We had the most amazing time on our recent family vacation! It was everything you hope vacation to be, and then some. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw all my posts and our smiling faces! I was a bit skeptical going in, not really seeing what all the Disney hype was about. I must admit, we absolutely had the most magical time. We saw and did everything we wanted to, we were carefree, Steve didn't do an ounce of work, we worked together to plan our days, our kids bonded, we bonded, we wish we could go back and relive all seven of those glorious days! Family vacations are expensive and time consuming to plan, but oh my gosh, are they worth it.
I have decided to recap our Disney/beach trip in segments. There is too much to say and too many pictures for one post. We are first-timers, at least with taking our own kids, and I promised several people that I would share my thoughts on all things Disney when we returned. I also wanted to give a HUGE shout out to Steve. He was seriously our pack mule, navigator, driver, fish/shell finder, day planner, and all around cruise director. He kept things lighthearted and fun, as he is a big kid himself. Our main goal was to be organized, but not on a super schedule. We wanted to just have fun and take in all the moments, and did we ever!
This was our first time going to Disney with our kids, in our adult lives. Steve and I have both been to WDW at different times in our lives, but this was our first time planning it on our own and traveling with our family. We are NOT Disney experts, far from it. These are my thoughts about the experiences we had as first timers. So many people have so many opinions about Disney. I just simply want to share about our experience and how things went for us!!! We had intentions of going into this as if we might not go back. I know some people go every year, and some who will just go once or twice. We will probably go back at some point, but for now, these memories will suffice! I highly suggest asking questions and finding good Disney websites to help you along the way! If you have any questions, please email me or leave a comment. I would love to chat!
We decided that our kids were getting to the right age to tackle WDW. We started talking about it, did a little research about time of year, and booked our plane tickets. We decided to go in early May and booked our plane tickets in January. We used frequent flyer miles and traveled from Kansas City > Dallas > Orlando both ways. We decided early on that we would go to WDW for 4 days, and rent a car and drive to the beach for a few days. Total trip time would be 7 days.
We did all purchasing and planning on our own. We asked lots of questions to those who had been there before, did some online research, and just went for it. After plane and hotel were booked, we purchased 4-day park hopper passes. I would highly recommend paying a little more for the park hopper. This means that you can go to any of the four parks at any part of any day you have your tickets. We definitely used this feature. We went to at least two parks every day, and one day we even hit 3 parks! Disney makes it very easy for you to link up hotel, transportation from airport, ordering Magic Bands, booking fast passes, making reservations, etc. There is an app you can download that has everything in one place for you.
Telling Our Kids:
We decided to do a scavenger hunt at home to tell our kids about the trip. When we were 100 days out, we hid clues throughout the house and ultimately they found a photo of the Magic Kingdom at the end. They squealed and hugged and jumped up and down. We made the decision to tell them ahead of time so they could be in on the planning. We also believe that the anticipation of something is just as exciting as the actual event, so we wanted to give them that. We had a countdown on the fridge, and honestly, 100 days absolutely flew by. When the Magic Bands arrived, we new we were close and the kids were beyond excited. It was so fun to watch them anticipate this trip and I'm so glad it met their expectations!
Where We Stayed:
We talked about staying offsite and using hotel reward points, but ultimately decided to stay on Disney Property and booked those rooms in March. There are a few perks with staying on Disney property and we are happy we made this decision. We were able to get a "spring special" so we upgraded to the "Princess Room" at Port Orleans Riverside Resort. This is a "moderate" resort, but we heard great things and it came highly recommend. This is a large resort with beautiful grounds, horse drawn carriage rides, bike rentals, a ferry to Downtown Disney, bus transportation to all parks, a large dining hall, two kid friendly pools, nightly movies on the lawn. We were very happy staying there. Our room was small, and a bit dated, but we slept great (exhaustion!) and we barely spent any time in the room. The princess room had some special touches and we were on the first floor in a great location on the property. No complaints!
