DISNEY RECAP: Must-Do’s, Pass-Ups & FAQs

Basking in the Disney glow

Basking in the Disney glow

We’re all still basking in the glow of our recent trip to Disney World. It’s embarrassing how much we loved it. It wasn’t relaxing by any stretch. It was just so freaking FUN.

So that I can continue to relive our amazing week AND you can see all the information & tips in one place, here’s a recap:

Must-Do’s at the Magic Kingdom

  • Walk around Main Street, U.S.A. – and get a Starbucks while you’re there because it’s the only one at Disney World
  • Eat at the Crystal Palace – meet Pooh and the gang and pillage the buffet
  • Visit Rapunzel’s village at night. You can’t go in her tower, which reaches way high in the sky like Jack’s beanstalk. But it’s beautifully lit at night, and there’s a little sitting area strung by lanterns that makes a great photo opp.
  • Visit the Haunted Mansion at night for extra creepiness
  • Watch the nightly light show in front of Cinderella’s castle (9:30ish)
  • Watch Wishes, the nightly fireworks show, from inside the park (10pmish); watch for Tinkerbell to fly off the castle
  • The Peter Pan ride – fly over London in a magic flying ship
  • The Mad Hatter Tea Cup ride – nauseating for adults, loved by children
  • It’s a Small World ride – very Rankin/Bass for adults, but kids dig it
  • Goofy’s Barnstormer – a bonafide rollercoaster that Magnus was tall enough to ride!
  • Take your daughter to the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique to get a princess hairdo, mani, and general pampering. Pack your OWN princess dress from home! Go to the Boutique in Cinderella’s castle, not the other one.
  • See an animatronic Johnny Depp at Pirates of the Caribbean, then go to the Pirates League for pirate or mermaid dress-up.
  • Ride the Dumbo and Magic Carpet rides if you have wee little ones.
  • Take the Jungle Cruise through the Congo. Think Anaconda.
The lanterns in Rapunzel's village.

The lanterns in Rapunzel’s village.

Rapunzel's tower at night.

Rapunzel’s tower at night.

Wishes fireworks over Belle's castle

Wishes fireworks over Belle’s castle

Take a Pass On…

  • The Buzz Lightyear space ride – obnoxious and loud. It should be called Voyage into a Headache.
  • Pecos Bill’s – A Quick Service restaurant that gets good reviews online. I’ve had better grilled chicken salads from McDonald’s.
  • Having your son gelled and confetti’d at Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique.
  • Extra Magic Hours. When your kids are young, it’s not worth it. We went to the 11pm – 1am hours and it seemed like there were MORE people.
  • Lunch at Cinderella’s Castle. This was the only place we met Jasmine. Aside from that, it wasn’t worth the two Table Services it cost. The food was terrible and we met Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty at other places too.
Magnus got gelled and confetti'd at the Bibbidi Bobbidi boutique.

Magnus got gelled and confetti’d at the Bibbidi Bobbidi boutique.

Must-Do’s at EPCOT

  • Eat smoked salmon, drink Carlsburg and hang with princesses at Akershus Royal Table in Norway
  • Visit the Biergarten in Germany
  • Have a gelato in Italy
  • Have Stellas and cool off in the pub in the U,K.
  • Ride Nemo and Friends in The Seas, then visit the aquarium. They have a dolphin and a small shark.
  • Visit The Land (we couldn’t ride Soarin’ but we rode through a vegetable & herb garden that reminded me of Woody Allen’s Sleeper)

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Take a Pass On…

  • Spaceship Earth – We thought it would be about space. It wasn’t.
  • Eating at Mexico. It’s really hard to screw up Mexican food but somehow they managed. Skip the boat ride too.
  • Storytime with Mary Poppins. BO-ring.
She was no Julie Andrews.

She was no Julie Andrews.

Must-Do’s at Hollywood Studios

  • Just walk around the park. It’s very Peggy Sue Got Married – all 1950s Hollywood.
  • Muppets 3D – Seeing those lovable Muppets after 3 days of Disney princesses was so welcome.
  • Lightning McQueen and Mater in the Cars meet and greet. They’re actual car size but they don’t talk or move.
  • Have lunch at Hollywood & Vine – Meet Handy Manny, June from Little Einsteins, Jake from the Neverland Pirates and Oso the Bear.
  • Go on the Great Movie Ride – You ride through scenes from real movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Public Enemy, Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz.
I loved the look of Hollywood Studios, and themes from movies like Superman and Gone with the Wind were always playing in the background.

