How’s that saying go? You can take the girl out of Orlando, FL, but you can’t take the Disney out of the girl? Well, for today’s intents and purposes, let’s pretend so. A few weeks ago, Brett and I took the kids back to my hometown of Orlando, FL for a trip to Disney World, and, it felt so good to be back at a place that once was home. Per usual, I got so many questions about Disney from friends on Instagram that I thought we might take today to map out a few of my personal faves. Let’s get to it.
We should start with a disclosure: everyone does Disney different. There are some people who are one-and-done kind of visitors and others who go as often as possible. There are some that like the shut the parks down everyday, and there are other (raises hand) who are really just there long enough to eat as much Dole Whip as possible. Regardless of what camp you fall into, Disney has changed so much over the past couple of years that even those of us who have been nearly 100 times need a little help. With that being said, I highly recommend doing your own research prior to any trip to Disney, and but if you are interested in a few of our Walt Disney World favorites, here they are!
Walt Disney World Favorites: Hotels
- Disney’s Riviera Resort. This is my current favorite Disney resort. Fresh paint, loads of suite options for those traveling with little ones, and an overall more quiet and polished vibe make this a comfortable place for kids and parents alike.
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Have you seen the beautiful new over-water bungalows at the Polynesian? They’re to die for! Plus, proximal location to the Magic Kingdom makes this an easier option for those traveling with young kids.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge. You know what never gets old? Waking up to seeing giraffes, antelope, and zebras outside of your balcony. My kids love this resort for the animals, and Mom loves it for the dining options.
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. I know most people will roll their eyes at this one, but I do really love a Four Seasons hotel, and this one, one Disney property and with shuttles on location, makes luxury accommodations possible even on a Disney trip.
Walt Disney World Favorites: Meals
- Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is probably my all-time favorite Disney restaurant- Middle Eastern cuisine in a comfortable, kid-friendly environment. Don’t miss the bread service with all the dipping sauce- SO GOOD.
- Rose & Crown at Epcot. This was my parents’ fave as a kid, and old loves die hard. Now, as an adult, I come here for the fish & chips and a pint.
- Topolino’s Terrace at Riviera Resort. Fine dining at Disney is rarely actually fine dining, but at Topolino’s, it really is. The pastas are housemade and the cocktails are a welcome addition after a long day at the parks.
- Flame Tree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom. Why would someone who lives in Alabama go all the way to Disney for barbecue? Let me just say, the smoked meats are actually really good, and the intoxicating smells from the smoker literally draw you in. Don’t miss this quick dining spot.
- Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn at Magic Kingdom. My kids love a burrito bowl. LOVE one. With most of the dining at Magic Kingdom consisting of burgers and chicken fingers, a little guacamole is a welcome change of pace.
- Tusker House Restaurant at Animal Kingdom. If you are set on doing a character meal, I love this one at Animal Kingdom. Moroccan flavors in an indoor/outdoor dining setting make this for a really enjoyable meal.
Best Themed Dining
- Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre Restaurant at Hollywood Studios. One word: TELEVSION. If you’re traveling to Disney with kids, let them zone out at this drive-in while you relax for a minute.
- Restaurantasaurus at Animal Kingdom. Again, this one is here for the kids. My boys love checking out the dinosaur bones on the wall, and this mom appreciates any dining option that keeps them busy for a few minutes.
- Biergarten at German Pavillion Epcot. It’s a meal AND a show! My husband loves this meat-heavy menu, and I love the beer flights.
- Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom. If you’re traveling with a little princess (or want to feel like one yourself!?), could there be anything better than dining INSIDE of Cinderella’s castle? I think not.
Best Disney Desserts
- Dole Whip at Aloha Isle in Magic Kingdom or Tamu Tamu Refreshments at Animal Kingdom
- The Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream Soda Shop
- The Frosè at Bar Riva at Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Funnel Cakes and Nutella Waffles at Sleepy Hollow Inn at Magic Kingdom
- Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop at Disney Springs
- Crepes from The France Pavillion at Epcot
- Milkshakes from 50’s Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios
My Best Tips for a Great Disney Experience with Toddlers
Make a Plan.
So much time, energy, and waiting can be saved by knowing what you want to experience in the parks. Even as a seasoned Disney veteran, I always take time prior to a trip to look at the park maps (I even print one offline!) and make note of what rides, shows, and experiences my kids will want to check out. You can even take this a step forward by cross-referencing wait times (available daily on the Disney app!) with your list to determine which rides will get busy.
This most recent trip was our first time using Genie+, Disney’s new system which has essentially replaced the old fast pass system. Now, for a daily per person fee, you can have access to shorter wait times. Be sure to buy the Genie+ pass in advance and log in at 7am EST sharp to get your first round of passes. I highly recommend research Genie+ and Lightening Passes to noting which rides you want access for PRIOR TO your morning at the park.
Rise and Shine!
I used to think that people who got to the park before it opened were crazy, but now, I am among those people. Nothing makes riding rides easier than getting there 30 minutes prior to park opening times and being prepared to HUSTLE. For example, if a park opens at 9 am, I typically try to get my family there by 8:30, and we move fast to ride as many rides as possible during the first two hours of operation. Again, make a plan and knock out as much as you can in those morning hours.
Get a Lunch Reservation.
I’m sure other people feel differently about this, but by about 11:30, my crew just needs a break. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more unnerving to me than trying to figure out where to eat, where to sit, and how I can take a break for a few minutes after a morning of hustling. Lunch is a great opportunity for taking a seat, getting out of the elements, and zoning out for just a few minutes. Your body and brain need this.
Know When to Call it Quits.
Brett always jokes that one day he’s going to make a website called “Meltdowns at Disney,” because for as much joy and magic as the parks bring, it also just makes people lose their minds a bit. That’s why my policy is always to know when to throw in the towel. I don’t want to ruin a perfectly great day by pushing my toddlers (and my sanity!) beyond it’s limit. The kids will have just as much fun swimming in the pool or watching endless Disney cartoons back at the hotel. If you don’t squeeze it all in, that’s ok. At the same token, don’t be bummed if you can’t ride every single ride! The kids will have a blast watching parades, exploring the park, or even use jumping in muddy puddles.
Pack for Every Forecast.
Florida weather is unpredictable. Come prepared for everything.
Don’t Forget the Snacks.
A backpack full of lollipops, Goldfish, and trail mix has gotten my family through many a waiting line. Disney is not the opportunity to make sure your kids get in all their fruits and vegetables- pack some snacks for insurance, and know they’ll get back to a normal routine at home.
In summary, going to Disney World is a lot of work, but it can (and should be!) loads of fun too. Move at your own pace and do what works best for your crew. These tips are just some that have worked well for our family, and I know there’s a good balance in there for you too. Be sure to share any of your Walt Disney World favorites with me! I would love to hear all about them. Have a magical day!