A Magical Few Days at Disneyworld Orlando with Thomson Holidays…
At the end of October we were lucky enough to go to Orlando with Thomson Holidays. It was the trip of a lifetime which I wrote about here and here, but I wanted to go into a lot more detail about the Disneyworld part of our trip, in case it helps anyone planning a trip. Thomson are a fantastic agent to deal with as they sort out everything for you.
As we were only going to be in Orlando for just over a week and with our girls being quite little (4 and 2) we decided from the outset that we were only going to do a few days in Disneyworld itself. When you arrive in Orlando you will see that the entire city is pretty much overrun by Disney- in addition to the four main Disney parks, there is Disney Springs, (a huge entertainment area with bars, restaurants, nightlife and shops) Disney Boardwalk, two Disney water parks, and of course lots of Disney hotels. I was surprised to see that you could quite easily have a mini Disney experience without going into the parks themselves, however of course the parks are the biggest highlight.
It is so hard to even start to begin planning your Disney trip. There are literally blogs and websites completely dedicated to planning a Disney trip, even down to complete itineraries of what you can do for each minute of the day. I must admit I did find it overwhelming and I won’t do as good a job as explaining it as these dedicated sites do, but I wanted to give a brief overview for anyone who was thinking of planning a trip there, especially with young children. The main sites I used to plan our trip are WDW Prep School and WDW Info so these are definitely a good starting point.
I thought to start with I would put in the answers to the questions I was most worried/unsure about, while then giving some details about our days there in more specific detail…
Do I need a car?
If you are staying at a Disney resort and even at other non Disney accommodation, there are shuttle buses everywhere to take you from park to park and from most hotels. However I would say a car is a complete necessity as then you can come and go as you please and you can see more of what Orlando has to offer, rather than relying on certain times. We managed to hire a car from Alamo for less than £200 for the 8 nights we were there and that was including two car seats.
Is three days at Disney enough?
Disney has four main parks- Magic Kingdom, (the original and the one where the castle is) Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom. I was really worried that we wouldn’t get the whole Disney experience being that we were just there for three days, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. For our first taste of Disneyworld and with two small children (four and two) I think three days was the perfect amount. Of course, we hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface, but I didn’t come away feeling like we missed out, in fact we more than got our Disney fill for them at that age. We filled our autograph books, met so many characters and went on loads of rides and attractions. We decided to do Magic Kingdom for two days and Hollywood Studios for one day and I feel like we saw almost everything we needed to in that time. I decided upon these parks after reading lots more about them and feeling like those were the best catered for our two girls.
What is the best age for Disneyworld?
This was something I was really worried about, that our children were going to be too little to enjoy Disneyworld and that they would get over tired. But I genuinely found that they were at the most amazing age to enjoy it, however everyone you speak to says the same thing. At four and two, my girls found it utterly magical- they truly believed that the characters were the real thing and their little faces were in awe, it was so emotional to watch them. There were lots of rides that they could go on, although of course they couldn’t do the thrill seeker rides. Yes of course they got tired (definitely hire a buggy!) but they coped remarkably with the long days. (On the first day at Magic Kingdom we were there from 8am until almost midnight) I think Disneyworld is magical for any age- whether you are a teenager or whether you are two.
Should I take a buggy?
We just couldn’t decide on whether to take a buggy or not as neither of our girls really use a buggy at home all that much. But we also knew that it would be a long day and that they would welcome a break. In the end after much debating we decided to hire a stroller in the park itself- this was the best thing we could have done and I definitely recommend it for anyone whose child doesn’t use a buggy much at home. It was a godsend. We hired a double one and you aren’t allowed to take them out of the parks, so they give you multiple tickets so you can pick them up on each day of entry. It was so easy to just pick them up and drop them off as needed and you can do that from all the different parks. It also meant not having to deal with taking a buggy on the plane as well. Both of them sat in it pretty much all day and also it was great for storing our things on when we were on rides and attractions. They are quite expensive ($31 a day or $27 if booking them out for multi days) but I think our experience would have been drastically different if we didn’t have one as you walk around so much.
Should we book a character dining experience?
A character dining experience is basically where you have breakfast, lunch or dinner in one of the Disney resorts and the characters come around to greet you at the table- signing autographs, taking photos, and giving hugs. I was dubious as to whether this would be worth it, as they are quite expensive, but I definitely think if you can afford it then you should do at least one. We ended up doing breakfast at Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Resort- Mickey,Goofy, Minnie, Pluto and Donald), breakfast at Hollywood & Vine (Hollywood Studios- the Disney Junior characters) and lunch at The Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom- the Winnie the Pooh characters). Our favourite was probably either Chef Mickey’s or Crystal Palace, but all are definitely worth it if you can get a reservation. It just helps you get more up close and personal and have more time with the characters.
What is a fast pass?
