We recently took our very first family-of-four vacation to Orlando. You may have read my previous post about our fabulous, family-friendly hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes.
Now that I’ve told you all about our awesome hotel stay, I’m ready to fill you in on our Walt Disney World adventures, starting with The Magic Kingdom. Our entire trip was just 3 nights long with just 2 days designated for Disney World.
Our son, Rowdy, turned 4 on our trip, and our daughter, Romy, had recently turned 1. My gut instinct told me that 3 nights would be plenty for our little kiddos. My gut was right.
Before our trip I had researched Disney World pretty thoroughly. I had asked friends that are frequent Disney visitors for advice, and I had searched the internet high and low for good info. What I heard and found turned out to be a huge help on our trip.
Let me just go ahead and tell you what to do to get started on your Disney World research. First of all, create a My Disney Experience account on Disney’s website, and then download the app on your smartphone.
Next, book your hotel/trip. I chose to book through Southwest Vacations and went with The Ritz. With such young children we simply weren’t worried about staying at a Disney Resort (they didn’t know the difference) and wanted to treat ourselves to an offsite luxury hotel. Plus, we got a great price.
If you choose to stay at a Disney Resort, then you’ll most likely purchase park tickets at the time of booking. Either way, you’ll need to purchase park tickets soon, so go for it. And, yes, they’re expensive. Our 1-year-old was free, but we spent $600 on 2 day’s worth of park tickets for 3 of us. Holy crapballs, right? So after you create your online account, download the app, book your trip and buy your not-so-cheap park tickets, you’re ready to get to the details.
Let’s talk FastPass+
The Disney FastPass+ is super helpful, completely free, yet can create some major pressure on the trip planner. Let me explain. The FastPass+ allows you to go to the FastPass+ line at a ride or attraction. This line is much shorter than the regular line.
What’s the catch, you say? Well, you can only get 3 FastPasses up front per day, and only after you have purchased your park tickets. Also, you can choose your 3 upfront FastPasses up to 60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney Resort and up to 30 days in advance if you’re not (like us). So you really do need to complete the things I mentioned in the paragraph above ASAP.
When you start the online or app process of choosing your FastPasses, you’ll catch on quick. It will show you what time slots are available for what rides, and you simply choose what works for you. Well, maybe it wasn’t that simple. I mean, the process was, but the pressure of committing to a time frame on rides and attractions was kinda crazy. How do you choose, you ask? I chose after doing my online research. I figured out what rides and attractions would be the most important to us, especially considering the young age of my babes.
I had also read that it’s good to get to the park at opening, hurry to your top 3 rides (don’t use FastPasses on them because the lines won’t be that bad first thing in the morning), and then start using the FastPasses after that. So, that’s exactly what we did.
Right after we got in there we mall-walked our way to the backside of the castle to hit up The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, Dumbo The Flying Elephant and It’s A Small World. These 3 rides are particularly great for little bitty kiddos (even the baby got to ride), plus, they’re pretty iconic in the Disney world (pun intended – ha!). Because we got started first thing in the morning the lines for these 3 weren’t very long at all, although we did wait for a few minutes in each.
Waiting at Winnie
Waiting at Winnie was especially neat because there are fun Pooh-ish activities for the kiddos along the way. My husband and I laughed about how waiting in line at theme parks when we were little was super basic and super boring – just us, our parents and the railing.
The wait for Dumbo was pretty neat as well. There is an air-conditioned play area that you can utilize while you wait for the ride, but we didn’t have to since the line was pretty short.
And waiting for It’s A Small World was good because we had a view of the beginning of the ride and the boats arriving, etc. Anyway, we accomplished the first 3 rides without our FastPasses within the first hour and twenty minutes that we were there. Plus our son got a picture with Winnie The Pooh. I felt like Super Mom accomplishing those goals like that while still having fun. How in the hell that actually worked out the way I planned, I will never know.
We had FastPasses for The Barnstormer (because it’s Goofy-themed, and my son loves Goofy), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (because I had heard the lines get really long for this one) and Peter Pan’s Flight (had also heard the lines got crazy with this one).
The baby girl was able to ride Buzz and Peter Pan, and for The Barnstormer we simply used the Rider Switch. Rider Switch allowed my husband to ride the roller coaster with Rowdy while I stayed with the baby, and then when they were done, I got to ride it with Rowdy. So Rowdy got to ride twice, which was a nice bonus.
We used Rider Switch 2 or 3 times overall, and it worked really nicely. After your initial 3 FastPasses are used up, you can get another one. Then after you use that one you can get another one. And, so on. There are FastPass+ kiosks in multiple locations throughout the park with attendants that can help you figure it all out.
We ended up going to The Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and The Jungle Cruise as well as the 3 rides in the morning and our initial 3 FastPass rides. Overall that’s 9 rides, 2 character photos, 1 show, 1 parade and various random adventures in 1 day at The Magic Kingdom with two kiddos under the age of 5…and we left the park at 7pm. Not too shabby.
