My Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

A little less than two months ago, my husband sent me a message that he’d been invited to go to a training event in Orlando.  Jokingly I replied, “Can I come?”  His response: “I can ask.”  As it turned out, I could come and the minute I heard ‘yes’, I was searching online for the best flights, calling family members to ask if they could watch our kids and dreaming of sunny Florida.  (I’m a planner, remember?)  Midway through the day I asked my husband if he knew the name of the hotel they were putting everyone up at: “Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort“.  Um, what?!  That’s right my friends.  We were going to be staying at a WDW hotel and I was doing a happy dance in my living room.

This post is sponsored by the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.  All opinions are 100% my own.

When I first pulled up to the hotel, it was nighttime and everything was lit up.  The hotel has 11 floors and has huge swan statues on the top of each wing of the hotel.  With the lights shining on the swans as well as the beautiful fountain out front, I knew I was in for a treat.  Walking into the lobby, it is bright and welcoming.  You can see straight through to the other end of the building where it opens out onto the grounds.  When I first was looking at the hotel’s website, I realized that the hotel is actually two hotels on the same property: the Swan and the Dolphin.  They share many of the amenities, such as the pools and other entertainment, but each one has different restaurants and dining options to offer.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

For the first two nights, I stayed in the west wing of the hotel in a grand deluxe king room.  It turns out that we were originally booked into a queen room, but we were able to switch to a king room that also happened to be wheelchair accessible so the bathroom was bigger and there wasn’t a sofa.  Our room had a balcony that looked out onto the grounds behind the hotel (facing the back of the Dolphin).  I had a great view of the little lake (Crescent Lake) and one of the pools and there were lots of palm trees close by as well.  The room was clean and bright, with a desk, TV and a mini fridge that included two complimentary waters (great for drinking and refilling at the parks!).

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

Our third night, we changed rooms and stayed in the east wing of the hotel.  Our view wasn’t as nice in terms of being able to see the grounds, however, we were able to look down into the courtyard area and it was a little more shaded.  We stayed in another grand deluxe king room that was almost identical to our first room but the bathroom was smaller and it had a sofa.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

Each morning for breakfast, we headed down to the Java Bar.  We don’t drink coffee, but there were really good muffins and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) as well as fresh fruit, cereal, bottled smoothies and a few other basic breakfast items.  It was located towards the back of the hotel near the exit to the grounds and the water taxi, which made it really convenient to grab something and get on our way.  The only other place we ate at on the Swan hotel property was The Garden Grove Restaurant for a character dining experience, which I’ll be posting about later this week.  For now, suffice it to say that it was amazing!

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

The grounds of the hotel are absolutely beautiful.  When you walk out the back doors of the Swan, directly in front of you is a large walkway that leads to the Dolphin.  It is open in the middle with flowers and palm trees and flanked on either side with a covered walkway.  The walkway spans a portion of Crescent Lake where a water taxi comes by every 20 minutes or so to take you to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios.  On one side of the property are three different pools: two lap pools and one larger grotto pool with a waterfall and water slide.  There are also a few hammocks near the pools and on the beach.  We relaxed on the hammocks a couple of different times and it was soooo nice.  On the beach, they had a playground for kids and two or three volleyball courts, along with some loungers.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

On the opposite side of the pools was a bridge over the waterway and a path that led to Hollywood Studios or the Boardwalk.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the boardwalk but we took the walking path to and from Hollywood Studios a couple of times and it was about a 12 minute walk.  I loved the option to walk or take the water taxi, especially at night when the park had closed and everyone was trying to get back to their hotel.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

One amenity that I found extremely helpful at the Swan was the option to have the hotel hold our luggage for us.  Because we had to change rooms for our third night, we didn’t have a place to put our luggage while we were at Hollywood Studios.  So in between when we had to check out at 11:00am and when we could check back into our new room later that afternoon, they held our stuff for us until our new check in.

All in all, our stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort was amazing.  Their proximity to the parks, especially Hollywood Studios and Epcot, made its location ideal.  The rooms were large and welcoming.  We loved the grounds and their list of amenities and services made our stay comfortable and hassle-free.  I would absolutely recommend this hotel for both families and couples.
 
If you are going to be traveling to Florida to visit any of their Disney theme parks or Universal Studios, definitely consider looking into the Swan and Dolphin to see if it’s the right fit for your family.

