A Realistic Guide To Parenting

Many parenting books advise us of challenges a new-born will bring.  They emphasise the delirious exhaustion it brings and the rejigging of a previously carefree life.  We are shoved into debates about breast vs formula,  sleeping rituals or how best to bond.  But once that precious newborn smell starts to fade and the nappies turn to training pants, we are left, without warning, with a small person who wants to navigate the world their way.  Sounds exciting right? Well actually, it can be really really hard and you may feel, at times, like you are going mad. The terrible twos is real, except it starts around 18 months and ends at about 4 years (if you’re lucky).  

After a ghastly nights sleep (if you can call it that) I’ve necked my coffee and have decided that there is categorically no solutions to parenting.  All children are different, the crappy times are unavoidable and therefore we may as well have a laugh about it. I’ve written my own, more realistic, guide to parenting below. 

1)      Tantrums

Tantrums have no limits. I kid you not, some tantrums were/are so out of control that I get a ringing sensation in my ears for days. Once, she threw her shoes in the road as we were walking into nursery, another time she threw her shoe at my head as I drove, and the worse was when she laid on the floor of Tesco kicking and screaming.  This was made more stressful when Brenda who was surfing the fruit aisle for some bananas decided to tut at me. Children may be small, but they put up a good fight, so come armed with supplies. I usually find a hip flask of wine and the ability to pick your child up and run quickly back to the car can help a public tantrum. Genuinely though, do not give in; let them scream it out.  Learn to play an episode of friends in your head and ignore the shrieking. Alternatively you may just go deaf which I guess can be considered a win.

2)      Users

Don’t expect unconditional love from a toddler. My children cheered when I suggested snuggling up to watch a movie together only to be told they weren’t interested when the only snack I had was fruit. They were cheering for the sweets and popcorn they assumed they would get, not me. Whilst we’re on the subject of children being users, expect to only hear you’re the ‘best mummy in the world’, after buying both a kinder egg and a magazine. You must then also expect to be told you’re the ‘worst mummy’, 6 minutes later when you won’t let them play on your phone.

3)      Bedtime

Before I had kids, I imagined bedtime to be wonderful. Me and my child sat arm in arm whilst I read them their favourite book and giggled at the funny parts. They would kiss my cheek and tell me they loved me as I left the room and they drifted off into 10 full hours of sleep. Last night, in protest of going to bed, my daughter slept under her bed. She was so pissed off that she ripped a page of her book, threw it at me and then climbed underneath. And no, I wasn’t alarmed, I was so fucking happy she was asleep I simply slid her out from the bed and tucked her in. She can fall asleep in the airing cupboard for all I care, as long as shes actually going to sleep.

4)      Bedtime Part 2  

Just a word of caution, a child’s bed is magic.  When children get into them, they suddenly remember their need to hydrate or empty their bladders. They also realise they have to tidy their room, need to say goodnight to everyone including the next door neighbour, like light, hate light, hate dark, they’re scared, they’re sad, they’re poorly, they need a poo, they need a wee, they’re going to be sick, they need to wash their hands, their eyebrows hurt, THEY NEED TO CHECK THE TINY PEICE OF FLUFF IS STILL IN THEIR SHOE. Basically, come armed with a bucket of water, install a toilet in their room and don’t expect to be out of there before midnight.

5)      Hair Brushing

If your child has long hair, you should anticipate them turning into the grim reaper if you so much as comb the tiniest knot. The other day, to test the authenticity of said reaction, I merely brushed the air next to my daughters hair she, in turn, held her head and SCREAMED ‘ow’. Fake it until you make it hey?

6)      Disappearing Socks

Children’s socks are not like adult socks. Like beds, children’s socks are magic. They can escape, hide and disappear. I once put a sock on my child and two minutes later it had runaway, never to be seen again. Another time, I wrapped a few pairs and put them in my child’s stocking but when the present was opened, they had gone. The socks had escaped. Socks will leave, you will buy more and they too, will leave. They will never match, and you will spend every day of your parenting life looking for a clean pair of socks for your child. You will eventually need to re-mortgage your property to afford the cost of new socks. Alternatively, it may be an idea to make contacts at a sock making factory.

7)      Toilet Flushing

Your children will be fascinated by flushing the loo for the first 3 times they use it and then they will never bother to flush it again.

