Monday, November 29, 2010

Preparing the Kids for a Trip of a Lifetime

Emily in October 2008 with Stefanie in Biergarten
With just about 6 weeks until our trip, I have made many of our vacation arrangements. Our flights and hotel are booked. I made all our dining reservations and, even more exciting, I was able to book them at the exact times we requested. Finally, our rental car has been reserved, courtesy of my parents. Now, I am getting the kids prepared for a week away from home. Walt Disney World can be overwhelming to some children (and adults too), so it is important to do everything you can before you leave to prepare them for what’s ahead.

One of the most important things we do when we are within two months of leaving is buy each of the children new sneakers and have them start “breaking them in.” There is a tremendous amount of walking when on a Disney vacation and having a comfortable pair of shoes is a necessity to enjoy it. Plus, it is also important before leaving to start having your child build their endurance by walking everyday. I know many adults who were not physically prepared for the amount of walking required. They ended up with blisters and sore feet and legs, meaning they missed a day or so in the parks to recover. So if an adult can be run down, imagine a child!

The kids in their Patriots gear ~ October 2008
On our last trip, my son was three and a half. Since many of the rides are enclosed and he couldn’t see them, I went on You Tube and found a few videos of some of the rides he might like. When we got to the parks he immediately was able to recognize them and some of the anxiety was reduced. But before you talk up a ride to your child, make sure she is tall enough to ride it. Imagine your child being excited about how great Splash Mountain is for weeks before leaving, only to arrive and find she is not tall enough and unable to ride. For more information on height requirements, head to WDW Guru Travel's Height Requirements page.  Any ride not listed does not have a height requirement. Also, to avoid disappointment about missing a ride, make sure you check our Refurbishment List about rides being refurbished while you are in Disney.

Another resource for preparing your child is Disney’s free Vacation Planning Video. You can order the DVD right from Disney’s Official website. It is a nice overview of what you’ll see in each of the parks, as well as Downtown Disney, the hotels and special events throughout the year. There is even a section to help you plan your upcoming trip. There are quick clips of rides, shows and parades from each of the four theme parks, as well as the two water parks. My kids love to watch it and tell us which rides they are going to go on when we are there. It is a great conversation starter.

Finally, the best way for us to get the kids ready is to look at our photos from previous trips. I have many formats that I use to show off our pictures. We, of course, have the traditional photo albums. I make a family one, as well as one for each of the kids. I also love to scrapbook. This is a great way to preserve our memories and add in park maps, tickets, and any other little souvenirs we gather during our trip. For our last trip, I made a photo montage, which I put on DVD. This has turned out to be one of the best ways to share our photos. Between my mom, sister-in-law and myself we took over 900 photos, so I had plenty to choose from. The DVD is a little long (about 20 minutes), but my children love seeing themselves on TV with their favorite characters or in the pirate pool or riding a particular ride.

What is your best tip for preparing your children for Disney? 
Feel free to share your best tips below!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Disney Inspirations

Joey's 1st Trip to WDW in 2006
My name is Beth and I am a huge Disney fan raising, hopefully, three future Disney fanatics ~ Joey, Hayley and Emily.  My first trip to Walt Disney World was in 1986 as a teenager, and the day I walked down Main Street and saw the castle for the first time, I was hooked.  I remember before arriving in Disney my parents told my brother and I we would never be able to afford to return, so we would be getting up early and going to bed late everyday of vacation to make sure we were able to see everything. At that time there were just two theme parks ~ Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Let's just say, it was such an amazing family vacation that we returned just two years later. My parents then took us back every other year until my brother and I were in college.  After that, to our dismay, my parents even began going every year without us!  Do you remember the old Disney commercial of the son in the business suit talking on the phone about how his parents could not possibly be enjoying themselves in Walt Disney World and the ad cuts to the two parents, of course, having a great time?  My family literally could have created and starred in this ad!  It was as if it were written about us!

Hayley, Emily & Braden's (my nephew) 1st Trip 2008
I have been to Walt Disney World 12 times since that first trip.  I've experienced it as a teenager, a newlywed, as a wedding guest, for family reunions, pregnant and as a mom.  Before children, my most cherished memories were of my very first visit, but once I brought my children, I had a whole new belief in Disney magic.  Don't get me wrong, I loved traveling with my husband and being able to stroll through World Showcase sampling the different foods and drinks, eat late dinners, and basically go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted.  But being there with my children just makes the parks all that more special to me.  Seeing my son meet his idol, Buzz Lightyear, for the first time and watching my daughters hug their favorite princesses, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, I, of course, was teary-eyed and realized just how magical Disney is.  Being able to share something with my children that my parents shared with me is a feeling that really truly is amazing.  To this day, my family still visits Walt Disney World together.  In 1986, there were just four of us.  On our next trip, there will be eleven of us ~ my parents, brother, sister in law, two nephews, my husband, my three kids and myself.  Each trip our little family gets bigger and our vacations get even better. 

I started my blog because I wanted to share some of our family experiences when traveling to WDW.  These experiences are funny stories of magical moments, important things learned about traveling with babies and small children, and ways to enjoy a vacation when you are with a large group.  Being prepared can keep tantrums (not just the kids' tantrums, by the way!) to a minimum.  All the information I share comes directly from something I have personally experienced and learned from.  I hope it helps you plan and enjoy a great Disney vacation with your family.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Character Dining at Walt Disney World

WDW Daily News
Making Magical Memories Column
November 2009

Deciding where we are going to eat is probably my most favorite part of planning our Walt Disney World trips. There are so many choices that it can be difficult to narrow it down. For us, we have so many favorites that we have a hard time leaving one off the list! Though there are many options for dining, I am going to focus this article on character dining.

There are many benefits to character meals. For us, it is to see how our children will react to the characters without standing in line in the parks. When you are seated, your server will ask right away how the kids are with characters. They then will let the characters know your response. On our last trip, we had no idea how they would react. At Chef Mickey’s, the characters took time with each of the four children in our party of 10. Our daughter Emily was ten months at the time and petrified, my son Joey and daughter Hayley were fine, and my nephew was a little scared at first, though warmed up quickly. When a character came around to our table, they would spend time with each of the kids and simply wave to Emily and make some small gesture. By the end of the meal, she had warmed up, which made a smooth transition for our next character meal. Another benefit of the buffet character meals is, not only do you have the character interaction, but your children who are under 3 can eat from the buffet for free. Before having children, we never thought to go to a character meal, but now we realize they really are for people of any age and they have become family favorites.