Happy Monday! We are all still a bit jet-lagged and tired today as we just got back from our first family vacation to Disney World! When we lived in Southern California we didn’t live far from Disneyland, so we did take Cole a number of times, but we had been hearing from friends for ages that Disney World is a completely different experience & we really needed to go! Before I share a bit about specifics of our trip, I wanted to share a few tips and recommendations should you be considering a Disney World vacation.
The My Disney Experience App is really key in booking all of your restaurant reservations and Fast Passes so if you are planning a visit, as soon as you book your hotel, downloading the app should be your next step! We booked our trip about 4 months in advance, and we were able to get dining reservations for everything we wanted but I’m pretty sure we were only able to do so because January is the off season – and we still ended up with meals at off times (like 4pm & 7pm). I would highly recommend booking at minimum 6 months in advance, and making all of your dining reservations at that six month point! Extremely popular restaurants like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Table are very difficult to get reservations for, so book as early as you possibly can! Fast Passes can be booked for guests staying on site 2 months in advance (only 1 month if you are staying off site), and popular rides get booked solid very quickly. We elected to stay on-site and it is definitely the way to go as they really do make things so simple for you. Disney sends you tags to place on your bags, and once you drop them off at the airport, Disney does the rest and delivers them right to your room! When you leave, they also check your bags into the airport right from the property & you can go straight to the gate without dealing with luggage! (Not dealing with bags was amazing and I’m now wondering why don’t all hotels do this?!) They also provide shuttle service to & from the airport, as well as to the parks from the hotels. You are given a magic band prior to your trip, which links to the app & you use it to scan in at rides for fast passes, link photos, make purchases with a linked card, and it also acts as your room key.
We chose to stay at Coronado Springs – which is a moderate resort at Disney. It is a convention hotel – which appealed to us since they have fewer park guests so the bus lines were very short and the pool wasn’t crowded. They also have a full service spa unlike most moderate resorts. Overall we were happy with our stay! The staff was super nice & friendly, the food was good, the beds were very comfortable, and the pool with water slide was a lot of fun for the kids. Housekeeping surprised us & spoiled the kids with balloons, birthday pins, and a stuffed Pluto & Goofy as we were celebrating Evan’s birthday while we were there! That said – if we go back I think we would choose a deluxe resort for a few reasons. One reason would be that several of the deluxe resorts have monorail access, which makes transportation to the parks even quicker & easier. The deluxe resorts also have bus stops closer to the park entrances, and more frequent busses for pickup so the wait is a bit shorter. Also the deluxe resorts have character experiences on site – which would be nice to enjoy a character meal right at your hotel & make for a bit more “Disney” experience without having to leave the resort every day. Also with two kids, a slightly larger room would be an added bonus as well. That said, there is a lot of value to be had at the moderate resorts with a pretty large savings, and you still do get the majority of the amenities found at the deluxe resorts.
We also opted for the Disney dining plan, which I highly recommend! We went to a number of character meals, and they are very pricey. A character meal for a family of four is in the $200 range, so having those included in your dining plan is fantastic. Also all of the cute snacks & drinks around the parks are included in the plan, so it really allowed us to feel free to indulge in the overpriced themed snacks as much as we wanted! With your dining plan you also get refillable mugs which you can fill with soda, coffee, juice, tea, and cocoa as many times as you want for free at any Disney resort throughout your stay. We also purchased Memory Maker, and with this, all of your photos taken by Disney photographers & on the rides are uploaded to your app for downloads. It is something I would absolutely recommend purchasing!
We spent our first day at Magic Kingdom, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. Our first day was a Saturday, and even though it was January, Magic Kingdom is always very crowded on weekends. We weren’t able to make it on as many rides as we wanted, and restaurants were pretty crowded. But we were able to snag breakfast reservations at Be Our Guest (which is a great value on the dining plan!) and this was our favorite restaurant from our entire visit! The Beast doesn’t appear at breakfast or lunch, but it’s such a neat place to dine with the whole Beauty and the Beast theme, and just the ambience alone makes it so enjoyable.
Magic photos are so fun and included with Memory Maker! And it’s always a fun surprise seeing what they added to the photo! This ride is an absolute blast, and also extremely popular! Early fast passes for this one is a must! The wait was consistently 2+ hours. The Mickey Ice cream bars are delicious!We ate dinner at Crystal Palace which is a character meal featuring the characters from Winnie the Pooh! The buffet was quite good, and the special friendship celebration parade with all the kids was just so cute! The characters at all of the character meals are just fantastic and make it so special for the kids.You can’t go to Disney and not take a ride on the Tea Cups! We also watched the evening firework show which was fantastic.
Our second day we went to Hollywood Studios…and we were not blessed with good weather. It absolutely poured. All day. I had been watching the weather, so I was prepared with ponchos for all of us. But it was pretty hard to completely avoid getting wet. Luckily many of the rides & experiences are indoors at this park, so we were able to dry off at each experience, before bundling up & heading to the next one! And the one big perk of toughing out the day was that there were virtually no lines at any of the rides and the park was pretty empty.
