Monday, May 23, 2011

Minnie Moms: Advance Planning Tips, Janine

This month's Minnie Moms topic is advance planning tips.  Since everyone had such great ideas to share, I'll be posting them all week.  Enjoy this installment from Janine in the UK!

There's very little in life as exciting for me as going on holiday, especially if the letters WDW are involved.  As this is something we don't get to do every year, the planning for me is a big part of it.

For our first trip back in 2001, with my dear in-laws, we didn't do much beforehand at all. My husband and his family had been twice already, in 1997 and 1999. His dad paid for the flights with air miles. We found a villa on the Internet (thank God it was legit!) and my father-in-law bought the Park tickets on the plane.

I'd read a book about Florida in general and had a few ideas about what I wanted to do and see, but it was pretty much go with the flow.

It was an awesome holiday but left me chomping at the bit to go back and do all the things we missed.

The next time we went wasn't until June 2006, this time just my husband and myself. However we booked it in January 2005 which meant I had lots of time to plan!!!

This time I spent night after night researching rides, restaurants, shops etc. I watched planning DVDs, read guide books, looked at things online. I even knew what I wanted to buy from Walmart by looking at their online shopping site. I knew which Parks I wanted to do on each day and even where I wanted to eat. I became obsessed with looking at menus, and checked loads of them out before we went, so that I pretty much knew what I wanted to order before we had even left the UK.

But both our 2006 and 2008 trip were relatively easy to plan as we booked a package deal through a travel agent, including hire care and insurance. In 2006 we even bought the Park tickets from the agent.

In 2008, we booked the flights and hotel through Virgin but DIY'ed the tickets, buying from Disney, Discovery Cove and Universal direct (yes, as we go for a fortnight we do allow ourselves to do non-Disney things too.)

However, in 2009 I really had to get my act together. After we had returned from WDW in 2008, my father-in-law suggested that he would like to treat the whole family to a holiday to Florida. Various things occurred throughout 2008 which meant although I kept an eye on things, such as prices of flights, possible villas etc., and nothing was set in stone.

Queue January 2009, with me working difficult shifts as a Police Officer - "Oh Nine, since you're the Disney expert, how about I transfer some money into your bank account, and you chose and book EVERYTHING." For 6 of us. For May.

Now I was used to about 18 months worth of list making and faffing about, this was Pressure!!!

First thing to sort was the flights and villa.

I was 99% sure I would use Virgin as although you pay more, you get a better service. I don't know about anyone else, but we feel that you pay so much for a Florida holiday anyway, that you may as well spend a little extra to get the best that you can. There is a time and a place for scrimping and saving (to be able to afford Disney holidays in the first place) but not whilst you're there, and most certainly not when your father-in-law is paying for it all.

So it became a daily ritual for about a week or so of checking flight prices.

In the mean time I also had to find a villa. Because, what if I bought flights for a fixed date, and couldn't find a villa to accommodate us? Or, vice versa?

Luckily, back in 2008 I had joined a website called The DIBB. This is basically a Disney information community for Brits. And they have a section with villas to rent. Back in 2001 we had stayed in Claremont and really liked the location, so that was my starting point. Luckily I found one really quickly, and exchanged some lovely emails with the owner. I emailed all the details with photos to the inlaws, just to double check. Yes, they thought it looked great. So, with a date in mind, I checked with Disneybabe, the owner, and then checked the flights, and by February, we had a way to get to the US and somewhere to stay while we were there, yippee.

Next up was car hire, which we do direct with Dollar, and tickets. We always buy them direct now, so it was the 14 day Park Hopper (only available to UK guests) and 14 day flex ticket including Busch Gardens.

We also book tickets to see a Tampa Bay Rays game (this was one of the deciding factors about what time of year to go, as DH loves baseball) and a three night stay at The Grand Plaza Hotel in St Petes as everyone loves the beach time and the break from the Parks (except me of course, I'd much rather be in WDW but I'm not paying so can't argue too much ...).

As soon as we start to get to a double digit countdown, well that's it really. Mega excitement begins and planning goes into overdrive. I end up with lists of my lists. My husband will enquire where a certain tee-shirt is, only to be told it's already packed. Each week in the grocery shop, something extra for the holiday will appear in the trolley as I stock up on sun cream, puzzle books, new flip flops, shower gel, you know, all the essentials.

I find myself addicted to The DIBB and the Walmart websites.

I make myself a 'touring plan' of each Park and an itinerary for each day. As my brother-in-law's girlfriend was a first timer, I hand wrote her a day by day guide to what we would be doing, with a rundown of the Park/shops/restaurants etc.. I know what days we'll do parades and which nights we'll stay late for fireworks. I read and re-read planning guides, so much so that I could write one myself. Every Facebook or Twitter status mentions the F word, by which I mean Florida of course. Everyday folk run away from me as I can now tell them which film I'll be watching on the flight and which refreshment stand I'll be getting a drink from in MK before the parade ...

Of course, what I didn't know at this hectic but hugely enjoyable planning stage, was that the day we set off on yet another 'Once in a lifetime' holiday, I would be 6 weeks pregnant with Tink.

So a lot of the planning went out the window when we were there, as I was too sick, too tired or unable to do things!

I only found out that I was expecting Tink on 28th April and we left on 9th May so this time was spent frantically making sure Virgin and the insurance company knew I was pregnant, and researching which rides would still be safe for 'us' to go on.

Anyway, that's how I tend to plan our holidays to The World.

I realise a big missing thing here are ADRs (advance dining reservations.) We've never made one. This will change with the 2014 trip as we want to do Chef Mickeys, CRT and California Grill at least.

It may be about 3 years away, but I'm already thinking about it. I may need to buy Tink so thicker soled shoes or put her on a stretching table if she's not big enough for some of the rides!

And most importantly, Amy and I need to plan our meets! So far we're having tea at the Grand Floridian, carrot cake cookie at The Writers Stop, a 'veggie Southern dinner' at her DVC property .....

Contributed by Minnie Mom Janine P. from Swindon, England.  She is a proud wife to Steve and mommy to Felicity.  You can follow her on Twitter, @Disneynine.

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