{Free} Printable Packing List

Print out a copy for each member in your family to help everyone get packed up for your next trip!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared that I would be going to Orlando this month for a much needed vacation with my husband.  This will be the first vacation he and I have taken together that is more than an overnight since our first child was born over 5 years ago.  As you can imagine, we’re pretty dang excited!  My goal at the beginning of this week is to get all packed up and ready to go.  I am a list maker and so it should be no surprise that I have made a packing list for myself to make sure that I don’t forget anything I need to take with me.  Some people have the attitude that if they forget something, they can just pick it up wherever they are going.  If that is you, then awesome!  But I am totally a planner and that kind of stresses me out.  So, lists.

If you are like me and like to make lists, but also want to save yourself time and energy, then today is your lucky day!  I have a free printable packing list for you.  Just print it out each time you need to pack for any type of trip or vacation, fill in the quantities and check each item off the list or cross it off if it doesn’t apply to you.  There are also a few extra lines in each category to add anything else you need to take with you.  Print one out for each member of your family to help everyone stay organized.

To download, click on the image.  You can choose a pink or blue title.

Print out a copy for each member in your family to help everyone get packed up for your next trip!

Print out a copy for each member in your family to help everyone get packed up for your next trip!

Also, you’ll definitely want to check in next week!  I’m going to be sharing my review of the amazing hotel we’ll be staying at and I can’t wait!

9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

In a previous post, I talked about what I learned as I planned our family’s first vacation to Disneyland.  We went and had so much fun and now that we are back, I have more tips to share that will make your experience at the park even more magical and stress-free.

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!

Prepare Snacks/Packs the Night Before  Going in, we knew we could take outside food into the park so we brought a ton of snacks with us from home.  This worked out great for us and we didn’t buy any snacks in the park besides a Dole Whip (yum!).  That being said, I wish we’d done a better job of prepping our snacks the night before or possibly even at home.  The next time we go, I’m going to bring a box of sandwich bags with us and portion out the snacks beforehand and put them in the bags we are taking to the park.  I feel like half of our morning was spent getting ourselves ready and the other half was spent getting snacks into bags and sandwiches made and into coolers before we walked out the door.  It would have made our mornings run so much more smoothly if we’d done just a little more prep.

Lots of Snacks
As a kid vacationing with my parents, I remember them telling us to eat a big breakfast before we left for whatever it was we were doing that day so that we’d be full.  I was a growing girl and I liked food, so eating a lot wasn’t a problem for me, but my metabolism was.  About two hours after my huge breakfast, I would be hungry and asking for something else to eat.  When we were looking for a hotel this time around, we wanted to stay somewhere that had a continental breakfast so we could try and fill up before heading into the park.  My kids are pretty good eaters, but even so, they didn’t eat a ton at breakfast and I knew they’d be hungry sooner than later.  We literally lived off of snacks during our time at the park.  (You can find a huge list of snack ideas in this post!)  We didn’t want to spend $5 on a small bag of popcorn or $2 on a banana.  So we packed up our little cooler with sliced apples, sandwiches, granola bars, peanuts, fruit snacks, raisins, applesauce, goldfish…and it would be gone by the time we went back to the hotel for a rest and nap time.  Then we’d load it all up again for when we went back later that day.  With the exception of a few things, all the snacks we had were brought from home, which saved us a lot of money.  This is a benefit of driving versus flying (which I discussed in my planning for Disneyland post).

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Bring A Variety of Flavored Water
A great tip I learned while planning our trip is that you can ask any restaurant or drinking station with fountain drinks for a cup of ice water or to fill up your bottle.  We went into the park with full water bottles/sippy cups and we filled them up throughout the day.  But here’s the thing: I got kind of tired of drinking just water.  Not all the water we got was cold (like from drinking fountains) and after sitting in our bags in the hot sun, it got pretty warm and not very refreshing.  My husband ended up going to a local Walmart and picking up some Vitamin Waters for us to drink and let me tell you: it was a lot easier to down an entire bottle of that than it was a bottle of lukewarm water.  The next time we go to Disneyland, or any other theme park, I’m going to bring some of the individual packets of flavor crystals, like Crystal Light, or the liquid flavors, like Mio, to put in our waters.  I know my kids will drink an entire juice box in a matter of minutes, but getting them to drink that much water in the same amount of time can be hard.  We went during the second week of October and with humidity it was at least 90 degrees.  Staying hydrated is essential.

