Have you been to Disney World? It’s easy to see why it’s the Happiest Place on Earth after spending 4 days visiting each of the parks. We loved our experience and are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to have been able to experience it as a family. This blog post will cover what we learned, some important tips and advice for vegan/vegetarians too. It’s a bit different from my regular posts and will be a lot longer, however I’m sure those who are planning a visit may learn a tip or two.
One of the best decisions we made was to work with our local travel agent, Kevin Visser. Having never been to Disney before as a family (I had been a few times with my own family as a kid and an adult), I knew that working with someone who knew the ins and outs of the parks would be helpful. Many of our best experiences came from listening to Kevin’s advice. I would highly recommend working with him if you’re a Canadian, planning a trip to Disney. Also, no matter what you book, I suggest paying for the Memory Maker. It’s $149 USD if you pay ahead of time for all of your ride photos, plus all of the Disney photo spots and character meet & greets with professional photographers. And then you can download them all for free. It’s a great deal! We have over 600 to choose from in 4 days.
Make sure you book your experience as early as possible, only a small deposit is required. You can book your dining reservations up to 180 days in advance so the more popular dining experiences tend to fill up very quickly and your options can be limited. We chose to use the Disney Dining Plan, which has pros and cons and I’ll cover that later. Also, you can choose your FastPass+ (FP+) up to 60 days ahead of time if you’re staying at a Disney Resort, and 30 days ahead of time if not.
We flew in on Saturday afternoon from Buffalo, NY. One thing I would do differently is to pay for the special luggage transfer for the Disney Magical Express (coach bus to your resort, if you’re staying on the property). It was a bit complicated to get our luggage and then travel to the other side of the terminal to get on the coach. If you pay for the special luggage transfer, they tag your bags ahead of time and they pick up your bags for you, so you don’t have to go to baggage claim. You can go straight to the buses. Once we got checked in, we quickly sorted ourselves out and headed out to Epcot Center. A bit crazy after a day of travel however we didn’t want to miss our special dinner with the Princesses. I would say that for any child under 8 years old I would consider a stroller. They can be rented however we brought ours from home. It just added an extra step to the day if you have to stop and rent a stroller every time at the park. You could also rent a stroller and have it brought to your hotel/resort, but I don’t have any experience with this.
Download the Walt Disney World app on your phones. It’s indispensable for FP+, Wait Times and so much more, including your photos. And don’t forget to pack a rain poncho or jacket, no matter what time of year you are going (I’ve got two ponchos for sale if anyone’s looking!).
What we learned our first day: To get in to the parks, use the meal plan and access our rooms, we were given Magic Bands. As an international traveler, we received them on check-in at our resort (Port Orleans, Riverside). What no one told us was that the first time we use them, we had to go to the ticket window to activate them. So we were at the entrance to the park and had to go back and line up at the ticket counter before we could enter. Also you have to BRING PHOTO ID for the adults.
FastPass+ tip we learned: If you’re not sure what a FastPass+ (FP+) is, it’s all explained here. Basically you get three a day per person, however once you’ve used your 3, you can add more (one at a time) until there are none left or the park closes. If the ride you have a FP+ for is temporarily closed, you can get a FP+ ticket to replace the FP+ you had which can be used at any time, on any ride! Our very first ride and FP+ at Epcot was Spaceship Earth. Which was closed and ended up being closed for the night. We didn’t know we could get the FP+ replaced until later in the evening, so we didn’t get the FP+ voucher unfortunately.
Dining Experience: We had pre-booked Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for dinner with the Princesses (not Anna & Elsa however). This was our BEST meal of the entire trip. Especially for me, the vegan GF (gluten-free meal) was phenomenal! It was a great way to start our visit.
Best Ride Experience: There aren’t too many rides at Epcot however the new Frozen Ever After at the Norway Pavilion is worth getting the FP+ for. The regular line is very long so it’s a must for a FP+ and we really loved it.
Character Experience: We did line up to meet Anna & Elsa, and it’s right beside the Frozen Ever After ride so it was easy to do. It was later in the evening so the line wasn’t too bad. And the photos were fantastic. Great experience for everyone.
Fireworks: We stayed on site for the light show and fireworks experience. I would say that it’s important to find an unobstructed view of the lake (the country pavilions are all around it) to get the full view of the light show. The fireworks were also amazing. Worth staying for!
