So we are headed to Disney World today. We have been a few times before this and it’s always “magical” if you know what I mean. “The happiest place on Earth” Which is mostly true and we always love to watch the kid’s faces light up with excitement and wonder. Disney does everything so well and we always have a blast….but lets be honest it’s not a vacation by any stretch of the imagination. From the long lines, walking, walking and more walking through crowds, to the food courts, gift shops around every corner and screaming, tired whining kids, it’s more work then vacation. But again it’s worth it and it’s an experience we love having with our kids. However, we have gotten sick on two of the three previous trips. Two trips ago my entire family of 10 came down with a stomach bug and it was like the domino effect, one person after the other was sick and not just a little it was vicious and took days to recover….not our best family vacation. And last January when we went I came home with the flu. YUCK!
We are headed to Disney this time to celebrate my Niece’s 10th birthday. My sister moved from Texas to North Carolina this summer and we went from living three streets from each other and the kids attending the same elementary school to living hundreds of miles apart and rarely seeing each other. So it’s been hard and we decided this was a great way to celebrate as a family. So we are probably more excited to see them then to go to Disney, especially since we were just at Disney this past January.
So why blog about Disney? There is so much to see and do and so much to plan ahead for, Disney is all about planning. The first time we ever went we planned months in advance and therefore we were able to get all of the reservations we wanted and we managed to do four character dining experiences in one trip. It was our first time there with our kids and we brought my parents along to experience their excitement. My oldest daughter was four and 1/2 and my baby girl was only 9 months old. For my older daughter it was pure magic. The princesses were all so real and amazing to her, she was overwhelmed with getting to meet them. We took her to the bippity boppity boutique and she became a princess for a day. I will never forget the sparkle in her eye and the smile glued to her face. This is a must experience if you have a little princess.
Last January was our third time going to Disney, my husband and I just went with our girls. It was nice to have family vacation just the four of us. And it was the perfect age for both girls to experience the magic together.
Anyway my point of this post was to talk about this time.
We decided to go to Disney in late September and it is November 13th today. So we had very little time to plan anything. When we made the decision to book the resort and start planning the vacation we discovered two things, one November is a much busier time then we had anticipated and two Disney is rolling out something new call Magic Disney Bands. From day one the process of booking this Disney vacation has been nothing but a huge headache and complete frustration.
When we originally tried to make the reservation the website was not working, this went on for several days. Disney’s website down? How does that happen, I decided it had something to do with the Government shutdown that was occurring at the same time…I’m kidding.
So I had to call and book everything over the phone. The lady I spoke with was incredibly nice and knowledgeable. We were on the phone for over an hour and when we hung up I felt great about everything. Until nothing was right. We tried to reserve one of the large villas at the Contemporary or Grand Floridian, but they were booked so we ended up booking two two bedroom villas at Saratoga Springs, which was not our ideal place since we stayed there with the stomach bug and it left some rotten memories. Also, Saratoga Springs is far from everything except for Downtown Disney, so you take a bus everywhere and it takes some time. Anyway, whatever we got what we could get. I paid in full, gave her all of the flight information and felt like things were going to be great. Two days later I had only received a confirmation for one of the rooms, so I got worried and called to confirm that they had both rooms reserved. This time the person who answered was incredibly rude and I was shocked because where is the Disney attitude? Eventually after much discussion she assured me my reservation was fine. Another week later and I get a bill for the remaining balance. What? I paid in full? So back to the phone I go, apparently I had a remaining balance, so I paid that.
I started to get emails and letters about the new magic bands. So I went to My Disney Experience and set up an account where I could manage all of my reservations and set up the magic band. That process was pretty easy, and I was excited that we could set up three fast passes at each park a day before we even got there. If you have been to Disney you understand the value of a fast pass. Typically before the new magic band you went to the park and to the ride you wanted a fast pass for, you put your key card in a fast pass machine and a ticket prints out letting you know a time period to come back and use your fast pass. You usually had to wait awhile before getting another fast pass for a different ride. So the fact that you could pick your top three rides that you know would need a fast pass for ahead of time was a great improvement. I knew our schedule for the week and what days we would be at each park so I started trying to set up fast passes. Once again…more issues. I was told there weren’t any fast passes for Magic Kingdom, so I moved on to another park where I could get fast passes for some of my family but for some reason my youngest daughter and my brother in law were linked together and I had issues with getting them passes. So back to the phone. The wait time was 35 minutes, and when I finally talked to someone we were on the phone for an hour and 45 minutes. I’m a busy person….no one has time to sit on the phone for that long.
