We recently took our children to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot, their first time there. Since we now live in Atlanta, it is a fairly reasonable 7 hour car ride.
I will admit, I was very anxious about the trip. Let’s just say I am a little anxious by nature when I am dealing with the unpredictable. The crowds, the lines, trying to figure out how to coordinate everything, etc, etc. I went to Disney World as a child in the intense heat of a Florida summer, and that is pretty much all I remember. That and whining, waiting in line and being hot and tired. I do remember having fun too and specific rides, but it’s hard to forget the negative things when you are a little kid. Here are my tips if you do go..
1. DON’T go in the summertime. We went in mid-November and the weather was perfect. 70s and sunny for Disney, 60s and cloudy for Epcot, but sweatshirts were all we needed. There weren’t huge crowds by summer standards. It was crowded by mid-day but not nuts. Another added bonus, the park was decked out for Christmas even though it wasn’t Thanksgiving yet. Normally I find that annoying, but at Disney it made our time there even more special and festive!
2. Get a FAST PASS! They save so much time. The longest we waited in line with one was 10 minutes. There were hoards of people waiting in the regular line right next to us and I have no idea why. Fast Passes are free, they are at the most popular rides, you just put your tickets in, they pop out Fast Passes and give you an hour window when you should return. There is plenty to do until then. Normally we didn’t have to wait more than an hour to come back. So worth it!
3. DON’t wait in line for something if you don’t know what it is. At the New Fantasyland, which we were fortunate enough to preview before the grand opening on December 6, they have a new Little Mermaid attraction called Under the Sea.
We went on the ride through which was fun, and then saw a line for Ariel’s Grotto and decided to stand in that. We thought it was another ride and waited 20 minutes. When we finally got to the end, it was a photo opp with a real life Ariel. I thought my 10 year old son was going to have a stroke. My 7 year old daughter was so anxious. She loves Ariel but wasn’t expecting or wishing to have her photo take with her! She was a trooper and did it anyway. I think she didn’t want to hurt Ariel’s feelings.
4. Check out Be Our Guest Restaurant from Beauty and the Beast in the New Fantasyland. If your little one is a fan of Belle, this is the place for you! I thought this gargoyle was going to open his mouth and start speaking to me, his face was so sad and expressive!
We had lunch in the Ballroom, but you have your choice of three enchanting spaces. The food was excellent and healthy! My daughter’s croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese) was on whole grain bread and she chose a fruit side option. I had a veggie quiche and field green salad which was very fresh. The menu has a French edge but mostly it was just good quality classic food. My son was devastated that cheeseburgers weren’t on the menu, but he had braised pork and loved it. The ballroom has elegant chandeliers (although personally I think crystal would have been better and sparkled more) and cute baby cherub mosaics on the ceiling.
The waiters are all dressed as they would be in the Beast’s castle, and deliver your delights by pushing elegant wooden, brass and glass covered carts.
Best of all are the huge windows that appear to show a cobalt night sky with falling snow. My daughter was entranced by these the most. I am assuming reservations would be highly recommended once it officially opens!
5. Stay at the Hilton Bonnet Creek.
We were lucky enough to have Hilton points and stayed for free, but the rooms are reasonable for a practically brand new, modern, gorgeous hotel on Disney property. We were very fortunate and received an upgraded room on the penthouse level since it was available. Which is another bonus to going in the fall when the hotel isn’t completely booked up! It would have been nice to have a view of Magic Kingdom, but beggers can’t be choosers! I think this sunrise is sufficient compensation!
There is an amazing lazy river pool, which the kids did use once even though it was a tad chilly out. The pool is heated to 82 degrees and there are hot tubs as well. I kept myself nice and toasty with pool towels wrapped around me like a sari and lots of Pinot Grigio. There is also a fun poolside bar with two fire pits for extra warmth. I especially loved the little elephant towels by one of the pools..
The breakfast buffet at Harvest Bistro was amazing with huge strawberries and fruit, an omelette station and antipasto bar, among other yummy choices. We also ate dinner in the same restaurant one night and had the best French onion soup ever (other than my father’s, hi Dad 😉 ). My husband had a delicious tender pork shank and the quality was excellent. The staff is warm and attentive and very polite. The hotel is attached to the Waldorf Astoria, but we never ventured over there. I’m sure it is equally beautiful if not more so.
