Visiting Disney World is always a whirlwind. Find out what our family loved most and what we’ll do differently next time!
I’m going off topic today — for good reason! Last week was a magical week spent at Disney World and I’d love to tell you all about it. And if this post isn’t for you, I totally understand. Come back next week for running-oriented conversation.
But if you’re all ears, let’s say cheers and get on with the Disney recap!
Doing Disney in 2020
This was a whirlwind trip. Not because it was short — quite the opposite, in fact. We were in Florida for seven days and we did parks for five of them. Talk about exhausting! Check out our itinerary and experiences and make sure to check out my tips at the end of the post of what to/not to do if you decide Doing Disney is on your list, too.
Lodging and Location
For this trip, we stayed off property at the Sheraton Vistana Villas. It was very nice to have our own, big space for the week. We had a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and two full bathrooms. The drawback to staying off property is you get less of a “deal” than if you book a Disney trip and stay on premises — no Disney dining plan, you can’t book your FastPass+ more than 30 days out — and you’re farther away from the parks. We had no trouble navigating to/from the parks, however, so it was a wash in this respect. The FastPass+ part was a little annoying which I’ll go into more detail about that later.
Magic Kingdom: Day 1
We went to the Magic Kingdom twice. Magic Kingdom is so big and there are so many shows, rides, and things to do jam-packed into this park that we felt it would be difficult to cram everything into one day. This is both true and false. After the first day, we had done almost everything we wanted to do. Knowing we had another day, though, we didn’t feel quite as crunched to get everything in had we only been going to that park for one day.
We kicked off our Disney adventure in Tomorrowland with Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. I’m not entirely sure this was the best first ride at Disney, but our kids loved it so that’s a win in my book.
Next, we hit the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion (both kids were a little freaked out but my husband and I enjoyed it), It’s a Small World, and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. We took a short break for lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern and then continued our fun by seeing Philharmagic, and meeting Elena of Avalor and Cinderella.
Later, we split up so the girls could ride the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel and the boys could ride the Tomorrowland Speedway. We reconvened to meet Daisy Duck, Minnie Mouse, ride the Barnstormer, and finally, Space Mountain.
Seems like a short day, but believe me it was anything but!
Day 1: check!
Hollywood Studios: Day 2
We spent the second day at Hollywood Studios. Candidly, I would considering skipping Hollywood Studios on the next trip. There just isn’t a whole lot to do there that piques my interest. When we were there in 2013, we loved all the Toy Story rides and meeting Woody and Buzz, and then seeing Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars. But all of that was different this time. They renamed Pizza Planet something else (not that it was ever really Pizza Planet to begin with), Toy Story exploded into a land of little kids, long lines, and chaos, and Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars world), while pretty cool overall, didn’t have a lot to do except stand in line for 90 minutes for a ride.
Yes, there were shows and characters, but overall I just wasn’t all that impressed. They took away some of the more fun things — like the Backlot Tour! — and added a whole lot more walking.
But, of course, we had fun! Here’s what we did:
We started the day with the Voyage of the Little Mermaid which is a cute musical featuring puppets, human actors, and special effects. It was cute and a fun way to start the day. Afterward, we headed over to Muppet Vision 3D followed by meeting BB8 and Darth Vader. We had lunch at the 50s Prime Time Cafe (which, in my very humble opinion, is delicious and a super fun atmosphere).
After lunch we hit up Star Tours, which was a crowd favorite. Then we meandered over to Galaxy’s Edge where we enjoyed blue and green milk (still have no idea what it was exactly but some sort of non-dairy concoction that was quite yummy) and were promptly accosted by a First Order General guarded by two sets of Storm Troopers. Then we proceeded to wait in line for 85 minutes for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. I thought this ride was cool and would definitely do it again.
After spending more than enough time in all things Star Wars, we made our way to Toy Story Land. The attention to detail in Toy Story Land was, of course, unparalleled. It was adorable. Toy Story is far and away my favorite Disney movie. Yet, I wasn’t impressed… I think they hyped it up too much. There were three rides — Toy Story Mania!, Alien Swirling Saucers, and Slinky Dog Dash. We rode Toy Story Mania! twice because it was so much fun and the line was manageable. We also rode Alien Swirling Saucers which was also fun albeit a bit short. We skipped Slinky Dog Dash — we didn’t have a FastPass+ for it and by the time we would have gotten in line, it was down for the evening.
Day two at Hollywood Studios was a success.
Animal Kingdom: Day 3
When we took our son to Disney in 2013, we skipped Animal Kingdom. My husband and I both assumed it was a glorified zoo. But this year we were drawn to Animal Kingdom by Pandora and the rides from Avatar.
