Family time is my favourite and spending precious, uninterrupted time together on holiday comes top of my wish list. The past few years we’ve stuck to Europe, keeping flight times and time zone changes to a minimum. But this year, with my two bonus-daughter’s growing up and completion on our house just weeks away, it was now or never and booked 10 days at Walt Disney World, Orlando!
At 6 and 7, the girls were the perfect age, handling the long-haul flight like seasoned travellers, captivated by the magic of Disney whilst being tall enough to experience all but the most thrilling of rides.
It was epic… and exhausting!
We were pretty well prepared beforehand, but during our trip we discovered loads more tips and tricks to help you stay sane while visiting Walt Disney World with the kids, so if you’re considering a trip to the happiest place on earth, then here are my Walt Disney World survival tips;
Before you go:
I did a lot of research before we left, reading blogs, forums and scouring Pinterest to find out what we’d need for a long day in the parks.
Number one, comfy shoes! You’ll spend a minimum of 12-14 hours on your feet if you do a full day (Magic Kingdom opens at 8am and closes at 11pm most days!) so comfort over style is key. I didn’t fancy trainers in the heat, so grabbed a couple of pairs of Haviana’s sandals for me, and Birkenstocks for the girls. They were lightweight, plastic and waterproof with plenty of cushioning, so perfect for the changeable Florida weather and endless walking!
As much as we would have loved to have gone without a bag, we found we actually needed loads of stuff in the parks each day. We shared backpack duties and the girls each had their own across-body bag for their spending money, badges etc. In hindsight I’d have invested in a bag with comfier straps! I was a bit like Mary Poppins with the contents, you never knew what would appear next!
- Blister plasters
- Baby wipes (for toilets, tables & sticky hands!)
- Zip lock bags – these were a Pinterest tip I nearly didn’t bring, but they were so useful! As well as keeping our valuables safe and dry, it was easy to pull them out of the bag without scattering cards & cash everywhere! We also used them for snacks, keeping souvenirs safe and for wet ponchos (more on those in a bit)
- Collapsible water bottles. Kids always need a drink at the most inconvenient of times. Like when you’ve been in the queue for Mission: Space for 2 hours. I bought these collapsible bottles on eBay just before we left and they are now on my list for every family trip. We could fill them up throughout the day at the water fountains around the parks or as a treat ask for a cup of ice water at one of the kiosks for a quick (and free!) refresh.
- Glow sticks. We’d been warned in advance that as soon as dusk hits the shops are lit up with an array of glowing, flashing, light-up things, and while we were happy for the girls to spend their holiday money if they wanted, we knew we didn’t want to waste $20+ each on something that would inevitably get left on the monorail / tram / plane. The girls love glow sticks, and they were also a great thing to share with other kids we got chatting to at the fireworks!
- Misting fans. I bought these from Smiggle for the girls and they actually ended up wearing them for the whole trip! They were welcomed during the few intense bursts of sunshine, and also in the long queues which tended to get quite humid!
Also – buy your tickets before you go for better UK deals. As soon as your tickets have arrived you can sign up to the Disney Experience app to manage your FastPass bookings up to 30 days in advance (these are a must!!), check waiting times and find out pretty much anything Disney!
On the plane:
Having never done long-haul, we were concerned about how the girls would handle the 9 ½ hour trip, but we needn’t have! Before we left I packed each of them a backpack filled with their favourite soft toys, a new travel pillow, activity packs (Usborne travel activity books and cards are FAB!) and a lunch box filled with some small (airport security friendly) snacks, as well as their iPads and headphones. Between all that and the in-flight entertainment both girls were perfectly happy for the majority of the flight.
We flew with BA and booked the kids meals – which meant they got served first and their meal tray consisted of more child-friendly options like chicken nuggets, fruit shoot and a KitKat keeping them occupied while we enjoyed our first holiday glass of wine!
With a few hours to go (and well past their bedtime at home) we tried to get them down for a little nap, but with the distractions of the plane it was proving tough until I pulled out the noise-cancelling headphones. Within 5 minutes they were asleep! In fact they were so good we both wished we’d packed more things to do ourselves!
At Magic Kingdom:
On our first day, of course, it had to be the Magic Kingdom!! After a long flight and late night we knew it was ambitious to be there for the opening parade at 8.55am, making the gates about 15 minutes later. It didn’t matter – the journey in itself was an experience!
We decided to stay at a non-Disney resort, so driving through the Walt Disney World gates on the first morning was a highlight – not to mention arriving at the Magic Kingdom which is an adventure all by itself! Parking in the immense parking lot, you need to take a tram train to the main transportation centre where you can board either a Monorail or Ferry taking you across to the entrance. We picked the ferry and were pleased we did, although the queue was a bit hot and sticky we enjoyed the views and the breeze on the way across the lake.
