This post will compete with thousands of other similar posts on the web. What makes it different? Well, to be honest– nothing. But I will be upfront about what we did, how we did it, what worked, and what didn’t and how to go about using that mysterious FastPass+.
Disney World — Magic Kingdom
We purchased out tickets on site at 8:30am after parking in the middle of the Simba lot and then taking a (fun!) trolly to the gate. Everything at Disney is set up to be efficient. If we ever wanted to streamline the military/government, etc– we should hire Disney to do it. Folks called “cast members” greet you and direct you to the ticket counter where someone else lightens your wallet for you and hands back a few credit-card sized plastic tickets with a barcode on the back. You can scan this with a smartphone and, after you download the MyDisneyExperience app, you can program your three free, complimentary FastPasses (see below for more on that).
Having never been to Disney World (or any of their affiliates, like Disney Land, Disney Hong Kong, etc) I was shocked to see that they didn’t skimp on anything. Everything was lovely, clean, organized and fun. The rides were fun, well organized and every attempt was made to make waiting in line fun. They have some interactive stuff to do while you wait, and in the little kid’s attractions there are even little playgrounds. I liked, also, that they kept some of the staple attractions (Small World) and combined in new stuff, like Tangled in the parade, along with Frog Princess and Frozen. What I didn’t like was that you couldn’t see the characters. For whatever reason I was under the impression you could walk around the park and meet and greet with stuffed characters like Mickey and Donald. Instead, you had to wait in long lines, which was kind of lame. I thought part of the magic was that you walked around and it seemed like the characters actually lived there. To piggyback on that, we were sad to find out that there was a 90 minute wait to meet Ana and Elsa, so we couldn’t do it. 90 minutes with a preschooler is just too long. It would be cool if they opened a few more Frozen meet and greets so every little girl’s dream could come true (and so parents didn’t have to deal with grumpy kids in lines!). But that minimal, small complaint is about all we had to complain about. The rest was so amazing, the rides so fun, even the park food was decent. I expected a cheesy, overpriced, under delivered experience and I was wowed. Hard to do, so I applaud you, Disney. No wonder you are the magic makers.
Disney World — Animal Kingdom
With tots in tow we only wanted to do two parks, and Animal Kingdom was an easy second choice for us. Kids love animals, adults love the global aspect and the artwork, so it was a win for everyone.
I’ll admit that I didn’t think it could be as cool as Magic Kingdom– but for me I ended up liking the park better! The safari ride was a blast, all of the architecture and art and amazing details throughout the “continent” regions of the park made it feel like you were on an around-the-world journey but instead of TSA and visa hassles there were rides and caramel nuts. Sweet!
We loved the Everest ride. Sadly, the Kali River Rapids were closed (after waiting in line 40 minutes they evacuated the ride, us along with it. It never reopened). The Big’s Life show was short, but awesome and great for all ages, while the Finding Nemo musical was probably once of the most amazing performances I’ve seen as an adult. Again, I was shocked at how nothing was skimped on. There were no shortcuts taken. Someone put a lot of time, money and creativity into every single aspect of the park. Every tile was a tiny work of art, every piece of stucco was just perfectly placed to replicate a region of the world, down to the tiniest details (squat toilets in Asia!). One of my daughter’s top delights was the live music in Africa, complete with a dance area. Those kinds of touches make the day brighter.
Disney World — DownTown Disney
They have a fun Legoland experience, where I beat a bunch of kids at building Lego rally cars. They have statues of Mickey Mouse and his posse and Winnie the Pooh. We dined at the Rainforest Cafe, a first for me and a lot of fun for the kids. With snacks, treats, loads of shopping and a fun candy store, there was no shortage of stuff to do, but with a 3 and 5-year-old the fun was a bit pedestrian. With younger kids, probably skipping this or bringing a stroller would be best.
How to Use the Disney FastPass+
Here are a few tips for Magic Kingdom FastPass+. First off, people around you at will have purchased their tickets well in advance, meaning they already inserted their top ride and attraction picks. So, if you buy your tickets at the gate you’ll be hard pressed to get a FastPass to the more coveted attractions, like the Seven Dwarfs Ride, Meet Anna Else, etc. For us, we put in what we wanted and managed to get decent time slots. Most open slots will be in the evening, when the park is less busy. Especially in peak season.
The thing to remember is that the system, although efficient and well designed, isn’t totally stable. Of our three FastPasses, only one worked. One ride we were told our daughter was too short for even though she bumped her head against the measuring bar. The other ride was down when we showed up for our FastPass time– a shame since we had run across the park in 90-degree weather to use our cards. The third ride worked well, though when we got to the attraction we found that the normal standby wait time was only 10 minutes– a bit of a waste of a FastPass. So, for us, the whole system was more of a hassle than it was worth.
Here are a few tips for Animal Kingdom FastPass+: We arrived at 8:30, bought our tickets and then discovered the park wasn’t that packed so we went to the most coveted rides (Everest, Dinoland, etc) and rode those a few times since the wait was less than ten minutes. Because we had a preschooler with us we did the ride swap option, which Disney kindly does to allow parents of small children the chance to do the rides one at a time. It worked well for us. Ask about it at the gate, or with one of the hundreds of attendants or kiosk gurus if you’re curious how it works.
As with our visit to Magic Kingdom, the FastPasses were more of a hassle than they were worth. Kali River Rapids was closed down and the other coveted rides didn’t have much of a wait at all, so for us we ended up only using one FastPass again. I think if you go on an off-peak day you can’t scrap them if you don’t need them. For us, the parks were rated a 4 out of 10 for business (week one in May, 2015). We can’t imagine how the parks would be possible to enjoy at a 10 day as they were plenty crowded.
What to Bring to Disney World with a Preschooler and Elementary School Kids
If you bring a bag, you have to go through a somewhat long security line, FYI. I had one bag (see pic above) with a poncho for each kid, a bunch of energy bars, snacks, and water bottles. I brought sunscreen, Band-Aids, a hat and change of clothes (there is a water park to run through at Magic Kingdom, and River Rapids at Animal Kingdom could soak the tots). We ended up using everything in the bag. One major fail was we forgot the stroller. You can rent them on site for $13 for a single or $16 for a double and they have stroller-parking areas by each attraction. We didn’t do it right away, and by the time my arms were sore from carrying the kid the rental area was too far away to get back to without sacrificing an hour or more. Bring a small camera with a video recorder (record the parade, it’s awesome!) that is (preferably) waterproof. So many rides have water, and even the shows have little splashes.
Where to Stay in Orlando for Disney World Access
We stayed for a week at the Marriott Harbor Lake Resort, Orlando. The place is amazing. It has two kid-friendly pools. One has a pirate ship sunk into the water with slides and climbing stuff, water shooting out of alligator mouths, etc. The other pool has two tall towers that dump huge vats of water on kids below as well as a wading pool and huge water slide. There are hot tubs nearby for the adults, and fun activities were going on all the time.
Our room was a great, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with kitchen, balcony, and all the normal comforts of home. I would stay here again! The only down side (if it is one at all?) is that they don’t clean the room every day. This was great for us because we had kid stuff everywhere but I imagine if you were a party animal you’d want someone to mop up after you a bit more.