Wow! Where to even start? Maybe I should start by saying I’ve never once thought of myself as a “Disney person.” I mean… I’ve always wondered what people found so wonderful about a theme park!
Wow! Where to even start? Maybe I should start by saying I’ve never once thought of myself as a “Disney person.” I mean… I’ve always wondered what people found so wonderful about a theme park! I went a few times as a child but in looking back at those experiences, I can’t recall an answer to that question I so often used to ask myself.
In fact, I can’t recall anything from my childhood Disney trips. So after we went the other week, I asked my mom, “Mom. Why do I not remember Disney as a child? Not one ride!”
“Megan, you were sick as a dog,” she said.
Yep. The stomach virus. So clearly I blocked Disney out of my memory completely. And honestly, maybe that’s why I’ve never once desired to go back!
But now that I’ve been as an adult with my own children, I won’t ever forget it. And I’m sure it’s the first of many trips for us! The we spent together at Disney was truly magical and the memories we created will always always be so very dear to me. I’m excited to share with you what we did, where we stayed, and all of the tips I thought of while we were there! Disclaimer – I am not the person will all of the insider tips, so just know you’re not going to get all of the Disney fanatic resources you might find on another blog. Now that that’s out there, let’s get started!
Did you use a planner? YES and as a Disney newbie, I 100% could not have done it without them. We used Ears of Experience, who took care of all of our plans from the hotel to recommending attractions to making reservations. I wouldn’t have known where to begin otherwise. I was also writing with them throughout the whole time asking questions like, “What’s the best way to get to X?” and things like that, so having someone on your side is a great feeling. Another reason to use them is price! They have been in business for over 30 years and know all the ins and outs of getting the best pricing, perks, etc. They also will adjust their price if you can find a lower price for Disney anywhere else or if the price of your package goes down before you leave!
How long did you stay and which parks did you visit? We stayed five nights and did four park days. We drove down Thursday after school, then we were ready to hit the park first thing Friday morning. We did Magic Kingdom on day one, Animal Kingdom on day two and then Magic Kingdom that evening, Hollywood Studios on day three and then Epcot on that evening, and finally, Magic Kingdom on day four. I felt like it was the perfect mix. With that said, you can easily do two parks in one day! You’ll need a hopper pass to do that.
Where did you stay? We stayed at the Grand Floridian, which was stunning and such a calming reprieve from the overstimulation at the parks. It had everything we needed—close proximity to the parks, especially Magic Kingdom since it’s just one Monorail stop away! And if you don’t know, the monorail goes from Magic Kingdom to each of the Disney resorts. It’s the quickest way to get around. We figured out that the best transport option for the Grand Floridian when going to Magic Kingdom is to take the Monorail to Magic Kingdom and then hop on the ferry boat to get back to the hotel because the Grand Floridian is the first stop for both! And if you don’t know, you get on the ferry boat and the monorail at the same spot when at Magic Kingdom. You can’t miss it!
But back to the Grand Floridian. It has three pools and offered so much fun for both the kids and for us. There are also several restaurants on the property. The only one we ate at was Citricos, which was delicious and felt more high end. The staff was incredibly accommodating and the property itself was pristine. If given a chance to stay somewhere else, I don’t think I would want to. We really really liked it.
How did you get to the parks? I wanted to mention this again because some of you, like me before this trip, might not even know what the monorail is or anything about Disney transportation.
to get to Magic Kingdom: As mentioned above, we took the monorail to Magic Kingdom. There is a monorail “station” on the second floor of the hotel and its first stop is Magic Kingdom, so the whole process might take five minutes total. Leaving Magic Kingdom on the monorail is a different story, though, because the monorail continues the loop, making the Grand Floridian the very last stop. It might take 20 minutes or so to go that route. And if it’s the end of a park day, the monorail might be very crowded, so I was advised to avoid it in getting back to the Grand Floridian. With that said, there is a boat ferry right next to the monorail station at Magic Kingdom. If you see the boat there (and not in the middle of a run), then hurry and hop on! It goes directly across the pond to Grand Floridian. This was definitely the quickest route for getting back, as we were lucky and there was a boat there every time, so no waiting.
to get to Epcot and Hollywood Studios: We drove! If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you get free parking at all of the parks. There are buses that make regular pickups at Disney resorts and deliver guests to the parks, but sometimes “public transportation” makes me nervous. So we drove and it was great. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you get 50% off premium parking, which is good for the entire day. When your feet get tired from walking all day, I promise that premium parking is worth it! It was $25 and we used it on our Epcot/Hollywood Studios day. It might not make the biggest difference at park #1 but at park #2, I promise it will save your feet. There is also a “skyliner,” which can take you between Epcot and Hollywood Studios, but we opted not to do that because we were going to the hotel to rest a little in between parks. I do hear that the skyliner and buses can get a little crowded at night after the Epcot fireworks show, so that’s another reason we wanted our own car.
to get to Animal Kingdom: We drove to Animal Kingdom also. It’s all such a quick drive and having the comfort of your own vehicle being there is nice. We did not do the premium parking this day and regretted it!
