, they can get adult portions with their meal credits.

I hope this post has given you some insight and helps you decide whether to purchase the Dining Plan or not. What are your thoughts? Any questions or comments very welcome below. I try to reply to everyone.

Happy planning!

Sizzling Summer Travel Must-Haves

Setting your sights on your summer get-away? Make sure you’re prepared with these top 5 must-have travel items!

 

top summer travel essentials for family vacations

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.

Whether we’re travelling or not, and we often don’t during peak summer season due to costs and crowds, I still enjoy this season. I’m a Leo and crave sunshine. Like Superman, it gives me my mojo! Although, I should add that I don’t have any Kryptonian super powers ūüė¶

But if I’m not adequately prepared for the hotter days and any travelling we do, the summer can be a lot more challenging!

These are my top 5 must-have items for summer and travelling with kids.

Sun Cream

This is my top priority for the summer, whether we’re staying close to home, or venturing somewhere hotter. Getting enough vitamin¬†D is super important, so I let my little ones get some direct sun on their skin as often as possible. After about 20 minutes, however, I make sure that all of our skin in protected.

I prefer to use natural sun cream and avoid chemicals. We use a number of Green People products, including this fab Organic Children Sun Lotion. It has a nice high SPF to protect our fair skin, is not sticky, spreads nicely and is really reliable. It contains no harsh chemicals.

swim safety

The Munchkin and Bean love being in the water, but they aren’t confident swimmers yet. It gives me enormous peace of mind to be able to let them swim, splash and play in the pool or shallow waters of the sea without me hovering nearby. They’re at the stage where they want more independence. These float jackets from Splash About provide them with that.

Float jackets¬†have a significant advantage over armbands; they don’t get in the way of the arms or require the wearer to adopt unnatural¬†swimming positions. The Splash About jacket has removable floats so you can adjust it to your child’s ability. My two kids love theirs!

Travel Sleep Kit

Travelling with kids is never easy! If you’re taking a long flight or train journey, then getting some rest, if at all possible, seriously helps. I’ve never been able to sleep properly in the standard economy plane or train seats as I find it hard to get comfortable and tune out the environment. Last time we took a long haul flight, all four of us were awake the entire time. It was an overnight flight too, so we literally lost a night’s sleep! It was hell driving back from the airport after we landed!

If you’re travelling with another adult, taking turns to rest, while the other is on child duty, can help make the journey easier on everyone. If like me, you struggle to do that, you can get sleep aids that really help. A good neck support and eye mask can help you find a comfortable position and give your body the darkness it needs to shut down and sleep. Ear plugs help in a noisy environment too. These handy travel kits pack down nice and small to fit in carry-on luggage.

Trunki

This has to be my favourite travel essential! My kids have one Trunki each and they have saved my skin more than once! Last year, I took the kids away to Majorca on my own. This was a big deal for me, as I had never taken them abroad without the hubster. It was such hard work and not something I am keen to repeat! But I am so glad I did it.

Coming home, the kids were tired, hungry and grumpy. Getting them through the airport would have been an absolute nightmare if it hadn’t been for their Trunkis. These hand-luggage-sized suitcases can fit a lot of toys and books, a change of clothes and any other travel essentials. But crucially, the kids can ride on them like little ride-on toys! They can also pull them along using a strap. On this particular trip, the check in queue was monstrous. But the kids were able to rest their aching feet by sitting on their Trunkis and could shuffle their way through the line without getting too bored or frustrated.

Many curious travellers alongside us in the line were looking on with envy, and an elderly couple behind us were deeply impressed by them (the kids, as well as the Trunkis!)

I swear, for as long as the kids are small enough to ride on them, I will never travel without their Trunkis! They come in a range of colours and designs to suit the tastes of any child. We have one in the original blue, but also this gorgeous Trunkisaurus Rex!

Busy Bags

Finally, keeping the young ones occupied during a long journey can be a challenge. There are only so many rounds of Eye Spy an adult can play before cracking up. Be it a car journey, or train or plane, busy bags are invaluable!

