You can’t do everything
Following on from my previous ‘Five in Florida’ posts – the Pre-planning stage and How to book, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to do everything was perhaps the hardest thing for me to accept – not only in terms of planning and booking, but also preparing for how things would pan out once we actually got to Orlando.
One thing you simply have to do when you are travelling with others is communicate. It sounds obvious, but don’t get so lost in excitement that you forget to find out what everyone wants from this trip – make sure you are all on the same page. I was especially conscious of my mum and worried that she didn’t fully appreciate what going to Disney means – it’s a lot of walking, a lot of planning, and involves lots to see and do. I talked about the expectations as much as possible, and sent links, showed photos and asked questions – anything to involve everyone, without overwhelming them. We felt that Willow would actually be the one who would simply go with the flow, so it was the adults we needed to be most considerate of!
We split our trip into 2 weeks – the first week my mum was with us and we spread the busy days out as much as possible so that she could purchase the least number of tickets but still experience the parks that I knew she’d enjoy most – Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. We interspaced the park days with other things – shopping, boat ride, villa day – We still wanted to see and do stuff, but I knew that 24/7 theme parks would do all of our heads in and cause all kinds of meltdowns. The second week my mum flew down to Fort Lauderdale to spend time with her brother, and we ramped up the pace a little – but still very much in acknowledgement of the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do everything, and that this would be ok.
What I’d advise anyone thinking about a holiday in Orlando to do, is to write down or print out all of the things that you’d like to see and do. Mark down the ‘absolutely must do’s’ and start crossing others off one by one. It’s not just the cost you have to consider, think very, very carefully about your time. If it helps, try and apply your plans to life back home. Would you take your toddler to Thorpe Park in the morning and Chessington World of Adventures in the afternoon? No? Then are you really going to park hop on holiday? I didn’t think so!! If your child walks so slowly that they go out of the front door in Spring and don’t make it to the car until Summer, well then you need to take this into consideration. Nobody wants to spend their holiday trying to dash around with a little person who just wants to stop and admire every little detail. It doesn’t hurt to slow down a little in Orlando.
I printed out a calendar view for our two weeks, and began pencilling in places – always cross-checking with the crowd calendar so that I didn’t, for example, mark Magic Kingdom in on a day where crowds were expected to dramatically peak due to a ‘magical winter event’ happening that night. It might sound over the top, but we really found that all of the prepping beforehand helped us relax once there – because we totally knew what to expect.
We allowed at least a whole day per park, and more for the parks that were more toddler friendly. Originally, Discovery Cove and Seaworld were on our ‘must do’ list, but as I hunted around online for some kind of discount code, I stumbled upon a post that mentioned the film ‘Black Fish’. Like a sucker for punishment, my curiosity got the better of me and we sat down to watch it that very night. How this film changed our holiday plans is a whole other story, but we discussed it for days and days and eventually crossed both places off our list. Well, at least it allowed more time for other cool stuff!
Once you’ve semi-finalised your itinerary, remind yourself again that flexibility is still the key, no matter how much you plan. If you’ve ‘booked in’ one day at the coolest place ever, but your little one is being a right pickle that day, allow a bit of room to shift things around if need be. We put some of our ‘don’t mind if we miss’ places at the end of our second week, so that we could swap them out if need be – depending on how the beginning of the holiday went.
Next we printed out park maps and marked off all of the rides that were suitable for Willow, any that we wanted to do but she wasn’t old enough for, plus the locations of all the food places that we’d chosen – and we had to book these well in advance because Disney restaurants get booked up really fast, even in the off-peak season. We didn’t want to be left feeding our little foodie a burger and chips for breakfast, lunch and dinner! I also researched to find out where the quieter corners of each park were, and potential picnic spots. This was an absolute blessing in Magic Kingdom when we went across to Tom Sawyer Island and found a totally empty veranda to sit and have lunch. It was actually the highlight of our day!
I recommend staring at these maps until you have a realistic idea of just how much you’ll be walking each day, and where you are likely to be spending most of your time. Work out which rides you can’t miss, and how you can get from one to the other with the least amount of back-tracking possible. Now you can go ahead and pre-book your FastPass tickets for the 3 attractions per day that you’d be gutted if you missed. I recommend booking all three for as early in the day as possible, because once your last one is used up Disney will allow you to book in more, one at a time. We avoided the very earliest slots because we wanted to allow for a leisurely breakfast and drive in, but we aimed to use all FastPass tickets by 3pm, so we could sneak in another before the day was up.
Staring at park maps beforehand will also help prevent that stressful moment when you realise you’ve booked lunch at the restaurant that is at the total other end of the park to where your pre-lunch FastPass ticket is booked. Most days we used all our FastPass tickets in quick succession in one particular area of the Disney park – such as Frontierland, then we had the rest of the day to roam free. Again, accept now that you’ll miss some of these timed tickets because you had to deal with an unexpected poo-nami or frantic run around the shops to find another set of clean clothes.
Most importantly, simply understand that things will change once you get there, and that the roller coaster you thought you couldn’t live without will suddenly pale into insignificance when you are all traipsing around Disney feeling tired, hot and hungry. We looked at the holiday beforehand as a wonderful trip no matter how much or how little we did. Whilst the childless, theme-park-junkie of my past would have wanted to check absolutely every ride off the list, these days I was happy just to watch Willow on the carousel.
As much as I absolutely love to plan, I cannot emphasise enough that I did it with the full understanding that non of it was set in stone. Yes, it was hard to let go of that FastPass for the Haunted Mansion, but in that moment I was much happier having a sit down with a cold drink than I was rushing all of us back across the park. When you get there, you have to simply go with the flow.
Next in this series – Travel tips