I feel it may have been mentioned a few times *ahem*.
I know I am bloody lucky to have a husband who wanted to whisk Mini Cheddar and I away for a last blow-out holiday before Baby Lucas no.2 arrives. Yes, he's a keeper!
We only booked it at the end of October and flew out 4th January - so what with Christmas to cope with we didn't really have much time to plan it. There are people who plan this sort of holiday a couple of years in advance and I never really understood why. Now I can.
Orlando is immense.
As someone who's visited a large number of places in the US (oooh get me!), if you'd asked me 3 or 4 years ago if I'd ever go to Orlando and Disney World I would have laughed in your face. Seriously. It was a place that never appealed to us. Put it this way, we are not big on overly touristy places...we can give or take New York, we disliked Los Angeles and we absolutely hated Las Vegas. Plus, I'd already been to DisneyLand in Paris and wasn't too enamoured with it.
However, put a beautiful almost 3 year old with a massive Disney addiction into the mix and feelings change. Also put a gorgeous, large and practically free condo into the equation and it's an offer that's hard to refuse!
I read a book before we travelled (more on that later) and it's closing line is something like "we will guarantee you will be back". Yeah right, I thought. Matt and I have fallen in love with many places in the US - Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Lahaina and San Diego to name a few - but we've never been back. When there's so many amazing places in the world to discover we've always felt we need to keep going somewhere new.
That was until now. We are already planning to go back in about 3-4 years. I know it's a long time away but we want to wait until no.2 is old enough to get something from it. The wait is going to kill me though.
We both loved Orlando. Even after 3 weeks we didn't want to come home. For Matt, that's really saying something - I usually have to beg with him to go on holiday for longer than a week anywhere.
Maybe it was the gorgeous weather? Maybe it was the amazing food? Maybe it was the friendly people? Maybe it was the superb shopping? Maybe it was the amazing Disney theme parks? Maybe it was seeing MC loving every second?
I have a feeling it was all this...and more.
So, after a first trip I'm by no way claiming to be an expert - far from it. However, I can offer some small snippets of advice for those taking the plunge:
1. Buy a really good guide book
Whenever I go on a big trip I almost always buy a good guide book so I don't miss out on anything. Sure, you can do research on the Internet but nothing beats a good book and I think it's vital for a visit to Orlando. We bought The Brit Guide To Orlando by Simon & Susan Veness and can heartily recommend it. It's packed with absolutely everything you will need to know!
2. Plan, plan and plan!
I can't say it enough. We planned in terms of booking a couple of character meals (these can book up 180 days in advance so don't leave it until the last minute) and we also planned out when we would be going to which parks pretty much. Use the guidebook to look at the 'busy day guides' so you try and avoid certain parks on their busiest days. We went in the quietest month and it was still very busy. It sounds awful to say you need to plan, after all, this is holiday and the last thing you want to do is have a military style schedule but a rough plan of action will save you so much time and energy. It's especially important if you're going for 2 weeks. We went for 3 weeks and we still never managed all of the main theme parks!
3. Look at your ticket options and shop around for the best deals
Access to the theme parks can be costly (£50+ EACH a day plus £10 parking a day!) so it all adds up. There is an option available only in the UK I'm led to believe for an 'Ultimate Ticket' (7, 14 or 21 day) which gives you complete access to all the Disney Theme Parks including the Disney Water Parks and Disney Quest etc. We were lucky enough to purchase ours in advance in November when you could buy a 14 Day Ultimate Ticket for the same price as a 7 Day Standard Ticket. So keep your eyes open for offers. Child prices aren't that much cheaper than adult prices really but if you take a little one just before they turn 3, like we did, then they are free! I don't buy all this "wait until they are old enough to remember" - I know even at 2 years a 10 months MC will remember it through the endless videos and photos we have. Which brings me nicely onto my next tip.
