Our first Walt Disney World experience and some ideas for other families who may be planning their own trip…
We enjoyed four wonderful days at Fort Wilderness, Disney’s own 5 star campground. This place is awesome! Based on the recommendation of friends we booked this early in the year. As the months went on, I was tempted to cancel the reservations many times due to the expensive nightly rate…however, I am so thankful I did not. This campground is worth every penny.
The location is beautiful. As the campground is a Disney Resort, they send you free Magic Bands once you book your trip and you can then preload your park tickets and reservations onto these little bands. With the Magic Bands, you don’t need to worry about any paper tickets and our dinner reservations were even linked to the bracelets. We also received free transportation and free parking at any of the resorts because we were staying within the resort system.
We pulled into Orlando on a Sunday and had a ginormous surprise for our kids! My parents had flown out to see them and to visit the Disney parks with us. They were shocked and the photo and videos are priceless.
For our first night in Orlando, I had made reservations at Raglan Road Irish Pub, which is at Disney Springs (Downtown Disney – a fun area to walk around, shop, eat and find entertainment – with free parking). This was an amazing way to start our Disney vacation! The Irish dancing and live music were fabulous and festive. The food was very good, though small portions for the price….we did not mind, as the entertainment and ambiance were such a hit. The downside is that kids meals are $10! My parents enjoyed the evening as much as my children and we all left happy and well fed. Disney Springs is beautifully dressed up at Christmas. I wouldn’t of minded spending more time there if we could have.
We choose to have a more mellow Disney vacay…verses a crazy-busy-see-everything-we-can trip…and we are so thankful we did! Our plan was simple: 4 full days broken down as…
- Day 1 – The Majic Kingdom
- Day 2 – enjoy Fort Wilderness
- Day 3 – Epcot
- Day 4 – enjoy Fort Wilderness, shop and chill
I cannot imagine if we had visited multiple parks, day after day. We were exhausted each evening, staying at the parks until they were almost closed and we relied on sleeping in the morning after to recover.
Our day at the Magical Kingdom was amazing. It wasn’t overly hot or crowded so I feel like we were able to truly enjoy the park. Our notes on this park are:
- Arrive at opening (we were there a half hour after it opened)
- Taking the boat transportation from Fort Wilderness to the park is advantageous… relaxed and mellow, beautiful and not crowded. Don’t sit in the back of the boat, as you will inhale the scent of fuel. Allow at least 45 minutes from the time you leave the Fort Wilderness boat dock until you walk through the park gates. The boat ride is quick, but security is a long wait.
- Make Fast Pass reservations with your Majic Bands online, several weeks prior to your visit. I intended to do this. When my parents decided to join in, I waited to book the Fast Passes and by the time I did it….all the prime times were unavailable. The cool part is, my parents, though not staying at a Disney Resort, created a Disney My Experience account, bought tickets and linked their profiles to mine. This enabled me to book Fast Pass Tickets for them, as well as my crew…so we all enjoyed the same schedule!
- Don’t book Fast Passes for the morning as the lines are not that long. We did 3 major rides in the first hour. Book them for noon or later. The way Fast Pass works is this: you can book 3 FP in advance per person, online. Once you use all 3, you can book one at a time for the remainder of your day. I thought that if I booked them early, that we would just add them as we went, once we used our first three. What happens is that all of the good rides are not available for FP once the day gets going…and all the rides that have FP available…don’t have long lines anyways, so it really makes no difference.
- Download the free app prior to your visit. It is amazing! It shows the current wait time for every ride in the park…and it’s accurate. It also gives you walking directions to each ride and gives you access to maps of bathrooms and entertainment schedules.
- Book Fast Passes for Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs and Splash Mountain. If you don’t book a FP for one of these, hit it first thing in the morning when the lines are not long. We only waited 20 minutes for Space Mountain because we went straight for this line when we arrived at 9:30.
- You can take food into the park and water. We took our refillable water bottles and plenty of healthy snacks. This helped our budget big time as lunch and dinner pretty much averaged $15 per adult/teen and $8-10 per child without drinks or sweets.
