What we’ve learnt.

89 Days

25 Hotels

Over 20 Places

1 Country

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I was slightly hesitant about going away on our three month trip to America, for many reasons such as work and money, but, mainly because I’m backpacking with my three year old! Would we be safe? How would Faye cope? How will I cope!?!

Once we got there, those worries soon went straight out the window. I remember the first day we set out exploring. We left our youth hostel in Boston late one afternoon and went for a walk around the neighbourhood and I instantly felt happy and calm. The houses and streets were beautiful and Faye was running up and down, laughing away.

Don’t underestimate the hard work that goes into organising a trip like this, it takes a long time, and foolishly I planned mine whilst completing my final year of my degree, which got very stressful, BUT, it paid off as things went pretty smoothly once we were away.

Yes we backpacked, but very organised backpacking, I had pre-booked all our accommodation and transport before we left the UK, this is partly because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if I didn’t know where I was going to stay from one week to the next, and also, i’m with a young child, I wanted suitable places for her. Ultimately I know I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did if I was spending time trying to find accommodation. Another bonus to it, is that its cheaper. If you can book hotels, train tickets, car hire at least a few months in advance you can get things quite a bit cheaper.

So we stayed in 25 hotels during the trip. I initially set my budget at £50 per night for accommodation and the average worked out at £51.25, so I thought that worked out pretty well. Obviously depending on the area you are in, a hotel can be £30 a night and others can be £100 plus, but, you’ve just got to keep on top of your budget the whole time. Its also nice to spend a few nights in an average hotel to save some money and then have one night in a nice one. Hotels on average in America are way, WAY, better than what you would receive in England. Most places we stayed, had two large double beds, fridge, microwave, hi speed Wi-Fi, satellite TV, kettles, free parking and breakfast – for £50. When researching my hotels I used hotels.com as you get one free night for every ten you book through them, but its also worth going direct to the hotel for a price. I used Tripadvisor for everything, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt, people on there seem to moan about anything and everything. My main priorities were, does the lock on the door work and is the bed clean, any extras I’m over the moon. We were very fortunate with ALL our hotel, everyone was more than adequate for us two and I always felt safe.

I was advised by STA travel agents when initially discussing my trip that I would need £1000 per person, per month, in America as everyday spending money for food and activities etc. I took half that amount of money as that’s all I had. We had £39 per day, around $68, dependant on the exchange rate. Obviously some places are twice as expensive as others, so any opportunity I could find to save cash I would. We didn’t go out for three meals everyday because I just couldn’t afford it. We made use of the fridge and microwave in our hotels and always tried to get the free breakfasts. I also always carried snacks for Faye so instead of stopping for a meal she could graze through until dinner time. I have come home with a small credit card bill, due to the clothes shopping during the end, but that was to be expected. However, on average I did manage to keep to my budget, the best way to do that I found was to spend as little as possible during the start of the trip to make sure you know you have enough to last the duration.

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The trip has done a lot for Faye’s social skills, before we came away she was not particularly confident doing physical tasks, and wasn’t keen on having conversations with new people, which is fine as she’s only three, but since being away she’s thrown herself into pretty much all the activities, she’s much more confident and she’ll even order her own food in a restaurant! When you ask her about the trip, she will mainly tell you about Disney, but she has really enjoyed all the other places. Things like the US Mint in Philadelphia, I found slightly dull looking at coin after coin, but Faye loved it! She found it really interesting looking at the factory and identifying what different coins were. Giving her her own digital camera was one of the best things to keep her entertained, she loves to take photos and did so throughout the whole trip. People passing by would often smile when they saw Faye taking pictures of me, and would offer to take a photo, but Faye (being a very independent child) would say ‘no thank you, I’m good at taking pictures’.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not always easy being in each others pockets for three months, when we are at home in England, I work and Faye has Preschool so we have time apart, which I believe everyone needs, so there was numerous times I could of strangled her, and I’m sure she could me. It doesn’t help that when Faye’s asleep she still doesn’t stop talking or fidgeting! There’s not much that can be done about it really, just go the bathroom, count to ten and think at least I’m not at work!