Getting to the Park
Parking at Disneyland is expensive.  It costs $17 per day!  So when we were planning our trip, we chose a hotel that was close enough to the park that we had the option to walk or take the shuttle.  We tried out both options to see which we liked better.  On our first day, we hopped on the shuttle in the morning and it took us 7-10 minutes to get to the park.  However, it took us 20 minutes to get back to our hotel in the afternoon because we found out that it was one of the last stops on its route.  After the kids had rested up, we decided to walk to the park and see if we preferred that over the shuttle.  It was later in the day and cooler and we made it to the gates in 12-15 minutes.  The second day, we walked each time and didn’t ride the shuttle at all.  My recommendation would be to find out what your options are for any of the hotels you are interested in staying at.  I simply called the hotel’s front desk and asked them.  Some hotels offer complimentary shuttles, while others don’t.  For us, the fee to ride the shuttle one-way was $3 for adults and $1 for kids while a day pass was $5 for adults and $2 for kids, with multi-day discounts.

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Strollers and Stroller Parking
Bringing our double-stroller with us was one of the best decisions we could have made.  We have a Sit n’ Stand by Baby Trend and love it.  It held both kids, our cooler, my diaper bag, drinks, sweatshirts and anything else we needed to throw in.  The kids were in and out of it throughout the day, eating snacks or resting or riding as we moved between rides/parks.  At night, they both fell asleep in it as we walked back to the hotel.  If you’re debating about bringing a stroller, just do it.  You will be glad you did.  (If bringing your own stroller isn’t an option, you can also rent strollers at the park.)  You can also check out this link for some other great car seat and stroller combos.

One other tip about strollers:  There are various places around the park for you to park your stroller, generally around the fences by the rides.  I was a little worried about leaving my bag and other items but I didn’t have any problems with my stuff being taken.  We did have a couple of times where we couldn’t find our stroller but it was because it had been moved by a cast member.  If you come up to a place where you see cast members moving strollers around, you can ask them if there is a spot they’d prefer you put your stroller so it doesn’t get moved around and it’s easier for you to find when you come back to get it.

Download the Official Disneyland App
A friend of mine who has annual passes for her family highly suggested downloading the official Disneyland app on our phones.  This app gives information on wait times for rides, the location of characters and restrooms, dining locations and menus, parade and event information and photo passes.  My husband and I both downloaded it on our phones before we went into the park and referred to it multiple times throughout the day.  It was especially helpful when my daughter all of a sudden said she needed to use the bathroom and we needed to find one quickly.  It was a lot faster than trying to look information up on our phones and much more efficient.  (If you want to keep it on your phone after you leave Disneyland, it’s a fun way to show your kids where Mickey Mouse or their favorite princess is.)

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Special Visit Buttons
I read about special visit buttons you can get for free at Disneyland when I was planning our trip.  They have First Visit, Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary and others.  According to what I read, you could pick them up at the Guest Services building.  When I went to go pick some up, there was a 10 minute wait at Guest Services, but the cast member told me that I could go to any store and ask for one.  I’m sure I read this somewhere, but I didn’t remember.  I had to stop by a couple of stores because they had already run out and it was only 9am.  So if you want one, try and get it first thing when you get to the park.

Also, if you’re child is wearing their button in the park, the cast members and characters generally try to make a point of saying something about it which makes it even more special for them.

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Visiting with Characters
Princesses: My daughter specifically wanted to see as many princesses as possible on our trip so I tried to find out as much as I could about seeing them before we got there.  There are two places where you will be most likely to find princesses: at the Royal Hall (to the left of the castle) and by the Snow White fountain (to the right of the castle).  If your child wants to see Anna or Elsa, you will only be able to visit them at California Adventure, but there are a couple of shows you can watch them in within the Disneyland side of the park.

Other Characters: By using the Disneyland app, we were able to find different characters whereabouts in each park.  There is always a cast member close by the line if you have any questions about the character you are going to see.  For example, a couple of times we got in line to see the character that was there, but the cast member told us that if we got in line that we’d be seeing a different character, or if we wanted to see that same character they told us when they would be back at that location.  Another time we got in line to see a character and the cast member told us that that particular character would be leaving but that another character would be coming at a different location so we could get in line there.  It was so nice to know ahead of time if we’d actually be seeing the characters we were getting in line for because then we could choose if it was someone we wanted to see.

