We finally came limping home from our big vacation to Walt Disney World, exhausted and happy and bursting at the seams with great memories, a couple of blisters and perhaps the evidence of a few too many churros. We did everything that was important to us, though not even close to everything that’s possible at Disney World. It’s a massive magical place. And hot. Really really sticky blazing hot. Today I’ll give you our favorite highlights from each of the 4 parks, and Typhoon Lagoon. I’m sharing a ton of info today, so prepare for a lengthy post you may wish to bookmark.
The Magic Kingdom was our first stop, and also our very last. I love starting the Disney World circuit with that magical stroll down Main Street U.S.A. and finishing our trip with the Main Street Electrical Parade, Tinkerbell, and those amazing fireworks. All are musts for anyone visiting the Magic Kingdom. I get goosebumps every time! My boys especially love the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It’s the newest attraction in Fantasyland and it’s great–a fun interactive queue to help pass the time, and just enough thrills to please, but not very frightening. My rather timid 6 year old was reluctant the first time, but he survived. By his third time, those little arms were way up in the air!
Space Mountain, though one of my favorites, is pretty scary (super fast, nearly pitch black) and best suited to kids over 8. I’d recommend skipping Alien Encounter and Stitch’s Great Escape, but do catch the daily dance parties with the Incredibles in Tomorrowland. Great music, and boogying with larger than life super heroes is pretty rad. Kids will love Buzz Lightyears Space Rangers. If you have tired little ones or kiddos nervous about the bigger attractions, enjoy a cruise on the People Mover or head to the Jungle Cruise in Adventure Land.
Our favorite eats here include the Dole Whips available in Adventure Land (note: skip the Tiki Room, unles you really just want to sit down in some air conditioning for 20 minutes) and The Liberty Tree Tavern for a hearty table-service meal of comfort food and lots of it. We had lunch at Be our Guest in the new Beast’s Castle, and the food was pretty good but not amazing. I suspect that dinner is the primo meal here. Try for a table in the West Wing–periodic thunderstorms and other enchanting details make it extra cool, even for boys.
The afternoon parade at the Magic Kingdom is incredible–currently it’s Festival of Fantasy–but if you don’t love parades, use that time frame to catch some popular attractions for a shorter wait time. And steer clear of Main Street just before, during, and after–it’s awfully cramped and crowded.
At the Animal Kingdom, I recommend doing almost everything. But, be sure and enjoy all the beautiful exotic scenery and detailed theming all around. It’s very impressive. Dino Land USA here was not our favorite–I’d skip it next time–with the exception of Dinosaur, which was awesome. Big thrills, not too much speed, and plenty of dinosaur action. Even my timid little one was digging it. The Kilamanjaro Safari is a must; I strongly recommend starting your day there. Expedition Everest is a complete blast, but anxious riders might find it a bit too thrilling, so do a rider swap if you need to. It’s Fast Pass worthy. The Wilderness Explorers program (remember Russel the Scout from Up?) is an interactive challenge for kids with stations and stops throughout the park wherein the kids can complete a challenge and earn sticker badges. It’s a great brainy activity they can do all day long at their leisure, and guides you to some great off-the-beaten path sights.
Do NOT miss the Festival of the Lion King show. It blew me away–the music, the staging, the acrobats, the singers, the floats–maybe the best 30 minutes you’ll spend anywhere at Disney World, and definitely one of the best shows. I mean, tribal stilt dancers! Totally worth a Fast Pass, we absolutely loved it! Hint: If you are queuing up with out a fast pass, gab a bit of refreshment to enjoy while you are in line. This queue is possibly the most boring, hot and cramped we encountered all week. It was worth the wait though!
We didn’t have great luck with quick service dining here, but discovered some better options after the fact. I recommend visiting the various food trucks for some ethnic grub that looked really tasty. For an elaborate meal, the Tusker House is very popular.
EPCOT, which stands for Environmental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, is full of fascinating things. Between Innovaitions East and West, The Land and The Sea, and the World Showcase areas there are just a few big and exciting things, but altogether it’s a wonderful slower paced day eating and learning. Here you’ll find Soarin’, a definite favorite of absolutely everyone. Use a Fast Pass or go first thing in the morning. The other big feature here is the Test Track. Definitely a fast paced and exciting ride, with a really fun queue, it’s also extremely popular so plan accordingly with Fast Pass or early arrivals. Note that my 6 year old who was nervous about other fast rides didn’t hesitate at all for this one. My other favorite spot here is the Living with the Land boat tour through the experimental gardens–it’s not a thrill ride, but I always find it impressive and inspiring. Skip Spaceship Earth. There is a ride inside that giant golf ball, but it’s pretty dull.
World Showcase, though, is where my heart lies at EPCOT. Spend the day trying snacks and treats or meals from each of the represented countries–some of the best food in all of Disney World is here. Skolbread in Norway (promise me you’ll try it, it’s so good!), gelato in Italy, pastries in France (just buy a whole box of assorted confections and try them all), potstickers in China, so much to choose from. Our favorite meal here was in Mexico. Yum. Children can get a special passport stamped in each country and participate in an art project while learning a few words in each new language. Some of the countries’ pavilions offer films or other activities, like the lovely Voices of Liberty and American Adventure, but the street performers are often where the real action is. Mariachi bands, mimes, japanese drummers, Canadian lumberjacks. All great. As is Illuminations, the evening light show. Queues for meeting some favorite characters & princesses are often much shorter here at Epcot. Just consult your daily schedule and be in place about 15-20 minutes prior.
