Thanks so much for the kind welcome! As I mentioned in my first post, this post will be full of logistics and is quite long. Then – it’s on to the fun stuff!
Travelers: Our family of four – me, my husband, and our two sons – ages 5 and 8. We had some local family and adventurous grandparents join us for a long weekend at the end of the trip. The local family ended up coming just for resort days. The grandparents spent two park days with us.
Accommodations: 3-bedroom condo at Windsor Hills
Notes: The Windsor Hills community was 10-15 minutes from all Disney parks and had a great pool area. Walmart was practically across the street, and we loved the ease and savings of ordering groceries online and picking up. While we had the cost of the rental car, we felt that the less expensive price per night, the ability to eat most meals in the unit, and being able to spread out made it worth being outside “the bubble”. Because our flight home was late at night and we were traveling two small children, we did pay for an extra night in case our flight got canceled so that we could at least have a place to sleep without a scramble – luckily, we didn’t need it! As a point of reference regarding savings, in August 2021, we asked a Disney travel agent to quote us accommodations with a separate sleeping space on property – the most budget-friendly option at the time was a suite at Art of Animation; 11 nights in our 3-bedroom condo was equivalent to 4 nights in a suite at AoA. With kids who still nap and are not night owls, the decision to stay off-site became instantly clear. We were pleasantly surprised by how close Windsor Hills was to the parks and how easy it was to get in and out for a midday break. We left the park almost every day to have lunch and take a nap, which was four hours away, and never felt much inconvenience. My husband is recovering an injury that impacts his mobility and, in the middle of the trip, we opted to pay for preferred parking on days when we’d be leaving the park so that we were guaranteed a spot up close when we came back from our breaks to minimize the walking he’d have to do after a busy park day. This ended up being three days in total and was worth the money for us. Funny how spending an extra $20 can make you feel like a VIP! We were a bit envious of the easy accessibility for people staying at monorail resorts and, at a point we had considered renting DVC points, but it just didn’t make sense for us this trip – maybe when we come back when the boys are older!
Car Rental: Budget using Undercover Tourist discount
Notes: While we experienced significant savings by booking through Undercover Tourist and the car itself was perfect for our needs, the pickup counter at the airport was undoubtedly the worst part of our trip. We came in at night with two tired kids to face a long line that took over 90 minutes to get through. We were also “lucky” to have prepaid through Undercover Tourist – they ran out of cars for many of the families in front of us who had not prepaid! While we saved considerable money, it was hard to keep that perspective when standing in a line of 30+ people late at night and looking at the empty Hertz counter next door…
Stroller Rental: Orlando Stroller Rentals
Notes: This rental was one of the best logistical parts of our trip. The stroller was delivered right outside of our condo door, communication was great, and stroller was in perfect condition. They even accommodated us when we asked to keep the stroller for a little longer at the last minute. With older children, we felt a double stroller would be too cumbersome and slow us down. We reserved a single BOB Revolution (the same stroller we have at home), knowing that the kids could take turns if tired, that it would fit in the trunk of our rental car, and that we knew the features well. It worked out perfectly!
Travel Dates: August 6-16
Notes: In our early planning stages, we went back and forth about a shorter trip during the school year or a longer (hotter) summer trip. We have some local family and knew that we would likely get together at some point during this trip. Our jobs and the kids’ school calendar prevent us from traveling at any other time than the major school break times, so we picked heat over crowds. We settled on going as late into August as we possibly could while giving us a week to get back into our routines before school started. We intentionally booked for the week when local Florida kids were going back to school. It looks like crowd levels dipped a bit compared to July but definitely not as low as late August / early September. While it was hot, we were prepared and had no problem managing it. Because we knew we would have family joining us at some point, it made sense to tack a few extra days on. This would allow us to get five full park days doing things at our own pace and two “bonus” days with the extended family without the pressure of balancing different priorities, schedules, or interests (also, when we invited the grandparents to join us for park days, we did so with the caveat that park days would be on our schedule and they were great about that). The trip was a great length for our family. We could move at a leisurely pace, take breaks in the heat of the day, and enjoy both the parks and the pool area at Windsor Hills. It also allowed us to have almost a week together as a family of four before having family join us for a few days – a great balance.
Tickets: 7 one-day park tickets booked through AAA
Notes: I researched many ticket purchasing options, and AAA ended up offering the best price. We originally bought 6-day tickets but realized we could add a 7th day for a total of $80 more. It was easy to add through the MDE app before our trip, and the price difference didn’t change even though we had bought discounted tickets through AAA. Spending a little more for an extra day was worth it to us so that we could have a more relaxed pace and feel like we could come and go as we wanted. We opted to save some money by skipping Park Hoppers, which we didn’t miss at all. We did end up buying Genie+ for the four days we spent at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (more on that in other posts!), but we did not buy any ILL. I spent a lot of time planning and analyzing to maximize Genie+. In the end, I am not sure that I needed to do all of that. It was helpful to look at Becky’s videos and blog posts on TP about when attractions sell out to help me prioritize. Once there, I realized that just having a good itinerary and then keeping an eye on return times that matched that itinerary worked best. I ended up using a combination of book-and-use and stacking depending on the park and our plans for the day.
- Packing: I was worried about the heat and read a lot about what people packed for summer at Disney. We ended up packing two big water bottles every day in a small cooler bag that we tucked under the stroller. We also took wet cooling towels, which we kept in the cooler bag. I bought a neck fan and misting stroller fan on Amazon and two cheap fans on strings at the dollar store. I am not sure that the fans actually helped, but the kids liked them (if I were to do this trip over again, I’d save money and skip the Amazon fans and just go with dollar store fans). I also bought liquid IV, but we didn’t use it at all. Water bottles and midday breaks in AC were enough.
