In February of 2016 my family took a vacation to Disney World. It had been many years since any of us had been to the Orlando-based theme park, and with a two year old in the family it seemed like the perfect time to re-visit the happiest place on earth. Disney World sometimes gets the reputation of being an inauthentic travel experience, but not every journey has to be packed-full of culturally rich activities to make it worthwhile. Sometimes it’s ok to go to a place where you can ride a roller coaster and have breakfast with Mickey Mouse, just for the fun of it!
Planning a Disney World vacation starts months in advance of the actual trip. We used a travel agent to book the Disney resort package and airfare. This package included the hotel, Disney meal plan, Disney Magic Bands with fastpass+ access, and ground transportation. You also get access to an online portal, My Disney Experience, to help you organize your schedule and customize your Disney vacation. As someone who enjoys planning travel as much as actually traveling, I loved the My Disney Experience portal and phone app. If you have the Disney dining plan you can book restaurant reservations 180 days prior to your departure; this is very important to do if you want to dine at the most popular restaurants. Fastpass+ reservations can be done 60 days in advance, and allows you to bypass the lines at selected rides. All of your important information is stored on your Magic Band, which becomes your credit card, park ticket, and room key once you step on to Disney property. It is all so convenient and makes the experience of planning and enjoying your Disney vacation very easy.
You definitely want to be organized when visiting Disney World, and I can see how all of the technology-focused details could be overwhelming to some people, but Disney has done a great job of modernizing their systems to make the experience convenient for the modern traveler. Below is our itinerary along with some tips I learned from planning this trip.
• Flight lands in Orlando, and take Disney transportation to the Beach Club. We chose to stay at the Beach Club resort because of its central location, within walking distance of Epcot. The resort was beautiful and offered a variety of room types that suited our needs. It also has a fabulous pool, although because we were there in February we didn’t get to use it. The airport to hotel Magical Express bus transfer also made getting to the Disney property very easy. We didn’t even have to worry about our luggage; Disney takes care of picking that up and delivering it to the room. One other resort amenity is that you can pre-order groceries online and schedule them to be delivered right to your room.
• Use a Quick-Service meal at the Beach Club Marketplace.
• Dinner at Epcot’s Coral Reef as Table-Service meal. This restaurant has views of a living coral reef, and we all enjoyed the under-the-sea themed décor and menu items.
• Fastpass+ appointment for The Seas with Nemo and Friends. We finished the night next door with a visit to this Nemo themed ride and aquarium.
• Character breakfast with Mickey Mouse and friends at Chef Mickey’s as Table-Service meal. This is one of those restaurants that you want to book well in advance if you have small children. I can’t say the buffet-food was all that good, but my nephew had a great time meeting the characters and dancing with Mickey.
• Head to Magic Kingdom for the morning. Because breakfast was at the nearby Contemporary Resort we were able to ride the iconic monorail over to the Magic Kingdom.
• Fastpass+ appointment for It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. These were two child friendly rides that we wanted to all do together. It’s a Small World is a Disney Classic, but I was also very impressed with flying over Neverland in Peter Pan’s Flight.
• Utilize a Quick-Service meal for lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant. This is one of the most popular dining locations that is based upon the movie Beauty and the Beast. The food was decent, but the castle décor and convenient location in Fantasyland was the real draw for eating here.
• Fastpass+ appointments for Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. After lunch we decided to split up so we could all go on rides that peaked our own interest. My husband and I chose to go on Space Mountain, which is my all-time favorite Disney roller coaster.
• Table-Service meals at Chefs de France, the Garden Grill, or Spice Road Table. My husband and I ended our day back at Epcot for a late dinner at Spice Road Table, a Moroccan themed restaurant that had outdoor seating and great food. Its terrace also had a beautiful view of the Epcot Illuminations show. This is a perfect example of planning ahead; I knew that eating here late would give us the opportunity to have unobstructed views of the Illuminations show, and it was the perfect way to end day 2.
• Hang around Epcot in the morning. The third day was dedicated to visiting two Disney parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, so we had to strategically split our time. You can only book three fastpass+ reservations for one park per day in advance; once you use those three you can add more if they are available at kiosks located within each park. At Epcot, Disney also has in place a hierarchy system that allows you to select only one ‘tier 1’ ride and two ‘tier 2’ rides as your fastpass+ options. This means that we had to choose between some of the more exciting rides, which was disappointing for those of us who wanted to do more of the high intensity rides.
• Fastpass+ appointment for Spaceship Earth, followed by Test Track or Journey into Imagination with Figment. The adults ended up choosing Test Track as our ‘Tier 1’ ride and it did not disappoint. It is very interactive because you get to design your own car, and it delivered on the adrenaline rush as well.
• Fastpass+ appointment for Living with the Land. We wouldn’t have needed to use our fastpass+ for this ride as there was no line, but with the tiered system it was the best choice of the remaining family friendly rides to choose from.
• We all utilize a Quick-Service meal in Epcot’s World Showcase for lunch. Half of our family group chose to eat in England, while the others chose to venture into France. This is the beauty of the World Showcase; you can experience eleven countries, all within a short walking distance.
• Spend the afternoon at Hollywood Studios. This park is just a short boat ride away from the Beach Club resort. We didn’t really have a plan here since we could not use the advance reservation fastpass+ feature. Once there we rode The Great Movie Ride, Star Wars Launch Bay and Tower of Terror. I will note that the youngest member of our group stayed at the hotel with his parents this afternoon. Hollywood Studios doesn’t have as many attractions that would interest a two year old.
• Utilize a Quick-Service meal at Hollywood Studios.
• End the night at the Fantasmic show. This was another entertaining Disney performance and fireworks display, but one that might not be appropriate for very young kids.
• Head to Animal Kingdom for the day.
• Fastpass+ appointment for Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is a great attraction for everyone because you get the opportunity to see wild animals up close.
• Lunch will be a Table-Service meal at Rainforest Café. Nothing remarkable to say about the food here, but its animal theme carried over from spending the day in Animal Kingdom.
• Fastpass+ appointment for Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost or Expedition Everest. Again my husband and I went off on our own because we wanted to go on a more exciting ride. Expedition Everest was a really interesting roller coaster, especially because for part of it you get to ride backwards. This is a ride I will definitely do again!
• Fastpass+ appointment for Festival of the Lion King. This would be a fun show for older kids who know the original movie and can appreciate the live music, costumes and characters; I think it was a little too advanced for the child in our group to really enjoy though.
• Dinner at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Beach Club Resort. Our last meal was at this gourmet steakhouse. The food was fantastic, although pricey. This was not part of our Disney Dining Plan, but we wanted to enjoy one fine-dining experience.
• Our original plan was to go back to Magic Kingdom and see the Main Street Electrical Light Parade. We ended up not doing this and just staying at the hotel and enjoying its amenities our last night. I regret this now since the parade has left Disney World, but hopefully something new will be coming to replace it soon.
• Breakfast at resort, check out and fly home.
Overall we had a wonderful trip to Disney World and sharing just this brief itinerary certainly doesn’t do the trip, or Disney World, true justice. I definitely have some bucket-list attractions within the resort that I didn’t get to on this trip, but can’t wait to try out on our next visit. I think that is one of the best things about Disney World; there is just so much to do, that no two visits could ever be the same. Hopefully we’ll be able to visit again soon!