- I was honestly not thrilled with meal options at this park. I do think we choose the best lunch option though: Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. The Greek salad with grilled chicken completely surprised me for $12 – it was so much better than I expected…and healthy…the chicken was fresh and very good. The burgers and fries were also good Disney fare. The Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant also had a reasonable flatbread pizza and side caesar salad.
We pretty much knew what to expect at The Majic Kingdom as we have enjoyed Disneyland many, many times in California, however we had no idea what to expect from Epcot. The only thing I had really read review-wise was that the food in the various countries was amazing. So we basically arrived at Epcot knowing that we would eat well. Our notes on this park are:
- Test Track is an awesome ride. Plan to do it at least twice. We loved it! Allow a half hour after this ride for the kids to wander through all the cool post-ride stuff that is there.
- If you want to see the Frozen thing, plan a Fast Pass for it way ahead of time…the lines were crazy long all day and we never did see it.
- Look on the Disney app for entertainment and add them to your itinerary. I felt like it was difficult to know when performances were happening and we missed many different things in the various International areas.
- Mission Space is a virtual ride in a space ship and will leave you feeling motion sick…even if you normally don’t get motion sickness.
- Get a Fast Pass for Soarin’ – it is a super fun ride!
- After you ride Spaceship Earth…reserve 30-40 minutes for your kids to play all the cool virtual games that are at the exit…they will love it. The ride itself was not much, but we loved all the hands-on activities after.
- Eat a little something in several different countries. As you walk through the back half of the park you will wander from country to country. You can sample food, watch a video for each country and see entertainment. My kids loved this as much as the adults did. We sampled so many different things and they tried things they never had heard of.
- Eat in France! The ham and cheese baguette sandwiches will remind you of train rides in the south of France and the napoleon in the bakery was fabulous. The one thing you can skip is the crepe wagon…sadly the crepes were a disappointment.
- The apple strudel and bratwurst in Germany were delicious.
- Don’t miss Epcot…it was a unique experience and excellent adventure for tweens, teens, and adults.
As it turns out, we did eat our way around the globe in Epcot. My parents laughed and enjoyed every bite of this edible adventure. I’m sure you can enjoy this park without purchasing a lot of food…but honestly, it was a sensational way to experience this amusement park…and celebrate my mom’s birthday!
Fort Wilderness was the perfect haven during our Disney shenanigans. This campground is massive with over 700 campsites and 700 plus acres. The customer service is exceptional. When we arrived we were received by a gentlemen who greeted us with “Welcome Home.” You really are made to feel welcome here. This is a model that all parks should follow.
This campground is quite unique in that there are many guests who arrive and dress up their RV’s and “yards” with Christmas decorations….like nothing you’ve ever seen in a campground. I’m not referring to long-term residents or full-time RV’ers who dress up their rigs like we do…I’m talking about vacationers who visit for 2-4 weeks and dress up their vacation spot like it’s on candy cane lane.
We took a nice long walk one evening and went through much of the park.
We also enjoyed a nightly campfire with Chip and Dale and live music. The campfires are BYOS (Bring Your Own Smores). It was fun…especially since they do not permit campfires in individual campsites.
The pool was lovely and relatively quite during the second week of December. There is a great snack shack poolside that had some excellent lunch options. The main attraction was the waterslide that kept my tweens happy for an entire afternoon.
The one attraction that we missed was the nightly Electrical Water Pageant. We heard the music a couple of nights, but were too tired to venture out after 9:00. I think this would of been fun to ride bikes over to the water and see.
Some patio entertainment at our campsite…Angie on the guitar and Lexi on the keyboard…keeping it merry and bright!
We also heard amazing reviews on the buffet at the campground, but simply ran out of time to sample it.
As we look back on our Disney stay I am reminded of how delightful it was. In planning for this adventure we kept saying to ourselves…”this is a one time deal and we will probably not return, so lets live it up!” From the moment we arrived I began to say “I could do this again.” It was a splendid time and staying at Fort Wilderness was the perfect way to do Disney for this crew.