A few short weeks before starting this blog, we celebrated Pumpkin’s adoption being finalized with a trip to Disney World. At the time, Pumpkin was 16 months and Peanut was 4. A bunch of people asked me how we managed Disney World with 2 small children. I wrote a Facebook “note” detailing some things that worked and a couple that didn’t.
Recently, a few friends encouraged me to use re-work that “note” as a blog post. Ask and ye shall receive, people.
First, a reality check.
Before we left, I had to accept the following:
– As fun as it is, Disney is a VERY stimulating experience for kids (and their parents!). We needed to pick and choose only the most important things to do and see. We knew we’d have to be flexible about how much to do on any given day. I also vowed to provide some quiet down time for the kids and myself each day.
– Naps would be shortened and kids would need to go to bed at the regular time (or early!).
– This was not going to be a relaxing drink-on-the-beach kind of vacation. This was going to be an action-packed trip. Super FUN, not super relaxing.
We knew life would be easier if we stayed in a place that had a room for sleeping and a room to relax. That way, Peanut could nap or go to bed early and we could stay up a bit. It also provided a separate place for Brian and I to hang out after the kids went to bed.
Instead of paying huge $$ for a 2-room suite, we decided on one of the “moderate” resorts: Fort Wilderness Cabins. The cabin is essentially a double-wide trailer with a rustic/log home feel. And let me just say: IT WAS AWESOME. Here’s why:
* The “cabin” was surprisingly spacious.
* There were bunk beds AND a double in the bed room PLUS a pull out double in the living room.
* There was a kitchenette with a dishwasher – this allowed us to make quick breakfasts and get right to the parks. HUGE perk.
* Housekeeping came every day and replaced towels, made beds, and washed our dishes.
<Let’s just pause here a moment to let that sink in. THEY WASHED OUR DISHES DAILY.>
* There was an “outpost” that had basic groceries (outrageously overpriced) but we had packed some ourselves in our luggage.
* Each cabin had an outdoor bbq grill.
* The resort was a 15 min boat ride from Magic Kingdom, which is where our kids wanted to be most.
* Every night there was a campfire with Chip/Dale where they roasted marshmallows, had a sing along, and showed a different Disney movie.
* The pool is water-park like with a snack bar, plenty of chairs, and a separate gated water play area for the wee ones.
* There is a small beach on the lake with lots of beach chairs. No swimming allowed BUT you can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach. While B put Pumpkin to bed, Peanut and I would walk down to the beach to catch the campfire and then the fireworks at 8pm.
Our flight left Richmond around 7am and we were in the Magic Kingdom by 11am. I packed a backpack with spring clothes for us to change into in the bathrooms of the resort lobby. The resort held on to our carry on luggage and delivered our luggage to our cabin for us. We were off!
– BRING YOUR OWN STROLLER(S). Renting them is ridiculously expensive. We had 2 strollers, which was great because we could split up if necessary and they didn’t wake each other if one was asleep and one wasn’t. We were probably walking 3 to 4 miles a day so yes, I put my 4.5 year old in a stroller. And no, she wasn’t by any measure the oldest kid in a stroller at Disney.
– FIGURE OUT FAST PASS RIGHT AWAY. This is the key to getting on all the rides you want without waiting in long lines. Ask for help, make a plan, and get your fast passes!!
– GET INTO A RHYTHM. Ours went something like this: wake up normal time (6:30ish), do breakfast in the cabin (coffee, cereal, etc), get dressed and get to the park right when it opens at 8am.
– HIT THE RIDES IN THE MORNING WHEN THE LINES ARE SHORT. After several rides, we had an early lunch (11:30ish) to beat some of the crowds. When lunch was over, we told the girls to take a rest. We put the shade down on both strollers and just started walking. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip. The kids would sleep, and B and I would get to see every inch of each of the parks. We’d get to talk and relax a little. Naps lasted about an hour.
– After naps, we did another hour or 2 in the park (usually catching a show or doing something low key), then headed back to the resort. We spent the afternoons at the pool or just relaxing in the cabin. I think this downtime in the afternoon is the reason our kids did so well throughout the trip.
– The tough part about staying in the cabins is that you have to get on a bus to get to dinner. We’d eat early to avoid a line (even though there never really was one). One night we took our food to go and ate on the beach. One night we decided to skip the restaurant and have pb+js in the cabin.
Magic Kingdom Tips
– Get to the park right when it opens (8am most days). The characters ride in on the train and Micky/Minnie are right there, putting on a show. It’s pretty special.
– Cinderella’s Castle Princess Breakfast. Everyone says that it is THE princess breakfast to go to. And while I agree it’s pretty fun to be in Cinderella’s castle, I didn’t think the breakfast was worth the price . The professional pic of Peanut with Cinderella is currently in her room, however. And she still talks about meeting all of the princesses. We did two princess breakfasts, which was too much. We should have only done one. And if I had to choose between this and the Ariel breakfast in Epcot, hands down I’d go with the Ariel one. More on that in Epcot…
– Skip the Bippity Boppity Boutique. Yes, they will style your kid’s hair to look like a princess. But the total effect of the hair and makeup is a little much for a 4 year old, in my opinion. Peanut would have loved the result but it’s WAY overpriced ($50 for fake hair and glitter?) and there was at least an hour wait, with each appointment taking a full hour. So that would’ve been 2 hours spent in the beauty parlor, which didn’t sound like fun. And frankly, I was disturbed by the emphasis on the whole “beautiful princess” thing with pre-schooler.
– It’s a Small World was a HUGE hit with Pumpkin. Seriously, she was slack jawed. We did the ride every day we were in Magic Kingdom. She loved it.
– Skip the Winnie the Pooh ride. The ride is short and frankly, creepy. But I’ve never really appreciated the Hefalumps.
