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!

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