Earlier this month, we enjoyed our first family trip to Disney World. It was really fun getting away and having a chance to just relax and recharge. Now it’s time to get back to work with a vengeance. But I thought it would be fun to share some of the experiences we had along the way.
Preparing for the Ride
Driving from New Jersey to Florida is quite a long drive (we clocked it at just over a thousand miles) so I wanted to make sure the mini-van was in good shape. A few months ago I took it in to the shop for new brakes. While it was there I asked the mechanic to give in a once over and look for any potential problems, but luckily he gave it his seal of approval.
The battery is only about a year old and so are the tires, but they were due for a rotation so I got that done and an oil change too. I double checked them to make sure they were inflated properly, got the car washed, installed brand new windshield wipers, applied a coat of rain-X to the windshield and gassed it up.
In the weeks leading up to our vacation we often kidded around with friends that this was our first time driving to Florida and we hoped it would turn out better than National Lampoon’s Vacation. We didn’t have any Chevy Chase moments…driving off the road or getting lost in the desert (no Christie Brinkley sightings either).
Day 1 – Starting the Drive
With a long ride ahead of us we planned to get on the road before dawn, so I loaded just about everything into the van the night before. This was a huge time-saver and all we had to do in the morning was wake up the kids and grab a few last minute items. We were on the road by 5 AM.
The kids slept in the car for a few hours and finally woke up around 7:30. They each had their 3DS and some games to play, a few books to read, and some crayons and coloring books to keep them busy. We also borrowed my nephew’s portable DVD player so they were able to watch a couple of movies along the way.
Keeping young children entertained is key to a successful road trip. Nothing wears you out faster than a never-ending chorus of “Are we there yet?”
It took about 11 hours (including a few quick stops) to make it from New Jersey to South Carolina. We had reserved a hotel room to spend the night so we checked in and then drove down the road to grab a bite to eat at the local Cracker Barrel. After dinner we returned to the hotel and got a good laugh when we turned on the television to find National Lampoon’s Vacation playing!
Day 2 – Finally at Disney!
We got up early and hit the free breakfast in the lobby. A good meal to start the day is important because it helps you go a long time before having to stop for lunch. With several hours left to drive we wanted to go as far as possible before stopping again. We hit a bit of traffic in the Orlando area due to an accident but the drive to Disney was otherwise uneventful and we arrived at the park mid-afternoon.
We checked into the amazing Art of Animation resort which has themed rooms based on 4 Disney/Pixar classics…The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Lion King. We stayed in the Finding Nemo section which had amazing décor throughout the building and pool. Check out the seagulls on the outside stairs, every once in a while you’ll hear them say “Mine, mine, mine” like they did in the movie.
After checking out the hotel and relaxing for a bit we hopped a bus to Downtown Disney. It felt great to just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere and then we devoured a delicious dinner at the T-Rex restaurant. T-Rex is similar to a Rainforest Café except all of the animals are prehistoric and every twenty minutes there’s a “meteor shower” complete with lightning and thunder.
Day 3 – EPCOT
We got up early and hopped on the bus that runs from the resort to the parks with EPCOT as our destination. The heat was stifling and we had to rush since we had a 9:15 reservation for breakfast at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. The food there was awesome and we got to meet a bunch of the Disney princesses including Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. The kids had a ball.
The rest of the day was spent walking from one end of EPCOT to the other. The kids were a bit bored by the World Showcase (it’s more fun for couples) but we still had a great day. I’m a space nerd so I loved the Mission: Space ride. Our other favorites included the Soarin’, the Nemo and Friends ride and Turtle Talk, which is an interactive show in which kids get to ask Crush the turtle questions.
My daughter Christina got to ask him a question as her hand was the first to shoot up during the Q and A session. He called he the “little mama with the pink shell (shirt) and brown fur” and she asked what turtles ate. He then asked what she liked to eat and she said mac and cheese. I only wish I had been more prepared so I could have gotten some video of the moment.
Day 4 – Animal Kingdom
After the long drive and a ton of walking at EPCOT we were already feeling a bit tired but we made our way to Animal Kingdom and spent about half the day there. We saw lions, elephants, and giraffes on the Kilamanjaro Safari ride and we got soaked on the Kali River Rapids, which was fun but way too short.
We also caught the Finding Nemo musical show which includes a shortened version of the movie live on stage. The show lasts 40 minutes and is full of fun and amazing costumes and puppetry.
Feeling exhausted, we decided to head back to the hotel and spend some time in the pool. We also walked around the resort checking out all of the scenery and cartoon themed décor.
For dinner, we headed to Disney’s Polynesian Resort for a delicious meal at the Hawaiian themed restaurant Ohana. It was a bit crowded and we had to wait awhile even though we had reservations, but the food was fantastic. It was pretty late by the time we got out of there and my son actually fell asleep at the table. We made our way back to Art of Animation and crashed.
Day 5 – Magic Kingdom
With three little kids in tow, we knew we’d spent the bulk of our time in Magic Kingdom. There’s just so much for them to do and the atmosphere can’t be beat.
