We just got back yesterday from our vacation to Disney World – it was not only our family’s first trip to Disney, but it was also our first true family vacation as a family of four! Due to the pandemic, the only traveling we’ve done with the kids over the past two years has been to visit and/or vacation with family so it was really fun to have a trip for just the four of us to enjoy.
I know not everyone who reads this blog is interested in a family vacation recap, but after sharing some of our trip on my Instagram stories I’ve already had people reach out to me with questions, so I thought it would be best to write up a big post of our trip to use not only as a way of keeping these memories for myself, but also to serve as a resource for anyone else planning a Disney trip with little ones. If that’s not your thing, feel free to skip this post!
This post is a bit long and I share quite a few details and pictures, but I wanted to quickly note that I mostly took videos while we were there, so I don’t have pictures of everything. I also have more pictures of Vi than LJ because whenever we split up, I was usually with Vi, and LJ is constantly in motion and it’s hard to get a good non-blurry picture of him right now!
One more note: we scheduled this trip around a work conference that Justin was attending at Disney, which was extremely helpful for our budget since his travel and lodging (which was a room that fit all of us) was reimbursed. We stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and it was a great choice for our stay – it had restaurant options available for reservation or mobile order (we exclusively did mobile order there), a game room (more on that later), and the monorail actually goes through it which provides super easy transportation to other resorts and a couple of the parks.
Day One: Disney Springs
One thing I would do differently in the future is choose a later flight. Our flight left at 6 am, meaning we had to get up at 3:30 am to shuttle to the airport from our hotel and catch the flight. While it did mean we got to Orlando by shortly after 8 am, it was not necessarily worth having a really tiring day and sleep deprived kids and adults. But all that to say, we arrived in the morning on Wednesday and took a shuttle from the airport to the resort. We couldn’t check in yet, so we just dropped off our bags and headed back outside to the shuttle bus stop to head to Disney Springs.
Disney Springs is not an actual park, but it’s a huge area with tons of shopping and restaurants, as well as a few shows and rides. It’s free to get in, and we spent our day walking around checking out shops (the Lego store and of course, the Disney store were the biggest hits for my kids to look around!) and rode a few small rides (they had a little train ride and a carousel that we rode). We had lunch reservations at the Rainforest Café and that was a really fun, unique experience! The whole restaurant feels like you’re in a rainforest and there’s even a simulated “storm” that happened while we were there. We loved it!
Because of our super early morning flight, we were all pretty worn out by 3 pm or so, so we grabbed a little chocolate treat and headed back to the shuttles to check in to our hotel room. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the room and resting up for our first park day.
Day Two: Magic Kingdom
One perk of staying at a Disney Resort is that you get early access to the parks; even though the park opened at 9 am, we were able to get in at 8:30. While Justin was at his conference, I walked with both kids across the street to Magic Kingdom (he joined us later). We got a stroller rental and headed in to start riding rides!
I won’t give you a play-by-play of the day, but I will say that we rode the following rides: “it’s a small world,” Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Dumbo the Flying Elephant (just Vi), Mad Tea Party, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion, Magic Carpets of Aladdin (just Vi), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tomorrowland Speedway (just LJ), and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. We also watched a few shows: Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, and Enchanted Tiki Room.
Vi also did a princess meet and greet and was so enamored with Rapunzel and Tiana!
LJ is not really a thrill seeker, so he did not like the rides that spun and went up in the air (Dumbo and Aladdin), meanwhile, Vi absolutely loved those! LJ is over 40″ and could have ridden more, but he preferred the “all height” rides anyways so we just stuck together most of the day. We found that Magic Kingdom by far had the most rides for the ages of our kids, so we chose to spend a little extra and add the Genie+ option for this day. Basically, Genie+ is paying $15 per ticket holder for lightning lane access. Once we purchased, we were able to select the next available timeslot for one ride at a time and skip nearly all of the line. This did involve a little strategy (we picked the most popular ride we wanted, Peter Pan’s Flight, first thing at 7 am when the timeslot reservations opened) and then chose future rides based on timing, not necessarily proximity, for the rest of the day. And in one case, we split up and LJ and Justin did the Speedway while Vi and I did Dumbo. Justin and I both agreed it was worth the extra money and having to occasionally backtrack through the parks to save literally hours in line and get to everything we wanted to do in one day. (Note: There are two rides at each park that are not included in Genie+ and you need to purchase individual lightning lane passes for if you want to skip the line. They’re the most popular rides, but at this particular park, they were both ones we weren’t interested in so it didn’t matter). We used lunch, shows, and less popular rides as fillers in between our timeslots and it worked great! We also stumbled upon two parades, which was super fun!
