At 6:45 am on Saturday, the kids sat on the couch, fully dressed and bleary-eyed. “In about fifteen minutes,” I told them, “We’re going to drive to the airport, get on an airplane, and go to Disney World!!!”
They smiled and I could see the excitement bubbling inside, but it was hardly the jumping-up-and-down, ecstatic reaction you see in the Disney commercials. Nonetheless, we piled into the car and made our way to KCI.
We took our first trip to Disney World three years ago. Josh and I naively stupidly thought that just because we were going to Disney World, our kids would somehow turn into angels and every single minute of our trip would be glorious and amazing. Boy were we wrong… our kids had more meltdowns on that trip than they did in everyday normal life. Part of that was improper expectations on our part and the other part was not recognizing and respecting their limits.
We were determined to get it right (well at least more right) this time around. We went into this trip with much lower expectations than we did the first time. We took a day off after our travel day and we also didn’t hit the parks on our travel day home. We alternated long and short days, making sure the kids were in bed super early on the short days. And with the exception of a handful of meltdowns, we had an amazing trip!!
Rather than give you a play-by-play of every ride we rode and every churro we ate, I’m going to share some of the things we did right and wrong and our favorite rides/shows.
Things we did wrong:
1. I blindly assumed that the entire month of February is a great time to visit Disney World. It turned out to be a pretty busy week instead of a week full of 5-10 minute waits. Next time I book a trip to Disney, I’ll consult the crowd calendar over at Undercover Tourist.
2. We didn’t take a day off in the middle. We hit the parks five days in a row… next time, we’re going to Florida for two weeks and we’ll take at least one day off in between each park visit. Our kids were so grumpy the days after our long park days that it definitely impacted our fun level.
3. We didn’t research to find out that the whole Fast Pass system had changed, so we had no idea what we were doing the first day. We figured it out, but just so you know, there are now Fast Pass kiosks and you can only sign up for three Fast Passes for the whole day. And, you can’t get more than one Fast Pass per person to any ride… so you can’t get two Fast Passes for Space Mountain for example.
4. I accidentally rented an economy car instead of a minivan. OOPS! I had been bidding on Priceline for a minivan rental, but kept getting denied because my bids were too low. After the second or third time getting denied, it popped up with an offer for $241 for the whole week! Looking back, I realize that it said ‘Economy Car’, but I guess I just wasn’t paying much attention. So we ended up with a Ford Fusion hatchback… the smallest car a family of five could ever fit in. It cost way too much to upgrade at that point, so we decided to be flexible and just roll with it. Sometimes the kids were great and other times, they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves… even though the drive from our hotel to the parks was only 10 minutes.
5. We made the mistake of waiting in the standby line for Toy Story Midway Mania. We got to Hollywood Studios right when they opened and rushed back there only to find out the line was already 45 minutes long. We grabbed Fast Passes on the way there (the system was down so they were handing out paper passes), but decided to wait in line too. The wait ended up being closer to an hour and a half… and as awesome as that ride is, it’s not worth an hour and a half wait with cranky kids. Do yourself a favor… get a Fast Pass and move on to something else.
Things we did right:
1. We ate a good breakfast every morning and packed a healthy lunch every day… sandwiches, apple slices, and carrot sticks. I think we all felt so much better because we had two solid meals in us everyday, instead of park food for three meals every day.
2. We stayed together as a family for most of our time at Disney, but we did choose to split up during key times to keep everyone happy. It’s a family vacation, but sometimes everyone is happier when you split up for an hour.
3. I took Lia to the princess dinner (Cinderella’s Royal Table) and Josh took Max and Ava to ride roller coasters. The princess dinner was pretty pricey and Max and Ava didn’t care one bit about going. We saved ourselves $170 by not taking them. And it was BY FAR the highlight of Lia’s trip. We ended up with seats by the window and we got to stay at our table during the fireworks show… which was AMAZING!!
