Disney highlights

Our school district has a 4.5-day break for President’s Day: a half-day Thursday, then Friday and Monday off. So we decided to pull the kids out for the half day and spend 5 days at Disney World in Florida.

I’ll call this an “excursion” not a “vacation” since in my mind vacations should be relaxing, and there wasn’t much relaxing on this trip. But we generally had a good time. Today I’ll share some highlights. Tomorrow I’ll share some tips and tricks for maximizing Disney time. My 11-year-old will be sharing a ranking of his favorite rides (along with max wait times he’d recommend enduring) in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, the highlights!

The flight upgrade. My husband spends a ridiculous amount of time on United airplanes. As a result, he was the first person offered an upgrade when a seat became available on our Newark to Orlando flight. Family decision: I got the business class seat and he sat with the four kids in coach. This was easily the most calm 2.5 hours of the trip.

Continuing my running streak. I worried about the logistics of running every day in Disney, but it wasn’t difficult. We just figured out what time we needed to get up each morning, and I got up 30-40 minutes earlier. There was a running path around the Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary, where we stayed. It wasn’t an amazing running trail or anything, but I did see nice sunrises on the lake.

Walking to Magic Kingdom. This is the major upside of Contemporary/Bay Lake. You can walk to Magic Kingdom instead of taking one of Disney’s tragic transportation options. On Day #1, we were able to come back mid-day and go to the pool, which was a much nicer place to spend the mid-day hours. (I’ll discuss the transport hassles in my tips and tricks post).

Eating at Cinderella’s Royal Table. We booked our dining far ahead of time, so the 6 of us were able to eat there. I’d never been in the castle before, so that was cool (the fact that the waitress gave my boys toy swords was much less cool — the battle commenced immediately…sigh).

Bravery on the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. We had a Fast Pass (essentially, a reservation; Disney gives you 3 per day with some stipulations and exceptions) for this so we didn’t have to wait 150 minutes (who does that with small children??) My 4-year-old saw this kiddie roller coaster and got very scared. But he talked himself up to it, got on, and loved it. Same thing happened with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, another accessible roller coaster. He said that was his favorite ride!

The late night Magic Kingdom. Disney ran a special ticketed event at Magic Kingdom from 9-12 p.m. on Thursday. My husband got tickets for him and the big boys and they were able to ride all the rides with no wait. There was also a special ticketed event on Saturday at Disney Hollywood Studios, but by the time I went to buy tickets they were sold out. Too bad!

German beer and pretzels. Someday I will go back to Epcot’s World Showcase all by myself and try the various beers in other pavilions, and wine flights, and food vendors. (This is less far-fetched than it sounds; Orlando is a major conference destination and I speak somewhere in the region at least once a year). With the kids, I was able to sit for 20 minutes in Germany eating pretzels and drinking beer before they got bored. But I guess 20 minutes is better than nothing.

Test Track. Still one of the best rides, and we got our Fast Pass for evening so we could speed around the Florida night. Soarin’ is also good at Epcot. Frozen Ever After, not so much (probably not worth the 60+ minute waits it gets; it’s exactly like the old Maelstrom ride, but with Elsa thrown in). Akershus was decent food but I was unhappy with my kids’ Epcot World Showcase behavior by that point so I confess that I did not savor the moment.

Jedi Training. We had seen this many times — kids in Jedi uniforms get up on stage and do light saber battles — but we’d never done it. So on Saturday, we got up early and my husband raced over to Disney Hollywood Studios with the big kids (via Lyft — definitely the way to get around the parks) and got them signed up. It was fun to watch them do light saber battles! The force was with my daughter, who looked incredibly scared when she realized she was going to fight Darth Vader up on stage. But she did it! We talked afterwards about how courage is feeling afraid, but doing something anyway.

Slinky Dog Dash. Definitely another Fast Pass pick — I cannot imagine waiting 180 minutes in the hot sun with kids to do a 2 minute ride. But this new ride at Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios was a fun ride! If we’d gotten tickets to the late night event I would have ridden it half a dozen times.

Bubbles. I escaped mid-day with the two little kids on Saturday and went back to the hotel. We played in the pool and then they played with a Mickey-shaped bubble maker for a solid 30 minutes. It was a nice, low-key break in the middle of theme park madness.

Watching the fireworks on my balcony. Another benefit of Bay Lake Tower — though I only managed to see them there once (we were still at the parks the other nights). I sat with some wine on the balcony while the little kids watched cartoons. After the flight down, this was the second most relaxing chunk of the trip.

Avatar Flight of Passage. I got a screen shot of the Disney app showing the wait for this ride clocking in at 345 minutes. Oh my goodness. However, it is really awesome — like you are flying through vivid Pandora, smelling it, feeling it, etc. We had Fast Passes for all of us, but the 4-year-old was too short. So I went in with the three big kids, and they loved it. Then we learned that when my husband went in with his Fast Pass, he could take the big kids again! So they got to go twice, saving approximately 11.5 hours.

Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is a perpetual favorite of ours (and another Fast Pass pick — this holiday weekend was crazy on lines). You travel on a little truck and see real animals, including white rhinos, in a safari park environment. We timed our Fast Pass for sunset, so the animals were more active than they tend to be during the mid-day Florida heat.

Buzz Lightyear. We got to Magic Kingdom when it opened on our last day (Monday). By being there right when it opened, we were able to ride Buzz Lightyear twice before there were significant lines. Then we used our Fast Pass, so we could ride it a third time! The particular highlight was seeing my little guy hit some crazy point value target; he ended with 700,000+ points! I have no idea how this happened.

Seeing cousins. My husband’s brother and his family were coming to Disney right after us. So we saw them at Magic Kingdom on our last (half) day. It was fast, but the kids got an extra kick out of it.

Now we are back home, and I’d say back into the swing of things, except that school is canceled because of snow today. Sigh…

Photo: Sunrise over Bay Lake on one of my early morning runs. Follow me on Instagram (@lvanderkam) for more photos of the excursion, which I’ll be posting all week.

6 thoughts on “Disney highlights

  1. Thanks for the recap! We’re going to Disney with our boys after Thanksgiving this year and they’ll be 5 and 3 – hoping it will be fun and not too exhausting. We’re going with our in-laws and their two girls + my husbands parents, so lots of people to coordinate 😉 Looking forward to reading more details tomorrow

  2. When I was 13 my family visited DisneyWorld, I think it was still brand new! We stayed at the Contemporary, really amazed at the monorail that went RIGHT THROUGH THE MIDDLE of the hotel, so cool. The staff was specatular.

    The next time I went, it was for a professional conference (where I happened to bump into a girl I met on a homestay program, we were “sisters” staying with the same family in France when we were high schoolers . . . yes, DisneyWorld is magical).

    Two more visits, chaperoning 8th grade band and orchestra students. If your kids have an opportunity to do the music workshops at Disney, do it, and chaperone! Great experience (except you can’t have a beer in Epcot,p; you’re chaperoning after all.) And you get to enjoy the parks as an adult, because 8th graders are fine on their own. Yes, your kids won’t need you with them ALL the time!

    Someday I’ll go, just to go!

  3. Next time take the kids to the Biergarten for lunch. It’s a buffet that’s actually pretty good and there’s a great show with traditional German music and instruments. You can, of course, get a great beer. My husband insists we go every time and it does keep our young kids well entertained.

    1. @Amelia- thanks for the tip! We’ve always just gone for the pretzels but it’s good to know the buffet is a real option. And I’m a big fan of German biergartens in general!

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