All the Disney theme parks have dedicated photographers who will snap pictures of everything. They are dotted all over the parks and it means that, if you want, everyone can get in the picture. All you do is pick up a photopass card from the first photographer you see and then make sure you hand it to them every time you are snapped. If you lose your card you can just pick up a new one (just make sure you register the card online). We ended up with a total of 602 photographs - Disney also supply you with amazing bonus content free of charge! We also took advantage of their pre-visit offer and pre-paid for a CD for $99 (about £60) of all our images. Also, if you pre-pay but decide you don't want your photos you can get your money back so you won't lose anything. We ended up downloading them all. £60 for over 600 hi-res images is an absolute steal and so much better than paying out big bucks to get Disney to print them for you. You can also add borders and special things to each photograph if you want and the photos are all yours to use as you wish (apart from commercial purposes). For us, the photopass is a MUST - they really captured some amazing moments for us.
This is another MUST. The Dibb can be found at www.thedibb.co.uk and holds a wealth of information on planning your trip. Someone told us about it so now I'm telling you. It's the UK's biggest Disney and Orlando planner online. You can find all the information on parks, you can find busy day guides, you can find everything - plus the site has extensive forums where you can get advice from people who have 'been there, done that' and they are so friendly and helpful. They even have people who have uploaded their extensive holiday packing/check lists online which you can print off - saves so much time!
6. Remember the little things
By signing up to The Dibb or buying a guidebook book you will realise there are so many little things to take into consideration with your holiday - things that you wouldn't ever have thought of. Like, for instance, taking an autograph book and pen so that the characters can sign it for you. Yes, they sign autographs!
7. Wear comfy shoes
If your scraggy, dirty trainers are the comfiest footwear you own - wear them. The entire Disney World Resort area covers some 30,000+ acres (over 25,000 more than DisneyLand Paris if you've been there) and obviously there's more to Orlando than that - that's not taking into account Universal Studios, Sea World, Islands of Adventure, Lego Land and so on. Also, Floridians don't tend to do dressing up smart. I took a couple of nice tops and some smart linen trousers for evenings out - I never took them out of the suitcase. I love the fact that it's always casual over there.
8. Don't miss the Disney parks at night
The Magic Kingdom is amazing at night. They have the night time Electrical Parade twice a night in addition to the amazing 'Wishes' fireworks display where Tinkerbell (a real person on a zip line) flies from the castle turret and across the crowd. They have also started what is called the 'Magic, Memories and You' display on the castle twice a night - a selection of videos and photographs of moments from that day is projected in a fantastic light display on Cinderella's Castle - it's breathtaking! In addition to this EPCOT have their amazing 'IllumiNations: Reflections Of Earth' display each night. This is a amazing mix of fireworks, lights, fire and lasers across the World Showcase Lagoon. Another one not to be missed!
9. Write a list of what you need to take with you to the parks each day
Sounds simple enough to pack for a day at a theme park but, when you've got kids, you're bound to forget something. I had a list I used each day. Top of the list - a bottle of water from the freezer. Yes, even in January it was touching 30°C on occasion.
10. Eat & Play
Look at buying an Eat & Play Card. This is a credit card style card which gets you superb discounts 10-50% off food, shopping and attractions. For a simple payment of $25 (£15) you can enjoy these discounts for up to 4 people on one card! Just have a look at where the card is accepted here. They also do a card for New York visitors.
You can't help but be wrapped up in the world of Disney. I think I cried a fair few times over the 3 weeks with the pure joy of MC experiencing everything. Everyone is so so SO friendly, even the people who take money for your parking and say "Have a magical day" with the biggest smiles ever. Remember to go to the City Hall at The Magic Kingdom if it's your first visit and pick up your '1st Visit' badge. The cast members at the park will make an extra fuss of you. They also do badges for special occasions like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries etc.
So those are all my top tips - apart from the obvious 'take LOTS of money'...Disney merchandising is VERY hard to resist. The good thing is, it's so much cheaper over there than the UK for Disney merchandise. Take for instance a large Toy Story Jessie Doll which retails over here for £35 at Toys R Us. This was a mere £15 in the US!
If you're thinking of going my only advice is GO. If you are going, don't tell me...I may cry with jealousy.