This post was sponsored by Walt Disney World® Resort, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Now that I’ve told you how we broke the news and gave you tips for bringing preschoolers, it’s time to recap our vacation. It was our first time taking the kids to Walt Disney World® Resort. It was also the first time both Mike and I had been there since we were kids ourselves. I’m going to be honest and admit that while I have been wanting to take Mazzy and Harlow there for quite some time, Mike has been very reluctant. He was afraid of crowds and waiting on lines and being around too many families with screaming children when ours were enough to deal with on their own.
He wanted to wait until the kids were older to go and I wanted to go before the kids were too old to truly appreciate the magic. Fortunately for both of us, we got an unexpected invitation from Walt Disney World® Resort to come and document our experience, so I never had to force my hand.
Turns out, neither of us should have been worried. Walt Disney World® Resort is incredibly preschooler-friendly and I don’t think anyone ever gets too old. The magic worked on everyone, including Mike.
Day One: Arrival and Epcot®
As soon as we got off the plane, Mazzy and Harlow got excited when they saw the sign for the Disney’s Magical Express Service, a bus that takes you directly to your hotel if you are staying on property. “Mickey!!!!” they screamed and our vacation had officially begun.
We stayed at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn which is situated on a cute boardwalk with restaurants, bars, and ice creams shops and even a few carnival type games along the water. Since we had taken an early flight to maximize our time, we had a good half day to spend at the park. We quickly dropped our bags off in the room and got changed (Harlow into her Snow White dress) and headed over to Epcot® which was both walkable and accessible by boat from the hotel.
On the way over, I explained that Epcot® World Showcase has little mini representations of various parts of the world.
After walking through the United Kingdom and Canada pavillions, we ended up in Mexico where we had lunch at La Cantina de San Angel. “Where are the rides, Mom????”
“Don’t worry, there will be plenty of rides.”
To prove my point, I took them across the way to the Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros attraction, a musical boat ride hidden in the back of restaurant which I was told almost never has a line. It was Harlow’s first ride and it starts off in the dark so she was a little scared, but then immediately felt better when Donald Duck made an appearance. It’s a pretty minor ride in the scheme of things but the kids LOVED it, which was a pretty good indication that they were going to be blown away by the rest of the vacation.
At lunch, Mike used the My Disney Experience app to make FastPass reservations for an Elsa/Anna meet and greet and the Frozen Ever After ride. Arendelle happens to be right next to Mexico, if you didn’t know.
Harlow chickened out and wouldn’t go up to Elsa without me holding her, but Mazzy ate it all up with a spoon.
Then we went on the Frozen Ever After attraction, which was pretty amazing, I have to say. It’s also a boat ride but there are a few steeper hills (one that you went over backwards) which scared Harlow a bit, because she wasn’t expecting it. But in the end, they both loved it.
Next we went on the Spaceship Earth® attraction, which is the ride in the big globe. Mike rode with Mazzy and I rode with Harlow, who accidentally hit a button to change the voiceover narration to Spanish so we couldn’t quite understand what the story was, but I had fun making up explanations for Harlow about the stone age and the “future.” Harlow really loved it, which was surprising, particularly the part at the top of the globe where it feels like you are in space looking at the Planet Earth. “I liked it because it was slow for me,” Harlow kept repeating which gave us a good indication of what she did and did not want to experience.
After that, Mike took Harlow on the Living with the Land attraction, while I took Mazzy on the Soarin’® attraction. I’ll tell you now, the Soarin’® attraction was hands down my favorite ride at Walt Disney World® Resort. You sit facing a huge screen in movie theater style seats that lift up off the ground and give you the sensation of flying over all different parts of the world. Mazzy was beside herself with glee. I imagine my smile was just as big.
Day Two: Magic Kingdom® Park
For Day Two, we took advantage of Extra Magic Hours, which is available to select Walt Disney World® Resort hotel guests offering them extra time at one select theme park each day with valid park ticket and resort ID. It was truly bizarre walking through the Tomorrowland® area and down the Main Street, U.S.A.® area with so few people around.
We headed over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train® attraction so Mazzy and Harlow could see a real roller coaster. Harlow ended up being a little too small to ride but I think that was a good thing because she would have thought it was too fast for her. Mazzy loves roller coasters and was really excited. She was even more excited when we got to ride more than once with our Extra Magic Hours! You know who else loved it? Mike.
Next we got to meet Mikey Mouse, who actually spoke. Harlow and Mazzy loved asking him questions and gave him lots of high fives and hugs.
Next we took the girls on Peter Pan’s Flight® attraction, It’s a Small World® attraction and the Mad Tea Party ride, all of which both kids enjoyed. I remember the It’s a Small World® attraction making a big impression on me as a kid so it was fun to see it hasn’t changed.