4. We brought a stroller… to hold the food. Every day, we packed a lunch and healthy snacks. We loaded our bags onto the stroller and we would park it in one area of the park and then ride all the rides… then come back and get the stroller. On day four and five, we let Lia ride in the stroller simply to keep her from fighting with Max and Ava.
5. We rented a car and went to Cape Canaveral the day after we arrived in Orlando. It was amazing beach weather and I was so glad we were able to make that trip! P.S. Make sure you have plenty of change if you are making the trip, because there are tons of tolls.
6. We did not buy Park Hopper passes. Our kids are little and I just don’t think it would have been worth the extra money to be able to go between parks… it takes a lot of effort and time to go to another park with little kids. We may do this option on our next trip when they are older, but I’m glad we didn’t this time around.
7. I used points to pay for a huge portion of this trip. We used Southwest points to cover our airfare and American Airlines points to cover our hotel (I only had to pay $89 out of pocket because I ran out of points). If you’ve ever thought “Man, they sure travel all the time… they must be rich…” (Well, we totally aren’t… but I wish we were… We are able to travel so much because we use points to cover a lot of our expenses. Just google ‘travel hacking’ and you’ll see how we rack up so many points). We also had a wonderful friend who helped us get an incredible deal on our park tickets. And we bought groceries for breakfast, lunch, and most snacks. All of that together made for a pretty inexpensive trip to Disney World!
8. We went to Animal Kingdom on Monday with friends. My amazing friend Jen (from Simple Green Smoothies) drove in from Tampa with her adorable family. We had dinner on Sunday night and visited Animal Kingdom on Monday together. We had a fabulous time hanging out with them AND our kids had considerably less arguments because there were two other kids with us to keep them all occupied.
9. We discovered the magic of rider switch/baby swap. We managed to convince Lia to ride Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Expedition Everest once… but once she knew what to expect, there was NO WAY she was getting back on for another ride. There were a few other rides that she was too little to ride also. And that’s when we accidentally discovered the amazingness that is rider switch. We could all get in line, and then Josh would ride with Max & Ava while I waited with Lia. Then, Josh would wait with Lia and I would ride with Max & Ava… all without waiting in a long line again. This works in the regular line and the fast pass line.
10. We used Disney World apps to help us navigate the parks and find the best places to eat. My favorites are: Undercover Tourist, My Disney Experience, and Disney World Dining. Keep in mind that your phone battery will drain quickly, so try to steer clear of the temptation to pass the time in line checking out social media!
Favorite rides/shows:
Magic Kingdom
1. Space Mountain – This was by far our favorite roller coaster. Max really didn’t want to ride it because he was scared, but we talked him into it anyway. He ended up LOVING it. Lia… well, not so much… but she did ride it once!
2. Enchanted Tales with Belle – This was a new experience since the last time we were at Disney World. Lia’s favorite princess is Belle, so we knew we had to do this one. It’s a very popular attraction, so standby wait times are usually at least an hour. We lucked out and got a fast pass at the last minute and walked right in. It’s a fun little story telling thing where the kids get to be part of the story and at the end they can take a photo with Belle. This made our little princess super happy!
3. Jungle Cruise – We got a Fast Pass for this one. It’s very similar to the Jungle Safari at Animal Kingdom EXCEPT that it doesn’t have actual real animals (thanks for the reminder ‘notinjersey’!!), but the kids really love it. And you get to sit for 15 minutes which is nice.
4. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – We loved all the coasters! (Splash Mountain was closed for refurbishing while we were there though)
5. The Barnstormer – Lia really really loved this one. It’s a baby roller coaster and seriously not worth the 40 minute wait, but it was her most favorite ride the whole trip. Lines are shorter in the morning and at night.
6. Cinderella’s Royal Table dinner – This was totally worth every penny and I would do it with Lia again in a heartbeat!
Animal Kingdom
1. Dinosaur – Ava loved it… Max and Lia were both super scared. It is pretty scary, so don’t bring your littles!
2. Expedition Everest – Awesome roller coaster!! We loved this one!
3. Kali River Rapids – You will most definitely be drenched so be prepared! This ride is awesome in the heat of the day.
4. Primeval Whirl – it’s kind a wussy roller really, but Max and Ava loved it. For some reason you have to be 48 inches tall to ride it which is a bummer because I think Lia might have actually enjoyed this one.