8)      Home Décor

If you must choose a colour of carpet suitable for children, then I would suggest the colour ‘it doesn’t exist’. The best advice is to not bother with floor. Maybe you could put some newspaper down, if you’re feeling fancy, but no floor is the best bet. Same with furniture. Don’t bother getting any, before you know it will look like you had a break in, and your furniture was vandalised.

9)      Timekeeping

Astonishingly, none of the parenting books I have read have ever mentioned the fact that children are unable to understand you until you have repeated yourself 53 times.  If you ask them something the poor little soles cannot register it until you have actually lost your voice getting the message across.  If you want them to get ready for school on time, it’s worth waking them at 4am and starting the requests then, as they may have heard you by 7am. Also, all children are born with a defect that causes them to automatically slow down when you are in a rush. This again, is strangely not mentioned in parenting books.

10)   Extra Senses

They say children can see ghosts and their senses don’t just stop there.  They have all sorts of additional powers.  One is knowing what a food tastes like before trying it.  For instance, they know that a chicken dish you’ve spent an hour cooking tastes horrible, but only need to hear the word ‘ice cream’ to know it tastes amazing. Other additional senses include; hearing you eat no matter how hard you try to hide it, sudden ability to adhere to all rules if chocolate is mentioned and the instant hunger they are hit with once they are near a cake.

To summarise, parenting can be so hard and were all blagging it.  And yes, that includes tutting Brenda in the fruit aisle.

Birth? Is It Really That Bad?

I spent so much of my time wanting to be pregnant that I didn’t give much thought to the experience of giving birth to my child. It was something I had heard lots of women talk about but not something I had really considered. 

The one thing I did know was that child birth was terrifying and it hurt. Actually it didn’t hurt it was like someone ripping your insides out while you were still alive (a description kindly given to me by my sister). So when I fell pregnant last year it was pretty much one of the first things I thought about once I got past the initial shock.

The first thing I did was totally suppress any thoughts of birth. I spent the first 22 weeks blissfully ignoring the fact I would potentially push something the size of a melon out of my vagina, but as time went on I decided it was probably best to face the music and arm myself with knowledge and information on how this incredibly huge life changing experience could pan out. 

I was really open to all eventualities of how this could go. Whether that be vaginal or cesarean. I didn’t have an ideal situation in my head. I didn’t know a lot but one thing I was aware of was that no birth was the same and if I focused on having one type of birth I’d probably end up having the opposite. 

Let’s be honest it couldn’t be that bad, I mean women have been giving birth for years. Some women even do it over and over again and back in the stone ages they didn’t even have drugs and hospitals! Surely I’d be OK? 

I read a lot! I read book after book after book which didn’t really make anything clearer as I still didn’t know the type of birth I would have. It did give me a better understanding of the eventualities of labour and what my body would be going through, however didn’t resolve my main question; “What does it feel like to give birth?” 

I think by week 32 anxiety set in and I started to really think about the pain factor and how I would cope, bearing in mind I was someone that would cry at the mere thought of a paper cut. 

As my due date drew closer and closer I began to dream of all the things that could go wrong.

I tried to imagine the feeling and the emotions I would feel on the day. Would I love my baby? Would I recognise him? Would he be big or small or have a funny shaped head? I watched reruns of one born every minute like they were going out of fashion. A few times Matt arrived home to me sobbing, eating ice cream on the floor, having watched a sad episode. I’m sure he thought I was a mad woman. 

About 5 days before my due date I started to get frustrated. I was adamant I would be early. I never really understood it when women said they were getting frustrated when they were overdue, but once I was in the situation I totally understood. I was ready for my little tenant to vacate the building (or my tummy) that had been his home for 9 months. I think it was probably the anticipation of being so close to your due date that makes you go crazy. You wait 9 months to get to this point (9 long months) and suddenly it becomes a reality that any day they could be with you. 

I had my first sweep around my due date and it was pretty painless and uneventful. I was told my cervix was still far back and no where near ready to go, which was soul destroying. I was furious. Did they not know it was my due date in 24hours, surely something would be happening. It started to feel like I might be pregnant forever. I imagined meeting people at 58 months pregnant, explaining that my baby just never arrived. Rolling myself around the house as I could no longer walk! 

Everyone was scared of me and disrupting the ticking time bomb I’d become. A family member made a fly away joke about him not having arrived and how funny it was and I went in to melt down mode. I was furious that anyone would find it funny. Furious, extremely hormonal and hugely overreacting, something no one would have dared say to my face at that point. 