By the way, you can also Uber! I did notice the Uber area was a bit of a madhouse at the end of the Epcot fireworks show/park closing (and I’m sure it’s the same for Magic Kingdom), but I think if you’re not planning to take an Uber at 9pm, then you’ll be just fine.
I ran to Ellifox in a little bit of a panic the day before our trip and they helped me put together a few really cute outfits for the kids. They can do anything when it comes to monogramming and they carry the sweetest lines! Rosie’s floral Minnie embroidery is so cute. I ordered most of their ears from Amazon and have them saved in my Disney storefront here!
We didn’t do too many attractions on the first day at Magic Kingdom, as we were all just kind of getting used to the lay of the land. Watson LOVED the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. (We all did except for Rosie as you can see in the right picture!) Meeting the princesses near Cinderella’s castle was much more her speed.
We also did Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride and we all loved it! At the very end of this post, I’ll list out our favorite attractions at each park.
Our children were dying to get back to the resort to swim in the pool, so we headed back around 3 or 4 to have a little R&R.
That night, we went to Ohana for dinner, which is at Disney’s Polynesian resort. I had no idea that these dinners were served family style! So it was expensive but probably worth it because it was a LOT of food. That said, we ate a small fraction of it but it was still great. I highly recommend Ohana because it sort of feels like you’re at an indoor luau. We were able to see the fireworks at Magic Kingdom through the window and the music was piped in. Tip: if your children don’t eat the Polynesian food they bring to the table, you can ask for chicken fingers and french fries at no extra charge!
Watson and Rosie dressed up for dinner, which made it even that much better! The picture to the left (below) is taken at the Polynesian resort after dinner. The one to the right is back at the Grand Floridian. We took the monorail to and from dinner.
My first thoughts when we entered Animal Kingdom were, “Wait we shouldn’t have come here… our children are too small!” But then once we explored some more, it ended up being one of our favorite days.
The safari attraction was just so cool and I learned a ton that I didn’t know about these beautiful animals. At times I really felt like we were in Africa—it’s really well done.
We had lunch at Tusker House, which was really good. Honestly I could have gone for a cheeseburger and fries, but they brought out a lot of marinated chicken, steak, and shrimp with tasty marinades and sauces. There were really good sides, too! This is another family-style, “eat as much as you want” meals. And we saw Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Daisy! It was also very fun because the characters were dancing with the kids … the restaurant just had a joyful atmosphere. Tusker House came highly recommended to us and didn’t disappoint.
We went back to the hotel for some pool time, then had an early dinner on property at Citricos, which was wonderful! It’s definitely a bit more higher end, I would say, but still felt casual and comfortable enough for kids. Rosie dressed up as a princess, which of course I loved.
By the way, Citricos has the best kids meal! For dessert you can choose this ice cream sundae in the picture above to the right. So good!
Then for the best part… around 7pm, we headed back to Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks at 8pm! If I’m honest, I very easily could have skipped this because we were all tired. My feet were already burning from the 20K steps we had done two days in a row and an on-time bedtime would have been good for the kids, but we did it and I am so thankful. I’ll share why, don’t worry.
It was crowded, but it didn’t matter because the energy just felt so magical! I realize this sounds corny but it did. And the fireworks were beautiful. You absolutely have to go to the fireworks show and not just see it from the resorts…. it’s different when you’re there by the castle.
Then we rode plenty of rides after the fireworks. Our kids are super flexible… they get better as the night gets later, so we took advantage of a fun, late bedtime and we stayed riding rides until about 9:30pm! The park closes at 10.
The lines were so short, the air was nice and cool, and the park felt so empty. It was so refreshing after our first two busy days in the parks. This moment of riding rides with our kids late at night was by far the best part of our trip! We all kept saying that.
Some of the kids favorite attractions were at Hollywood Studios! I definitely think you don’t need a full day there, but pick a few great things and you’ll have a blast. The main event at Hollywood Studios is definitely all the Star Wars stuff. Considering I’ve never even seen Star Wars, this was a big pass for me, but I have to admit that the whole Star Wars section at the park was insanely cool.
After a little pool time that afternoon, we freshened up and went to Epcot in the late afternoon/evening. I wish I had more pictures of Epcot, but we felt limited on time and we were trying to make the most of every second! It had the best rides, but I’ll talk more about that in just a bit.
We had breakfast reservations at Cinderella’s Royal Table, which was so magical for both of our children, but especially Rosie since she dressed up as Cinderella herself!
The breakfast itself was really delicious. The reservations can be hard to come by, but Ears of Experience secured that one for us and we are thankful! You prepay in advance and then once there, select from a prefix menu. Yes, it’s a little pricey but they really try to make the experience magical for children and it works. Plus, it was so cool to be inside the castle! The little girl in me was equally as excited as Watson and Rosie were.
