Hello! Michelle here. Matt suggested that I take over our trip report on Disney since I’m a lifelong Disney devotee. From the cheesy street dancers to the churros and late night fireworks, I love everything about Disney World. I’ve probably visited over twenty times (including a recent trip to Tokyo Disney!) and it is just as magical at age twenty-four as it was at age eight.
We started our trip by driving up to Orlando from where we were staying in Palm Beach. Matt does all the planning for our vacations, so I believed him when he told me that we would be staying at a Best Western in the Disney Springs area (formerly Downtown Disney). When we pulled up to Pop Century Resort instead, I was thrilled! I love staying at Disney resorts – the hotels around Disney Springs are great, but they don’t compare in terms of overall magical experience.
When you walk into Pop Century, you’re met with comically oversized memorabilia from various eras, a large Disney store, and a huge cafeteria-style restaurant. We got breakfast here every day. The food is not too expensive by Disney standards (around $10 for a large plate with eggs, meats, French toast/pancakes/waffles, potatoes) and you can’t beat the convenience.
Overall, Pop Century was great. The rooms could use some updating, but they were clean and fun. And it’s definitely worth it to stay at a Disney hotel if you want the full Disney experience or if it’s your first time visiting Disney World. Plus, Pop Century has direct buses to all theme parks, so that’s great too. Most other hotels have busses that stop at a bunch of hotels before arriving at the parks, so the direct line is a big added benefit.
After driving three hours from Palm beach, we spent our afternoon exploring the newly redesigned Disney Springs. It’s a great place to pass an afternoon while still enjoying the Disney spirit. Some people might opt to go in to the parks on their first day, but it doesn’t seem quite worth it to use a $110 USD ticket on half a day. That being said, it’s fine to sleep in and head to the parks later in the afternoon, but then you should make sure to be well rested and ready to spend a good long day exploring all that Disney has to offer. Don’t just throw away a ticket on a half day when you’re already tired from travel.
At Disney Springs there are tons of restaurants, shops, and good walking paths to keep you busy all evening. We chose to dine at Morimoto’s Asia restaurant (beautiful plating, delicious food) and had dessert at Ghirardelli. The portions here are super huge, so if you’re okay with chocolate for dinner you could easily fill up on their sundaes:
The following day we woke up early and headed to the Animal Kingdom. We basically keep to the same schedule every year – Animal Kingdom and Epcot the first day (with a few hours of break time at the hotel in between), and Magic Kingdom the second day. I’ve never loved Hollywood Studios but I hear they have some good rides, especially if you are travelling with younger kids. In particular I’ve heard some great things about the Toy Story ride. Hollywood Studios also has some of the more extreme rides – Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror – so if you’re into that you might want to stop there.
If you don’t mind leaving out Hollywood Studios, two days in the parks is definitely long enough to get the full Disney experience. I’ve read online that many families visit Disney for 5-10 day trips, and that’s obviously fine, but not at all necessary. Unless you’re travelling from far and want to get in a lot of days to make your trip worthwhile, 2-3 days should be fine. I actually prefer the rush of doing everything in two days. It’s two days of very concentrated fun vs. 5-10 days of more tempered adventuring.
In the event that you are spending 5-10 days at Disney, you better be packing your own food and bringing it to the parks. Since we only go for two days, we get to eat just about whatever we want. We usually do one sit-down dinner at Epcot, and then just snack for the rest of our meals. Even with just one sit-down meal, we managed to spend about $58 a day for the two of us including breakfast at the hotel. For two days, it’s still crazy, but not so terrible. But imagine 5-10 days of that kind of spending! And it’d of course be even worse if we were travelling with kids. So packing your own meals is a must if you’re planning on staying for a longer trip.
We spent our first morning around the Animal Kingdom, mainly taking in the sights + checking out a few rides. If you are booking your Fast Passes in advance (which you should!) make sure to schedule them for later in the morning/afternoon, as most rides at the Animal Kingdom have very short or no lines in the morning. We walked straight on to Dinosaur (usually a very popular ride) and Kilimanjaro Safari (my fav ride at Animal Kingdom). For lunch we stopped at one of the food carts in Asia and picked up falafel, a surprisingly filling and tasty snack.
