I love reading trip reports and find them helpful when planning, so here’s ours:
We are an extended family of 6 that traveled to WDW for the first time since 2008. Two grandparents, daughter and son-in-law and two grandsons ages 3 and 6.
I love planning trips, especially to WDW. So much has changed since we last went so more research was needed! I started with the Unofficial Guide to Disney World With Kids 2023.
Did a lot of reading up on Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, and all the rides that might be appropriate for our grandsons. We decided that since we were visiting during a low attendance week (second week Sept), and since we had early entry and were prepared to take advantage of it, we would try to make do without Genie+.
Subscribed to Touring Plans.com which offered a discount for the price of the Unofficial Guide, and downloaded the app Lines.
We knew there was a good chance it was going to be really hot (it was) so bought neck fans and chilly towels and packed lightweight clothes.
Flew Frontier to Orlando and arrived on time. Our driver from Tiffany Town Car texted to let me know he was at the airport and to let him know once we’d picked up our bags, which he helped us with to the car. He picked us up in a Suburban complete with two car seats and a booster. Upon arrival at the Swan we dropped our bags and wandered the grounds, stopping for frozen drinks which we sipped on while the boys played on the playground and beach, lots of shade to escape the Florida sun.
We had reservations for Boma so took a Minnie Van to Animal Kingdom Lodge. Loved the Minnie Van service, even though pricey. We were early for our reservation so wondered through the lodge (beautiful) and the grounds where animals were wandering: giraffes, zebras, wildebeest. Dinner at Boma was wonderful – my favorite of the week. So many different dishes, seasonings and flavorings.
Took a Minnie Van back to the Swan for early bedtime – next day Magic Kingdom!
Up early to take advantage of early entry at MK. The Swan bus did not pick up until 7:30 so by the time we got through security (which took extra long because we had backpacks and a stroller) and took the ferry (which the kids loved), it was already 8:30 and there were many people already on the rides. Rode Buzz Lightyear with no wait (kids loved). Then Tomorrowland Speedway which by this time had a 30 minute wait in already sweltering heat so we exited the line and rode Dumbo with no wait, then the Barnstormer. I’ll have to say Barnstormer was pretty intense for a kid’s rollercoaster and our 6-year-old was not a fan (the 3 yr old waited this one out with Daddy). My daughter and SIL rode Tron with ILL (loved it) while we tried Speedway again as the line had shortened somewhat and it was a great hit with both boys. DH and boys then rode the Tea Cups and afterwards met back up with DD and SIL. By this time wait for Pirates was 55 minutes but no wait for Swiss Family Robinson so did that. Took a break with Dole Whips – yum - then let the boys target shoot at the Frontierland Arcade. We caught part of a Frozen show in front of Cinderella castle which was wonderful, however it was melting hot by this time so headed toward air conditioning in some of the shops, then back to the Swan for a midday break. We lunched at Rosa Mexicana in the Dolphin, tacos which were creatively prepared, and guacamole. Took showers and naps so we’d be fresh for out dinner reservations that night at Epcot.
Walked to Epcot and holy moly it was crowded – shoulder to shoulder crowds. I guess because of Food & Wine Festival? I had been looking forward to F & W but it was so hot and crowded I didn’t feel like eating in the hot sun.
Dinner at Biergarten was plentiful and good. Fun atmosphere and the boys loved the show, even joined the dance floor.
After dinner walked to Living Seas and rode Nemo and toured the aquarium. Storms were brewing once we exited the Seas so ducked into Figment and rode that. Just as cute as I’d remembered. By this time storm was upon us with heavy rain, winds and lightning. We took shelter at the guest services overhang and when it let up a little walked back to the Swan in ponchos and through ankle deep water in areas.
