We started getting the "sooo when are you going to take them to Disney World?" questions when they were babies. BABIES! So to say I've thought about this trip and contemplated the logistics over the years is an understatement. I think I initially thought we might do it when they were 6. Then put it off another year. And another year. Then covid happened... but when you find out Disney charges adult ticket prices at age 10 and you have 6 9-year-olds- you make up your mind real fast- 9 is the age to go!
It turned out to be an awesome age to go. Any younger I believe would've been miserable for all the adults involved. Much older and some of them would've thought it was lame. My kids aren't big Disney movie/show kids. Initially they didn't even care much that we were going. But they LOVED it! The Disney magic worked on them. They excitedly talked nonstop the whole trip about all we were doing- even my very reserved Ben.
I highly recommend using a Disney travel agent. Specifically- this Disney planner extraordinaire! Why anyone plans this trip without one I do not know. It's free! And they know everything! She got our tickets and character meal squared away. We chose to stay off property (we had 13 people in our party-saved a ton of money) or I would've had her booking everything! Her itinerary recommendations and general tips were so very helpful too. Saved me tons of time!
As with any big Perkins Pack adventure- extra help was needed. Luckily, all the grandparents were down for a Disney trip! Even our surrogate grandma volunteered to join us to be Leah's companion during our vacation. Absolutely no way we could've pulled off all we did without their help! Leah came along with us to the parks 2 partial days and hung out at the house with Marsha the rest of the time. She did so well at the parks, and really loved her one-on-one hangout time.
Due to needing our van with the wheelchair lift, we chose to drove to Orlando. It's a 15ish hour drive from our home. Our kids have been conditioned to the long all in one day road trip, so they handled it about as well as anyone could. All the grandparents chose to fly and meet us there- they're no dummies.
Our schedule was drive there, 5 park days in a row, drive home. It was a fairly intense schedule. In hindsight- 4 days would've been better. Or a rest day mixed in. We were already spent by day 5.
I chose to do Epcot first. It opens the latest and since we were arriving very late the night before, I knew we would like a little sleep in. Also, I had heard kids typically don't prefer this park, so getting it in first seemed smart. But our kids loved this park! They loved guessing which country we would walk through next and seeing all the sights. They enjoyed the rides as well. My mom, Allison and I were the only ones who hung around for their evening water/lights/fireworks show, but we all agreed- so worth it! This day I didn't do any lightning lanes and it worked out fine. We hit the two main attractions first thing and had an hour wait for each- not bad. Everything else was a short wait. The kids did not handle our first wait well- they didn't really get the concept of long wait for a short ride. But, fortunately, during the entire first ride, Andrew held on and yelled, "This is so worth it!!!"
Epcot was also the only park we ate at a sit down restaurant for our character meal. Our Disney travel agent got us in at the Garden Grill and all of us enjoyed it! Definitely recommend. It's a fun restaurant with legit good food. Plus, we got to meet Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale- from a distance, of course.
Day 2. It was a long haul, as I predicted. This was on a Thursday and I wanted to take advantage of the slightly smaller weekday crowds. I did genie plus and an individual lightning lane- highly recommend! Actually, after using both this day, I went ahead and purchased for the rest of the trip. The other days it wasn't as helpful, but to us, even saving us a wait on a couple rides was worth it. On this Magic Kingdom day, I calculated using the lightning lanes saved us 6 hours of waiting time. We were able to fit in most of the park. Leah was with us half of the day here. She rode It's a Small World, Buzz Lightyear, and saw the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor. She did great in all 3! The best surprise was Levi getting chosen in the comedy show. If you know Levi, you know he was the perfect choice and totally rocked his cameo. We dropped Leah back at the house at lunchtime so we could hang at Magic Kingdom until closing time. The 50th Anniversary fireworks show was amazing and riding Haunted Mansion after dark was one of my favorite moments.
We found the kids didn't really care for the classic Disney rides. When you don't have a nostalgic perspective- they're just outdated. We also quickly learned which kids are the thrill seekers and which aren't. Andrew is definitely NOT. Poor kiddo. Since I paid extra for all of us to do Space Mountain I was vague on the description. Roller coaster in the dark. I may have forgotten how scary it could be... Andrew was in tears by the end and Allison was screaming, "I DO NOT LIKE THIS!" during the ride. Caroline might be the only one to ever do it again. From then on, Andrew had no trust in anything I said about a ride. I tried real hard to talk him into Big Thunder Mountain, but as he pointed out, it definitely has a "severe turn" and therefore- hard pass. They all enjoyed Splash Mountain, except Ben, who doesn't care for big drops. That flip flop in your tummy is not his jam.
