My family recently did the Disney thing, and it was quite the trip. My sister and I decided to plan the first trip for our kids together and between the two of us we have 7 kids who at the time of the trip ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years. My dad, step mom and step brother decided to join in as well which definitely helped with the crazy amount of kids we had. Prior to the trip we discovered so many different ways to prep and plan for the trip. My sister and I are the wanna be Type A planners but end up going with the flow for whatever we didn’t plan, got wrong or didn’t anticipate and are normally ok with that. I’m the mom who on most days her kids (and self) are wearing two different socks….however before you totally write me off I do always make sure the colors or characters somewhat match. I’ll pair Elsa and Anna together, or Minnie and Daisy…you know the next best thing. And let me tell you the excitement I feel when I open the sock drawer and I find actual pairs rolled up together…the pride.
I digress…Disney. Ok, so yes there are many tools out there. One of our favorites is the Smart Mom’s Plan Disney FB page. I mean, this is filled with the super organized, Type A, ahead of the game moms who know all the secrets. So from a hot mess express over here, a big THANK YOU! What I ended up doing is saving a lot of posts but then freaking out when we arrived to Disney because I didn’t organize what I saved. I was able to pull enough from what I and my sister saved to feel confident in our plan of attack for Park days 2 & 3. Park day 1 was our learning day. Here is an example of my ‘prep’ for each day:
I embarrass myself this way in order to ease concerns of parents whom feel overwhelmed and don’t have it all together. My sister and I ended up being super happy with our trip.
Ok, before I jump into what worked for us and what didn’t, I’d like to describe the type of trip we hoped for. This trip was definitely for the kids and because we have so many little ones the character sightings were very important to us. Staying on site was also very important to us since we were only going to have two or three park days (we ended up with three), we wanted to stay somewhere convenient and fun. Our last hope was of course to get on the big rides for each park we were going to, and figuring out which kid was tall enough for each ride. We didn’t care about park hoping (we knew our limits with traveling with 7 kids), we didn’t care about shopping, we didn’t care about gourmet food. This was our hope when we started planning. We did hire a Disney planner which helped financially with getting our deposit in way ahead of time and that gave us time to save. She was very helpful in helping us decide where to stay, what attractions and character experiences were open and which were closed due to COVID (ever changing), setting up our reservation and reserving our character dining experiences. Our trip was Monday – Friday. We arrived Monday to our resort, did three park days in a row Tuesday through Thursday and then stayed the day at our resort on Friday before heading out late Friday afternoon. For me the best way to break our entire trip down is by category (resort, parks, dining, etc). So I’ll start with where we stayed.
Arts of Animation is awesome and I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s considered a budget friendly on site resort however I felt like I was living a 5 stars type of life with everything there. It was a very cool experience.
Upon our arrival the check in process was super simple. We arrived early but had previously notified them through our Disney app that we requested an early check in. We arrived about two hours before check in and our room was ready by the time we finished lunch at their on site cafeteria. The food is nothing to write home about but we weren’t planning on eating there much so it didn’t bother us. My family stayed in the Lion King building in a family suite. It was much more expensive then a regular room however because we have 4 kids we didn’t have a choice, which I am now grateful for because the suite worked out really well for us. Walking from the lobby over to the Lion King building really got the excitement flowing. There is so much to see.
We had plenty of space in our family suite, three beds (one folded out from the couch, one Murphy bed), two bath rooms, room for a little crib that the resort provided and a kitchenette which allowed us to eat breakfast in our room everyday before going to a park. After we got settled in our room we spent a couple of hours at the pool which we loved. We also spent some time walking around and checking out all the different themed areas (Lion King, Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Cars). We absolutely loved it. One thing we missed out on doing is the outdoor movie night however we weren’t getting back from parks early enough anyway. We did roast marshmallows our first night which happens every day at 5 and that was a cute welcome. Logistically, everything worked out well. Our building was close to the pool, the front lobby and the buses which made travel super simple. My sister stayed in The Little Mermaid building which was further but it didn’t seem to bother them much at all. When we arrived I ordered groceries through insta-cart and they were delivered to the lobby within a couple of hours. This allowed us to have our own water, juice, snacks, breakfast and lunch foods. We had plenty of room in the suite to store everything and as mentioned, ate breakfast in our room before departing each day. One thing I did mobile order every morning from the resort cafeteria is coffee and espresso which was always ready for me to grab and go on our way out. The transportation was also pretty simple. We took a bus to both Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom and the Skyline to Hollywood Studios. We did not do Epcot. The skyline by far was the easiest mode of transportation. We had two double strollers and 4 kids (just my family) so our hands were always full and I would take the skyline everyday all day. The buses were simple enough and we never had to wait long however looking back it probably would have been easier to drive our car into AK and MK. We wouldn’t have to pay for parking since we were already paying to park at Arts of Animation and it did get difficult leaving the parks. The kids would fall asleep in the strollers on the way to the buses and we’d have to not only wake them up but get them out of the stroller and onto the bus. By day two they all looked like zombies out of pure exhaustion. Its only a 10 minute bus ride so again wasn’t terrible.
