Disney World, 2024 edition

We just returned from a 5-day Disney (and Universal Studios) trip to Florida. I didn’t really go to theme parks growing up, but my kids enjoy them — and my eldest particularly likes Disney. So, since it probably won’t be so easy to coordinate family travel with him after next year, we decided to make what we called our last Disney family trip over President’s Day weekend. We flew down Wednesday night and returned Monday night.

I first want to give a little shout out to this aging body of mine. Regular blog readers remember that a month ago I couldn’t walk due to back and nerve pain. I’m still not recovered. But I dug deep and managed to walk approximately 20,000 steps per day while in the parks. I just brought my hot pad and tried to recover at night.

Travel with a family is never easy. First, there’s packing for so many people (I’ll be posting my family packing hacks as my paywalled post this week for Vanderhacks — check that out tomorrow!). There’s sleeping in more crowded quarters than usual. We made a point of taking this trip once our youngest was 4 (sleeping through the night) and, more importantly, 40 inches tall so he could ride most of the rides. But still, 4 is young for walking around the parks all day, or understanding that when it rains and you’re there for a 5-day vacation with certain reservations you kind of have to keep going…

Did I mention the rain? On our Universal Studios Day (Saturday) it was pouring for big chunks of the day. Same on Sunday, our Epcot day. I brought ponchos for everyone and we soldiered along but wet socks and wet shoes can make for cranky little kids (I dried them out by stuffing paper towels in overnight).

It’s also hard to satisfy teenagers and a preschooler simultaneously. We did our best, but there were some definite meltdowns — like the 4-year-old lying on the floor of Mexico in Epcot, on the floor of the Orlando Airport…etc. He was so overtired at night two of the nights that he was just thrashing as I was trying to get him down. I am now sporting a lovely gouge on my cheek from where he got mad and scratched me.

But there were good moments too, and the big kids basically got to do everything they wanted to do (we booked with Jamie at Pineapple Escapes to get reservations for a lot of things right when they opened).

Basics: We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge, which is pretty close to Magic Kingdom. Our 2-bedroom villa had a kitchen, and a washer/dryer, and could fit 7 people (adults in one room, three kids in another, two on the sofa bed). I’m sure the pools were lovely but it was too cold to use them and we were rarely back at the hotel during the day anyway! Wilderness Lodge looks comically like Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone, which it is imitating, only…kind of nicer?

We rented a van to get to/from the airport, to/from Universal, and so we didn’t have to add in extra travel time on Monday (which was a shorter day).

Schedule: On Thursday we went to Hollywood Studios. We did the Genie/Lightning lane option whenever possible — Jamie would text us at 7 a.m. to let us know that we had our passes for our individual lightning lane selection (usually for the most in-demand ride at the park) and our first Genie+ selection (usually the second most in-demand ride…), then we could get our next selection in the app two hours after the park opened. So for Hollywood Studios we knew we had a booking for Rise of the Resistance, and for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad (we couldn’t get Slinky Dog Dash alas…but the big kids got to go on it later). We ate at Hollywood Brown Derby for lunch, got lightning lane passes for Toy Story Midway Mania and for Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run. My 14-year-old went on Smuggler’s Run something like 5 times in the individual rider lane — always a good option for rides like that! The little boys were melting down by 6:30 p.m. and I was starting to be in significant pain, so we wound up leaving while the big kids stayed for dinner, then they got in the Slinky Dog Dash line right at 9:00 as the park was closing (so the line was only about 40 minutes….).

Then the big kids and my husband headed over to Epcot for a late night option. We bought passes for a 10 p.m. – 1 a.m. after hours session there, which is great if you can get one. They were able to ride Guardians of the Galaxy, Test Track, Soarin’ and Ratatouille without lines (multiple times for some of them).

Of course, that meant they got back at 1:30 a.m., and we were up bright and early for Magic Kingdom on Friday. Our individual lightning lane time for Tron was 8:45-9:45 a.m. so the big kids were a little fragged! I took the 4-year-old on Buzz Lightyear, then we all went on Buzz Lightyear together, then got coffees — my 14-year-old decided to try coffee because he was so tired. He decided he still prefers Coke. We elected to wait in line for Haunted Mansion, which took a full hour, and reminded me why I am kind of allergic to waiting in line with small kids…My 9-year-old had decided to buy a motorized fan that squirts water as his one souvenir (the kids could buy one thing during the trip — family rule). That would be fine if he was only spraying himself but…he’d spray other members of our family. And sometimes other people — I hope inadvertently but…hopefully you don’t go to Disney if you’re not prepared for misbehaving small kids??