The fast pass system utterly confused me at first, but basically all it is is an appointment system meaning you arrive back at a ride or attraction at a certain time- this can save hours of waiting in line. You basically get three fast passes a day (you can choose your fast passes before you travel by signing in on the Disneyworld site) and then once you have used them all up, you can head to machines in the park and get another one. (and keep doing this until the park closes) Some fast passes book up months in advance, for example to meet the Frozen characters etc, but if you can get them they save loads of time. As an example we got a fast pass for Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios and we got on the ride within ten minutes, but the standby queue was over 90 minutes long. It is also best to get your three fast passes as early as possible in the day as then you can keep getting new ones once those run out.
What is a MagicBand?
Basically a MagicBand is like a ticket on your wrist. If you are staying in a Disney hotel it acts as your room key and you can charge things to it. As we weren’t staying in a Disney hotel I wondered if we actually needed them (if you aren’t staying you have to pay for them) but they were a great addition to the magic for our girls. You can customise them with different characters and things to make it really magical. We used them to get in all the parks and water parks, for our fast passes and also because we bought memory maker, a photo package. (the photographers scanned them) They aren’t compulsory but they saved us carrying round tickets and things, and they also were fun for the girls.
Should I get Memory Maker?
This was another thing that we agonised over before we went. Memory Maker is basically a package that Disney offers for photos. Basically it is an unlimited package for $149 (again quite expensive) whereby Disney photographers will take you photo for your entire stay. This includes with all characters, around the parks, at Disney restaurants etc. They then get uploaded to your account and you can download them whenever you want. We couldn’t decide about whether it was worth it being that we were only there three days and also because I am a photo fanatic. It’s true the quality is nowhere near as good as if I was to take them with my own camera (they use flash- yuck!) and they are more often than not, not actually trained photographers, but it was still a wonderful way of getting even more memories. The photos aren’t amazing for someone who is really into photography, but they are lovely and they are worth having. Of course you can just hand your own camera over to them, but they are more likely to snap away and take more shots if you have Memory maker. Then you just scan your Magic Band and they are there instantly on your phone or computer- this was great for downloading photos for social media while we were there. I would say that although the photos aren’t the best quality, it is still worth the price.
Is it worth lining up to meet the characters?
A million and one percent yes! This was by far our favourite part of the whole experience, at two and four my girls believed that these were the actual characters and they were blown away by meeting them. The Disney cast members are just amazing with them considering they do it all day long, they cuddle, hold their hands, talk to them and just generally make it incredibly special for them. A top tip is to take an autograph book (and also stop off on Main St when you first arrive in the park to get a first timer badge as they all commented on it and made it special for the girls- these are free and they write their names on them) as they will fill it and the girls slept with them under their pillow for ages after we got back as they were so proud of them. When we went in October, we only queued at the most for about half an hour for the characters, although I am sure that you will queue longer at other times of the year.
Make sure you make a good plan of where they are going to be and who you want to see as some of them are only there at certain times and days.
Should I stay for the fireworks?
The Wishes firework show is right at the end of the night, about 10pm so if you have young children it is obviously a really long day. I wondered whether it was worth it before we went, especially because we were only there for a week and I didn’t want the girls getting overtired. But if you can you should definitely stay for the fireworks- they are incredible, emotional and made me cry. They were a highlight of our day, in fact of our trip. I looked around at all the people around me watching them and there were many tears from all different kinds of people. Our top tip is to get to where you want to go early, we wanted to sit on the main square and by 8pm, people were already starting to arrive. We got a good space and then one of us went off to get some fast food for dinner so we didn’t lose it. It also meant the girls got a break and we sat down for a while. It fills up fast and by the end we couldn’t move for the crowds. There is also an illumination show on the castle before the fireworks and that is pretty amazing too, the girls loved this.
Is it really expensive to eat at Disneyworld?
There’s no denying that it is expensive but if you are on a budget you can work around it. There are restaurants to cater for all different budgets, from expensive dine in waiter service restaurants to fast food and snack bars. Yes the snack bars and fast food outlets are more expensive than your average Mcdonalds or Burger King, but they aren’t ridiculous. A good tip is definitely to pack snacks to nibble on throughout the day, and of course water and drinks. If you look on the Disney website they give you a three point rating as to how expensive it is- with one being a cheaper dining option and three being the most expensive.
I am now going to split up our time at Disney by park and some of our main highlights of each day…
On arriving into the Magic Kingdom park and getting a glimpse of the famous castle, it quite simply took my breath away. We arrived via the monorail (after parking in the car park) and it literally made me get tears of emotion in his eyes. Mr E looked at me like I was a total loon, but I had been dreaming of going to Disneyworld since I was a little girl and I still can’t believe I got to take my little girls there.
It is definitely worth getting some sort of plan of action together when planning your time at Disney. I spent a great deal of time looking at the different attractions in each park and working out what would be good for the girls- what were our must sees etc. For us meeting the characters was a huge thing, while we wanted to go on some rides and attractions, meeting the characters was a huge highlight. I couldn’t believe how many we got to see and we filled our autograph books.
