Hi! I wanted to pop on here and share my family’s trip report because this forum and website were insanely helpful for us having the most magical time. We traveled with me (only trip one day at Magic Kingdom at age 14) and my DH (one day at MK at age 4), and our kids DS8 and DD5. Neither had ever been on a plane, seen the ocean, not of course been to Disney. Basically, a group of first timers! I pretty obsessively planned this trip for 11 months, and it really paid off and/or luck was on our side. We also went into this all a little skeptical on whether this would be a vacation my husband would enjoy, and partly because of that, we did include a day at Universal because he is a big Harry Potter fan. (Spoiler alert: He loved the trip. It went better then he or even I thought it would!)
We had such a wonderful trip! Honestly, I didn’t think it could possibly go as well as it did. I thought for sure we would hit many unexpected obstacles, more spells of grumpiness, etc. My meticulous planning really, really paid off. I know we would not have accomplished quite as much and would have had more challenges otherwise.
The kids had the time of their life. DS would go on and on about all his favorite parts of the day at the end of every night, and his enthusiasm was adorable. Vacation DS and DD seem a lot more adventurous than everyday DS and DD. They rode all sorts of rides, loved roller coasters, tried new drinks and foods, barely complained about anything, had zero meltdowns, pushed their own limits in many ways, and DD was very brave meeting characters even though she is scared of Santa. DS said as we drove to the beach near the end, “you know what the best part of this trip was, doing it with family.” ! Here’s our trip:
Day 1: We left our house (in the midwest) around nine and dropped or dog on the way to the airport. Our plane had a slight delay so we had time to stop at Wendy’s for lunch. DH dropped us at the gate while he found the place to drop our car. The kids were in awe as soon as they entered the airport. Waiting for the plane was quite easy. The kids bought lollipops in a shop, enjoyed the moving walk-ways, and found a little play area. We chatted with a couple on their way to Disney, repeat visitors and big fans. They shared some enthusiasm for our family’s trip. Then we boarded the plane and took off. Take off was an absolute highlight for me. DS’s mind was absolutely blown as we left ground for the sky. It was so fun to experience with him! The kids watched a movie, I read a book, DH listened to a podcast. We landed which was also fun for the kids. It took a while to retrieve luggage and pick up our car at MCO. But when we did, Alamo gave us a free upgrade in the size of our car, which was great because we filled the trunk to the brim. It was a short and easy drive to our hotel, Cabana Bay on Universal Orlando’s property. The hotel has a retro 60s theme, and we absolutely loved it! Would definitely of loved more time at this hotel. We had a small suite facing the pool area. It was after 8pm by now, but we still needed dinner. We ate in the hotel dining hall, and the food was decent. Got the kids to bed shortly after.
Day 2: Legoland
I let everyone sleep in to a normal time, but we were all up and moving pretty early. We had to drive an hour to get to Legoland. We arrived just as the park opened, and headed towards the back of the park first which meant we basically walked right on everything for a while. We loved our day at Legoland and ended up staying until close even though we had planned to keep it a shorter day. Here’s what we did:
- Stopped by some wondering ninjas: They asked the kids to do a ninja move. DS did and they gave him a free toy! DD was too shy.
- Boat School: The kids drove us in a boat around a track. We all loved this. It was so relaxing first thing and we were just all so excited to be there.
- Driving School
- Firefighter Academy
- Ninjago ride
- Ate packed lunch on a bench
- Beetle Bounce (3x): kids loved this!
- Quest for Chima
- Dragon Roller Coaster: kids LOVED this, which made this thrill ride loving Mama happy.
- Ate ice cream
- Explored Miniland: a landscape of different world monument made of Legos
- Pirate ski show: LOVED this
- Unikitty Disco Drop
- Masters of Flight: LOVED. This ride blew my mind and I would have rode again, but it was the only real line we were in all day…and it was a long one.
- Ate dinner: decent tacos for DH and I from Tacos Everyday. Corn dogs and tater tots from the Kingdom area for the kids.
- Kids played at various play grounds throughout the park.
- Met the astronaut from Lego movie and a couple characters from Ninjago.
Had an absolute blast!
Day 3: Universal Orlando
We had tickets to both Universal parks so we could visit the Harry Potter lands in both. We loved Universal! Unfortunately, we made a few decisions today that in retrospect we would have changed because we ended up not having time to go inside Hogwarts Castle for the Forbidden Journey ride and it was a big downer for DH and I. We enjoyed every single thing we did, just wished we had made 30 minutes of different decisions. We plan to come back some day!