You’ll be pleased to know that I did go in to labour, thankfully for my husband and close friends and family who had probably had enough of my constant moaning. 

I went in to labour on the 21st November at 11.30pm. My waters broke just before midnight, I paced up and down for 20 mins before calling the hospital and they told us to pop down for a quick check up. Everything moved extremely fast from that point. We were told that he had pooed inside me and by no uncertain terms was I going home but being induced immediately. I was given an epidural and then induced but within about 4 hours his heart rate dropped so much and it was plain to see he wasn’t going to be coming any time soon so a cesarean was the safest birthing option.

So there you have it, I spent most of my adult life talking about birth, listening to other people’s birthing stories and imagining the pain I would go through, to not having a single bit of pain. 

Do you know the crazy thing I didn’t even feel one contraction. Not one. 

I have to say I’ve heard other women say they felt cheated, I don’t, in fact I feel pretty happy that I didn’t have to go through a single contraction in pain. The one thing I did learn was that when you’re in the midst of labour, your whole focus just goes on getting that little person here safely. I’ve never considered myself a selfless person, but everything went out the window in those final hours before he arrived. If they had to chop off my leg to get him here I’d have done it in a heartbeat.

As they wheeled me down to theatre I remember the feeling of fear set in. I’m still not sure to this day if it was fear of what was going to happen or fear that my life was about to change forever as I entered the room. I remember looking around for Matt. I’m a fairly independent person but I needed him next to me to be able to get through this. I’ve heard women say that they wouldn’t have been able to get through birth without their partner. Not just their partner being present but the mere smell or touch of their partner giving them the strength for those final pushes and I can honestly say without sounding too soppy I’ve never needed him so much in my life. 

As they topped up my epidural I started to panic that I would feel them cutting in to me. I was petrified that the anaesthetic wouldn’t work. I asked the nurse but apparently they had already started so I didn’t need to worry. 

 The fifteen minutes I was on that table while I waited for them to pull him out felt like a life time. I could feel nothing apart from tugs and pulls as if someone was building a Lego toy inside my stomach. I distinctly remember just holding my breath and waiting to hear him cry like I’d seen on all those programmes and as soon as I heard his little cry I let go and burst in to tears. It was the most wonderful, emotional and scary thing I’d ever been through. 

So there you have it my birth story. Totally different but equally as special to all the million, billion others out there. 

I have to say on reflection, one bit of advice I would give to any pregnant women is to try and not plan your birth too much. There is no wrong or right way to give birth. You don’t know what is going to happen when you’re in the situation. Just plan to look after yourself and get your child here safely. 

Women are amazing. To think we grow and give birth to a little human is mind blowing. Every time I look at his face I can’t believe it was him in my tummy for 9 months. Although, the last few weeks of pregnancy were long sometimes, I wish I could put him back in just to have him all to myself again for a day and feel those little kicks once more. 

When Two Become Three

So many times I have heard people say they ‘don’t want their child to be an only child’. Many assume they will have more than one child if they can, myself included. When deciding on having another child the worries are commonly based around money, logistics and space. So when discussing having two children with my partner, there was understandably a lot of emphasis on the practical side, whereas the emotional side was left on the side lines, only revisiting it when I was physically living the unexpected feelings I felt after giving birth for a second time.

I was 25 when I fell pregnant with my son. It was unplanned and I had only been with his dad a short time. From the start I was sure I was going to have a girl. I pictured myself braiding my daughters hair and getting mummy and me manicures together. I would naturally navigate towards the pink and girlie products in Mothercare – cute dresses and ballet pumps made my heart explode. It was gender stereotyping on steroids. By the time I went to my twenty-week scan I had convinced myself I was carrying a girl. I excitedly laid down on the hospital bed and said I wanted to know the sex of my baby (even though I already knew). The sonographer replied to let me know the baby was lying in an awkward position so she couldn’t yet decipher its sex. But I could. Staring me directly in the face on the screen was a clearer than day outline of ‘boy bits’. I pointed it out on the screen and she looked at me delighted and confirmed that I was correct; I was having a little boy.

I was going to be a single mum, and to a BOY. How? I had never understood boys, I didn’t even talk to my own brother anymore, yet I was expected to singlehandedly raise a boy?

Five months later I became a mum to a little boy. MY little boy, Theo.