Let me say this: if you’ve never been to Animal Kingdom because you also assumed it was a glorified zoo, it is NOT. Run, don’t walk!, to Animal Kingdom! It was the highlight of our trip!
Upon entering any of the Disney parks, you’re usually welcomed into a main congregating area of sorts. At the Magic Kingdom it’s Main Street and then the parklike setting in front of Cinderella’s castle. In Epcot it’s the geodesic sphere, home to Spaceship Earth. At Animal Kingdom, visitors meander through tree covered paths and open to a courtyard overlooking the Tree of Life. It’s lovely.
Animal Kingdom was a much needed change of pace for us. After two days in a row at fairly crowded, busy parks, it was so nice to walk in and see large trees, tons of foliage, flowers, and hear wildlife all around us. It was relaxing and rejuvenating. And it wasn’t a glorified zoo. There were shows, entertainment, rides, and so much to do.
Our first stop in Animal Kingdom was to see Pandora — the setting for the movie Avatar. It was amazing and definitely lived up to the hype. After seeing a demonstration from a Ranger, we took the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The train ride was lovely and relaxing. Once at Rafiki’s, we visited Conservation Station and Affection Section. We wandered around for a while and then took the train back. My husband and kids rode Everest (another roller coaster that I had no interest in riding) while I rested in the amphitheater overlooking the Discovery River.
Lunch at Animal Kingdom was at the Rainforest Cafe. This was far and away the best meal we had on vacation. The portions were large, the setting and ambiance was amazing, and we generally had a great experience.
Riding Avatar Flight of Passage
Sadly, we weren’t able to get a FastPass+ for Avatar Flight of Passage, and at one point in the day the queue had been 210 minutes. We were discussing whether it would actually be worth it to stand in line, and debating about how long we should make the kids wait in line for a ride they knew nothing about (they’re too young to see the movie), so when we were finishing lunch and my husband checked the wait times again, we were shocked to see 75 minutes. We hightailed it over to Avatar and were in line for maybe 65 minutes at the most. Just earlier that day we saw the line meandering all over Pandora, and now? You couldn’t even see the line from the outside of the building! Talk about luck.
It was well worth the 65-minute wait. What a cool experience! My daughter loved it the most, though. I could hear her exclaiming, “this is so much fun!” all throughout the ride. It was the best.
All things Avatar
After Avatar, we had a FastPass+ for the Na’vi River Journey. I enjoyed this ride. A feast for the eyes! And very relaxing, too.
We wandered over to Dinoland but sadly my son had a migraine. There were a few rides we wanted to try to get on in that area but by the time we got over there we were feeling tired, cranky, and not too enthused about any of the rides. We got ice cream instead.
After Dinoland and ice cream, we hopped in to see the Festival of the Lion King which was amazing. We finished our day at Animal Kingdom with the Kilimanjaro Safaris. This part did feel a little like a zoo, but, we got to get close to the animals and we saw animals we don’t have at our own zoo. Plus, it was nice to take a ride for 25 minutes and rest our weary legs.
Animal Kingdom: 8 thumbs up from this crew.
Magic Kingdom: Day 4
After one rest day spent at the pool, we found ourselves back at the Magic Kingdom for more. Our plan was to hit entertainment and attractions we hadn’t yet done. My mom joined us for the last two days of our Disney experience and we chose rides accordingly.
Our second day at Magic Kingdom consisted of:
- Peter Pan
- It’s a Small World
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Mad Tea Party
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- The Barnstormer
- Big Thunder Railroad (the boys) and the Hall of Presidents (the girls)
- Swiss Family Treehouse
- lunch at the Crystal Palace (this was character dining. Pricey but those smiles? Priceless.)
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
- sidelined by the parade but the kids loved it anyway
- Peter Pan (used FastPass+ for this one!)
- It’s a Small World (the girls) and Astro Orbiter (the boys)
- Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
- Space Mountain (my mom and I sat this one out)
Whoa. I’m tired just reading that. Day 2 at Magic was a success.
Doing Disney in 2020
EPCOT: Day 5
EPCOT was/is (was? is? undecided) my favorite park of all. (I question this ranking now that I’ve experienced Animal Kingdom.) I love Spaceship Earth and we had such a fantastic time there in 2013 that my expectations were high. Sadly, this park is under heavy construction which made the experience less than ideal. It’s not that it was a bad experience per se, it just wasn’t nearly as fantastic as it could have been. Nevertheless, we had fun.
We started off the day with Anna and Elsa — first by meeting them, and then by riding Frozen Ever After. This ride blew me away. I had no idea what to expect but it was really well done. Any ride with Olaf is a win in my book!