We did also purchase the automated bubble wands you see everywhere at the park and even though they were insanely overpriced, they kept our kids entertained all day in the stroller and in lines (you do sometimes have to wait about 5-10 minutes using genie+, and there was one ride we didn’t use genie+ and waited about 30 minutes). They used them every day in the parks and they were so fun!
We had planned to go back for naps in the afternoon, but Vi napped for about 30 minutes in the stroller and in my arms during the Tiki Room show and LJ was able to power through so we did the whole park in one go. LJ did have a meltdown for about an hour at the beginning of the day (we’re still not exactly sure why it started, chalking it up to loss of sleep and overstimulation) but the bubble wand purchase got him turned around and both the kids had great attitudes the rest of the day! We headed back to the hotel around 5:30 for dinner and early bedtimes for all of us.
Day Three: Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom was the one park we took a shuttle bus to, so we got on the first one in the morning and headed over to take advantage of our early access. We did not purchase Genie+ for this day, so once we got inside and got our stroller rental, we headed back to Pandora to ride Na’vi River Journey. We walked straight through to the ride (there was no line at that time!) and hopped on. I love this ride – the bioluminescence is so cool! We went from there to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride (HUGE hit with the kids!!) and then walked the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.
Animal Kingdom basically felt like a day at a really awesome zoo. It was not as heavy on the rides – we just did the Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safari, Rafiki’s Planet Watch (we took a train out to a little section where there is a petting zoo and a few other activities, although we just did the petting zoo), and Vi and I did the TriceraTop Spin two times. Justin and LJ were in line for Dinosaur but it temporarily closed for some quick repairs and they didn’t end up waiting. It still felt like there was plenty of other non-ride things for our animal-loving kids to enjoy!
After the safari and walking the Gorilla Falls trail, we unexpectedly caught a trained bird show that happened right where we were waiting for Justin to pick up his lunch mobile order. It was awesome! We split this day up into two and after doing Pandora, Africa, and lunch, we headed back to the hotel for naps. When we returned, we watched the show It’s Tough to Be a Bug! (not sure I would recommend this for littles; it ended up scaring LJ and the rest of the trip he kept saying he did not want to do the Bug show again) and headed to Dinoland (we skipped Asia altogether). We unfortunately did not catch Festival of the Lion King show because the line was too long, but I’m still glad we did not do Genie+ this day, as that is the only thing we would have used it for.
The kids spent well over an hour playing in The Boneyard, which is a gigantic playground in Dinoland with tons of climbing structures, slides, and a big excavation site for digging. They loved it and would have stayed even longer if it wasn’t dinnertime.
Overall, it was another successful day at a great park!
Day Four: Rest Day at the resort
This was a flex day for us – if the weather was warm enough for the water park to be open, we might have gone, but it wasn’t warm enough and honestly, we needed a chill day without planned activities. Justin was at his conference all morning and the kids and I rested, watched TV, and played in the hotel room. We rode the monorail to explore the Polynesian resort and grab lunch, then headed back for naps. LJ slept for like, 3 hours, and Justin took Vi down to the pool once she woke up and they swam while LJ kept sleeping.
Once LJ woke up, we headed to the game room downstairs and the kids had an absolute blast playing all the arcade games that they see other places but we always say no to – ha! It was a fun little treat and a great way to entertain everyone fairly inexpensively (a $25 ticket card was more than enough to keep our whole family entertained for over an hour and play everything we wanted to!) Then it was dinner and another early bedtime for us!