He was huge and resembled a chubby ET, but I thought he was just beautiful, all 10lb 7oz of him (yes it was a vaginal birth-lucky me). Instantly, when I held him in my arms, any consideration that I was having a girl melted away.  This was my baby. This was always supposed to be my baby.

We navigated life together as a little family. He was settled and calm and had the loveliest nature. He was so big that he outgrew his Moses basket within 5 weeks.  I couldn’t sleep if he wasn’t in the room with me and I spent countless hours just staring at him as he slept peacefully. I couldn’t believe he was mine.

Life raising Theo was relatively chilled and really happy. He started football at 3 years old and I would sit in the cold and watch him. I never would have willingly watched football (I mean, there was a time where I would’ve assumed Robin Van Persie was a famous actor) but I could watch Theo all day. Every time he scored a goal he would run over and shout to me to check I had seen. When I watched him in his school plays (usually singing – which he hated) he would look to me and I would give him a thumbs up, he would smile and sing that little bit louder. Everyday, when he would come out of preschool and run into my arms. He would even get upset if I was to I go to the shops, making me promise I wouldn’t be too long.

We regularly had movie days, just the two of us. We would make a bed in the living room out of quilts and eat snacks whilst we watched film after film. At just 3 years old he would sit snuggling me, watching each film intently and giggling with me at the silly parts. I distinctly remember taking Theo to a museum when he was about 3. We spent the whole day exploring together, laughing and joking about which animal we looked like most and enjoyed tea and cake in the café. No tantrums and no boredom, he was my little angel, literally, and I was so proud to be his mummy.

So when I then fell pregnant, I assumed it would be the same all over again but double the affection, love and jokes. Right? Plus, Theo was so excited.  He would kiss my belly every time I picked him up or dropped him off anywhere. In the evenings he’d show my bump his favourite toys and rest them on it; his idea of sharing. It was too adorable for words. I was so excited (and to be honest unaware) of what was to come.

I gave birth to Phoebe in August 2016. When I first held her in my arms, the happiness I thought I would feel was overridden by guilt. Lying here in this hospital room holding my new baby with my partner by my side felt wrong. It was as if my heart wasn’t in the room; it was happily playing at nursery instead. All I could think about was Theo. I kept asking when I could see him, counting down the minutes until Tom went to collect him. I was so excited to just give him a cuddle and introduce him to his sister.  I told myself I would be fine once he saw her and if was just natural waves of postnatal hormones.

When he turned up I was desperate to squeeze him. I held my arms out, and to my horror he refused to cuddle me. In fact, he wouldn’t even look at me.   I gave him a playful poke and he pushed my hand off.  He looked at her, expressionless, told us he didn’t want to hold her, then sat in the corner and said he wanted to go home.  Despite my efforts he refused to talk to me and eventually Tom took him home. I felt disheartened, but also considered just how overwhelming it may have been for him. I told myself once we were home it would be fine; maybe the hospital was the wrong setting for introductions.

Once home, I quickly learned that the setting was not the issue. The baby was. Theo was feeling weird and I could tell. He was desperately trying to get everybody’s attention, even if it meant being naughty and making a scene. I hated anyone commenting on his behaviour.  I wouldn’t let Tom tell him off. I would go mad if anybody didn’t respond to his questions in 0.4 seconds.  The guilt I felt was overwhelming, and it was coming out irrationally by attacking anybody who didn’t walk in and give him their undying attention. I just wanted him to be ok, to the point where I started to spoil him. I would buy him sweets if he wanted some. I would buy him little toys he saw, clothes he liked, I even bought him a pink sparkly top that was 4 sizes too big because he said he really wanted it. I was desperate to make him feel better.

He was acting out.  Our previously unbreakable bond felt more than broken, it felt like it was smashed to pieces.  I had no idea how to help him, it was like putting shattered glass back together.  I followed all the advice I could find, the most common one to pop up was to spend time alone with him. I arranged to take him to the cinema and I was optimistic that it would finally feel like old times again. But he wouldn’t even talk to me, afterwards I suggested a McDonalds. He declined and added that he thought the movie was rubbish. I felt completely defeated.

In the meantime, all this energy spent feeling guilty about Theo had started to turn into a constant feeling that everything was wrong and not as it should be. The guilt turned to unease and I started to feel like something bad was going to happen. I would wake up 3 times a night to check all the doors were locked. I had phoebe sleep in my room to check she was ok and constantly went from room to room checking they were both breathing. I started to walk everywhere rather than drive so as to prevent an accident. I was absolutely exhausted and my weight dropped lower than it had ever been.