The man that I spoke with was helpful and was able to get us fast passes for all of the parks and rides we wanted except for Hollywood Studios and the most popular and crowded ride in all of Disney, the Toy Story ride. He had issues with getting our whole family, so he tried to get different groups at different times, and was never able to make it work. So I thought whatever, we will just wait in line for that one.
Dining reservations were next. The man helping me with fast pass reservations connected me to dining, because once again I had issues trying to make the reservations online. He was able to get two reservations the entire time we were there. Great, at this point I’m thinking the parks are going to be a nightmare….and way too crowded.
A few days later I get the magic bands in the mail. We were able to choose our own color for each band, and they were actually kinda of cool, the kids were excited.
Okay so we are all set right? Wrong, I pull out the airline information and baggage tags to make sure we are all set for our transportation from the airport to the resort and discover that is all wrong as well! They had half of my family flying from North Carolina and half from Texas which is right except they had the wrong people coming from the wrong place and they had the airline information wrong. Back to the phone AGAIN! Really? How many hours of telephone time was I going to log on this one vacation. The transportation phone call was not a big issue, and the lady I spoke with was very helpful and reassured me everything would be okay when we got there. I was worried that because I had all of the Magic Bands and my sister was arriving earlier then me that she would have to wait for us to check into the resort. So I ended up spending $70 to overnight her wristbands and luggage tags just to be safe.
We arrived on time and made our way to the Magic Express. Excited and ready to start the fun! Our bands worked and we boarded the bus. The drive from the airport to Disney resorts is about 35 minutes.
When we got to the Saratoga Springs Resort my sister had already checked us into both rooms so we just took a golf cart ride to our room and found them waiting to greet us. So excited to see everyone, my older daughter is so close to my sister’s oldest daughter and they just hugged and hugged. Melts my heart!
Our room was just across the street from the bus stop which was pretty convenient. This resort is very big and they have several bus stops, which means it can take 10 or 15 minutes to actually leave the resort. We headed to Downtown Disney because we had dinner reservations to celebrate my Nieces 10th birthday at Planet Hollywood.
Downtown Disney is really neat, we didn’t have the time to actually explore it on this vacation, but we have been there a few other times before and there is so much to see and do, lots of shopping, delicious restaurants and fun places to play and explore.
This was our first time visiting Planet Hollywood, we actually wanted to go to T-Rex a dinosaur themed restaurant that is fun for kids and loud for parents, but they were booked solid.
Planet Hollywood is huge, with three levels for dining and lots to see, it was fun exploring. Most of the movie themed items are a little too old school for the kids, but they saw some things they knew like Little Mermaid and Wizard of Oz. The restaurant was really loud! The food was actually pretty good, and our server was great until the very end when we sat for twenty extra minutes to pay our bill. If you sign up for a Disney dining plan, which I highly recommend, most of the restaurants at Downtown Disney will accept the plan. We used one of our sit down meals for this dinner. However, appetizers and alcohol do not qualify and Planet Hollywood is pretty pricey!
That’s one big Birthday Dessert! Yum!
Day One: Magic Kingdom
After a late night of dinner and opening gifts, we got a little bit of a later start then we had planned. Which wasn’t great, because on the bus we realized that the park was closing early that night so that they could have there Very Merry Christmas Party. The party is a separate ticket. You have to leave the park at 7:00 pm if you do not have a wrist band to attend the party. This was the only day we had planned for Magic Kingdom so we were pretty bummed to have such a short time at the park….with a little bit of hesitation we decided to buy the tickets to attend the party…it’s a neat party, but $62 + tax to attend after we already paid to enter the park all day was a little ridiculous!
Through our Magic Bands we had fast passes to Buzz Light Year, Peter Pan and the little Mermaid. We had some time before our first fast pass so we headed over to Space Mountain to get a fast pass and discovered the wait time was only 20 minutes. My nine year old daughter is not a big fan of roller coasters and has never been willing to ride Space Mountain, but with a lot of persuasion from her roller coaster loving cousin, she decided to do it. I was so proud of her and so excited to ride with her. I have a two year old nephew which means we were able to use the child swap to ride the ride back to back. Child Swap is something Disney does so that since one parent stays back with the child that cannot ride, they can then switch and ride again. So the girls were able to ride twice.