Transportation Tip: If you are staying at a Disney Resort and don’t have a car, it’s worth paying for an UBER to get back to the resort. We did have to wait in line to get out of the parking lot, however we were all sitting down, in a car with the stroller in the trunk and in air conditioning. It’s less than an $8 ride for 4 people. Yes, the shuttle is free but for our resort, we had to wait for the 5th stop before we got off the bus so it took much longer on the bus.
Day two was our Magic Kingdom visit. I love the classic rides and there are so many new rides that are fun for the whole family. This is a HUGE park that would be better to do in 2 days if you had a 5 day pass.
FP+ Tip: For Magic Kingdom, it’s very important to look at the park layout before you choose your passes. We were so far away from the Big Thunder Mountain that even though we had an hour use our FP+ we knew we wouldn’t make it because we were still enjoying rides in Tomorrowland which is super far away. The train wasn’t working when we were there. There are a lot of options for FP+ here, so if you can get your 3 in the morning, you can then add new ones for the afternoon.
Best Ride Experience: We loved the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. It’s great for the whole family and it’s a MUST for the FP+ if you want to go on it. There are a lot of great rides at the parks and I also recommend the classics such as It’s a Small World and the Carousel. I missed out on Space Mountain, my family wasn’t really up for it and I didn’t have a FP+ and didn’t want them to wait 30 minutes for me.
Dining Experience: With the Disney Dining Plan, you get 2 snacks, 1 quick service meal and 1 dining experience per day, per person. They carry-over so if you didn’t use your snacks on the first day, they will still be on your account. Everything is on your Magic Band which means that you could choose not to carry any cash with you – even to pay at the gift shops (and there are a lot of gift shops!). Here is where the dining plan falls short for those who eat vegan and GF. The lunch options are basically limited to vegan cheese pizza on a rice crust. The salad options are usually a Caesar salad. At one restaurant I kid you not, they gave me a bowl of lettuce and some nasty dressing.
Our dinner experience however was once again, amazing. We had booked for the Crystal Palace, with Winnie the Pooh and friends. It’s a buffet, however one of the assistant chefs made me a vegan entrée and dessert. Truly delicious! What I would do differently is book character dining for all of our dinners.
Character Experience: We lined up for Tigger and Pooh, as well as Buzz Lightyear. Both great experiences! We didn’t have time for Mickey and Minnie – however we had a great experience with them at Hollywood Studio.
Fireworks/Parade: We didn’t get to see either as there was a huge storm that evening (tornado warnings). Thankfully we were back at our room before anything got too dangerous weather wise.
This was my first time to Animal Kingdom. It’s the smallest of the parks so it’s easy to do it in about 8 hours, versus 12 at least for the other ones. It’s a beautiful experience and not to be overlooked. They are building a new land called Pandora – The World of AVATAR opening this summer. I’d love to see that!
FP+ Tip: The Kilimjaro Safaris is a MUST see – they have done an amazing job with the animals here and you feel like you’re in Africa. Think African Lion Safari but with an open side Jeep. And really stunning wildlife. If you can get a FP+ for it first thing in the morning, that’s the best time to see the animals. It rained when we were there so when we showed up, there was no line up and we cancelled the FP+ and then got it for a show instead. The sun was shining by the time we were on the jeep. Don’t miss it.
Best Ride Experience: Hands down for me it was the Everest roller coaster. Loved the speed, and it goes backwards (not as scary at The Bat at Canada’s Wonderland). I was on my own for this one and there is a single rider line. I went right at 9 am and was able to quickly ride it twice while my family waited. If you want to go with the family, I would recommend a FP+. I missed out on the other roller coaster, the Primeval Whirl (kind of like The Fly at Wonderland) as we didn’t have a FP+ and it was over an hour wait.
The Dinosaur Ride ended up being pretty scary for our 6 year old. Our travel agent had said he didn’t recommend it for children and I probably should have listened (sorry Kevin!). I would have done the Primeval Whirl instead, as I know she would have loved it (and gotten the FP+).
Live Shows: We did two live shows here and I wish we had done a few more at the other parks after our experiences with The Lion King and Finding Nemo, the Musical. They were both PHENOMENAL. And I would recommend a FP+ if you want the best seating. Basically, the FP+ people enter first, and once they are all in the auditorium, the rest of the people without a FP+ enter. It’s worth it. We loved both shows and felt like the quality of talent was just as high as any professional show we’ve seen in Toronto.
