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Disney Download

2018 February 16
by Becky

Disney Magic Kingdom Family

We did it! We went to Disney World and not only survived, we officially had a GREAT time.

A little over a year ago, if you’d asked me about going to Disney, I would have laughed and adamantly said “NEVER.”

It wasn’t until exactly 11 months ago, when I had a surreal revelation that the boys would be 3 and 7 this year—possibly the perfect ages for us to all enjoy Disney together—that I out-of-the-blue decided it would be the perfect time to plan this vacation.

Overnight, I was a Disney planning fool.

My main goal for this trip was of course to avoid standing in lines as much as possible, so we looked at the Disney crowd calendar and found early February to be the slowest time at the parks. Sure we’d miss a little school, but it would be worth it to avoid the total chaos of holidays and extreme temperatures of summer break. For everything else, there’s a million Disney blogs and tips sights but barely any that are written by novices. I needed “I went to Disney once and this is what I learned”. I just a regular, first time, here’s the basics list. It took about 3.26 seconds for me to be COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED. Meal plans, tickets, fast passes, resorts…it was too much. TOO MUCH. And all so crazy expensive. I started questioning this plan. Big time.

Then my friend Ashley hooked me up with a very nice Disney Vacation Planner, one of those people who get paid by Disney to plan your vacation for free. After talking to her, we decided a Disney Resort was the way to go for our family of four. That was until, through the kindness of a family friend, we got an incredible deal on a three bedroom timeshare at the Wyndam Bonnet Creek Resort—plenty of room for our family plus my parents, who decided they wanted in for the whole trip. That way we’d save tons of $$ on a hotel and having plenty of space for the six of us (finding even a two bedroom at Disney is SO EXPENSIVE!!!). Since my parents live in Florida five months of the year, they arrived early and had the place all stocked up and scouted out by the time we arrived on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

We rented a minivan to get us all around for the week, especially back and forth to the parks. Our hotel offered a shuttle service but the times were kind of limiting (or at least they felt that way in the planning process) and there was a per-person charge that made renting a car and paying a daily parking fee a better choice for us.

Walking into Magic Kingdom on day one, I was nervous. The kids were overstimulated. They liked the rides but were also so excited to swim at the hotel that they were a bit distracted. It was all just SO MUCH. But we figured out how to use those Fast Passes and enjoyed around 12 rides that first day. Well, I say enjoy, but Ethan would add “Curse You Space Mountain!!” because, it turns out, he’s not a rollercoaster guy. I don’t blame him, I’m not either. After months of saying he wanted to ride roller coasters, we ran for the line-less Space Mountain as our second ride and probably scarred him for life. I forgot just how dark, loud, and fast that ride is. Oops!

The other rides were wonderful, cheesy, and short but sweet. It’s a Small World hasn’t changed a bit, the boys LOVED it, and I thought The Little Mermaid was an amazing addition.

The next day we were heading for for Animal Kingdom, and we had a plan of heading straight for the Flight of Passage ride in the Avatar section of the park. Guess what? This was everyone else’s plan too. People were RUNNING to get in line. Since we didn’t want to spend the first 1.5 hours of our day waiting, we skipped that ride and did the River Na’vi and African Safari—those lines were empty! And they were amazing. A giraffe walked right in front of our truck, we saw every animal. Overall, this park didn’t have as much for our kids, things were either too fast or too big, but we rode what we could and took in the beautiful sights—the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains were spectacular!! Bonus, this park sells delicious adult beverages and some very tasty food.

Day Three was Epcot and possibly our best day. I don’t know why exactly, maybe it was all the Fast Passes and little-kid-friendly rides, maybe it was the perfect weather, maybe we hit our stride…or maybe it was having a beer at each country for lunch? Tough to say, but it was great. I was a huge fan of the GM Test Track ride and we all loved the Nemo ride that ends in a huge aquarium complete with manatees! Some of the rides could us a little updating, but they were still really fun. I’ve heard people say this is the park to skip, but I seriously disagree, it’s a keeper.

