It’s only been a week since I left the Sunshine State, but boy does it feel like longer. I have so much to say and took so many photos that I’m splitting my post in three parts. Go put the kettle on and settle down for Part 1 and our top 10 Disney tips when travelling with children.
The big Disney surprise reveal…
Preparation for this trip was a story of two halves. Excitement first took over as we couldn’t wait to tell the girls we were going to the happiest place on the planet. We did however make the decision to tell them only the night before. Mainly to save our ears from hearing ‘is it time to go yet?’ on loop. The master plan led to an extreme case of happy hysteria, which inevitably meant no sleep that night. Neatly leading me to my first top tip of many:
Top Disney Tip 1
Last minute holiday revelation + no sleep at night = sleeping children on a 8.5hr flight – BINGO!
Then the overwhelming sensation of our decision took over. Why you may ask? Well the slow realisation of having to navigate four theme parks, two water parks and a multitude of dining options to name a few reasons. Taking into account that the size of the entire Walt Disney Resort is 40 square miles. That’s the size of Greater Manchester – Bloody huge when you have two pairs of tiny feet to think about!
We booked our holiday through Scott Dunn Travel, they organised our ten day break in Florida flawlessly. BA flights from Gatwick, transfers, amazing hotels, advising me to skip Miami on this trip and stick to Palm Beach (best advice).
It’s always fist bump time when this packet of joy comes through my letterbox.
Top Disney Tip 2
Plan…Plan…Plan…and plan some MORE.
‘Going with the flow’ is not a good strategy. You need to know which attraction you want to see and when. Without a plan you will walk a lot further and also waste time counting down the minutes in long, long, queues.
How do you do this?
Top Disney Tip 3
Prep your mobile.
Download the My Disney Experience app onto your mobile. It’s your bible. Follow it religiously whilst in mouse land. You can coordinate dining reservations, your FastPass+ itinerary, track down the Disney characters around the park and receive up-to-date parade and show times. Plus, all your family members can use the same account. I was constantly checking the waiting time for the attractions we didn’t manage to Fastpass+ – It’s genius.
Top Disney Tip 4
Fastpass+ (Book your daily three allowances in advance)
What the hell is that? (my exact words when it was mentioned to me). Disney lingo for their online attraction reservation system, which you can only use if you have a plastic pass or magicband. Here’s how it works: Each day, you receive three Fastpasses to use in ONE park. Once you have used these three Fastpasses, you can then continue to get additional ones, though only by using designated kiosks in each park.
Now if you’re staying in a Walt Disney Resort Hotel you can book your reservations 60 days in advance, while guests staying offsite can make reservations up to 30 days in advance.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando review
We were staying within the resort at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, a non Disney hotel therefore under the 30 day rule. This was far important to me than being able to book attractions two months in advance. Stepping off the Disney treadmill was very important to Mr S and I – 24hrs of mouse mania would have driven us mad. Returning to the hotel was like taking an Alka Seltzer after a heavy night. We were both re-calibrated and ready for action by the following morning.
Walking into the Waldorf Astoria Orlando after our 8.5hr flight certainly put a smile on my face. Inspired by the original hotel in New York it has been designed with a nod to the same art deco elegance and grandeur.
A beautifully ornate clock takes centre stage and if I wasn’t so tired I would have cheesily uttered the words ‘Meet me by the clock’ (a phrase synonymous with this luxury brand) to Mr S.
Thankfully the super efficient check-in had me whisked up to our 10th floor Disney view room with two queen size beds. Luckily 15 minutes into unpacking we witnessed the spectacular Disney fireworks from the comfort of our room. Combined with the sweet treats left in our room it was like a late night 3D IMAX cinema session for the girls.
The room was classically furnished with creams, blues, gold and dark woods with plenty of space for a family of four.
The marble bathroom with twin sinks, a spacious and powerful shower and a deep bath combined with a range of luxury Salvatore Ferragamo soaps, hair products and lotions. Meant I was high-fiving myself every morning in the mirror.
The rest of the hotel is equally impressive. The large outdoor pool is surrounded by plenty of sun loungers and private cabanas (available to hire).
There are two pools to choose from and one of the swimming pools has a zero depth entry point, making it perfect for young children. Close by to the pool is an area with a few fun amenities for children – a large outdoor chess board, huge hammocks and a ‘throw bean bags into a hole’ type of game.
Due to the short nature of our visit and the amount we were trying to cram into out 4 night stay I was unable to experience the Waldorf Astoria spa. Missing out on 24,000 square feet of luxury and relaxation, which housed 22 treatment rooms offered a range of therapies was a sad moment for me. If you know me, I’d never willingly miss out on spa action. The things you do for a rodent with a penchant for dress-up. There is a Kids Club and Golf Club too, we used neither – Our eyes were clearly on the prize!
