Our family visited Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida this past April and I thought it was finally time for me to sit down and write a blog about our trip. For those unaware of the layout of Walt Disney World, not to be confused with Disneyland in California, there are four parks: Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom (not including the two water theme parks). I have highlighted our top family moment at each of these parks and, for fun, added in our most favourite character meet and greet. Whether you are looking for tips to make the most out of your Orlando Disney vacation or simply looking for a laugh, this blog is for everyone.
Highlight from Magic Kingdom Park: Breakfast at Be Our Guest Restaurant. Easily my most anticipated event, was our breakfast reservation at the Be Our Guest Restaurant. What other woman, whose first few Disney Princesses included Ariel and Belle, wouldn’t want to eat in the Beast’s castle? Arriving at the entrance I was instantly transported to my seven year old self entering the castle’s door, eating in the Grand Ballroom, stepping into the forbidden West Wing and perusing the paintings in the Castle Gallery. The choice of entrees were vast and plates plentiful. I highly recommend ordering the “The Master’s Cupcake” because it has Lumiere’s “Grey Stuff” and I do have to attest that it was, in fact, delicious. I also ignored the fact that I was having dessert at 9:30 in the morning! What made this meal extra magical was that all ordering is done prior to entering the dining facility on a computer screen with aid from amazing Disney staff. To this day, I do not know how, after we ordered we were able to pick our own table from the three dining halls and somehow without having a buzzer or waiter indicating where to sit, our food arrives, in glass covered trolley. How? By the magic of Disney I presume. All I can say, is that the food was awesome, the ambiance is amazing and I couldn’t imagine any Disney princess who wouldn’t want to eat at the Beast’s Castle. The only down side was trying to explain to my four year old son during the entire meal that he did not have to worry about the Beast showing up and scaring him out the door for trespassing.The imagination grows strong in my family!
Travel planning tips – Be Our Guest Restaurant is part of the Disney Meal Plan (including the Quick Service plan for breakfast and lunch only). It is very busy and nearly at capacity throughout the entire day. My suggestion would be to acquire your reservation online when the window opens for booking, 180 days in advance. The only down side is that when making reservations you, in essence, have to plan your vacation ahead of time on which days for each park. Something that you have to be aware of when your window opens to book your Fast Passes (FastPass+).
Highlight from Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage Ride. Leading up to our Orlando family vacation, I was giddy as a school girl to experience the new Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom. Prior to our departure I made sure that my children watched the Avatar film. Even though there are moments I doubted the film’s appropriateness for my four and seven year old, they were glued to the screen throughout the entire film. Lets just make this point very clear, that NEVER happens! They were mesmerized by the environment and the Na’vi indigenous culture, especially all of the out of this world wildlife, most notably the Mountain Banshees. So when I heard that we could not only immerse ourselves in the flora but also the fauna of Pandora through a flight simulation upon an Ikran (Mountain banshee), I knew I had to get my hands on those FastPasses (known as FastPass+ at Disney). I knew that Pandora was relatively new, i.e. open less than a year prior to our arrival. As such, I had heard that the Avatar rides were not only must see attractions but they also had a reputation for lengthy standby queues. When we arrived during our FastPass+ time allocation the wait for the standby queue was two hours long. However, with our FastPasses, we may have spent fifteen minutes walking and waiting in the FastPass+ queue. The ride though, was hands down, by far, the most amazing experience I have ever been a part of. Once you go through a few staging rooms that “prep” you to connect with your Avatar, and therefore Mountain Banshee, you are brought to the simulation room. They have you sit upon a device I can only explain as a motorcycle without wheels. Then you’re asked to mold yourself (chest, legs, arms) to this device. If that wasn’t enough a device/weight is applied to your lower back to keep you in place. Once the simulation is up and running, the 4D experience was, for the lack of better words, “out of this world”. You fly through the world of Pandora, feel the wind current beneath your Banshees wings, the spray of water upon your face, the smell of the ocean and musk of the forest. The most startling and unbelievable moment is when you can feel upon your inner thighs, your Ikran breathing. Speeding up when it is being chased and slowing when perched. Honestly, once I adjusted to the simulation, I was able to simply look around this digital reality and it brought tears to my eyes. Nothing has ever moved me to such depths. If you are unable to access fast passes and trying to determine whether a ride if worth the hours of wait, Avatar Flight of Passage is worth every minute!