The idea is to fill a small bag, small ziplock or sandwich bag sized (you can literally use these by the way) with activities for the kids to do whilst sat in their seats. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for this.

One great option is this handy dry-erase book. It’s potentially hours of entertainment bundled up in one small package. The book contains several pages of light weight white board that kids can draw on with water-based pens. It can be used for games of hangman, noughts and crosses, doodling, and anything else your child can think of. When the pages are full, wipe them clean and start again.

That wraps up my top 5 travel essentials. I love to hear from readers, so please drop a comment below to let me know what you couldn’t travel without this summer!

Planning A Florida Vacation – 11 Months To Go

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 Out – Initial Planning

11 months to go: accommodation

Last month I talked about¬†figuring out your budget and how this would determine an awful lot of the rest of your decisions, such as duration and accommodation. Well, today I’m going to talk¬†you through your accommodation options. Not all of them, because, you know, this is one of the top tourist destinations on the planet. There are literally thousands of places to stay!

Your most basic options come down to this:

  • A Walt Disney World property (often described as “on-property”)
  • A Universal Resort
  • Another local hotel
  • A private villa

Deciding which of these four options is best for your family comes down to a few basic, interlinked factors. The size of your family/travel party, your budget, where you intend to spend most of your time, what amenities are important to you, whether you want to hire a car or not, and how immersed you want to be.

I can’t tell you the answers, but hopefully, you went through the worksheet and figured some of this out.

off-property

A villa is great if there are quite a few of you. It can work out much cheaper than booking multiple rooms at a hotel. You also get privacy, your own pool, and can save money on food. The disadvantages of this option are that you absolutely have to hire a car and pay parking fees at the theme parks. You also miss out on significant perks of staying on-property, which also goes for the other non-Disney options. Although Universal has its own perks for guests staying there.

Local hotels can also be an economical choice if you are a family of 5 or less. Often the Orlando resorts will provide coaches to the theme parks, so a car isn’t always essential. You also get to retreat from the Disney experience at the end of the day, which might be essential for some members of your family. Or perhaps you’re only planning to spend a day at Magic Kingdom, and visit plenty of non-Disney attractions during your stay. In which case, it makes little sense to stay at a Disney resort. There is certainly plenty to see and do besides WDW. But more on this in a few months time!

universal

Universal now has several resorts to choose from, none of which are cheap, by any means, but there are two value options that offer the convenience of being nearby and early entry to the parks. The edge that the luxury resorts have, aside from the obvious luxury, is that you also get Universal’s queue-jumping perk included in the price.

The queues at Universal can get pretty monstrous and the only way to beat them is to buy their Express Pass on top of your park ticket. This is an extremely expensive option, costing upwards of $49.99 per person per day. It’s perfectly possible to manage without it, we have done so on all but one day that we have spent in the Universal parks. You can check the queue times and hop straight to rides with low waits, but this might result in missing out on a ride or two if the line never gets below an hour.

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time at Universal and can justify the financial cost, then staying at one of the luxury resorts to get this perk might save a little money on buying the Express Pass separately.

on-property

I’m unashamedly biased. This is our preferred option. It isn’t the cheapest option, but booking in advance in the UK holds a significant appeal: free dining. Disney offers three tiers of dining plan (well, four if you include the resorts that offer a breakfast only option) and for UK visitors booking the year prior to visiting, most resorts offer one of these dining plans for free. It’s a great money saver, not to mention the convenience of having the majority of your food paid for in advance. I’ll go into more detail on the dining plan in my next post because it deserves a post of its own. Guests from the USA can often pick up dining plan offers when booking in advance as well, but the offers vary. It’s worth keeping an eye on the WDW blogs for updates of offers if this applies to you.