I honestly don’t have anything really disappointing or bad to say about the Arts of Animation. The beds were super comfy, the pool was awesome and the grounds were beautiful. If we had decided on only two park days it wouldn’t have bothered me having a full resort day here. We did get to spend more than half the day at the pool on our check out day. We packed everything into our car by the 11am checkout time and then let the kids swim until we left, which was late afternoon.
And during that last pool day we got to invite our friends with their four kids over to our resort since they were also staying on site at a different location, which I thought was cool.
Now on to our Park Days. We opted for three park days and chose Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (in that order which worked out perfect for us). We decided to have a later start at Animal Kingdom because we knew MK and Hollywood would be super long days. We had an idea of what rides we wanted to do but no game plan on where to start. This resulted in lots of back and forth between the different worlds at AK. We also weren’t that privy to utilizing the Disney App and Genie Plus, a feature that allows you to schedule out rides so you don’t have to wait in line. It’s the new version of their old fast pass system. We definitely spent the day working out the kinks but by the end of the day I think both my sister and I felt comfortable with it and knew what we had to do in order to utilize our time better at MK and HS. Because of this we missed out on a lot of the park but I wasn’t disappointed. We did the Safari, the Lion King show, rapid river ride, It’s Tough to be a Bug (really cool) and our favorite..the Avatar ride, Flight of Passage. As my six year old daughter put it, “It was amazing!!!”. We did plan our day so that we ended in the Avatar area, Pandora, because we were told everything lights up and is really cool…and it was. I wish we had more time in Pandora and would have traded in the Safari for time to do the Navi River Ride but there was no way of knowing that beforehand, just a personal preference thing. It also rained the entire day at AK. We brought ponchos but most of them ended up ripping so we had to buy more in the park, which of course were expensive and ended up ripping to. So bring good quality ponchos, will save you money. All in all I was happy with our day and am glad we chose AK instead of Epcot.
Park day two was Magic Kingdom. We were definitely more prepared for how we wanted to explore the park and decided to ‘Rope Drop’ to help those efforts. Rope Dropping is being allowed into the park 30 minutes early if you are staying at an on site resort. So I got up at 5am, had our family at the bus by 7am and looking back it so wasn’t worth it, lol. We did this for two reasons, one to get a nice picture in front of the castle without a crazy amount of people in the shot. Well, there were a crazy amount of people with that same idea. The other reason was to get to a very popular ride first that you couldn’t use Genie Plus for that early, the Seven Dwarfs. We booked it right to that ride once the ‘rope dropped’ for us and again, not the only people with this idea because we still had to wait an hour. That ended up not being bad as we had some people wait in line and some take our littles to a nearby ride with no wait. The rest of the day went really well as me and my sister were on top of Genie Plus and DAS scheduling rides. I believe we did everything we set out to do and got to experience a little of each world. With this large group of people I would not do Disney without Genie Plus. It was $15 a day per person with a select few top rides from each park costing extra to schedule, but for us it was worth it. We wanted to stay together and for the most part we were able to do so while getting to the rides everyone wanted to get to. Well except for my dad, he really wanted the kids to experience ‘Its a Small World’ which we didn’t have time to do (sorry dad!). Our focus was on rides and seeing characters. We had more success with the rides. We saw two little calvacades that featured a few characters each and waited in line to meet two featured princesses, Tiana and Rapunzel. My girls were so happy to meet them so it worked out. We also saw Buzz at some point but I believe that’s it. I was disappointed my girls did not see Cinderella but they didn’t mention it. We were on the go all day and stayed until the park closed, ending with their iconic firework show. That was just beautiful and a great way to end the day. A ride I could have done without is Jungle Cruise, just wasn’t that entertaining. I was expecting some real wildlife, a mistake on my part, and it was all fake. The only other details I was disappointed in was our castle pictures (I totally forgot about a secret spot I learned about on Smart Moms) and character sightings. I was prepared for the lack of character sightings though and that is why we spent money on character experience dining (reviews below). Long day, great day, magical day.