You’re probably wondering how much you pay for all this, right? Well you’ll be surprised. Lets take it as read that Disney is a non-stop money eating juggernaut. And that the big visit to Disney World is something you save up for. Well, a two queen standard room (with Disney view) in the Waldorf Astoria Orlando comes in at around $329 per night depending on peak seasons. It’s cheaper than a Disney hotel like the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa where a two queen standard (with Garden view ) is around $410 per night.
Unpacked, room service demolished and a filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling from watching the two fireworks displays (Hollywood Studios & Epcot) – we were well and truly ready for bed. With an alarm set for 6.30am (yes, you read that correctly)! We went to sleep realising this holiday was not going to be a walk in the park.
Top Disney Tip 5
Arrive early – Avoid crowds and waiting times for the popular attractions.
Day 1 – Magic Kingdom Park
When people think of Disney, this is the place everyone thinks of: Magic Kingdom! It was one of our main reasons for flying 4,336 miles to the original Disney resort which first opened its doors on 1st October 1971. The day was all about experiencing quintessential old-school Disney and making fairytale dreams come true for my little ladies (and the big kids of course).
With the early alarm call we were dressed and down for breakfast at Oscar’s for 7.15am. Breakfast was not included in the stay and we gulped at the $20 for a bowl of cereal (nearly £14!!) on the à la carte menu. So opted for the buffet where you had a choice of a hot breakfast, omelettes and pancakes made individually at chef-attended stations and a large selection of freshly baked pastries. Kids under five eat complimentary, which was appreciated with the eye-watering breakfast prices. Radha though clearly not a five year old, often ended up with free breakfasts too (lips sealed).
Bellies full. At 8.05 (on the dot) we boarded the complimentary luxury coach transport offered to all Disney theme parks and Disney Springs (Downtown Disney). No need to deal with driving, parking and trying to remember where you left your car.
Now to the part you’ve NOT been waiting for – The tickets prices. There is no denying that Walt Disney World tickets are expensive. There are various options you can buy and it all depends on how many days you are planning to spend at the resort. Even though we were only technically there for three full days, we ended up buying a ‘7 day ultimate’ ticket – £318 Adult and £301 Child (3-9). It worked out cheaper than buying daily passes and gave us the flexibility to access more than one park on a day, which was crucial due to lack of time.
DisneyWorld Florida- 7 Day Ultimate Ticket
- 7 Days unlimited access to the 6 main Disney theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach Water Park and Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
- ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex – a 30 minute slot of play time at PlayStation Pavilion is included
- Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course (tee time reservations required, does not include equipment hire)
- One round of mini golf each day of your Disney 9 Day for the Price of 7 Ultimate Ticket at either Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf Course or Disney’s Winter Summerland Mini Golf Course
- Unlimited use of the Disney transportation system
- Use of Disney FASTPASS system
Security navigated. Once through even I was blown away by being on Main Street, staring straight down at the beauty that is Cinderella’s Castle. Let’s be honest it’s every little girls dream to go see it (it just took me a bit longer).
The wonderment was short-lived. We were very close to missing our first Fastpass+ slot for The Enchanted Tales with Belle, so speedily whizzed round to Fantasyland.
Top Disney Tip 6.
Take your own buggy or stroller as the Americans like to call it
Even if your child doesn’t normally use a buggy, you will want one at Disney World. There is an awful lot of whizzing around. You are able to rent them at each park, but they’re plastic and look rather uncomfortable, plus you will be subjected to stand in yet another queue for pick up and drop off. There are designated stroller points all over the parks where you park the buggy (without any valuables) before you enter an attraction.
Buggy dumped. We entered The Enchanted Tales of Belle through Maurice’s cottage, where you see mementos tracing Belle’s childhood.
Walking through to Maurice’s workshop where a magic mirror sparkles and turns into a doorway leading to the Beast’s library.
It’s then a combination of an interactive experience where you are invited to take part in a three minute play and then have time to share moments with Belle. Character spot – TICK!
Top Disney Tip 7.
Buy the children’s autograph book before the holiday – a) cheaper b) avoids the hunt once you arrive at the park
It was one of the loveliest immersive experiences at the park and the girls just lapped it up.
Next Fastpass+ stop was the Peter Pan Flight, boarding a pirate ship we flew through fog and stars over London to Never Never Land. It’s a brilliant ride for little ones.
My final Fastpass+ was not until the afternoon in Frontierland, so we had plenty of time to hit some more rides in Fantasyland before the waiting times rocketed. First up was Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid.
