Monday, October 27, 2008

Our Walt Disney World Vacation--Getting There is Half the Fun

We went to Disney World (the one in Florida) last month, and I wanted to create a written record of the trip so I'd remember what worked and what didn't work next time we go, so I thought I'd do it here so I could share pictures of our kids having fun there and because I know a few other people who are also planning trips there in the future.

We decided to drive. It's about a 20 hour trip from our house, but our kids don't mind riding in the car, and with a family of 5, it was cheaper to drive, even factoring in the high price of gas and staying in a motel overnight during the trip. Plus, we had a lot of stuff we wanted to take with us, and the airlines are charging a lot for luggage these days. In addition to needing baby stuff, Tigger and Roo have food allergies, so it was convenient to be able to take safe food with us. Of course, we could have bought food once we got there, but that would have involved renting a car and even possibly going to more than one grocery store to find the brands that are safe for us.

Our planning started around January of 2008. Most of the planning revolved around two things: Free Dining and Tour Guide Mike. Free Dining is a wonderful thing. For the past several years, Disney has offered the Disney Dining Plan for free to people who book their vacations for certain weeks that extend from the end of August through most of September. You can click the link for details, but basically the plan gives each person over the age of 2 in your party one full service meal, one counter service meal, and one snack for each night you stay. That's a big savings for our family with 4 people who eat (plus a baby, whose food needs hardly factored in at all at the time).

Tour Guide Mike is even more amazing than free dining. He runs a company that offers tour guide services at Disney World for $150/hour. For us regular folks, he has a website that you can access for about $21. The website has articles about all of the rides, hotels, restaurants, and all kinds of other information to help you plan your vacation. The best part about the website is that after Disney publishes what the park hours are going to be in each park (they do that about 6 months ahead of time), he figures out which parks are going to be the least crowded each day. He rates each park with a green light (the best parks to go to that day), yellow light, or red light (the most crowded parks that day). He also has articles to help you plan your itenerary each day and avoid lines. I know it sounds impossible, but crowds are predictable, and he's figured out how to ride all of the most popular rides without ever waiting in more than a 5-10 minute line. We waited about 10-15 minutes for one brand new ride that had just opened, but except for that, we practically walked on to every single ride we rode. Seriously. We didn't wait a full 5 minutes to ride any other ride the whole time we were there, and we rode all of the really popular rides (with the exception of a few we didn't want to ride because of the ages of our kids). Tour Guide Mike is amazing, and I'll never do Disney World without his plans again.

We did have to make our restaurant reservations early because of Free Dining. You always have to make reservations ahead of time at Disney World if you want to eat at the popular restaurants or during peak meal times, but during Free Dining, you have to book really early or all of the good seatings book up.

Once the trip was planned, we just had to wait. We watched lots of Disney movies so the boys would be up to speed on most of the characters, and I made special matching shirts for the boys to wear each day with iron-on heat transfer paper.

We left for our trip on Friday, September 12. Chris was going to work a half day that morning, but he ended up being ready to leave a little early. We pulled out of the driveway around 10:45. Everyone was buckled in and ready to enjoy the trip.

Where are we going, Piglet?

(Doesn't he have good handwriting?)

We got off to a little bit of a rocky start. I had a feeling I had forgotten something, but I couldn't remember what it was. About 15 minutes down the road, Baby Roo reminded us. I had forgotten to nurse him. Oops. It was his nap time, too, so I really needed to feed him, or it just wasn't going to be a pleasant trip. So we pulled over for a quick snack, and then we were off again, and Roo was asleep. Perfect!

The trip would have been uneventful if it hadn't been for Hurricane Ike. We had been fretting about Ike for over a week prior to the trip, but the day before our trip, they predicted a Corpus Christi landfall on Saturday. Crisis averted. Or so we thought. As Pooh would say, you never can tell with hurricanes. As we know now, he ended up coming ashore around Galveston. And due to the enormous size, plus the fact that we left just a little earlier than we had anticipated, we drove straight into one of the outer bands around Lafayette. My Aunt Beth had sweetly called me that morning and tried to get me to drive an alternate route that didn't take us south to I-10 until we were a little further east, but I ignored her advice and drove us straight into the storm.

We stopped to eat supper in Lafayette. It was really windy and rainy there, but we didn't really think much of it. There were still a lot of people driving around and going about their business, and we were driving away from the storm, so it should be fine, right? Wrong. Soon after we got back on the road, we noticed that there wasn't much traffic any more. We drove past a Target, and I got a sinking feeling. I decided that the next time we drove past a mall or a Wal-Mart or anywhere we could pass time, we'd pull over and wait for the storm to subside. The problem is that we didn't pass any of those things. I've made the drive about a hundred times, since we drove to New Orleans from the Dallas area all the time when I was growing up, but I forgot that we were about to drive over a really big swamp. For about 20 miles, it's all bridge, with just a few exits that don't take you to civilization. We were on a bridge with no shoulders and no way off. And it was raining sideways. There was even water blowing up onto the road from the swamp about 15 feet below us. Chris drove about 30-40 mph. Visibility was practically 3 feet in some places. Fortunately, there were few other fools out on the road, so we didn't have to contend with traffic. We kept hearing about tornado warnings on the radio, but fortunately, we didn't know where we were, so we just told ourselves they weren't for us. We didn't have any choice but to keep driving.

We finally started seeing signs for a gas station at an exit a few miles further, and I started counting the minutes until we got there. It turned out that we drove out of the storm right before we got there, though, and we didn't need to stop. It's a good thing, too, because the roof had blown off the gas station.

It was all downhill from there. We drove on until midnight that night at exit 85 in Florida at a Best Western. We had been on the road about 13 hours, and we only had about 6 more hours to go. This post is getting really long, so I'll wrap it up here and continue on in a new post.

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