Travel planning tips – When you plan your Disney vacation if you plan to stay at an onsite Disney resort you are able to book FastPass+ 60 days prior to your arrival date. Anyone else can only book 30 days in advance. This vacation, like our last, we stayed at a Disney onsite resort and had the 60 day window. For these rides I was booking them at the stroke of midnight as soon as our bookings were available on the Disney website. Even then, there were days or times for attractions that were already full. Once I found a date and time availability for our party and around our previous reservations at restaurants or other activities it was simply determined that this would be the day to spend at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you are a planner such as myself I recommend to search for the rides that are more popular and search for those FastPasses first. For the rest, usually sixty days in advance there are no issues. For example the attractions that I have had issues with obtaining were Avatar rides (Animal Kingdom), Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom) Toy Story Mania! (now part of a new section at Disney Studios) and Soarin’ Around the World (EPCOT).
Highlight from Epcot – Awaiting the Park to Open. During our scheduled day at Epcot I was able to book Mission: SPACE FastPass+ but not Soarin’ Around the World. Therefore, my ingenious plan was to wake up, grab a coffee and juice, run to Epcot to be there when it opens and immediately stand in line for Soarin’ Around the World, as it was an attraction none of the family had ever been on. Little did I know that the actual experience of being a part of the rope drop would be one of the most notable moments of the trip. They opened the turnstile about a half hour before the opening of the park to allow the crowd to filter into the Leave a Legacy Plaza. We were about ten feet from the rope beneath Spaceship Earth where a group of musicians hyped up the crowd with drums and singing. Upon looking at the gathered crowd you could feel the tension building. We all knew why we were all there, to line up for those hard to find FastPass+ rides because within the next hour what would initially be a walk on standby queue line will turn into a couple hours wait. After a brief announcement from a Disney cast member reminding the guests to withdraw from running in the park and that everyone should be aware of the little ones, the rope dropped. Every guest then proceeded to imitate their own favourable Olympian speed walker. My husband grabbed my son and placed him on his shoulders while my daughter was holding my brother’s hand. I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. The ride was in the Future World West area of the park. It was about a ten minute speed walk and my calves were burning. My daughter eventually ended up on my brother’s shoulders and he had to place her on her new perch mid-stride because we could not afford the few seconds to stop. It was a rush passing each individual during our excursion and it felt like I was back on my school track team. I recall looking around at my family and started to encourage them to go faster as there was a woman with a cane and a knee wrapped in tensor bandages that was outpacing all of us! Mind you, she was using the cane as a propelling device and I am sure she spent the rest of the day in pain from her excursion, but still, how was she passing us? We were all laughing and close to being out of breath by the time we reached the queue, but it was worth the exertion with only a five minute wait. Just shows that even at Disney it does not have to be about the food or the rides, but experiences you share. The ride itself, was a favourite amongst the family and even my four year old son loved the experience of flying around the world.
Travel planning tip is that when booking FastPass+ for Epcot there are certain rides that are more sought out than others including Mission: SPACE, Test Track and Soarin’ Around the World. The website blocks parties from booking their three advanced allotment of FastPass+ for all of these rides on a certain day. Disney Studios have the same barrier with Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Toy Story Mania and The Twilight Zone Tower of TerrorTM.
Highlight from Disney’s Hollywood Studios – My daughter’s encounter with Captain Phasma. The latest movie franchise that my daughter has taken fandom to is Star Wars. As a self proclaimed nerd it warmed my heart that she now follows in my footsteps. My daughter was Rey for Halloween and was thrilled that she could wear her costume when meeting all of the Star Wars characters at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we had amazing character experiences with Kylo Ren, BB-8 and Chewbacca, the one that took the cake was the random Captain Phasma encounter during the March of the First Order parade. While you are perusing the park every hour or so, the March of the First Order blares from the sound system along with orders from Captain Phasma. The crowds flock to the Hollywood Boulevard and watch as fourteen storm troopers are led by Captain Phasma down the road. We just happened to walk back from Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and managed to find the perfect spot with my daughter right upon the curb just as the march was nearing our location. Captain Phasma stopped the troops and then they disbanded to look for “members of the resistance”. She spoke to a few people as a Stormtrooper took a close look at my daughter and pointed her out. Then Captain Phasma marched over with her blaster gun in hand. She walks right up, points out my daughter, talks to her and then tells her “We’ll see you again.” Captain Phasma proceeds back to the troops and carries on with the rest of the parade. Now here I am desperately trying to get photos and video of this amazing one-on-one experience standing behind my seven year old daughter. Little did I know that my daughter, though she put on a tough blank face, was scared beyond belief. Once the parade was gone, She proceeded to tell us that she wanted to go home. Side note this happened within the first hour of being at the park that morning, so we were not in the mood of heading back right away. It took nearly an hour, plus a Mickey Mouse ice-cream sandwich, to convince her that Captain Phasma is an actress, and she was not coming to hunt her down or take her away and this was a very special encounter as not everyone gets that experience. It appeared we talked some sense to her, but later found she still had a small case of PTSD as whenever the March of the First Order came over the intercom, regardless where we were in the park, she would shudder and hang onto the nearest adult she could find in our party. I know there is a video somewhere, where my daughter is standing in front of me, ready to book it to the nearest exit scared to death, with me standing behind her with my camera rolling with a grin from ear to ear nearly squealing with delight at the encounter. Nerd win, Mom fail!