While they rode Space mountain the second time we took the little ones to do the cars, my sweet nephew loved this, he was so excited!
We thought the park was going to be packed, but it really wasn’t too bad, maybe the short hours kept the crowds away. There are so many fun rides at Magic Kingdom for the whole family, some are getting a little “boring” for the “older” kids. They think they are getting too old…at 9 and 10?! We did the Peter Pan ride, Winnie the poo, It’s a Small World, and the Tea Cups all within an hour and 1/2. Magic Kingdom has a new area called Fantasyland, we were able to explore it when we went back in January. This time we just did the Little Mermaid ride. But I highly recommend the Story Belle and visiting the Little Mermaid.
We typically spend a lot of our time at the Disney parks standing in line to meet different Disney princesses and characters. In the past we have had autograph books that the girls think needed to be filled with every single possible character signature. But since our time is limited on this vacation and the fact that we have already met them all twice, we told them we were skipping that this time. Except for Merida. My girls met her back in January, but they needed to see her again this time, she is their favorite princess right now. It took us about 45 minutes, and both my nieces decided to leave the line and go ride rides with their parents, they are not into princesses as much as my girls. I really wanted to bailout of the line myself, but my husband and the girls were insistent, so we waited.
After riding all of the rides we had fast passes for, some of us decided to head back to the resort to get a little rest before the big party. This was a mistake because Saratoga Springs is so far from the park that by the time we got back, went through all of the bus stops, and grabbed dinner, it was time to head back to the park. I did put my little pooped nephew to bed and my granny stayed back with him, so I guess that was worth it. He wouldn’t have made it all night.
We made it back to the park just in time for the fireworks. The Magic Kingdom fireworks are just magical! Every single time we go I get a little emotional watching them with my family. When I was a little girl my dad told us Tinker Bell was going to fly right over our heads during the show and we thought he was kidding. He is pretty good at telling tall tales : )
My girls are fascinated by seeing her flight and they also always wonder if Cinderella is sitting up in her room watching the show from the castle. The firework show for this special Merry Christmas party was beautiful, the castle changed colors several times and was covered with sparkling snowflakes. The show was bigger and better then we had ever seen it. Just beautiful.
During the Very Merry Christmas party the lines to the rides are short, so we were able to quickly ride the remaining rides we had missed earlier in the day. The Jungle cruise turns into a Jingle Cruise during the party, which was fun. We also rode Thunder Mountain…again proud of my sweet daughter for riding another roller coaster! The Pirates of the Caribbean is a family favorite, so we of course did that and then some of us did the Haunted Mansion. As we headed to leave the park “Snow” was falling on Main Street. It was a fun day.
Day 2: Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
We have never taken our children to Universal Studios, so we were really excited to try a new park. My sister’s family went last summer and loved it. There are two Universal Studios Parks, and because my 10 year old Niece, Lauren and my Daughter Kaitlyn are so into Harry Potter, we went to the Islands of Adventure park. Kaitlyn has been reading the books and is obsessed right now with everything Harry Potter, so she was over the moon to go to Harry Potter World.
We took a Private Shuttle to the park because obviously Disney doesn’t transport to Universal. We used Meers Transportation, and they were great. We took two nice big vans and were able to install car seats and boosters for the younger kids. It was a little pricey, but worth the service. Plus at the end of the day we just had to call them to come get us, which meant no lines and a quick ride back to the resort.
So the main reason to go to the Adventure Island park at Universal Studios was of course so that we could experience the Wizardly World of Harry Potter. I have personally never read the books and I’ve only watch the first and part of the second movie. But my daughter and my oldest niece are huge fans of both the books and the movies. So they were in heaven when we walked into that part of the park. You are magically transformed into the scenes of Harry Potter. The buildings, restaurants and stores are all built to look just like they do in the movies. Our first and most important stop was the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We could barely keep up with my sister as she raced to get to that ride. I guess the line gets really long as it’s the most popular ride at the park. We were there early enough that we didn’t have to wait long. This ride is crazy! As you walk through the line which is designed to look like the inside of Hogwarts School of Witch Craft, you are entertained by talking pictures and even an appearance from Harry Potter and Hermoine. This ride is lots of fun, you soar through Hogwarts in what is a thrilling and magical experience. We were able to use the child swap so we rode it twice, the first time my granny was with us and I spent the entire ride worrying about her…its a pretty intense ride, she probably should have skipped this one. My daughter loved it!
