Disclaimer: I’ve been gradually working on this post for the last four days. Somewhere between then and now it turned into a novel. You’ve been warned, this is the longest post I’ve ever dared to click publish on.
This blog post is more for me than for you. Although if you enjoy it by all means that would give me warm fuzzies. I for one love/hate reading people’s vacation recaps- I love living vicariously and seeing the cool stuff people do, but I hate reading about someone else having a fabulous time while I sit on my tush very much not on vacation. So to make you feel better I too am just sitting on my tush and am no longer on vacation. And I want to share this so I can remember everything, all the details that I’m sure to start forgetting by next week, and so next time I’m planning a trip to Disney I can remember some of the things I did right and wrong.
I’ve only been to Disney World once before this, it was on a trip with my mom- she was headed to a school leaders conference (she’s the assistant principal of an elementary school) at Disney World and her boss was bringing her daughter so she asked mom if she wanted to bring me. I think I was 21 and I was really excited to go and had a great time, BUT her boss and her daughter had been there so many times that we pretty much just did everything they recommended and waited in lines for hours riding all the big name rides- aerosmith, peter pan, space mountain, expedition everest, etc. It was a very fun trip, but I left feeling like I hadn’t been able to really experience Disney completely- plus my mom was in conferences for half the day so we didn’t get to spend as much time together as I would have liked. It was a good trip, but it really just made me want to go back. Topher had never been and neither had Phoenix (obviously he’s 2). We hadn’t been planning on taking a big vacation this year, but my parents started planning a big trip to San Francisco to visit my brother and I thought it might be fun for my family to tag along. Kris loves wine- so we thought we could turn it into a chance to go and visit Napa. Once I realized how expensive the flights to California were going to be, Phoenix was unfortunately no longer free :( I started looking into other ideas. Maybe lego land or a disney cruise?? Both of which are in Florida…then I started thinking that if we’re in Florida why would we not just go to Disney World?? Then I started pricing it out and realized that we could go to Disney- purchase our hotel and tickets for cheaper than just the flight to San Francisco. It started to look very appealing (Phoenix was free at Disney), I mapped out the drive- saw that it was 14 hours. Not exactly a short trip, but completely doable. PLUS Kris only gets one week off a year and I started to realize that spending a week with my family for his only week off this year may not be his first choice of vacation destinations. Although we do still want to go to San Francisco and Napa at some point in the future. It just wasn’t in the cards for this trip. So plans for a trip to Disney started to formulate. And being a planner in nature, this was wildly fun for me.
I immediately found wdwprepschool.com and Shannon’s website was such a wealth of knowledge. It gave me step-by-step instructions for all of my early planning. Pick your time of year, pick your resort, etc. It all sounds very obvious, but she had so much information for each step- things like past crowd levels for different times of years and the pros and cons of each resort. Just so much information that I never would have had just going to disneyworld.com and booking our trip. She also had tips for adding extra magic into your trip like tinker bell presents and character wake up calls (which I’ll talk more about later). She also had information for Disney travel agents right on her site. I ended up inquiring with them to see if we could get a discount, and they were SO helpful and very straightforward. “No, there are no promotions right now, so booking with me won’t save you any money (it also won’t cost you any more money), but we will help you make all of your reservations, fastpasses, and answer any of your questions along the way”. This sounded good to me, having never planned a trip, I didn’t have the slightest clue how any of that worked. So we booked through Key to the World Travel with Jennifer Van Hill and she was SO helpful and ended up snagging us so many reservations that I don’t think we would have gotten if we hadn’t worked with her. After booking- only about 90 days or so out from our trip we started looking into dining reservations. Dining reservations open up 180 days out from your trip so I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get anything that we wanted. After a bit of research and asking Kris 27 times his opinion on the matter we ended up deciding that Cinderella’s Royal Table (the restaurant inside the castle…yes, that castle), Be Our Guest restaurant (Belle’s castle), and 50s prime time cafe were musts. Then character meals at Tusker House and Chef Mickeys also needed to happen. Jennifer snagged us every single reservation that we wanted. And then one day when Kris was looking into things and getting excited for our trip he found the tomorrowland terrace fireworks dessert party- basically a buffet of never-ending desserts while you sit and watch fireworks at magic kingdom. He booked that pretty much the second he found it. Jennifer also handled our Fastpass+ reservations when we were 60 days out from our vacation, we just picked what we wanted and she made sure that we got them. In retrospect now that I know a little more about this- we definitely chose a few things that we didn’t need fastpasses for (ie. you pretty much don’t need a fastpass for a show), but it was just one of those things that I had to experience to learn. Around this time I also started buying little gifts for Phoenix here and there (all Disney related). It felt kind of silly, but I knew I was planning to give him some sort of present everyday, this snowballed into me purchasing him a t-shirt for everyday of the trip, themed to what we were going to be doing that day…which then snowballed into me purchasing coordinating shirts for me and Kris. Kris seriously thought I lost my mind when I told him, but once we were there and he saw everyone else in Mickey Mouse shirts and ears he really ended up enjoying it. A lot of the shopping I did pre-trip felt so ridiculous because I felt like we would surely buy a bunch of stuff while we were there, but aside from buying Phoenix one of those bubble guns that light up ($12), buying our 2015 Christmas ornament, and our Mickey ears, we really didn’t buy anything in the gift shops. I actually looked around and piddled in several different gift shops while Phoenix was napping on a couple of different days and every one felt like it had the same stuff- overpriced toys and ugly tourist t-shirts. Dear Disney, you need a new buyer. Looking back, all that shopping upfront was worth it and saved me from purchasing expensive garbage in the gift shops.
