Whew! It was a jam-packed five day trip to Disney World in July 2019. Now this was a trip that was over a year in the making. In Spring 2018, Hubby and I were pondering taking the kids to Disney. We had a timeshare trial that was running out that good for four nights at Disney. We had never visited the parks and we thought it could be fun.
As newbies, we thought that three days would be all the time we needed.
Yeah, no, but I’ll get into that later.
Before we start, let me make it plain: Disney is EXPENSIVE. From tickets to accommodations and food, everything is at a premium. That being said, the experience is amazing and if you’re going, use common sense when spending, but don’t nickel and dime yourself to death.
Most importantly, ride the wheels off when you’re at the park. Do everything you ever wanted to–meet the princesses, go to Space Mountain, eat the Dole Whip–because for folks like me, this can’t be a yearly trip. We need these memories to last.
Before the trip
I am a person who likes to do research. I like to know what to expect when I’m traveling–especially to a place like Disney where there is a lot to do. So I went online and read about FastPass+, dining plans, rope drops and more.
A lot of it was too much to be honest. I didn’t need the details of crowd levels (you book the trip when you have vacation–whether it’s more busy or less busy, you already have your tickets, right?) and stuff like that. I just wanted to know what did a family with kids aged 3 and 7 need for an enjoyable time with the Mouse.
Download the My Disney Experience app on your phone. It’s great. You can buy your tickets, arrange dining and FastPasses, see attraction wait times, see your PhotoPass pictures and everything ride there. As soon as you start thinking about a Disney trip, get it.
Check for promotions before you buy your park tickets. In Canada, each fall there is a promotion for cheaper Disney tickets. Keep an eye out of you’re planning to spend four days or more at the park. Also, some travel companies do promotions with tickets, airfare and accommodations. See what works for your family. We were at a timeshare, so we just needed tickets and accommodations.
If you are staying at Disney, there is the Magical Express. The girls and I checked it out when we arrived at the airport and it was pretty cool. This shuttle takes you directly to your hotel on the property and there’s no real need for a rental car, if you plan to spend all of your time at the parks. If you’re staying outside of Disney World, a rental car is necessary–you can’t get to the parks without it.
For my next Disney trip, I’d love to stay at a Disney resort and be immersed in all the fun. There are different levels of hotel from value to luxury. We’ll see, we’ll see.
Buying your tickets
So there are park ticket options–at Disney there are ALWAYS options. We bought regular park tickets that would allow us to enter one park per day. There is an option called Park Hopper that, for more money, let’s you hop around parks. For example, spend the morning at Magic Kingdom and the evening at Animal Kingdom. After watching some YouTube videos about what parks we should visit, we chose to do two days at Magic Kingdom and one day at Hollywood Studios because we wanted the girls to get some good character interactions. And the little one is still too short for a lot of the rides at other parks.
Character and special events dining
We knew that we wanted to do something special when we were at the parks. So I found a couple of dining activities for us. When you are 60 days away from visiting Disney, you can start planning your table service and special events dining. We decided on the Festival of Fantasy Parade and Dining package and the Best Friends breakfast with Lilo and Stitch (a character breakfast with Mickey, Lilo and Stitch) at Ohana Restaurant at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.
Remember, you can cancel them up to 24 hours in advance. Read the small print though.
It’s pricey, no doubt, but I would suggest that for your first trip you splurge on a special event. Disney does entertainment especially well, so you and family will enjoy yourselves. Do your research and look for something that won’t max out your budget, but do something special.
FastPass+ is key
If you aren’t staying at a Disney resort on the park property, you can reserve your FastPasses 30 days before your trip. What’s a FastPass+? The parks are crazy and the FastPass+ is your key to staying relatively sane and getting on popular rides and attractions. FastPasses allow you to arrive at your scheduled ride or attraction during an hour-long block. At most, we waited five minutes. The standby line? For really popular rides? Up to 120 minutes. In the blazing heat. Or pouring rain.