Next on the list of adventures, my niece, brother and law and I rode the crazy Dragon Challenge roller coaster, it looked scarier then it was and we lucked out and didn’t have a line at all.
We had lunch at Three Broomsticks, which is a pretty good restaurant featuring the kind of food you would find if you were living at Hogwarts, with food like Turkey Legs, Shepherds Pie, and fish and chips. The kids loved the food here but there favorite thing was the Butterbeer!
They have a huge candy store with all kinds of Harry Potter themed candy…like the famous Every-Flavor beans. The kids had a blast exploring this sweet shop and we came away with chocolate covered frogs, chocolate wands, slimy gummies, fudge, and of course the beans.
Universal has many fun rides for all ages. My five year old daughter, Hailey and my two year old nephew, Brendan loved Dr. Seuss world. They were able to ride fun Dr. Seuss themed rides that were age appropriate.
There is a really cute play area/spray park that the kids had a blast running around in….which meant I had to go purchase a change of clothes, but it was worth it.
There are a few fairly large roller coasters at Universal and I had promised my niece I would ride them with her. She was thrilled to discover that the lines were not long so we were able to ride those crazy things more than once. It was fun and I was glad to experience that with her. My roller coaster riding daughter the day before was not so adventurous on this day…but to her credit these coasters are big and scary. There are several water rides that I chose not to ride because it was cold and I don’t really want to be cold and wet. But the kids wanted to be so my mom and sister were good sports and rode the water rides with the kids. They loved them!
We had a great day! I’d love to go back and spend more time at Universal. We ended the day at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant which was located right before the entrance to Universal. Which is always fun and delicious!
We were supposed to spend this entire day at Epcot, however we decided we wanted some more time at Magic Kingdom. So we headed there first, this meant we had time to wait in line to have lunch at the new Be Our Guest restaurant. I was shocked that event though it doesn’t open until 11 am and we were in line by 10:30…the line was still 45 minutes long! We still waited because it’s the chance to go inside the Beasts castle! The food was actually really good, you order at the entrance and then they bring it to your table. I had a delicious Quinoa salad. We were able to ride the Little Mermaid Ride and the Haunted Mansion before heading to catch the Monorail to Epcot.
Epcot is one of my favorite parks at Disney. I love exploring all of the different countries, tasting the food and adult beverages, and it has some pretty cool rides. The kids loved riding the Nemo ride and then talking with Crush. Talk with Crush is a fun experience for adults and kids. Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo interacts with the kids in the audience while telling them a little bit about being a Sea Turtle. It’s cute!
We love the Soarin ride, but the line is always insane. You cannot even attempt this ride without a Fast Pass unless you want to wait for hours. Its a unique ride designed to simulate that you are flying over different parts of California.
We loved doing the Test Track where you get to design your own car and then experience how well it performs, and it goes up to 60 MPH. It was a blast. I did this with my younger daughter, and she loved it. After you get off the ride you exit into a room where you can further track the performance of the car you designed. This is really one of the best rides in all of Disney World.
We had dinner at the New La Hacienda de San Angela Mexican Restaurant. The food was really good and the margaritas were delicious. But the best margaritas are across the street at the La Cava Del Tequila!
After dinner enjoyed IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show. It is a spectacular firework show that reveals the past, present and future of the Earth. And since we were there in November we were also able to enjoy the added Holidays Around the World show. It is simply beautiful, and if you go to Epcot you must stay to watch this how.
Last Day: Day 4
Our last day we were scheduled to go to Hollywood Studios. I think of all the parks this is one we could of skipped…I actually would have preferred to go to Animal Kingdom, which is one of my favorite parks. But the trip was for my niece and she wanted to go to Hollywood studios. The kids enjoyed the Mickey Mouse Playhouse, the Little Mermaid, and the Bell shows. And I rode the Rockin’ Roller Coaster with my nieces and then took my older niece on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror…she was so excited that her parents let her go on this. We headed home this day, so our time at the park was short. We did a little shopping and then headed to the airport.
We had a great Vacation, and as always look forward to next time. But I think I can wait a few years!