5. Kilimanjaro Safari – this is perfect for hot afternoons! We saw all the animals and the kids loved it!
6. Wilderness Explorers badges – At the front entrance of the park, there are people handing out booklets for Wilderness Explorers. Our kids LOVED tracking down the badges and completing the activities. I would definitely recommend it if you will be spending two or more days at Animal Kingdom.
Hollywood Studios
1. Rock n Roller Coaster – in case you hadn’t noticed, we LOVE roller coasters. We didn’t meet a single one we didn’t like.
2. Toy Story Midway Mania – this is the most popular ride in all of Disney World for a reason… it’s SO fun!! Take my advice above though and don’t wait in line… you’ll wait FOREVER…. seriously.
3. Tower of Terror – Ava was the only kid to ride this and it was pretty scary, but if you like thrills, the Tower of Terror delivers!
4. Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show – this is a car stunt show where they show you how they film car scenes. It’s chock full of fast race car driving, ramp jumps, and even fire! Super entertaining.
5. Beauty & the Beast Live Show – This is a must see if you have a Belle fan!
Got a Disney World favorite you want to share? Or a question about our trip? Leave a comment below!
kids in a ford focus on the way to Disney Worldwilderness explorer badges at Animal Kingdomhaving fun on the drums at Animal Kingdomtickling the grumpies out at Disney World, the happiest place on earthlittle girl with a map at Disney Worldjust hanging out in line at the Kilimanjaro Safarisilly girls waiting in line at Disney Worldboy eating snacks in a stroller at Animal Kingdomwilderness explorer handbook fun at animal kingdompiggyback ride for a tired girl at Disneycorn cob ticklesgirl hanging upside downzebras hanging out at Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safarikids learning about Africa at Animal Kingdombird spotting at Disney Worldanimal kingdom funkids at the radio station wilderness explorer badge arealittle girl and her dad at Disney Worlddad snuggling daughter at Animal Kingdomkids having fun at the Dinosaur Dig sitelittle girl pretending to be a dinosaur at Dinoland Animal Kingdombubbles at Mickey's Philharmagic showlittle girl posing with pluto and goofylittle girl hugging Goofytired kids in a stroller at Animal Kingdomsilly dancing girl at Disney Worldstroller sleeping at Disney Parksthe smallest car five people could ever fit in... a ford focus hatchbackdad and daughter riding the boat to Disney World Magic Kingdomexcited girl on her way to Magic Kingdomwaiting in line at Space Mountainfamily picnic lunch at Magic Kingdomgirl with Cinderella's CastleTomorrowland Speedway official licensedad and daughter on the tomorrowland speedwaylittle girl riding the tomorrowlan
d speedway careating a churro at Magic Kingdomgirl waiting in line at Pirate's of the Caribbeanjuggler at the Storybook Circus Magic Kingdomspray park at Magic Kingdomwaiting in line for the Barnstormer - baby roller coaster at Disney Worldriding the monorail at Disney Worldcalling it an early night on day two of our Disney vacationkids excited to ride Ariel's Undersea AdventureBelle's castle at Magic Kingdomkids getting dizzy on the Mad Hatter's tea cups Tea Partydizzy parents on the spinning teacups at Disneyspray park at Magic Kingdom water traingirl trying to pull the sword out of the stone at Magic KingdomPrince Charming's royal carouselboy pouting about waiting in line at Buzz Lightyear's space ranger spinmom and son on buzz lightyear's space ranger spin at magic kingdomeating sandwiches for lunch in tomorrowlandboy driving the tomorrowland speedway car and having an incredible timetired little sister waiting while older kids rode Expedition Everestfamily riding Big Thunder Mountain awesome roller coaster at Disney Worldtired sweaty kids at magic kingdomfive year old excited for the barnstormer roller coasterkids riding the barnstormer roller coaster at magic kingdomwaiting for the showlittle princess with Belle at Enchated Tales with Bellelittle girl meeting her favorite princess Belle at Magic Kingdomgirl waiting in line for ride at disney worldgirl and her dad on the magic carpet ridemom and kids having fun on Aladdin's magic carpet ridemmom and kids snugglingthe littlest kid pushing the stroller at magic kingdomlittle girl