Fortunately after Haunted we had a Lightning lane pass for Seven Dwarves Mine Train, because it had like a 2-hour line. Fun, but I can’t imagine waiting that long for it! After we went on the 4-year-old announced that he wanted to go again but that was not happening!

We had lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Castle and got to meet all the princesses there. We took lots of photos! After, we did Peter Pan (the fast pass again), and then Pirates of the Caribbean (same). We waited in a 30-minute line for It’s a Small World, at which point we split up with the older boys going to our virtual queue time for Tron, and I took the 12-year-old and 4-year-old over to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

This was quite the hot ticket — your kids get made over into princesses or a knight. My daughter had gotten to do this on a Disney cruise a few years ago and loved it. She found the experience bittersweet because she was definitely aging out of little girl princess territory. Fortunately, they had costumes in roughly a size 14. She became Belle and the 4-year-old became a dashing knight and then they got their hair done in the salon in the castle. Exciting!

After, we headed over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (another lightning lane selection…) and then to dinner at Be Our Guest. Unfortunately, by this point the 4-year-old was done and so dinner was pretty distracted, which made it really fun to look at the bill…Disney is not cheap! I took the little boys home and the big kids stayed with my husband to ride things with shorter lines by that point (I think Space Mountain was involved?) and shop.

Saturday we got a much slower start as we had no timed reservations at Universal (and the kids really needed to sleep after a few short nights). We didn’t get there until after 11, at which point it was pouring down rain. We rode the Transformers ride, but after going to Diagon alley, the 4-year-old was just screaming. My husband wound up taking him and the 9-year-old, though they did recover and stayed for another few hours. I took the older kids. We rode the Harry Potter train over to the other Harry Potter world and then elected to wait in the very long line for Hagrid’s motorbike ride (which had just opened up when the rain let up for a little).

It was literally 90+ minutes. My older boys had wound up in the single rider line – but that moved as slowly as the standby line (there was no express pass option). I waited with my daughter but we had some good conversations so it wasn’t that bad (and it had mostly stopped raining for a while). This was one of my favorite rides of the trip! It’s so fun to zoom through the scenery on a motorbike. I tried to savor it as there was no way we were waiting in that line again! After Hagrid, we did the Forbidden Journey ride twice (express pass option) and then did Spiderman, and Kong, and then walked all the way back to the other Universal Park to ride on the re-opened Gringots. I was definitely feeling it by the time we made it out to the parking garage to get an Uber back to the hotel (my husband and the little boys had abandoned ship hours before).

On Sunday, after another round of Mickey waffles in the morning, we went to Epcot. It was even colder than the day before and just as rainy. The older kids rode Guardians of the Galaxy (again!), we all went on Soarin’ twice (once waiting in line, once lightning lane), and did Spaceship Earth and Nemo. We were definitely fading by late afternoon, but rallied with some Starbucks, then did the Beauty and the Beast sing-along. There was a slight meltdown before dinner — plus we had to wait an extra 30-plus minutes after our dinner reservation time to be seated at Akershus. In the rain! The delay meant we could not get on both Ratatouille (where we had a lightning lane pass) and Test Track before the 9 p.m. park close, so we wound up going with Test Track since the 9-year-old was more excited about that. And it is an exciting ride! You zoom in a convertible type car through the Florida night. So, despite the rain, we ended the day on a high note. Plus our bus showed up 2 minutes after we got to the bus depot, which is good, since post park close it could have been…a while.

