This one is a departure from my professional work. In fact, all of these photos were taken with either my iPhone 5s, or with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 (which I am still figuring out). I decided not to bring my 5D Mark III and professional lenses to Florida, and I am so glad. It is so tiring walking around all of those parks, I can’t imagine carrying heavier camera gear or worrying about it during bumpy rides or water splashes.
We returned home Thursday from an unforgettable vacation to Walt Disney World. We brought our older two kids, Lucy and Henry (they are 7.5 and 5.5 years old), after surprising them with the news the afternoon that we left (I have a video, I may try to post it later, but I shared it on Facebook). Ever since we became parents, we have looked forward to bringing our children to Disney World. It always seemed like the Holy Grail of vacations, and for a long time I could not imagine how we would be able to do it. We have had a lot on our plate this past year, and a getaway was much needed. We left Alice back home with my parents, and it was hard to be away from her, but I am very happy that we were able to do that, and give the older kids our full attention. It also allowed us to make more of our time at the parks, go on more rides and see more attractions. We are already looking forward to going back to Disney in a few years, with all three kids!
Our first day was not a full day, so we went to Downtown Disney before checking in to our hotel. The kids loved looking at the impressive Lego creations, and playing in the fountain. Downtown Disney is a great place to spend some time wandering or eating, but beware of all the shops. The huge Disney store in the heart of it all is full of amazing things that you can not get anywhere else, but we avoided the trap by purchasing Mickey and Minnie Mouse t-shirts for the kids from Kohl’s, and used that as part of their “Surprise, we’re going to Disney!” gift. They never asked for a shirt while we were there. We did stop by Downtown Disney on our last night, because we just had to buy them the classics: Minnie Mouse ears, and a Goofy hat. Oh, and I bought a really cute coffee mug.
We stood in line to board a monorail, which took us to the main front gates, where we had our bags checked and entered through onto Mainstreet, USA! We turned a slight corner, already anxious for the classic view of Cinderella’s Castle (complete with crowds)! It didn’t even seem real! What a gorgeous site, and a gorgeous day to be in the Happiest Place on Earth. If you go, take this photo right away, because you probably won’t be down to this part of the park again until the end of the day, and it will be too late!
If you want a full recap of our day at Magic Kingdom, read this: If not, skip ahead to the Animal Kingdom…
Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse – We walked up and up and up… and then down, down down. It was neat, but felt a little pointless, to be honest! You don’t really stop moving.
Jungle Cruise – Boat ride on the “Nile”. We had a 40 min wait, a punny captain, and enjoyed great animatronic animals, which were very lifelike (enough that Henry asked, “is that real?”).
Pirates of the Caribbean – Super awesome and creepy, boat tour through pirate villages and dungeons, Jack Sparrow & friends. I loved this one! It was the perfect mix of dark and fun, just like the movies.
Splash Mountain - 70 min wait! Henry even liked it! We got a little wet, sat in the first two rows of our log car.
Took train to Fantasyland and walked to Tomorrowland.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – this was a ton of fun for Henry! He loves Toy Story! You ride on a slow moving ship and shoot lasers at targets, racking up points.
Mad Tea Party – We had a lot of fun on this classic ride, and it was a lot faster than I expected it to be! The line was quick, too.
Ate our bananas
Enchanted Tales with Belle - kid volunteers acted out a play with Belle. Lucy was Belle’s dad, Maurice! Great for younger kids!
Goofy’s Barnstormer - Fun but short roller coaster. It was a quick line, so no big deal, but we only rode this once.
Slushes at the “Circus tent” – We were dying of heat and thirst, we took a timeout and enjoyed cold slushes and caramel corn.
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid – Rode in a clam shell, *amazing* animatronics reinacting the basic plotline of the movie.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant - They are trying a new waiting line method where kids play in an indoor playhouse while parents keep a pager (like in restaurants). It is great if you can make your child(ren) understand they need to come out when it’s time. I saw parents wandering through the hamster tunnels… it’s for ages 2-12 or 3-12 or something, so sit down, relax, and be glad you aren’t standing in a line in the blazing sun!
WDW Railroad back at Frontierland – Have I mentioned how cool this railroad system is? You can save your legs (and lots of time) by hopping on the train, and it’s super cool looking.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Our app told us a 90 minutes wait, but it dropped to 20 minutes, so we decided to go for it! We sat in last two rows, Henry was a little nervous but liked it, Lucy smiled the whole time and screamed a lot! So did Mom.
Got a snack: carrots, celery, grapes. Cha-Ching $4 for like 20 grapes. Disney is crazy. Seriously, make someone wear a backpack and bring some snacks that do not require refrigeration. Also, bottles of frozen water, you will enjoy those all day long.
Haunted Mansion - Henry said he did not like it, but seemed to think it was neat during the ride. Brought back some memories! The dancing ghosts in the ballroom were my favorite. This one may frighten kids under 5.