Staying on-property also has other advantages. Disney provides various modes of transport around the vast World; bus, monorail and boat. All free. They also offer free car parking to guests staying at a WDW resort. So if you still want to hire a car for getting about then it’s not going to cost you an extra $20 a day to visit a Disney park. The other significant benefit is Extra Magic Hours; on certain days one of the parks opens early or closes late for guests staying at a Disney resort.

the Walt Disney Resorts

If you decide to go with a Disney resort, you then have a bigger choice: which one? There are nearly 30 options!

In the last post, I asked you to think about what kind of vacation you want. Whatever you’re after, Disney can provide it. Laid back comfort? Life on the wild side? Rustic charm? Sheer luxury? You got it.

wdw resorts,hotels, Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Pop Century, Wilderness Lodge Cabins

Disney resorts by location

The first thing to consider is where in Walt Disney World you want to stay. Which park do you anticipate spending most time at? It makes sense to stay in the vicinity of that park. So to help you out, here is each resort listed by resort area. I also recommend you take a look at the official WDW map.

Magic Kingdom

  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Village Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Bay Lake Tower

Epcot (also close to Hollywood Studios)

  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Carribean Beach Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn & Villas
  • Swan Hotel*
  • Dolphin Hotel*

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are third party hotels located on WDW property. You still get some benefits of staying at a Disney resort, but they aren’t strictly considered to be WDW properties.

Animal Kingdom

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • All Stars Resorts – Music, Sports & Movies

ESPN wide world of sports area

  • Art of Animation Resort
  • Pop Century Resort

Disney Springs

  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter

resorts by category (price range)

You’ll probably want to cross reference the above list with the one that follows: each resort by category. Disney has three categories for its resorts; Value, Moderate and Deluxe. There are also Deluxe Villas and the campground at Fort Wilderness. The villas are essentially suites with basic kitchen facilities in-room, with separate bedroom/s and living area.

value resorts

The Value resorts offer basic, motel-like accommodation. You can expect these resorts to be clean, well-maintained, with excellent customer service and serviceable amenities. The pools are fun and simple, as is the food. The rooms tend to be on the smaller side, while the buildings can be quite spread out, requiring a lot of walking to travel between your room and the communal areas. If you’re on a tight budget or are not planning to spend a great deal of time at the hotel, then these resorts are perfectly suitable.

  • Pop Century
  • All-Star Resort – Music
  • All-Star Resort – Sports
  • All-Star Resort – Movies
  • Art of Animation (worth noting that this resort is priced like a moderate resort)

moderate resorts

This tier offers more comfort and variety than the Value resorts. The pools have more features and some of these resorts have table service dining options. It’s usually worth upgrading to one of these resorts if you can. Free Quick Service Dining is also available from the UK at these resorts.

  • Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Port Orleans – Riverside
  • Port Orleans – French Quarter
  • Coronado Springs Resort
  • Cabins at Fort Wilderness

deluxe resorts & villas

If you want to really indulge, then these resorts offer genuine luxury and exemplary facilities. Rooms and villas have more space, there are more dining options and the pools are stunning. Some resorts have spa facilities. The theming is also more detailed and immersive. Advanced bookings from the UK get Disney Dining Plan free for these resorts.

  • Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Polynesian Resort
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Beach Club Resort
  • Yacht Club Resort
  • Boardwalk Inn
  • Contemporary Resort
  • Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Old Key West Resort
  • Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Bay Lake Tower
  • Villas at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village & Jambo House
  • Boardwalk Villas
  • Beach Club Villas
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Wilderness Lodge

You can pick up rooms at these resorts at lower rates if you book at the right time. Last time we went we stayed at Saratoga Springs and we almost booked this resort again for this trip as it crops up among the cheaper options this far in advance.

Each resort has its pros and cons, and it takes time to read up on each. Hopefully, this post will help you to narrow down your options. For in-depth reviews of the resorts, and details about their individual amenities, decor, and so on, I highly recommend Disney Tourist Blog.

For what it’s worth, we are staying at Port Orleans – Riverside next year, after MUCH deliberation! Animal Kingdom Lodge is also high up on my wish list. I love to hear from readers, so if you have a strong preference for a resort, or if you have any questions, do please leave a comment and I will do my best to reply.