We arrived early for the one hour early admission we had for staying in a Universal Hotel. Here’s what we did:
- DH got coffee for us in a LONG Starbucks line (mistake #1)
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: very fun and so cute especially for me as a huge fan of Despicable Me!
- Went through the brick wall into Diagon Alley: AMAZING
- Hopped in line for Ollivander’s and watched the wand choosing ceremony.
- Bought a family wand. We picked Hermione’s.
- Used the wand and map to start doing magic spells around the land. Went into several shops.
- Kids bought pets in the pet store: a cat of many colors named Fluffy and an owl named Cinnamon.
- DH and I rode Gringott’s ride using rider swap
- Drank hot and frozen butterbeer
- Had an early lunch in the Leaky Caludron
- Rode the Hogwarts Express to the other Universal park, Islands of Adventure.
- Visited the Mystic Fountain that interacts with you. This was DD’s favorite of the day.
- Visited Dr. Seuss land. Rode High in the Sky Seuss Trolley (mistake #2, line was so long), met Cat in the Hat and Things 1 and 2, rode Carousel, let DD buy a giant mediocre cotton candy cupcake.
- Left the park to go swim in the pool. (Maybe mistake #3, but the pool was so nice!)
- Grabbed Voodoo Donuts to take back to room.
- Returned to park and rode Spiderman. DS and I loved this ride. It was a bit too scary for DD. She didn’t cry, but she really disliked the “bad guy” parts.
- Met Spiderman. He was awesome!
- Headed into Hogsmead. DH grabbed a Pumpkin Juice. I had a cold butterbeer that I didn’t love. Did some more spells. This area was painstakingly crowded so harder to enjoy.
- Ate dinner at the Three Broomsticks. Ate super rushed as we started to realize we were running out of time.
- Realized there’s no way we can do the Hogwarts ride, watch the night show, and make it on the Hogwarts Express in time to get back to the other park that closed later.
- Watched a projection show on Hogwarts Castle. So cool!
- Got back in line for train with a mass of humanity.
- Back to Diagon Alley. DH found a souvenir to buy. We had ice cream and did spells as the park drained out at close. We stayed until they made us leave. Being in the dark Diagon Alley almost empty was a highlight for me.
- We made our way back to our hotel absolutely exhausted and also covered in magic.
Day 4: Rest day
We packed up all our stuff and said goodbye to our Universal Hotel. Made the short drive into Disney World’s property. We started with a late breakfast at the new Riviera Resort. Our breakfast was on top of the tenth floor at Topolino’s Terrace with Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, and Donald dressed as different artists. It was absolutely a delight, and such a great way to start our Disney adventure!
Donald greeted us almost immediately after we sat down. He let us know he built the whole restaurant. He was so funny and we loved him. Minnie let us know she had a special poem planned for Mickey for Valentine’s Day. Daisy showed us a ballet move. Mickey was so sweet and big fun. Donald came back to visit us again. Then we watched him trick Mickey with a fake high five. Then they made up and hugged, and shared a secret hand shake. The characters danced around as well.
We were served pastries in a paint bucket, had yummy juice and coffee. I had the steak with polenta. DH, the smoked salmon bagel. The kids had Mickey and Minnie shaped waffles. It was all delicious. Service was great. Donald came around one more time and tried to steal DD’s stuffed kitty. So fun!
Then we went out onto the rooftop terrace and enjoyed the views. We ate at the very last seating of the day, so potentially got extra interaction from the characters? Loved this meal, luckily since it was the most expensive meal we’ve ever paid for!
Next, we checked into our hotel Art of Animation. We stayed in a Ariel room for our Ariel loving DD. These rooms are in pretty desperate need of some care…which it seems they are doing as there was construction around. I was a little disappointed in how run down our room was and wouldn’t stay again without a refurb. It was fine though, and we hardly spent any time there. I did have to request an extra thorough re-cleaning of our bathroom though because it reeked of urine despite looking clean.
We all put on bathing suits and went to explore each of the three pools. Started in Ariel pool, then Nemo (big and noisy and also in need of some sprucing up), and lastly the Cars pool. Cars was by far our favorite pool and section, and we kind of wished we had one of the Cars suites, even DD. The area was adorable!