After Cinderella, it was all about Watson! He is very pirate-obsessed, so we went right back over to Pirates of the Caribbean and did that ride (Brandon stayed back with Rosie this time!) and then got to meet Jack Sparrow himself.
Then Brandon and Watson did a ride together—Splash Mountain. I am too much of a baby. I realized that the preschool aged roller coasters were scary enough for me, ha!
After another handful of rides, we loaded up on all the sugar for our ride home. I would say we stayed at the park until about 4pm and then got on the road around 5. It was a long drive home, but this white chocolate covered caramel apple definitely helped. 🙂
I’d go back in a heartbeat!
(Keeping in mind that our children are 4 and almost 6!)
It’s a Small World: It’s a little silly but I feel like it’s rite of passage and a could first ride to set the tone.
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Pirates of the Caribbean: Rosie was scared but the rest of us LOVED it! You do get a tiny tiny bit wet, but nothing that will make your hair messed up or your mascara run, ladies.
Splash Mountain: Brandon + Watson (the girls stayed back)
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
Peter Pan’s Flight
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Mad Tea Party (tea cups!)
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: I love this one!!
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
We also loved meeting the princesses at the princess hall!
Two that were cute but not “musts” for us are below. Just slightly underwhelemed!
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
Avatar Flight of Passage: I was terrified but Watson and Brandon loved it. This is the coolest ride, though. You feel like you’re flying on a Banshee and that you’re actually in the movie. It’s crazy!
Na’vi River Journey: This is up there for my favorite of the entire trip. The ride was jaw droppingly BEAUTIFUL.
Kilimanjaro Safari: A must!!
It’s Tough to be a Bug: Super cute and a nice 15 minutes of cooling off in the AC.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway: This was another top favorite!! So cute and a little bit of thrill in there, too. Perfect for kids and adults (like me) who are afraid of roller coasters.
Toy Story Mania: Another family favorite! Very similar to Buzz Lightyear at Magic Kingdom. It has a competitive edge to it since you have to shoot targets and keep score. It also felt longer… some of these rides felt so short, so I appreciate the ones that last a little bit longer!
Alien Swirling Saucers: I liked this more than the teacups!
Strong avoid in my book: Star Tours The Adventures Continue, yet Brandon and Watson liked it. It’s VR and a tight area with little air circulation. Not my fave to say the least!
We also saw Disney Presents: Frozen Sing-a-Long which we ALL loved! I am not sure if it’s always at Hollywood Studios, though. It was funny and a nice AC break. So good!
Soarin’ Around the World: This was my #1 favorite attraction of all. It is AMAZING. I feel like I’ve traveled the world now! It’s Virtual Reality and so realistic.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure: Family favorite! So so good. This was probably my #2 attraction of all.
Frozen Ever After: This is tied for my #3 favorite (probably tied with Mickey & Minnie’s railway). It was so enjoyable and had some thrill too, which was unexpected!
I feel like you can skip the Seas with Nemo attraction unless your children just really love Nemo!
Stroller: We rented a stroller from Disney, which was super convenient because it’s a daily rental and you can take it and leave it at any park you enter throughout the day. However, the stroller doesn’t offer the smoothest ride for the kids or for the person pushing it. I wish we had rented through Kingdom Strollers, which is just about the same price but for a nicer stroller—and they deliver to you at your Disney Resort! I thought it would be inconvenient to transport a stroller on the monorail but it didn’t seem to be at all because you don’t have to break it down! Just roll it right in. Also, if you have your own stroller (we don’t own a double) then just bring your own! Disney makes strollers convenient.
Small cooler: I definitely will pack a small cooler next time to put in the base of the stroller! My kids love very cold ice water, so having some ice in a cooler would have been perfect for us. Also having a few waters and juice boxes in there would have been convenient. Sometimes those lines where you buy the $5 waters can get a little long! Now… once my children are too big for a stroller, I won’t be able to do this. But honestly, I might always rent a stroller even if my kids are big because it’s nice to hold your bag, your drink, any souvenirs you pick up, etc.
Sunscreen and comfy shoes… enough said there!
Laminate a card with your name and phone number to put in each of your children’s pockets.
Bring a case of water and lots of snacks including breakfast bars with you to the hotel. It’s nice to have that on hand. But most important… the case of water! You will be extra thirsty after all this walking in the sun and the hotel water didn’t taste good at all. It was a pain to constantly go and buy a bottle of water for everyone.
The character meals can go a little long in time, so I would only plan on one per day.
Plan ahead: Disney is all about planning! At least have a list ready of what you want to accomplish, then you can adjust it based on wait times.
Definitely use a planner for all of the reasons I shared at the beginning! Ears of Experience was wonderful for us.