– The Peter the Pan ride was FANTASTIC!!! Get a FAST PASS for this one so you can skip the line. It was dark and a smidge loud (most of the rides are, sadly) but Pumpkin did ok on this one.
– Mickey’s Philharmagic was NOT a hit. The 4d (you feel wind, get squirted gently with water, in addition to a 3-d movie with lots of stuff coming at you) really freaked Peanut out and the whole thing was way too loud for Pumpkin. We left after about 5 min. Other families with kids our age seemed to be really enjoying themselves, however. Apparently we are raising super sensitive kids. Whatever.
– The Tomorrowland Speedway looked like a lot of fun but there was a very long line and no fast pass. The guy gave me a tip to come back at 3pm when the parade was happening. He said the lines are really short then.
– The Tomorrowland People Mover was a big hit – we did it both days we were in the Magic Kingdom! It has a couple of very VERY dark spots and is a bit loud as it goes thru space mountain but it was a gentle ride, of varying speeds, that gives you an idea of how big Tomorrowland is. You can also spot characters from your high vantage point. There are no seatbelts on this ride, so be ready to hold your baby or keep a hand on them.
– The Carousel of Progress is one to skip. It’s long, boring, and you can’t leave until it’s over.
– The Dumbo ride is a must-do and very baby-friendly. Apparently it’s a hit with pre-schoolers too because Peanut said that this was her favorite ride of the whole trip. The line gets long and there is no Fast Pass for it. But if you get there early, the line is only about 10 min.
We weren’t expecting to like Epcot. And it turns out – we liked it as much, if not MORE, than Magic Kingdom. Here’s why:
– Walking around the different pavillions was one of my most favorite memories of the trip. We did it during a nap time and Brian and I got to see every “land” of Epcot. The Chinese food smelled delicious and I was sad that we had already eaten!
– Imageworks: the Figment ride was strange and had a couple of scary moments. The attractions afterwards were super fun though. Pumpkin loved the music area, where you can try different instruments on an interactive floormat or practice conducting a virtual orchestra.
– The Ariel breakfast at Akershus was AWESOME. All of the princesses were there and came around to each table taking pics, and interacting with each child. We bought an autograph book at the dollar store that the princesses could sign. (Why we want their autographs, I’m still not sure.) The food was a buffet, so you really felt like you got your $$’s worth and the kids could eat whatever they wanted. The princesses did a parade with the kids, too, so Peanut felt like she was really a part of something. (Little known fact – the princesses stay in character and are refreshingly witty and punny. I loved talking to them
more that as much as Peanut.
– Spaceship Earth (the ride inside of the Epcot ball) was a family favorite. It’s a slow-moving ride with lots to see. Not scary at all and has some neat interactive features.
– The Seas with Nemo ride – another hit with the girls. A couple of tense moments (remember the sharks and the fish with the hanging light on his head?) but still worth the ride! There’s a great aquarium in the pavillion too that Pumpkin loved running around.
Animal Kingdom Tips
– The safari was AMAZING. Get there right when the park opens and walk right back to it. We opted for a fast pass and returned in about an hour, walking right onto a jeep. The animals were close and the driver hit just the right note: informative but not boring. Both girls loved it.
– The Nemo stage show was easily the best show we saw at Disney. It’s worth a wait – and the kids loved it. Not too scary – had a great sense of humor. Visually brilliant.
– Animal Kingdom is a good park to do on a very hot day because so much of the park is shaded. There is a wonderful shaded walking tour of the animals called the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail where we saw a baby gorilla, silverbacks, monkeys, hippos, etc. It was fun, self-guided, and self-paced. The kids loved it and so did we.
– We’ve all seen the Tree of Life. It’s on every Disney promo, pamphlet, or commercial. It’s basically the new Epcot golf ball thingy. And I feel bad saying this – but I just didn’t get it. I know it’s supposed to be beautiful and artistic. But it’s called the tree of life…and it’s neither a real tree nor alive. We walked by it during nap time, shrugged, and kept on going.
Hollywood Studios Tips
We actually had no plans to go to Hollywood Studios but we decided to spend our last day there before heading to the airport.
– This whole day was worth ONE attraction: the Honey I Shrunk the Kids movie set playground. Fair warning – you WILL lose your kid in the tunnels if you don’t stay with them. Have a plan before you go in but know that there are people in there whose sole job is to find your kids when you lose them. It’s an enclosed area with one way in and one way out so it isn’t dangerous, just a little nerve-wrecking for helicopter moms like me. We quarantined both kids to the small-kid area where we could see both of them at all times. They could have spent hours there, perfectly happy.
– Disney Junior Live on Stage was a major bonus for Peanut because it hits all of the pre-school Disney shows she loves. You sit on the floor so if you have a bad back, this isn’t the show for you. But we loved it.
– Skip the Studio Backlot Tour, especially if your kid has never seen a movie with special effects. It was way too much for Peanut…we left after 5 min.
– The Magic of Disney Animation was a 20 minute show that barely held the kids’ attention. The best part was the pavillion afterwards where there were lots of characters to meet and exhibits on how cartoons are made. Peanut enjoyed this. Pumpkin liked running around inside.
– By far the most popular kid attraction here is Toy Story Mania. We didn’t get to do this because the wait was 90 min and the fast passes for the WHOLE day were gone by 10am. Get to this attraction first thing in the morning and get a fast pass. I hear it’s awesome and I’m bummed we didn’t get to do it.
– Voyage of the Little Mermaid was a quick 15 min show (seated in an air-conditioned theater). It was cute, but I wouldn’t wait more than 10 or 15 min to see it. Some fun laser effects.
So there it is, folks. I realize this is a niche blog post but my hope is that folks who are planning a trip or know of someone who is will benefit.
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