We started our drive at 2am Sunday morning. We were planning to leave early Monday morning, but Kris got off so late Sunday night it seemed silly to go to sleep for 3 hours. So we got on the rode and just took turns driving while the other person slept. I had purchased little dollar store Disney toys (the Dollar store has a ton of Disney stuff, FYI) for Phoenix to unwrap every hour of the trip. We had a little stuffed Mickey Mouse that would pop up every hour and talk to Phoenix (ahem, I played the role of Mickey Mouse) telling him he was so excited that he was coming to visit his house and here was a little surprise for him while he waited. This really did make the drive go well for Phoenix. This is a kid who used to scream bloody murder when we strapped him into his carseat as an infant and we could barely get to the grocery store some days. So this trip was like…yah, we’ve come a long way. This also made it fun for me, watching him get excited to unwrap a new present every hour was neat. Most of the presents were things that would keep him occupied for a bit of time as well- a coloring book, a new book, some stickers, little toy figurines. By the way do all kids love little toy figures as much as ours? Seriously that and legos is all this boy wants and he wants to pretend to be one character while we pretend to be the other. A little lightning mcqueen and tow mater got us a looong way. Although it does get old for us adults after awhile.
My aunt Carol also recommended a book- the unofficial guide to Walt Disney World. She told me to get it months ago, but I procrastinated and didn’t buy it until the day before we left. I read it on our drive. It was the perfect last piece to planning our trip. It really helped us come up with a good daily plan- what to ride and when, as well as a schlew of other interesting facts and data. I’ve become a total nerd for Disney stats, info, etc. I also downloaded the app that goes with the book that allows you to put in everything that you want to do that day, your fastpass reservations, and your dining reservations and it spits you out with a plan of exactly what to do and when. Kris and I were both worried that it would feel like some huge to-do list and we would feel like we couldn’t be spontaneous in the parks, but that wasn’t really the case. We always had more than enough time for everything, and did WAY more than we thought we would be able to. When you aren’t waiting in ride lines all day it’s pretty amazing how much you can do. We waited in line to ride rockn’ roller coaster for 30 minutes and that was the longest line we waited in, and that was only because we were too wiped on our Hollywood Studios day to show up at park opening. Other than that we didn’t wait for anything more than 10 minutes. It was really awesome to be at a theme park and not be stuck in line all day. That was a very new experience. Especially being with a two year old who would have had no patience for that nonsense. So if you are going to Disney World get yourself that book. It’s worth its weight in gold.
We checking into our hotel Monday night and from here I’m not going to give a full rundown of each day. Namely because I started writing that out and it sounded incredibly boring. So I’m going to share pictures and just caption them with things of interest, so if I haven’t lost you by now hopefully I’ll keep you until the end. And I didn’t really edit these photos except for a few that ended up on instagram, so sorry in advance for the ugly/blurry photos!
This was our resort room. We stayed at the Art of Animation resort which is on property at Walt Disney World. Most of the rooms at this resort are suites and the only rooms that aren’t are Little Mermaid themed. We obviously didn’t need a suite with just three of us, but we would have loved to stay in one of the other sections- lion king, cars, or finding nemo. Our room was still adorable, but next time I think I would splurge on a suite just to experience it. Our section was also horribly far from the central check-in and food court. By the end of our trip we were so tired of walking if we had to go to the food court we would just hop in the car and drive.
Our room was adorable though, especially the tile in the shower that looked like Ariel’s gadgets and gizmos.
Our first day was at animal kingdom. I tried to get a photo of us in our shirts everyday. So sometimes I cut our heads off to make this happen. And see what I did- I didn’t buy us matching shirts…I did coordinating shirts. Because you know…matching shirts would have been weird.
Terrible photo I know, but this was the first show that we saw on our first day. And it continued to be my favorite show we saw the entire time we were there. It was just awesome. We also saw Festival of the Lion King this day and to my dismay the shows were all downhill from there. Animal Kingdom just set the show bar really high so after that watching 4D videos and getting sprayed with water just didn’t cut it.