Now let’s talk about food.
We were originally going to do a character lunch at The Crystal Palace, which features Winnie The Pooh and his friends. But we decided to save our expensive meal for the next day at Hollywood Studios (good move on our part – more about Hollywood Studios in a later post). After all, Rowdy had already gotten a photo with Winnie over by the ride that morning. So we headed over to Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe for a “cheap” lunch. As I looked at the Cosmic Ray’s menu I was reminded that I am, indeed, in a theme park, Disney or not. And I am, indeed, going to be eating McDonald’s-esque food at 2-3 times the price.
So on we went eating our burgers and fries in this super crowded, yet air-conditioned cafe. Oh, and my husband discovered cheese sauce at the condiment station for my fries, so that put a nice smile on my face. And go figure that we ended up eating a very similar meal for dinner right before we left the park. But for dinner we switched it up and went with a chicken sandwich with our fries.
Some good news is that my husband and I shared our dinner meal, and it was plenty of food, so that saved us 10 bucks. We kept our meals pretty basic at The Magic Kingdom (although we did devour a churro, of course), but we were happy with that decision. My husband and I have been lucky enough to eat at some of the country’s best restaurants and just couldn’t imagine that a $100 lunch at Disney World would even come close to any of our past fine dining experiences. No offense Disney, but we didn’t visit you for your food.
Characters, character everywhere.
There really are. As soon as you enter the park you’ll start seeing characters. The only problem is that lines form to meet these characters FAST. Thus the attraction of the character meals offered at certain restaurants, because characters will come by your table and give you special attention and pose for pictures.
You don’t have to wait in a long line in the heat, but you do have to pay about 30 bucks per person to eat there. As I mentioned above, we chose not to dine at The Crystal Palace because our kiddo had already posed for a pic with Winnie (whom is the featured star at The Crystal Palace). And we got that pic with Winnie without waiting too terribly long because we were in the right place at the right time.
We had just completed The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh when my husband spotted The Pooh, himself, approaching the area. He literally snatched up Rowdy and ran over there and ended up being the fifth or sixth person in line for a photo opp (being physically fit is quite the advantage when you’re at Disney). We had a similar experience with Buzz Lightyear.
We were just about to ride the ride and we saw Buzz walking out. Again, Ryan snatched up Rowdy and ran over there for a pic. Another advantage to taking such a young child to Disney World is that he was super satisfied with a mere two character photos for the day. He didn’t request a photo with every single character he’s ever watched on TV. Hell, he was probably so overloaded with amazement by his surroundings that he didn’t even have time to wish for what he didn’t have.
Before we had even arrived in Orlando we had decided to skip the fireworks at The Magic Kingdom. It may be an excellent fireworks show, but we were dragging a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old around that place all day and knew that staying at the park until 11pm would be a bad idea. Some folks leave the park in the afternoon to go back to their hotel for a nap, and then return to the park at nighttime so they can enjoy the fireworks.
My thoughts on that? By the time we take the freaking boat across the lake, hop on a shuttle back to the hotel, take care of stuff at the hotel and then go back to the park, it would take at least 3 hours, even longer if the kiddos took a long nap. Plus, like they’re really gonna nap. I mean, come on. Maybe some kids would, but mine are always so excited about hotel rooms that naps during the daytime are almost impossible.
So we opted to exit the park right after our chicken sandwich dinner, get our babies clean and in bed and then enjoy a few drinks alone on our balcony. Mission: accomplished. (Bonus – we could see the fireworks in the distance from our hotel balcony.)
1. Create a My Disney Experience account, download the app, book your trip, buy your park tickets.
2. Reserve your initial 3 FastPasses 60 days in advance for Disney Resort guests and 30 days in advance for non-resort guests. Seriously, do it exactly 60 or 30 days in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute because FastPass time slots fill up fast.
3. There are electrical outlets where you can charge your phone near Rapunzel’s Tower. It’s a nice shaded area with benches.
4. Catch a quick show in front of the castle or a fun parade near Main Street at numerous times throughout the day.
5. Use the app to look up current wait times and helpful locations in the park.
6. Wear sneakers, people. I saw tons of sandals, which shocked me. Do yourself a favor and dress comfortably from head to toe.
7. Save money by sharing meals and bringing your own snacks. Plus, having snacks in your bag while waiting in line comes in mighty handy with little kids and babies.
8. Carry a backpack. I left my cute Tory Burch tote back at the hotel, y’all. Trust me. Backpack = lots of storage & handsfree.
9. Drink plenty of water, especially in the summer time.
10. Have fun, parents! Remember that whole thing about the tickets costing $100 per person per day? Get your money’s worth! If there is something you want to do that your kiddos aren’t super enthused about, DO IT. Disney World was about the kiddos for us, but we also kept in mind that we wanted to enjoy it as well. So we kept a positive attitude and had a good time, even when our sweet little angels were whining. 🙂