I loved the look of Hollywood Studios, and themes from movies like Superman and Gone with the Wind were always playing in the background.

Take a Pass On…

  • The Toy Story Mania ride. If you can get right in, by all means, check it out! But it’s NOT worth a long wait.

Must-Do’s at Animal Kingdom

  • Kilimanjaro Safari – Take a jeep into the African plains and see giraffes, elephants, a lioness and 12 different kinds of antelopes. Almost like a real safari.
  • Flame Tree Barbecue – OK, not a MUST-do, but it’s a decent Quick Service restaurant. The outdoor seating gives you a nice view of the Expedition: Everest rollercoaster across the water.
The safari at the Animal Kingdom was a great way to see wild animals up close.

The safari at the Animal Kingdom was a great way to see wild animals up close.

Take a Pass On…

  • DinoLand… The only highlight is a cast-iron replica of Sue, the T-Rex discovered in South Dakota in 1990.
Hey there, Sue...

Hey there, Sue…

FAQs

Were you happy you stayed at the Polynesian?

Yes. The Polynesian is a sprawling complex of dark brown, 3-story buildings all connected by a paved path. Staff travel around on golf carts. Depending on which building you’re put in, you could be in for a hike just to get to the lobby. The rooms are dark and dated, with a ’70s vibe. That being said, we loved it. The wild, unkempt grounds with its exotic flowers and Jurassic plants and trees grew on us. Like a Disney movie, there were lizards, squirrels and butterflies everywhere. The tiki torches along the paths created this beachy, Hawaiian feel at night.

By contrast, the Grand Floridian across the pond was elegant with its white marble floors and giant birdcages in the lobby. And the Contemporary is said to have the nicest rooms — though it doesn’t have a lot curb appeal. We went with the Polynesian because we wanted our first Disney stay to have personality, a great pool, and proximity to the monorail.

Fort Wilderness looked so cool from the outside — like a posh camping lodge, Disney style. Only downside is no easy access to the monorail. It’s bus city, sweetheart.

At the Polynesian (and I’m assuming any Disney property), your room key also serves as your access card into the park AND your dining plan card. The staff told us they’re switching to bracelets next year.

Staying at the Polynesian is a two-for-one: the kids get Disney AND Hawaii.

Staying at the Polynesian is a two-for-one: the kids get Disney AND Hawaii.

Dining Plan – is it worth it?

Yes, it was worth it for us. We packed Nutri-Grain bars and Clif bars for the kids for breakfast and used our Table Services and Quick Services for lunches and dinners. You get one Table Service, one Quick Service and one Snack per person, per day with the Dining Plan. Without it, your restaurant bills are ridiculous. Like $100 – $150 for a buffet lunch.

Chili Dogs from Casey's Corner - one of the better Quick Service meals.

Chili Dogs from Casey’s Corner – one of the better Quick Service meals.

What kind of shoes did you wear?

Okay, no one has asked me this but it was something I stressed about months in advance. I thought I would have to wear tennis shoes every day. Not true! I wore flip-flops most days. The key is having an extra pair of flip-flops or sandals to give your feet a break.

These feet put in some mileage...

These feet put in some mileage…

Did you have an itinerary?

Sort of. We had a chart of dining reservations, and that drove which park we spent the day at. So if the only day I could get into Hollywood and Vine for lunch was Tuesday, we marked Tuesday a “Hollywood Studios day.” I also had a rough idea of which attractions I wanted to do at each park. It can be overwhelming if you don’t have an idea of what you want to see, especially at the Magic Kingdom. At the other parks, you can just show up and wander around.

Did you take a pool break in the middle of the day?

Yes. It was critical for us to take a break in the middle of each day. We usually got to the park around 9:30am, took a pool break from 3 – 5pm, showered and went back out for dinner and/or a trip back to the Magic Kingdom at night.

Magnus loved the water slide that goes through the volcano into the pool. He and Greta must have gone down it 50 times.

Magnus loved the water slide that goes through the volcano into the pool. He and Greta must have gone down it 50 times.

Were your kids too young at 5 and 3?

Greta, who’s 5 1/2, is at a great age for a girl at Disney World. She’s in peak princess-love. Magnus was a little young but I don’t care that he might not remember it. He had a great time in the moment. And I know we’ll go back.

Do you have any other tips?

  • Open a Chase Southwest credit card and get 50,000 bonus miles right off the bat. We paid for our Magic Our Way package with the card and a few other expenses and reached 65,000 bonus miles. That paid for all four plane tickets.
  • Stay on the monorail.
  • Don’t make more than one reservation a day.

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