*Note: If a character is out in one park, he won’t be out in another park.  For example, we saw Goofy in Disneyland so we knew that he wouldn’t be out in California Adventure.  Disney is very good about being consistent this way and not having the same character out in more than one park or at more than one location of the same park.

Take Time to Rest
Since we have small children (ages 3.5 and 18 months at the time of our trip), we planned out a portion of each day as a time to rest/take a nap at our hotel.  I know some kids who can sleep anywhere and others who need to have a quiet room.  My kids fall into the latter group.  So around 1pm we went back to the hotel.  Even though we missed out on about 3 hours of time at the park each day, by allowing our kids (and ourselves) time to rest, we were able to stay a little later at the park and our kids were much happier.  Plus, it was pretty hot during the day so we avoided some heat exhaustion by staying cool during those times.

*Note: We had a two day pass which we used consecutively, but you don’t have to do it that way.  Disney allows you to use your tickets for 13 days after the first visit.  This means we could have visited two times within a two week period since we had a two day pass.  Same thing goes for a 3, 4 or 5 day pass–you can use up your days any time within 13 days of the first use.  So if you have the time, you can definitely break it up a little so you don’t get burnt out.

What advice would you give to someone going to Disneyland for the first time that you wish you’d known beforehand?

5 Quick Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

My family and I recently got back from our first family vacation to Disneyland and California Adventure.  We had two day park hopper tickets so we jumped around a little bit between parks.  This worked well for my family because it allowed the kids to experience both parks.  I also found that most rides at California Adventure had shorter lines and rides that allowed more riders so even if the line was a little long, it moved fairly quickly.  We didn’t spend as much time at California Adventure as we did at Disneyland, but there were a few tips I wanted to pass along for first timers.

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

World of Color Fast Passes
You may have heard about the World of Color performance at California Adventure.  It is full of lights, color, fun special effects and is perfect for all ages.  When my friends heard I was going to Disneyland and California Adventure, they all told me to go to the World of Color because it was just that good.  They also told me to be sure and get a fast pass first thing in the morning because they go, well, fast.  I did as they said and picked up our family’s fast passes first thing on our first day to the parks.  The passes assign you a viewing location and a time to return–up to an hour before the show starts.  We had gone over to California Adventure around 6:30pm after leaving Disneyland since the park closed early for a special event.  I wasn’t too worried about finding a spot since we had our fast pass and we ended up going into the viewing area a little before 8pm and found a decent spot on the right side.  Basically the way they have the fast passes set up is that if you have one, you are assigned a viewing location and are able to get closer to the performance.  If you don’t have one, you have to find somewhere else to view the show that isn’t as good.

*Note: The World of Color fast passes do not count against your other park fast passes.  The fast pass distribution for World of Color is next to the Grizzly Peak fast pass machines.

**For more information on how fast passes work, visit DLR Prep School’s post here.

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

Radiator Springs Fast Passes
Another attraction you want to get a fast pass for is Radiator Springs in Cars Land.  We got ours right after getting the World of Color fast passes (around 9am).  When we left the park around 12:30p, the fast passes were gone for the day and if you wanted to ride the ride, you’d have to wait an hour or more.  I was definitely glad we got fast passes!

*Note: The fast pass distribution for Radiator Springs is not next to the ride like many of the other fast pass machines throughout the park.  It is next to the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” ride in Bug’s Land.

**Be sure to check where the fast pass distribution is for any given ride before going there, otherwise you could miss out.  The information is in the park pamphlet, which you can pick up at the entrance to the park or at other information booths throughout the park.

Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome Fast Passes
Yet another attraction you will want to get fast passes for is to meet Anna and Elsa.  This is the only way you can meet them.  They are not at Disneyland–only California Adventure and only with a fast pass.  They are located in Hollywood Land in the Disney Animation building.  The fast pass distribution machines are just outside the entrance and to the left (if you’re facing the entrance).  We had a 30 minute window in which to show up and once we did, we only had to wait 10 minutes.  That was shorter than our wait for any of the princesses in Disneyland!

*Note: This fast pass does not count against your other fast passes within the park.  You can hold fast passes for other attractions at the same time.

