I wanted to start out by thanking the great people at Touring Plans who put this site together, it was an integral part of my planning and it was well worth the money spent for the membership. I also want to thank all the people on the message board who answered my questions over the last few months, you all have been very helpful and aided in my planning so much.
This was my first trip to Disney since 1998 when I was 16 years old. This trip was the first for my wife in many years as well and the first trip for our two daughters ages 4 (almost 5) and 1 (closer to 2). We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge and the plan was to do two days at Magic Kingdom and one at Animal Kingdom.
Monday September 24th
Our flight was scheduled to leave Boston Logan Airport at 7:45 AM, we live about 20 miles outside the city so we were out the door at 5:15 AM. We had a smooth ride into the airport and I dropped DW36, DD4, and DD1 at the Delta curbside drop-off with the bags and I took the car to central parking. This worked out great for us as we had three bags and two car seats to check and it would have been a real pain to lug all that with two kids through the parking garage. DW and I both have TSA Precheck so we flew through security and were at our gate in no time. Our flight to Orlando was direct and both kids were well behaved but were getting a little restless near the end.
We opted to rent a car rather than use the Disney Magical Express service, just my preference but not having a car on vacation makes me feel almost trapped. We rented a minivan from Alamo. I thought I was going to be quick using the self-service kiosk but since I was trying to pick up my car at 11:00 AM which was before the 12:00 PM time that I reserved it for so the cost was doubled. I waited in line to talk to an agent and it all got cleared up very quickly. We were then on our way to the Wilderness Lodge. The kids crashed in the car, I was hoping to get them fired up seeing the “Welcome to Disney World” sign on the highway but it was better to let them get some rest in.
We got to the Wilderness Lodge and I had not yet received a text about my room being ready, I had done the online check in already. We walked into the lobby and it was amazing as I had hoped and even better in person than it is in the pictures. Even though I didn’t receive a “your room is ready” text I decided to talk to the cast members at the desk and sure enough my room was ready. I used the Touring Plans fax room request tool and lo and behold I got the exact room, 5041, that I had asked for (thanks Touring Plans!). We took our bags and checked in. We had planned to have this be a pool day so we unpacked our bags and were at the pool area soon after. We had a quick take out lunch from Geyser Point which was very good (I had the crab cake sandwich). Both of our daughters loved the pool and we spent about two hours there. During this time, we had a few rain showers but it didn’t deter us. Around 4:00 PM the lifeguards got everyone out of the pool because of an impending storm. It was okay for us because we had an early 5:10 reservation at Whispering Canyon. As we were going back to our room we got our notification that delivery from Garden Grocer arrived and was brought to our room by the bell desk. We went down to Whispering Canyon and had an enjoyable meal. I had the BBQ skillet which I really enjoyed, my wife was still full from the later Geyser Point lunch so she ordered the side of baked macaroni and cheese as her meal and she liked that as well. It’s been talked about how the “antics” of the wait staff had been toned down and while other tables were getting some sass from their servers and had the ketchup game going but our waitress must have noticed we were a little worn out from a 4:30 AM wake up so she took it easy on us. After dinner we were all pretty wiped out so we went back to bed and everyone was asleep by 7:30.
Tuesday September 25th – Magic Kingdom Day 1
Today was our first day at a park, the Magic Kingdom. Because of the Halloween party scheduled at night the park was due to close at 6:00 PM. We decided that we would not take a mid-day break due to the early closing time. We also had scheduled the following day to be a “rest” day so we felt a little bit better about trying to push it a little more today. We got the kids up at 7:00 AM, had breakfast in the room and we were out the door a little after 8:00 AM. Back when I first started mapping this trip out my plan was to take the boat to the Contemporary and walk to the Magic Kingdom. The reason for this was I was not sure if the red flag boat that goes direct from WL to MK would get us there in time for the Let the Magic Begin opening ceremonies. But since we weren’t taking a break and it was already about 80 degrees by 8:00 AM I wanted to save as much energy for everyone as possible so I tried for a Minnie Van on our walk to the lobby. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful. I tried once and got to the “trying to locate a driver” screen but had no luck locating a driver. I tried it once more while in the lobby and it was taking a long time, so while it was doing that we walked to the bus stop and as luck would have it there was a MK bus there ready to go so I canceled the Minnie Van request and we hopped on the bus. We got to MK and I must say I was completely unprepared for the security line. This is not to blame Disney what so ever, it was just an oversight on my part. The search process seemed to drag on but eventually we were through and into park. We came up Main St and I could see that DD4 was blown away by the sight of the castle in front of her. We made our way up the street and were there front row for the opening ceremony. Right after this we made our way through the castle and hit Winnie the Pooh which at this time in the morning was a walk on for us. The rest of the rides we hit, with some notes on each, are listed in order below:
Winnie the Pooh – Kids liked it but I feel like this early in the day their heads were still spinning a bit with all that was going on, they also have not watched a lot of Winnie the Pooh shows/movies so I think this ride didn’t resonate as much as others.
