After many years of talking about it, we finally made it to Walt Disney World with the girls and my parents. The girls were the perfect ages (almost 9 and newly 6) to enjoy all of the magic of Disney and the suspended reality of Disney World was a welcomed break from reality for all of the adults.
Our trip to Disney started off a bit…rough. Storms in the Midwest meant that it took us nearly 24 hours to fly from Omaha to Orlanda (via Grand Rapids, Chicago and Hartford) and we arrived in Orlando a little more travel-worn than we had hoped. But, after a quick nap on the Magical Express, we arrived at our hotel, Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter.
This resort is, not surprisingly, NOLA-themed, with a fun pool and decent, but not great food court. The landscaping is lovely and the Sassagoula river runs right behind the resort, adding to the ambience. Some of the theming hits the mark, while other aspects (the jazz-playing crocodiles, among others) are pretty cheesy. The resort offers free Disney buses to all Disney parks and a boat to Disney Springs. While we used both the buses and the boat to Disney Springs, we primarily used the Minnie vans to get around. (I’m guessing if we did the math on the Minnie vans, it might have more cost-effective to stay at a monorail resort.)
Like every other Disney-goer, we had our meals planned and our FastPass+ rides booked. During the planning process, I fell down a real rabbit hole of all things Disney, but in doing so, I came up with a pretty good balance of character meetings (W’s priority), rides (N’s priority) and experiences. See the travel guides page some of my tips on planning for and dining at Disney.
Character Meals & Meetings
The highlight of our trip–at least for me–was meeting characters throughout WDW. We were on the Disney Dining Plan and used our table service credits for character dining. On our very first night, we took a boat over to Disney Springs for a makeover at the Bippity Boppity Boutique and then went over to the Grand Floridian for dinner with Cinderella, the evil stepmother and the three evil stepsisters and Prince Charming at 1900 Park Fare. If you are considering doing Bippity Boppity Boutique with your little one, I would highly recommend this one-two combo. (I just learned that the Grand Floridian will soon be getting it’s own BBB!) The girls were dressed up for dinner and we didn’t have to worry about schlepping around a boiling hot theme park in a polyester costume and full hair and makeup.
In addition to meeting Cinderella and company, we had dinner at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, where we met Winnie the Pooh and friends, brunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom with Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy; and dinner with Cinderella (again), Snow White, Aurora, Ariel and others at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot. The food wasn’t particularly outstanding at any of the meals (but picky eaters will be pleased with the buffet staples), but the characters were fantastic. To a number, they were engaging and charming and made my girls feel special.
The other character meetings we had around the parks–with Anna, Elsa and Belle, and a few others here and there–were similarly spectacular. How these cast members managed to make every single child–and many adults–feel special is beyond the scope of my imagination. Well done, Disney.
We went on a whole range of rides and attractions, from the low-key Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid to the more adventurous Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom. The girls loved both Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, my mom–not a thrill seeker–liked the Frozen Ever After ride at Epcot. My favorites were the old classics: the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, It’s a Small World, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and, of course, the Mad Tea Party‘s spinning tea cups, where we even spotted Alice going for a ride. Everyone enjoyed taking down the evil empire in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin! There were far more rides than we could have ever managed but we had a good mix of old and new, gentle and daring. And thank goodness for FastPass+ because we were never going to wait in a 45+ minute line for a ride! (Pro-tip: once you use your three FP+ for the day, you can book one more at a time until the end of the day.)
While we used many of our FastPass+ opportunities on rides, we also used them for some experiences, including Enchanted Tales with Belle (just ok) and the Festival of the Lion King (amazing but not as good as the version in Hong Kong). We also liked Mickey’s PhilharMagic (the girls loved it!) and the Hall of Presidents (more interesting than it sounds!). My favorite experience was the Kilimanjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom. We took advantage of Extra Magic Hours to get to Animal Kingdom at 8:00 am and went right over to the Safari. The animals were out and about and we enjoyed learning about them and their habitat.
We also spent an afternoon in Blizzard Beach (fun if you like water parks) and the aforementioned afternoon/evening at Bippity Boppity Boutique and the Grand Floridian. I was pretty skeptical about the Bippity Boppity Boutique going into it, but like everything else at Disney, once I drank the Mickey-flavored KoolAid, I was hooked.
One of my favorite experiences was eating/drinking around the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival with C one night. We sampled tapas, pretzels, poutine and more. There was so much more to explore–and eat!–around the World Showcase, but we got a good taste–pun intended–during our evening “out.”
Our time in Disney was marked by a lot of highs–the character meetings, the rides, the experiences, the time together–as well as some lows–travel problems, a sick kiddo and the unrelenting heat. I think we would all do it again, but maybe not for a few years. And maybe instead of heading back to Orlando, we should give Tokyo or Shanghai Disney a try!