Trip Report - Aug 10 -17 - Mom, Dad and 6yo

(Just hoping to document the trip for prosperity and possibly help others along the way. Beware this report is not organized or edited in any way, read at your own risk.)

Length: 7.5 days
Hotel: Dolphin
Parents: over 30
Daughter: 6
From: North East USA major city
EXP Levels: Mom 50; Dad 1,00,000,000; Daughter 0

I think our biggest takeaway from this trip was how vastly different it is to go to WDW as a couple, vs as a family with a child. (I hear your collective “well, duh!” loud and clear) It requires a rather alternative mindset, which I should have adopted well before the trip. If only I had purchased some sort of large, 846 page book, and digested the information, to better prepare myself and family. (Oh wait…)

We got up at 4:30AM to get to the airport for an early flight so we “wouldn’t waste a day”. We will NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Its just worth it (to us). MK was pretty full by the time we got there at noon-ish, and most lines were at 40 min wait or more. By 6- 7pm everyone was pretty beat. We all agreed next time, we would take a late morning noon-ish flight, and go to the pool or Disney Springs or otherwise “relax” and ease into the vacation.

We found the Dolphin to be a very nice place to stay, the biggest caveat being the resort fee and cost of goods / services. So while we got a very nice deal on the room for the week, the value was offset by the higher ancillary costs. (again, if only that book had a paragraph on the subject, like around the 193 pg mark, just a suggestion) That said, it wasn’t terrible, but something for budget minded folk to look out for. Check in was quick, easy and our room was ready at 11am when we arrived. We had no real room location preference, and got the 11th floor in the east wing. The local view was eh, roofs and loading areas, but you could see MK in the distance which was cool. And you could see their FW at night. The beds we very plush as everyone knows and they give you a million pillows of various types / stuffings. The room was clean and the decor was “fine” albeit a bit spartan. There was plenty of room for it to be two queen sized beds instead of doubles, so not sure why they do that. The staff was courteous enough, and pretty “honest” when it came to opinions on things, which was refreshing. The bus transportation was good, longest wait was 20 minutes, and that was last day leaving MK at 2pm. Most waits in the AM or night were 10 min. And they have the digital signage at the resort stop to let you know when they are arriving, like many other (if not all) WDW resorts.

We ate at The Garden Grove (at Swan) for the character seafood buffet, this was fairly priced, decent food, plenty of selection, not crowded, and while not a ton of characters (Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale), they all came by 2 - 3 times, interacted with you as long as you liked, and provided good varied photo ops. However, note there is NO photopass photographer, you have to take your own (free) pictures (oh the horror). My wife did note something, Goofy was a little TOO Goofy, and spilled her full glass of wine over the table and her meal while giving her an unsuspected surprise hug from behind. His handler was very apologetic, and obviously they replaced her wine, but it did make me aware that not everyone wants a character to touch them uninvited.

My daughter and I also ate at The Fountain (Dolphin) for lunch, it was tasty enough, fries were a bit lack luster, but her “small” ice cream was only $5 and the size of her head (she made me take photo to prove it). She also remarked “I don’t even think I can eat all this!”, which is a sentence regarding ice cream she has NEVER ever uttered before.

The pools were great, plenty of room, not over crowded and my daughter went down the slide about 50 times in a row. Absolutely heed the mid day break advice and take a nap / go to the pool. Your feet, body and mind will thank you.

We had never stayed at a resort so close to Epcot / DHS before, and this was one of the best things about the Dolphin. And it was way cheaper (even with the fees) than the other 3 surrounding resorts. And only 5 min walk further. Oh, and while boats are about the same time vs walking, definitely just take the boats when you can to spare your feet and skin, as there is ZERO cover from the sun going to the 2 parks.

In an effort to save money (yes, go ahead and laugh) we decided to not get park hopper, as our daughter is only 6 (sorry, “6 and a HALF Daddy!”) and we didn’t see ourselves bouncing around a lot. However, there were two huge factors we did not take into account that ruined that: weather and crowds (and by proxy FPP). We went to AK on the second day, and were promptly washed out by a monsoon by 11am. There is NOT much to do at AK when its pouring (not just raining) rain. And while the crown levels were predicated as being 3-5s during our stay, it was more like 5-7s. IT. WAS. BUSY. And stormy the first 4 days. So the end of day 2, I added park hopper, and this made the trip much better, due to the added flexibility. And it turned out our daughter had more stamina than anticipated, an we were able to visit 2-3 parks a day, as necessary to avoid crowds / long lines.