For the evening, we drove to one of the hotels near Animal Kingdom to have dinner. The hotel was lovely and looks out into a savannah with giraffes, gazelles, and other animals. Our dinner was at Sanaa. I requested a window seat to watch the animals as the sun set. Such a lovely, detailed restaurant with a killer view. We had an appetizer that came with five varieties of naan and 9 dipping sauces to try. So fun and yummy!
For dinner, DH had the lamb shank and I the Biryani. Wow! So delicious and with flavors we’d never experienced. Kids had pizza with an African shield dessert where they used icing to paint the cookies, plus a tiny scoop of ice cream on top of a terrible almost inedible piece of cake. DH and I shared the Spice Trade candy bar dessert and it was delicious. We loved it here, and it was a highlight for DH and I. We even had one of the funky birds walk right up to our window!
Day 5: Magic Kingdom
We woke up early to ensure we could be among the firsts inside Magic Kingdom. I had a very detailed plan that I was sure would not be possible based on how our Universal day went. I was wrong! This day went so well and I cannot believe how much we did. This was the day my extreme research really, really paid off. Our hotel bus came right away and our bus driver made bad jokes the entire way. We made it onto Main Street nearly an hour before official opening. It allowed us to soak in the atmosphere before the park became smashed with crowds. We were at the front of the rope by the castle to watch the opening show. It was cute! Then we walked under the castle and thus is what we did:
- Met Cinderella and Elena
- Rode Winnie the Pooh
- Met Ariel (dream come true for DD)
- Rode Ariel
- Rode Barnstormer
- (Everything above was all done in a single hour w/o FP.) Getting there right when the park opens is no joke. You can accomplish so much!)
- Met Gaston (so funny!)
- Had a giant cinnamon roll, sandwich, and LeFou’s Brew inside Gaston’s Tavern
- Enchanted Tales with Belle (FP #1)
- Shopped in Sir Mickey’s where the kids got pixie dusted and DD bought a Belle necklace
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (FP #2) LOVED!!!
- Peter Pan ride (FP #3)
- Lunch in Beast’s Castle (Yummy and a nice break.)
- Small World (FP#4) DD loved!
- Found a spot in shade to relax and wait for parade in Frontierland.
- Ate Mickey shaped ice creams.
- Watched parade
- Rode Big Thunder Mountain (I felt so proud my kids were brave enough for this. We all loved it! It was 1 of 2 only long stand by lines we stood in all day—about 40 minutes.)
- Kids played in play area under Splash Mountain. Made some friends and relaxed.
- Met Chip and Dale. So fun because they were just hanging out, no lines or anything. We really enjoyed this area by Splash Mountain since it is currently closed. It was virtually empty compared to how crowded the rest of the park was!
- Jungle Cruise (FP #5)
- Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse
- Magic Carpets (FP #6)
- Met Pooh and Tigger (long line at 40 minutes!)
- Rode People Mover at night (surprisingly super, super enjoyable and a fave for us)
- DH picked up Mickey pretzels and scoped out a perfect fireworks spot for us, while the kids and I met Tinkerbelle (FP #7)
- Ate pretzels and waited in the mass of humanity for fireworks.
Happily Ever After was incredible. I said “what!?!?” in disbelief many times. There was a second projection show, so we let the crowds clear out some and waited for it. It was cute. The kids played with new friends nearby. And the crowds thinned significantly. So even though we were so exhausted, hanging back was a great choice.
We really enjoyed everything we did this day. The only not enjoyable parts were standing in and navigating the insane crowds before the fireworks and being next to the hundred cheerleaders cheering at the top of their lungs at the bus stop at the end of the night. It was SO crowded, and I think it was only a crowd level 5 day. It was not unbearable and because of Touring Plans, I was able to navigate it all really well. However, I cannot imagine being there on more crowded days!
Day 6: Hollywood Studios
As a family, we decided to wake up the next morning early to try to get on Rise of the Resistance despite our long day before. I am really glad we tried on two devices because my phone was loading so slow even though my husband and I have the same phone series and were both using AT&T data. DH got us boarding group 34! I am so glad we did this, but it was hard being up early a second day in a row after such a big day before. I think DS and I hit walls around 10am. Here’s what we did:
- I rode Tower of Terror (amazing!) while DH and the kids met Chewbacca, BB8, and Darth Vader.