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Neither of us wanted to return home, we could of easily stayed away for another few months, but unfortunately the VISA and the money ran out. In the airport on the way home we were reading travel books for where we would like to go next. We like Mexico, Thailand and central America – to be honest, I’ll go anywhere! Faye starts primary school in September 2014 which will be quite an obstacle but I won’t let it stop me. I am aware taking children out of school is very difficult these days, however the knowledge Faye has developed on this trip for her age has been immense and its never ending. She’s practiced her hand writing when sending postcards, she’s been identifying all her numbers when finding hotel rooms and using elevators. She can now identify different flags and countries. She’s learnt about pounds and dollars as well as different cultures and some of the history behind the United States of America. She’s been educated on looking after the environment and pollution of the sea. She has seen a whole variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. She’s used so many modes of transport and tried different foods. The best thing is, that I am not having to teach her these things, we are learning them together and enjoying it at the same time. We are both incredibly fortunate to have been on this adventure.

So the plan now is to work hard, save up and play the lottery to fund the next trip!

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West Palm Beach.

We left the Kissimmee area to head down to West Palm Beach. Before leaving Orlando we stopped in at the Florida Premium Outlet on Vineyard Avenue where we picked up some real bargains.

We then got in the car and drove 166 miles to our next hotel which is Hotel Biba. The drive was real easy as I was on one road (Florida Turnpike) for 138 miles! There’s lots of toll roads here and in the Miami area they have stopped accepting cash and so you have to have a Sun Pass to get through. At our car hire company we paid our tolls in advance which they told me was cheaper. I’ll find out at the end. To occupy Faye in the car we purchased a few cheap Disney CDs full of songs and stories.

On arrival at Hotel Biba (6.30pm) we dumped the bags and went straight out. We were recommended ‘City Place’ which is a outdoor shopping area with lots if bars, restaurants and live music. It was one mile from the hotel and a lively area to be in. We in fact went to the cinema there to watch Monsters University. Cinema tickets are slightly cheaper than in England, but the food inside is still a rip off so we snuck bits in from the supermarket!

Hotel Biba is a nice place. Looks like it does in the pictures. Has free wifi and breakfast and an outdoor swimming pool. The breakfast was good and the lady replenishing it told us to take as much as we wanted to take in our cool bag for the rest of the day. The same lady also lent Faye lots of toys and floats to play with in the swimming pool. The Rooms seem to be newly renovated. All decorated in clean fresh white. Has a quiet air con system which means you can have it on at night! We paid £49 for one night here and got two double beds. Nice hotel. Felt safe.

Disney Overall.

Favourite parks Epcot and Magic Kingdom

Favourite water park – Blizzard Beach

Favourite nighttime display Fantasmic at Hollywood studio

Favourite rides Tower of Terror (Hollywood), Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom), Toy Storey Mania (Hollywood), Soarin (Epcot).

Best character encounter was at Magic Kingdom at Enchanted Tales with Belle as the children get involved with her and it lasts quite a while.

We did;
Four days at Magic Kingdom,
Two days at Blizzard Beach
One day at Typhoon Lagoon
One day at Animal Kingdom
One and a half days at Hollywood studios
Two days at Epcot
Then slept for a day

We ended up purchasing all our photopass photos on a CD for $169. We made the most of it and got the photographers to take as many pictures of us all as possible.

If you want to buy Disney gifts slightly cheaper there are hundreds of gift shops in the surrounding area selling all the Disney bumf at a cheaper price. A misting fan is $18 in the park and $7 in a gift shop.

Having a pushchair is VERY useful, even if your children are slightly older its useful to put the bags in.

Buy a cheap foldable cool bag and ziplock bags to take for drinks and snacks. We also put flannels in a ziplock bag with ice for a cool wipe half way through the day.

Don’t buy ice lollies they melt off the stick before you can eat them.

Turning up to a park about 10am is the worst/busiest time.

Allow an extra half hour to get to Magic Kingdom as you have to get the Monorail or a Ferryboat to the park from the parking lot.

Arrive at Animal Kingdom and the water parks early.

Between 12-3 go inside and eat or sit down. It’s crazy busy and boiling hot. If you eat then rather than in the evening you can get on the rides in half the time and in much more bearable temperatures.

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Epcot.

We split Epcot into two days as we are struggling with the 8am starts now and tend to head out late morning. This park is open 9am-9pm, the world showcase section does not open until 11am and the Illuminations commence at 9pm.

One the first day we concentrated on the Future World section and managed to get it all done as well as having plenty of time for food. I’m not sure if it was because it was a Sunday, but we didn’t really have to queue for anything which was great! The worst queue we had was for the Test Track in the evening which took around 45 minutes, but was well worth it.

Seasons was one of the best counter service places we’ve found in Disney so far. It is situated in the Land where Soarin is. It has a much greater variety of food and made a change from just chicken and ribs.

