Home Away from Home

We have always been die hard fans of staying on property for our WDW vacations. This year we started to look at options for our pre cruise stay and since the plan was to see more of Orlando than just WDW (gasp) we decided to look off site.

This was somewhat anxiety provoking for me. As someone who feels pretty confident about my knowledge of Disney this was a whole new experience. This led to the Trip Advisor obsession through much of the month of May. Not kidding I looked at reviews for at least 200 + hotels in the Orlando/Kissimmee area.

I stumbled across a thread on my favourite Disney info site disboards.com talking about house and condo rentals. Soon someone on my cruise group also started talking about their condo stay. I was intrigued, but not convinced. I mean I was already looking at an off property hotel, but this was still a vacation and a vacation to me means someone makes my bed and brings me new towels, doing my own chores and laundry just didn’t hold any appeal for me.

I finally agreed to take a look. This is what I found

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I don’t know about you, but that looks like a vacation destination to me.

I started to do some research. This gated community is called Windsor Hills, it is one of many house/condo communities where the majority of owners rent their properties through out the year.

To make a rental inquire you can either contact an owner directly or inquire through some property management websites. I did a bit of both and started to get back some quotes.

I decided on a 3 bedroom condo. I liked it because it was one of the few places that wouldn’t charge an $80 cleaning fee for a stay of less than 7 days, the price was good approx $400 plus tax for 5 nights and the condo had been purchased and redone in the last year.

I started to look at the website for this condo, for anyone who wants to check it out the site is http://www.disneycondoforrent.com

A few things stood out for me; not only could I put the kids to bed and then stay up with a glass of wine, I could put them to sleep in separate bedrooms where they wouldn’t try to kill each other. I could do laundry not because I have to, but so that I didn’t have to pack dirty clothes for the cruise.

We’d have access to a great pool and clubhouse and while we didn’t have to cook or grocery shop we did have the option for quick breakfasts or snacks.

I have to say that this hotel girl has been converted.

My communication with the owner has been great, he is also Canadian and the 3 bedroom condo in priced on par with most of the hotels we were looking at. This reformed hotel girl is super excited for her home away from home this vacation.

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Dole Whips and cup cakes and Turkey Legs oh my

It seems fitting that shortly after posting tips on how to score the best WDW reservations I would publish a blog on how to stay healthy at Disney

Going on vacation may mean different things for your vacation. For some, it means staying on track completely, some prepare for a week of moderation and others see vacation as well, vacation where nothing is off limits. Whatever your health or dietary needs Disney has you covered.

Healthy Eating Tips

1. The menus for all Disney restaurants can be found online and you can use this as a guide to either plan your reservations or pre plan your meals. I typically use the menus posted at Allears

2. Healthy Snacks can be found if you look for the. There is lots of fruit available both at the parks and the resorts, still worried. Disney allows you to bring your own food into the parks.

3. While at sit down restaurants adults are required to order from the adult menu, but at counter service restaurants feel free to order a kids portion if that size is more appropriate for you. Kids meals do not come with fries or soda unless you ask so you are likely to receive grapes and apple sauce with your chicken fingers unless you specify otherwise.

4. Meals can be large at Disney restaurants. Sharing is also an option or both sit down and counter service restaurants.

Dietary Needs

Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, kosher and food allergies are no problem at Disney. Have guest services note the Dietary need on your reservation and make sure to notify your server at each restaurant.

There are some great blogs about Disney Food. I recommend googling Disney food along with the specific dietary need and you will see a plethora of photos and reviews along with recommendations for the best restaurants to meet your individual needs.

Exercise

You will burn calories walking the parks each day, but if you are looking for more fitness options:

* Many deluxe resorts (and Coronado Springs) offer a fitness centre for guests of that resort
* There are large pools at each of the resorts
* The resorts are large which are great for walking. Many like Coronado Springs circle a lake which provides a great running/walking track

The food at WDW is wonderful, but with moderation and some pre planning your WDW vacation does not have to be a vacation from your healthy eating plans.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Every Florida Vacation Enthusiast has their favourite mode to transportation
to get to Florida. Those who love to drive wouldn’t have it any other way. Many air travellers couldn’t dream of taking 24-72 hours to get to their destination. I have not personally driven to Florida since I was 10 years old and travelled with my parents.

As an adult traveler our first trips to Florida were specific Disney trips. We had no plans to travel outside of Walt Disney World and could easily find reasonably priced flights so there was never a question of should we drive or fly.

Last year was the first year when the price of flights made us seriously question of our mode of transportation. It became harder to justify as prices for a family of 4 crept towards $1250 for a flight from Buffalo to Orlando. We live outside of Toronto, but it is always cheaper for us to fly out of the US when travelling to the US.

As I began the long process of trying to convince my husband that driving to Florida would not result in divorce I learned of an alternative method of travel from two of my colleagues. Have you ever heard of the auto train? They asked. I had some vague knowledge of a train that transported both you and your car. I had read about it in one of my many Disney Travel books, but had never given it much thought.

Here are the basics.

There is a train that runs daily from Lorton Virginia to Suburban Orlando Florida (technically 2 trains as they run each way every day) The trains carry both passengers and vehicles.

When you check in your car is taken and you don’t see it again until your destination. Passengers with their carry-on luggage are taken to their assigned seat. Trains depart at approximately 4pm and arrive the next morning at their destination at approximately 8am.

What do you do during the train ride?

Dinner is included and provided in the dining car
The lounge car offers bar service as well as a nightly movie
The seats recline and offer a foot rest so you can sleep during the over-night right.

There are actual rooms available, however I have found that the price of booking a room significantly increases the cost of the trip.

Prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book. As the train fills up the prices increase. I recently booked a return trip for 2 adults, 2 children and a minivan for $890, booking 5 months in advance. A friend priced the same trip for a trip 2 months in advance and the price was close to $1500 so it pays to book ahead.

Why would I take the auto train vs flying.

You need access to a vehicle. This trip is a combined Orlando/cruise vacation. We are staying off site, visiting a variety of theme parks and then traveling to Cape Canaveral for our cruise. Having a vehicle is a must and for us taking the train makes more sense (and costs less) than flying and renting a car for 2 weeks.

You want to shop. Most airlines are now charging for luggage. If part of your vacation to Orlando includes the ability to shop the outlets, this might be an idea for you. Last year we saved hundreds of dollars by purchasing an above range microwave in Florida compared to prices at home

You are an over packer. I am an over packer, I acknowledge this and admit that I may need help. Our upcoming vacation and most recent vacation have both been longer than 10 days and I struggle with the ability to pack for a family of 4 for this duration of time while sticking with the luggage requirements for airlines. I have been known to do some laundry while on vacation, but I prefer not to have to rely on it.

You hate driving to Florida, but want your car. This is probably the best example of who the Auto train is right for. This is really my family. I love my min van, it has great features, DVD players for the kids and I love having access to it on vacation, but the idea of driving to Florida (for us a 24 hour total drive) is just not for us.

The auto train is not for everyone. For starters you need to be within a reasonable driving distance of Lorton Virginia. For us it is about an 9 hour drive. Last year we drove through the night and it worked well as the kids slept the entire time. The train may not offer a huge savings compared to flying if you are staying on Disney Property and do not require a vehicle, but it is an option that many people may not be aware of so I thought I would share it. For my family it was a hit, so much so that the kids voted for the train over flying this year.

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