Jennifer Sabish, of Fox World Travel, recently went on her first family trip to Disney World. Hear her review of their newest features, and tips and tricks for planning that perfect family vacation!
This was our first family trip to Disney. We felt the kids were finally at the age to enjoy the whole experience. Since it was our first family trip I knew there were some things that were just must for us; staying on Disney grounds and making sure to visit all four parks. In June I found a promotion that offered free dining. This was exactly what we were looking for.
There are several dining plans. The free plan included in our package was the quick service plan. This plan provides two quick services meals and one snack per person per day. We opted to upgrade to the Disney Dining plan which offered us one snack, one quick service and one table service per person per day. This allowed us to have one nice sit down meal per day, which also included some charter dining experience. Reservations are highly recommended for table service meals, as they can be booked 180 days prior to arrival.
We also opted to plan as much as we could prior to our arrival. This included ordering our MagicBands. This is a newer feature for Disney guest. All passes, FastPasses, meals, room access, and the ability to charge items back to your room is all loaded onto your band. You can customize your name and color of your band prior to arrival by ordering online. If you choose not to order yours prior to arrival you will be provided plain gray ones at check in. Our kids enjoyed picking out their colors and receiving them in the mail prior to departure. Another new feature is being able to reserve your FastPasses prior to arrival. These can be reserved 60 day prior to check-in for your entire stay. You may reserve up to 3 FastPasses per day at one theme park. After all, initial FastPasses are used on a given day you have the option to add an additional FastPass to be used that same day. The additional FastPass can only be made at a FastPass kiosk at the park you wish to select.
I would also highly recommend downloading the free Disney Experience app. This app links all your reservations made on the Disney Experience website to an app on your smartphone. It also lists attractions, character sites, dining options, entertainment times and more. We used this app most for checking wait times on rides throughout the parks and changing our FastPass times.
We opted to use the Disney Magical Express Transfers along with the luggage delivery service. Even though the lines for the transfers were long, we moved along quickly and were at our resort before we knew it. We really enjoyed the luggage delivery service. This allows you to go right to your transfers and not have to claim your bags. Disney will collect your bags and deliver then right to your room. The service can take up to 4 hours. So make sure you take anything in your carry on you may need before your luggage arrives.
Our home for the next five nights was the value resort of Art of Animation. There are two room categories at this resort. The Little Mermaid section offers standard rooms that sleep up to four adults. Rooms have two double beds or king bed. The other category is the family suites. These rooms sleep up to 6 adults offering one queen bed in a separate room with adjoining bath, a double size table bed, double size sofa sleeper and another bath. These suites also offer a mini kitchen with mini refrigerator, microwave and small sink. There are three themes to the family suites; Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars. Our choice was the Cars suite. Each section offer its own pool area, however; the Finding Nemo pool area is larger with bar and kids pool. They also have a movie under the stars area near this pool that shows Disney movies nightly.
Our room was not ready when we checked it. However, that was not a problem for us. We checked our other bags and took Disney shuttle to EPCOT. Disney shuttles run every 10-15 minutes between the resorts to parks and park to park. We spent the remainder of our day at EPCOT and had dinner at the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. This was our first character dining experience. Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Princess Aurora and Ariel stop at each table for autographs and photos. I felt this was a more private time to visit the Princesses so we didn’t have to stand in long lines to see them at the park. Plus the meal was included in our dining plan. After dinner we viewed IllumiNations, a firework to music show over the reflection pond near World of Showcase.
Monday we spent the day at Hollywood Studios. Frozen has been a big addition to this park; offering a Frozen parade including all the favorites and even snow. This park is more compact than the others; making getting around the park fairly quickly. Our sit down meal for the night was the 50’s Prime Time Café. We loved this dining experience. It is set up like a 50’s family kitchen offering old fashion American comfort foods; like fried chicken, pot roast, and meat loaf. This restaurant also offered a bar (Dad’s Liquor Cabinet) offering both kid and adult drinks with electric ice cubes to light up your drinks.
Tuesday we spent the day at Magic Kingdom. This, of course, was the park the kids were waiting for the most. We used our Disney App to find the shortest wait times and were able to get through the park and rides pretty easily. We were able to view Disney Dance Party parade at 11am which allowed the kids to dance with characters and the Festival of Fantasy parade in the afternoon; this parade offers all Princesses, Mickey and friends. Finding a place to stand can be difficult. Start early or opt to use your FastPass for preferred seating area. Our dining for this evening was at the Contemporary Resort for dinner with Mickey and friends. This was an easy transfer by the use of the monorail. This dining option was buffet style with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto coming around to all tables for autographs and photos. We took the monorail back to Magic Kingdom after dinner to view the Main Street Electrical Parade and fireworks over the castle. Again, finding a place to sit/stand can be difficult. We were lucky to find a great location on the bridge in front of the castle which gave us prime seating for both.
Wednesday we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom. This was the one park that I had not been to yet, so I was looking forward to my first visit. Best part of our day was the Kilimanjaro Safari where we took an open jeep through the park to view the animals. Since we were on one of the first rides of the day we were able to view all the animals except lions. We all really enjoyed getting wet on the Kali River Rapids. Our favorite roller-coaster through the whole trip was Expedition Everest. This is the one park that I would say you wouldn’t need a full day at. However, that could all change once they complete all the renovations and new attractions. Once we completed Animal Kingdom we headed back to EPCOT for dinner and finish up the few items we missed on Sunday. This evening we ate dinner at Coral Reef Restaurant. We enjoyed dining with views of a living coral reef and underwater sea life with views of the aquarium. After dinner, we were also lucky to have short wait times at Soarin’, another one of our favorites. We then walked through World of Showcase. We enjoyed seeing what all the countries looked like, eat and drink.
Thursday was our final day at Disney. We headed to Magic Kingdom to finish what we missed on Tuesday. Due to short wait times we were able to ride our favorite at Magic Kingdom, 7 Dwarf Mine Train. This is the newest Disney rollercoaster and was a big hit with the whole family. We choose to do our sit down meal today for lunch at Tony’s Town Square. The restaurant made famous by the movie Lady and the Tramp.
We, of course, had our entire souvenir shopping to do yet. We boarded the Disney Shuttle to one of the resorts and transferred shuttles to Downtown Disney. This was a great place to find all of your Disney favorite souvenirs. Plus some great restaurants and other shopping stores. We finished up just as it started raining and headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our early departure the next day.
Friday we were heading home. We had already check-in for our Southwest flight the day prior. Disney offers the ability to check your bags at your Disney resorts and they will be taken directly to the airport and checked with your airline. This gave us the opportunity to have our breakfast and get to ready for our shuttle trip back to the airport. Our return flight was on time and was back in Milwaukee before we knew it. Just a quick call to the Clarion our shuttle was on our way to pick us up.