We were a family with a mission. Two adults, three children, three days. Would the two older children (8 and 11) be bored with their third trip to Orlando? Wisely, the family put their Florida itinerary in my hands. What follows is an aggressive plan for the Disney parks that works, but feel free to mix and match for your family’s individual needs.
Late arrival. We checked into an Epcot Resort hotel (The Beach Club) because we like the proximity to Epcot at night. This part of Disney World isn’t as much of a lure for very young children, so it’s nice to be able to walk there in the early evening with toddlers in strollers.
Morning: Up early for a visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, formerly called Disney-MGM Studios. Arrived at 8:15 for a 9am opening. Disney characters sign autographs and pose for pictures, including the sometimes elusive Mickey and Minnie, to keep the waiting crowds happy. My husband and daughter headed straight for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which, at that early hour, she was able to ride twice. Meanwhile, I made lunch reservations on Sunset Boulevard, then took my 8 and 3-year-old boys to the first show of Voyage of the Little Mermaid. (No Mermaid fans? Go straight to Jim Henson’s Muppets.)
After the 20-minute show we reunited for the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour whose highlight is a realistic oil tanker explosion and tidal wave. (First timers board the Great Movie Ride before hopping on the Backstage tram.) Before continuing with the second part of the tour, stop at the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” playground where kids can jump on overgrown bugs and slide through huge film canisters. The snack area just behind it is a good rest and refreshment stop.
Afternoon: Lunchtime (anywhere from 11am on) propelled us to one of the movie theme restaurants. We chose the 50’s Prime Time Cafe where waitresses nag you to eat. Another option is Toy Story Pizza Planet (no reservations taken) and an early visit guarantees a seat. By the time lunch ended, the sun was starting to scorch. We were just in time for “The Toy Story” Parade. Excited by seeing Buzz and Woody up close the 3-year-old now wanted to see the sold-out “Hunchback of Notre Dame” stage show. Check the stand-by line (we did and managed to slip in just before the opening.) No Quasimodo fans? Skip it. [FTF Note: Parade themes and stage shows change occasionally. 2009 offers the “Block Party Bash” and the “Beauty and the Beast” stage show.] By now it was almost 2:30. We left the park for the hotel and a swim.
Night: After a buffet dinner at our hotel, on to Epcot. The “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” film in the Journey into Imagination Pavilion is a 3D attraction, which can be a little scary for young children as there is a very realistic simulation of mice running through the audience, plus some shaking and rolling. This pavilion also houses the Figment ride which children love. Imageworks, just upstairs and rarely crowded in the evening, has a series of hands-on exhibits. Next stop, the Living Seas [FTF Note: The Living Seas is now knows as “The Seas with Nemo and Friends.”] with incredible views of the ocean floor. Our kids remembered the Maelstrom ride at the Norwegian exhibit, so we walked back to Norway while Dad staked out a good spot around the Lagoon for the laser show, IllumiNations. It is a spectacular combination of lasers, fireworks and music. When it ends, Epcot closes. To avoid the crush of the exiting crowds, walk toward the Disney Boardwalk. The highlights here: a game arcade, ice cream parlor, and bikes for two, four, or six peddlers (with a basket in front for the little ones.)
Morning: Up really early for Magic Kingdom. If you have older children who have been to Fantasyland before, it’s best to have them go straight to Splash Mountain or Thunder Mountain Railroad before the lines become too long. As soon as the rope came down at Fantasyland, I dragged my unsuspecting 3-year-old onto the infamous Dumbo ride. The ride takes all of a minute and a half— but within the first 10 minutes the park is open the line can grow to 30 minutes long. Over the next hour we were able to ride It’s a Small World, Peter Pan, Cinderella’s Carousel, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Also there is Ariel’s Grotto, where kids can get soaked by spitting fountains as they wait to be ushered in to see Ariel herself, who signs autographs and poses for pictures.
