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!
This was the last day of our trip. We got up, finished packing, and checked out of our room. I have to say, Disney really tries to make your vacation simple. I used my iPhone app to check us in for our Southwest flight and figured we would print the boarding passes at the airport. Disney actually printed them for us and put them in an envelope on our door, along with information about checking out of our hotel room, luggage, and transportation back to the airport. Since we had a credit card on file, they checked us out automatically with no effort on our part. We then took our luggage down to the airport check in area and dropped it off. That is a great service because we didn’t see our bags again until we landed in Kansas City. Next, we took our carry on luggage and dropped it off at the luggage check, so we could have fun at Magic Kingdom and grab the bags on the way to the airport.
Next, we stopped in and had our last breakfast at Riverside Mill Food Court. Then we hopped on a bus to Magic Kingdom. The first time we hit up Magic Kingdom, Max really wanted to drive the cars at Tomorrowland Speedway. But I pretty much said NO WAY to a 70 minute wait. So when we got to Magic Kingdom, we headed straight for the speedway. We waited about 20 minutes, but Max and Ava drove the cars and Josh, Lia, and I rode along happily. Next up, we headed to Pirates of the Carribean and no one got scared. Yay! Then we used our FastPasses for the Jungle Cruise (no need to wait 45 minutes to ride that!).
Then we headed to the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. After that, Josh and Ava went to the Haunted Mansion while Max, Lia, and I went through the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House again. Then we collected FastPasses while we waited for our lunch reservation at the Crystal Palace. We ate a quick lunch and then hit up The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and 3 times around on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Then we hit up the gift shop, and headed back to the hotel.
We grabbed an early dinner at the Riverside Food Court and waited for our bus back to the airport. It was a long bus ride to the airport, then a long wait at the airport. Our flight was delayed, but ended up taking off right on time anyway. The kids were still wired, but eventually fell asleep. Lia was super mad and screamed for about 5 minutes straight. Have you heard her scream? It’s not fun… especially on an airplane! After what seemed like a long flight, we finally landed in Kansas City and then drove about an hour to get home.
Things I learned:
1. FastPasses are way more awesome than I even knew earlier on in the trip!
2. A character meal isn’t quite as much fun if you’ve already done the same one earlier in the trip.
3. If you get a bunch of FastPasses in the morning and hold onto them until the afternoon, you can ride something over and over again and barely wait in line!
4. Sleeping on a plane sucks.
Keep an eye out for the last Disney World post coming soon… It’s a wrap up of all the stuff we learned.
Tuesday night before we went to sleep, Josh and I plotted our plan of attack for Wednesday. Our original plans were to go to Epcot. But, due to missing Jedi Training on Tuesday AND the fact that Epcot doesn’t seem quite as kid friendly, we decided to skip it and head back to Hollywood Studios. We knew that meant we had to get up early and high tail it to the Star Tours area to get the kids signed up.
We got up early and got out the door quickly. I headed straight to Hollywood Studios with Lia while Josh took Max and Ava and grabbed some breakfast at the hotel. Lia and I got to Hollywood Studios and inside the front gate about 20 minutes before they opened. That’s when I found out that you have to have to your kids with you to sign them up for Jedi Training. What?! At this point, I was pretty mad that no one had told me that yesterday.
Either way, Lia and I ran to the sign up area as soon as they dropped the ropes, alongside tons of other families dragging little Jedi-wannabes. We got in line and waited. Josh and I were texting back and forth… get here fast!! He had to carry Max and Ava and run through the park to get there. They finally arrived and I only had to let 5 or 6 families go ahead of me.
Wouldn’t you know it, when we finally got to the front to sign up, Ava wouldn’t do it. No amount of begging or bribing would get her to do it. At this point, I was afraid Max was going to bail. He had said he only wanted to do it if Ava did it too. Also at this point, I was fully aware that if they both bailed, that would mean we wasted our tickets on another trip to Hollywood Studios for nothing. Luckily, Max signed up.
After we signed up, Max practically dragged us into Star Wars shop next door. We browsed around and then headed back outside. At this point, Ava started crying because she changed her mind and wanted to do the Jedi Training. I knew that would happen!! I jumped back in line with her, hoping for a spot. They filled the last spot a few kids in front of us and she ended up being an alternate. Let me just tell you how much stress this caused me… it was A LOT!
Max and Ava wanted to watch the Jedi Training that was about to start and I wanted breakfast, so we split up. We met back up and headed for the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area. I know I said yesterday it was bad news, but we headed in there with a better game plan. I watched Max and Ava and Josh went with Lia. Nobody got lost and everybody had fun.
Since we skipped out on Epcot, we also skipped out on our reservations for dinner with Chip and Dale. I wasn’t about to lose out on our table service meal and Josh mentioned that he had walked past a cool looking restaurant. Lucky for us, they had openings, but only at 11 am.
We took the opening and had an early lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive In Diner. The tables were inside retro looking cars and there was a huge screen at the front resembling a real drive-in movie theatre. They alternated between super old sci-fi films and cartoons. The kids loved the cartoons and didn’t like the sci-fi. Go figure. The food was good and we scooted out of there just in time to make our Jedi Training time.
Max was the first one checked in for Jedi Training. The other kids quickly filtered in. It came down to one kid who hadn’t shown up. They literally pushed it till the last 5 minutes before the show started and then (finally!) told Ava she could join the padawans! She was ecstatic, Max was thrilled to have her with him, and I was just plain relieved.
Both of them got to participate in the training and then fight Darth Vader, who interrupted the training class to convert the padawans to the Dark Side. It was so fun to watch them having such a great time! Truth be told, I had to bribe them to get them to sign up. Max especially is a little shy and very leery of doing anything that puts him in the spotlight. And I think they were scared of Darth Vader. I knew they would think it was the most amazing thing ever though. So I bribed them with brand new custom lightsabers. By the time we headed over to the Jedi Training area before the show, they were both so excited they couldn’t stand it (which let me know I did the right thing ;).
So, after the show, we headed back to the Star Wars shop and all three kids made their own custom lightsaber (only $19.95 each!). Then we headed back to Honey I Shrunk the Kids for one last play session. After that, we went straight to the Toy Story Midway Mania and used our FastPasses. I still think it’s the best ride of all!
Since we saw all the shows we wanted to see on Tuesday, we decided to head back to our hotel and have a lazy afternoon. We wanted to go swimming, and we did, but we didn’t make it too long. I had been told that the pools were heated, but I can assure you that the main pool was NOT heated. Someone told me the other pools were heated, so we decided to go to one of them instead. We never made it because the kids decided they were too cold.
Next up was bathtime, then dinner, some cartoons and packing, and finally bedtime!
Things I learned today:
1. Custom lightsabers are clearly way better than the pre-packaged ones and therefore I parted with $60 for three of them.
2. Lia still won’t wear her shoes. I thought maybe it was just a Tuesday thing. She’s been walking barefoot around Disney World for days.
3. The second time (on one trip) that you visit a park, you totally feel like you’ve been there your whole life and know where everything is. Who needs a map?
4. Apparently people from the Midwest have an accent too. I always assumed that we were the ones that spoke normally and everyone else had an accent. Apparently, everyone thinks that!
5. If you are an able-bodied adult without a child on your lap and you don’t give up your seat on the bus to the mom holding an almost-asleep toddler and three heavy bags, you suck. And bad Disney karma will probably follow you throughout your whole trip.
6. Ask before you go swimming to find out which pools are heated! The water isn’t exactly warm in March!
7. Kids go to bed much easier when they are exhausted than when they are wired.