We traveled for 6 days with 8 people. I'm sure it's no surprise to you all that I have some words of wisdom for you. Especially if you are planning a future trip similar to one we just took.
Keep in mind that there are a million and one ways to take a Disney vacation (and a million and one websites and blogs to read about this). This is just one way. But since it worked for us, I thought I would share. :-)
1. Fly: We've done the driving thing in a 12 passenger van that took 2 days, an overnight in Jacksonville, and multiple tanks of gas. It is so worth the teeny bit of extra cost to fly. We drove one hour to a nearby airport to get a direct flight.
Which leads me to Tip #2...
2. Get a Direct Flight: It's only 1 hour and 40 minutes of flying (translates to just two episodes of a show on the portable DVD player or a few bracelets made on the Rainbow Loom). Make sure your flight is direct. No changing planes, no rushing to get to a gate that is at the opposite end of the airport. Less chance of lost luggage. No connection in Atlanta- need I say more?
3. Have Low Expectations for Pictures: The kids are excited, they don't wanna sit still, but you are all together in one place with someone else to take the pics. Just take plenty of them and one is bound to come out. And bribe with money, as needed.
4. The Smart Phone is Your Friend: When waiting in lines, waiting on others riding rides, waiting for meals....did I mention there is a bit of waiting in Disney?
Speaking of waiting....
5. Go "Off Season": There will be waiting no matter what time of year you visit, BUT there are definitely times that are less busy than others. Late October was awesome both weather-wise and crowd-wise.
6. Invest in a Stroller: In our normal life, my 8 year old and 4 year old do not use a stroller. However, in our normal life, my children do not start their day at 7am and end at 9pm with about 7-8 miles of walking, ginormous meals, a few live action shows, thrilling rides, and ice cream treats in between. I was all about "meltdown prevention" this week, so it was well-worth the $31 a day for a double stroller rental that the kids could use at their leisure (and a few times that I mandated). They were happy, and we were happy. And Brooklyn was not the oldest kid rolling around in a stroller, so I felt better as a parent. I wised up Day 3 and got the "multi-day pass" that saved me about $18 over the last 3 days. By having the stroller in the park it definitely allowed the kids to have enough energy to be able to walk back to the bus stop and then back to our room at the end of each of the long days.
7. Use Afternoon Ice Cream as a Bribe...In the Stroller: Want to sneak in a few adult rides? Visit a few counties in Epcot? Promise Disney ice cream for later in the day. Play that card too early and you are screwed for the rest of the 10 hour day.
8. Trust in the Disney Magic that is the NEW "Magic Band": It's your room key, your park pass, your FastPass ticket, your charge card, and your photo pass all in one. It pretty much does everything for you except tell time and knock that piece of cheesecake out of your hand. Disney has it going on, ya'll. I will always recommend booking your trip through a Disney resort. (We love the Pop Century resort, which also happens to be the cheapest. Fantastic room, great commissary, and extra exercise because your bus stops are the farthest from the park entrances.) We did the Disney package with the Quick Service Meal Plan, and because of the dates we traveled, the meal plan was actually included free this time around. Saved us around $500-600 for our family of 4- which was awesome, needless to say. The meal plan is good anyway, even if you pay for it, because food is paid for up front, and I didn't have to play the daily game of "how hungry are my children and will they share or will they waste food?"
9. Speaking of Food....: I wasn't kidding when I said in the title I gained 2.6 pounds this past week. Despite walking 7-8 miles a day (thanks, Fitbit!), I did pack on a few due to eating out for 6 1/2 days straight and enjoying desserts and snacks that I don't ever see in my normal life. But, it actually could have been a lot worse, and I am confident that things will "level out" this week and I should be down again by next week. So my first "food tip" would be to share snacks so you aren't indulging alone. Though I put a good hurting on this funnel cake below, I did make sure everyone in our party took a piece (or two). I also resisted the "free soft drinks" and focused on mostly drinking bottled water and my one morning coffee. We packed "breakfast type" snacks so we didn't have to have a full breakfast meal, and I really enjoy these "Breakfasts to Go" packets. The desserts/sweets were my weakness, especially since a dessert came with each of our two meals a day. But sometimes I would get one dessert and one fruit cup for Chad and I to share. Or, I would have Brooklyn choose the dessert, and we would share since the kids meals did not come with a dessert. No afternoon ice cream for me either. And I tried to limit fried foods to one meal a day, too. Nothing fool proof, and I really didn't stress too much about it (which was a success in itself), but little things do matter and every little bit helps.
And my final tip for you all....
10. Bring Grandparents: I know this may not be possible for everyone, but I have to say....Grandparents are the BEST. Having 6 adults to 2 kids was by far the best ratio ever. And it really was a fantastic trip with little to no stress. We didn't rush, we didn't scramble, we didn't worry. We were all able to just BE (you know, my new mantra for this fall).
I'd do it all over again....and we will. I can't wait to plan our next trip for 2016!