having so much fun on the dumbo ride at disney worldmom and daughter on Dumbo ride at magic kingdomlittle girl dressed up as princess belle at disney worlddaddy and his little princess dancing at disney worlddad and daughter dancing like a prince and princess at magic kingdom disney worlddaddy daughter dancethe most excited little princess in front of Cinderella's castle at magic kingdomlittle girl having dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table at Magic Kingdomlittle princess watching the fireworks from inside Cinderella's castle at Magic Kingdom Disney Worldtired little princess after the Incredibles dance partyCinderella's castle at nighttired kids sleeping on the shuttle to parking at magic kingdomadorable soaking wet girl who just rode the Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdomchilling in the stroller at animal kingdomsisters pet the snake at Rafiki's planetfun with goats at animal kingdomboy pets the pig at rafiki's planetdance party and games with chip and daleafter shot from the Kali river rapids at Animal kingdom - we were soaked!wilderness explorers badges - bats at animal kingdomtired girl at animal kingdomkids working on their wildnerness explorers badges at disney worldcute girl at disney worldsilly family dancing at animal kingdomfun with african instruments at animal kingdomkids obsessed with wilderness explorer badges dinoland animal kingdomtired boy waiting in linehaving fun waiting in line for toy story midway maniaboy with 3d glasses - almost time to ride toy story midway maniashe loved the rock n roller coaster!boy acting silly at disney world hollywood studiosgirl on a star wars ship at hollywood studioskids eating lunch on main street usa at hollywood studioslightning mcqueen made an appearance at the stunt show hollywood studioslittle girl watching the stunt showthe beauty and the beast live musical show at hollywood studios is amazingkids playing on the honey I shrunk the ki
ds playground area at hollywood studiosboy pushing his sister in the stroller - stroller coasterbrother and sister playing stroller coaster at disney worldpiggyback rides for the tired kid at disney worldfun mickey souvenir from disney worldbrother sister fun with the stroller coaster at hollywood studios


  • I highly recommend when you go back to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, at Universal!! It has the BEST 4D ride EVER!! I know Max loved reading the books and i’m sure he would love going to that part of the park!! They have Olivander’s  Wand Shop,(AWESOME if you get chosen) Zonko’s Joke shop, The Three Broomsticks and the BEST Butterbeer there!! They are opening Diagon Alley this summer! I wanted to stay in there all day!! LOL…obviously I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and would go there all the time of I could!!  Plus universal has the coolest 3d Spiderman Ride, The Hulk(VERY VERY long wait time), A Dr. Suess part and stuff for the littles, and tons of other stuff to do!!

  • This was such a timely post for us as we’re making our way to Disney NEXT WEEK! We have family in FL so we were actually at Disney last winter too. It’s one of our favorite places in the world to visit. Thanks for the heads up on the Fast Passes, it was not that way last year and we had such an easy time getting through the lines. Kinda a bummer that they limit you now! Also, your pictures are fantastic! Loved them all.

  • Ah! We SO wanted to go to Universal Studios too! The only problem is that Lia was too little to ride most of the Harry Potter rides… Also, it’s SO pricey if you only go for one day… Just like Disney it makes the most sense to go for several days… But we couldn’t swing both this time around. We will definitely be going on our next trip!! We are huge HP fans… As you know 🙂

  • I love that you are from kc like us and love Disney like us! I love that your photos are so different from the posted Disney pictures most people take. I do have to disagree that the Jungle Cruise is similar to the safari in Animal Kingdom! The safari has real animals! 🙂

  • Did you have your DSLR with you or did you bring a point and shoot? We went last December and brought my DSLR and it was just a pain to lug the thing around, especially when going on the roller coasters.

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