So, now that we're home and can look back at the week, we thought we'd make a list of things we would maybe do differently (or things we'd definitely do again) for anyone who might be planning a trip...or for ourselves if we go again in the near future. Hindsight is always 20/20, right?
So for future reference...
*September in Orlando is H.O.T. The average high temperature was around 90 degrees while we were there, which is pretty consistent with their monthly average...but the humidity/heat index was terrible. I don't know if that's "normal" or if it was b/c of hurricane Ike, but it was crazy hot! Heat = tired + cranky
*Disney World in September is also fairly crowded. September is usually a slow time for them and I guess in an effort to get more people to vacation at this time, they offer a free dining plan with a booking at some point early on in the year...so many people were there taking advantage of that. Getting reservations for character meals was like pulling teeth. The lines for rides and shows weren't *too* bad, but entertaining 3 small kids for 45 minutes while you just stand there is obviously not ideal. The 10 and 20 minute ride lines quickly became our favorites...and fast passes!
*8 days/7 nights is too much time at Disney World with 3 small kids. I think Wednesday was the day everyone "hit the wall" and it probably would have been a good idea to leave on the 6th day. The fatigue might have been the reason the kiddos all got sick, they were just worn out...as were the adults. We kept joking that we now need a vacation FROM our vacation. It's a go-go-go kind of trip and shortening it a bit would have probably helped.
Those were the 3 biggest things we would change about a future trip...time of year for weather and crowds and length of the trip. So a January trip for 5 nights sounds like a perfect solution!
Another thing I would do before our next trip is spend some time on the Disney message boards. http://www.disboards.com/ There is some serious information on there, probably more than you would ever want to know about a Mouse theme park. Since it had been so long since I'd been to Disney (2002), it was pretty overwhelming to plan our trip, and visiting this site might have helped (or overwhelmed me more, who knows?). There is a Disney for Families section and I know I'll be browsing it a lot before our next trip.
Other little things that were nuisances but I'm not sure what can be done about them...
*Bus rides. The bus ride to and from the Magic Kingdom seemed like forever. Also there wasn't a "published" bus schedule so you never knew if you had just missed a bus or if one was coming shortly. Always a mystery. The day that Dave, Perry, Ella, and I went to MK, we waited 45 minutes for a bus. And imagine carrying 2 huge bags of stuff, 3 kids, and 2 strollers on and off the bus...no small feat, even with 4 adults.
-Now that I'm thinking back, we went to the Magic Kingdom 5 days while we were there...that's a lot of bus rides!!! Our easy walk to Epcot, short ferry ride to Hollywood Studios, and short bus ride to Animal Kingdom weren't bad at all though. And like I said above, there's really not much that can be done about this except to stay at 1 of the 3 resorts near Magic Kingdom...but then you'd have a long bus ride to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
-This might be where the argument of going when your kids are older comes in...if you didn't need a diaper bag, changes of clothes, endless snacks and sippy cup refills, and strollers then the bus ride wouldn't be a bother at all ;)
*Groceries. We had a nice kitchen in our villa and brought along quite a bit of food, but unfortunately the Market Place in our resort did not have many grocery options for us. We made do...but towards the end of the week, we found out that we could have gotten groceries delivered to us. Without a rental car, we could not get out and shop ourselves...so the grocery delivery would have been great. Next time!
Changing pace here, these are the things that we will definitely do in the future...
*Advance dining reservations. For sure. No questions. We planned our trip about a month in advance and although we were able to score 3 character meals...it wasn't easy. And they weren't at ideal times nor were they are first preferences. That being said, the Ohana breakfast at the Polynesian and the princess dinner at Akershus Banquet Hall in Norway/Epcot were really good and I would certainly do them again. The breakfast at Cape May was good, but nothing to write home about ;)
*Plan to see more shows. I did not take into account that our kids would enjoy the shows as much, if not more than, the rides. Every show we saw, the kids were mesmerized. The other blog post lists the shows we saw, but there were still a few that we missed. The 3D ones are the best...even though Ella jumps every single time something flies towards her ;)
*Go to a waterpark. Our kids are most likely too short to ride many things at the waterparks, but I would still like to visit one with them. I guess I should do some research as to if one is better than the other for the "preschool" crowd.
*Take our own strollers. Stroller rentals in the park are around $15/day for a single and $30/day for a double. I was very glad we had our own strollers, although they always get put through the ringer when we gate check them. I do wish we had a sit n stand type stroller though. I think the girls might do well with a platform they could just jump on and off of...although they did fall asleep in their stroller a couple times and wouldn't be able to do that in a sit n stand.
*Spend more time at Epcot. Probably not with the kids...but with Dave. It was really nice to be able to just walk right over from our resort. The World Showcase is pretty cool, especially if you can drink your way through the countries. We started to after our princess dinner Sunday night, but stopped short in Morocco when we got the most horrible tasting Habibi daquiris you can imagine. Blech. Steer clear of those if you go!
*Visit Universal Studios. Disney is not really known for its adventurous rides and Dave and I still appreciate them, to a certain degree. We'll admit we are getting older and the jostling effect of wooden roller coasters does not appeal to us as much as it used to, but we do still love a good thrill. I would take an afternoon/evening and go check 1 of their 2 parks out.
*Use the Magical Express bus to/from the airport. It was nice not to have to claim our luggage and haul it to a taxi or deal with a rental car. We just waited a short amount of time for a bus and off we went! No carseats needed! Our luggage was brought to our room minutes after we were able to get into them. And we had the most friendly bus driver on the way back to the airport. At 6:30 AM, this guy was really workin' it for tips, but he kept us laughing :)
*Stick to my kids' schedule. We have created creatures of habit/structure/routine. They need naps at 1 PM and a bedtime at 8 PM. Yes, they can skip naps, take late naps, and stay up late occasionally, but not 7 days in a row. I think by getting up a little earlier (they usually wake at 8) and getting to the parks by 9 AM, we would be able to enjoy a good 4 hours before we would need to head home for naps. And then we could head back to the parks by 5 for the rest of the evening. We maybe wouldn't have to do this every day, but I think it would help tremendously with their moods.
*Stay on property, get park hopper passes, and do it up right! When you stay on property, you have access to the parks for extra magical hours, free transportation (bus, ferry, monorail), and you can use this super cool card (which is your room key and your park hopper pass) to charge anything and everything to your room!!! Awesome!
I'm sure there's much more and as soon as I publish this, I'll think of 10 more things. I'll add them in later if that happens ;) I hope this helps someone with their travel plans. And feel free to ask me any questions if you have one that was not covered here... email@example.com
Thanks for reading!!