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Monday, March 18, 2013

Taking the Disney World Plunge

So we finally decided to have a proper summer vacation this year. At long last, we are in a position where we have enough money and enough time to make a real vacation happen. At first, as a family, we considered going back to visit North Carolina. We lived there for two years, in New Bern, and seeing all of our old haunts and our old friends would be a lot of fun. I personally would love to have crab cakes at the Channel Marker in Morehead City just one more time.

But after a lot of thought, and much input from my daughter, we came around to the idea of Disney World.

Whoa. Disney World! Now that's a proper vacation.

Circumstances are conspiring to make this the perfect plan. Olivia is finally old enough to walk around long distances on her own. She's not tall enough to ride all the rides, but she is quite in love with the Disney princesses. So, as far as she is concerned, this is a dream vacation come true.

I went to Disney Land when I was thirteen--but I was a bit too old to fully enjoy the experience and we were a bit too broke as a family to do the trip up right. I do remember being exhausted by the walking we did, miles and miles of walking. and my husband has never been to any Disney theme park, so...this would be a new experience for him.

So...how and where do we begin?

We've spent hours on the Disney Go website, building different vacations with different budgets. And here's what we've decided so far:

  • We want to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Olivia is obsessed with safari animals so this resort, for her, would offer the most extraordinary experiences of the trip.
  • We want to buy into the eating plan, and also using the Magic Express luggage service.
  • We want to spend time at the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom parks. Not so sure about the other parks.

But a lot of questions remain. Should we stay at club level? Should we buy a park pass for the whole week? Is it too much walking for a six year old?

So, we are Disney newbies, and I need advice. What are some of the tips some of you seasoned Disney travelers can offer? Share your wisdom with me--we definitely need the help!


  1. Lily ~ How exciting! My guess is Jerrica will have the best advice to give since her family is in Florida and has a yearly season pass. :) I think the best advice *i* have is when you get to the park as soon as it opens, there aren't any lines for any of the rides yet. Use your fast pass to get a ticket to for any ride you think you'll want to ride later when there are lines. You can't get another fast pass until after the time stamp on your ticket. So get a fast pass first thing, don't use it when there is no line, ride the ride and save the fast pass for later in the day. Repeat with a different ride.

    And if you're staying on property, Olivia should be find to walk. If she gets tired, take transportation back to the hotel for a nap, and then come back.

    Have fun!!

    1. Hi Ava--I haven't heard of a fast pass yet. I will definitely have to look into that!

  2. What fun!

    Go on the Safari ride first thing in the morning at Animal Kingdom--it's the best chance to see the animals up and moving about. when it gets hot they hide and sleep.

    Get the Park hopper pass and take advantage of the early morning admission at whichever park is offered that day. We also used it to go to the Fireworks every night, no matter where they were holding them. Epcot and Magic Kingdom both have fabulous displays.

    If your heart is set on Animal Kingdom, then go for it, but I loved being on the mono rail line at our hotel. it made getting around a lot easier.

    Yes, to Ava's Fast Pass advice!

    It is a lot of walking, but a lot of fun too! I hope you have a great time!

    1. Hi Deb--which hotel did you stay in that was on the monorail line? Does it make a huge difference?

    2. We've stayed at the Contemporary and the Polynesian. We vastly preferred the Polynesian because it feeds the fantasy element of the vacation. You really do feel like you're somewhere else! Plus their pools are amazing!

  3. Lily,
    We did a Disney Vacation last winter. My daughter had just turned nine and our son was fourteen. We stayed at Animal Kingdom and it was perfect for both of them. One of the few things they have in common with such an age gap is a love for animals. Be sure to walk around the grounds at night. Just past the pools is an viewing area and they have "guides" there with night vision binoculars, which we all thought was cool.

    The buffet was so delicious, we ate there every night. LOL We did the meal plan, too. They also have activities for Olivia's age in the hotel lobby throughout the day. I wished we had planned at least a day of just hanging out at the hotel, because the kids didn't have time to use the pool much and they have a great pool area.

    Also, it's very easy to get around in Disney. You just hop on the free bus and go to any park. And everything was a short ride from Animal Kingdom.

    We didn't do the Fast Pass, but we weren't there at the peak season so we didn't have to wait in any lines. I would definitely get one for summer because it's exhausting to stand in line in the heat, IMO.

    Both kids loved Epcot and I wish we had gone there earlier in our stay. We didn't have enough time to explore the different villages. I'm blanking on what it's called. Anyway, it was very neat and both kids enjoyed that too.

    1. Wow, thanks for all the tips, Samantha! It's good to know that you all enjoyed the AKL so much. That's really where we want to stay.

  4. YAY! Lily, we are Disney fanatics in this house :) This will be the best vacation EVER (you'll hear that all summer)...

    As stated above - if you are staying at one of the resort hotels, you will have magic hours access to the Parks. This comes in handy for certain attractions that quickly fill up - i.e. star wars jedi training @ Hollywood Studios (our personal favorite). Also, the fast pass will enable you to get to as many rides as you wish without the hassle of waiting in line all day. The lines can be awful in the summer.