Furthermore, all this had stopped me bonding with Phoebe. I felt like I was betraying my son by doing so and I had an eerie feeling when I looked at her, as if she wasn’t mine. The difference in my experience after having Theo to after having phoebe was a complete contrast. I started to feel like I was a bystander watching myself play house. I was in complete emotional turmoil and worried constantly that I had ruined our relationship. I felt constantly confused. My mind felt overcrowded and busy.

I’m aware now that I was experiencing severe postnatal depression. And I’m certain it was sparked by the complete lack of awareness of how much my life would change and how badly Theo would react. I was completely naive. What’s more, early on I confided in a health visitor who told me I just needed a good tramadol to calm me down. After her response, I was convinced my feelings and behaviour were all normal and I was simply overreacting.

I couldn’t go on feeling how I was so I eventually went to the doctors. She immediately prescribed me anti depressants and referred me to an online CBT programme as the wait for a therapist was lengthy. It took a lot of hard work and persistance to feel better, and as my mood improved so did Theo’s, largely because phoebe was getting older and they could sometimes play together.

Over time he settled into the role of big brother. They would play for hours, laughing (sometimes fighting). When Theo would go to his dads, Phoebe was like a lost puppy for the weekend. They really are the best of friends. Now, nearly four years down the line I can’t remember it being any other way. I tried so hard to make things ‘normal’ for Theo when she came along, completely unaware that eventually, having a sister would be his normal. Spending time alone with them is a great tip, but ultimately, it just needs time, and the understanding that it’s all temporary and no child ever grew up with PTSD from the birth of their sibling. Theo and I are also back to being as close as we were before. We have fun together, movie nights and days out still, except now with a little added bonus; his sister.

It took around a year to truly feel bonded with Phoebe. I absolutely adore her. She has the craziest character and is pretty much a miniature version of myself. I never thought it would be possible to love any child as much as I loved Theo but I am living proof that it most definitely is.

Having a second baby was nothing like I imagined and it took a lot of adjusting. Not everyone feels it’s a struggle of course, I am just sharing my experience.

Most days, after collecting Theo from preschool, he would ask me when Phoebe was ‘going back’. Every time I explained that we were her family and she needed to live with us at home. One day, when Theo asked this I replied jokingly and said we were dropping her off on the way home. He protested and said it just wouldn’t be the same without his sister.  I knew then that it was all going to be ok.

The Long Haul

Travelling tips for anyone going to Orlando!

I have travelled to Orlando with my children twice. The first time I travelled when my children were 3 years and 10 months old and the second time, they were 5 and 2 years old.  We made fantastic memories in a place that is special to me for many reasons, but I’d be lying if I said it was all eating Mickey shaped cookies and skipping down Main Street. There were times me and my partner looked at each other and internally screamed.  Please be aware that I am no travel expert, this is simply me sharing some suggestions which I found helped make my holiday a little less stressful.

Before I start I’ll quickly summarise the details of both trips. Both times we opted to stay in a villa, and flew with Virgin Atlantic.  The first time I booked everything separately; the villa through trip advisor – because it was well reviewed and was a relatively good price – and the flights direct through Virgin’s website.  The villa was located in Lindfields which was less than a 10 minute drive to Disney.  I was also attracted to this villa because Lindfields is somewhere I stayed as a child.  I found however, that in the 25 years since staying there the area had aged and had become slightly run down and whilst the villa gave us everything we required, it was very dated with limited facilities (such as a working TV). The second time, however, I booked a package through Virgin Holidays and received an allocated villa located in Davenport.  Location wise we were much further out, with Disney being about a 25 minute Drive and Universal roughly the same, though I actually found that this allowed us to see a bit more of Orlando and all that it had to offer. The second villa was far more favourable; located in a secure gated community and brand-new décor, a huge pool and all working facilities.  I was really hesitant to book a package because the idea of not seeing the villa beforehand really worried me, but I’m really glad I did and definitely would again. Both of these locations were in Kissimmee. 

