Doing Disney

"Mommy, it made my belly feel funny...I want to ride it again when I get bigger."

Disney…The dreaded trip for us; the perfect trip for our daughter’s fifth birthday.

The last thing a New Yorker wants in a vacation are lines, uncontrollable kids and bad food. So the idea of going to Disney for four days during Columbus Day holiday weekend wasn’t up there with Turks & Caicos, or even staying in NYC for that matter.

But what a pleasant surprise. We stayed at a Disney property for two days, the Grand Floridian and an offsite hotel for two days, the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, near EPCOT, that shared many perks of a Disney resort like convenient transportation and Magic Hour benefits.

We went back and forth on the idea of having a Disney tour guide. I know, I know…And although the thought of a $250 per hour guide (minimum 4 hours) to take us around to skip lines and show us the Disney ropes was tempting, but I thought it sent the wrong message to my kid. And then she’d always expect such luxury and extravagance. Truth be told, I was probably considering this for the benefit of my husband and me– selfish reasons, so I turned it down. Well, until 2 days before the trip when I thought “you only turn 5 once, and Disney is supposed to be magical for little girls, right? ” so a friend shared her insider unofficial guide who charges $85 an hour with no minimum. And we went for it… Again, sort of… Until he called the day we arrived in Orlando with unfortunate news of a death in the family so he was not available. But he did an amazing thing… He gave me the keys to the castle. Or close enough.

And here’s how we did Disney’s Magic Kingdom in a day…

First, bring your own umbrella stroller with everything you and your kid need when you travel. You know what that is, and clearly wet wipes are high priority, although Disney has nice clean bathrooms everywhere, so you’ll be fine. Next, have a plan of action or you’ll be wandering aimlessly for hours. Lastly, allow for spontaneity and enjoy every minute of it.

Most Important Tips:

If you have a young kid who may not ride the faster or scarier rides, Disney has a switch-off program that couldn’t be cooler. There was no way my husband and I were leaving the park without riding Space Mountain. It was his first trip to Disney too. So my daughter and I waited while he rode it, and when he got off, he and my daughter waited while I ran back up the employee exit- I guess- to have my turn. It’s a great program.

The other super important fact is the FastPass. These passes allow you to get a reservation for a ride that is available at a certain window of time so you have to plan a bit. Secret is, even though the FastPass gives you a window of time in which to ride, you really have until the ride closes to take your ride. So we grabbed a FastPass every chance we could. And keep in mind that once you get one, you can’t get another for a little while, so bank them and use them when the lines start getting longer.

Take advantage of the park the moment it opens, have one spouse or teammate go get the first FastPasses, while the others get in line for another ride with no line; but a ride that may fill up quickly as people arrive at the park.

Breakfast with champions, or Disney characters anyway– Apparently people sign up months and months in advance to have breakfast with the Disney characters. We were told that if you arrive the second they open at the Grand Floridian you actually have a great chance of being seated. And we did. At both hotels we did this and it was a complete surprise that our daughter- who often snubs her own grandfather- couldn’t wait to get the autograph and a photo with every last one of them- Mary Poppins, the Mad Hatter, Goofy, Pluto, you name it…

Tigger and friends at the Grand Floridian character breakfast

Ok, the rides:

The riders, we’ll say, are Sally (mom), Dick, (dad) and Jane (the 5-year old daughter).

Sally, Dick and Jane wake up at 7am, get to the Grand Floridian character breakfast when it opens at 8 am, and spend the next 45 minutes eating a decent buffet while getting photos and autographs of a number of Disney characters, including Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Alice in Wonderland and more.

Sally, Dick and Jane take Jane’s umbrella stroller and head by monorail to the Magic Kingdom the moment it opens. Dick bee-lines it straight to a FastPass ride, Splash Mountain in Frontierland, while Sally and Jane head to Fantasyland to ride the starter fun rides like Peter Pan’s flight that doesn’t yet have a wait. Next up, Dumbo the flying elephant or It’s a Small World, though the classic was closed when we were there. By that time, you can probably get your next FastPass, so have a member of your entourage grab the Buzz Lightyear FastPass while you mosey over to Mickey’s Toontown Fair to enjoy a snack and walk though the Mickey and Minnie’s country houses, and then ride the Barnstormer rollercoaster, a great ride for little kiddos.

Use the Splash Mountain FastPass before heading back to the hotel for lunch and a rest or swim in the hotel pool for an hour or two. This is the saving grace of this whole thing… The park is packed and now is the perfect time to refuel. The kids love it, you’ll love it, and everyone wins. And don’t leave the park without grabbing one last FastPass for later. Sally and Jane grab an ice cream cone on Main Street while Dick grabs a FastPass for Space Mountain.

The afternoon parade on Main Street

After your relax, head back to the park, and catch a bit of the parade down Main Street. If your kids want more Disney character visits, take the time to go to Toontown Hall of Fame while the parade is still going to avoid long lines. Have Dick grab one more FastPass as you head to Toontown, consider the Big Thunder Mountain train coaster, or another ride your child liked a lot. Meanwhile use your Space Mountain FastPass and do the switch-off so both parents can ride it if the kids aren’t up for it, or tall enough.  Jane wasn’t ready to ride it, although she rode Splash Mountain twice, but we did notice some other 5-year-old kids on it.

Next catch the Carousel of Progress or Tomorrowland Transit Authority-still a favorite chill-out that snakes through Space Mountain and Tomorrowland. The Astro Orbiter let’s you fly outside in a spaceship, and despite being a bit loud, was a fun way to end the day. If your kids are a bit older or more adventurous- translation, they’re ok with faster roller coasters or potentially scary rides, you can also consider ending the day with Big Thunder Mountain railroad.

Even on busy holidays, it’s pretty manageable, or at least it was for Sally, Dick and Jane.

Other rides and shows to see if there is time or you need a chill-out:
• Jungle cruise
• Mickey’s Philharmonic
• Monster’s Inc Laugh floor
• Walt Disney World Railroad

Don’t waste your time with:

Tomorrowland Speedway. The steering was hard and the ride super duper slow. Boring!

Resources and Tools:

• The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2011

• Touringplans.com

•  the IPhone App, Walt Disney World Park Hours

The Damage: $2223, family of 3 for 4 days at Disney (exclusive of airfare, meals, souvenirs and snacks)
Grand Floridian- $400/nt x 2 nts = $800
Walt Disney World Swan Hotel- $229/nt x 2 nts= $ 516
AAA membership= $48
Disney tickets with AAA membership= $859.
For 2 adults, 4-day base ticket with park hopper and one child, 4 day base ticket with park hopper

That was one expensive trip for a theme park. I cannot imagine how the average family of 4 can afford this even with a hotel that’s half the price.

The Takeaway: Despite the cost, it was a great time and the October weather was excellent. We couldn’t believe how clean and organized it was. We were expecting the worst and instead had a wonderful 5th birthday celebration. Dare I say we’re considering another trip again soon!

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