After lunch at Columbia Harbor House (fish sticks for everyone!), we trekked over to The Magic Carpets of Aladdin® attraction, which Harlow will tell you was her favorite ride of the trip. She loved that she could make the carpet go up and down herself and I think she particularly loved when she maneuvered our carpet so that a camel squirted me with water.
Next up, we strolled down the Main Street, U.S.A area and through Cinderella castle, stopping in the Tomorrowland® area to ride the Space Mountain® attraction. Mike and I took advantage of the Rider Switch and each went with Mazzy once. FYI, the Space Mountain® attraction quickly usurped the Soarin’® attraction as Mazzy’s favorite ride.
Meanwhile Harlow was kept entertained with an Ariel bubble wand and truly believed she had gotten the better end of the deal.
Then, Mike and I surprised the girls with Rapunzel dresses to wear to the Festival of Fantasy Parade. Rapunzel is currently their favorite princess (although that could change at any time) and the girls were delighted.
I’d never been to the Parade as a kid and honestly, it probably wouldn’t be one of the things I would have made a priority if we had gone on our own, but it was awesome. Well worth braving the crowds and getting a good spot along the Main Street®, U.S.A.® area. All the princesses were in attendance and the floats were really something special. Seriously. Magic. Disney really knows what they are doing.
After the parade was over (and I had fully watched Mike waving to the Disney characters like he was a preschooler too), we took the girls to meet Rapunzel and Tiana. Harlow had come out of her shell significantly since the day before (she always needs a little warm-up time) and walked up to the princesses herself. She even did a twirl with them.
I could have stayed in the park straight up until dinner but the kids really wanted to go back to the hotel to go swimming. There was a huge water slide that looked like a clown at our hotel pool and they were not about to pass that opportunity up.
There are few things my kids love more than a hotel pool.
Day Three: Disney’s Hollywood Studios® and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park®
Since we wanted to go back to Magic Kingdom® Park on the last day, we decided to split our day between Disney’s Hollywood Studios® and Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.
We began our day by using FastPass for the Toy Story Mania® attraction, which is half ride, half interactive video game.
Mazzy and Mike went in a car together and I rode with Harlow, who had blast even though she had no idea how to aim the shooter. I tried my best not to beat her too badly.
Then we saw the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show and right as it was ending, Harlow said, “When is the movie coming on?”
Afterwards, we watched the Storm Troopers parade down Hollywood Boulevard and then quickly made the executive decision to cut out early to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. If I had to do it over again, I would say not to try to do two parks in one day. If I had to choose one over the other, I would go with Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park. But then again, my kids aren’t that into Star Wars or Toy Story.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park made a big impression right from the entrance where we saw the Tree of Life® attraction, followed by a flock of pink flamingos and someone passing out Wilderness Explorer Handbooks for the kids to collect stickers depending on what they learned throughout the park. The Explorer Handbooks were a huge hit and my kids both got into completing the tasks and earning stickers. They stuck with it for the rest of the day.
Lots of people told us both Finding Nemo – the Musical and The Festival of the Lion King show were two of the best things at the park. Since we had limited time and we’d already seen the Lion King on Broadway, we opted for the Finding Nemo show. It did not disappoint. The costumes and animatronics were spectacular and it ended the way every children’s show should— raining bubbles.
Since Mazzy loved both the Space Mountain® attraction and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad® attraction, she was super excited to go on the Expedition Everest® attraction, the tallest roller coaster at Walt Disney World® Resort. Honestly, I did not think that the rides got much scarier than the Space Mountain® attraction so I didn’t really think twice about taking her on the ride. She met the height requirement and that was that. But— OH MY— the Expedition Everest® attraction is NO JOKE. This is not a kiddie ride. It went super fast on hills that were super steep and did the whole thing backwards. Mazzy and I were both terrified, although in the end, Mazzy said she was glad she did it. I asked her if she would do it again and she gave a firm NO. (But I should add, since we’ve been home, she brags about it to everyone she knows.) My advice is to save this ride until your kids are at least ten and only if they are real thrill seekers!
We walked briefly through the DinoLand U.S.A.® area, which is set up like an old school carnival. It looked like we could have spent many hours there and there was tons for Harlow to do, but we had a FastPass reservation for the Kilimanjaro Safaris® expedition and needed to eat something first.
We stopped at Pizzafari which is in a really cool section of the park. There was music playing and as an art director, I really have to say— the place looked incredibly special and like you had truly been transported to a faraway land.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris® expedition was awesome with tons of animals like elephants, giraffes and hippos. The kids both diligently marked off the animals in their Explorer Books as they saw them.
Then we walked through the Gorilla Falls Exploration trail where we saw birds, reptiles and an adorable baby gorilla rolling down a hill. Man, I wish I caught that on video.