Rapunzel/Tiana - The kids loved this, the oldest is a big Tangled/Princess and the Frog fan so this was enjoyable for them. This was a minimal wait, probably 7-10 minutes.
Cinderella/Elena – This was a fast pass for us so we flew through the line and once again a meet and greet that the kids loved
Carousel – This wasn’t originally on the itinerary but the kids really wanted to do it and we were a bit ahead of schedule so we went on
Fantasy Faire – Both sets of grandparents gave the kids some money so we took some time to go into the AC and get the girls some Minnie mouse ears
Meet Ariel in Her Grotto – Minimal wait here as well, no more than 10 minutes
Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid – Minimal wait for this ride and one that the kids loved as they are both big fans of the Little Mermaid, also great to get into the air conditioning for a while
Enchanted Tales with Belle – Another fast pass ride for us, we moved quickly through the line and my oldest was picked to be part of the tale so we got some great pictures with Belle
Lunch at Cosmic Rays – Took about an hour to spend more time in the AC, I liked the food here even though it was your typical fast food/quick service type of meal. Only one bay was open when we arrived so it was busy, but as we were waiting another bay opened and we quickly moved over to that one.
Mickeys Philarmagic – DW and DD4 went together on this one while I waited with DD1 because it looked like she was close to going down for a nap and for some reason or another DD4 did not like it, either it was too dark or she was a little spooked by the 3D but they left early.
AT this point we were getting close to parade time so we made our way over to Sleepy Hollow to stake out a spot. We found a spot in the shade right across the street from Sleepy Hollow. The kids enjoyed it but I had the feeling they were starting to peter out a bit.
Small World – We originally had Haunted Mansion scheduled here but I felt like DD4 wasn’t really up for it so we skipped it and went straight to Small World which she liked but once again it seemed like we were losing them
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - We had a fast pass for this ride and I was a little skeptical about whether or not DD4 was ready for it, but she was talking about it all day and insisted that she wanted to try it. We did the rider swap just in case she wanted to ride it again and sure enough DD4 loved it! As soon as we got off she was asking to go again so my wife went on it with her. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done because it really seemed to give DD4 a second wind.
Tea Cups – This wasn’t originally on the itinerary but on our walk to Dumbo the Flying Elephant we walked by the Tea Cups and the kids asked to go on and there was no wait so we went on and they both loved it
Dumbo the Flying Elephant – Took both kids to this, it was a walk on so we went twice and they loved it
Barnstormer – Took DD4 on this, it was another walk on with no wait
Disney Railroad – It was now about 5:00 PM so we hopped on the railroad and took it back to Main St.
Not a huge deal, but it was a bit of a cluster for us to get out with the flood of Halloween party goers trying to get in at the same time.
We hopped on the ferry boat and went back to WL and got back to the hotel a little before 6:00. DD4 was still ready to go (no naps for either at this point!) so I took her down to the pool for a bit. We did take out from Geyser Point and called it a night around 8:30.
Wednesday September 26th – Chef Mickey/Disney Springs
We knew the kids would need a break after the MK visit so we let them sleep late today. We had a reservation for 11:40 brunch at Chef Mickeys so we had some time to get in the pool beforehand. We took the boat over to the Contemporary and went to Chef Mickeys. We weren’t sure about what type of reaction we would get from DD1 when she encountered the characters at the restaurant. I have heard from some that said their kids loved it and others that said they hated it. Luckily for us our DD1 loved it! She loved all the characters and was only upset when they left. Our oldest loved it as well. I found the food to be pretty good, but clearly you are paying for the character experience. We took the boat back and hit the pool again. We had a 5:00 PM reservation (I know our dining times were all early but with little ones we wanted to get them into bed early) for Rainforest Café at Disney Springs so we left our hotel around 3:30 so we would have some time to poke around there. We drove over and went to the Disney store so the kids could spend more of Grandma and Grandpa’s gift money. The food at the Rainforest Café was fine, pretty much what you can expect at a place like that but the kids loved the theming.