Day 3. This was our intended short day which was much needed. We all hit the Disney wall in the early afternoon and tapped out. Letting the kids play at the house and swim while the grown ups took a break really helped to get us through the rest of the trip. Back to Animal Kingdom- it's the prettiest park. We brought Leah this day knowing she'd loved being pushed along the walking trails and hearing the birds. She rode several rides- even the long safari- and was completely content. Plus there were several random concerts that were really fun and, of course, Leah loved the music. River Rapids and Safari were big hits with our entire party. The kids thought everyone getting soaked on the rapids was hilarious (my dad got a full shower and was soaked) and seeing all the unique animals along the safari ride was really neat for my animal loving kids. This park was very much worth getting there early. We had no crowds until closer to lunch time and it was getting real crowded about the time we were leaving. It's the smallest park, but definitely worth experiencing.
Day 4. It was a Saturday and it showed. The lines were long and the lightning lanes all sold out quick. So, there was no avoiding all the longer waits this day. Our cutoff was 90 minutes. Anything over that and we were skipping it. Unfortunately, that meant we had to skip one of my favorites- Tower of Terror. How these rides have 2-3 hour waits all day long I don't know! We spent our morning doing the easy to get into things - rope dropped Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway (a must do!) and saw all the shows. We put in the wait time for Rock n Roller Coaster and Star Wars Smugglers Run. Be warned- if you let the kids pilot the millennium falcon- it's a very bumpy nauseating ride! I couldn't care less about Star Wars, but I will say that section of the park was impressive. However, we all loved Toy Story land! It's so fun! We all enjoyed the rides and the atmosphere. This day I took advantage of the line saving apps- Disney Play and Heads Up Game. Do not forget your portable charger!!! You will need it!!! If you're the organizer of your group you will be on your phone A LOT!
MAGIC KINGDOM (again)
Day 5. Whew. We were dragging but can't quit at this point! Sunday at Magic Kingdom. Do not recommend. So so so very crowded. Took us an hour just to get into the park. Other days weren't like this at all. Thankfully, I was a slave driver our first day at Magic Kingdom, so we weren't trying to squeeze in as much. We rode what I could get lightning lanes on and took time to see shows and watch the parade and run around Tom Sawyer Island and do some final souvenir shopping. Much more chill of a day. Since that park is so huge (hence the 2 days dedicated to it), we were able to have a completely different experience and only repeated 2 things the kids really wanted to do again. They were sad when it was time to board the ferry out one last time. Side note- monorail vs ferry- we split it evenly, but the ferry ended up being our favorite. They pack ya into that monorail, but it was easier with Leah in tow.
The kids rooms had TVs in them. So exciting!! But on the first evening Allison called me up there to fix it because it wasn't working. However, it was working just fine. It had old school cable from the days of yore where you had to press the channel button and flip through the channels hoping you found something good to watch. Or actually input a channel number. The horror!!!! No YouTube or Netflix!!!! They were aghast, but got over it fast.
Levi "Are we not coming back until we're the parents?"
Me "Probably so. This was a big deal for y'all to come here"
Caroline "Yeah Levi. This is expensive. The whole trip probably cost $1,000"
Not even close sister!
The policy was lifted while we were there, but if that changes, or you'd prefer to wear masks while indoors- get the mask lanyards. They do not look cute, but they're a lifesaver when constantly taking masks on and off.
Genie+ and Lightning Lanes:
Worth it. 1000%. If it's in your budget pay all the extra money. Your Disney planner can direct you on choices if you need to pick and choose. I started with a pick and choose plan, but ended up giving up other things in my budget to do this. Those lines suck. Especially with kids. The only bummer was on the really crowded days and the options sold out by noon on the Genie+. The Lightning Lanes I didn't even get a chance on because we stayed off property. Also, rides would randomly close for a bit throughout the day or close all together. This definitely threw a wrench in some plans, but nothing you could do about it. Take some time to learn all the rules beforehand and set your alarms!
If you have someone in your party that qualifies for this- GET IT. You can call ahead of time. Expect a ridiculously long hold time on the phone (4 hours for me), but having it all set up before you go is so nice. But long gone are the days of your entire party skipping all the lines. You get to choose 2 attractions per day and they limit to 6 people total (including your DAS person). This did pose an issue for us. However, in Magic Kingdom they were extremely accommodating and allowed us all on rides with Leah no questions asked. In Animal Kingdom I had to speak to guest services in order for all of us to ride at the same time, but they cleared it. We didn't take Leah to the other parks, so I have no idea how they are.