The first thing we did was head over to Tomorrowland which isn’t too far away from the park entrance. This is mainly due to having two Toy Story mad little ladies. We lined up to meet Buzz who is practically their hero. We then went on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin which was one of our favourite rides and we ended up going on it twice. It is a shooting style game that you spin round in a carriage and try and get a high score- we all loved it.
The girls loved getting up close and personal to the Winnie the Pooh characters at The Crystal Palace– the character dining experiences are a great way of getting up close and personal to the characters while in a relaxing setting. We saw Piglet, Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore as they made their way around the tables.
We then headed over to meet Rapunzel and Cinderella at City Hall. I wondered whether my tom boy Mads would like meeting princesses (hence why we didn’t queue for the ridiculously busy meeting Elsa and Anna from Frozen) but actually she surprised me and absolutely loved meeting them. She was in awe of the and they were so good with them.
It was then time to watch another parade- the Festival of Fantasy Parade was amazing. If you go to Disney try and check out the parades as they are really special and you won’t find them anywhere else.
Before it was time to head over and meet their other two favourites Woody and Jessie who hang out in Frontierland. It was hilarious as LL started cuddling Woody and wouldn’t let him go.
The girls loved Enchanted Tales with Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) which is a character meet and greet with a difference. It’s an interactive experience where you pass through Maurice’s cottage through to the Beast’s library and then certain children are picked to be part of a play (Mads was the wardrobe!) before meeting Belle at the end.
There is so much crazy Disney memorabilia and products. The girls loved these light up balloons as we were waiting for the iconic Wishes firework show. It is such an amazing atmosphere throughout the whole park, especially the anticipation of the fireworks and final parade at the end of the night.
It was a very long day, we arrived at the park at 8am and got home about midnight, but I definitely recommend doing the fireworks at least one night as they are incredible. LL fell asleep but woke up just in time to watch them!An amazing end to an incredible day, I had tears streaming down my face by the end of it was Jimminy Cricket narrated about wishes coming true.
Other highlights of our day at Magic Kingdom (we did so much it would be impossible to list them all!) were Under The Sea- Journey of The Little Mermaid, Haunted Mansion, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor and Mickey’s PhiharMagic.
Our next day at Magic Kingdom was a little shorter as we only went in for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (this is a extra cost event where you can get in the park from 3pm but there are Halloween activities on, different parades and different fireworks, as well as trick or treating which the girls loved)
We also met Aladdin, Lotso from Toy Story (he was very cuddly), went on some more rides and watched the parade. The girls loved Trick or Treating, although we didn’t stay for the fireworks as they were so tired from the previous night.
All in all we absolutely loved every minute of Magic Kingdom, but it is impossible to mention everything that we did. We got to do everything we planned to do. Myself and Mr E would have liked to have gone on some of the thrill seeker rides, but firstly I was pregnant and secondly we decided that it was all about the girls and what they wanted to do. If you don’t know which park to choose, you definitely need to choose Magic Kingdom as your first priority. It’s the iconic one for a reason.
We went to Hollywood Studios for a day. After researching the parks before we went (the others being Animal Kingdom and Epcot) I was torn between visiting Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but decided on Hollywood Studios because the attractions were more my girls type of thing.
Then we took an even cheesier photo. (The girls are obviously completely embarrassed by their parents!) We went for breakfast at Hollywood & Vine which was good fun as we had a character breakfast with the Disney Junior characters. Out of all of the places we ate though, this was probably our least favourite because the girls don’t know those characters as much as the others. (Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, Sofia the First etc)
Hollywood Studios is made up more of attractions and shows for smaller children rather than rides, although it also houses the famous Toy Story Midway Mania Ride which always has RIDICULOUSLY long queues and for good reason- it is lots of fun. (Definitely use one of your fast passes on this ride) Some of the attractions we loved were Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The shows were incredible and the Frozen show made me cry as we all sang along to Let it Go while pretend snow fell from the ceiling.
Lunch time was spent at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe which was amazing. Styled as an old fashioned retro diner, you sit at tables with black and white TV shows showing which the girls loved. The waiters and waitresses are really rude in the 50’s Prime Time cafe- but it is all part of the act. They tell you to get your elbows off the table and to sort the plates out, but it is funny and adds to the experience.
All in all the Disney experience was everything I ever imagined it to be and more, and this post only touches the surface of the fun we had. I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little girl, with my only visit to Disney previous to this being a day trip to Disneyland Paris when I was 18. It was absolutely amazing and I spent many a moment on the verge of tears when I watched my girls meeting their idols.
We all had the most incredible time and three days I felt was the perfect amount to really enjoy the Disney experience. I just hope that one day we will be able to go back there as a family and make some more memories. I definitely don’t feel like I’ve ‘done’ Orlando now, I feel like there is so much more we want to see and do. If you are thinking about booking that dream holiday or are looking to save up for it, then I definitely recommend it- it truly is the holiday of a lifetime.
Read the first part of our holiday to Orlando here.
Read the second part of our holiday to Orlando here.
NB: We were invited on this trip of a lifetime by Thomson Holidays, although all words and opinions are entirely my own. All our trips and itinerary were planned by us.