F L A S H B A C K F R I D A Y – Our Disney Trip Recap (Part 1), December 2018
I was exposed to the magic of Disney at a young age. Growing up, my family went to Disney World at least once a year. Born near Tampa and only a couple of hours from Orlando, my mom frequently took me to character breakfasts at what used to be Downtown Disney when I was a toddler. As I got older, my dad’s work moved us several times going from Florida to Texas to Kentucky and to North Carolina. But what always remained constant was our family time at the happiest place on Earth.
I always knew growing up that I would want my own kids to experience some these same things I did at Disney. Now having a family of my own, I get to relive the magic through their eyes. We took my first daughter, Laney, for the first time in December of 2017 when she was 11 months old and it was so great! She was still at the age where she could nap in the stroller so we didn’t have to stress too much about the schedule. We only did 2 park days on that trip and filled our other days with rest, a trip to Disney Springs and exploring other resorts. We had hoped the weather would allow us to squeeze in some pool time but unfortunately the temps were already a little too chilly. We traveled with my parents, who are Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members. Being able to piggyback their hotel points makes these vacations much more affordable for our family since we typically only have to worry about park tickets, food and shopping. Staying on property is also a huge convenience since they provide transportation all around the Walt Disney World Resort. The 2 parks we chose to go to were Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. Both of these parks had a lot of appeal for an almost one-year-old with all of the animals at one and kid friendly rides at the other. Laney was a big fan of the characters too and didn’t shy away at all. I will cherish the pictures taken and memories made forever.
My favorite memory was getting Laney’s first haircut at Harmony Barber Shop located at Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA. She loved every second and it was the best experience. A photographer also came in during her appointment, so we have a ton of pictures! After her cut was complete, her locks were bagged up and she was sprinkled with pixie dust. I highly recommend booking your little one for a ‘My First Haircut Experience’! We loved it so much we booked a trip to go back in October of this year so that our second daughter, Morgan, can also get her first haircut at Disney World. More on this later.
Originally, we didn’t think we would be traveling to Disney this past December because at the time my parents were planning the trip, we had just found out we were pregnant with Morgan and didn’t think we could handle it with a 2 month old and almost two-year-old. Fast forward to the late fall and we were doing great having 2 kids under 2. We were able to find our rhythm fairly quickly, purchased a new Ford Expedition because we had outgrown the Explorer (kids need lots of stuff!) and decided we wanted to break it in with a family vacation. The result was tagging along on this trip to Disney World after all. Luckily we were able to make some last minute reservations. So on Tuesday, December 18, we began our trip south.
We had planned to travel early the next day (December 19), but my husband’s uncle offered up their beach house in St. Augustine so we decided it would be nice to break up our trip. Though it was nice to have a short drive on Wednesday, getting down to Florida was not an easy task. Long story short, Brad got home from work later than he planned and Starbucks’ mobile order printer wasn’t working when we tried to pick up coffee for our late road trip so our plans to get to the beach at dinner time to enjoy some seafood was not going to happen. Not to mention the address was given to us incorrectly. At first we were taken to the backside of a CVS and the second time took us about 10 miles south of where the beach house actually was. Luckily third time’s a charm and we made it, just much later than initially anticipated.
Due to the sleeping arrangements and not wanting to blow up Laney’s toddler air mattress for a short night’s stay, we tried putting a twin mattress on the floor of our room. That was short lived and she ended up sleeping in our bed with us for the first time ever. During the night she slowly took over my part of the bed and I awoke with the sunrise. I was tired, but catching the sun rise over the ocean was a great way to start the day. Slowly everyone else began to stir and we got ready to make the hour and a half drive to Orlando.
Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel room, unpacked and walked over to Disney Springs. This was a nice perk of our hotel. Disney Springs is full of restaurants and great shopping. Laney requested pizza for dinner, so we found Blaze Pizza. Think of Moe’s except with pizza. It was delicious! We then did some shopping and grabbed a couple of decaf Caramel Macchiatos on our way back to our room. Shoutout to the barista who made them because they were hands down the best we have ever had!
For this trip, we decided we wanted to do all of the parks. We had really bad weather the first day, which basically trapped us in our hotel room at Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs is a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resort. As mentioned before, I highly recommend staying on property when traveling to Disney. Not only are you still experiencing Disney magic, but it makes things more convenient, especially the transportation. I will share more on this topic in another Disney post coming in the near future. Ok, back to the parks. With arriving on a Wednesday, we originally planned to do 2 parks on Thursday, a relaxed day on Friday and then 2 parks on Saturday before traveling home on Sunday. Luckily we were able to move around our FastPasses and plan for our park days on Friday and Saturday. We also lucked out with getting a break in the weather on Wednesday evening and were able to meet up with my parents, brother, TJ and his girlfriend, Holland at The Contemporary Resort. Over the years we have enjoyed resort hopping to the hotels on the Magic Kingdom monorail track which includes The Contemporary, The Polynesian and The Grand Floridian. This time of year is especially fun to see all of the holiday decorations aside from perusing their shops. The Grand Floridian stop was extra special this time because it was where Morgan met Mickey Mouse for the first time.
Having been able to experience Disney so much and knowing that it probably won’t be too terribly long before we will be back, we take our time and don’t stress about having to do it all when we go. It makes for a much more enjoyable experience. As the economy continues to improve, the crowds continue to increase, so we typically are only able to do the rides we have FastPasses for due to the long wait times for the rides. Sometimes we get lucky and can jump on something extra or visit with some characters. We also opt to forgo sit down meals and do quick service instead so that we can keep the schedule flexible.
