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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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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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.

The Autograph Book.

Here at Disney all the kids, and a few adults get all the characters to sign their autograph books. You can buy the books at Disney for between $10 and $30 or off site in a gift shop for under $10. I decided to make Faye one to bring. I brought a brown hardback book with thick pages and painted a Minnie and Mickey on the front, pretty simple, but we’ve had lots of people coming up and asking where they can buy them from!

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Typhoon Lagoon.

We have now visited both Disney water parks. Blizzard is my favourite as I think it has more to offer, but Typhoon is still well worth a visit.

Again, get there early to get a good seat and get straight onto some rides as the queues are shortest first thing.

We took our refillable cup we brought at Blizzard Beach and paid for a sticker ($7) for our drinks all day. Well worth the money if your going to be there a long time.

Typhoon Lagoon has a wave pool and is the biggest wave pool in North America. Word of warning – it is powerful and the surface of the bottom of the pool is quite rough. Lots of people got scrapes and cuts if the waves knocked them over.

The food is pretty average here. All counter service. Quite reasonable. We ate for $30. We also took a cool bag with water and snacks for the duration of the day.

Whilst we were here a big storm broke out around 4pm. Everyone has to leave the water but the park doesn’t shut. If the storm passes the park and rides reopen. But if it doesn’t, the park can shut and if you’ve brought a ticket that day specifically for the water park, you do not get a refund.

We sat at Ketchakiddie Creek which is an area for kids under 48″, perfect for Faye. One reason I preferred Blizzard to Typhoon was because the lockers, toilets, food outlets and drink refill stations were much closer to the seating area and when you have a three year old who needs something every half an hour it makes life easier when they’re closer. Or maybe I’m lazy!?

Disney day 1.

We began our Disney journey today starting at the Magic Kingdom. Faye’s Dad Craig has joined us for a bit and he had very long delays yesterday on his flight from England so we had a lay in and got a late shuttle from the hotel over to the park. Our hotel runs a shuttle service five times there and back to the Disney and Universal parks. The shuttle dropped us at Epcot and you use the free Disney transport to get to other parks. Once at Epcot we went to collect our tickets we’d brought online but I’d left the passports at the hotel. You need government approved photo ID for each person and my Oyster card did not suffice (not sure why I had that and not my passport) anyway this involved us getting in a taxi from Epcot to the hotel and then straight to the Magic Kingdom. That cost $40, not as horrifically expensive as I expected, but equally not the best start to the day.

Once in Magic Kingdom we saw Pluto and Marie for autographs. I brought a chocolate Mickey ice lolly but it was so hot it fell right off the stick. Ice creams are just under $4, water $3, but there are water fountains everywhere.

We mainly did Adventureland and Frontierland today as we had a lot of rain and quite a few bits were shut. Faye is hooked on the rollacoasters already and love Splash mountain and Thunder Mountain. If you do Splash Mountain at night you get a great view of the castle lit up. We watched the nighttime parade which was fab and the fireworks. Get there early as it fills up fast! Equally if you want to get on the rides quick go during this time as the queues are only about 10 minutes.

We made the mistake of leaving after the fireworks, don’t, wait around for a while, everything’s still open as the queues for the Monorail and Ferryboat to get back to the car park are pretty big.

11.45pm we arrived back to the hotel. A taxi from Magic Kingdom to the hotel (Quality Inns an Suites, Entry Point Blvd) was $19.