Main Street Electrical Parade at 9pm WOW! WOW! WOW! I can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness of this Disney experience. It was beyond what I could have hoped for! Only advice, you better have a spot at least 45 minutes ahead of time. You’ll likely be sitting on the ground, so if you have the room for a couple small foam stadium pads, do it. Think cobblestone streets. Your body will be sore after a day at Magic Kingdom.
We watched some of the animation projected on the castle while making our way back down Main Street. We were about half way to the front gates, and stopped to watch more of the show. Because of the crowds, we had to hold the kids up on our hips, and they were exhausted and heavy. Actually, holding my child on my hip watching the castle “come to life” was a precious moment. I was so tired and ready to go, I didn’t realize that would be one of the best parts of our entire vacation.
We headed back and took the ferry boat to the parking lot.
Monday we visited Animal Kingdom. The weather was gorgeous (again), and the first thing we did was head straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where we got to see a lot of wild animals moving around before the temperatures got too hot. The road was bumpy and we had to go over “questionable” bridges. The sightings were great, although it was one time I truly missed my “big” camera and lens. My favorites were the giraffes and zebras. We also saw a cheetah, and according to our guide, that is one animal that is not always spotted. I just made up that joke. Ha. Seriously though, it was kind of far away and we didn’t get a good photo, but it was a really great time. I highly recommend this one, but go first thing or you may have a huge wait and fewer sightings.
Over at Rafiki’s Planet Watch the kids spotted an ice cream vendor and began to beg for a treat. We were trying to keep their appetite for our lunch reservation (and of course, what kid isn’t going to ask for ice cream), as we did our best to calmly tell our children “no”, their whining intensified. Before we even had a chance to lose our patience (side-note, aside from a few tough times in the car, we were a very happy family during our vacation), Gi-Tar Dan walked right up and asked the kids their names, and where we were from, and started to make up a song about them on the spot! The kids moods instantly shifted to happy, as he motioned for them to come over, and called all the other kids around to sing and dance the hokey-pokey with Chip & Dale! This was not the only time a cast-member made a magic moment occur when you least expected it. A turnstile attendant at Finding Nemo – the Musical asked Lucy who her favorite princess was. She replied Anna, and he began singing “For the First Time in Forever”, and we all stood in amazement at his beautiful voice and how he knew all the words. I looked at Lucy and I will never forget her expression! Anyway, back to the chipmunks…
A recap of the things we did at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Not interested? Skip to the next photo…
Explored plants and animals while walking in. We had met up with a friend of a friend who got us free passes in (great money saver) and he accompanied us for a short while. It was great, actually, because he was full of fascinating information and facts about all the plants and animals. He is a cast-member at Epcot, and was wonderful with our kids. We felt like we were on a private guided tour for a while. He even taught our kids how to suck nectar out of a certain kind of flower.
Kilimanjaro Safaris – We saw lots of animals & took photos. Very bumpy ride, kids loved it!
Saw African drummers perform in marketplace
Lunch at Tusker House – Donald, Daisy, Goofy, & Mickey! We even ran into some friends from home. We all loved our lunch! Highly recommend eating here!
Ate Popsicles from a vendor
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – Lucy loved it and smiled and screamed the whole time. She is a daredevil! She was not laughing nervously, she was giddy with excitement! As we walked toward this area of the park, you can hear the riders screaming. She said, “Those are the screams of JOY!” Henry tolerated it and was pale as a ghost when it was over. He was so brave to go on a huge roller coaster, he does not like scary rides, but throughout our trip he was a great sport, and we are super proud of him! I could tell he was pushing himself beyond his comfort zone. We did not drag him onto this ride, or any other ride kicking, screaming, or crying.
TriceraTops Spin in DinoLand. While we waited for this ride, kids played in an indoor play area while we held a pager. That worked really well for us. This was essentially the Dumbo ride, but with a Triceratops. There was a lot at DinoLand but we did not do much there.
DINOSAUR – time-travel Jeep adventure, it was bumpy, very jolting ride with realistic scary dinosaurs & a meteor shower. It was terrifying and awesome! In my top-five of the whole vacation, probably! Kids under 4 might be terrified.
It’s Tough To Be A Bug – 3D show with some surprises! Great for young kids, but don’t sit too close to the screen, or it will be harder to see, and some of the effects will be better if you can see more of the theater.
Finding Nemo the Musical – This was great. Ah, this story always gets me. It was definitely a spectacle, and the kids loved it. The seating was not comfortable but the kids didn’t mind.
Tuesday we visited Epcot! It was cloudy, and rain was in the forecast. Silly me, I did not realize this. We were spoiled by gorgeous weather the first few days. We should have purchased cheap, clear ponchos like those Pinterest mavens suggested. Ponchos in the park shops are $8, so when the rain came, we decided to just deal with getting wet. Sigh. Oh, here’s a classic photo for you. I am not typically a “say cheese!” mom, so my kids are dysfunctional when it comes time to do these types of pictures. I was not about to yell at them to “smile nicer!” so I took the photo so we could get our booties over to Soarin’ before the line got too long!