That’s all for now, folks. Happy planning!

How to Plan a Florida Vacation!

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.

We are planning to go in May 2018, and we began planning last month, about one year ahead. So please consider this post the 12 months out step, even though it’s now 11 months until we go. I’ll publish an update every month to guide you through the planning each step of the way.

Now, the kids know nothing about this yet! A year is a long time to have two small people constantly asking if we go tomorrow! So, we’ll be surprising them with the big news much nearer the time. It’s your call how you approach this. Maybe your kids are a bit older and would enjoy being part of the initial planning stages. If so, go for it! I’m looking forward to the days when my gang can help pick the resort we stay at without going crazy waiting for departure day!

So, the first thing you need to do, about a year ahead of travelling, is take some time to consider these four elements:

  • Budget
  • Duration of stay
  • Your party, and any unique needs
  • What kind of vacation you want this to be

Let’s get into some detail…

Budget

Maybe you already have the funds saved up, this is definitely the sensible way to do it. But perhaps you are budgeting in advance, knowing you will have it all covered in time. Either way, you need to know your budget before you book. This will help you determine everything else, from where you stay, how you travel, how long you go for, whether you get the dining plan or not… everything.

You should think about what you are comfortable spending on each of these general categories:

  • Accommodation
  • Flights/travel
  • Food
  • Souvenirs
  • Car Hire
  • Park Tickets

Now, some of these are relatively fixed, such as park tickets, but others are highly variable. Your budget will likely play a significant role in determining whether you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, a Universal one, or another hotel or villa off site. There are pros and cons to each of these options, which I will talk about more in my next post in the series. Where you decide to stay will also determine whether you decide to rent a car or not. If you’re staying on property at WDW, and are not planning to check out much else in or near Orlando, then you probably don’t need to hire a car. Guests staying on site have access to free Disney transportation between parks and resorts, and on the whole, it’s pretty good. When we went in 2012, we just hired a car for a few days when we scheduled out days at Universal. This kept the costs down. We managed just fine without a car for the rest of the two weeks we were there, despite having a small baby with us.

It’s easy, when browsing package vacations online or in brochures, to see the cost per person and think it seems totally reasonable and doable, without thinking of the other costs associated with the trip. Don’t forget about eating while you’re there! This can be extremely costly. There are ways to mitigate the costs and save a bit of money, again, there will be more on this in a later post, but you need to factor it into your budget from the outset. Same goes for other spending money whilst away, and any other parks or destinations you intend to visit whilst in Florida, such as Sea World, the Kennedy Space Centre, Busch Gardens, and so on.

Duration

This will be determined by your budget and the needs of your family. When I was 11, me and my parents went to Orlando for just 5 days and had a blast. We only went to Magic Kingdom,¬†of the WDW parks, but we also went to Wet ‘n’ Wild, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens.

The two times I have been as an adult, with my young children and all of my husband’s family, we went for two weeks. When travelling from thousands of miles away, it’s a good idea to consider the time it takes to travel, the recovery from that (hello, jetlag), and how long you will need to make the most of your trip. It’s often very economical to go for two weeks instead of one, with the price not being as much more as you might think.

But for our next trip, we are going all out and staying for three weeks! This might sound crazy to some folks, but for us, it makes a lot of sense. Both our previous trips were interrupted with brief illnesses (I blame economy flights and all those germs percolating in a pressurised cabin). There is so much to do, especially if you want to go away from Disney for a bit, and the weather is so hot for most of the year – us Brits with fair complexions have to think about our sun exposure! Both previous trips were exhausting and we would prefer to pace ourselves. When you stay at a Disney resort, one of the perks is Extra Magic Hours; when one of the parks opens early or stays open late for resort guests. When you can plan to take advantage of this, you can easily retreat from the sun and busy parks during the peak of the day (roughly 12 noon-3pm), then head back out late afternoon for a few more hours.