- Rode Slinky Dog Dash with a Fast Pass that I secured by being obsessive when our hours extended. We LOVED this ride. DS goes on and on about it being the best roller coaster if the trip. Toy Story Land was so crowded at this time!
- DD and I watched Frozen Sing Along show which she loved. It was cute, but nothing I would do again without a child that loves Frozen and singing.
- DH and DS headed to explore Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. DH ate a Ronto Wrap and had a Tatooine Sunset drink and loved both. They caught part of a show, explored the market, and saw Stormtroopers roaming about.
- Our boarding group got called for Rise of the Resistance during this time so we met up outside the ride. The line took a while, but was so well themed and detailed that it was enjoyable. This ride was mind blowing. I mean the detail was crazy. Loved every single second! Totally worth the exhaustion I felt. (For anyone wondering DD5 enjoyed this as well. I know people really want to avoid spoilers, so I will keep it at this: the ride part was not too wild or scary for her—she just really dislikes “bad guys.”)
- DH and DS rode Star Tours while DD and I got food at Backlot Express. Food here was much better than anticipated! I had hit a big wall at this point and was grumpy. Which was a major bummer because I loved Hollywood Studios so much. We hopped back to our hotel had a two hour lay in bed rest. This really did the trick to get us feeling better! During the break, I broke it to my DD that we would not be doing the Disney Jr. show we had planned. No way could I enjoy the things I wanted to the rest of the night and still do the show. She was a bit bummed, but understanding.
- We rode the Skyliner back to the park, and absolutely love it!
- We headed straight to Batuu for a reservation at the Droid Depot. The kids made their own remote controlled Droid. The loved doing this! They took them outside to play with them at a little pad across from the store, while I went and got some blue milk, which I loved. DS liked it quite a bit too.
- We wondered around the land a tiny bit and took in the atmosphere.
- Then we rode the Millennium Falcon ride which was a blast. DS and DH got to pilot the falcon, while DD and I were gunners. Our guys were having the time of their lives, and really so were us girls.
- We checked in for an Oga’s Cantina reservation, but decided it was not the right time for our family and our kids would not have enjoyed it at that time of day. So we told them we were leaving. (next time!)
- Instead we ate dinner at Docking Bay Seven. I had “Roasted Endorian Chicken Salad” and DH had a shrimp noodle dish. Pretty good! The kids ate packed PB&J.
- At this point the sun had set in Batuu, and we headed to finish the day in Toy Story Land. It was so cute lit up at night and the crowds were drastically lighter from earlier.
- We rode Alien Swirling Saucers and Midway Mania (FP#4) which were both good solid fun.
- The kids really wanted to ride Slinky Dog Dash a second time so we got in the 40 minute line to finish the day. Totally worth it! Such a fun ride, especially at night…and fireworks were going off as we rode. It was so magical, and I may have teared up a bit.
Day 7: Epcot
We all slept a little later than we have been and got things packed up to check out of our hotel. Jumped on the Skyliner again, this time to Epcot. Here’s what we did:
- Spaceship Earth (meh)
- Met Goofy (Most disappointing meet by far. I think it was the end of his shift, and he must have needed a nap.)
- Nemo Ride (Pretty boring and not a good ride by Disney standards. It felt like they went cheap on this one.)
- Turtle Talk with Crush (The way they load this attraction is a nightmare. DH and I got pretty grumpy while waiting. Show was meh.)
- Ate lunch in the Land Pavilion (Boy is this building boring and uninspired! There is no atmosphere here. It was like eating in a hospital cafeteria and the food quality matched the atmosphere.)
- Rode Soarin’ (super cool and enjoyable, and Future World’s only saving grace for us.)
- (We skipped Living with the Land even though I had planned for it because we were so over Future World.)
- Stopped by the jumping fountains and the kids loved this.
- Norway (Very briefly walked through Viking god exhibit, rode Frozen Ever After and loved it, met Anna and Elsa.)
- Japan (kids shared a shaved ice and DH had a beer while we sat on a bench with lovely views, kids played Agent P’s Adventure, spent some time in the Japan store where DS was disappointed in their Pokemon merch)
- Morocco (caught the end of a live band performance, wandered through the area and shops, beautiful Pavilion and easily my fave)
- France (ate ice cream inside a brioche bun!)