We didn’t eat a full service meal here, but if I were to do it again, I would do the character dining at Tusker House Restaurant. We ate at our resort that night and the food wasn’t really that great.
This was our last day of 4 days in a row and we were ready for it! I had been waiting for this park, being a HUGE Star Wars fan, I knew this would be the best one for me. We arrived early, even though there were no early hours that day. Good thing we did as they let you in about 15 minutes before the park opens and we IMMEDIATELY went to sign up for Jedi Training for Céline. This is for children ages 4 – 11 and you have to sign up right away when the park opens (it’s free). The sign up is by the Indiana Jones show area – not the Star Wars area. There are time slots throughout the day, and the faster you get into the line, the more choice you have so that you can work it around the FP+ and dining reservations you have booked. This was a PHENOMENAL experience so make sure you sign up for it (kids must be present in line).
FP+ Tips: There are a lot of options at this park and it will depend on your family. There are many families who choose the Tower of Terror and Rock N Roller Coaster. We chose to do it for Star Tours Adventure, The Frozen Sing Along Show and Toy Story Mania.
Best Ride Experience: For me, it was the Rock n Rollercoaster. We went at the end of the day and I rode alone, again in the single ride line, three times in a row. Loved it. So much. Wanted to do it again but I was starting to feel a little bit nauseous. For the family, Toy Story Mania was a lot of fun, as well as Star Tours.
Character Experiences: Since it was our last day, and we love Star Wars, we did a lot of photos. We lined up for Kylo Ren and Chewbacca. And this is where we met Mickey and Minnie without any waiting. Same thing for Olaf. We had a perfect day in terms of timing, we used the app to see which lines were the shortest and we ended up not having to wait too long for anything.
Show Experiences: We really loved the Frozen Sing Along! And make sure you watch the Captain Phasma and Stormtroopers on parade at least once (on the hour). The Jedi Training experience for Céline was priceless. It’s a full show, outside, with actors and of course villains. She got to fight Darth Vader. And it’s MUST to stay for the Star Wars Experience at 7:45 pm. Find a spot as early as possible (right after 7 pm is good because everyone has gone into the Fantasmic! which is probably amazing but I wanted to see the Star Wars show). The show includes projections on the Chinese Theater and buildings around it, as well as fireworks and lasers. It was so amazing.
Dining Experience: This was the toughest day for me personally, I was so sick of cheese pizza and it’s when I got a bowl of lettuce for lunch as a side. Thankfully, I had packed a lot of snacks so I didn’t go hungry. I would say as a vegan if you can bring a small lunch bag with your lunch to the parks, do that instead. I would still do the meal plan however the lunches were a huge challenge. We chose the Sci-Fi Dine-In for dinner which is kind of like a 50s drive in with old movie clips. It wasn’t great for Céline so I would have chosen Hollywood & Vine character dining instead.
Shopping Experience: There are so many gift shops at the park, usually one when you come out of every single ride. I had saved all of my spending for the Star Wars shop and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, it’s more expensive than anywhere else but it was so worth it! And we got some great clothing and other fun things to remember our day. I would recommend planning out your spending as it can easily add up and there are stores everywhere!
We made the most of our last day at the park and were there from open to close. Amazing experience (and we shared it with friends from home, who we ran into coincidentally!).
After our 4 parks in 4 days, we had the last morning at our resort, Port Orleans, Riverside. We really did love the resort and our room could sleep 5, as there was a small Murphy bed for a child. There were two pools and a water-slide. And it was worth it to pay a little more to have a room closer to the main building.
If I were to do it again (and I know many of you are planning to do this next year) I would consider extending our stay at the Resort and renting a car to get to the Next Level You training event. It was only 20 minutes away and our daughter would have probably had more fun if she had stayed at the Disney Resort as there weren’t many other kids at our event. It ended up working out regardless, as my mother-in-law was with her and they had a lot of fun on their own, so if you do decide to move to the Omni Resort it would be ok too!
I am so excited that many of you are planning Disney trips and have reached out with questions. This blog post is based on our personal experience at a less than busy time at Disney, so your own experiences will probably be quite different. If you have any more questions or comments, please let me know and I’ll be sure to answer them asap.
For those who had read this far and are my usual blog readers, I’ll be back to my regular blogging later on this week. I’ve got some fun blog posts ready to share and as always, will be grounding my posts in gratitude.
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