Soarin is a ride to recommend. It is a simulated machine in which you are in a hang glider flying over California. Faye loved it. But it’s not for people who don’t like heights! Get Fastpasses early in the day for this as they sell out quickly and it’s normally well over 60minutes in the standby queue.

The second day we focused on the world showcase. We had picked out a few characters we wanted to meet and tried to time it around them. Here we met Mulan in China, Snow White in Germany and Alice in the UK. We were not able to view any of these characters elsewhere which is why we made time to see them. Be at the character signing a minimum of 15 minutes before to get in line otherwise you could be waiting nearly an hour to meet them. Japan was our favourite country. It has a large shop where you can buy pearls and all sorts of authentic Japanese things. Faye purchased a fan and they wrote her name on it in Japanese which was a nice touch. There was also a candy artist who made animals out of sugar, corn flour and water which was pretty impressive. She made Faye a giraffe. The French pastry shop looked very tasty but we already had dinner reservations! To see all the shows in all the countries it’d probably take two days. We picked and chose what we could fit in. A lot of the restaurant looked lovely, especially the one in Mexico but you can only eat so many times in one day!

A good character sighting at Epcot is in future world. It is on the way to the seas with Nemo ride and we walked straight in with no queue and met Mickey, Minnie and Pluto. Minnie and Mickey are in their classic outfits. Faye has now met Minnie and Mickey at all four parks.

We watched the Illuminations on the first night on the bridge between England and France and got a good view. You’ve got to be there a minimum of 30 minutes prior to get an unobstructed view. The second night we ate in the Rose and Crown in the UK and watched it from there – you need to ask to sit outside. The Rose and Crown cost between $20-$30 for a main meal and $9 for a children’s meal which consisted of a main meal, desert and a drink. The children’s meal are for under 9s only. Whilst the food at the Rose and Crown was nice, I thought the portions were quite small for the money. Their signature dish is fish and chips.

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Hollywood Studios.

We did Hollywood Studios in a day. It’s open 9am – 10pm. It’s good for a break from the heat as lots of the attractions are indoor shows with plenty of aircon! Equally if its a stormy day with lots of rain it doesn’t affect your day too much as you can get inside away from it all.

It has different characters from Magic Kingdom with characters from Monsters Inc and stars of Disney Junior so you need to make sure you see them here.

We throughly enjoyed this park and there’s a lot that focuses on Faye’s age. Beauty and the Beast Live was one of our favourite shows of the day as well as the American Idol experience. As a lot of things are shows you have to get your timings right otherwise you can miss them. The Toy Story Midway Mania ride was much better than the Buzz Lightyear one in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom I thought. You need a Fastpass though as it gets very busy.

Finish the day with Fantasmic at the outdoor amphitheatre . It’s one of my favourite Disney shows. Its a combination of lights, fireworks and water and includes lots o characters. Lasts half an hour. People start arriving 90minutes before the show starts. There’s food outlets round there as well as a warm up act whilst you are waiting. Check the weather forecast though as it is cancelled if the weather is bad.

Disney Accommodation; Quality Inn and Suites, Maingate.

Our accommodation whilst at Disney world Orlando. Quality Inns and Suites, Maingate, Entry Point Blvd, Kissimmee.

Less than 3 miles to Disney. Closest parks are Animal Kingdom and Blizzard Beach, 5 minutes car ride. Furthest is Magic Kingdom about 15 minutes, $25 in a taxi.

Hotel runs three shuttles out and three shuttles in to the park. Pretty reliable. Give allowance for a 10 minutes either side of pick up time. Quality Inn is last stop before Disney so you don’t have to go to loads of other hotels.

Hotel rooms have fridges, kettles and microwaves as well as a built in safe. Free breakfast. Plenty of choice, 6.30am – 9.30am. Nice heated swimming pool. Free wifi – can be slightly dodgy in rooms. Computers and printers in reception if needed. Has coin laundry machines, $2.50 a cycle. Reception sell stamps and all major attraction tickets. Free parking. Rooms average size, clean and safe. Quiet at night. We paid £29 a night for 13 nights booked through hotels.com. Had two double beds.

Located along 192 which is full of shops, restaurants and gift shops. Buy your Disney gifts cheaper in these. Watch out for supermarkets. There are three near us within a ten minute walk and one is much cheaper than the other two! McDonalds have BIG queues in the evenings after people have finished at the parks.

Would highly recommend this hotel for families visiting Disney. At £29 a night it was a bargain and when you visit Disney you’re barely at the hotel. It’s clean and safe and in a great location whether you want to drive or use public transport.