Lets talk FPP. First, make sure you absolutely understand how it works. I did not pick up on a few important points, and got waylaid because of it. I totally recommend using the book in the AM theory and then modify / use / add method when you can. See this excellent post on the subject here by the famous OBNurseNH:

Also, make sure you understand once you use a FPP in any park besides MK, you HAVE to use all 3 in the proper tiers before you get more. I was able to get out of that situation the first time it happened, by booking throwaway FPP’s back to back, but man did the castmembers give me dirty looks.

Make sure you use the search by discreet time function when modifying / searching. I will be polite and say the MDE app “has some issues”, and will not load / crash / not show you available FPP’s / temporarily lose your booked FPP’s a LOT. Just because you couldn’t get a pass / time you wanted 3 minutes ago, doesn’t mean you can’t get it now. Also, snag a time you like WHEN YOU SEE IT. I was also able to move a FPP up by 1.5 hours by modifying it 4x in a row.

Rope Drop. Use it if you can wake up early. I was prepared to do it everyday, but the rest of the family was not so keen. But it can not be understated how valuable it is. And being at the FRONT for the headliners is the dif between 5-10 minute wait vs 20-30 minute wait. For our visit, this applied to: 7DMT, FOP, NRJ, SDD, Alien, TSM. Every other ride at least you could get a FP for at some point, and or had a reasonable wait time at some point of the day. And none of those rides is worth an hour, let alone 2 hour wait.

I did EMH morning for DHS solo one morning, and stayed away from TSL since we had already done it, and I wanted to ride RR, TT and ST. It. was. awesome. I was able to ride all those 3x each, no wait, AND get pictures at every single character greet. (my daughter was pissed, but she din’t want to wake up). I was back at the hotel by 9:30am, and they were still sleeping.

My daughters eyes are bigger than her nerves, so I eased her into things so as not to ruin her experience. She gets freaked out on the kiddie coasters back home, so I made sure we did rides in a certain order. This worked well, plus she’s getting older / braver. So by the end of the trip, she had ridden EE and BTMR twice and loved it, and SM 6x, front row 4x, and it was her favorite ride. I was honestly a bit freaked out by her being in the front of SM, because the lap bar seems a bit small, but I am sure its safer than I feared. I did keep my hands on either side of her the whole ride tho.

We tried to knock out all the big rides early in the trip, and that seemed to work well, so stress levels were reduced. That said, we definitely spent the most time in MK, we visited there for at least some time 6 of the 8 days.DHS was only good for TSL, which is small, crowded and hot. AK is good when its not raining or too hot. Pandora underwhelmed me. Not as visually striking as I hoped, day or night (should have been brighter), NRJ was ok (again, should have been brighter / more vibrant) and FOP was fun, but only with a FP. And since its so hard to get the FP… Epcot seemed lacking with a 6yo. Frozen was ok, not great. Soarin and TT are still fun, Imagination has never been the same / fun since the first incarnation / version, and Imageworks is pretty lame nowadays. (where are the giant kaleidoscopes, the pin tables???, lol) Jumping fountains will always be fun though. Nemo… eh. Crush, a little better, but still pretty eh. SE, she did it but was not that impressed. And again, dark and semi broken.

Ok, let me touch on that. First off, I may be more critical, because I have worked in entertainment production for 30 plus years. But after going to the parks for over 45 years personally, I have seen the ride production and maintenance level go down. Its literally like someone in corporate said “lets save money by dimming everything 15-20% and not fixing things.” I am sorry, but thats just wrong. I can accept the occasional light out, an arm not moving, etc. But we are talking many entire rides, where its barely lit, whole sections just OFF and mechanics that just don’t work / move (that are supposed to). And if a whole ride is nothing more than a projected film, keep the lens clean and focus the projector. Ok, rant over.