What We Ate:
We opted to NOT get a dining plan. We heard mixed reviews on this, and ultimately decided we could probably eat cheaper on our own. We had heard that a lot of the food goes uneaten that you have already paid for in the meal plan. We also heard that the food just wasn't that great, so we didn't want to be stuck with that.
Breakfast: One day we ate at Port Orleans Riverside Food Court. Overall, the hot food is not very good. Kids couldn't finish their Mickey waffles. I had a ham/cheese croissant that wasn't too bad, but it's not ideal eating. We went to Port Orleans French Quarter (just a short walk down the river) one morning to eat beignets, and those were very, very good. We ate at a Starbucks inside Hollywood Studios one day, which was a wonderful surprise and treat for us. Our first day at Magic Kingdom we ate breakfast at Be Our Guest. We made reservations for this ahead of time. It was pretty good, but obviously a bit pricey for breakfast. No characters are present at this breakfast, but the castle is fun to see and you get into the park early with this reservation.
Lunch: The only lunch reservation we made ahead of time was at Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot. This was a buffet style lunch with live entertainment. We all enjoyed the experience. We sampled different beers and had some delicious desserts. You must try the Grapefruit German Bier when you go to Epcot! The other days we found snacks at the park (popcorn, ice cream), or ate our own snacks. We ate pizza one day for lunch at Hollywood Studios.
Dinner: We at at Epcot for dinner twice. We ate in Morocco, Steve ate a brat in Germany, the kids ate fruit sushi in Japan. This is your best bet for good food and desserts! It was fun to walk through the countries and sample different things. We ordered pizza one night at the resort, and we also ate at Downtown Disney one night.
Time of Year:
In doing research on best time of year to visit Disney that also worked with our schedule, we landed on early May. We figured post-spring break and before school let out would be a lighter time. We also thought the weather would be hot, but not terrible, and even if it rained, it would at least still be warm and bearable. You must also look to see if there are any special events happening during the time of your travels. The weekend following our visit was Star Wars Weekend, which draws lots of crowds. Maybe our week was lighter because people were waiting to come for that?
For us, in this year, I would say we got incredibly lucky. Believe it or not, we were in Florida for 7 days and did not see one drop of rain. Not one. I know that is pretty unheard of, so we are counting our blessings. All ponchos have been returned! :) It averaged in the low 80's during the day and even got a little chilly in the evenings. There was only one time waiting for a bus that we really felt hot because you are in and out of rides/buildings/restaurants so often. We also talked to several employees and other Disney regulars who said we came at an ideal down time, and the crowds were very manageable. Let's be honest, it's Disney, so there is no shortage of people, but I do think we got very lucky with lighter crowds. All in all, I would HIGHLY suggest this time of year for both weather and light crowds.
It was also the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, so for this plant lover, I was in heaven!
Because we chose to go on vacation at a time that wasn't during "vacation" time from school, our kids missed at total of 6 days of school. I know this isn't for some, but we felt it was okay taking into account their ages and academic levels. We also feel that travel in general is so important and is education in it's own way. Here's Drew doing math homework on our way home!
Ages of Kids:
Ah, the magic question…what is the best age to take your kids to Disney? This is the number one question I have been asked since returning. Our kids are, to be exact, 7 3/4 and 6 1/2. I think this is right around the sweet spot in age, at the minimum. Again, we have never taken any other age child so we can't compare, but I am happy that we didn't spend the money to take them at a younger age. We are lucky because our kids are only 15 months apart, so accommodating different age spans wasn't a problem for us. I was shocked at how many people had infants and small toddlers and the sheer number of strollers we saw was unbelievable! We wanted to go at a time when our kids were old enough to have memories, old enough to be self sufficient without a stroller, able to "hang" when it came to late nights and miles and miles of walking, and were tall enough to get on every ride. After being at Disney and experiencing all the rides and everything together, I appreciated this more than I thought I would. I was happy to not have to wait outside with one child, while the other one went on something. We were able to go on everything together, which made for a very collective and shared experience, and definitely some family bonding!