6. Check when the parks open and get there as soon as they do. The schedule changes by the week and time of year, so be sure to check and do not assume. We did that for Magic Kingdom and it was so worth it. The whole park was at our fingertips with barely anyone there. We got there about 40 minutes after Epcot opened, and it was already more crowded, but definitely managable.
7. Drive to the parks, don’t take the shuttle bus. Parking is only $14 for the whole day. You whizz by all the people waiting for the bus at the hotel, and if you stay on Disney property, the parks are only a 5-10 minute drive. A friend of mine went to Disney right before we did, and the bus driver told her the wrong return times for their trip back. She waited with two little ones for the shuttle bus for an hour at night, when they were all pooped after a long day. She drove the next day and said it was so worth it. At Magic Kingdom, a tram takes you right from the parking lot to the monorail, and if you get there when it opens, there is no wait for either.
8. Go to the back of Magic Kingdom and work your way forward. Another great tip from my friend! People get overstimulated and distracted right when they walk in. We took the locomotive right to Space Mountain. Which was hysterical. I don’t know how I forgot how intense it was! I thought I was going to die! Crazy roller coaster, very dark tunnels, very fast, very quick turns. I was so worried about my kids because if I was terrified (and extremely nauseous), I knew they were too. They were seated single file in front of me and I could not see over their head rests. Thank goodness the staff member at the beginning of the ride told me to take the sunglasses off my head and put them in my purse! I also had to defy gravity in the middle of it and get my arm up to remove my hair clip just before it was whipped off my head. Definitely not a ride for pregnant women or people with back, neck or heart problems. My daughter and I thought we were going to lose our breakfast. Once the fear wore away, my kids said they were “real men” now because they lived through it! I held up my iphone to take this photo at the beginning of the ride, right before things got crazy!!
We hit New Fantasyland next with “It’s a Small World” and the teacups at the Mad Tea Party. Which I refrained from since my tummy and heart were still at Space Mountain! The children’s hands-down favorite in Fantasyland was Peter Pan’s Flight. So cute and much more our speed. And with a Fast Pass, no wait!
9. If you took the monorail from the parking lot to Magic Kingdom, take the ferry boat back and sit on the top level. It’s a peaceful way to end your magical day, wasn’t much slower than the monorail, and we were able to watch the setting sun over the water and talk about our favorite parts of the day. Aahhhhh…
10. At Epcot’s World Showcase in the Norway Pavilion, get a Fast Pass for the Maelstrom ride. Again, no wait for us and we ran past a hundred people in line.
11. Eat lunch early to avoid crowds. We dined at the San Angel Inn in the Mexico Pavilion right before noon. We did not have reservations but were seated right away. It is a beautiful indoor restaurant that makes it look as if you are dining outside under the night sky in a Mexican village, with a Mayan temple across the river no less.
The dishes we ordered were honestly some of the most authentic yummy Mexican food I have ever had. My choice were corn cakes topped with spicy shredded pork and tomatillo sauce among other things, and they were amazing. My husband and I had margaritas (highly recommend the San Angel Inn margarita which he had, more bang for your buck!) and appetizers, and we were very satisfied. We also knew we would be eating and drinking our way through the rest of the world as we walked along, so we needed to leave a smidge of room.
12. Also in the World Showcase, if you find yourself in the France Pavilion, skip the wine cart outside (ice cold generic Merlot, yuck!) and hit the wine store inside. You can buy glasses there for less cost, and they have several outstanding choices. You can also buy fairly reasonable or expensive bottles from France. The Germany Pavilion has delicious German Riesling at the outdoor beverage stands. And that should be cold, and was.
13. At Epcot’s World Showcase, get a “passport” or character placard for your child to have stamped and signed at each country. We figured this out a little late and had to back track to two or three countries we already went to so that our daughter could acquire them all.
For how anxious I was beforehand, I had a fabulous time! I was honestly sad to leave and felt like a kid again. The best part was seeing my son and daughter’s reaction to everything for the first time. My daughter, at seven, was the perfect age. Her expression was often filled with wonder, especially in “It’s a Small World.” I would go back in a heart beat, and I never thought I would say that! Hopefully we can make another trip next year. If you do it right, Disney World is a magical, joyful experience!