Thursday September 27h – Magic Kingdom Day 2
The crew was up and ready early for our second day at the Magic Kingdom, this time we had better luck with the Minnie Van and got a car right away. Our driver was very nice and the ride from WL to MK was $13. I know it’s a premium price but after all the money we have spent so far what’s another $13 for convenience?
We arrived about 15 minutes before we did on our first Magic Kingdom day and it made a huge difference with security. It also helped that I knew what to expect and had the backpack and cooler all ready to go for inspection. We got through the gates and had enough time to take some pictures on Main St. and in front of the castle before the opening ceremony. As we experienced with every other time our little one met a character she was really upset once Mickey left the stage. We had done a lot of what we needed to do on Day 1 so we started in Adventureland at the Jungle Cruise.
Jungle Cruise – Fun ride, the kids loved it, and I enjoyed the corny jokes.
Magic Carpets of Aladdin - Both kids loved these types of rides (Dumbo, etc.) and loved having control of our altitude
Met Aladdin and Princess Jasmine
Pirates of the Caribbean - had a fast pass for this ride, the oldest didn’t want to go on, she doesn’t love rides that are super dark so I went on solo for the sake of nostalgia
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – We had a fast pass for this ride, after seeing how much DD4 loved 7DMT we figured this was worth a shot. We set up the rider swap with DW in case she wanted to ride again, unfortunately I think this one was a little too “big” for DD4. She said she liked it but didn’t want to ride it again
We had a fast pass for Splash Mountain but DD4 seemed hesitant so we skipped it, no need to push a kid into something they really don’t want to do.
At this point it was about 11:00 AM and with a reservation for the HEA Dessert Party our plan was to head back to WL for a mid-day rest. We got hot dogs at Casey’s Corner on our way out and took the boat back to the hotel. This is the one part of the trip that really didn’t go how I wanted it to. We got back to the hotel around 12:30, hoping to get the kids down by 1:00 for a two-hour nap, unfortunately they had other ideas and would not go to bed so around 2:00 we went down to the pool. We took the ferry back to the park around 3:30 and sure enough as soon as we got through the gates the kids crashed in the stroller and were out cold. This was fine as they needed to sleep and we had already done most of the things we set out to do, so my wife and I grabbed ice coffees and walked around the park a bit with them. When they finally woke up we did the following rides:
Tomorrowland Speedway – was able to grab a fourth fast pass during our break, DD4 loved driving the car
Met Stitch – DD4 loves Lilo and Stitch and I was not aware that this character meet and greet was available so this was a nice surprise
Ate a light dinner from the Lunching pad, food was fine but nothing extraordinary
Last ride we did was the People Mover which I loved as a kid and our kids loved as well.
It was now time for the pre-fireworks dessert party. We had reservations for the Plaza Garden viewing party. The desserts all tasted fantastic and the cast members staffing it were phenomenal. We left Tomorrowland Terrace at about 7:30 and made our way over to the Plaza Garden. As we got closer to the show the dark clouds rolled in and the lightning started. It never rained and there wasn’t much thunder but the fireworks were delayed about 45 minutes. The kids absolutely LOVED the fireworks and projection show on the castle. I originally wanted to stay for Once Upon a Time after the fireworks but with the weather and the kids being pretty tired we took off before that show and took the boat home.