Out early to Epcot, this time via Friendship Boat. Plan was to catch the first Ratatouille ride but wait was already 55 minutes. Frozen however had a short line so rode that which of course the boys loved. Breakfast was at Garden Grove in the Land with Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale. Really good breakfast and all the characters visited our table, some twice. Afterward DH and I took boys on Spaceship Earth while DD and DH rode GotG with ILL. Hit the giftshops afterward, and Club Cool. Picked up sparkling wine in France, then crepes. Spent quite a bit of time in the department store in Japan before taking boat back to the Swan for midday break from the heat.
Back out again at 5 to HS via boat, dinner at Mama Melrose which everyone enjoyed. Took in Muppet 3D which we all loved (still one of my favorites). Then we rode Star Tours and RotR while we took turns keeping our 3 yr old. Back to the Swan via boat, watching fireworks from Epcot.
This was supposed to be our no parks day but we did have tickets and we didn’t think we’d be able to ride Ratatouille otherwise, so did early entry to Epcot. This time much shorter wait and we all enjoyed being reduced to the size of a rat and running under tables and under feet. Really cute. Breakfast at France, pastries which we ate outside at a shady table. DH and I decided to get ILL for GotG – it was fun, intense, maybe didn’t sit great on the stomach after pastries though? Walked back to Swan in melting heat, headed to the Swan/Dolphin pool.
We bought groceries on arrival to our hotel thinking we’d bring sandwiches to the pool but it turns out no outside food is allowed at the pools. We did enjoy being able to mobile order from our lounge chairs and have food and drinks delivered to us though. Many nice areas at the Swan / Dolphin pool to sit in shade, and the boys loved the waterfall and slide. It was so hot though that the handrails on the pool were too hot to touch. Funny incident – a squirrel tried to take my food and I shooed him away. He jumped across all 4 adults right into SIL’s lunch. Watch out for those bold squirrels. We had to be vigilant with him all afternoon.
That night walked to Boardwalk and dinner at Trattoria al Forno. Really good arancini and steak Florentine. Afterwards took boat to HS to ride Alien Swirl (me, DD and 3yr old) and Millennium Falcon (everyone else). Boys got light sabers and saw Chewbacca walking though park. Boat back to Swan.
Animal Kingdom day!
Caught Swan bus for early entry. Rode Safari, walked Gorilla Falls trail, rode Everest (child-swapping) and Feathered Friends. DD and SIL did ILL for FoP while we walked boys in strollers. So hot so we stopped in several shops to escape. Lunch at Satuli which was wonderful – inside with AC. Took boys on Triceratops ride, then all when to ITTBAB. 3 yr got a little scared but 6 yr old loved it. On to Festival of the Lion King which we all loved – beautiful and fun show and airconditioned!
DH and I had a grown up’s dinner at Blue Zoo in the Dolphin while rest decided to turn in early with room service and movies – the boys were exhausted. Dinner at Blue Zoo was fabulous – beautiful atmosphere, great fish appetizers and entrees presented beautifully as well. Dessert was chocolate mousse 3 ways: dark, white and milk chocolate, presented with a chocolate macaron and a merangue. Swoon.
Last day in WDW. Took early boat to HS, gates opened early at 8 but a whole crowd in front of us. Booked it straight to Toy Story Mania and stood in line because ride didn’t open until 8:20. Oh well we got a good place in line though. Really fun ride, 3yr old cackled the whole time. DH and I took 3 yr old to Alien Swirl while DD, SIL and 6 yr old lined up for Slinky Dog. The sign said 30 minutes but it actually only took about 15. This was first day we used Genie+ and had booked a 10 am Mickey and Minnie Runaway Train. Well. Turns out I mistakenly only checked myself in to Genie+ for the ride. Rookie mistake. Luckily we were able to book us all in for an 11 am reservation with the help of a Disney manager who cleared me to ride with them as well. Really nice customer service and I was grateful.
We filled the next hour with meet ups with Darth Vader, Chewbacca and BB8. Still had time for Mickey’s Dance Party. Cute show, fun watching the kids dance. Then it was time for MMRT. Cute ride but I probably wouldn’t use Genie+ or stand line for it again. App said RRC had a 15 minute wait so headed quickly over there, however line had grown to 45 minutes by then and it was getting hot.
