DISNEY FAMILY HOLIDAY - TOP FIVES
Top 5 things we loved
The Magic kingdom
I was never a huge Disney fan as a kid but there were definite butterflies in my stomach as we saw the iconic castle for the first time. I must confess to a little tear in my eye as I saw the look of awe and excitement on my 5 years old’s face and was proud to deliver every kid’s childhood dream for her.
Tip: Don’t miss the show and fireworks that appear on the steps of the castle several times a day – pure Disney magic.
Having dropped out of ballet and tap shoes before we even made it to the first Christmas show aged five you could say dance and drama were not really my thing. But we were in total awe of the “stage school kids” – their huge American smiles, beautiful bright costumes and the elaborate vehicles that paraded them around the park as they sang and dance.
Tip: Get yourself a spot to sit down along the street at least 20 minutes before they start – its a nice break from the queues too!
Getting characters’ autographs
Are autograph books still in existence in this digital age? They sure are at Disney. To the kids believe me these characters are real and their hugs are pure love.
Tip: Again get there early as the characters have one hour slots so if you end up at the back of the queue you may miss out. And before you leave cram all the Disney movies you can. What surprised me is that apart from Frozen, Nickelodeon and Star Wars many of the characters were our childhood favourites – more Ariel, Belle and Cinderella than Moana.
Of the several theme parks on offer at Disneyworld Epcot is the most eclectic – a weird fusion of futuristic thinking in the science park as designed in the 70s and global culture in the international pavilions. After all the princesses and mermaids we enjoyed visiting mini France, mini Japan, etc and yes, I confess I did like the educational factor.
Tip: The food in Epcot was the best in all of Disney. The kitchens in each of the international pavilions are made by chefs from their home countries – croissants in Paris, tagines in Morrocco and noodles in China were all a welcome relief from burgers and pizzas!
Rides for all ages
Few theme parks can claim to cover all ages. In many the variety for the younger kids can be lacking. Whether its steam trains, monorails, teacups or kiddy rollercoasters there is plenty to choose from on top of the Space Mountains for the thrillseekers. And there is just enough to test their boundaries – my five year old turned out to be quite the adrenaline junkie!
Tip: Use the Disney app and maps which give age recommendations to plot out the ideal sections to spend your time in and avoid wandering around.
Top 5 Decisions
With so many to choose from, where do we start? Shanghai, Japan, Paris, California or Florida?
While I have had mixed reports on Shanghai (from too crowded to blissfully uncrowded and feeling like the real deal) and Tokyo (while Disneyland may cheaper than the US the overall cost of a holiday is not) it does seem that most of us still think that the “real deal” has to be a trip to America. So that leaves us with the choice between Disneyland LA (the original) or DisneyWorld Florida (the super-sized version).
DisneyWorld is the size of San Franciso and has four separate parks – the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot as well as two water parks, Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. Disneyland has a “mere” two parks Disneyland Park and California Adventure.
Of course, both are in warm, sunny locations where there is lots more to do than just Disney. In Florida, you can travel through the Everglades and meet astronauts at Kennedy Space Center (my personal favorite) or in California check out downtown LA or plenty of other theme parks (if you are not theme parked out!).
For a more detailed comparison here is a good site to visit:
My view – if you want the full-on, once in a lifetime Disney experience is make the long trip to Orlando and go for broke on all things Disney – the 6 parks and sheer size of the whole Disney owned empire is hard to beat. If you have younger kids, want to keep travel time down and are happy to “experience Disney” without total immersion then head to the closer Disneyland LA.
how long do you need?
You need at least a day for each park – so in Disneyworld you are talking 4 – 6 days if you include water parks. I would strongly recommend giving yourself plenty of space and time to do some half days or non Disney days to chill by a pool and give the kids downtime.
Disneyland is more manageable in 2 days.
What time of year?
Both Disneyland and Disneyworld are in year round sunny climates, although we were surprised at how chilly it did get in December in Orlando. July and August are the height of summer and make queuing a very hot affair – we do know friends who have come down with sunstroke. They are also the US and European school holidays so peak season.
We visited at Christmas and although a Disney Christmas can be memorable, so were the queues! It is the busiest week of the year and not to be attempted unless you really want to spend up to an hour queuing for a Starbucks coffee.
I’d recommend October. Experience an over the top American Halloween, in pleasant weather and without the crowds.
While Disney has something for everyone and is well catered for young children it can be quite tiring and queuing is not something young children do well!
Based on our personal experience i would say 7 upwards. My daughter was 5 at the time and she did extraordinarily well but i’m sure it would have been lighter work as a parent if she was just that bit older.
We stayed in a mixture of accommodation – a few days in a Sheraton, a few days in a motel and one week in a Disney resort. Hands down if I was to do it again I would fork out for a Disney resort again. Yes, it is more expensive but you get the full-on Disney experience (complete with white chocolate scented air) and high-quality accommodation perfectly set up for families. But most importantly of all, you get easy access to the parks.
We stayed at the Disney Beach Club resort which had the bonus of being walking distance to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios, or on tired legs a short boat ride down the river.
Top 5 disney hacks
Personally i wouldn’t do Disney without it. The personal wristband links to an app on your phone and from this you can book up to three attractions (rides or shows) a day and join a short queue at your allocated time. When all three have been used up each day you can add more, subject to availability. Without the pass i hate to think how much longer we would have stood in queues!
Sort your plan and pre book rides and restaurants well in advance
Probably the least family-friendly aspect of Disney, in my opinion, is the lack of no real spots to sit and eat a packed lunch as of course everything is geared to you buying food on site. Restaurants can get crowded so get the app and book them in advance – like months in advance!
The same goes for rides – as soon as you can book the ones you really want on your Fastpass or you could miss out on the popular ones like Avatar’s Flight of Passage!
Meet the characters over lunch
Want to meet the maximum number of characters in one go? Get the autographs, snap the pics and get the cuddles? A themed dining experience is a way to go. Breakfast with the princesses at the Norwegian pavilion in Epcot was a wondrous experience for my daughter as she danced and sang with her favorite characters and quite frankly the best food we had on the whole trip! Worth the extra dollars.
mydisneyexperience app is your best friend
Aside from pre booking rides and restaurants the app gives maps, directions, descriptions, timings and ages for all attractions and loads more. If you want to purchase official photos these can also be viewed through the Memory Maker. Learn to navigate the app well before you go and your Disney trip will be a whole world easier!
Aside from avoiding the heat of the day the parks are noticeably less busy at the start of the day. Grab breakfast to go and get ahead of the crowds, then stop for lunch or return to your hotel early to keep ahead of the meal time throngs.