We went to Disney.
If you’ve spoken to my children at any point in the past several months, this is not news. They were a little excited. And well they should have been! Their Poppy, my father-in-law, decided quite some time ago that what he wanted for his 60th birthday was to get all of his kids and their families together at Disney World, which is pretty much his favorite place ever. He very generously funded the trip so that we all would be able to go.
And we had a splendid time. I’m not super into theme parks (noise! crowds! asphalt!), but Disney really is beautifully designed and thought-out. I hadn’t been there in a very long time, and it was good to go. Seeing the kids have an amazing time was great, too.
I’m not even sure how to organize this. I think this post is going to be an overview of our general things we did and enjoyed, and then I’ll have two for special events, and one for general travel things and lessons learned. Maybe. There are also other pictures that I don’t have yet, including some “official” character shots. I’ll probably add those in later.
There will probably also be some toddler travel tips sprinkled in there, too.
We flew on Southwest, which was great. I love Southwest. The flight attendants sing. They’re nice to the kids. The planes are very pretty. We checked our car seats, and, because they allow 2 bags per person (counting the car seats as bags), we also checked a suitcase of toys and entertainments for the time when we were at the rental house. This one, unfortunately, was screened by the TSA going both directions (probably because it had both our toiletries bag stuffed in there and a bunch of magnet sets), and I think that a set of mouse ears may have disappeared during our return-trip screening. Not cool, TSA. Not cool.
Toddler travel trip: If flying with two children, try to sit so that one parent is with both children and the other one can actually take a nap or read a book or something. Switch who’s on duty on the way back. Much better than both parents dealing with kids and trying to pass toys over the seats and so forth.
The tram from the parking lot is a perfect microcosm about everything that WORKS so well about Disney. They have a well-oiled system for the whole thing–where you park, how you load onto the tram, everything. And the staff is incredible. One day, JC remarked that the same people who were operating the tram when we arrived at the park were still doing it when we left many hours later, and still providing the same level of friendliness and excitement, despite having been out in the hot sun driving a loop around a parking lot all day. Literally every “cast member” we saw was welcoming. Every. One. And not in a super fake way either, although I’m sure many of them must have been faking it. Amazing.
Apparently there are lots of parks now. When I was a kid, there was just Epcot and Magic Kingdom. Now there’s also Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (which I think might have been there when I was little, but wasn’t Disney? Or something). We spent half a day at Hollywood Studios, one day each at Epcot and Animal Kingdom, and two days at Magic Kingdom. There are also some water parks and “Downtown Disney,” which we did not visit. And of course, the resorts, “Celebration USA,” and on and on. It’s quite a thing.
Toddler travel tip: JC was supposed to get us “Park Hopper” passes, which would have allowed us to switch from one park to another within the same day. He hit the wrong button or something when we ordered, so we ended up not having this feature. With small children, though, we wouldn’t have used it anyway. So, if you have little kids, maybe skip the park-hopping option.
Our least favorite of the parks was Hollywood Studios. There was just not much for the tinies there. It was the first place we went, and they were both like, “We came all this way for *this*?” But we only had half of the day on Sunday, and we knew that we wouldn’t want to spend a whole day there. They both really enjoyed the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids play area. They saw the movie a few months ago, and were quite taken with the feeling of walking into it.
We were mostly in Fantasyland, because it had the most attractions for little ones. We got very familiar with certain features, including “Rapuzel’s potty.”
Toddler travel tip: If you’re potty training, seriously, go some place where there is a bathroom made up to look like Rapunzel’s tower. Very weird, but super convenient.
The kids didn’t seem to know what to make of the “dark rides.” We went on the Winnie the Pooh one, and they were alternately fascinated and terrified, even though it’s not a scary ride. They just didn’t seem to understand what was supposed to be fun about it, but they liked looking at the things. The Pooh ride is actually a re-skinning of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (same track, even), and I was a little sad that that one was gone. Katie told me that there’s a painting on one of the walls of Mr. Toad handing a deed over to Owl–she spotted it once when she was on the ride and it broke down. Because she told me to look for it, I saw it too. I loved that little touch.
Petra loved the Small World ride. I think she went on it three times. She also did the Dumbo ride four times. Because toddlers like boring rides. Silas says his favorite thing was getting to go on his first rollercoaster–The Barnstormer, which has something to do with Goofy.
They seemed to be the most comfortable with walk-through experiences. Silas really loved the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse (although he was disappointed to not see the pet elephant). We had seen the move not so long before, and he remembered a great deal of it. We got the FastPass for the “interactive storytime with Belle” experience, which I thought was going to be kind of lame, but ended up being one of my favorite things. It involved taking a small group of kids into Belle’s castle and getting them to participate in a short play about Belle and the Beast meeting for the first time. At the end, Belle talked with each child and got a picture with them. When Silas went up to her, he said, “You like to read books! I know how to read!” She told him, “That’s wonderful. Maybe later you can come back to the castle and we can read some books together in the library.” Several hours later, when I asked the kids to pick one last thing to do, Silas said, “I have to go back to Belle’s castle! She said she wanted me to come back so we could read together.” … we did not go back, and he didn’t quite understand why.
My kids, being my kids, loved every “show,” including the Magic Tiki Room (Silas keeps calling it, “The magic teepee room”). They were totally fascinated by the audioanimatronics. We also caught a bit of some sort of song-and-dance show on the steps of the castle, which they couldn’t stop talking about.
Toddler travel tip: The FastPass is a great system. You get a one-hour window of time in which you can basically cut line. You do have to plan to be in a certain place at a certain time, but a one-hour window allows room for surprises. You get three per day, and once you’ve used them all up, you can get one at a time. There’s a phone app for it, but the app is super confusing. One thing we learned: once you lock in your three FastPasses for the day, you can go back in and change the times on specific ones, which you can’t do in the initial selection phase.
We also caught the afternoon parade on the second day we were there. This is why this place is such a total kid’s dream. There are parades and fireworks and glitter cannons every day. And ice cream carts on every corner. It’s awesome.
People who know me well know that I am an unabashed lover of parades. So yes, I saw two parades while we were there. One of them without my kids. No regrets.
We visited the Animal Kingdom, which I hadn’t been to before. It wasn’t there 20 years ago, when I was last at Disney. I actually liked it a great deal. We went on a “safari” where we drove through different kinds of ecosystems and saw many different kinds of animals, including the three Petra had asked to see: an elephant, a giraffe, and a hippo (several, actually).
There were a handful of rides, but the thing that made the biggest impression was the Finding Nemo stage show. I enjoyed it, too–lots of giant puppets! Totally awesome. We also enjoyed a Lion King show.
On our last day, we went to Epcot. There was a lot more there for kids than I remembered. Silas got to meet Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. There was a great ocean show that ended in an aquarium. Has that always been there?
The kids especially enjoyed the Figment Journey to Your Imagination ride and the exploration area after it. A lot of the rides at Epcot have these little exploration areas after the main attraction, and I enjoyed that concept a lot.
We had a pretty amazing time, but we were super pooped at the end of each day. I think we’re still recovering!