Friday morning we were off to Animal Kingdom. As Brad and I got ready, Laney enjoyed breakfast in bed while watching cartoons. I like to pack snacks and breakfast items for the room. Makes for easy mornings to prevent anyone getting hangry and then we also aren’t wasting time eating a slower sit down breakfast somewhere whether at the hotel or the park, especially when trying to do more than one park in one day. Snacks are also great to have in the parks to save a little money though we still splurge on the occasional treat. The Disney Experience App is a great tool to use while on vacation too. Not only can you check in to your hotel room without having to step foot in the lobby, you can also book your FastPasses, make dining reservations, check ride wait times and show times as well as see when the buses are scheduled to arrive at your resort. Once we were all dressed and packed up for the day, I put Morgan in the ErgoBaby Carrier and Brad pushed Laney in the umbrella stroller. After a short wait at the bus stop, we were off to Animal Kingdom.
I think one of Laney’s favorite parts of this trip was riding the bus. It’s all we’ve heard about since we have been home. So much so that Santa brought her a Disney Bus in her stocking.
Animal Kingdom immerses you into the culture of Asia and Africa. There are trees and plants everywhere as well as animals and awesome music. A must do with a toddler is the Kilimanjaro Safari. Definitely get a FastPass for this one. It is rare to see the stand-by line shorter than a 90 minute wait. It’s a really fun ride in an open air vehicle while seeing a ton of animals. We also love the Festival of the Lion King show. It’s my favorite show at Disney World. This time was extra special as Laney was selected to participate in part of the show. She was definitely living her best life during those couple of minutes. Disney magic at its finest right there folks. On this particular day, we did the show first and then the safari. While waiting for our Kilimanjaro Safari FastPass window, we spent some time in the Baby Station, conveniently located beside Starbucks. This is hands down the best one out of all of the parks. I’m sure this being the newest park (though it’s 20 years old now!) has something to do with it. You can wheel your stroller right in (none of the other parks’ baby stations allow this), there is a family size bathroom, necessities available for purchase, a dozen changing tables, a kitchen area, a private nursing room and a large play room with kid-size tables and chairs as well as a big screen TV on the wall playing different Disney movies throughout the day. It was the perfect place to change the girls, have a snack, get off of feet and let Laney play. Aside from the previously mentioned attractions, there is also a bird show with characters from Up and a live action Finding Nemo show. We haven’t done either since having kids, but I know they will be on the list for our trip later this year. Donald’s Dino-Bash! located in DinoLand USA is also a fun area for kids. There are carnival-style games with prizes and several rides. We always do Primeval Whirl, which is just like Dumbo at Magic Kingdom. DinoLand USA also has a large play area where kids can run around and dig for fossils. Our go to lunch place when at Animal Kingdom is Pizzafari where they serve, you guessed it, pizza. You can also get a salad. We ended our time at Animal Kingdom with a pizza lunch and then made our way back to the hotel.
We still had to deal with some off and on rain during this day and it was a little cooler than we thought it would be so Brad grabbed a jacket during our quick stop back at the hotel. Laney seemed to still be going strong so we hoped she would just nap in the stroller once we were at Epcot, our second park for the day. We jumped on another bus and off we went. I don’t even think we were through the park entrance before Laney crashed in the stroller. We were hoping to ride the Nemo & Friends ride before she fell asleep so we went to go find somewhere to relax while she slept. Looking back we should have just hung back at the hotel for an hour to let everyone rest. It started to drizzle again, so we went to find somewhere undercover. We couldn’t take a stroller in The Land (located beside the Living Seas where the Nemo ride is), so we began walking the World Showcase and wandered into Norway hoping we could find a quiet corner but when rain strikes, everyone is looking to stay dry and it felt like everyone chose the Norway gift shop. Then we thought, hey! let’s go to the baby station. We walked up to the door to a big sign that said strollers must be parked outside. Bust. On we went. That’s when we remembered the large showroom area at the exit of Test Track. We made our way inside and found many open benches, so we grabbed one. Everyone was quickly asleep except me so I just people-watched to pass the time. It was very quiet when we first got in there — Test Track has to close when it rains due to part of the ride’s track being outside so no one was exiting the ride to where we were for the first little while we were in there. Slowly the crowd started picking up over time. Once Laney awoke from her nap, we made our way back over to Nemo & Friends where we all squeezed into a clam shell, rode through the events of the movie and then looked at the fish and manatees in the Living Seas aquarium area. My parents met up with us at the exit and we made our way back into the World Showcase. Laney is loving Donald Duck these days, so we went to Mexico to get on the boat ride with the Three Caballeros featuring Donald Duck.
After this ride, we went to Norway to get on Frozen Ever After. The picture of Laney on this ride is priceless. Like the Safari, this is a ride that you definitely want to have a FastPass for for obvious reasons. The stand-by wait is always extremely long.
After our visit to Arendelle, we made our way further into the World Showcase to the USA for dinner. Nothing beats a good ol’ Disney cheeseburger and fries. We also got to hear part of the Candlelight Processional. Over the years, we have seen this show several times and it is so moving. We won’t do it again until the girls are old enough to enjoy and appreciate it but if you have never done it, you should definitely look into it. It’s the story of Christmas told by a celebrity narrator, a 50-piece orchestra and a full choir. It’s spectacular! Once we finished dinner (at 9:00pm), we called it a day and headed for the exit to catch our bus back to the resort. Epcot’s fireworks show, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, is my least favorite off all the parks’ fireworks displays so we didn’t feel we were missing out on anything and we knew we would have a full day the next day and wanted to get a good night’s rest.
Join me tomorrow for part 2 of my Disney Recap where I share our experiences at Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom.
Have you ever been to Disney World? What is your favorite park? Favorite ride? Favorite restaurant? I’ll share my favorites with you tomorrow as well.