After that, we went back to the hotel and prepped the kids for the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show at Magic Kingdom® Park which was playing at 9pm that night, one hour past their bedtime, after a pretty tiring day. I hoped they would keep it together because I REALLY wanted to go. I don’t remember my parents letting me stay up late to see it when I went to Walt Disney World® Resort as a kid.
Before the big show, we went to the Garden Grove Restaurant for character dining, where Goofy photobombed Harlow. She had no idea that he was behind her until after this picture was taken.
I have to say, since we were invited on this trip with very little time to plan, I didn’t find that to be an issue in reserving any rides at the park, but it was almost impossible to get into one of the better character dining experiences without a reservation made a few months in advance. Take note – plan as far in advance as you can.
Then we took the monorail to the Magic Kingdom® Park, which was worth it just to see the front entrance all lit up. The girls got big lollipops at the corner candy store in the Main Street, U.S.A.® area and we waited for the main event. Once again, it did not disappoint. I mean, I expected the fireworks show to impress the girls, but I really didn’t expect it to have that huge of impression on me.
Well, you should never underestimate Disney.
From the second Tinkerbell flew out of the castle to the moment “When you wish upon a star” started playing, followed by Mazzy whisper shouting, “Mom! I didn’t realize Tinkerbell was real!!!” I almost cried at how beautiful it was. Mike and I kept turning to each other and saying, “This is really magical…” We were partly joking but mostly not. That fireworks show was artful and all consuming.
After it was over, we decided to knock out one more ride since we had limited time the next day. We opted for the Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid attraction. Harlow fell asleep right as we were getting on and then woke up halfway through when we were in the big room surrounded by all the sea creatures singing “Under the Sea.” I mean, Harlow’s eyes are huge on a normal day but they seemed to grow ten sizes bigger in that moment. I can’t even imagine what was going through her brain.
On the way out, we happened to pass the Cinderella Castle just as it seemed a second set of fireworks were going off. They signaled the start of a projection show called Once Upon a Time which played representations of Disney movies on the Cinderella castle. Words won’t do it justice, but I think I liked it even better than the Fireworks show. And it was even better that we saw it completely by accident.
Day Four: Guided Tour of Magic Kingdom
Okay. Day four! We used this day to take advantage of one of the Disney Guides who can give park-goers a more customized experience. It’s available to anybody but it’s pricey. You can use one guide for up to ten people and our guide told us that families often will use them on the last day to cross off anything they may have missed throughout their stay.
Having a guide means you have a FastPass to basically everything and someone who is in communication with the people manning the rides to make sure you are waiting for as little time as possible. Once we told her what we wanted to do, she plotted the best course around the park to get it done before we had to leave for the airport to catch our plane.
Those things included another ride on the Space Mountain® attraction for Mazzy, another ride on Under the Seas – Journey of The Little Mermaid attraction for Harlow, another ride on Peter Pan’s Flight® attraction because both kids really loved it, Dumbo the Flying Elephant® attraction, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh® attraction, Pirates of Caribbean® attraction, the Haunted Mansion® attraction and Splash Mountain® attraction.
The kids both loved the Haunted Mansion® attraction, especially the stretching murals inside. I thought Harlow might get scared but she thought the ghosts were hilarious and particularly loved when they all played music and partied at the end.
Here’s an insider tip for the Tomorrowland Speedway® attraction— if you ask the guy manning the ride, he will give your kid a pretend paper license. The kids actually get to drive the cars (gas and steering and all) which was super exciting for them. Harlow was a TERRIBLE driver but she didn’t seem to notice. Let’s just say, it took us a little longer than most to get around the track.
The Dumbo the Flying Elephant® attraction was great because it has a little playground for kids while they wait, plus it was basically the elephant equivalent to the Magic Carpets Of Aladdin ride which was Harlow’s favorite.
It also has a great photo op spot.
The Splash Mountain® attraction ended up being Mazzy’s favorite ride of the trip. Or was it the Space Mountain® attraction? Or was it the Soarin’® attraction? I think the Splash Mountain® attraction won because it was last. We were in the front and got soaked and she loved every second of it.
The other thing the guide managed to pull off was securing that reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table for lunch which we had been trying and failing to do the entire time. We got to walk up the spiral staircase inside the castle to a fancy dining room with beautiful windows and dine amongst every princess in the kingdom. Harlow was wearing her Snow White costume again, so my favorite moment was when Snow White came up behind her to say hello.
After rushing to buy a few last minute gifts, our guide drove us to the airport and we had to face the sad reality that our vacation to the magical land of Walt Disney World® Resort was over.
But don’t worry, we brought Snow White and Minnie Mouse home with us.