Our highlight of the day was meeting all of the Star Wars characters! The kids are still talking about this & saying it was one of their favorite things from the whole trip. The storm troopers were walking around questioning people, Kylo Ren was pretty scary, & Chewie was like a big teddy bear – and it just made for a super fun experience! We also stayed dry watching the Indiana Jones show which was a neat behind the scenes peek at how movies are made & they did some really neat stunts. My boys weren’t interested in seeing it, but if you have girls I heard the Frozen show was really neat! We also went on the Tower of Terror ride (it’s absolutely terrifying & I’m questioning my parenting that I took my kids on it), as well as Slinky Dog Dash which was an absolute blast! The Star Wars 3D ride was really neat & they change the graphics constantly so no two rides will be the same! We ate dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant & this was one of our favorite meals. You sit in a car and they show old sci-fi movies on a big screen. Unfortunately we missed the evening Fantasmic show which we had really wanted to see, because once the sun went down we were too wet and cold to stick it out at the park any longer. That’s something we definitely want to catch next time.
The next day we headed to Animal Kingdom! This park has a much different feel than the other parks and is more of a zoo than an amusement park. You definitely need to make sure to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari – it really is like going on a mini-safari and you get to see all of the animals in a more natural habitat.
The dinosaur ride was one of the kids favorites!
A few highlights of the day in addition to the safari were; Its Tough to Be a Bug (which is a super cute 3D show inside the Tree of Life), The Boneyard playground where they could dig up dinosaur bones, Dole Whips (it’s like a pineapple soft serve), and the evening water show was absolutely incredible. We ate dinner at Yak & Yeti, which was one of the more disappointing meals of our trip. We love Asian and Indian food so we were excited to try it – but the food was just very mediocre for the price, so I would try Tusker House next time!
On Tuesday we took a day off from the parks to rest a bit & we also booked brunch at Chef Mickey’s where we celebrated Evan’s recent birthday! The ambience at Chef Mickey’s was really fun. It’s really lively and the characters were absolutely fantastic! Mickey seemed a bit rushed, but all of the other characters were so playful and fun. I had pre-ordered a cake through Disney dining ahead of time so as we were finishing up our meal, they brought the cake out and sang for everyone celebrating birthdays! There was only one other person I saw celebrating, so it was kind of neat and felt really personalized! I had also pre-arranged to have balloons & a plush Mickey delivered to our table to be waiting for us which I purchased through Disney Floral & Gifts. Just a disclaimer on this – there is a $25 delivery charge (ouch!) to have them deliver a gift for you.
Chef Mickeys was really fun and I’m glad we did it. But you are paying for the characters and ambience. It is very pricey for what you get as the food is very mediocre and there weren’t as many options as I would expect from an expensive buffet. It is a part of the Disney dining plan, so it was a good value to use a dining credit towards. However I think if we went back, I would look into trying the dinner buffet instead as I felt that $60 per person for a somewhat limited breakfast menu was a bit steep.
After brunch, we spent the rest of our day swimming, and playing at our hotel playground and hotel arcade. For dinner we headed over to Disney Springs which is the shopping area on property. They have a lot of great shops including some of my favorites like Zara, Uniqlo, and Free People. My kids absolutely loved the LEGO store & they had a neat area where you could build LEGO cars and race them against other kids building them! We also grabbed some Sprinkles cupcakes for dessert!
On Wednesday we headed to Epcot! I am a total foodie, so Epcot was a lot of fun for me. We spent a fair amount of time just walking around World Showcase and sampling foods from around the world! We had breakfast in France at Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie, lunch in Mexico at La Cantina de San Angel, and dinner in Italy at Tutto Italia. Some of our highlights from Epcot; I absolutely loved the Soarin’ Around the World Ride while the kids loved the Test Track ride – in fact so much so that we skipped the evening firework show because they wanted to do that ride over and over! It was also just a lot of fun to walk around in all the countries and browse the shops where they had things from those countries available to buy! I ended up buying some Givenchy lipgloss in France as a little souvenir.
On our last day we went back to Magic Kingdom and after a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and LeFou’s Brew at Gaston’s, we had a marathon day of riding all the rides! Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train were our favorites and we did several of these more than once! We also caught the afternoon parade which was really cute.
For our last night, we went to Be Our Guest for dinner and this was one of our favorite experiences of the whole trip! The food is actually impressively good, and the Beauty and the Beast theming is really fantastic. There’s 3 dining rooms; the Ballroom where we were seated which is huge & grand – and there is always snow falling outside the windows, the West Wing where the enchanted rose is (our table was right near the doorway so we could see the rose from our table), and the Castle Gallery which has a large figurine of Beauty and the Beast dancing as well as a number of large paintings of them. The food is French with a 3 course price fixe menu. I opted for the French Onion Soup, the Seafood Bouillabaisse, and for dessert you get a trio with a raspberry Macaron, a white chocolate “Chip” filled with the gray stuff, and a chocolate truffle. The gray stuff is incredibly rich…but it is in fact delicious! The kids dessert trio came with sugar paint & they got to paint their Chip cups and eat them which was darling! The Beast periodically walks through the dining area & then greets guests in his study where there is a photographer to take your photo with him after dinner.
And there you have it…a summary of our week at Disney! We aren’t huge “Disney people” so we were a little unsure of how fun it would be, but we enjoyed it so much I do think we will go back in a few years. If you are thinking of taking a trip to Disney and have any questions, please leave them in the comments for me! And because the weather was quite temperamental during our stay, I’m planning on writing a follow up post this week about what to pack & wear during a January Disney trip!