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

Rider Swap
Disneyland has this great process in place for families who have some children who are big enough to ride a ride and others who are not.  We fell into this category.  My daughter is currently 42″ tall which is tall enough for most of the rides.  My son is only 33″ tall.  We wanted to go on a couple of rides he wasn’t tall enough to go on–Soarin’ Over California and Radiator Springs.  Obviously, either my husband or I was going to have to stay with our son while the other one rode with our daughter.

How to Use a Rider Swap: Let the cast member at the entrance to the line know that you’d like to do a “rider swap”.  They will give you a card on a lanyard that you will need to give to the person going on the ride.  They will then give the card to the cast member at the entrance to the ride itself in exchange for a little card.  Essentially, this card acts as a fast pass that allows the other person who was not able to go on the ride to get in without having to wait in the regular line.  In addition, they can take up to three people with them.  For example, if you have two children who are tall enough for the ride and one that is not, and those children go on the ride the first time around, they can go again when you redeem your rider swap card.  It’s almost like a super fast pass because it gets more people in to go on the same ride with only one pass.

*Note: While you do have to use the rider swap pass on the same day, you can use it at any time during the day.  You don’t have to go right after the other adult gets back with the kids.  You can go hours later, as long as it’s on the same day.  Pretty awesome, right?  (They also have rider swap at Disneyland.)

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta–Best Bang for Your Buck
Let’s face it: food at Disneyland and California Adventure (or any theme park for that matter) is expensive.  While you might choose to bring your own snacks in, snacks only go so far to curb your appetite.  If you are looking for good food and the best bang for your buck, go to Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta on Paradise Pier.  They offer a large plate of pasta for $10!  My husband and I each got a plate and shared it with our kids, who got their fill and we ate the rest.  We ordered the Spaghetti and Meatballs and the Chicken Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.  Sooo good!  (And while you’re there, fill up your water bottles with ice water for free!)  The pizza isn’t as good of a deal at $7-$8 for one slice, but it is fresh and it’s a decent sized piece.

What are your favorite tips to share with people visiting California Adventure?  I’d love to hear them!

Disney Countdown Chain

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Last October, we took our first family vacation to Disneyland!  It was so much fun and the kids loved it.  I hadn’t been to Disneyland in about 15 years so I was excited to go too!

Since this was a somewhat last minute trip, I didn’t have as much time to build my kids (mostly my daughter) up to it as much as I would have liked.  Like most kids her age–she was 3 at the time–she doesn’t fully understand the passage of time.  To help her with this (and to save my sanity!), I made a simple Disney countdown chain.  We’ve used countdown chains before to help her learn how time passes (see this post here), so I knew that making one again would be a successful way to count down to our trip.

Here is what you’ll need:

  • red, yellow, white and black paper (I used cardstock, but you could use lighter weight paper.)
  • scissors or paper trimmer
  • stapler
  • double-sided tape or scrapbook adhesive squares
  • printer or Silhouette machine
  • Disney stickers, die cuts, etc (optional)

To begin with, decide how large you want the top of your countdown to be.  Mine is about 8.5″x8.5″.  If you’re using a Silhouette machine, open up your Silhouette Design Studio and create the shape you want.  I just used a scalloped border I had in my library and then created a circle inside of it.  For the text, I used a font called “Waltograph” which you can get for free here.  I kept it simple with “Countdown to Disney”, but you could put whatever you like.

*If you do not have a Silhouette machine, just open up your document program, choose a shape (optional) and type the text in.  Then print it out and cut out the shape.

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Then I pulled out my cardstock.  I decided to stick with classic Disney/Mickey Mouse colors of red, yellow, white and black.  (You could easily make a Minnie Mouse countdown by using pink, purple, white and black and attaching bows to the mouse chains.)  I let my machine do the cutting and writing for me, but decided to color the words in to make them stand out better.  (If you wanted to add Disney stickers or die-cuts to this part, you definitely could.)

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

For the chain, simply cut strips of paper out in each of the four colors.  The number of strips you’ll need will be determined by how long your family’s countdown is.  I only needed three strips of each color for a total of 12 strips.  Each of my strips is 2″x10″.

The only difference will be when you cut out the black strips.  If you want to have the “ears”, you will need to do one of two things:

  1. If you’re using a Silhouette: Grab the Silhouette file here, then save and open it in your Silhouette Studio.  You can then resize anything you need to before sending it to be cut.
  2. If you are cutting by hand: 
    1. Option 1: Grab the PDF file here, then save and open it.  You could put the paper into your printer (once it’s cut down to size) and then cut out the pieces using scissors or a paper trimmer. 
    2. Option 2: You could print out the document, cut the shape out and trace it onto your paper and cut out the strips using scissors or a paper trimmer.

