My family and I had the great fortune to spend five days at Disney World in January.
For us, it was a very big deal. While we've gone on vacation in the last decade since my older daughter was born, we've never taken a trip with just the four of us. Our trips to the beach are with extended family. We visited New York with Grandpa. We saw Boston with Grammy and Pa. My older daughter and I traveled to Alaska ... to visit my sister.
Those were all wonderful experiences, but there's nothing like exploring a new place with the ones you spend the most time with. We'd experienced it during day trips and a couple of long weekends. Finally, in November, my husband and I bit the bullet and booked the big trip, keeping it a secret until Christmas morning. The kids, who had never been, were shocked. We were gone over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend (and, for full disclosure, paid for every bit of it. We got no special deal that's not offered to the public).
We had a fantastic time, thanks to tips from friends and, especially, from the local Disney travel agent who we worked with. You will hear from her later this week! From the beginning, my husband and I had no desire to do everything at Disney. Our goal wasn't to "get our money's worth." The plan was to just have a blast.
It rained on our day at Magic Kingdom, but that didn't stop us. In fact, we spent 15 hours in the park, spending half of it completely soaked, but beyond happy as we walked on many usually packed rides. The rain had trimmed the crowds. Next came Epcot, where we zoomed through Test Track and explored the countries. At Animal Kingdom, we dined with Mickey and friends at the Tusker House and enjoyed an early evening back at Animal Kingdom Lodge, where we stayed. At Hollywood Studios, we were completely awestruck by the show Fantasmic.
We learned a lot about each other. We all love roller coasters (my kids and I rode on our very first ones during the trip). We don't care about a little or even a lot of rain. The four of us can power through it. And nobody is happy when they're hungry. (That one was more of a reminder than a lesson).
By the end, we were exhausted in the best possible way.
I am not a Disney expert. In fact, I'm far from it. Not ones to watch a lot of movies and TV, my kids and I struggled over the names of more than a few Disney characters that we met.
But we have lots of Disney experts in our midst. Over the next week, some of them will share their tips and tricks. You'll hear from WRAL-TV's Julia Sims, who we actually ran into by sheer luck on our day at Hollywood Studios. And you'll hear from other WRAL anchors and reporters about their Disney memories.
So stay tuned for lots more Disney information this week. And, as part of this post, I thought I'd share some of our very favorite thrill rides, chill rides and shows at each park.
- Thrill ride: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Chill ride: The People Mover in Tomorrowland (of course It's a Small World was great too). This very slow ride is a great place to just relax and update your FastPasses, which is what we did! I am glad that we rode Space Mountain before this ride as you do go inside it and see people screaming!
- Show: Monster's Inc Laugh Floor
- Thrill ride: Test Track
- Chill ride: Spaceship Earth
- Show: The movie in "France"
- Thrill ride: Expedition Everest
- Chill ride: The Kilimanjaro Safari
- Show: The Festival of the Lion King (this is not to be missed!)
- Thrill ride: Star Tours
- Chill ride: I'll admit that I wish there were more rides here. The Great Movie Ride is slow, but it does feature scenes from movies like "Aliens," which scared my younger daughter.
- Show: Fantasmic is absolutely amazing, but the Indiana Jones and Lights, Motor, Action stunt shows are great.
Other tips that made our vacation great:
- Before we left, the girls had earned or were given money, which they could spend on souvenirs. We had zero arguments or complaints about things they wanted. It was entirely in their hands.
- All of the fireworks shows were great. If you're a Star Wars fan, the one at Hollywood Studios is not to be missed.
- We didn't do too much research before we left. In fact, my older daughter, after reading a bit online, announced that she wanted to stop with the research. She just wanted to be surprised when we got there. We were happy to not have a big check list of things that we just had to do.
- With that said, the FastPasses were extremely handy. I'm glad that we planned for ours when there were lots of FastPass options available for the most popular rides. We set our FastPasses about 45 days before the trip.
- The MyDisneyExperience app is very helpful to find wait times, line up FastPasses and more on the go (when it's actually working).
Of course, there's lots more to know and do as you plan your trip to Disney. So stay tuned all week for more tips!
Sarah is a mom of two and editor of Go Ask Mom.