Is there any place WHERE THE GENERATIONS MEET® more than Walt Disney World?! Opened in 1971, this family friendly destination has become an American tradition. We recently went on our FIRST Disney World family vacation and wanted to share the highlights with you. This post is for families with young children ages 3-8. But be sure to also check out the Disney World Done Right post by a former contributor for more tips and tricks that make this experience more magical for anyone seeking that authentic Disney World experience!
We stayed at Disney’s Grand Floridian in two of their connecting Lagoon rooms (great for families!) and enjoyed the splash park and pool one afternoon. The hotel provides transportation to other hotels and the parks, with the monorail station on their second floor!
Two things we recommend are the My Disney Experience App and the MagicBands! We utilized the My Disney Experience App to get in and out of our hotel room and to preorder passes and meals. Budget for a lot of snacks and buy on-the-go, so there is less stuff you have to carry into the parks! The MagicBands are secure, all-in-one wristbands that allow you to effortlessly access the plans and vacation choices that you’ve made with My Disney Experience. They work as room key, check in to park/etc. and all information is stored on your wrist. And the best part is, you can choose from all different fun colors and styles for everyone in the family!
One thing to note, Disney has recently been doing “park reservations” because of COVID, but this might be something that is around to stay for a while. Before you visit a park, you must have valid admission and then make a park reservation via the Disney Park Pass system (required for Guests ages 3 and up). All of this info should then be stored on your app and wristband for convenient access!
Here were some of our favorite stops in our three-day trip:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom was a huge hit with all three of my kids! This zoological theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort is definitely worth visiting. We went first thing in the morning and there was no line. The Kilimanjaro Safari was a top highlight for the whole family. You set off in an open-air vehicle for a guided tour of an African savanna—and spot live animals roaming free. Be sure to bring cameras for kids so they can take pictures of all the amazing animals they see!
We went on this trip with a business network that arranged special experiences, like a night at Animal Kingdom when we had exclusive access to the new Avatar “Flight of Passage” ride and the Nahva River Cruise! While our three-year-old couldn’t do the Avatar ride, she enjoyed the cruise! My sons did the Avatar ride a few times, and maintained that it was a favorite throughout the week!
The real dose of Disney Magic is the original Magic Kingdom park! The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse near the entrance was a big hit for the boys who love the book and movie (and since it’s not a ride, there were no lines!). My daughter loved the Dumbo ride and wore a vintage fabric Etsy dress for photos! We ended the day with the Aladdin Magic Carpet ride and stopped by the Aloha Isle café for famous “Dole Whip” treats.
When it comes to lunch at Magic Kingdom, we chose well with the Be Our Guest Restaurant prix fixe lunch experience inside Fantasyland! Enter the Beast’s enchanted castle for an unforgettable regal dining experience. The Beast himself even made a character appearance every half hour, and you can get a peek at the “real” enchanted rose in one of the dining room libraries! Guests ages 9 and under can select from their very own 3-course menu, culminating with a paint-your-own-dessert surprise with a “Chip the Teacup” made of white chocolate!
Note that to dine at an in-park table-service restaurant, you need a confirmed dining reservation for the total number of guests, regardless of age, plus a park reservation and valid admission for the same park on that same date for each guest ages three and up. Disney restaurant reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance (and one additional day for each night you stay at a Disney hotel). They fill up quickly, so definitely plan ahead!
If you are going to Disney World, you can’t miss their Hollywood Studios park! Runaway Railway was the unanimous family favorite here. Star Wars rides including Millennium Falcon and Rise of the Resistance were also big hits with the boys. Liza was tall enough for the Millenium Falcon but not much else in the Star Wars Galaxy. The Toy Story aliens ride was her favorite, and another family favorite was the Toy Story shootout game, which we did twice!
Last but not least in the tour de Disney was Epcot, known for its geodesic sphere and, of course, all of the international fare and beverages! We loved the (air conditioned!) Beauty and the Beast sing-along in “Paris” and ate lunch at Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion (order ahead through the My Disney Experience app!). Right after lunch we hopped onto “Living with the Land,” which was great for the whole family and had no line! A gentle, slow-moving boat rides through multimedia agricultural displays and the four working greenhouses of the resort. Another ride that is a must at Epcot (and worth the wait!) is “Soarin’,” an around-the-world tour on a breezy, airborne “flight” as you hang glide above the breathtaking wonders of the world!
Now, while Universal Studios is not Disney World, when in Orlando, why not make all the stops?! Our family visited Universal Studios one evening for Harry Potter world, Shrek and Minions experiences! We ate at the nearby House of Blues before entering the park for a nighttime excursion, and we’re glad we fit it all in!
What are some of your family’s favorite Disney World or Orlando travel experiences? Let us know if you try any of these ideas and share your own highlights with us by tagging @lolliandme in your posts on Instagram and Facebook!