Took an early lunch break at ABC Commissary, again so nice because it is spacious and air conditioned. Mobile ordered sandwiches and Greek salads – all pretty good. By this time it was getting crowded so glad we got there before noon. From there went to RotLA, same show as 20 years ago but still enjoyable. Amazing stunts and the boys were mesmerized. Had a LL at RRC so headed over there, however now the ride was down indefinitely and we were issued an “open” LL for any ride. Did some shopping to escape the heat and then app showed RRC was back on line so we dashed over as our LL window was still good, got right on the ride. Just as I remembered it and just as fun as 20 years ago. Depleted by this time by the heat we took a boat back to the Swan for a break.
That night we had reservations at Le Cellier. Table was not ready and boys were getting restless so I took them outside and discovered the Kidcot right outside the entrance. Covered area with tables where kids could color and they were happily occupied until they called us to our table. Dinner was fabulous with beer cheese soup, pretzel bread, herbed sourdough bread, and steaks. Crème brulee for dessert.
It was pouring rain as we left so again walked back to the Swan in our ponchos. Not enough rain to flood this time though thank goodness.
Up early and picked up by Tiffany Town Car on time. Already thinking about our next trip!
Tiffany Town Car – highly recommend. We had a great experience with them: efficient, courteous and prompt with good communication. We will definitely use them again.
Heat – oppressive. Totally underestimated it, and I thought I was prepared with neck fans, chilly towels and lightweight clothing. As my SIL pointed out, it was almost too hot at the pool. As much as I love WDW I’ll never plan another trip in a hot weather month.
Crowds – heavy (compared to 20 years ago). The main reason we went in mid Sept. was because it was a low attendance time. Turns out that must be relative because it was crowded everywhere.
Restaurants we tried:
- Boma – Creative and tasty dishes + atmosphere + exotic animals roaming outside. I’ve been craving Boma ever since.
- Todd English’s Blue Zoo – Beautiful upscale restaurant, fresh and creatively presented fresh fish A+ adult date night.
- Satuli – Flavorful rice and noodle bowls, cold margaritas, large AC area.
- Biergarten – Fun atmosphere, entertaining shows, good foods and lots of it.
- Le Cellier – Excellent steaks, sides and beer cheese soup. Expensive but worth it for a splurge.
- Garden Grill Character Breakfast – Family style breakfast, all very well prepared and all you can eat. Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale visit your table, some of them more than once.
- Mama Melrose – Good Italian cuisine, nice atmosphere
- Trattoria Al Forno – Comparable to Mama Melrose, good Italian menu
- Rosa Mexicana – Decent Mexican dishes but honestly not that memorable. I wanted to love it more.
- ABC Commissary – Decent food in HS, large indoor AC with lots of tables
- Cabana Poolside Grill – Decent grill food. Love mobile ordering from my lounge chair and having it delivered.
Swan – We love staying at the Swan for its location: boat or walk to HS and Epcot. A little disappointed in the bus service as the first bus was ½ hour before posted early entry, so there were always a crowd ahead of us at the parks when we arrived. Kids loved the pools. Nice rooms, fast elevators (really – we never had to wait), easy quick breakfast pick up at Java in the lobby. Heavenly Beds – that are just that: heavenly. Our room was stocked with 4 bottled waters daily, mini fridge. Disney Guest Services in lobby made it easy to get wristbands and park info. Free Swan paddleboats, games at pools, playground.
Things that have improved at Disney since we last visited:
Entry with Apple watch – so easy
Mobile ordering – 100%!
Addition of Toy Story and Star Wars sections at HS
Tip Board on MDE app with waiting times (awesome)
Things I didn’t love this time around:
More expensive – even allowing for inflation, especially for tickets and Genie+
More restrictive tickets – having to commit to park reservations and 2 pm Park Hopper rule
Overall though we loved our week at Disney. Next trip I’d like to add a day, keeping one truly park free.
Hope this helps other planners!