A trip to Disney World had always been on my bucket list. I knew when I had kids I’d want to make it happen for them, and this past June we were fortunate enough to go.
If you’ve ever done or looked into Disney, you know a lot goes into planning. While I’m certainly no Disney expert and this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide (though see Choosing an Itinerary for other blog posts), I just wanted to share our experience.
Choosing a Hotel
Planning a trip to Disney World adds up quickly! Best day ever? More like most expensive day ever! (I actually saw a gentleman at EPCOT with this shirt.)
I always thought if I did Disney I would stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, a deluxe on-site resort with available rooms overlooking the savanna. Unfortunately due to COVID at the time, this resort was temporarily closed. Ultimately I had to ask myself what was I going to Disney for, the resort or the parks? And the answer of course was the parks.
I knew I wanted an on-site hotel to take advantage of complimentary transportation around Disney. This included airport transfer via the Magical Express. Unfortunately the Magical Express is being discontinued after this year and was one of the reasons I pushed to make Disney happen this year.
After a bit of research, we ended up choosing Disney’s Pop Century Resort, one of five value on-site resorts. Pop Century and Art of Animation (AOA) are said to be the top two value resorts because they have their own buses and access to the Skyliners (gondolas). The other three value resorts share buses and there are no Skyliners, so your travel time to the parks is increased.
The Skyliners were a convenient option to connect to Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and other on-site resorts for dining reservations.
Based on research, I requested a room in the 50’s building. There was a pool right outside the elevators, it was a short walk to the Skyliners, and a short walk to Classic Hall (main area) and the buses. We booked a standard room, and while it was on the third floor, it was conveniently located off the elevators and by the ice machine.
TIP: Prior to checking in, if you receive a text that your room isn’t ready yet, talk to the front desk. Because our room was said to not be ready, we decided to wait in the hot humid Florida heat to check our luggage so we could go to the pool. After checking our luggage we stopped into Classic Hall. I decided to inquire with the front desk if any other room was available because at that point we were a little irritable due to travel, humidity, and hunger. And what’d you know? A standard room in our requested 50’s building was ready! So, check with the front desk!
Choosing an Itinerary
Again, having not ever done Disney, I knew I wanted to experience all four parks, and I had always heard you need two days for Magic Kingdom. We ended up doing a 5-park package over 8 days, 7 nights. Two days at Magic Kingdom; a day each at Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT; one rest day in the middle of the trip; and two travel days. We did not do any park hoppers.
The following blog posts were helpful when planning our itinerary:
- The best 8-day Disney World itinerary for families
- Best 8-day Itinerary Disney World for Families
- Step-by-Step Disney World 7 Day Itinerary Planning Guide
Our itinerary was as follows:
- Saturday – Travel
- Sunday – Magic Kingdom
- Monday – Epcot
- Tuesday – Hollywood Studios
- Wednesday – Rest / Resort Day / Disney Springs
- Thursday – Animal Kingdom
- Friday – Magic Kingdom again
- Saturday – Travel
We “rope dropped” each day where you’re allowed into the park an hour before the posted park hours, and honestly they were poorly executed. When we rope dropped at EPCOT, we were only allowed to go a short distance before being stopped and told we had to wait until the park actually opened to get to any attraction. 🤯 What’s the point of rope dropping then?!
Animal Kingdom had the only smooth rope drop of our trip, but then our experience there was cut short by a park power outage. On our second Magic Kingdom day we went slightly after rope drop and avoided the initial chaos, and that worked well.
Looking back at our itinerary, I would’ve appreciated a second rest day. I would’ve done two days at a park followed by a rest day and repeat until departure.
Booking Dining Reservations
Next on the conglomerate list of Disney planning, dining reservations! Especially those highly sought after character dinings. This is where I’m going to share with you the most sacred tip of planning a Disney vacation…
Get yourself a Disney travel agent, THEY’RE FREE!
Maria at Unlock The Magic was a total godsend in securing all of my dining requests at all of my preferred meal times. I didn’t discover her until after I booked our hotel and reserved our parks, though these are areas she could’ve assisted with as well. Her personal recommendations and guidance throughout the planning process and during the actual trip added that extra bit of magic to our first trip. ✨
Because of her due diligence we were able to dine at:
- Character breakfast at Topolino’s at the Riviera Resort. Best meal of the trip! 🙌 Maria recommended this character breakfast over my initial request for Chef Mickey’s, and it far exceeded my expectations!
- Character breakfast at Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studios
- Character dinner with the Beast at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom
- Character dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom
- Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno at Disney’s BoardWalk outside of EPCOT
- Dinner at Via Napoli in EPCOT (one of the best pizzas 🍕 we’ve ever had)
- Dinner at The BOATHOUSE in Disney Springs
- Dinner at Sci-Fin Dine-In Theater in Hollywood Studios (I wish I would’ve tried Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano instead)
- Dinner at T-REX in Disney Springs (Skylar loves dinosaurs, otherwise I wouldn’t have done this, nor is it worth going back)
- Dinner at Beaches and Cream at Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Breakfast at Topolino’s was probably my favorite part of the trip though, no lie. I told Hubby I’d make reservations there again even if I wasn’t going to Disney, it was that good. I highly recommend. Second recommendation would be THE BOATHOUSE. The Shipwreck cocktail hit gooooddd.
Other Honorable Mentions
Before I wrap things up, I want to share a few products that I found useful for this trip.
My first recommendation is a digital Disney World planner I purchased from Etsy. It was 80+ pages of comprehensive park guides, itinerary templates, and more that were updated each month outlining COVID-19 closures, which was super helpful. Unfortunately the particular shop I purchased mine from has discontinued the download; however, this listing seems to be a comparable alternative.
My planner’s park guides listed attractions with any height restrictions, which I’d then highlight all the ones my 4 year olds were eligible to ride. The guides also listed entertainment and their showtimes, dining options, shopping, and even where you could get your pins and pennies. Each attraction, dining option, etc. also indicated if it was temporarily closed due to COVID. Again, super helpful.
I printed off these guides and organized them in a folder binder with tabs for each day because I’m a nerd. 🤓
Last but not least, besides the obvious packing list items, two product recommendations I discovered from a Disney Facebook group were cooling towels and face mask lanyards. The cooling towels were such a relief on sun burnt shoulders in the summer Florida heat. And the face mask lanyards were convenient throughout our entire trip. When we went, the mask mandate thankfully had been lifted while outdoors in the parks, but were still required when in line for a ride/attraction or indoors. The face mask lanyards made the constant taking off and putting on much easier, especially with young kids.
While I grew up always wanting to go to Disney World, I can now say I’ve done it and have zero desire to return. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time, and the kids certainly enjoyed themselves. Personally Disney for me is not my jam. I’d rather continue to go back to Universal Orlando and get my Harry Potter on. ⚡️
I hope this blog post was a good read though. Like I said, it’s certainly no comprehensive guide; I’ll leave that to the Disney diehards. But I know when I was planning our vacation, I read a million points of view on Disney, so I wanted to add my piece to the puzzle. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have if your planning a trip to Disney.