My first trip was in June 2016 and my second was December- January 2018/9. The weather in June was scorching hot until around 3pm when it would pour with rain until the next day.  Some days it would just rain and thunder all day.  This was a big shock to me as I thought Orlando would be at its hottest in June, but the humidity the heat can bring in peak summer months can also mean rain and thunderstorms are common. In my experience, the weather was far better in December/January.  It was roughly 21-25 degrees each day with just one small rainstorm gracing us within the 2 weeks we were there.  The evening would get quite chilly though so we always made sure to carry a light jacket or jumper. 

Come Armed with QUARTERS!

I’m putting this point before anything else because it cannot be stressed enough. If you are driving to accommodation you will pass tolls and be required to pay with quarters and if you only have dollar notes this will be a problem as they do not have people working on the tolls so you are expected to have the correct change.  If you don’t pay you will be fined. I would suggest using some notes at the airport to buy a drink and ask for some quarters with your change. If you’ve been before then I’m sure you’ll already be aware of this golden rule, but we had been before and the second time around we forgot all over again and ended up having to park up whilst my partner ran to the nearest shop! It was quite frustrating when you’re tired from a long flight and have two tired children in tow!

The Flight 

Flights used to be a relaxing experience; drinks and food at the airport and winding down with a book or film throughout the flight. It doesn’t take a genius to know that travelling with kids will give you the opposite experience. I arrived armed with goodies for my children, but generally you just have to wing it as best you can, it will just be easier if you have a few have supplies to help.  I’ve listed some below. 

–          I took picture cards and we played snap, an easy game that even my 2 year old enjoyed. 

–          I packed a notebook and some crayons for each so they could draw. I also used them to play noughts and crosses and hangman with my eldest.

–          We flew with virgin and their entertainment was fabulous, but children can be very picky, so I downloaded things they like on my iPad beforehand just in case. Also, games on the iPad kept them quiet for a while. 

–          I tried to keep my children awake for most of the flight and timed any naps to coincide with the time in Orlando. It’s so tempting to allow them to sleep for hours but it will make life more difficult once you’ve arrived. 

–          Sweets and crisps are good snacks that can be used in an emergency. My little girl had a screaming fit and a couple of jelly tots saved the day (and the ears of other passengers). 

–          We bought the children their own headphones as the first time around the ones provided by the airline were too big for their heads and stopped them wanting to watch anything. 

–          Lastly, don’t worry about other passengers getting annoyed too much. Some passengers may take issue with children, but if you’re getting a flight to Orlando you’d have to live under a rock to not know they are filled with families. 

Tackling the Time Zones 

My best friend is cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic and has said her top tips for jet lag are to go straight into the time zone you are flying into and to stay hydrated. To elaborate, things as simple as having breakfast at breakfast time or having a shower in the evening.  Our flight got us to Orlando around mid-afternoon so we got to our villa, dropped our bags off and then headed out for dinner. We left unpacking until later to prevent the children from falling asleep. I found that going straight out kept the children more alert and reduced the chances of them falling asleep! If you are staying at a Disney resort I would suggest popping to a park as it will most definitely keep your children alert. Obviously an early night will be needed but try and make it a reasonable night-time hour in Orlando’s time zone to avoid waking too early. The next day-our first full day – we didn’t visit any of the parks and instead did something a bit lower key. We got up and went out to Walmart and then visited Disney springs and had a drive round and explored, followed by dinner and an early night ready for a day at a park on our second full day. This also helped us gain our bearings a little bit and pick up on things we wanted to do.

Breakfast, Snacks and Dinner

Everyone has different desires when it comes to this, it’s quite a personal choice, but there are things that are at least worth being aware of before you go. I have listed some below.

–          The cost of dining in Disney is pricey.  We had Breakfast at Chef Mickeys and dinner at The Crystal Palace.  Both were buffets and came to around $160 with a tip for a family of four, so budget well, as we were quite surprised when we got our bill!  Out of the two I would suggest the breakfast as you meet all of the characters, have great food and the kids get to sing and dance a little bit! The Crystal palace offered the same interaction with fewer characters as it was just those of Winne the Pooh.  The food was good quality and variety but it is clear you are paying to meet the characters.

–          Even non character dining is pricey.  Planet Hollywood in Disney Springs cost us around $200 with a few cocktails and starters, but the food was fantastic.  The nachos there are to die for! We mixed a few expensive meals in with a few cheaper ones and it didn’t break the bank!

–          The restaurants I enjoyed the most outside of Disney parks were; Chillis, Millers Ale House, Applebees and Cracker Barrel. Our bill in all was no more than around $50 for a family of four, and the food is fantastic, offering a wide variety of different options. 