We want to do this and still have time to do everything we want to do. We don’t want to be contending with blisters, sunburn, fatigue and so on; all perils of this kind of holiday.

Your Party

This is very much wrapped up in the above point; consider who is travelling with you and what they need from the experience. How many adults? How many children? Anyone with accessibility needs? Anyone autistic? These things will be important in deciding where you stay and how long for. What are the unique needs of your party?

Last time we went, we were a party of 5 adults, and 6 children, including a baby only a couple of months old. One of the adults had recently had a hip replacement, too. So we had to consider this in deciding where to stay and how to structure our vacation. For example, we hired cars for the entire duration, rather than just a few days like the previous trip, so that we had more transport options for the less mobile members of our family.

What Kind of Vacation Do You Want?

This might seem like a daft question, but it really isn’t. It’s not a simple matter of Florida = Theme Parks and Thrills. A Florida holiday can be a slow and relaxing one; with ample golf, sunbathing, and spa treatments. It might involve exclusively Disney, or completely avoid WDW! You might want the high-adrenaline of Universal at Halloween¬†(totally on my bucket list for when the kids are older!),¬†or the awesome experience of seeing a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. All mod cons and luxury? Or rustic wilderness?

Disney has a resort for everything. Never mind the myriad of non-Disney options.

If you’ve decided on staying at a Disney resort, think about which park or parks you’re likely to visit most on your vacation. If you have young children, that’s likely to be Magic Kingdom; older kids might be keen to spend several days at Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios; adults only may get most out of Epcot (though there is lots for kids too!). Consider this when looking at the resorts and their locations. Think about transport. WDW is huge, it can be a fairly long bus ride out to Animal Kingdom, for example, so if that’s your top destination, consider staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

My point is: do your research!

I highly recommend the following sites for all your Florida vacation prep needs (I am not affiliated with any of these sites or companies and only ever recommend people or products that I have used myself):

Walt Disney World – official travel site

WDW Prep School

Disney Tourist Blog

WDWInfo

Universal Orlando – official site

And you can’t beat Pinterest! Check out my Florida board!

Now, I’ve gone and dumped a whole load of information on you, I’m sorry. After what I said up top about overwhelm. Well, I want to help you beat the overwhelm and plan the vacation of a lifetime! So take a look at my free printable worksheet. This should help guide you through the initial planning stage and focus your thoughts. I’ve also included a basic planning schedule, with reminders of when you will need to organise the different aspects of your trip and plenty of space for notes.

WDW Walt Disney World vacation holiday planning worksheet free printable

Florida Vacation Planning Worksheet

Camping With Kids – The Low-Stress Way!

Bell TentAugust is here, though it doesn’t feel like it here in Yorkshire, as we’ve had plenty of rain over the last few weeks. For most families August means summer holidays. As a home educating family, we can take our holidays all year round and take advantage of lower prices and smaller crowds. But for those who have little choice but to go away during the school summer holidays, now is the time to pack up the car and go in search of sun, sea, sand, or whatever recreation the family are hungry for.

We went camping a few weeks ago, so I thought I would share some of my hints and tips for making camping with kids a better experience. We love camping, or at least, I love the idea of it, somehow the reality often doesn’t quite measure up. So I hope that by getting these thoughts down in a blog post I can be better prepared to follow my own advice in future!

Let’s start with some MUST DO tips.

1. Research your campsite. Get online. There are some great websites¬†to help you find the perfect site, many of which allow you to search by preferred amenities as well as location. You can also talk to other parents who go camping and get their recommendations. There are Facebook groups dedicated to family camping, so check them out and ask for other people’s favourites campsites.