Friday September 28th – Animal Kingdom
We let the kids sleep in a little bit after a late night. We had a fast pass for the Safari at 10:30 so we had some time in the morning. I had only been to the Animal Kingdom once before and it was right before it opened. At the time they were allowing Disney resort guests access to the park as kind of a soft opening prior to its official opening. We drove ourselves to the park, I didn’t want to deal with the bus, especially if the kids needed to leave quickly. We got there and made our way back to the area where the Safari line starts and noticed we were still about 25 minutes early so we did the Gorilla Falls trail. It goes without saying but this park really reinforces what a great job Disney does with theming, you almost forget that you are actually in Florida. After that we did the Safari which we loved. I forgot that it was that long of a trip and we got to see some great views of animals despite the heat. We then made our way over to the Maharajah Trek, tigers are my favorite animal as well as DD4’s favorite so we both loved this trail. We made our way down to Dino-Land so we could do Restaurantosaurus for lunch, this was your basic quick service meal but the burger I had was pretty good. I was surprised about the amount of characters we were able to meet in this area of the park, we met Scrooge McDuck, Daisy Duck, and Chip and Dale. Pluto and Donald were also there but we had met them at breakfast two days before so we skipped those lines. The oldest loved the Boneyard playground and while we did that my wife took our youngest onto the TriceraTop Spin ride. We then made our way over to Discovery Island and met Pocahontas and then Mickey and Minnie (had a fast pass for this ride). It was about 2:00 PM at this point and we had a fast pass for Na’vi River Journey so we decided that would be our last ride and made our way over to it. We got there and the fast pass line was crazy long so we did not stick around and went back to the hotel. We hit the pool for two hours and put the kids to bed.
At this point my wife was beat and she was out early too, I decided to go walk around the hotel because it was our last night and I watched the Halloween party fireworks from Geyser Point where you could see them pretty well.
Saturday September 29th – Final Day
Our flight was set to leave Orlando at 12:20 so we had time to sneak in one last surprise for the kids, thanks to the Touring Plans reservation tool I was able to snag a reservation at 7:40 for Ohana breakfast. My kids love Lilo and Stich so this was a pure joy for them. As luck would have it the parade they do around the restaurant started right after Stitch was at our table so him and DD4 walked hand in hand during the whole parade. After breakfast we headed back to WL and made our way back to the airport.
This truly was a vacation of a lifetime. By the end of vacations, I am usually re-charged and ready to get back home and get back to work, but not this time, I was so sad to have to leave. My kids and us had so much fun on this vacation and we hated to see it end. Here are some takeaways after my lengthy post:
Garden Grocers and Orlando Stroller Rentals were great outside vendors to work with, they were on time and easy to deal with
The Wilderness Lodge was a fantastic hotel. I would stay there again in a heartbeat. The two large pools made it feel like it was never overcrowded and the kiddie pool area was great as well. As big as the resort is I liked the fact that it was all one building and not sprawling like some of the other Disney resorts. If MK is your focal point this is a great spot to stay. The rooms may be smaller than other Deluxe hotels, but we barely spent any time awake in the room anyways.
We purchased Memory Maker, it was completely worth it for us because we did so many character meet and greets, I would suspect if you have older children and aren’t doing these types of attractions it may not be worth it for you.
Happily Ever After Dessert Party was a great add-on and I am so glad we did it. I would caveat that by saying that since we went in September when it is less crowded there was still a good amount of open space around us that would have provided solid viewing without the extra cost. For me personally it was worth the peace of mind to know that I would have that private viewing area. Inside the plaza garden there was plenty of space to stretch out.
Not to sound like a complainer but my one issue with Disney was around the handling of the delay in the fireworks. I completely get that even they can’t control the weather, but we kept getting countdown announcements (“ten minutes until they start”, “five minutes until they start” etc.) over the loud speakers and it wasn’t until right at 8:00 PM that they announced the delay. At that point there really isn’t anywhere for anyone to go to get out of the lightning, wouldn’t it be better just to get the fireworks done and over with and then get people out of the park? My other issue is that why don’t they have an actual person come over the loud speaker to give an update. All they had was the automated “due to weather the fireworks have been delayed”. I don’t need a full-on weather report but having someone come on and say something to the effect of “Fireworks are delayed, looking at the radar it should clear in 30 minutes or so” would have been very helpful.
September was a great time to go. While it certainly wasn’t a ghost town the waits at most rides were minimal and the rides with longer wait times, we had fast passes for. One thing I underestimated was the heat. It was crazy hot and humid, temperatures were in the mid 90’s but the heat index was well over 100 degrees every day.
On the way home we checked out luggage at the WL and didn’t have to worry about lugging our bags through the Orlando airport. I thought this service was only available to those who used the Disney Express so this was a nice surprise.
Other than that small issue this really was as close to a perfect vacation as we could have had, Disney does such a great job from a customer service stand point. It wasn’t cheap, but it was well worth it. Thanks again to the Touring Plans staff and to all of you here on the message board.