On an aside, Disney has done most things right, but the thing they need to work on is shade. That place is a fire pit in July and when it rains it pours. More on that later.
You can schedule three FastPasses per day at first. Once those three are completed, you can add another. As the day progresses, FastPasses to all rides get afternoons harder to come by. So try to get the rides that you really want scheduled first–trust, you aren’t finding anything at Toy Story Land in the afternoon. You’re going to have to wait in that line for 90 minutes. That being said, you can make changes on the fly with the Disney app, so get use to it!
One last thing, the FastPasses help you schedule your day. Try to lump all the rides for Magic Kingdom on the same day because if you don’t have Park Hopper, you can’t just roll over to Epcot and get on a ride. So with standard tickets, make sure all your rides are at the park you are going to be at for the day.
Let’s go to Disney!
You have your digital park tickets, FastPasses and dining are booked. You have your Disney gear and you are ready to go…but your flight lands at 2:30 PM and it’s a downpour.
Folks, I had plans for our unofficial first day at Disney. Get to the timeshare (AKA home base), change and go exploring. Yeah, Central Florida said not today. By the time we got to our timeshare the sky had grown black and rain was starting to fall. We got our luggage, closed the door and KABOOM! Thunderstorms. For two hours. Torrential rains, lightning strikes, special weather statements and the four of us on the couch looking at each other.
Not the start I imagined but, thanks to all the Disney enthusiasts online, we were prepared with ponchos and the knowledge that it will rain every day and there will be thundershowers every day. Finally the rain started to ease and we changed and drove a few minutes to IHOP.
In the tourist area, there are lots of souvenir stores. So if you didn’t have a chance to buy a character t-shirt for the family to wear on the first day, don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy shirts and keepsakes at discounted prices outside of the park.
Because we arrived in Orlando in the afternoon, we had never planned to go to Disney on our first day. I heard a lot about Disney Springs and that’s where we went, tummies full of pancakes and syrup, for some free fun. When I say free, I mean, there is no admission to enter Disney Springs and parking is free. You’ll still pay for food and drinks, souvenirs, etc. The kids played at the Lego Store, got harassed by a spitting animatronic Stitch and Hubby got his first taste of the famed Dole Whip ($). We went on a carousel ($), checked out the Christmas store and got a flavour for what Disney would be like. We spent about three hours there just having fun, chatting with each other and gearing up for our three days of magic.
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
Our first FastPass+, Flying Dumbo was scheduled for 9:20 am.
Not a smart move.
Why? Well, Magic Kingdom isn’t set up like Canada’s Wonderland where you arrive, park and enter. No, there is a process–especially on the first day of your trip.
Everyone parks at the Ticket and Transportation Center. The parking lot is divided into Heroes and Villains. There are parking attendants who direct you into your spot. This is a bit crazy because you’re excited, but don’t forget to note where you parked. We hustled over to a tram and took it to the ticket area.
Here’s where you exchange your email confirmation for your park passes. You show the guest services people your email confirmation and credit card you used to purchase the tickets…oh crap. Guess who forgot the credit card that purchased the tickets?
What do need to enter the park? Your email confirmation and the credit card you purchased. If you forget your card, you’ll have to stand up in the line and wait, in the heat and it is hot.
So we’re waiting, time is ticking for our FastPass. Instead of stressing, I used the app and pushed is out an hour. And it was a good thing.
We got everything sorted out and got our tickets. These are gold. Hold on to them because you will need to use them every day to enter the park.
Finally, to the park!
To get to Magic Kingdom, you have to either take a ferryboat or a monorail. Daughter #1 wanted to go on the ferry. Cool, we headed over there and it was a free for all. No stanchions or ropes to guide us, just a crowd of people all crushing towards the ferry. I picked up Daughter #2, because she’s short and small, and made my way to the ferry’s second level.
Lawd, would we ever arrive? After what felt like an eternity, we stepped off the boat and we were in the Happiest Place on Earth.
Next up, how we fared on Day 1 and the magic of Hollywood Studios!