    We never use the dining plan, but my friends and relatives who do absolutely love it. Food allergies and preferences typically have us eating in only 3 Disney restaurants (they are FABULOUS, by the way!).

    You could schedule shows and restaurant stops throughout your day. This should give time for a 6 year old, and adults, to sit and recharge.

    1. The last time we went (2012), Disney limited the number of fastpasses you could have at once. :( We used a line-waiting app on our smartphone, instead.

    2. Thanks for sharing the tips, Jeanae! I will definitely look into a fast pass.

  5. I've never made the arrangements and can't remember where we've stayed, but in the heat of the day go back to the hotel, go to the pool for a while, then a nap. Also it rains every afternoon so buy some of the cheap ponchos to stick in your bag.

    1. I heard about the rain--but didn't think about ponchos! Great idea!

  6. Yay for a Disney vacation! I'm a huge Disney fan. In fact, hubby and I are going down this May to visit my niece who's working in the college program. Yes, stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It's awesome. The savannas are docile and the animals are closer than you can see them in the Animal Kingdom (we're staying there again) :-)

    You're never too old to enjoy the magic!

    One message board you can pop into for more information than you can ever image is www.passporterboards.com

    Also, New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom is a must see for a princess girl! :-)

    1. That is so good to know, Sandra. We want to be as up-close to the wildlife as we can be, so it sounds like we are making the right choice.

  7. We stayed at the Polynesian the first time we took the kids, then 7 and 4. We loved being there and on the monorail

    Here are my BIGGEST TWO TIPS:

    One don't go to the Park with Magic Hours, it will be FULL. Go to a different park and enjoy the reduced waiting times.

    Two (and most important) Get up early in the morning and go to the park, have lots of fun, then LEAVE at 11:30ish and go back to your hotel. Take a nap, swim...just don't go back again until 4ish.

    You avoid so much by doing this: grumpy kids,melt-downs,long lines and parents about to lose their minds. I swear it worked for us. Our friends who are Disney experts gave it to us.

    so excited for you. I hope you have a great time!

    1. Those are both awesome tips, Marquita. We want to avoid as many meltdowns as possible--that's for sure!

  8. I've only been to Disney World once, and it was when I was in high school with the band. I did what we were told to do when we were told to do it. LOL. Next time I go, I want to do what I want to do...so I'm taking notes here. :)

  9. I've never been to Disney World but I look forward to your pictures! We keep talking about taking our kids, but by the time we can afford it, they'll be in college. Lol. Have a great time!

    1. Oh, Andris, be prepared for the obligatory post-vacation blog with lots of pictures! LOL

  10. I have waited ALL day to post a comment! I'm a Disney fiend. My husband and I bought into the Disney Vacation Club when we got married....because you know, instead of buying say, a house, you go and do something like buy a Disney timeshare-esque purchase. Anyway, I digress, that's a story for another day.
    1. Make your dining reservations now. Chef Mickey is a must.
    2. Take your family to T-Rex...hands down the best, most fun restaurant in Disney. It's not on the dining plan but it's such an experience.
    3. Book breakfast reservations at the parks, before the parks open, so that way you get early admission...and when you are done eating, bam you are already in the park.
    4. Parks late at night is the best, b/c there are less people but now having a little one, that's not possible.
    5. When people go into the Magic Kingdom, people usually rush left into the park and go to Adventure Land or break right and go to Fantasy Land. (Go to Frontier land first; Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Liberty Square, Big Thunder Mountain). And then work your way backwards so at least the first things you get done without a lot of lines.
    6. Unless you have don't have to, do not bring a bag....they make you go through the mega-bag checking line. If you have a stroller, put the items you need into the bottom of the stroller but leave the bag so you don't have to stop.
    7. Freeze capri suns the night before and when you're at the park, it gives you drinks for the kids all day. You'll save about $30 this way.
    This is all for now. I'll keep thinking. : )
    PS When are you going? We're taking a trip to Bay Lake Towers at the Contemporary this summer!

  11. Yaaaaaaay! So excited for you and your family, Lily! We obviously LOVE Disney, since we go about once a month :) And while I might appear to be an expert based on how often I go, my experience is very different because I *do* live nearby. We stay off property and since B is only 3, we only have a handful of things we like to hit. For instance, we spend pretty much all day in Fantasyland when we go to Magic. I haven't been to Frontierland at all, except to meet Jasmine and Aladdin (because it's all about the princesses!!)

    I will say that we held off on Epcot for a long time, but now we're OBSESSED! All of us LOVE it! If you do Epcot, get there early and run right to Soarin' to get your Fast Passes! Seriously. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You will miss your window of opportunity (I speak from experience!)

    Fast Passes are super awesome, though. You can only have one at a time, so choose carefully. At Magic, your longest lines will always be for Pooh, Peter Pan and the new Ariel ride (Belle's experience doesn't have a Fast Pass, but it's worth the wait!!)

    Otherwise, you've gotten some amazing advice from other out-of-towners, which will be way more valuable than some of my local yocal tips :)

    The most important thing: HAVE FUN!!! Yay!

    P.S. It would be awesome if you and Christina came down at the same time -- we could maybe all meet up for a drink! :)

    1. Jerrica and Christina, we are planning to be there the second weekend in August. Meet up then?