We got a bit of a late start because I had to run back to the resort for something, but we still jammed a lot into the day. We got to take some great pictures with characters and explored some of the shops on Main Street USA.
Then we made our way into Fantasyland and lunch at the Be Our Guest Restaurant. The food was pretty good, but the atmosphere was amazing as we got to eat in Belle’s ballroom. It felt like a scene right out of Beauty and the Beast.
After lunch we spent the rest of the day making our way through Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. We hit the old standards like “It’s a Small World” and Peter Pan’s Flight, as well as some of the newer rides like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. My son also went on his very first rollercoaster…Goofy’s Barnstormer!
We got another great memory at Enchanted Tales with Belle. We had no idea what to expect until we entered, but it ended up being an interactive story where some audience members get chosen to play a part and act it out with Belle herself. I was a knight in shining armor, my son was Chip, and my daughters got to play the roles of a feather duster and a dancing dish. It was great fun, especially meeting the beautiful Belle up close! :)
For dinner we hopped on the monorail and went to Disney’s Grand Floridian resort. We went to the buffet at the 1900 Park Fare restaurant. The food was nothing special and I wouldn’t recommend it, except we did get to take pictures with Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the ugly stepsisters.
After dinner we went back to Magic Kingdom and stayed until the park closed. My son fell asleep in the stroller and missed the Wishes nighttime spectacular.
Day 6 – Hollywood Studios
Another day, another park. This time we visited Hollywood Studios and I loved it. I’m a bit of a sci-fi nerd and I couldn’t wait to get on Star Tours. My daughter loved it even more than I did and she went on six times!
We also got to enjoy the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular which demonstrates some of the movie magic behind the amazing stunts we see in the movies. It was great fun for me, not so much for my daughter who is deathly afraid of fire. We sat about five rows back and on the side which provided a great view, but I didn’t realize there would be a scene with fire coming from the floor so close to us we could feel the heat. She jumped into my wife’s arms so fast I think she left her sneakers behind.
We got to meet some of our favorite characters in Hollywood Studios, including Wreck-it Ralph as well as Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc. The Great Movie Ride was fun too, though a little bit dated.
Another show that we really enjoyed was Muppet Vision 3D. Of course the 3D glasses were only part of the fun as bubbles dropped from the ceiling and water spritzed us from Fozzie’s water gun. The best part was when a door opened up and a real-live Sweetums walked out and stood just a few feet from our seats.
For dinner, we stayed in the park and ate at the Sci-Fi Diner. The tables are actually cars set up in a drive-in movie theater with old science fiction movies and cartoons playing. It was a neat place and the food was delicious.
Day 7 – Magic Kingdom Part 2
On our first visit t Magic Kingdom, we only managed to get through about half the park, so we came back again to check out the other sections we missed the first time around.
But first we hopped the monorail and headed to Disney’s Contemporary Resort for a breakfast buffet and Chef Mickey’s. The food was fantastic…the best breakfast of our entire trip. Plus we got to take some pictures with some classic characters like Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.
After breakfast we headed back to Magic Kingdom and spent most of the day in Frontierland and Adventureland. My son was too little for most of the rides, though he loved Aladdin’s Magic Carpets.
The rest of us got to enjoy Splash Mountain and the Big thunder Mountain Railroad (next time he’ll get to come along). We visited the Hall of Presidents and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and once again stayed until the park closed so we could enjoy the light show.
Day 8 – Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom
We still had tickets for one more day so we decided to split the time between two parks and hit all of our most favorite rides and attractions again.
At Hollywood Studios we ran over to Sunset Boulevard so we could watch a live performance of Beauty and the Beast. The Broadway caliber production lasted 30 minutes and it had plenty of dancing girls (not to mention dishes and candlesticks) and music for all to enjoy.
When the show ended we tried to get to Toy Story Midway Mania but the wait was absurdly long so we hit Star Tours one more time and then headed to Magic Kingdom.
The park was more crowded than any other day so we didn’t get to do everything we wanted, but we did get to hit some of our favorite rides again. We ended the day with dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern, which is right inside the park at Liberty Square. If you look forward to Thanksgiving dinner you’ll love this all you can eat restaurant with a colonial theme.
Day 9 – Farewell to Disney World
Rather than driving all the way back to New Jersey, we decided to try the Auto Train. The train station is a short drive from Disney World and it takes you all the way to northern Virginia. I hated every minute of it and I’ll never do it again.
We slept in coach and though the seats were comfortable for sitting they did not provide a good night’s sleep. I’m a light sleeper too, so between the uncomfortable seats, the rocking of the train, and people walking by at all hours of the night I barely slept at all. In the morning I was groggy, cranky and sore.
Of course we still had a pretty lengthy ride ahead of us too!
We made decent time but it wasn’t easy. I was so tired I had to stop a few times just to grab some coffee or stretch. I would have preferred driving the entire way home as long as I got to sleep in a comfy hotel bed.
By mid-afternoon we were finally home and it felt good to sit on my own couch and pet the dog. Disney World was a whirlwind and we came away with lots of great memories. I loved every minute of our trip, but there really is no place like home.
Have you ever been to Disney World? What was your favorite part?