Our third and last park day was Hollywood Studios. We learned that one of the featured rides, the Star Wars rides, scheduled out pretty fast so in order to get a time slot and not wait in line my sister was on Genie Plus at like 6 am. The time slots through Genie Plus got taken up in about three minutes. She didn’t get it at first but stayed on it until something opened up and was able to get our entire party scheduled. Thank the lord because our husbands would have been really disappointed. And after experiencing the ride myself, I am so glad we got on. Most of our rides were scheduled for the afternoon so we had the morning to explore and go on rides that didn’t have long waits. We got to see a pretty cool calvacade as soon as we got there and then right away went and met Olaf and saw a Frozen musical. The girls loved it and I was happy to do that first and get it out of the way so we can spend the rest of the day focused on the rides, which we did. We started things off with the Slinky Dog roller coaster and were non stop from there. We got to visit each area of HS however I wish we had more time in Star Wars Land. Im not even a Star Wars fan however I was so impressed by all the detail showcased at every turn. Chewy was out and about working on his ship, Storm troopers were out, it was by far the most realistic land. We ended with Rock and Roll roller coaster and Minnie and Micky’s runaway train. Both I loved and were so glad we did. Ending the rides with Minnie & Micky’s runaway train was unplanned but a great thing to do. The only rides we weren’t able to do that we wanted was Tower of Terror, and this success was 100% due to having Genie Plus.
Ok, Character Dining!!!! Going into this trip we knew character experiences were limited due to COVID so we planned to spend the extra money on character dining. Reserving character dining is a beast within itself. Reservations open up 60 days (could be 90, I forget) prior to your trip at 5am. My planner and I were on the Disney app at 5am and got all the reservations we wanted except for one. It was crazy how fast these slots fill up. And being that we had 14 people that made things difficult, but we did it. Our first reservation was for Chef Micky on the day we arrived but not until 9:30pm. It was late and yes that made for cranky babies however the kids had a blast seeing most of the main Disney Characters our first night there. And this definitely made up for not seeing many characters in the park. The food was ok, the kids food a little less than ok and it was expensive. Again for what we wanted I didn’t mind and we were very good about not spending much money on food in the parks except for these sit down reservations. So yes, Chef Micky kicked it off!
Our second Character Dining reservation was at The Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. Im so glad we had this because it gave us a couple of hours sitting inside, out of the rain and entertained by the characters. Again, lots of main characters that came around at least two or three times while we were there. The food was best here out of everywhere we went. Still expensive but worth it for the characters.
Our last reservation was for Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios on our last park day. We did not have anything reserved for Magic Kingdom and instead ate what we brought with the exception of a mobile order quick lunch and hot dogs during the fireworks. Ending our last park day with a character dining experience was really nice and again, all the characters came around plenty of times. So much so that towards the end the kids didn’t react, lol. Food was ok.
All in all I am glad we did the character dining. It is disappointing that the kids can’t hug, get autographs, or take pictures right next to the characters however we knew that going in.
Lastly I’d like to review some of the items we brought for the kids which were all used and helped in not needing to buy a lot of souvenirs there. We ended up buying our daughters three small items each, two from different parks and one from the hotel gift store. All the other Disney stuff we bought beforehand and that definitely saved us money. The most used items being the Minnie Sunglasses (Amazon), Disney water bottles (Amazon) Minnie Ears (Burlington & Amazon), Disney bathing suits (Target & Amazon), Minnie Autograph books which we are using as photo albums (Amazon), Disney themed sneakers (Burlington & Amazon) and last but not least their Minnie Backpacks (Burlington). If I didn’t buy these items beforehand I know I would have been suckered into getting most from the parks.
All in all we had a great time. The kids loved it. I discovered that although I felt the Disney Magic, I got emotional seeing the Castle, I teared up at the fireworks and damn it I became a Disney App expert…..I am not a Disney Mania Mama, haha. I am perfectly ok with waiting at least 5 years to go again…at least. And I think the husbands are also on board with that thought. Both my husband and my sisters husband did something they never thought they’d do. I said to Russell (my husband, pictured right) that it only took 4 kids for this to happen and he said No, it took Disney. hahahah
So until next time…Peace Out Disney. Thanks for the experience!!!