Finally, on Monday (after a rough night for me…let’s just say my other half was not sleeping quietly…and the caffeine from late day Starbucks wasn’t helping), we packed up and drove over to Animal Kingdom. After learning we had AM passes for Avatar and the Kilimanjaro Safari, I felt a lot more relaxed about the day, especially since the rain stopped by 9 a.m., leaving the weather basically cool and perfect. Finally! Avatar is one of my favorite rides at Disney. Nothing like swooping through Pandora on the back of a banshee! We got to see a baby elephant on the safari. We had lunch at Tusker House — another favorite of mine — and posed with Mickey and Donald Duck and others. Then we used our lightning lane passes at Expedition Everest, and then on Dinosaur, which the 4-year-old loved. He said his favorite part was when the T-Rex almost ate us at the end!

We drove over to the airport and made our flight home in plenty of time…because it was an hour delayed (sigh). Even so, that meant we were home by 9:30 p.m. — so it could have been worse. Because everyone had to be up for school the next day! Back to real life. Phew!

18 thoughts on “Disney World, 2024 edition

  1. I love your trip review and the realism of what it looked like with all 5 kids. Disney is magical – but also a lot of work! Thanks for letting me help with all of the planning and I love hearing about the memories you made and your experiences!

  2. I loved reading your itinerary!!! I am so happy you all had such a blast!!! And that your back was okay to muddle through 20K+ steps a day – yay!!!

  3. Phew! That was a lot of moving parts to wrap my head around! I find your realism and optimism for such trips inspiring. Tell me that you had a big rest day upon return. I’d love to try the Harry Potter Studios. Also glad to hear that the walking was manageable.

    1. @Maya – Tuesday not so restful as 3 kids had pediatrician appointments. But Wednesday and Thursday have been blessedly open!

  4. I occasionally wonder if other people (not just me) are injured by their toddlers…

    We are heading to Disney for a week on Monday and Jamie also helped us plan and book everything! Highly recommend! I have only been to Disney once for one day when I was 8, and I was feeling very overwhelmed with everything because it’s very different now and I wasn’t in charge of planning that trip, haha! I still am a little overwhelmed but I know we’re going to do the things my people are excited about (my husband is going to build a lightsaber, my five-year-old is going to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique). Plus our dining reservations are all set. So it will be great, even if (when) there are some rough times.

    1. @Caitlin – awesome! I think Disney is at least partly about the remembering self. The experiencing self will have some fun moments too (some of the rides are really awesome!) but then you’ll have more memories of that week than you would otherwise…and that’s something too.

  5. Love all the details. Highs and lows but overall a pleasant adventure. I am so glad your back held up. I recalled you mentioning a February trip and was curious if you were going to make it or not!

    1. @Lori C- I wasn’t sure I would make it for a while, but time is the secret ingredient in everything it seems…

  6. Appreciate this re-cap. We are planning a family trip for the Fall that is attached a dance thing for my one kid and some of these insights will help me plan better!

  7. Oh boy! I am not sure I can quite imagine doing Disney with 5 kids including a quite young child. Hahaha. We’ve done Disney 3x as a family with our first ever trip when they were in 1st and 2nd grade. I felt like for me that was the youngest I would want to go- though I realize when you have kids more spread out, you kind of have to go eventually if you want to make it before older kids age out! I loved their ages there though- Asher the youngest was 6, almost turning 7, so he was able to hang in with the longer days and later fireworks nights etc. I don’t recall many meltdowns, and with the boys so close in age it was easy to find things that worked for both, obviously! Glad you had a good trip! Bummer about the rain- our last trip there was in January and I remember it was pretty COLD several of the days! I recall saying I didn’t want to ever go back in that season because if I am in Florida, I do not want to be cold. We get enough of that in WI! Ha. But then again I would never want to do Disney in the heat of summer, either. We’ve done October (the BEST season and my favorite of our trips, I’d say), March and then January.

    1. @Grateful Kae- Spring break might be slightly nicer but we have found it to be so crowded then that it just doesn’t feel worth it. And we don’t get any days off in October (though we do this upcoming year but don’t tell my kids!). I would say that February without the rain was perfect. February with the rain was…less perfect.

  8. I am reading this from the France pavilion of Epcot after I hit my melting point, sent the kids (4 and 1) with my husband for an hour and am eating an icecream alone on the floor. It is glorious.

    1. @AW- solidarity! And the solo ice cream sounds amazing. I have a fantasy of going to Epcot solo sometime and just wandering around sampling adult beverages and appetizers.

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