Here's the last installment of my trip report. It's been fun to put this together as it's let me relive our trip a bit. And it's always helpful to reflect on what worked well and what didn't as inputs for the next trip. Thanks for following along!
At the end I've included links to the previous reports along with some of final reflections. I hope this is as helpful to others as all of the reports and questions I've read here have been to me. Thank you!
Wrapping up our WDW 2017 adventure!
We had a 4pm flight home and a 1:10pm pick-up time on DME, so we got up leisurely and finished our packing. Around 11am we took our bags down to the airport check-in and left our carry-on bags (there were more now!) at Bell Services. We walked over to the Boardwalk area and hung out for a while, before deciding on pizza from Boardwalk pizza. What a great value for quick service: a large pepperoni pizza, 2 sides and 2 drinks! And it filled us up for the afternoon. As we walked back to YC, DH stopped off at Hurricane Hanna’s to grab chicken fingers to go for DS (which proved to be perfect for the airport) and use the last of our QS credits. He even squeezed in a quick stop to Beaches & Cream to finish off the last snack credit with an ice cream!
We waited in the lobby a bit for the Magical Express, as it arrived just before 11:20am. My son got in one last round of pin trading with a super friendly CM. I still had a card from the arcade with a small balance left, so I asked the CM to pass it on to another family to enjoy. We boarded the bus with 2-3 other families and then had stops at BC, BW and CBR. It was the same route, but in reverse, as our trip in. And that's it. Our first family trip to Disney was over!
With that, I'll share some of my final thoughts and learnings from our trip and all of the planning that went into it. Here are the links to the initial trip reports:
Day 1: YC and Epcot
Day 2: HS – Jedi Training, Rebel Spy, Sci-Fi and Fantasmic!
Day 3:MK - BOG Breakfast, 7DMT lots of Rider Switch Passes, Sandcastle Club and CG!
Day 4 – Resort Day: Pirate’s Cruise, SAB and Ohana + Day 5: Epcot AM, AK PM and FOP!
Day 6: AK – Pandora, Safari, FotLK and MK at Night!
Day 7 – Magic Kingdom: Last Park Day!
Traveling with a baby: Things went very smoothly for us. DD is generally very agreeable and this continued on the trip. She would nap in her stroller once or twice a day without much issue. A couple of times, she had trouble settling down, but this was an exception. Because she spent so much time in the stroller, she did enjoy time outside of it, so whenever she was awake and it made sense, we’d take her out so she could crawl around or ride in the carrier. I would say that some of the stroller parking locations weren’t as close to an attraction as I would have liked. It did take some extra time to locate the parking, take DD out and get her settled and then return to the attraction. Nothing major, but definitely worth mentioning to parents planning an aggressive TP.
Meeting Characters: DS is a smart, pragmatic kid. He told me before the trip that he knew the characters were just people dressed up in costumes. With this, I was wary about how much he’d enjoy meeting the characters (and worried about having so many character meals planned). Well, I guess it’s Disney magic because he LOVED the characters. He would wait (usually rather impatiently) to meet the characters at each breakfast while excitedly getting his autograph book and pen ready. I was pleasantly surprised by this and happy with the decision to do so many character meals for our first trip. DD1 also received the characters really well. She wasn’t scared, just intrigued. And as the trip went on, she would light up when she saw them.
Having fun with Baloo and King Louie
Intrigued by Stitch
Pin Trading: DS enjoyed it a lot. He didn’t like wearing the lanyard, but he was always excited to trade pins. This was perfect for times we were waiting in a hotel lobby or to enter a park in the morning. I bought a fairly-generic starter set with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy pins before we arrived. Having a small set worked well for us and encouraged DS to think about what he really wanted. He decided he wanted to collect Donald Duck pins, so he has 3 Donald pins and 1 ghost Mickey. If I’d purchased a set of 20+ pins, he would have just traded like crazy without much thought about what he was giving and receiving. I’ve promised to buy another small set for our next trip and that should be fine.