–          Fill up on breakfast! The first time we went to Orlando we ate breakfast at home to ‘save money’ but ended up spending significantly more when we were hungry two hours later and saw the Mickey Rice Krispy bites on display! The snacks inside the parks can be costly and can quickly add up if you’re filling a hole until dinner time. So, the second time we decided to eat a big breakfast out every day to fill ourselves up, in the hope of reducing the need for snacking.  It worked a charm. We spent about $27 on an all you can eat buffet breakfast for the four of us and then took our own snacks bought from Walmart to eat throughout the day. In comparison to eating a smaller breakfast, then immediately buying snacks and drinks for a family of four at $20 – $25 a time and repeating this up to three times throughout the day, we were saving a significant amount of both money and time.  Golden Corrall breakfast buffet is out of this world and by far my favourite.  A family of four will cost about $30.  


The first bit of shopping we did was at Walmart.  We stocked up on essentials like water (the water in Orlando doesn’t taste great), snacks and pool inflatables and games. We went to Publix the first time around only to realise in the last few days that Walmart was actually a lot cheaper and three times the size. Walmart is a lot like a Tesco Extra in that it sells almost anything.  This includes a huge clothing section and a large Disney and Universal related souvenir section. I always buy Disney pyjamas from Walmart as they’re about $5 a pair and last ages! Character key rings, cuddly toys and clothing are all really low-priced in Walmart and I would suggest it if you want to buy little gifts for people back home. I actually bought a grumpy T-shirt as a nightie from Walmart four years ago and I still have it! If you’re looking for cheaper souvenirs give some of the gift stores a try as well!

Florida has two shopping malls; The Florida Mall and the Mall at Millenia. Personally, I felt the Mall at Millenia contained slightly more upmarket shops and for me personally with two children, I was on a budget and didn’t buy much.  The Florida mall was my favourite of the two as it fitted my budget (this is an unpopular opinion, most people would disagree with me).  Generally though, outlets were my favourite shopping experience.  The deals you can get on amazing brands and designers is incredible and I ended up buying myself a Kate Spade tote and Michael Kors purse for just $200!

The Parks

–          Disney parks charge $20 a day for parking but this can be used on any car park in one day. For instance, if you want to do two parks in one day you won’t need to pay again.  

–          Universal studios charges $25 dollars a day for parking so make sure you budget for this as we didn’t realise and ended up with less cash than we planned!

–          You are allowed to take snacks and drinks in.  Obviously in places like Epcot you will want to try some of the foods (churros in Mexico to be precise) , but on the days we had more pricey meals we tended to eat snacks from home throughout the day to even out the cost.

–          The parks offer refillable cups.  They are $16 a day and you get a flask which you can refill with any drink whenever you want at any drinks cart or machine (you get to keep the cup too).  Don’t do what I did and think you can reuse it every day, they have a chip in which can register which day the drink was purchased for (I was gutted).

–          All parks offer free water refills, worth taking a bottle you can refill as the water fountain water tastes a bit dodgy! 

–          You aren’t allowed selfie sticks in the parks.  Ours was confiscated!

–          Download the Disney and Universal apps so you can see waiting times for all rides.  The Disney app is essential as it allows you to book dining reservations and fast passes up to 30 days in advance, which helps you plan your days.  With Disney you get 3 free fastpasses a day.  Universal doesn’t offer daily fast passes but instead you can purchase an express pass for the day which is unlimited. Be warned though, they’re pricey! We did single rider on a few rides that the children didn’t want to go on and then did baby swap! Knocked hours off our waiting times! 

–          All the evening fireworks are amazing, but Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom is a must see (spoiler; I cried and I never cry!)

A couple of random tips to end;

– If you’re staying in a villa take your rubbish bin out the morning its due. We put ours out the night before like we do at home and raccoons destroyed it. It was everywhere.

– Visit the Old Town on Saturday night. They have a mini classic car convoy and live music. My children loved it! They also have some really good shopping there and it has an old country feel to it.

– Krispy Kreme’s are $6 for 12 glazed rings in Walmart.

– Wear comfortable shoes around the park as you walk so much. I did 32,000 in one full day in the Magic Kingdom.

–          Luggage trolleys at the airport cost money to use.

To finish, I just want to say, if you have a trip to Orlando booked, I’m extremely jealous!