In the afternoon we went back to our hotel for a few hours break. It’s hard to be in the parks all day, and at some point you usually stop having fun. Taking a break in air conditioning is always a good call. Around six, we left for Epcot knowing we had Extra Magic Hours which allowed us entry until 11:00pm.
Dinner at Epcot is a good place to splurge. They have some great restaurants – though often very expensive – and it’s a really nice place to walk around and spend the evening. We suggest booking at the Rose and Crown in the British pavilion because of its great views of Illuminations (the nightly firework show). Since I was a kid, my family has been booking dinners here as it guarantees you a prime spot for the firework show and saves you from battling the crowds. Disney suggests that you find your spot for the fireworks forty-five minutes in advance. At the Rose and Crown, you get to enjoy a tasty dinner right by the water, and top it off with a great show without having to wade through ten thousand people. The view is definitely worth the extra $$. Just be warned, the Rose and Crown is perpetually behind schedule, so expect to arrive for your reservation, get a beeper, and not be buzzed for another 30-40 minutes. We usually make our reservation for seven o’clock, are seated around 7:30, and leisurely eat our meal until the fireworks begin at 9:00.
Day 2 in the parks was spent at the Magic Kingdom. Since we had Extra Magic Hours from 9:00-11:00pm again, we decided to sleep in and only go to the park at 1:00pm, which honestly felt kind of sacrilegious. But ten hours is plenty and by the end we were dead tired.
In terms of cheap eats at the Magic Kingdom, I suggest Pico Bill’s in Frontierland. It’s just as expensive as everywhere else, but the portions are big enough that you can share. It’s Mexican fare, and they have an all you can eat toppings bar with guacamole, cheese, roasted corn, and lots of other goodies. Matt and I shared a vegetable burrito and loaded it with what must have been five pounds of toppings each. Definitely a good use of our money. We also each got a Dole Pineapple soft ice cream earlier in the day, which ended up costing as much as our huge dinner – but it was delicious so whatever.
Food is a pretty key part of our vacation experience, and we plan a good amount of our day around what we want to eat (Matt is already looking up restaurants for us to visit next week in Mexico!). Of course, we also do rides. But that’s never the focus of our days at Disney.
I read online that most people only get to do nine rides per day because of the long lines. We usually average 4-5 rides, maybe 7-8 on a particularly productive day. Disney is not about the rides (though we love the rides, too)! Unless you have kids that want to be on rides constantly, I think it’s important to remember all the awesome stuff Disney has to offer aside from the rides. At any given time, some awesome thing is happening somewhere in the park. We watched the Festival of Fantasy Parade in the afternoon, – highly recommended, really cool floats and dancers – the electrical parade in the evening, and a bunch of smaller shows throughout the day.
In addition, we love taking time to walk around and see all the magical little details that make Disney so special. Every land is decorated with such attention to detail. Every line for every ride is full of fun surprises and interesting things to look at. Main Street USA is one of the most fun places to explore in all of the parks, and it has a total of zero rides (make sure you pick up a chocolate chip cookie at the Main Street Confectionary – it’s the best cookie I’ve ever eaten). These are the things that make Disney so magical! If considered in terms of rides alone, Disney falls short. Universal has better rides. But Disney has a whole world of magic that Universal lacks (unless you count the literal world of magic they have at Harry Potter World)! So don’t get stuck thinking you have to do every ride. Try to get in the good ones – Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, whatever you like – and remember to enjoy walking around. Plan your Fast Passes so that you aren’t rushing from place to place. Make sure you have time to take everything in.
Still, we managed to do seven rides at the Magic Kingdom. At both Epcot and Magic Kingdom we stayed for Extra Magic Hours (9:00-11:00pm on our days) during which time we were able to go on pretty well whichever rides we wanted. If rides are an essential part of your trip, you should definitely look into staying at a hotel that offers Extra Magic Hours.
Basically, Disney is awesome and you all need to go. Make sure you snack a lot (but not too much, or your wallet will suffer), and take breaks in the middle of the day. Florida is too hot and Disney is too busy to stay out all day. Just make sure you never, ever miss the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. You won’t know real magic until you watch them.