My husband and I decided, a little last minute, to make a driving trip to Daytona Beach to visit longtime friends we hadn’t seen in about two years – and take our 6 and 3 year old kids along for the ride.
Even more last minute, we decided to tack on a day at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom as our last outing before we drove home to Birmingham, Ala.
It was a Tuesday and one of the hottest days Florida had experienced all summer. Alabama has had the third coolest summer in the last 131 years at an average of 87.7 degrees, so the 98 degree temps were a bit jarring for us.
We stayed at a Hampton Inn, which worked out well for a free breakfast before hitting the park, but it was where we made our first mistake. We stopped at a concierge table where the guy talked us into taking their free shuttle instead of driving and parking a million miles away from the entrance.
Bad idea. The shuttle was already filled to capacity from who knows how many hotels it picked up at before ours. We stood in the aisle. Then it stopped at at least three more hotels despite having no room for additional tourists.
Then when we got there, it landed us at Epcot, NOT the Magic Kingdom. So from the hotel to the Magic Kingdom, it was about 50 minutes. And we realized we forgot our sunglasses in our rush to catch the ill-fated shuttle.
We get to the counter to pay for tickets and here’s where we won a small victory. We said Alli, our very petite 3-year-old, was UNDER 3. Cha-ching, she’s now FREE. It still cost us $100 per adult and $89 for William, the 6-year-old, but we’ll take the savings.
First thing in the gate, we made several important purchases: we bought sunglasses for the adults, a princess autograph book for Alli and a spray bottle fan for William (that came in handy the whole day for ALL of us in the extreme heat).
We also rented their single stroller for $15. Well worth the money. I would even recommend splurging for the $32 double stroller. The stroller helped carry tiny Alli faster through the park and it held our bags, which were heavy because of waters, Gatorades and snack foods. You can leave your bags with the stroller when riding rides, but I would caution you to take valuables, such as cameras, from the bag. I have a friend whose $500 Nikon was stolen out of a stroller at Disney several years ago.
The park was extremely crowded. We couldn’t even get an unobstructed photo of the family with the castle behind us; we were photo bombed at every angle.
Another bummer was missing the “princess” show at the castle when you first enter. Because of the shuttle delay, we missed the 9:30 a.m. opener and didn’t want to wait for the next show. Alli never got to see it (or Cinderella, her favorite princess) because of that scheduling blunder.
We also didn’t see a lot of characters floating around the park, which I heard several tourists complain about in line. Mickey and Minnie were probably too hot in the suits to venture out too much, so the hot temps probably prevented us from seeing more characters the day we went.
I picked up a map right off the bat and because of my knowledge of the park from previous visits, I chose which rides were best for age kids my age and mapped out how we would travel the park. hIn indsight, I should have done that BEFORE getting to the park. That cost me time. I also found a “Disney World” app (advertised at the park) that I downloaded and it worked like mapquest, showing me where we were in the park and giving us routes to where we wanted to go. It also listed wait times for rides that adjusted as the wait times changed. I highly recommend this app for the days you are at the parks.
Using the maps, we also planned out Fast Passes and sent one of the adults running to a select ride across the park to get the pass that, in some cases, had you riding it at 9:15 p.m. – so 10 hours later. The passes are also limited. They DO run out.
As for the lines, the kids were pretty patient. We used our phones for entertainment in some cases, and people watched in others.
While we brought a good selection of snacks – they don’t ban that – and drinks, we still opted to eat at a fast food-type restaurant for lunch to get off our feet and into some air conditioning. If you’re on a budget, you can always supplement their chips for ones you brought. We packed Cheezits, animal crackers, gummies, Capri Suns, Gatorade and small waters. The drinks were especially handy because you can refill them at water fountains when you run out. However, they don’t stay cold, so the kids just had to adjust to drinking it warm by the end of the day.
As far as souvenirs and “treats” during the day, we got very lucky. The kids didn’t beg and whine for anything at the gift shops, so we ended up buying nothing outside of that first outing for the spray bottle and autograph book. However, we did buy everyone an ice cream around 4 p.m. that we ate in line.
The autograph book was a big hit, by the way. Alli was afraid of people dressed up like things/mascots before we went, but the thrill of getting them to sign her princess book gave her motivation to push past the fear and she was eventually hugging Tigger and Pooh. She also got to meet Belle in a very cool reenactment of her story ride that came with photo opps with Alli hugging one of her favorite princesses.
Alli was too shy to participate in the show, but an older woman who worked the event saw Alli’s excitement and got her to the front to actually talk to Belle and take photos. We also made it to the Fairy Nook to get a one-on-one with Tinker Bell that was a highlight for Alli and made for great photos and autograph. This was especially important because big brother was big enough to ride everything and she will be in high school, at this rate, before she can. So the family as a whole stopped everything to get her some princess moments of her own.
For dinner, we tossed around the option of eating at a character restaurant, where Tigger and Pooh would visit you while eating. But we changed our minds to fast food quickly when we saw the price of $40 per person and convinced the kids it wasn’t worth it because they met Tigger and Pooh in the park earlier in the day.
The last hoorah was getting a great spot for the night-ending light parade. By then, Alli had fallen asleep in the handy stroller. We lined up a great spot and didn’t have to wait too long for the show to begin. Unfortunately, it ended abruptly after only a few minutes because of lightning.
Despite that, the kids had a great time and so did we. Getting back to the hotel was a challenge considering we had to give back the rented stroller and then take turns carrying a crapped-out 30-pound toddler through shuttles.
But we lucked up having a friend who lives in Orlando join us for the last part of the day, so he drove us to our hotel. It also helped having the extra adult to take William on Space Mountain and to watch sleeping Alli to allow the parents to ride Space Mountain for a little alone time.
He also took the only unobstructed photo of the Crawford family in front of the castle, although we were a hot, sweaty mess by then.
Overall, Disney World is an adventure for families that, when done right, can be magical.
Hope my suggestions help you have a great time and later be able to say the money for admission was worth it.
Cindy F. Crawford is the editor of a news publication in Birmingham, Ala., and the proud parent of two spirited young children.
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