Spaceship Earth was up next. I just love that ride. It’s educational and interesting to look at, and I just love everything about it. Side note: I read they’ll be closing Spaceship Earth on May 26, 2020 for refurbishment so if you have plans on doing Disney soon and want to ride it before it closes for two years, get there sooner rather than later. I hope they don’t totally ruin it with whatever plans they have for updating.
After Spaceship Earth we made our way over to Future World West. There we hit up Living with the Land, Awesome Planet, Soarin’, had lunch, and then the Seas with Nemo & Friends. We then went on Journey into Imagination with Figment, which my daughter loved, and then met Mickey and Goofy!
My mom had to leave a little early to catch her flight so after saying goodbye, we headed over to some of the faster rides that she might not have enjoyed as much. We rode Mission: SPACE (green mission) followed by Test Track. None of us knew what to expect for Test Track. The unanimous vote was that it was amazing!
We all enjoyed EPCOT and look forward to seeing all the renovations when they’re complete!
Doing Disney | Tips and Tricks
I have a few tips for doing Disney with kids in the 5-11 age bracket. If they’re younger, add a midday break and do not deviate from your plan to take this break.
First tip, don’t go for five days. I recommend four days with a blank day to fill in with a pool day or other type of rest day. Five days is a lot even for the most energetic of families. If you do decide to do Disney in five or more days, make sure you have a minimum of one rest day sandwiched in there somehow. Another option is to spread your trip over six or even seven days and add a few rest days among them.
Second, make reservations for lunch. There’s nothing worse than wandering around parks while you’re hungry with little kids looking for food. Literally nothing worse. Nothing. Make reservations. You’ll have worked up such an appetite that what seems like a heavy meal in the middle of the day is actually just what you need to power through the rest of your day.
Third, if you’re starting at the parks when they open, don’t plan on staying at every single park until they close or you’ll wear yourself out. Stay for one or two nights for fireworks/shows, but limit yourself.
A couple more things to consider: We didn’t stay on property, and we certainly didn’t stay at a monorail-serviced resort. Having said that, we’re aiming to do so for the next trip. We also didn’t use the Park Hopper option. Staying at a Disney resort and using Park Hopper would for sure help ease the exhaustion of having to go! go! go! for the whole trip.
Roller Coasters and FastPass+
I’ve got two thoughts on roller coasters and FastPass+. In my humble opinion, there are far too many coasters in Disney now — and they’re adding more. For those of us who don’t like roller coasters, it takes away from the Disney experience. If I want to ride a roller coaster, I’ll go to Cedar Point or Kings Island. I’m spending a huge chunk of money to travel to, and enjoy, Disney World, and the last thing I want to do is wait in line for 90+ minutes for a roller coaster. Plus the times I didn’t ride, which was every coaster my family wanted to ride, I was waiting by myself. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it was sometimes a much needed break from the chaos, but it takes away family time which seems to go against what Disney is trying to accomplish in the first place.
Second, FastPass+ takes away a lot of fun of the park. When we first used it back in 2013, it was pretty amazing. You got to the park and for some of the rides there was a “Fast Pass” option. So if there was a really long line, you could get a pass to use at the time it spit out on the ticket. You came back later and rode the ride.
Doing Disney in 2020
Now the premise is the same, but you have to sign up for FastPass+ before you even go to the park. If you’re staying on property, you can sign up for your FastPass+ 60 days before your trip. If you’re not staying on property, it’s only 30 days. You only get three passes per day. Once you use your FastPass+ selections for the day, you can add more, but all three have to be used up before you can add any.
By creating this weird line-bypassing system, Disney has created this odd sense of urgency that was already there anyway but has now taken a bit of the fun out and added a bunch of stress. My husband thinks it’s good because then you’re guaranteed to walk onto three rides. But I think it’s terrible because they’re either rides you don’t really care about, or you don’t get to use FastPass+ until late in the day and then there’s no chance to reload your passes again. Additionally, FastPass+ seemed to cause us to miss attractions or shows because we had to fit in our passes in certain timeframes or risk not using them. It just seems like a really convoluted way to control crowds. It was stressful and kind of un-fun. Why not go back to how things used to be and just stand in line for the ride you wanted to ride?
We Love Disney!
Overall we had an amazing time in Orlando and we’re already looking forward to going back. It truly is the most magical place on Earth. More magical than Disney, though, is getting to spend major quality time with the family. I can’t think of a better family bonding experience than a trip to Walt Disney World.
I’m not a Disney planner (although I probably should be) but I’m happy to share my insights with you. Leave a comment below or shoot me a message if you have questions. I’m happy to help!
What’s your favorite ride, show, or experience at Disney? Do you have a favorite park?
Roller coasters: yay or nay?
P.S. I promise I’ll be back next week with running-related material. In the meantime, don’t forget to link up!