*I also have the Silhouette file here and the PDF file here for the strips, “buttons” and bows (if you do a Minnie theme) if you don’t want to cut or trim those by hand.

Once you’ve got everything cut out, lay your strips out in this order: yellow, red, black, white.  If you look at mine, you can see that once it’s all put together, the order is important because it kind of looks like Mickey Mouse (yellow: shoes, red: pants, black: head, white: spacer).  Fun, right?

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

When you are putting the chain together, overlap the strips by at least 1/2″ so that you can staple them together easily.  For the black strips, be careful that you face the “ears” all the same direction.  After the chain is completed, gently fold the “ears” forward.  Place the “button” pieces (2 each) on the red chain.  Staple the top-most chain to the bottom of your big countdown shape and hang it on the wall!

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

This is a super simple project to make, but the finished product is absolutely darling!  I almost didn’t want to rip any of the chains off because it looked so cute hanging there on my wall.

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

What does your family do to countdown to Disney or other family vacations?

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

We recently went on our first family vacation to Disneyland.  The last time I went to Disneyland was about 15 years ago when I was in junior high so I didn’t do much planning (besides finding ways to make money to spend).  In addition to this being our first vacation to Disneyland, it was also our first big family vacation with our kids.

While trying to figure it all out, I didn’t really know where to start, so I turned to Facebook and asked my friends for their best Disneyland vacation planning tips.  Then I went to my Disney Pinterest board to look through my saved pins.  I was working within a short time frame (less than 2 weeks to plan it all out) so I needed to get as much information as possible as quickly as possible.

Keeping in mind that our family currently consists of me, my husband, my 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son, I had to tailor the trip to work for our family.  However, I know many families with similar dynamics as mine choose to go to Disneyland so I thought I’d share my process with the hope that you might find something here that will help you as well.  Some of these tips are helpful across the board, while others are more specific to families with young children.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Isitpacked.com
A friend of mine suggested checking out the website www.isitpacked.com.  This is a great website to check out if you are planning a trip to (almost) any theme park across the US.  It gives you information on how busy the parks are at any given time of year and helps you plan your trip accordingly.  As with most vacation spots, there are peak times and off-peak times and knowing which it is at the park you’re attending is very good to know.  Since we had about 5 days total for our trip, we tried to be flexible and fit our park days into the less busy days as shown on isitpacked.com.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

This isn’t an official website for any of the parks, but it is based on real-time crowd tracking and historical tracking information and is pretty accurate.  It “crowd meter” has four levels: Ghost Town, Hey it’s Alright, Yup it’s Packed and Forget it.  One of the days we went was a “Hey, it’s Alright” and the other was a “Yup, it’s Packed”.  Knowing beforehand that one of the days was going to be more crowded helped us know which rides to try and get into the day before, which ones to get fast passes for and overall, just not be as frustrated by the amount of people in the park.

Park Hopper or One Park A Day?
One of the biggest decisions we had to make in our planning was how many days we wanted to spend at the park.  As part of that, we had to figure out if we wanted to do Disneyland only (no California Adventure), a park hopper, or one park per day.  I’m not kidding when I say that I spent multiple days and talked to multiple people trying to figure it out.  We ended up not even buying our tickets until the day before we went to Disneyland!  But ultimately, we chose to do a 2 day park hopper ticket. Why?  Because we wanted to experience the rides and the atmosphere of both parks.  We don’t know the next time we’ll be back to Disneyland.  So we decided to do a little bit at both parks.  Plus, it only cost an extra $114 for 3 tickets for 2 days, which equaled out to $57 per day or $19 per ticket per day.  When we were already spending as much as we were on tickets, paying a little more to experience an additional park made sense to us.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Discount Tickets through University or College Alumni Association
It’s fairly well-known that discount tickets to Disneyland are hard to come by.  Not to mention that Disney raises their ticket prices on a regular basis (and will be again soon due to Star Wars Land), it’s just expensive to get into the parks!  So it’s tempting to try and get as much of a discount on tickets as possible.  However, there are very few reliable places to get discount tickets.  A friend from college told me that I could get discount tickets through our university’s alumni site.  So I checked it out and–lo and behold!–she was right!  I had no clue that discount Disney tickets were a benefit to being an alumni.  For our family, we needed (2) age 10+ tickets and (1) age 3-9 ticket.  We went 2 days and also did a park hopper.  Here is a breakdown of my savings:

