I’m starting to feel like a Disney blogger because this was my third trip to Disney in two years! That’s not a complaint; I have rediscovered my love for all things Disney through these trips. This vacation was for my entire immediate family – husband, parents, brother, sister-in-law, and two nephews – 8 in total. It’s always a bit of a challenge planning travel for a large group, and this trip was no exception. We had eight people who all wanted to do different things; this included an infant, under the age of one.
Since I love to plan travel almost as much as actually traveling, it was up to me to put our itinerary together. I was also responsible for making our dining reservations, booking our fastpasses and generally keeping up with our My Disney Experience portal. I can’t say enough good things about My Disney Experience; it makes planning a Disney vacation easy and fun. I mostly used the website on my computer to plan from home, but I also downloaded the app which was easy to use, especially once we were onsite and in the parks. Everything you could need is right on your smartphone, and the app is linked to your magic bands, another way Disney makes tourism convenient.
One thing we did add to our package this time was Memory Maker. This is a photo service that allows for unlimited downloads of pictures taken in the parks. These included ride photos and videos, and photographs taken by Disney photographers. This turned out to be a great addition to our vacation. There are plenty of photographers throughout the parks and we were able to get group photos taken with little hassle. Disney will also add magic shots which insert a Disney character or animation to your photos or videos. Our family memories can now last a lifetime through these fantastic pictures.
We also kept this trip to Disney a secret from my 4-year old nephew until Christmas morning. We surprised him with a giant Disney box filled with balloons and Disney toys. Needless to say, he was pretty excited!
Here is our itinerary, complete with notes about our experiences.
• Travel to Disney and Check-in to Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village. Travel was easy and we once again took the Magic Express to our hotel. We had our bags tagged and Disney picked them up at the airport and delivered them to our hotel. This was especially helpful traveling with small children. Not having extra luggage to deal with was a real time saver!
We chose to book a 2-bedroom villa and an adjoining studio villa to accommodate our family. My husband and I stayed in the studio, while everyone else stayed in the two-bedroom villa. This arrangement worked out great and we all had plenty of space and privacy. Kidani Village is a Disney Vacation Club property and we liked it because it was a little less crowded than Jambo House. It wasn’t as visually impressive, but we loved the quality of the villas. We had savanna view rooms but were a little disappointed that we didn’t see many animals. Since we spent most of our days away from the hotel and at the parks, we missed the animals at their most active times. We were able to see some animals on our last day, including zebras and giraffes, but it would have been nice to see them more often. The only other negative about Animal Kingdom Lodge was its distance from many of the parks, but with the free Disney bus system we were still only traveling about 20 minutes to Magic Kingdom, Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
• Afternoon at Disney Springs. We chose not to buy park passes for our first day and instead went to Disney Springs. We knew this would give us just enough entertainment after already having traveled for most of the day.
• Table-Service at T-Rex. My nephew loves dinosaurs, so going here for dinner was an easy choice. T-Rex is an immersive dining experience featuring all kinds of dinosaurs. There is a shop attached to the restaurant, including a Build-A-Dino. The food was surprisingly good, especially after a long day of traveling. We left T-Rex with many dinosaur souvenirs and full bellies.
• Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire – Four of the adults chose to stay a little later at Disney Springs in order to try this new hyper-reality experience. We had booked ahead of time, but still had to wait almost an hour to enter. Once we were in, however, it did not disappoint. The virtual reality component was incredibly realistic and having to physically walk through different rooms, which would change in temperature, move, or even interact with you, really heightened the experience. This isn’t a cheap addition to your itinerary, but if you love Star Wars and technology, it is worth the extra cost!
• Quick-Service breakfast at Be Our Guest – We began our second day with breakfast in Magic Kingdom. Be Our Guest is one of the most popular restaurants because who doesn’t like to dine in a castle! We used My Disney Experience to order our food in advance, so once we arrived all we had to do was find a table and our food magically appeared a few minutes later. The breakfast food was good and we were soon on our way to enjoy the Magic Kingdom.
• Magic Kingdom. We planned to spend a whole day at this park but it was still not enough to experience everything. We had fastpasses for Peter Pan’s Flight, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train/The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean. Because we had an infant and a small child in the group, we had to plan our rides accordingly. Both boys could go on a lot of rides in Magic Kingdom, and thankfully they both love rides. However, my older nephew had just reached 40 inches, which allowed him to go on many of the larger rides. He did have to be measured, and we made sure he knew to stand up tall and straight. The Disney cast members were diligent about checking him, but since he was just tall enough he was always able to ride.