If eating quick service in the park- mobile order every time! Lines suck. Buy the refillable popcorn bucket and carry it around your entire trip with pride. You are smart. We had 4 of our adults (my parents, Dave, and I) carrying backpacks all day everyday filled with food, water bottles, ponchos... amongst other necessities. Big time and money saver!
Buy Disney gift cards ahead of time. I did this so each of my kids had a souvenir budget. Once their card was spent, they were done. This worked really well! The only meltdowns were after day 2 when my big spender's money was long gone. Life lessons are hard.
Now-for the first time ever- The Pack participated in a blog post! All of their individual recommendations are listed below in case you want a kid's perspective. Ben was my super interview helper and loved doing this. I did have to intervene with all of his leading questions though. His opinion is not the only opinion.
River Rapids (ride)
Hollywood Studios (park)
Splash Mountain (ride)
Epcot: Garden Grill restaurant, Ratatouille, Frozen, Living with the Land
Magic: Speedway, Buzz Lightyear, Shooting Range, Big Thunder Mountain, Tom Sawyer Island, Thirst Rangers (mist station)
Hollywood: Toy Story Mania, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, Mickey and Minnie's runaway railway, eat a churro
Animal: Safari, river rapids
Epcot: Imagination, Nemo
Magic: Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Country Bear Jamboree, It's a Small World, Peter Pan
Magic Kingdom (park)
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (ride)
Animal Kingdom (park)
Epcot: Soarin, Ratatouille, Frozen, Living with the Land, Garden Grill restaurant
Magic: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Speedway, Tom Sawyer Island, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor
Hollywood: Rock n Roller Coaster, Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Mania, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, Millennium Falcon Smuggler's Run
Animal: Safari, River Rapids
Magic: It's a Small World, Peter Pan, Country Bear Jamboree, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise
Magic Kingdom (park)
Splash Mountain (ride)
Hollywood Studios (park)
Slinky Dog Dash (ride)
Epcot: Garden Grill restaurant, Ratatouille, Frozen
Magic: Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Speedway, Aladdin carpets
Hollywood: Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway, Toy Story Mania
Animal: River Rapids, Safari
Epcot: Soarin, Imagination
Magic: Space Mountain, Country Bear Jamboree, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan, It's a Small World Haunted Mansion
Animal Kingdom (park)
Magic Kingdom (park)
Peter Pan (ride)
Epcot: Ratatouille, Frozen, Soarin, Garden Grill restaurant, Fireworks show
Magic: Splash Mountain, Speedway, Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion, fireworks show, Aladdin carpets
Hollywood: Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway, Indiana Jones stunt show, Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run
Animal: Safari, River Rapids, It's Tough to be a Bug show
Epcot: Nemo, Imagination
Magic: Country Bear Jamboree, It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor
Magic Kingdom (park)
Splash Mountain (ride)
Space Mountain (ride)
Epcot: Ratatouille, Frozen, Soarin, Garden Grill Restaurant
Magic: Buzz Lightyear, Speedway, Haunted Mansion, Aladdin carpets, Shooting Range, Thirst Rangers (mist station)
Hollywood: Toy Story Mania, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, Indiana Jones epic stunt show, eat a funnel cake
Animal: river rapids, safari
Epcot: Spaceship Earth, Imagination, Living with the Land
Magic: Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Country Bear Jamboree, It's a Small World, fireworks
All in all- this was an incredible experience for our family. I'm so glad we did it and it's checked off the childhood bucket list. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows by any means (we all had our turn at a meltdown- including me), but all the exhaustion and work was worth it to see how excited and happy they were.
Unedited Kids Notes
Ben: Here's another thing if you see another restaurant that's not Garden Grill I don't know if it's good.
Levi:I went oof oof oof on Space Mountain( and I learned that I am worse at driving than I thought I was...................................................................................:)
Allison: You need to go to Epcot and go to China to get dole pineapple whip!!!!! (You can find it in other places in Disney World).
Caroline: Rollercoasters are FUUUUNN!(Especially fast ones like Big Thunder Mountain and Rock'n Rollercoaster). :):):):):):):):):):)!
Andrew: I do not like fast rides and I like calm rides.(some are creepy) :(.
Leah:I liked hanging out with Marsha at the house in Florida.