15 May 2016

Holiday Planning

So, I'm not sure if I mentioned this in any previous post.

We were really fortunate to be able to go to Florida last month - we had been discussing the idea for yeeeears but have never been in the position (money-wise) to actually do anything about it.

So I'm going to write a series of rambling posts which I think are offering advice but are likely just me waffling and trying not to cry about the fact that I am not in Kansas Orlando anymore.

Why Orlando?

I can't remember what the catalyst was but on a whim we just decided that we would go.

I love everything Disney, and Dami seems to like it. Dami was really excited about the Universal parks (I wasn't as interested, but I was still pretty excited to check out the Harry Potter area)
I've always wanted to go back and explore the parks as an adult - I've always wanted to go back full stop. My memories of it are so faded but I remember just being happy to be there.

We both have needed a holiday for a long time - this was our first holiday alone together and it was so lovely to get to be together the whole time.

We have different holiday preferences - I'd rather sunbathe and swim and read all day. Just chill out and rest my body. Dami always wants to go for a walk and explore things so he doesn't get bored. This seemed like the perfect holiday for him to be honest.

How did we decide when to go?

Originally I suggested September of this year as it was just after my birthday in November. I thought this would give us the opportunity to save and plan exactly what we wanted to do, but Dami said "why wait?".

In the end we settled on mid April. We didn't look at the many crowd calendars that exist, we just chose the date and booked the holiday.
The next week I pored over these crowd calendars and I can tell you now that we were so lucky. We booked just after the kids went back to school and just before some other schools broke up. Most of the days were due to be a 4 at max.
I found Undercover Tourist to have the most comprehensive (and accurate, as it turned out) crowd calendar as it takes into account the Universal parks as well as Disney.
I paired this with WDW Prep School and Easy WDW to make a pretty solid plan. Easy WDW goes into detail about what to plan on each day. They tell you their opinion about what park is the best for that day and why, using historical data, term times and various other factors like special events.

So at this point it was getting close to Christmas (we booked in the first week of December) and we had completely paid off our holiday, booked transfers, settled on seats for the plane, etc, etc.
I say etc. but in reality I planned this trip meticulously and the plan was set in stone by February and 'nothing would allow us to deviate'. I was so wrong, on every count, because I haven't been back to Florida since I was 10, so I had no clue. I didn't know about the My Disney Experience app. Hell, I didn't know Universal had one until the third time we went there. All I cared about was making sure we had somewhere to stay that was nice, had free transport to the parks, had enough money for food and had a plan. That was the thing that so many websites were saying. Have a plan.

Having a plan

A couple of my co-workers are going to Orlando this year so we discussed everything that we wanted to do and shot ideas at each other to make sure everyone had everything covered. This was the point that I found out about the app and ADRs - advanced dining reservations. And in my head I was still being pretty naive about it all because we didn't make any ADRs, though at one point I did book one for the Rainforest Cafe but cancelled it after I found out we couldn't arrive at that park on time for our reservation. Sad face.

Another couple that we know from University were coincidentally going at the same time so we arranged to meet up at some point. I think I asked about a month before and they hadn't started to plan anything yet - I know that they did make a plan at some point because they went to a festival a couple of hours away and were planning to go to a water park the day after we met them there.

I would definitely suggest planning. In fact, we know we are going back in 2018 and I have already started planning the holiday even though we can't book it for six months.

In hindsight, I would have more of a loose plan than we had for this trip. We got over excited with all the things we could do and overbooked ourselves (more financially than anything)

Our Original Plan

Each bullet point was supposed to be one day of our holiday
  • Flight out / Outlet shopping
  • Magic Kingdom
  • SeaWorld
  • Universal Studios
  • Epcot/Boardwalk
  • Animal Kingdom
  • Islands of Adventure
  • Shooting range / WonderWorks / Blizzard Beach
  • Typhoon Lagoon / Medieval Times
  • Hollywood Studios
  • Space Centre / Airboat ride
  • Busch Gardens
  • Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure
  • Magic Kingdom
  • Flight home
The things that we weren't able to do in the end were:

We went past it on the complimentary ferry service from Hollywood Studios to Epcot and it just looked like restaurants. Neither of us were interested in checking it out so we didn't.

Shooting range
We tried to rearrange doing this several times including on the day we were leaving, but I hindered us going. I had a really bad chest infection made worse by the humidity and the heat and wasn't really up for shooting during the last week. Then we ran out of money, so we couldn't afford it.

We more ran out of time with this one (plus I didn't want to go)

Medieval Times
Something I really wanted to do. The price was quite expensive but we had some vouchers. The only other thing that was in our way was that I couldn't set up an Uber account/I forgot to do it before we left. The taxis were apparently going to be really expensive so we gave it a pass.
I'm going to add another reason here which is that Damien is really fussy with food and wouldn't have eaten anything except the garlic bread and maybe potatoes.

Space Centre/Airboat Ride
This was a full day activity that we really wanted to do. My parents offered to pay for something once in a lifetime and I suggested this, but we didn't have enough time in the end or we would have gone here. Can't wait to go next time.

Please notice that we did not plan any days off. We counted the water park days as rest days. 
This was not a mistake. We did inadvertently have a day off however and regretted it every day after.

Where did we get our Park Tickets?

We booked our holiday with Thomas Cook, who offer a good price on park tickets. We paid about £1080 for two of us to go to all six Disney parks, both Universal parks and Wet and Wild, Legoland, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and their water park. I'm pretty sure that was it. We had to pay extra for transfers to our hotel because although car rental is included in your booking, you cannot swap this for a transfer coach. We don't drive so it was wasted on us. 

We would, next time, get our park tickets from FloridaTix as I think they are cheaper there. A woman from my work got her tickets there so I won't feel as nervous ordering them.

The tickets from Thomas Cook were supposed to be available 28 days before we left, though I could not collect them that day. When I went back the next week (21 days before we left) I still could not collect them so I was happy when one of the members of staff said she would print the tickets for me there and then. She said to ignore the email that I would receive that had my tickets attached.
I'm really glad she did this for me because when I received that email half of the tickets were missing and it saved me a lot of hassle.

Sneak a peak at the next post

We took a hell of a lot of pictures, so stay tuned for the next post! Should be in the next couple of days.

Only 100 weeks until my next visit! Cannot wait!

If you have any questions, please leave them below and I will incorporate them into my next post!

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