Soarin’- We went right away, and I am glad we did, because the wait time went up to 80min after we got there! Our wait was maybe 30 minutes. You must go right away, this is a very popular ride right now. This attraction is a MUST! You will be awe-struck. Ask the attendant to sit you in the first row, so you don’t see other people’s feet hanging above you. I saw one lady ask for her group to sit in the front row, and the guy let them. Sounds bold, but now I see why she did that. If you don’t want to be that person, or you get told no, it’s still going to be amazing.
Living with the Land – Boat tour about sustainable agriculture technology, lots of unique ways to grow and feed plants, the kids actually liked this. Adults will find it fascinating, and it’s a slow-moving, relaxing tour, great for all ages.
Journey into Imagination with Figment – rode in a slow-moving red ship through the “Sensory Lab”, played in imagination room. It was fun for the kids, and I have fond memories of this place as well. Kids over 10 may be a little bored.
Mission: SPACE – Simulator, Mars landing with real g-forces, and a sensation of flying. We chose the Orange Team (more intense), although I was unsure how Henry would handle it. He loved it! I am so glad we chose the more intense level, but if you have a younger child, are prone to motion sickness, have any health conditions, are pregnant, etc. you can and should choose a less intense version, which will also mean a much shorter line!
Snack at Electric Umbrella – It was raining, and when it rains, people tend to congregate here. Although hugely crowded, this was a really good spot to grab lunch. Great options and reasonable prices. Cafeteria style service. We were lucky someone was finishing up and gave us their table, otherwise we would have had to eat on the floor!
Mexico: Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros - this was a fun little ride, felt a little kitsch, in a good way, with the old cartoons clips. There were some “ooh” and “ahh” moments too, so go for it, great for really young kids, but I enjoyed it a lot!
Norway: Maelstrom - a ride in a Viking ship, with some short drops. It was only mildly thrilling, and we did not get wet. We followed this up with a video about Norway, it was beautiful but looked like it was made about 25 years ago! In one of the buildings in Norway, was Anna and Elsa from Frozen. The line was crazy and it was raining, so regrettably we could not meet them. We didn’t really tell Lucy because she would have been very disappointed, she is beyond obsessed with Frozen right now.
China: Big 360 degree culture video, Reflections of China, not a long video, a great view of Chinese culture, and I love that the kids got to see it.
Wandered through rain by World Showcase, then got on the ferry!
Captain EO - All the way from 1986! Oh my gosh this was a little weird by today’s standards. I have vague memories of seeing this in 1988. There was a Star Wars ripoff sci-fi feel, and of course, dancing! It was totally 80′s cheesy, yet we had to do it. Lucy asked if Captain EO was a girl. Oh no, Lucy, that is Michael Jackson. She has a lot to learn.Henry liked it, but took his 3-D glasses off during shooting or “scary” scenes. It was raining, so this was a good way to spend some more time indoors.
Spaceship Earth - great animatronic history of humanity, and where we’re headed! We were on our way out, and the line was short. I am so glad we did this one, it was awesome.
Overall, there are a lot of slow-moving, educational attractions at Epcot. I just wish the weather had been nicer! I was ready to head back to the resort, we were all drowned rats by this point.
We had reservations at Coral Reef at Epcot, but we had to go back and change our clothes. Since it was still raining, the thought of going back to Epcot, parking, and walking to an expensive restaurant did not appeal to us. We just wanted to save some money and go somewhere fun but easy, so we had dinner at Chuy’s! It was perfect! It was not far from our hotel, the food was fantastic, it was not an over-priced, and it was a really fun place. From the kids’ standpoint, they did not miss out on a fun family dinner, but it was a smart switch, at the end of the vacation when we were simply tired of spending money. The reservation cancellation process for the other restaurant was smooth and simple over the phone.
We all avoided sunburns by applying sunscreen before we even got to the parks. I can’t imagine how awful it would have been for one of us to get a painful sunburn (even you grown-ups)!
One last but very important detail to mention: we were able to stay at a resort, not a hotel. We stayed off site (about a 5-10 minute drive to Disney), and we got a super good deal, thanks to a friend. It really wasn’t fair. Anyway, it made a huge difference to us to have a nice big place to return to at the end of the day. We had so much room, places to keep our stuff, and amenities. We stayed at the Wyndham Reunion Resort. We had a three bedroom, three bathroom villa, with a full kitchen, laundry, pools (even the cabinets were stocked with plates, glasses, everything). Our vacation was not just at the parks, we truly enjoyed our time at the resort (it was not merely a place to sleep and shower). I realize this is not in the cards for everyone, so we are still feeling kind of overwhelmed with gratitude that we had the chance to stay at such an amazing place. We plan on returning to the same resort in the future.
We had the best time, and we were able to relax and laugh with the kids, something that doesn’t happen often enough with our busy lives at home. We feel so fortunate to have gone on this trip! I hope you enjoyed this recap of what we did, and I am glad I took notes of everything while we were there, because I’m sure it would have been hard to remember it all!