Travel Planning Tip – do your kids have character costumes? It is worth the effort to bring to the park. Character meet and greets have an extra level of magic when they can interact like the characters would in their films. Chewbacca alone that day spent a long time with our daughter because she was dressed as Rey. Our last vacation when my daughter was in princess mode dressed as Elsa, all the other princesses would curtsey and treat her as royalty. Make your vacation extra special and allow your kids to dress up and make sure to plan some character meet and greets.
Best Character Experience – When my father met Baymax. You are probably wondering how can we top the character meet and greet after Captain Phasma? Well allow my father to get into the Magical World of Disney. This trip we focused on meeting characters that both kids would enjoy. Our trip two years ago our daughter was five and the perfect age to meet all the princesses. This vacation our son had fallen into the Wonderful World of Disney and loves both princess and superheroes movies alike. So instead of meeting Elsa and Anna, Tiana and Ariel, we focused on Chewbacca, Star-Lord/Peter Quill with Groot, Buzz Lightyear and the kids favourite, Baymax. The reason why this character meet and greet ranks amongst the best was not only that our kids were over the moon but how the Disney cast members convinced my father that Baymax was an actual robot. Disney cast members are amongst the best in the world to keep the magic alive in all aspects of the parks. My father, brother and mother were waiting in the viewing area to watch my kids meet Baymax (they were standing in line with their father) when my dad started to question how the costume works. Baymax is very well done, his eyes blink and his inflatable costume is on point, perfectly ready for filming if need be. So my dad was inquisitive as to how the costume functions. Respectfully and quietly, out of earshot from children, he then asks these questions to Baymax’s supporting cast member. Without breaking a beat, she then proceeds to inform him that Baymax is a robot and she divulges info from the movie, how he was made and other aspects of his existence. Now, myself who can remember the smallest of movie lines knew what she was doing, my father not so much. He then returns wide eyed and whispers loudly, “He’s a robot.” Bitting my lip to stop a chuckle, I then reply, “No way!” I then decided to see how long it would take before my father figures it out that the cast member also plays a vital role and she has to keep the magic alive just as much as the character does. I inform my husband of the ongoing scenario after the kids posed for their photos and we had a good laugh. It was only after meeting Joy and Sadness from Inside Out, the character meet and greet next to Baymax did my dad announce yet again to my husband his newly found, out of this world, gathered information. Only once we were walking out of the building and out of earshot of kids did we tell him the truth. So thank you Disney cast members for putting the magic back into my father’s life. Watching my old man relive his childhood, even for approximately an hour, was worth the trip.
I can go on an on about the awesome experiences we had at Walt Disney World. My daughter experiencing her first loop-de-loop rollercoaster on the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, my son’s first big boy coaster sitting in the front row at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, daily Trenta (extra large size for those unfamiliar with Starbucks lingo) Frappuccinos – calories didn’t count on this vacation! Travel Planning Tip – Starbucks drinks are considered a snack on the Disney Meal plan regardless of size! Most importantly, that Walt Disney World provided the best environment for our family to undergo one of the most difficult times in our lives. For those who are unaware my husband unexpectedly and tragically had to hear about the passing of his mother while on this vacation. Other than the underlining fact that we could not be at her side when it occurred, Disney provided the best distraction for my family especially my children. We had difficult choices to make during our vacation but it helped knowing that regardless we had the magic of the Disney to rely on. Although, they may be unlikely to read this, I want to thank the staff at the parks, our resort, transportation, anyone who made our vacation, despite the extenuating circumstances, as one of the best for my children.
This marks my fifth vacation to the Walt Disney World Parks. If you have any questions feel free to ask away in the comment section below or leave some tips or anecdotes of your own. Wishing everyone a memorable vacation, where ever the wind might take you.