Interactive games: We only did SotMK and DS loved it. I ignored the others and pleaded ignorance if he saw a sign because I didn’t want to spend the time on it in each park. Next time, we’ll definitely plan to do SotMK again as well as Agent P’s in Epcot. I also think he’d like Wilderness Explorers in AK.
Parks and Touring Plans:
Hollywood Studios: I know everyone says there isn’t a lot to do here anymore, but they must not be first-time visitors. As first-timers, we had a very full day and we didn’t even do any shows aside from Jedi Training. If you’re planning your first trip, don’t dismiss it, especially if your kids enjoy Disney Junior and Star Wars. Even Fantasmic was great and worth the trip back to the park after some downtime.
Epcot: We didn’t end up spending much time in World Showcase even though I’d planned it. Again, we live in Europe and travel quite often, so for us, visiting the different countries didn’t have a huge appeal when there were so many other things we could do at Epcot that we can't do at home.
Touring Plans: While we did not adhere to every detail of my touring plans, I enjoyed putting them together and it helped me to understand all that there was to see and do and how things worked. I made a massive spreadsheet with a daily itinerary with 15-minute increments (I love Excel, what can I say?) and tracked all of my planned and scheduled ADRs and FPs. While I was ridiculed by my friends ad family, I loved the planning process. Along the way, I learned the best times to ride certain rides and when to avoid. I learned how to get from point A to point B the fastest. I learned what to order on certain menus. And of course, I learned valuable tricks – modifying FPs, looking for FPs when rides are closed and snagging day of FPs. I would do this level of planning again in a heartbeat and appreciate all of the insights from people here and on Lines.
Park Hopper: Loved it. We only used it twice, but those two days that were split between two parks were among our best. It was great to have variety and an opportunity to hit things we missed in previous visits. I’m not sure that I would pay specifically for PH again, but with the Free Dining package, it had to be included and we took advantage of it (and it was actually cheaper in the end). It gave us a lot of flexibility.
Midday Breaks: We ended up having midday breaks on all but one of our park days, but they ended up being more like late afternoon/early evening breaks and they were always shorter than planned. This worked fine for us. A little downtime was good to have, but the 3-4 hours I had planned for was unneeded. I also think that going to the pool in this time would have really eaten up the time, so I’m glad we skipped the pool on midday breaks.
Memory Maker: I don’t understand why anyone would not do it. When you’re paying this much for a vacation, it’s a fairly small additional cost to capture a lot of it in photos. It was so convenient with PP photographers everywhere. We stopped for photos as often as possible and it also proved to be DH’s favorite activity to do with DD when I was on rides with DS. DS loved asking for Magic Shots and the anticipation of waiting to see what it would be. PhotoPass was great because you don’t have to worry about someone being left out of the photo and I thought the quality of almost all of our shots was very good. (There was only one photographer who I thought did not take good photos). I downloaded many photos throughout the trip to share with family back home and I’ve already downloaded all of the photos to my computer. Sure, it will take some time to figure out what to do with them, but I’ll definitely create a couple of photobooks (Chatbooks is a great, quick and inexpensive option when you don't have the time and energy to create books on Shutterfly).
Pre-park Open ADRs: In my view, this is the way to go. One day we had a slightly later ADR at AK and it was such a hassle standing in the lines for security and to get into the park. I really enjoyed being able to enter the parks in peace and getting a head start on the day.
Buses: We didn't have any issues with taking buses from YC. While we were there, BC was always included in our route, with YC being the first stop on the way out. If I recall correctly, it was also YC then BC on return trips from MK or AK in the evenings.
Boats: We took the boat to/from HS once and also walked to/from once. The boats were easy to use and seemed to run very often. We even took the boat over to Boardwalk once because it was there when we were heading out to walk over.
Walking to Epcot: So incredibly convenient!