Disneyland Theme Park official website: $662
Get Away Today official website: $656 ($6 less than Disney)
Alumni official website: $624 ($38 less than Disney)

I would guess that my university isn’t the only one to have a deal with Disneyland on discount tickets so if you or your spouse are part of your college/university’s alumni association (which you would be if you graduated), it’s worth looking into!

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Find a Hotel and Book It
As I mentioned earlier, we were working within a limited time frame for our trip.  Because of this, our options for a hotel within our price range were also limited.  I looked on Expedia to see which hotels in the area still had available rooms that fit within our parameters (2 beds, continental breakfast, etc).  I found a great one for just over $100/night and within a short walking distance to the park.  Perfect!  However, they only had one room available for the nights we wanted.  I decided to double check another website to see if I could get the room for any less, but I couldn’t.  So I went back to Expedia and the room was still available so I booked it as fast as I could.  Put my credit card number in….hit submit…and…someone else had beat me to it!  Ugh!  I was so frustrated!  (Plus it was really late at night.)  So I had to spend another 30 minutes going back through and finding another hotel.  If you are also trying to book a trip to Disneyland on short notice, try and book the hotel first, before anything else.  Transportation to the park, food and tickets can all be worked out later, but hotels book up fast in that area and if you snooze (or get greedy like me and try to save a couple extra bucks), you will lose.

Hotel Location
Along the same lines, figuring out where you want to stay when you go to Disneyland can be challenging.  For us, we were ok with staying further outside the park to save some money.  The hotel we stayed at had a Disneyland shuttle (for a fee) about 200 feet from the entrance so that was one option for getting to the park without driving there ourselves (parking is $17/day).  In addition, our hotel was only about a mile away from the entrance to the park and was basically a straight shot along Harbor Blvd (one of the streets bordering Disneyland) and my husband and I felt comfortable walking that distance since our kids would both be in a stroller.  Ultimately, being within walking distance to the park was one of our deciding factors in choosing a hotel.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Flying or Driving?
Originally, my husband and I had talked about flying out to LA and then renting a car.  But the short notice made the round-trip flights too pricey for us so we decided to drive (about 9-10 hours each way).  We knew how big our gas tank was and about how many miles we could get out of one tank.  Then we figured out which cities we’d need to fill up in.  We looked at the website gasbuddy.com to see the price of gas and estimated our total cost.  It was much more cost effective to drive, even though flying would have saved us some time.  In addition, we had a lot that we needed to take with us: a double stroller, two car seats, a pack n’ play, suitcases, a cooler, snacks and electronics.  The thoughts of hauling all that around an airport and then hoping our rental car was big enough to fit it all were not exactly encouraging.  So if you are within driving distance, maybe 12 hours or less, consider driving over flying.  It was challenging for sure, but worth it to us.
 
Do Your Research and Decide What’s Best for Your Family
Between Facebook and Pinterest, I spend a lot of time researching everything about Disneyland, from where to eat, to how to use a rider swap, to the best location for parades/fireworks.  It’s so. much. information.  My brain started to hurt.  I wanted to plan the best trip I could for my little family, but I was getting overwhelmed.  Finally I had to take a step back and remember that while my intentions were good, I needed to pick out the essentials.  The information that was truly relevant to my family.  For example, I asked my daughter what she wanted to do at Disneyland: “See the princesses.”  So I looked up information on seeing the princesses so we could fit as much princess time as we could into our visit.  She didn’t care about seeing Goofy or Peter Pan, so I didn’t waste my time trying to figure out how to see them.  Another example: I know my kids don’t generally eat a lot for breakfast, so while a good continental breakfast was important to my husband and I, I knew that I’d need to pack a lot of snacks to take into the park to keep them full and happy.  So I researched information about taking food into the park.  Every family is different and what is important to us, may not even be relevant to you.

And when it all comes down to it, you’re going to Disneyland!  It’s pretty difficult not to have a great time making memories and experiencing the magic that is Disney. *wink*

What tips would you share with someone planning their first trip to Disneyland?