Day Five: Epcot
We originally planned to split Magic Kingdom into two days, but when we were able to do everything we wanted in one day, we changed this ticket to a day at Epcot, which we could ride the monorail to. We did not do Genie+ for this day, but we did splurge on individual lightning lane tickets to skip the lines for Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Both rides are incredibly popular with very long lines and both were ones we thought our kids would enjoy . . . and we were mostly right about that haha.
Vi is obsessed with Frozen and I loved watching her face during the ride – she was enchanted! But it is a boat ride and we sat in the front row and didn’t realize there is a drop that does splash you more than we expected. LJ really didn’t enjoy that part (honestly, I didn’t love walking around with a wet butt for an hour afterwards either), but overall the ride was still really cool and definitely worth it! Ratatouille was also super fun, but it’s 4D and there is one part that startled Vi pretty badly and she was in tears for a while until I could assure her it isn’t real and she was able to calm down for the rest of the ride. She’s usually not afraid of jumpy things, so we were surprised that this affected her so much.
Other rides we chose were Journey into Imagination with Figment, Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Spaceship Earth, and Soarin’ Around the World. For Soarin’, there was a 4o” height requirement so we did a rider swap – Justin and LJ went (LJ loved it!), then I could skip the line and go by myself once they were done so someone was always with Vi. Vi really enjoyed Nemo so we rode it again while Justin and LJ waited in line for Soarin’.
Epcot doesn’t have a ton of toddler rides, but we enjoyed walking through World Showcase and grabbing snacks throughout the countries. There were a few shows we caught as we walked around – The Jammitors (three guys dressed up like janitors playing drums on garbage cans) and another culturally-specific drumming show in Japan, both of which the kids enjoyed. There’s also a pretty sizable model train display in Germany that LJ especially loved.
We also spent time in the ImageWorks play lab after riding Journey into Imagination and there is a big aquarium after the Nemo ride that the kids loved exploring.
We didn’t break this day up into two because Vi fell asleep in the stroller again and so I just hung out with her while LJ and Justin did Spaceship Earth – LJ wanted to ride it because it looked like a giant golf ball but Justin said LJ actually thought it was really boring once they were on it. We ended up leaving around 5 pm and got to say goodbye to Goofy on our way out!
We headed back to the hotel for dinner, and then the next morning we headed to the airport to catch our flight home. It was an exhausting, but very very fun vacation full of memories I will cherish for years!
A Few Random Notes:
-With the exception of the Rainforest Cafe, which we made a reservation for, we exclusively did mobile orders for meals. It was more convenient for us, because we could just order for when we were hungry rather than try to guess when we’d want to eat and make an advance reservation. If you do want to make reservations, make them EARLY! You can make them up to 60 days early I think and most places were booked when were were there.
-We did not pay for any character dining or character experiences. There weren’t as many characters out and about as Justin and I both remember from our childhoods (it used to be that you walk around and they were just roaming everywhere!) but we did get to see several in passing. We spotted Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, Joy (from Inside Out) and Elsa (but dressed as the Frozen 2 Elsa, which Vi didn’t understand haha), as well as the characters in the Magic Kingdom parades. As mentioned before, Vi also did a princess meet and greet and saw Rapunzel and Tiana.
We also got to see a few of the characters in the character-dining restaurants as we passed by even though we didn’t actually eat the meal there (character meals are way more expensive than other meals). It was enough for us to feel like we got a good share of character sightings without paying extra money for them!
-We packed a ton of snacks in our luggage and took lots of snacks into the park each day. We also took our kids’ water bottles and filled them up at water refill stations – this saved us a lot of money on snacks and drinks in the park!
-I found this website incredibly helpful when planning our trip. They have a ton of very specific blog posts covering various situations and strategies for maximizing a Disney trip, and they had a toddler-specific one for each park that was huge in helping me plan our days.
-We did not try to do everything and kept this more low key. Our kids are so young, they don’t know the things they “missed,” they just know the things they did. LJ likes to try to avoid stepping on cracks because they’re “lava” – it takes longer to get places, but that’s ok. We just let it happen. We allowed time for breaks to look at random things or go back to do favorite things again. At this age, flexibility was really important for our family and that helped this be a really good trip full of great memories!