- Food: We planned to eat one meal at the parks every day, a mix of Quick Service and Table Service. We ate all breakfasts and almost all lunches back at the condo. We also planned to pack our own snacks. Aside from a Mickey pretzel in Hollywood Studios and some candy in the Germany pavilion at Epcot, we stuck to this plan (even better than I expected!). This decision about dining was equal parts budget and keeping kids happy on our trip. Our boys were glad to have a cold applesauce pouch and some Cheez-Its as an in-park snack and didn’t know what they were missing. We kept breakfast and lunch foods similar to what they eat at home, and the dinners out felt novel and fun.
- COVID Safety: We have been very cautious during COVID, and this part of our trip was making me the most nervous. In the weeks leading up to our trip, it seemed there were a lot of people posting on the forums returning home from great trips but also with COVID. I didn’t want anyone to get sick, and I also didn’t want to miss any part of our 10-day vacation. We masked up in tight indoor places and on all transportation. We also tried to do indoor dining in my more open spaces when possible – I made backup plans in case I got nervous about being too close to others unmasked indoors but, in the end, didn’t change any dining plans due to COVID worries. The kids wore masks on lanyards and we bought trip insurance the week before we left. In the end, we made it through the whole trip feeling great and returned home COVID-free!
- Memory Maker: We “splurged” on MemoryMaker and felt it was absolutely worth it. I was on the fence about because I wasn’t sure my family would willingly stop to take pictures. My husband insisted that – this being our only trip while our children were small – it was worth the cost to have good family pictures. While we didn’t seek out every photographer, we got plenty of great shots and it was awesome to have us all in pictures. The length of our trip probably made it even more worth the money. We had some trouble finding a few ride photos, but these were easily found at counters in parks. Here’s what I learned - some of our photos weren’t missing, they were just scanned with my husband’s card and there was a setting in the app that needs to be adjusted to something like “see all photos” not just your own. Check this first. If you still can’t see them, make a list of the missing photos with a note about the date and time of when you were on the ride. The photo people can find pictures from any park on any day and pull them up for you to look through, so you can find all the missing photos at once at the end of your trip. This seemed much faster than calling customer service to find them (which I tried to do midtrip and would have been a 45-minute wait) or stopping every day that a photo was missed.
- MagicBands: I was least confident about this going into the trip as an infrequent visitor and offsite guest. I didn’t want to pay $80+ for four MagicBands knowing that we would only use it for this trip but wasn’t sure how Genie+ and PhotoPass would work smoothly without them. On our first day, which was not a park day, we took the monorail over to Magic Kingdom to pick up physical cards and it went smoothly after that! No need for a MagicBand! We could use the cards to tap into rides for Genie+ and just tapped our cards to link ride photos or photos with PhotoPass photographers.
Sat, Aug 6: late night flight into Orlando, pick up rental car, get settled at Windsor Hills
Sun, Aug 7: pool day, dinner at Chef Mickey’s
Mon, Aug 8: Animal Kingdom (dinner at Flame Tree Barbecue)
Tues, Aug 9: Magic Kingdom (dinner at Columbia Harbour House)
Wed, Aug 10: pool day, dinner at Medieval Times
Thurs, Aug 11: Hollywood Studios (dinner at Sci-Fi Dine-In)
Friday, Aug 12: Magic Kingdom (lunch at Skipper’s Canteen)
Sat, Aug 13: Jedi Training with Justin Aldridge, pool day
Sun, Aug 14: pool morning, Hollywood Studios (dinner at Docking Bay 7)
Mon, Aug 15: Epcot (dinner at Biergarten)
Tues, Aug 16: Epcot, late night flight home
Notes: My husband and I went through various iterations of the itinerary before settling on this one. We wanted to keep the kids as rested as possible by balancing early mornings with late nights, building in rest days after every third day etc. We also took into account the general advice about avoiding Magic Kingdom on Mondays, Epcot on weekends during Food and Wine, etc. We also knew visiting grandparents wanted to go to Hollywood Studios. This itinerary worked out great for our family. Once we told our kids about going to Disney World – about two weeks before – we started watching attraction guide videos for each park on YouTube. This was great for our five-year-old, who is typically scared of rides but became willing to attempt them once we watched videos (last summer, he got scared of a carousel but at Disney World rode Kali River Rapids, Splash Mountain, Mine Train, Barnstormer, Soarin’, Star Tours, etc.). Watching ride videos also gave my kids a sense of the attractions in each park and helped me prioritize rides to make daily touring plans. In the two weeks leading up to our trip, I took final one (over the top) step to lay out daily touring plans – especially for AK and Epcot, where we weren’t buying Genie+. I looked up the weekly wait time data for every major attraction on ThrillData and put them into a spreadsheet by hour. I then highlighted the lowest wait times to make sure that our touring plan maximized the lowest wait times of the day. Here’s a screenshot of my Animal Kingdom spreadsheet with the range of wait times and outliers in parentheses:
Honestly, Becky from Touring Plans has great blog posts about this very thing and she does it for a living so this step was not necessary. I just wanted to see the most recent data to get the best sense of what waits might be like for our trip. (And truthfully, with the anticipation about the trip and my worry over COVID and logistics, in the words of Olaf, “We’re calling this 'controlling what you can when things feel out of control’.”) I also created itineraries by focusing on sections of the park. I knew my husband’s injury would become aggravated if we pushed it too hard. My kids don’t have great stamina for walking so building touring plans based on zones of the park helped prevent crisscrossing and further fatigue. The number of park days allowed us to do this pretty easily. We did a lot of walking, and my husband had more trouble as the trip wore on, but breaks and rest days really helped a lot (along with the mindset that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and we were going to stay positive and do what we could to make it the best possible trip for our family).
Next post – arrival! Woohoo!