Lunch on our first day was at Tusker House. We wanted to squeeze in as many character meals as we could because I wasn’t sure how Phoenix would react to them. In retrospect I’m so glad I did because he finally warmed up to them on our last day there and it was probably only because we saw so many characters everyday.
Phoenix’s main comment on the characters that first day was that they didn’t talk. Why don’t they talk Mommy? It was kind of sad! I totally wish they did talk even if their voices weren’t perfect, it would be a lot more fun.
After lunch the kid was pooped and took a nap. We opted to leave our stroller at home because the thought of having to lug a stroller around everywhere didn’t appeal to us- we brought our ergo and while Phoenix doesn’t like riding in it while he is awake he loves it for naps and it was a lifesaver. And after that we called it a day at animal kingdom- this was our shortest day.
After getting back to the resort we decided to explore it a bit more. All of the outdoor areas, playgrounds, and pools made choosing our resort just so worth it. The theming was just SO cool and it felt like we were still immersed in Disney magic even when we weren’t in the parks. It was a totally different experience than the last time I was here and we stayed and the swan hotel…which was not Disney themed at all.
The section next to ours was the Lion King. This was Kris’ favorite- it’s his favorite Disney movie of all time.
I somehow missed getting photos of the Finding Nemo section, but that was one of the coolest sections since it had a full blown Finding Nemo pool and this is the area that is right next to the central hub of check-in and the food court. This area was also so busy with all the people from the food court so if we go back I would probably opt to stay in the Lion King or Cars section.
Both of which were not too far from the center. Cars isn’t my favorite Disney movie, but this section was SO adorable with a really awesome pool- that we spent a good bit of time at on our off park day. I think this would be my first pick if we came back.
We ate dinner that night at the food court. If we were to come back I would avoid that place as much as possible- just really terrible overpriced food. A lot of the food we ate at Disney wasn’t very good, but typically if we ate in the parks at a reservation the experience made up for the bad food. There was no experience to be had in the food court.
Second day was magic kingdom. Again, taking a photo to get the shirts while totally sacrificing our faces.
And then of course another photo after we got our Mickey Ears.
We woke up so early (6am) on our Magic Kingdom day that Phoenix was napping by 11. We tried to do boring shows while he napped which was how we ended up in the horrors that were the country bear jamboree and the enchanted tiki room. Never again.
We ate lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant. The food wasn’t amazing, but the experience made up for it. The food came out in these gorgeous little carts, and our dessert was a little cupcake with “the grey stuff”. After eating our lunch I didn’t have high hopes for the cupcake, but it was actually fantastic and we wish we had ordered two instead of sharing one.
This was the main dining room that we ate in. And then it branched off into two other rooms.
The west wing- that was ripped to shreds and even had a spinning rose hologram.
And then the east wing which I don’t really remember from the movie, but had this cute dancing beauty and beast in the center.
Tip of the day: when wanting to get your photo at the castle look around for another family who is trying to take a selfie in front of the castle and offer to take their photo, and in return they will snap yours. Bada bing! After this we headed out of the park and took a much needed nap.
We rode the boat back in that evening. And we were still wiped, but we had dinner reservations at the castle as well as wanting to watch the parade.
We caught the incredibles dance party on our way back in which was weird and hilarious. Phoenix was still suuuper shy, but did some dancing of his own off to the side.
Then we headed to the castle for dinner. I think the main appeal for eating here was just to see the inside of the castle. We didn’t know just how special the whole experience would be, so that was a really cool surprise.
Upon arriving we waited in line to meet Cinderella who welcomed us into her home and invited us to join her for dinner.
Then we sat downstairs and waited in this room. Whenever a table was ready the host would ring a series of bells and announce that a royal invitation had been extended to the _____ family. Then they were led upstairs. We waited quite awhile after meeting Cinderella, but they finally invited us upstairs and then we were led up a long blue spiral staircase.
Once upstairs we were inundated with princesses. It was really magical. Ariel was my favorite. She came over and really took some time to chat and talk to Phoenix. Can you see her holding his little Woody figure? She even played with him for a moment. When she left Phoenix asked where her tail was. I very much wish he had asked that while she was there. She was really gorgeous too, I wish we had snapped a better photo with her.
We also met Snow White, Jasmine, and Sleeping Beauty. They were all so beautiful and sweet. They made our dinner at the castle so special. The food here was ok- you have to pre-pay because reservations are in such high demand and it was a pre-fixe menu. Kris had some amazing crawfish and grits appetizer that I wish I had ordered and I had an amazing dessert that was some type of mousse or ganache. Everything else was fine, but not amazing. Those were two major highlights though!