Once onboard a clamshell you float into a musical adventure where you relive the tale of how one lucky mermaid found true love and legs!
The early wakeup call was working a dream, as the minimal morning queues meant we could hotfoot it over to The Many Adventures of Winnie-The-Pooh.
This is where we first experienced the dreaded waiting. To be honest there were so many distractions for the kids in Pooh’s interactive queue it felt like no time at.
We were soon boarding an oversized honey pot and travelling through the Hundred Acre Wood. Towards the end of the ride it did feel like we were on a psychedelic honey drug trip with Winnie, which obviously bypassed all the younger viewers. Very bizarre.
After a quick fast food lunch (when in the USA…) of veggie burgers and fries. Radha and I made our way for the final Fastpass+ for Splash Mountain. Asha wasn’t tall enough, so Mr S averted the tantrum by taking her to one of the millions of gift stores for a treat. It was hotting up, so the perfect time to get absolutely drenched on the log flume. The ride is themed around the 1946 movie ‘Song of the South’ and is charmingly dated. Only problem was I had the catchy tune ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ buzzing round my head all day.
We managed to get two further Fastpasses for that day. One for the Jungle Cruise, where you embark on a scenic boat cruise tour across the rivers of Asia, Africa and South America and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
Whilst Asha lived out my afternoon dream and crashed out.
With time to kill before the start of the next pass we luckily ended up by chance on the street where the Festival of Fantasy Parade begins.
Bums on pavements and hot buttered popcorn in hard we gladly took timeout and enjoyed the daytime parade of elaborate floats, amazing costumes and all the favourite Disney characters.
Mr S and I were just as dazzled as the girls by the grand gala that winds it way around Magic Kingdom every afternoon – It was fantastic!
Mickey’s PhilharMagic was next up. Great for a leg rest and to get out of heat too by late afternoon. It was probably one of the best 3-D shows I saw in Disney.
Taking Donald Duck on a whimsical journey through classic Disney movies with in-theatre effects immersing you further into the adventure – splashes of water, blasts of wind and gorgeous smells. We were all in fits of giggles by the end of it
A lot of ground was covered and considering there were 90,000 people at Magic Kingdom that day we managed a fair few rides. We also skipped a fair few too including some of the very good ones. Opting for an hours rest in the afternoon under a shaded tree. It was then I strangely noticed the lack of seating areas in the parks. Benches, seats, chairs are like gold dust.
Top Disney Tip 8.
Limit your expectations. You can’t cover everything, so don’t try
After the re-charge we headed straight for the ‘spin if you wanna go faster’ Mad Tea Party.
Finally the time had arrived. The tips of the iconic building were in sight.
It was the moment me and girls had been waiting for – dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
I mean this is the stuff dreams are made of, right? Stepping into the majestic castle standing 189 feet tall (and did you know made out of fibreglass). It is one of the most popular dining locations in all of Walt Disney World. Reservations are hard to come by and have to be made 180 days in advance. Yes that’s right, you need to plan out your dining a whole six months in advance if you want to eat in the popular eateries at Disney (remember Top Tip 2!).
Top Disney Tip 9
Make advance dining reservations or resign yourself to eating in fast food joints.
All my dinner reservations whilst at the resort were made six months in advance. Without the help of the experts at Scott Dunn I would never have scored a place at one of the most popular dining locations in all of Walt Disney World along with a ‘Mum’s the best’ badge from my little ladies.
Once you enter the Grand Hall, the girls got an opportunity to meet Cinderella, take a picture and get her autograph.
Before we climbed the spiral staircase to the banquet hall and dined in a beautiful storybook setting.
The girls also received gifts of wands and wishing stars to their delight. And their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they saw all the Disney Princesses one by one visit each table during dinner. They were lucky enough to meet Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Jasmine.
Top Disney Tip 10.
Book a character meal, to avoid waiting in character lines in parks
Chasing characters around a park can lead to very hot and bothered parents. Queues can be ridiculously long. Characters take breaks often (normally when you’re next up!). In my opinion it’s wasted ride time and a character meal can solve all these problems.
With all the hype, high turnaround and the cost of the meal – $60 Adult and $30 Child (3-9) I wasn’t expecting much from the meal and was pleasantly surprised by the quality and flavoursome taste.
The grand finale was the spectacular Wishes at Nightime fireworks display. Without a doubt the best display I have ever seen and the most magical I have shared with my family.
After a stunning 30 minutes display. Four weary, giddy on Disney magic fans headed back to their hotel and waved goodbye.
Until the next time Magic Kingdom…
Read Part 2 of my Florida diaries here it includes more top tips, visits to Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando | 14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane | Orlando | Florida | 32821 | USA
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