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

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

Next Month: Accommodation