Although our tickets were on easy-to-use cards, we actually opted to invest in MagicBands as soon as we arrived in the park, and were so glad we did! They made it so much easier to check in for FastPasses and we didn’t have to worry about them getting lost. Plus they’re a lovely momento and can be re-used if we ever go back.
We also bought the girls an autograph book each – the best investment! They loved meeting the characters, but being able to get their autograph made it even more special.
There’s so much to do here, we came back for a second day and an extra evening so we could fit it all in, but here are our highlights.
Must-do rides: Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad
Fun for the kids: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Tomorrowland Speedway
Things to see: Happily Ever After Fireworks
At Epcot we got our first taste of the unpredictable Florida spring weather – getting caught in a downpour that disappeared as quickly as it arrived we realised we needed to invest in ponchos or end up regularly soaked!
Most of the attractions here are centred around the iconic sphere that houses the Spaceship Earth ride (top tip: we had a FastPass for this but managed to walk straight on about 10 minutes after park opening leaving us a spare one to book instead!). There aren’t any thrillers, maybe with the exception of Mission:Space, so Epcot was a relaxing change to the Magic Kingdom with plenty to keep the kids busy. We also loved the food options here! With most of the park situated around a lake in areas representing different ‘countries’ we headed to Japan for lunch and treated ourselves to sushi and noodles which was a welcome change to burgers, hotdogs and fries.
Must-do rides: Spaceship Earth, Mission: Space
Fun for the kids: Journey into Imagination with Figment, The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Things to see: Character Meet with Anna & Elsa
At Animal Kingdom:
Animal Kingdom was definitely our favourite park – we originally planned one day here but ended up going back for a second run. The main attraction here is Kilimanjaro Safaris, a tour around the park’s wildlife reserve aboard your very own 4×4 vehicle tracking Africa’s wildest animals including giraffe, zebra, elephants, lions and rhinos, the girls loved seeing the animals ‘up close’ although I’m not convinced they really believed they were real!
There’s loads going on at this park, possibly more than any other, with street performers and character meets on almost every corner – which made it a lot of fun! We got to play the bongos, watch African bands and even dance with Chip n Dale!
For younger children, the Boneyard playground is a total saviour. With plenty of space to run around and explore, they might even bump into Pluto playing! It also kept the kids occupied while we took a cool 10 minute break with an ice cold Coke Zero. We hadn’t anticipated SO many great rides in Animal Kingdom, the girls were tall enough to ride Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur and Expedition Everest (twice!) which secured our return visit.
We wanted to do a ‘special’ meal in one of the parks, and picked Rainforest Café at the entrance to the park. The whole experience is very cool, eating under the rainforest canopy surrounded by jungle animals and the occasional thunderstorm! The shop in particular was a huge hit – with plenty of animals and brightly coloured souvenirs catching the girls eye! We did venture into the new ‘Pandora’ world here too, which if you’ve seen the movies is an incredible experience – check out the floating mountains! The girls had no idea what it was all about however, so we didn’t hang out here for long.
Must-do rides: Kali River Rapids (you will get wet!), Expedition Everest, Dinosaur
Fun for the kids: The Boneyard, Triceratops Spin
Things to see: Lots of character meets! A Bugs Life 3D Cinema (may be scary for younger children – our 6-year old cried!) and seeing how many animals you can spot carved into the Tree of Life.
At Blizzard Beach:
Our favourite days on previous holidays have been our visits to waterparks, so with a choice of 2 at Disney we planned a trip to Blizzard Beach which seemed a better option for our 6 & 7 year olds.
Unfortunately, the day we decided to visit saw two huge thunderstorms roll in – we had literally dipped our toes in the water when we were all called out and advised to take shelter from the storms (no outdoor slides or rides can be open in any Disney Parks if there’s lightening within 5 miles). The staff were brilliant – playing games with the children and keeping everyone entertained, so by the time we had lunch and were starting to get a bit fed up the storm cleared and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with the park almost entirely to ourselves.
With no queues on any of the slides we spent 3 hours going up and down the ‘mountain’ discovering our favourites – from family rafts to family races we had loads of fun despite the rocky start. The part is designed like a ski-resort in Florida, complete with chairlift and colour-coded ski runs, which was a fun twist which the girls loved!
At Hollywood Studios:
On our final day we had about 6 hours from check out until we needed to be at the airport, so decided a quick trip to Hollywood Studios would be about right. There’s not so much here for younger children, so we used our FastPasses to book into some shows including Beauty & the Beast Live and the Indiana Jones Stunt show.
To satisfy my other half’s Star Wars craving, we also headed to Star Wars – The Adventure Continues, a 3D simulator flight. We weren’t sure if the girls would like it, knowing nothing about Star Wars, but they loved it (phew!)
A final Mickey ice-cream and it was bye-bye Disney and back on the long flight home.
If you’re planning a Walt Disney World trip with the kids and need any tips, advice or help then I’d love to share more of our experiences with you – I have SO much more to tell you! Just leave me a comment below or get in touch via the contact page.