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!
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!
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.
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!
“We’re not gonna make it up this mountain. Seriously, can you feel the van rolling backwards?” I was trying not to freak out, but I hate winding mountain roads. And it was sprinkling, so the road was wet. And our minivan is probably on it’s last leg… it’s been making this awful whirring noise for months and months and I was completely certain that we would never make it up to the cabin. Lucky for us, the mustache mobile made it up the mountain, but I spent most of the trip up with my eyes closed, trying not to hyperventilate.
But, we made it. And I’m so glad we did! We spent 4 1/2 days in the mountain cabin with three other families and had an incredible time!! Between us all, we had 8 adults and 9 kids. It was complete chaos and organized amazingness all rolled into one. We spent hours huddled around tables playing cards, chatting near the fire in the living room, exploring trails, eating meals together, being rowdy and rambunctious, and of course, taking lots of photographs.
Some of the highlights of our trip:
1. making sandwiches assembly line style in the Walmart parking lot
2. Uno Attack
3. hide n seek in the dark
4. food fight
5. the donut game
6. Charades Against Humanity
7. Ghiardelli brownies
8. the horse head randomly appearing in SO many photos
9. the fog rolling over the mountains
10. the sparkler birthday celebration
11. having the realization that we were in Gatlinburg 2 1/2 years ago when we officially launched HFM!
And of course the best part was just spending time with people we love. People who dream big with us and support us and love us in spite of all our faults. And though we did quite a bit of Instagramming, our #craziesinacabin2013 adventure was very much an unplugged vacation. And it felt SO good! We barely even had internet service up in the mountains and it was a great break from real life… no email answering, no blogging, no constant Facebook refreshing. Just lots of face time with awesome people.
Tuesday, we woke up with a plan. We left Rapid City early in the morning and made our way East toward the Badlands. Our first stop was Wall Drug. I remember visiting Wall, ND with Josh on our honeymoon. We passed through late at night, so nothing was open. The only thing I really remember is seeing the giant dinosaur by the road. Well, it turns out that Wall Drug is a first class tourist trap!
I imagine that Wall Drug would be a really fun place to wander around, just looking at all the amazing/ridiculous things they have going on there… IF you didn’t have three kids trailing behind you, begging you to buy EVERYTHING. Seriously, this place was crazy. Look one way and there’s a covered wagon to sit in, look another way, there’s a mini spray park. Ooh! Look over here… DONUTS! And rocks for sale and a cowboy store and a chapel (yes a chapel!) and a restaurant and a book store and four thousand toy stores. And more and more and more.
We quickly picked out some rocks and plastic animals, paid for our things, and made a beeline out of there! I’ve got to hand it to the guy who created Wall Drug… he definitely thought of everything! Word to the wise… don’t take your kids unless you want someone to cry because you won’t buy them forty two souvenirs.
After Wall Drug, we drove to the Badlands. I wasn’t prepared for just how incredibly gorgeous it was! I almost think it was cooler than the Grand Canyon (don’t hate me!). We entered the park at the Pinnacles Entrance and headed West on Sage Creek Rim Rd to visit the Prairie Dog Town. It was dirt road the whole way there, so even though it was a short distance, it took awhile to get there. We saw a few prairie dogs popping up out of their holes (apparently they come out more in the evening).
After seeing the prairie dogs, we headed back East and joined up with Loop Road. We stopped at most of the scenic overlooks. I’m not gonna lie… I was terrified my kids would fall over the edge. They don’t put railings up in most of these places, so it’s a little scary with kids. But the scenery was incredible, so it was definitely worth it! Josh was set on hiking a trail, so we picked the Saddle Pass Trail. It was kind of hot, but not TOO bad.
We loaded up our bag with waters, put on sunscreen, and headed out. The trail is only 1/4 mile, but it’s REALLY steep. And the ground was basically loose dirt, so we were all sliding around everywhere. About halfway up, I was tired of listening to Lia scream that she was slipping and couldn’t do it. So I told Josh to keep going with the other two and that she and I would turn around. She heard me say that and said, no, she wanted to make it all the way to the top. She’s not usually super adventurous, so I was really thrilled to see her respond that way!
We kept hiking and all five of us made it to the top. The view was awesome! And Lia was so proud of herself for making it all the way to the top. It was really tricky going back down, because it was so steep and the dirt was loose. The girls sat down and slid on their bottoms most of the way, which was slow going, but it worked. Josh’s parents got their car back and met us at the lodge near the exit to the Badlands park.
Heading out of the park, we noticed a HUGE prairie dog statue and even though we really needed to get on the road, we decided to stop. For 50 cents a bag, you can buy prairie dog food (i.e. unsalted peanuts in the shell) in the gift shop of the Badlands Ranch Store. Once you buy the food, it’s free to get in and feed the prairie dogs. The kids were SO stoked to feed them, especially since we had seen prairie dogs earlier in the day. These prairie dogs must have been very well fed, because it took quite a bit of coaxing to get them to eat anything. But they eventually did eat some peanuts from the kids and they were happy.
And then we headed East toward Mitchell, SD and the Corn Palace. We were very disappointed to find out that the Corn Palace is not even really made out of corn. AND, it’s in the middle of town, which just seemed odd. We decided to just drive on instead. We were all starving and looking for a diner. Our GPS only found Country Kitchen, but I did a quick check on Yelp and stumbled upon Rita’s Place. We headed there for dinner and we were not disappointed! We all had breakfast for dinner… the portions were huge, the prices were low, and the food was SO good! I highly recommend it if you ever happen to pass through Mitchell!
We grabbed ice cream at DQ on our way out of town and finally stopped for the night in Omaha. We had originally planned to visit the Omaha Zoo, but decided to just head home the next morning and save that for another trip.