• Festival of Fantasy Parade. We watched the parade from its starting point in Frontierland. This worked out well because it wasn’t overly crowded and while we were watching I was able to make an additional fastpass reservation for Big Thunder Mountain. It was a nice break in an otherwise very busy day. I do miss having the Main Street Electrical parade at Disney World though…
• Table-service at The Wave. Our dinner was in the nearby Contemporary Resort. This meal was geared more towards the adults in our group, and featured traditional American cuisine. Thankfully all Disney restaurants cater to small children, so even though this was a nicer restaurant we did not feel out of place with a 4-year old and an infant. We all liked our food; I especially enjoyed my gnocchi main course. Once dinner was over we decided to head back to the hotel; it had already been a long day and we still had three more days of Disney parks ahead of us.
• Epcot – International Festival of the Arts. We were lucky to be in Disney for Epcot’s Festival of the Arts. This festival is dedicated to all things art and it added a little extra interest to a park that is already my favorite.
We arrived just before opening and immediately headed towards Test Track. Because of the tiered system at Epcot for booking fastpasses, we had to choose between Soarin and Test Track. Thankfully this strategy of heading right to Test Track worked great, and we were on the ride in about 20 minutes. We also had fastpass reservations for Spaceship Earth, Mission Space – Green Team/ Living with the Land and Soarin.
Soarin gave us our first opportunity to try ride swap. Since all of the adults wanted to ride, but someone had to stay with the infant, we used the ride swap to be sure no one had to ride alone. It allows a group to enter the ride while someone stays behind with the infant. Then when the first group gets off the ride, the standby rider can enter with up to 2 guests. This worked great and made sure no one ever had to ride or hang out by him or herself. We were able to get on almost everything in Future World and then went over to spend the evening in World Showcase. Here we tasted and drank our way around the world, all while enjoying the beautiful artwork that was on display.
• Table-service at Garden Grill. The food in this restaurant is served family-style and Disney characters come around to each table. This style of service was great for our large group and the food was very tasty, but the portions were huge. My nephews loved interacting with Mickey, Goofy, Chip and Dale.
• Morning at the hotel. Sometimes you just want to sleep in and enjoy your hotel amenities.
• Table-Service at Hollywood & Vine. This was another character lunch, and it was buffet style. Again, this worked well for our big group and we got to see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Daisy. For a buffet, the food was good and there was a lot of variety.
• Hollywood Studios. We chose to only spend a few hours at Hollywood Studios because there weren’t as many kid-friendly rides. We made fastpass reservations for Star Tours, Toy Story Mania and Disney Junior Live. My husband and I actually decided to skip Disney Junior Live to try and get on Rockin’ Roller Coaster. The single rider line wasn’t open, but I did manage to get a fastpass with a little persistence on the app! We are looking forward to the expansion of Hollywood Studies with Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land.
• Boat to Epcot and dinner at Monsieur Paul. The boat was the easiest way to get between Hollywood Studios and Epcot, and it was also a fun way to see more of the Disney property. My husband and I had previously eaten at Monsieur Paul on our 2017 trip to Disney and we loved it. So while this is a signature restaurant we decided to give it a try all together. The kids actually fell asleep as we got to the restaurant, so the adults got to enjoy most of the dinner without having to worry about distracting the kids. The food was great, and I was especially happy about having my favorite dessert, La Vacherin Classique, again!
• Animal Kingdom. Our last day was spent at Animal Kingdom. We had booked fastpasses for Flight of Passage/Na’vi River Journey, Dinosaur and Kilimanjaro Safari. Dinoland USA was a hit with my nephew, although he was a little afraid of Dinosaur (he pretended not to be of course). The adults all really enjoyed Pandora and since my husband and I stayed later than the rest of the group we got to experience it at night as well. We also took some time to watch Finding Nemo the Musical. This was a nice early-evening break and the show was entertaining for all ages.
• Table-service Dining Package at Tusker House. Our main meal of the day was at Tusker House, a buffet and character experience. The food here is internationally inspired and Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy come around to all the tables. Again we were impressed with the variety and quality of the food here, although we did wait a while to be seated even though we had a reservation. This was a dining package that included special seating for Rivers of Light. We received our tickets at the restaurant and then had VIP seats for the evening animal-themed, water show. It was a great value and use of a table-service credit.
• Morning at the hotel, quick-service breakfast at the Mara and travel home. We finally had a leisurely morning at the hotel where we could enjoy the animals at Kidani Village from our balconies. It was wonderful to see these African animals up close. We had breakfast at the Mara, the quick-service restaurant at Jambo House, and we also used the remainder of our snack credits to stock up on snacks for the journey home.
This was another successful family trip to Disney World. You definitely need to plan ahead for Disney vacations, especially when you have a large, multigenerational group. I have a feeling we will be returning to Disney as a family again in a few years. I really cherish time with my nephews and Disney is a great place to make memories with them while they are still young.