We’ve stayed at a few places around the UK, but only revisited a site once. Jasmine Park near Snainton, North Yorkshire, has been our destination of choice two years running. The facilities are great and the kids love it there. It’s also the ideal location for us as we love the beach and forest equally, and Jasmine Park sits right between Scarborough and Dalby Forest,¬†with Whitby, Filey and other wonderful beaches a reasonable drive away, as well as attractions such as Flamingo Land and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The Munchkin Going Ape @ Dalby Forest

The Munchkin Going Ape @ Dalby Forest

2. Figure out what to do. Do you want to spend most of your time on-site? Or use the tent as a place to bed down between¬†outbound adventures? That will help you decide on the best campsite, but it also sets the tone for your trip. My kids love running around the campsite and finding other kids to play with, they also like having all their amenities on hand, with food and toilets just a quick dash away. But I enjoy getting off site and exploring. I also suffer with hayfever, so in the height of summer being on grass, near bushes and trees is a recipe for disaster. Getting to the beach or into a town or city suits me best. So we try to balance everyone’s needs with a combination of on-site frivolity and local exploration. Luckily the kids do love adventure too, so it’s great to get out and enjoy doing lots of fun things together. The Munchkin is particularly partial to Go Ape, which is why we love camping near Dalby Forest.

3. Be prepared! Especially in Britain, with our delightfully unpredictable weather! Pack for every kind of weather. Last summer it was tipping it down when we arrived and, knowing that we would have to get the tent up while the kids wanted to roam, I put them in their waterproofs and wellies and sent them off to explore while then-hubby and I got the tent up and unpacked the car. We then had glorious weather for several days and needed repeat applications of suncream while at the beaches. I’m a list person, so I make a packing list for all our trips and my camping lists run to two columns of a full page of A4! There’s a great resource here at Bring the Kids for those who need a hand getting started.

Remember that the nights will be colder, so take blankets as well as sleeping bags, and jumpers to throw on for midnight loo-dashes. And don’t forget the pillows! I usually do, so we end up using rolled up towels and getting up in the morning with impressions on our cheeks.

Now, what mistakes have I learned from? What should you NOT DO?

1. Don’t take too much food. Following on from my last tip on being prepared, I have historically packed way too much food to take camping. It starts with this idea that we’ll all be sat around a BBQ eating sausages for breakfast and dinner, then we have to take plenty of snacks to satisfy the bottomless pits that are my children’s stomachs. However, what always happens is we end up throwing out some meat and other fresh items that spoil in the hot tent, and bringing home three shopping bags full of snacks because we were all too busy to be snacking all day.

Lesson learned. Take nothing! Or the bare minimum, then once on site and unpacked, head to the local supermarket, or village shop and stock up on essentials that absolutely will get eaten.

2. Don’t stay too long. Last year we booked an entire week, but ended up coming home early as we were all too tired and fed up to make it to the end of the week. All families are different, so be realistic about how long is long enough for yours. 3 nights is my absolute max in a tent. What with the hayfever and “joy” (note: sarcasm) that is an airbed. Of course, I could invest in proper campbeds to make sleep more comfortable. A friend of mine has the most amazing camping gear, with enormous bell tent and campbeds (pictured at the top of this post), which looks very comfortable.

Photo by Arup Malakar courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo by Arup Malakar courtesy of Creative Commons

3. Don’t forget to have fun. Being on holiday with children can be deceptively stressful and camping can sometimes highlight that stress. The weather goes against you, people get tired and grumpy, you run out of something essential, you don’t get enough sleep. But hopefully these tips will help mitigate most of that. Focus on the positives. Chances are the kids will love most of it, no matter how much or little you plan to do or what you do or don’t pack. Enjoy their enjoyment, live vicariously and savour those moments away from the hum drum of normality. These are the bits you’ll look back and remember, not the day to day grind, but the fun and adventure.

I hope these camping tips help you plan the perfect camping holiday. I haven’t covered camping abroad, as we haven’t done that yet. So if you have any tips on that I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Likewise if there are any other essential camping tips that work for your family do please leave a comment.

We’re jet-set in a few months, flying off to Florida for two weeks with extended family. So I’ll be blogging about the plans and preparation for that and then a post or two afterwards about how it went, so do please hit the follow button for updates to your inbox.

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