Our next day was Hollywood Studios. We didn’t get there at opening because we just couldn’t stand the thought of getting up at 6am again, so we woke up around 9 and got there around 10:30. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we didn’t have a coordinating outfit that day. But Phoenix did have a Buzz Lightyear shirt since this was the day we were planning to meet Buzz and Woody.
We had a full Toy Story afternoon. Toy Story came out when I was 8 and that is by far one of my favorite movies of all time and now it’s one of Phoenix’s favorites too so eating lunch at Pizza Planet felt like a must. Then we rode Toy Story Mania with a fast pass. Kris and Phoenix loved this ride, but I was kind of disappointed. I wanted it to be more like Winnie the Pooh or Peter Pan in which we got to fly through the story, instead the review I had read of “it felt like playing bad video games from the 90s while being pushed around on my couch” was incredibly accurate.
Meeting Buzz and Woody was probably the biggest highlight of the trip for me. I’m sure they make everyone feel special, but they genuinely seemed so excited that we had their action figures with us.
Phoenix was so fascinated by them and loved looking at their costumes. He got hugs and kisses from both of them. I just had no idea that the characters would be so sweet and just really go above and beyond (err to infinity and beyond) to make us have a great experience. We ended up saying that standing in line to meet characters, while more tedious, was always a better experience than character dining which always felt a bit more rushed.
They both signed the toys for us so that was really cool as well.
I hate this picture because Phoenix looks so bored, but it’s just a weird moment. He really was excited and had a great time meeting them.
The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Playground was awesome. Phoenix has never seen that movie, but he appreciates a cool playground as much as the next kid.
Dinner at Hollywood Studios was at the 50s prime time cafe. Which sounds like it’s going to be a replica 50s diner, but it’s really not. It seriously looks like my grandmother’s house. If my grandmother had more mid century modern style as opposed to mid century traditional. It was so so cool and I loved it. I seriously would have loved to steal a few of the pieces of furniture that I saw there.
The waitresses were supposed to be mean and tell you not to put your elbows on the table, no cell phones, etc. In fact, we heard many of the waitresses around us doing just that. But fortunately our waitress was really nice and didn’t give us a hard time for not cleaning our plate. Meanwhile behind us one of the waitresses flew an airplane spoon into someone’s mouth while having their table make airplane noises.
Friday was our off day. It was wonderful, we slept in (as much as you can with a 2 year old), watched TV in the hotel, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the cars pool.
This was our little version of heaven for about 4 hours that day. Phoenix even took a super long nap.
That night we went to Downtown Disney. We had thought about making a dining reservation, but we didn’t, we thought it might be fun to explore. I have to say I didn’t enjoy Downtown Disney much, it was SO crowded, it felt way more crowded than any of the parks did- and there were several places that just felt like we couldn’t even walk. They were doing a ton of construction so I think that may have had something to do with it.
There were two good things in downtown. The first was the lego store. It was way larger than the one we have at our mall at home and had all these huge characters made out of legos.
The second being Earl of Sandwich. Funnily enough it was just a quick service chain restaurant, but Disney food had been so bad that we both agreed that this was the best (not to mention cheapest) meal we had all week. The sandwiches were actually extremely good and I would definitely eat there again.
Our last day was bittersweet because I just didn’t really want to leave. But we did our last day in our Frozen ensemble.
We woke up early and were at the park at 7:30. We rode all of the remaining big rides that we wanted like winnie the pooh, barnstormer (Phoenix’s first roller coaster!), little mermaid, it’s a small world, etc. At 10:30 it was time for our breakfast dining reservation at Chef Mickey’s and we had probably already ridden about 10 rides. I can’t say how much being there in the morning saved us from standing in line all day. We walked onto rides until about 9:30.
We had the classic Mickey waffles. And got to meet all the character again. It was perfect, because this time Phoenix wasn’t so scared of them. Many of them even got hugs. And Disney bad food and all could be hard pressed to screw up a breakfast buffet so we pigged out.
We hadn’t planned on meeting Woody again, but we had some extra time in between shows this day so we made a point to go over there so Phoenix could meet Jessie. This experience was very much like the Buzz and Woody one where they were just SO good with him.
Now this is a terrible photo, so very sorry for that. But this is while we were at the Dessert Fireworks party, we basically showed up an hour before fireworks at the tomorrowland terrace and got a great view of the fireworks while eating all the desserts we could shove into our face hole. It was delightful. Phoenix asked me if he could take photos of the fireworks so this photo above is some of his handy work…and I actually think it’s not bad for a two year old :) After this I really wanted to go ride more rides (because it was our LAAAST DAY), but Kris insisted that this be the last thing we do before leaving…he said this needed to be our last memory. So it was. Which is actually kind of special. Kris doesn’t care about much (he’s the most flexible person I know), so when he actually does have a strong opinion I want to appease him :) Overall, we just had the most amazing vacation ever and I want to go back immediately!