- UK (met Mary Poppins, tried another round of Agent P’s Adventure but it was glitching so we gave up, kids played in the hedge maze, enjoyed a quieter area in the park, I was disappointed in the merch shops)
- Decided to get out and get on the drive towards our beach house. We stayed 3 nights in an Air BnB in St Pete Beach. It was such a welcome, cozy place to come to after our Ariel hotel.
Day 8: Beach
We woke up and walked to a cute and freaking delicious Italian bakery two blocks from our loft. Considered eating all our meals here. Walked down to the water’s edge and watched a guy catch a cool fish. Went to the beach for the kids first toe dips in the ocean and played for a bit in glorious weather. Had lunch at Rumfish Grille and it had a giant aquarium inside. So cool. DH really wanted to try oysters this trip. I wanted to be brave and tried one too. It was basically a one and done for us both. Came back to pack up for an evening of beach time. By the time we got to the beach it was so so so so windy. And the sun was hiding. Decided there was no way we were staying, so went back to our Air BnB and dressed to go to the St. John’s Pass boardwalk. Found a place right outside and enjoyed an okay meal followed by ice cream cones. This day wasn’t a favorite for us. It felt like things kept not going as planned
Day 9: Beach
Today was the day I had wanted yesterday to be. It was perfect! The weather was perfect and everything was magical. We went on a Dolphin sailing cruise, and the dolphins came right near our boat and even jumped out of the water. One of the best times of my life. Then we had lunch at Bongo’s Beach Bar: fish tacos, coconut shrimp, fruity cocktail, key lime pie all right on the beach with our toes in the sand. It was very “Florida” for us. Spent the rest of the day at the beach soaking up sunshine and sea water. Stayed until the sunset, and ended our amazing week perfectly!
Day 10: Boring travel day home.
Overall, a great trip and at the perfect time for our kids. We loved it so much and had the time of our lives. DH and I were so impressed by Disney’s attention to detail, customer service, and their ability to so efficiently move masses of people. Collectively, of all 6 parks we stepped foot in, Hollywood Studios was our favorite. The Star Wars area blew our minds, and was DH and I’s favorite area at any of the parks. (I am not even a Star Wars fan really—my husband is, but he is a bigger HP fan.) The rides were perfect. The land was imaginative, detailed, and truly transported you. All the food and drinks we tried were really good. We saw Rey, Chewbacca, Stormtroopers, and Kylo Ren roaming about. We also loved Toy Story Land, and Slinky Dog Dash was our favorite family ride together. I loved Tower of Terror, and would have enjoyed more time taking in other aspects of the park as well. Before coming to Disney, we thought this may be our one and only trip to the World, but after the day at Hollywood Studios, every one of us really want to return.
Epcot was by far our least favorite. That attention to detail and theming and great crowd flow that we loved about Disney as a whole was seriously lacking in Future World. It was so disappointing. World Showcase was very well themed, but we really loved the theming that was imagined places and worlds so much more than recreations of real things. The lack of rides/attractions made it meh as well. I don’t feel any strong desire to return here, even after the new stuff coming.
Would love to stay at our Universal hotel Cabana Bay again! Would probably not return to Art of Animation. If so, only for a refurbed suite and access to the Skyliner. Would totally go back to both Topolino’s Terrace and Sanaa. They were personal highlights for me!
Highlights for us collectively? Diagon Alley, Sanaa, Topolino Terrace, Dragon Coaster (Legoland), Beetle Bounce (Legoland), Pirate Ski Show (Legoland), Masters of Flight (Legoland), meeting Spiderman, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, meeting Ariel, meeting Gaston, People Mover, meeting Chip and Dale, Big Thunder Mountain, MK firework show, everything in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, Slinky Dog Dash, the Skyliner, scanning magic bands for things, seeing dolphins
My husband and I would probably rate our enjoyment of the parks like this, if you forced us: HS, Universal, MK, Legoland (only at our kids current ages), (big gap) Epcot
My son: HS, Universal tied with Legoland, MK, (big gap) Epcot
My daughter: MK tied with HS and Legoland, Epcot, Universal
If time and money were unlimited, I would go back to all of them. With time and money and real life, we currently plan to come back in 4ish years with a few days at Universal, one at Hollywood Studios and likely either MK or AK depending on our kids interests at that point in life!
Not much I would change about our trip. Maybe only NOT staying in the Ariel room and ensuring we got on Forbidden Journey. We had the best of luck and beautiful weather and made a lifetime of memories. Thanks everyone!