What else? Food was fine, but we weren’t trying to have any crazy meals beyond my seafood buffet, so me mostly had counter service. I REALLY wish they would add more indoor or covered seating to those areas. Its not like there is a lack of space. We didn’y spend as much time at DS as we planned on, but that did seem to have the best food and selection, so I advise eating there if you can. We found Frontera Cocina to be better and cheaper than San Angle Inn (especially since they have ruined / let go the nightime sky effect). And The Polite Pig was very tasty. Both were easy to get seated at with out planning in advance.

So, in all we had a good trip. Very happy with the Dolphin and its location. Rode everything we wanted to with minimal wait after adjusting to FPP and park hopping. Should have spent more time at the pool and taken more afternoon breaks. Glad everything was still open early and late for maximum touring flexibility. Next time I won’t push as hard / plan as much, would add an extra day, and don’t think I need to go back for at least 2-3 years. Will definitely try and stay in the immediate Epcot area again.

I got my “Daddy this was the best day ever!” moment with my daughter on my shoulders, watching fireworks at MK midway through the trip, and I guess that’s really all I wanted :slight_smile:


Thanks for the report! This is the first review I think I have read about Garden Grove.


I am totally with you on the park hopper. So many suggest saving money by skipping the hopper. Absolutely bad advice in my opinion. We, as you, will hit MK most days we are there…we stay at Wilderness Lodge. We would never go without the hopper! Glad you and your daughter had a great time! And yes, rope drop and refresh to get and modify fast passes.


Forgot to add 2 things!

We did a Memory Maker share, I totally recommend this!!! It was painless and worked great!!!

Second, my daughter didn’t watch any TV AT ALL for 8 days. Now THAT’S a vacation :slight_smile:


Thanks so much for sharing! 20 days to our trip and it helps to live vicariously through you!!! :o


Ha, thats awesome! Have fun!!!

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Congratulations on a fun trip and “the best day ever”!! That makes it all worthwhile!!

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Thanks! I’m not a huge “showing emotions guy”, and my daughter thinks its funny to “make me cry”. Obviously she was delighted when Mom pointed out her comment was making me tear up.
The whole time leading up to the trip, she was like “Daddy, are you gonna cry when we get there!!??”. Needless to say, I remained emotions of steel until that moment, lol.
I just wanted her to have the good memories like I did when I went at her age.
Call me crazy, I like being a Dad :slight_smile:


My son is 20. We have been on 8 Disney trips together. He makes fun of me at times for my planning but recently I overheard him talking to some friends about Disney. He was telling them that they needed to go with us if they wanted to have fun because his Mom planned everything out and he just had to show up. He was telling them that if you didn’t know how to do it right, you would miss a lot and wouldn’t have as much fun. It’s still fun to be a parent when they are 20! I hope you have many years of Disney fun with your daughter!!


This smile was that moment for me.


Ha! Thats the one SW character I got!!!
Great pic!!!


I will add I am super proud my daughter has as much WDW knowledge as she does.
She was telling people in line all about this ride, that land, naming things correctly…
I was like, thats my girl!
(Of course I have been teaching her for 6 years, poor thing, lol)


Ava enjoying SM for the 15 millionth time, lol.


(Dude behind me, not so much)


Next time go to la hacienda

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Thanks for the great trip report! We also stay at the Dolphin, love it. This trip I’ve built in evening as well as midday pool time. As you say, we always wish we’d spent more time at that pool!

Your little one is a coaster trooper! Our fam has a mix of daredevils & cautious ones (traveling w 4 kiddos this trip). It’s going to be a trip haha!

The fun & the memories are priceless. I still reminisce with my now grown kiddos, and we’re all having fun traveling with the grands these days.


We did not do PH and were absolutely fine with it! But we were there 5 days and it never rained. I think it really depends on your touring styly and what you want to visit.


I agree.

We’ve only ever had hoppers as a family once, and that was a forced purchase as part of a free dining offer a few years back. We didn’t really use them - it’s just not how we tour. But a lot of people like to be able to go wherever whenever, or actively plan for mornings in one park and evenings in another.


We have been to La Hacienda as well. Only marginally better than SAI. But we did go the first month they opened. Still like Frontera the best. But obviously La Hacienda has best views of Illuminations :slight_smile:

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If it makes you feel better, around 10 years ago the flumes on Splash Mountain didn’t have lap bars at all & yet our son never went flying out of the log. Although my wife was exceptionally worried about it at the time especially if he shifted forward to see the drop better.