Afternoon: We ate at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella’s Castle (book first thing in the morning; see our “Ten Tips” box). After lunch the older kids rode Space Mountain and the Indy Speedway. The little one and I hit Mickey’s Toon Town, the spot to get up close and personal with Minnie and Mickey’s prized possessions as you tour their homes. There’s a roller coaster ride (too intense for toddlers, I thought) and Donald’s boat (with more spraying water). It’s definitely an under-8’s area; a great consolation spot for siblings who aren’t tall enough to get on Space Mountain. [FTF Note: Since the Author’s visit, The Magic Kingdom has continued to update its attractions for children, Mickey’s Toon Town no longer exist, they have added Stich’s Great Adventure and Mickey’s PhillarMagic, which is great for smaller children.]
Next stop, Adventureland for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It’s 2pm and we have ridden or seen everything on our list. (Keep in mind that this is our third trip.) We decide to skip the afternoon parade (with the best viewing in Liberty Square, just outside Adventureland) in favor of the water park, Blizzard Beach. A “ski lift” shepherds hardy souls up to the Summit Plummet (a 215 ft. drop slide) but there are less intimidating activities such as toboggan runs and floating in inner tubes down Cross Country Creek. At Tike’s Peak, toddlers can splash in very shallow water, run in and out of mini-geysers and float on inner tubes down mini slopes. There are plenty of chaise lounges for resting. We stayed until dusk and it was hard to drag the kids away.
Night: For dinner we went back to Epcot and had a great fast food meal at Yakitori House in the Japan Showcase. Then we went straight to Spaceship Earth (a must) and on to the Universe of Energy, spruced-up thanks to comedienne Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye, the Science Guy [FTF Note: This ride is now called “Ellen’s Energy Adventure”]. After this quick visit, we were on our way back to the hotel.
Night, Later: Less than three days at Disney World and each of the children had done everything they wanted. They had collected lots of autographs and had even paid a visit to Blizzard Beach. Pity no one was awake to see me patting myself on the back.
We had purposely left the character breakfast for our last morning. It is essential to make reservations in advance because these fill up very quickly- especially the more coveted venues like the Grand Floridian or Cinderella’s Castle. We slept in, packed and left for our breakfast with Minnie at the Polynesian Hotel. Afterwards, the children voted on what to do in the time remaining: one last souvenir shop won hands down. However, with a length-of-stay pass, a family could use the last morning to either re-ride some favorites or see some previously-missed shows.
Ten Tips for Enjoying Disney World
1. Reserve a room at one of the Disney Hotels. Perks include early entry to designated parks, Unlimited Magic Passes, and the time you save avoiding traffic on I-40. There are hotels for every budget and, needless to say, all of them are child-friendly.
2. Book special events in advance: For character breakfasts, special lunch places or evening dinner shows (like the ever-popular Hoop-De-Doo Revue) make reservations as soon as you reserve your rooms.
3. The nighttime SpectroMagic at Magic Kingdom is worth planning for. Check which night it’s being held and then arrive about 45 minutes early to stake out a good spot on Main Street.
4. Epcot’s better restaurants usually need to be booked in advance. However, most country pavilions at Epcot there have a more casual, non-reservation eatery. Wander through exhibits and snack on a burrito from Mexico or a hot dog from America, without kids having to sit still.
5. Carry beverages: juice boxes or small water bottles. It’s difficult to find a non-carbonated drink in the parks.
6. Purchase autograph books as soon as you arrive at your hotel. Don’t get caught with nothing but a stroller rental receipt to write on when Esmerelda suddenly walks by. Bring extra pens. Let each child wear his own fanny pack so that the autograph books don’t get mixed up.
7. Prepare the youngest or shortest for certain ride restrictions and plan for an alternate activity.
8. Don’t bother packing flotation devices for the kids. Disney only allows their own lifevests to be used in their on-site pools and water parks.
9. Use the “One-Souvenir-a-Day” rule. One friend successfully made it a “Theme-a-Day” purchase: Hat Day, T-Shirt Day, Stuffed Animal Day, etc. This puts a cap on constant nagging.
10. Get up Early, Early, Early. Getting a head start on the day means the mornings can be spent touring the theme parks, while the afternoons can be used for swimming or napping. That leaves plenty of time in the evening for parades, fireworks and the rest of what Disney World has to offer.
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