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!