Minnie Vans: We took the Minnie Vans three times during our stay - once to MK for a PPO ADR at BOG and then to and from 'Ohana for dinner. For us, it made sense because transiting from YC to MK via bus and then to Poly via monorail/boat, was not just an efficient use of time for our family. 1+ hour vs. 15 minutes was a no-brainer for me. And with DD1, it was important to have a safe option for car seats and I was really impressed with the diligence (and speed) in which every driver installed the rear-facing car seat.
A Minnie Van
Favorite meals/snacks: Tusker House breakfast, Sci-Fi lunch, Flame Tree BBQ lunch, Sa’tuli Canteen dinner, funnel cake from Sleepy Hollow in MK and freshly made caramel popcorn from Karamel Kuche in Germany.
Least favorite meals: dinner at Coral Reef and Whispering Canyon. Neither was awful, but not that great either.
Thoughts on the most difficult-to-get ADRs:
BOG breakfast was decent and worth it for pre-park access, especially if using DP credits and not paying OOP.
BOG dinner, I don’t really know since we punted and went only for dessert. The ambiance was lovely and I think I’d try to work in a dinner here on a future trip. (I also finally watched the new Beauty and the Beast movie on our flight home and fell in love with the story again).
Beaches & Cream was just ok, but worked well for lunch on our first day when our room wasn’t ready. If you’re staying at YC/BC or BW, it makes sense, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there.
‘Ohana dinner was fine, but loud, chaotic and overhyped, in my view. My son liked it, but otherwise, I don’t think I would be dying to go back on a future trip.
Speaking of hard to get ADRs: I consistently saw availability for all three of these and many others when searching that week. Definitely keep looking because people always cancel last minute.
Dining Plan: Like many others, we would NOT do the dining plan again. It was just too much food. For us, I think the best option would be doing TS for either character breakfasts or dinners on most days with QS for all lunches in the parks or hotel. Snack credits proved to be the most useless for us given our large TS meals. We had nearly 20 credits going into our last day and ended up buying a bunch of treats at the Main Street Confectionary to take home.
- Resort Location: The Epcot resort area has great access to Epcot and HS, but we spent more time in MK and AK this trip. I’d probably opt for the MK resort area (leaning towards WL) next time, given the age of our kids and focus on MK. Maybe we’ll return to YC/BC club when the kids are older or for an adults-only trip and ensure that we take full advantage of the proximity to Epcot WS.
A couple shots of the Yacht Club and lake area
YC vs. BC: I weighed this decision for weeks. Seriously. In the end, they are the same hotel, so I don’t know what I was worried about. There are some small differences like whether or not there’s a balcony and the size of said balcony, but really, the two hotels are treated as different wings of the same hotel.
Stormalong Bay: It's as great as everyone says. DS is a strong swimmer and loves the water. He loved playing in different parts of the pool, especially the water slide. I was with him on the water slide, so we would walk over to the entrance area together. With only one kid to watch (DD was always with me or DH), it was fine, but I can see how it's hard to keep track of multiple kids given the all of the separate areas of the pools. DD also enjoyed her time in the pool, but was mainly concerned with putting as much sand in her mouth as possible. The activities at the pool during the day were great and I was really impressed with the Kids' Activities team (it was the same team at the pool, the pirate's cruise and the Sandcastle club).
I forgot to include this photo on my Resort Day post, so here's the view of the final product of the Mickey tie-dye activity. So cool!
- Room views: I ended up booking a Standard View room and I was really worried that I would regret it. I did not, at all. As first-timers, we were not in the room all that much and I think I would have been disappointed to have paid for a view. We were on the front side of the hotel and had nothing especially exciting to look at from our balcony, but it was fine. All in all, I think DH and I spent 20 minutes collectively on the balcony, so it didn’t matter at all.
And I'll close out with a funny exchange with DS: In the airport for our flight home to Europe, we headed towards the TSA Pre-check line and DS asked if it was the Fast Pass line! Well, sort of, but now I know I'm going to have trouble making him realize that life outside Disney does not have Fast Passes!