Monday, June 18, 2018

Magical Monday: 2018 Planning

Ya'll, today is it..we have FINALLY reached the 180 day mark for our Disney Vacation, which means that I was up before the sun to make dining reservations for our upcoming trip!! Actually, I didn't fall asleep until after midnight and woke up at 3:40 with Ellie and couldn't go back to sleep.  I'm running on fumes and coffee, so let's overlook any typos, ok?



 If you're not into the Disney scene, just skip over this little post because it's going to bore you to tears.  If you're a Disney Dork like me or looking to book an upcoming trip, I hope this sheds some light on the planning process and how we make it work for our family. 

So here's the deal, in order to make Disney a great experience, you have to plan.  The problem is, the Watsons don't like plans when traveling.  We tend to fly by the seat of our pants, so there was a little learning curve when it came to Disney, but we've got it under control now.  

On the flip side, if you are an over-planner, Disney can be tricky because things change quickly. Although somewhat predictable, crowds can fluctuate within a park, so you have to loosen the reigns a bit and go with the flow from time to time.  It's a delicate balance I tell you. 



I have found that in order to make Disney work, it's best to have a loose itinerary...a happy medium between the over-planner and under-planner. 

Because we booked so far in advance (September 2017) to take advantage of FREE Dining, we didn't have a lot of information to work with until recently.  Disney hadn't released the Park Hours until this week, so I kept an eye out for information on Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party because I knew we would be up against those dates when traveling.  Magic Kingdom closes at 6:00 to regular park guests, so we have to plan accordingly.

With that I mind, my first step was to plan my "dream trip."  I made the little chart you see above and filled it in with my wish list items. As more and more information came out, I started to tinker with the dates, restaurants, and other plans.  I'll continue to do that once the Fast Pass booking window opens.

About a month ago, I went ahead and compared my "wish list" with the crowd calendars available online.  I used Undercover Tourist and Kenny the Pirate. They basically tell you the predicated crowd levels for each day and each park based on historical information and Extra Magic Hours.



The two calendars varied slightly but were overall consistent with each other.  Based on that information, I made three itineraries - two compiled from the information on each calendar and a third that combined the two calendars and my personal preferences.  

For example, both calendars advise staying away from Magic Kingdom (MK) on a particular day.  However, my kids love the Extra Magic Hours (EMH) at night, so we will have no problem hanging until 1:30 am.  It's all about preference sometimes. 

My final itinerary isn't 100% what I envisioned, but now that I have it out on paper, I think it might be better than I had even hoped for.  I am so pumped!  Here is the overview...


Saturday is arrival day, and we actually plan to head straight to Magic Kingdom. This will be a first for the kids. After doing it last year on our anniversary trip, I think it's the right choice because it just sets the tone and allows us to have a much more relaxed trip.  I'm not sure of Fast Pass selections right now or any other details for that matter, but I like that we will be in the park and enjoying the first night in our favorite place! Dinner will be a first for us at Liberty Tree Tavern.


Sunday we plan to hang around Animal Kingdom.  We have Park Hopper passes, but I think we will just enjoy a slower pace taking in all the sights and updates.  The World of Avatar will be new for the kiddos, plus they are old enough and tall enough to finally enjoy some of the bigger attractions.  We find that this park has delicious and unique Quick Service dining options, so we plan to enjoy those.  

That's something else to note if you're on the Disney Dining Plan...you can use your meal credits however you choose.  It says one Quick Service Meal and one Table Service Meal a day, but you can use those credits however you want. Meaning, if you want to do three Quick Service restaurants in one day and three Table Service the next day, you can do that, as long as you stay within your allotted number of total meals for the trip. "It all comes out in the wash."


Monday is Epcot Day.  We will probably do Future World in the morning and head to World Showcase around lunch since we have dining reservations at Sans Angels Inn in the Mexico Pavilion.  My kids have begged to eat there since they laid eyes on it during the Three Caballeros ride back in 2015.  

After lunch, we plan to tour countries and sample holiday favorites from around the world.  In the past, it's been too hot to really enjoy World Showcase with the kids but with a December trip planned, I am looking forward to taking our time.  Eric and I enjoyed exploring it on our last trip, so we have a better idea of how to make it fun for the kids...including LOTS of character meet and greets!


Tuesday is our rest day, which is something we've never done before.  However, I think its important to schedule some down time if you plan to be at Walt Disney World for more than a few days.  We had planned to sleep late, use the pools, and explore the resort.  But when I heard how Hollywood Studios was restructuring Fast Passes for the new Toy Story Land, I knew that we needed an extra day at that park.  I called Disney to inquire about adding tickets, and ya'll, it was $120 TOTAL...for all of us!! 

 So after a restful morning, we plan to head to Hollywood studios for dinner at Hollywood and Vine for Minnie's Seasonal Dining and a quick tour of Toy Story Land. We will probably check out some of the night life like Jingle Bell Jingle JAM, but we will play it by ear. 



Wednesday will be a dream come true for me.  I always wanted a daughter and would daydream about taking her to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  I've waited a long time for Ellie to be old enough to enjoy it but was honestly unsure if I would want to fit it into this year's trip budget.  You can imagine my delight to find out that packages start at $59!!  

She and I will get up and head to Magic Kingdom for her makeover in Cinderella's Castle.  Then we have breakfast reservations at Be Our Guest for some quality mother/daughter time.  I also got lunch reservations in case Eli wants to go, but I have a suspicion we will be cancelling those. 

Eric and Eli will sleep in and meet up with us mid-morning for family fun.  At some point we will hop over to Epcot for a meal at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall so that Ellie can dine with the princesses while she is all dolled up.  While we're there, we may take in Illuminations since the kids have never seen it or we may hop on the monorail and enjoy Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom.  Again, we will play it by ear.



Thursday will be our final day in the parks and will start at Hollywood Studios so we can *hopefully* score Fast Passes to more rides in Toy Story Land.  Then we plan to park hop to Magic Kingdom for some last minute memory making before wrapping it up with dinner at Ohana.  By the way, this was the hardest meal for me to score this trip.  I have no idea why, but I'm glad it worked out like it did because we have a late reservation.  

Since we can't shut down Magic Kingdom because it closes early for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, we plan to hit up a few hotels on the monorail to check out the Christmas decor.  Then it's dinner at Ohana, which will *hopefully* wrap up in enough time to catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Polynesian resort.


Remember when I said you could use your meal credits anyway you choose?  Well, we saved our last Table Service credit for breakfast at Chef Mickey's.  The biggest kid of all (Eric) really wanted this to work into our plans....for breakfast.

Since it's such a hassle to get up so early and/or cut into park time, I decided to schedule this for a farewell meal.  We are both off work through the holidays, so we're in no rush to make it home.  I think it will round out the trip quite nicely, and I have a hunch that we will probably be planning our 2019 trip while we dine!!!



Fast Passes can be made 60 days prior to arrival for guests staying on resort property, so that puts us into mid-October for those reservations. I will update more when the time approaches. 

For now, I just have to say how grateful I am that we are able to take this trip every year.  Please don't think for a second that we take this for granted.  It takes a great deal of pre-planning, budgeting, saving and RESEARCH, to make it happen.  Nonetheless, I am so grateful for the opportunity to make memories with our children year after year...much of it possible because of what I have learned from Mommy blogs just like this one.  I hope that this post will be a blessing to you if you are planning a trip or hope to plan a trip with your family.  If you have any questions or want more tips on how to plan an AFFORDABLE vacation for your family, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.  I'm not an expert, but I will be happy to share any information I have!

Happy Planning!!!

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