On Friday morning, we woke up and finished packing, and then we checked out of our hotel. We loaded our van and drove to Downtown Disney. We went into a HUGE toy store and picked out a little present for Alaina. It was kind of frustrating because Aubrey and Jude were literally begging for everything in sight and I had a headache. We left the store and went to lunch at the Earl of Sandwich. It was SO good but packed. We had to eat outside. We were going to walk around some more, but I was cold and just ready to get on the road. So, we bid Disney farewell :(
We had a really good trip and made great time! We ended up driving a lot further than we had planned to drive the first day -- probably close to halfway. We finally stopped and checked into a Holiday Inn and ate dinner at Cracker Barrel. The night went really well. We had gotten a suite this time, and it had two beds and a pullout couch. So, the kids had their own beds, which is just the way it needs to be in our family (we discovered that the first night of our trip). Ha! We were all in bed by 9. Crazy early for the parents! I did read on my Kindle for a while before going to sleep.
On Saturday, we ate breakfast at the hotel and then got on the road again. We had a very uneventful trip. The only bad part was that I was NOT wanting to eat fast food. I wanted some kind of deli/sandwich place. We couldn't find anything, though. We ended up not eating lunch until 2:00 when we found a McAlister's. Good thing we had plenty of snacks! We were only about an hour from home when we stopped for lunch, so we got home late afternoon. We were SO EXCITED to see Alaina!! When we walked through the door, she had just gotten up from her nap. She saw me and yelled, "Mama!!" and came running to me. Her little eyes were watering and she looked like she was about burst into tears. She grabbed me and pretty much didn't let me put her down the rest of the night. Not that I wanted to :) It was such a sweet reunion! I was a little worried that she would cling to my mom and not want anything to do with me. I should have known my sweet Mama's girl wouldn't do that :)
Resort: We stayed at the Art of Animation, and I was really so pleased!! I would definitely stay there again. It's fairly new, so everything just felt really fresh and clean and updated. Our room was nice and the pool looked like it would be SO much fun! We only ate at the food court one night for ice cream, but it seemed like you could get pretty much anything you would need there. Definitely happy with our choice to stay there.
Transportation: We drove to Disney, which I could definitely see us doing again. It was a long trip (about 10-11 hours), but it helped to cut the drive in half both times. While we were at Disney, we used the Disney transportation. We had a GREAT experience with the buses! I've heard a lot of horror stories about the buses recently, and one of my friends was telling me that their bus would make many stops after they boarded before getting to their destination. I don't know if that's the norm, but that never happened to us. Maybe it's because the Art of Animation is kind of "off the beaten path" but once we got on a bus, it took us straight to wherever we were going. We never spent more than about 10 minutes on a bus. And we really didn't have to wait long for buses either. There were a few times when the bus would be pretty full, and we'd have to stand, but that didn't bother us since our kids were older and we knew we wouldn't be on the bus long. We used the monorail a few times, and it was great too!
Dining Plan: David and I really went back and forth before our trip about whether we should do a dining plan or not, and we ultimately decided not to. The main reason was that I wanted to take our own snacks, and I figured that at the end of the trip we would be left with tons of unused snack credits. We decided to just buy our food this trip and then add it all up and see how we did in order to help us make a good decision for our next Disney trip. Turns out, we spent about $80 less than we would have on the dining plan. Granted, we did get a lot less food than we would have if we had gotten the dining plan. We took our own snacks (raisins, Lara bars, bananas, fruit leather, etc.) and we only ordered dessert once, I think (we did eat dessert when it was included in a buffet). We also mostly drank water (I ordered sweet tea a few times). We did three character meals, two table service meals without characters, and the rest were counter service meals. If we had done any more character/table service meals or bought more snacks, I think the dining plan would have been a great deal. But, it really worked well for us just to pay as we went, and that's probably what we will do the next time we go, too. We definitely got PLENTY of food and spent less money.
Park Hopper: This was another thing that we weren't sure was really necessary before we went. We did end up getting park hopper passes, and I'm SO glad we did! The only time we spent a full day in one park was one day in the Magic Kingdom. The other parks were SO fun, but I don't think we would have wanted to spend a full day in the other ones (we did do two half days at Epcot, so I think we would have been happy spending a full day there).
Magic Bands: We loved the magic band system! This was our first Disney experience, though, so we had nothing to compare it to (well, David had been one time in college). I can see it being hard to get used to if you're accustomed to something else. It was so convenient, though! You use those bands for EVERYTHING. The only downside was that Jude didn't like wearing his. This wasn't a problem because I would just keep it in my purse and take it out when it needed to be scanned. He was wearing it one time, though, and decided to take it off and drop it on the ground. Thank goodness I noticed it as we were passing by.
Date of Trip: One thing that I would change about our trip is the week we went. We didn't think about the fact that it was the week of MLK Day when we were choosing our dates. The crowds weren't awful, but I definitely think it would have been less crowded if we had gone the week before or after. The lines were just a little longer than I expected for January.
Length of Trip: We spent five nights at Disney and had four full days in the parks. I think this was perfect. My Disney pro friend Ashley had recommended 4-5 days in the parks with little kids, and I think she was so right! Any more I think would have been too much for our kids (we were all SO tired by the end of it!), but any less I think would have left me wanting more. Haha! It was just the perfect trip where by the end of it, you're sad that's it's over, but you just feel like your trip has naturally drawn to a close. Usually I'm never ready to leave vacation, so I love it when I feel like I've actually gotten all the time I needed/wanted somewhere.
So, that is just what we did, what worked for us, and what I'd change if I could. I know I still have SO much to learn when it comes to planning a Disney trip, but I feel like I have a much better handle on how everything works now that I've actually been there :) I can't wait to go back with our whole family one day! I think Disney really is the perfect place for a family vacation (well, Disney and the beach, of course ;)). I'm so thankful for this time I got to spend with my family and the wonderful memories that we made!!