Our last day was spent back at Magic Kingdom, hitting rides we’d missed the first day. It was awesome to revisit a park because it felt more familiar and less urgent. We took our time, walking through the main street circle to watch really fun character shows in front of the Cinderella’s castle, which completely captivated my boys, even the one who had claimed he “didn’t care about the characters.” Weird how exciting it is to see Mickey and Minnie and Elsa and Tiana right there in front of you. We rode Stu’s favorite Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion—neither has changed one bit and could possibly use some updating, I have the “Buy a Wench for a Wife” scene in Pirates specifically in mind—but both were crowd pleasers for sure.

Every day, when our feet could walk no farther, we headed back to the hotel for pool time. The kids loved our pool with the water slide and the adults loved the huge hot tub and nearby bar. There was a mini golf course right there too and one afternoon there was a DJ hosting games. We hit Disney Springs—formerly known as Downtown Disney—three evenings. The first time was to eat at T-Rex, something I wasn’t so sure about but completely loved. It’s a massive dinosaur themed family dining experience not to be missed. There is a meteor shower every 20 minutes, period-specific dining areas (we sat in the ice cave), and the food is actually good! Plus they have Corona Margaritas…a vacation requirement. We showed up early and sat right down, but the boys still had time to do some work in the fossil digging area. Why doesn’t every restaurant have this?

Disney Disney Springs TRex

Stu and I returned to Disney Springs for a date night, eating at The Edison, and we went back one more time with everyone to dine at Morimoto…omg what an awesome place. Not budget friendly in any way, but definitely family friendly with excellent service and oh so good. We loved walking around the area, hitting the Lego Store for play time, listening to live music, and people watching.

Oh, and the last thing we did every night was watch fireworks!! We were lucky enough to face the right way in our top floor hotel room so we watched at least two sets of fireworks from our balcony every single night.

This trip was amazing.

I am the first to admit I was a doubter, this kind of commercialism is rarely my style. But Disney has it figured out. I’ve rarely felt so unplugged on a family vacation, it was like we were in another world. Every Disney employee we encountered was incredibly friendly, helpful, and amazing at their job—exactly what you want when traveling with little kids. The parks were impeccably clean and and well maintained. The food was good! Souvenirs not crazy over-priced. I can definitely say we’ll be back when Finn is a few years older, to do it all again.

Since I made that jab at Disney bloggers, I feel like I need to give my “first timer” two cents. So here it is, my non-expert tips on what I’d do next time. Here we go:

  1. If you can, go when it’s not so hot. Our fourth day was in the 80’s and very humid and we got a little taste of what it would be like to traverse those parks in miserable heat…not good. I really can’t even imagine. If you can make February work, do it!! Our weather was ridiculously good. I think November would be great too.
  2. Take as little to the parks as you can. We had our stroller, so that was our storage vessel when riding rides. We left our snacks, coats, water, and anything else in the stroller and no one ever touched them. I carried a backpack the first day with my cell phone and credit card and ID and snacks and such in it, but after that just carried my phone and cards in my pocket. Next time, I’ll be taking a fanny pack. It would have been perfect!!
  3. Wear REALLY Good Shoes. I wore my Keens every day to avoid massive foot pain from all the walking. OMG the walking. Keens are the only shoes that never hurt my feet!
  4. Get there early. I hated being annoying about this every day, but getting to the parks early is the right move. Since the drive was only about 10 minutes, getting there by 8:15am left time for parking (quick because we did premium…see below), bag check lines, and park entrance lines. I think we might have left even earlier the first day for Magic Kingdom—which I wish we’d done our last day when we returned there—the lines for shuttles to the park can get loooong, same with bag check. MK let us in before opening and had a cute little opening ceremony show. Animal Kingdom let us in before opening so we could watch people RUNNING to the Flight of Passage line. Epcot makes you wait outside the gates till opening and everyone heads straight for Frozen and Soarin’ (we did Soarin’, it was awesome!). So even if you have fast passes and think, “Let’s sleep in!”, probably best to get up and get goin’.
  5. Take disposable ponchos. I bought a pack of 10 to throw in the stroller just in case. The ones at the park are like $10 each and I wouldn’t want to have to stand in line for one when it starts pouring. They are also handy when riding in the front seat of Splash Mountain on a chilly day!
  6. Buy your tickets early and book your Fast Passes. This was stressful for me, I didn’t totally understand the Fast Pass process but knew they were cool, so I bought our tickets months before our trip and was able to book 3 fast passes per day 30 days ahead. If you are staying onsite, you probably have a planner that will help you with this and you can book them 60 days ahead. I was shocked at how many people weren’t using fast passes because they bought their tickets at the door the day of. Fast Passes are free and can be really awesome. We had tons of luck using them at Epcot and Magic Kingdom but didn’t use a single one at Animal Kingdom because we ended up getting there early to miss most of the lines and they were limited at that park in general.
  7. Take a Stroller. No way we’d have enjoyed this trip as much without a stroller. Even for our seven year old, a stroller saved us again and again. Those parks are big and kids get tired. Sure it’s annoying to keep track of it (I almost forgot about it at least 10 times) but it’s worth the effort. Our Bob was perfect! That thing has seen it all…
  8. Consider Magic Bands. If you are going for more than a couple days, magic bands would be very convenient. I didn’t know you could get them if you were staying at an off-site hotel, so we didn’t have them and just carried our ticket cards around with us, swiping them for fast pass entrances and park admittance. I was stressed about losing those cards and realized how convenient the bands would be. I think they are $12/each.
  9. Fast Passes: Thirty days before our trip, I used my phone app to book one an hour for the first 3 hours of each day. Magic Kingdom and Epcot were easy but Animal Kingdom was super limited so I kept checking back to see if any opened up (people cancel them all the time). We got there early each day and did short-line rides plus our fast pass rides. The moment we used the 3rd fast pass was used, I searched for a new one (you can book one at a time after the first 3 are used). If I couldn’t get one we wanted right away, I kept refreshing the app until I found one…they change constantly! It was kind of exciting and really helpful to cut down the wait times.
  10. Consider Premium Parking. So every day, Stu’s favorite splurge of the trip was buying the “premium” parking pass. Between that and getting to the parks early (around 8:15am), it meant we parked in the very first row, as close as possible to the park. It is $20 more than the regular parking fee, an expense my cheap-skate self would never have paid, but his plan was solid. At the end of each day, when we were completely exhausted, it was a very short walk to our car, skipping the parking lot shuttles (with the exception of Magic Kingdom, there is always a transport from the park to the parking lot at that park but being close eliminates getting on ANOTHER shuttle to get to your car). This parking fee also covers a bottle of water per person, at least it does when you get there early!
  11. Pools. Even in February and December, make sure you have an awesome pool to swim after a long day at the parks. A hot tub is also incredible. I was so nervous it wouldn’t be warm enough to swim, but I made sure the pools were heated (88 degrees baby!) and we swam every day.
  12. Rider Swap Works! I didn’t really understand this and thought it was just for Fast Passes, but anyone can use Rider Swap if you have littles who can’t do some rides. Example: We arrived at Epcot and headed straight for Soarin’, a ride we couldn’t get a Fast Pass for. Finn was too little to ride so a friendly supervisor handed Stu at Rider Swap. Everyone went on the ride while I hung out with Finn, then as soon as they walked out I handed Finn off and got to go through the Fast Pass line to ride with my Mom (no one else wanted to go again). I thought it was a really nice system!

I could probably go on longer but it’s not necessary, none of this is as hard as it seems. I’m really pleased with how everything went and think the boys were the prefect ages to enjoy Disney. Would we go with just our three year old? Absolutely not, we’d wait. But there were people with one infant, four children, and families of 15, all walking around enjoying themselves, so to each their own. Who’s to say what’s the right age to enjoy Disney?


2 Responses
  1. Linda Johnson permalink
    February 18, 2018

    It looks and sounds like you had an amazing time at Disney World!

    The picture of Finn hugging his big brother in the stroller is priceless!
    What a wonderful memory for your kids.

  2. July 12, 2018

    Great post. I need to take my girls back one more time before they “get to old” for Disney, though I don’t think you ever get to old. Yeah I loved the fast passes when we went last time as well. Proper foot wear is key to a good time, the last time I was there I made a big mistake and suffered from some serious blisters…won’t do that again. Thanks for sharing your tips.
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