This first part will be an overview of how we planned, what we did, and what we'd change for next time. The second part will be our favorite rides, shows, and restaurants as well as some general park tips. The third part will most likely be a whole load of pictures! :-D
How We Saved
It's no secret - Disney is expensive. It is, however, completely worth the money. Disney isn't just about a theme park. Its an experience! From the second you book your vacation until you arrive home, it is a magical experience like none other. That being said, money doesn't grow on trees and we saved up for about 18 months for our trip. We set aside money each month and it added up fast. Instead of booking the vacation and paying it off, we saved money in a vacation account (a sub account added to our banking). We weren't going to book if the money wasn't there.
Booking Our Vacation
I intentionally waited until August to book our trip, hoping to snag the free meal plan offer that pops up for the fall almost every year. Thankfully, it was offered again this year! We were able to book 8 days, 7 nights at All Star Music with the Disney Dining Plan (1 snack, 1 quick meal, 1 sit down meal per day) along with 6 day park hopper tickets for a great price. With Charlie and Ginny being free, it was very affordable and perfect for our family.
I booked directly through Disney's site and it was quick and easy. After making an account with My Disney Experience, I was able to link together our resort reservation, park tickets, and dining while also adding FastPass+ experiences and planning an itinerary for our trip. The site liked up with an app that made planning on the go after we arrived much easier!
We stayed at All Star Music, one of the Disney value resorts. We had a standard room and were placed in the "Jazz Inn" section on the first floor. We were able to make 2 accommodation requests when we checked in online and I chose "close to transportation" and "1st floor." Some other possible requests were adjoining rooms, close to the pool, and picking a certain themed building. Jazz Inn was the second set of buildings from the main "Melody Hall," which wasn't too far. Being on the 1st floor was wonderful - especially with the double stroller. I would have walked farther back into the resort if it meant staying in a 1st floor room.
Overall, ASM was nice, but next time we go we may look at the next step up in accommodations. While it was clean and served its purpose, the room was small, the beds were pretty awful, and the dining options weren't very good - save for the Mickey Mouse waffles, of course.
When We Went
I love this time of year. For our honeymoon, we went during Christmas and this time we experienced the Halloween treatment. While we think Christmas was a bit better, I'm so happy to have experienced both. Halloween at Disney is awesome! All the villains are out, the decorations and parades are amazing, and seeing other people in costume was so much fun. There were a lot of pirates, princesses, minions, and family themed costumes. We really need to step it up if we go back for Halloween!
Another reason to go in the fall are the crowds. We didn't wait longer than 20 minutes for any ride or attraction. The buses were never overloaded and the restaurants always seemed to have space to sit. It was especially nice at the parks - the lack of congestion meant Charlie could walk beside the stroller without fear of getting sucked into a crowd.
I'm Glad That We...
Borrowed a CARES harness for Charlie. It was easy to use and not only kept him safer as we traveled, but made him feel more comfortable. He's used to a rear facing car seat, so moving to just a lap belt would have been very different for him.
Didn't rent a car. We really wouldn't have used it anyway. We never waited more than 5 minutes for a Disney bus to come pick us up! Funny enough, the bus was actually Charlie's favorite thing to do!
Packed a hamper. It definitely helped keep the mess organized in our tiny room.
Purchased the PhotoPass+. Our DVD is on the way with 120 pictures taken by Disney cast members around the 4 parks including character meet and greets, dining locations, and ride photos. I can't wait to see it! It was linked right on our MagicBand, so the pictures were on our account with a single *boop!*
Used the baby care centers. There is one in each park and it was seriously an oasis of quiet, comfortable, air conditioned bliss. With changing tables, high chairs, small kitchenette, and rocking chairs, its the perfect spot to nurse, freshen up, or hide from the over stimulation outside.
Brought the Ergo carrier. That thing was a life saver when Ginny was tired, cranky, or didn't want to sit in the stroller. We wore her A LOT, probably more than was healthy for our poor backs, but it meant she could rest or hide from the over stimulation around her. The only down side is that most of the pictures are just of the top of her head!
Got the meal plan. There are so many amazing places to eat at Disney and while you can bring your own food and drinks into the park, its also nice to not worry about it. We ate to our heart's content at a dozen different restaurants and since our dining plan was free, it was especially awesome.
Brought lots of zip top bags. I used several baggies to pack Ginny's clothes into outfits, but they came in handy the entire week to store dirty/wet clothes on the go, carry snacks, and store trash.
Brought a nightlight and sound machine. Unlucky for us, Ginny slept horribly most of the week we were away. Having a small nightlight (we brought Charlie's Cloud B octopus light) allowed us to navigate the small, unfamiliar room without bothering those sleeping.
Had a first aid kit. I'll chalk it up to excitement, but Charlie fell about a hundred times, scraping the crap out of both of his knees. Some Jake and the Neverland Pirates bandaids did the trick.
Remembered sunscreen and hats. Despite being the end of October, Florida was unseasonably hot while we were there. I'm talkin' mid 80's to low 90's all week long without a single drop of rain.
Went to the Halloween Party. It was late, but the decorations, parade, and fireworks were amazing!
Took advantage of the parent swap program. When you arrive at a ride, ask for a parent swap ticket and give it to the parent waiting. After you get off the ride, the waiting parent can use the ticket to go through the FastPass line with up to two other people.
Next Time We Will...
Pack a few outfits in carry on. We arrived at our resort at 6pm, but our luggage didn't arrive until 9pm and the kid's bag, after it was finally located, didn't arrive until 10:30pm! It was a struggle getting them settled in bed without PJs, loveys, blankets, etc. Definitely going to be more careful next time.
Bring an umbrella. We had rain coats in anticipation of the infamous Florida rain, but we didn't get a drop. We did, however, get a crap load of sun and an umbrella would have been used quite a bit.
Used dining reservations for more lunches and breakfast. More often than not, we used our sit down meal passes for dinner meals. This lead to us being hungry earlier in the day and over stuffed at night. We did have one sit down lunch and one sit down breakfast and not only was the food amazing, but it was a nice change of pace.
Booked reservations earlier to get more character dining events. We had two character dining meals and they were so much fun! You can reserve meals up to 180 days in advance and without booking a vacation. Character meals do need to be backed by a credit card, but just remember to cancel plans if things change.
Bring something for characters to sign. Halfway through the week we realized that we could have had characters sign our Disney canvas tote bag, but didn't have markers. Next time!
Part II - Our Favorites and Park Tips!