Our kids blew us out of the water with how well they did. We probably walked an average of 8 miles per day for 4 straight days. We had early mornings and late nights and they did it all without complaining and were ready to tackle each day. I will say that not having a stroller to deal with was a huge thing. We were able to get to so much more and visit several parks (yes several) each day because we only had to worry about the 4 of us on foot and one backpack. Also, our kids are pretty independent and we make them just do things, so they knew the expectations going in…we're the mean parents!! Ha!
What We Packed:
Going at a time when we knew it was going to be nice, we packed all summer clothes and one light jacket per person, which we did use both on the plane and on the first night we were there as the temps were in the 60's. We all wore shorts/t-shirts/tank tops to the parks. Steve and I actually wore work out clothes all four days and that worked out well. We all wore comfortable tennis shoes every single day. I was amazed at the number of flip flops and other shoes people were wearing…we would have been dying without tennis shoes! Disney is pretty easy to pack for because it's all about comfort and not looking cute! Obvious things, like sunglasses and sunscreen, were worn daily too. I also packed goggles for swimming at the resort and the beach and we used these every single day.
In all, for seven days at Disney and the beach, we checked one large suitcase, and carried on two smaller bags and a backpack. Honestly, I overpacked. I wasn't sure if it would rain, or if we would want to change during the day, etc. We changed into "nighttime" outfits only one day out of the four at Disney. Otherwise, we never went back to the hotel and just stayed in the same clothes.
I did a little research on what to pack in our backpack, the one thing we would have every day at the parks. Every night I would pack up the backpack for the following day. It worked out well, and you can take your backpack on all rides. Here is what we brought and used...
Ponchos: We brought 8 total, packed 4 each day in the backpack, but never used any of them.
Snacks: It was highly recommended that we bring snacks from home and I am SO HAPPY we did! We packed these in our checked bag and transferred them each night to our backpack for the following day.
Portable Battery Charger: We charged and used this every single day. I took all photos from my iPhone and used the My Disney Experience App consistently at the parks, so you will burn through your battery. Disney has free wi-fi at all the parks and at the resorts which is SOOOOOO nice!
Kleenex: Yes, Dollar Tree sells 3 small Kleenex packs for, you got it, $1!
Hand Sanitizer: Yes.
Water bottle: We brought a reusable Camelbak water bottle that fit in the backpack. We filled this every morning and throughout the day.
Spray bottle: I picked up a small spray bottle at Dollar Tree and the kids enjoyed using this to mist themselves throughout the day. We weren't dying of heat, but they thought it was fun.
Glow Sticks: I bought a few packs of glow necklaces and bracelets at Dollar Tree and we used all of them. This was a fun treat for the kids for the night parade and fireworks.
Plastic Baggie: In case it rained or we went on a water ride, I brought a baggie to store our phones.
Flip Flops: We planned one day to do water rides and packed flip flops in the bag. We did put our flip flops on for the Rapids ride at A.K., but we barely got wet. Several people were soaked, and I had heard that wet tennis shoes all day were not good. It made the bag a little heavier that day, but not bad.
We left Kansas City early on Tuesday morning. The plane ride is half the fun for these two!
We landed in Orlando around 3pm. We found our ground transportation to our resort and quickly got checked in to our room. We decided to take the ferry to Downtown Disney and walk around and have dinner. We shopped, ate, danced, and stuffed our faces with gigantic ice cream treats! Off to a good start for sure! Oh, and did I mention there is a Lego store at DD?
We finished off our first night with a night swim. I remember having night swims on vacation with my sister and dad, so this just makes me happy…
I hope your eyes haven't glazed over yet! Lots of info! In future posts, I will be back to size up each park and share what we thought about the rides and what our favorites were. You might be surprised to hear which park was our favorite!