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.

Disney Boot Camp: Surviving the Parks

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As with many aspects of Disney planning, the theme parks can be very overwhelming. There are 4 theme parks and 2 water parks on Disney Property and trying to decide what order to see the parks, how many days to spend in each park and what not to miss in the parks can be a challenge. First of all remember that you are on vacation and vacations are not meant to be stressful. There are many that will attack theme park planning with military precision complete with touring plans and a timed schedule. This is not my personal preference. My goal is to come home from Disney feeling that yes I had a busy vacation, but I still had a vacation. I prefer to listen to my body’s cues, my children’s cues, the weather and the crowds than to follow a plan that I have written down, but there are many that swear by touring plans so definitely to each his/her own.

Step 1: Planning for the parks

There are 4 major parks so if you are visiting WDW for 4 days or more I would recommend visiting each park at least 1 day. If you are visiting less than 4 days I would recommend that you pick the 2-3 parks that interest you the most rather than trying to fit multiple parks in 1 day. If you have only 2-3 days in the parks I wouldn’t recommend using up parts of that time travelling between the parks you will get the most out of your time by focusing on an individual park each day.

If you are visiting more than 4 days and have the opportunity to spend more than one day at each park here are my recommendations.

Epcot can easily take 2 days. I like to spend 1 day in Future World and a second day with a later start touring World Showcase.

Magic Kingdom is also a 2 day park. I would spend day arriving at rope drop (or earlier if you have breakfast in the park, more on that later) doing as many rides as possible during the day. A second day can either be late start day or a day with a mid day break where you would stay until park closure and watch the night time parade and the fireworks.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom can both be done in a day, if you have an extra day I would leave it open and then use it go back and visit which ever of these parks you liked best.

What order should you visit the Parks?

I have read recommendations that when touring with kids you should save Magic Kingdom for last because none of the other parks can duplicate the same level of magic. This is precisely why I like to visit Magic Kingdom the first day. It is the centre of all Magic and the sight of Cinderella’s Castle is the official start to our Disney vacation.

I do not have an order of preference for visiting the parks. I plan my day around 2 variables. Park hours and dining.

Park hours and dining reservations are both posted 6 months in advance. I will look at the park hours note any early closures for special events, what days late events light Fantasmic at DHS is playing and what nights each park features Extra Magic Hours for those staying on site. The park hours will generally give me a good idea of what day is best to visit each park. I will then schedule my sit down dinners and make adjustments to my park schedule based on the availability of reservations for these restaurants.

How to get the most out of park hours?

Eat breakfast in the parks before they even open. I spoke about this in my dining blog, but it is worth repeating. Rope drop at each park is near the front of the park, but restaurants and located through out. If the parks opens at 9am and you reserve an 8am breakfast you are now located centrally in the park at the same time that others are just being allowed in. The morning we did breakfast at Cinderella’s castle we rode most of the rides in Fantasyland before most people had even reached this area of the park.

Look for Extra Magic Hours

Extra Magic Hours can be both a benefit and a curse. These extra park hours are offered to anyone staying at a WDW resort. You will have to show your room key in order to be allowed into park to remain in the park after closing. The down side of EMH is that the park can be busier the day of EMH, particularly for am EMH. One tip is that if you have a park hopper ticket just go to the park for the EMH and visit another park for the remainder of the day.

Here are some general tips for the parks

  • travel light, there is a lot of walking in the parks and walking with a large back pack can be uncomfortable and often not practical for riding rides.
  • Make the most of the rides with child swap – This perk allows parents and older children to take turns on rides where the little ones don’t yet reach the height requirements. Often the family can stay together until getting on the ride or you get the flexibility to go on another ride until your party is ready to swap.
  • When possible take breaks mid day – it can be both the busiest and the hottest park of the day. Particularly if you are at a park with late hours or even better EMHs you can come back to the park later to enjoy the rides with less crowds and cooler weather.
  • Evaluate if you need Park Hoppers – After purchasing Park Hoppers for the last 4 vacations I have started to realize that they are not necessarily needed if you plan properly. This can be a good cost savings for your family.
  • Watch the WDW Planning DVD – it can be ordered for free from the Disney Website. It gives a great overview of each park and will give you an idea of what attractions you most want to see.