Disney Studios is smaller than the other parks, but packs a big punch. Themed like old Hollywood, movies, glamour and vintage California are the main ideas here. If you have little ones that love Star Wars even a little bit, make haste to register for the Jedi Training Academy as soon as you arrive. You will not regret it. You’ll also find Star Tours here, along with Toy Story Midway Mania–use a Fast Pass but plan on standing in line for it at some point because everyone will be crazy for it and beg to do it again. And again. It’s mild and just loads of fun for all ages. Even my dad loves it! Aerosmith Rockin Rollercoaster is my favorite thing here–but it’s super fast and wild, fyi. I really love it. Tower of Terror isn’t fast, but the entire premise is a bit scary, and the sudden drops can really do you in; we happen to get a kick out of it. My 6 year old did not go–but my 8 year old did this time and doesn’t seem to be permanently traumatized. Just kidding. He liked it.
For tamer activities, catch one of the stage or street shows like the Indiana Jones stunt show or the Beauty and the Beast stage production or the Muppets 3D. All are good for all ages, and are great ways to rest your feet and maybe even enjoy some air conditioning. I have to recommend the Art of Animation tour–take the 30 minute sketching class with the professional animator. I think this was my husband’s favorite stop of the day, and you get to take home your sketch! When my boys appeared frustrated that their work did’t look like hers (!) she offered sincere words of encouragement and sent them home with extra sketching paper to keep practicing. I thought the whole thing would be lame, but I’m really glad we did it. Plus, it’s indoors, air conditioned, quiet and seated.
As far as food goes, there are lots of sit down restaurants to choose from with fun themes, and plenty of fun healthy snacks. We like the chopped cobb salad and grapefruit cake at the Brown Derby, but Mama Melroses or the Sci Fi Dine In Theater are very popular. For us, one big meal in the afternoon was really all we needed, with just snacks later in the evening.
Typhoon Lagoon is one of two water parks at Disney World. Both appear to be equally fun, but we just chose to visit this one. And goodness sakes, it may have been the best day of our whole week! I typically don’t get excited about waterparks, avoiding them in general, but this one: immaculately clean, plenty of beaches and coves with plenty of beach chairs, lots of shade, lifeguards all over the place, and gorgeous landscaping. And the wave pool is totally tubular, dude. I mean, wow. My boys could easily have forgotten about all the fun slides and just let the giant wave come crashing down on them all day long. But the slides are super crazy fun! Some big, some small, some with tubes–some with family sized tubes, and, friends, I even did the Humunga Cowabunga. Yikes almighty, hold onto your suits, gals! We were really excited to try the snorkeling in the shark reef, but upon discovering how cold the water is, and how crowded with people, the boys and I observed from the deck while my hubby gave it a go. His opinion? Just okay.
My favorite was the lazy river: long, winding, with beautiful jungle foliage, tunnels and little waterfalls along the way. Perfectly blissful if a bit crowded. They even provide small sized and 2-seater inner tubes with flat middles so your kiddos don’t fall through. The lines here are short, the crowds spread out, and the day delightfully easy going. The PhotoPass photographers even hop right in the lazy river and the pools to snap fun shots of all your action! The pathways here do get hot on your bare tootsies, so bring water shoes if you have them. And order the sand pail sundae, share it with 4 or 5 loved ones, and enjoy the wide eyed stares of passersby while you happily devour every last bite.
A few general notes: Summer is very hot and humid, and crowded, but we knew that when we planned the trip and it was the only time frame that worked for us. We kept good attitudes and just rolled with it–despite what the climate did to my hair. It was pretty bad, gals. So, if you plan to go in the summer, drink lots of water, take some breaks in quiet air conditioned places, and if your group is melting down–just go back to your resort or hotel for a couple hours for a swim or a nap. You’ll enjoy everything better after a good break, and sometimes the resorts are just as fun as the parks!
We did not do a Dining Plan, and I still think this was the best decision for us. We actually came in under budget for food. A dining plan might work out to be a perfect option for your family, though, so be sure and do the math. We also opted not to purchase a refillable resort mug–it’s only good for sodas and coffee or milk, and only refillable at your resort. It wasn’t a good fit for our habits.
We did add Memory Maker to our reservations and I’m really glad we did–otherwise I’d never be in a photo, and we’d miss out on so many of the fun photo pass pics–like at Typhoon Lagoon and Jedi Training. I think the Memory Maker worked out to be a good value for us, especially as this was a trip we may not be able to take again. The only trick is plowing through all our claimed and downloaded photos now that we are home. There are hundreds!
All in all, the trip was epic, wonderful, amazing, magical, and exhausting. I’d love to share more with you, so if you have specific questions, or suggestion for us for next time, please let me know with a comment or an email. I’d be happy to go into greater detail on our pros and cons and favorites.