I still recall the lyrics to the song that blared out of the train on Mickey’s Birthday Land Express.
“We’re rollin’, rollin’ on the express. We’re rollin’ on Mickey’s Birthday Land Express.”
It was 1988. I was a junior in high school, and my family was enjoying a spring-break vacation to Disney World in Orlando.
I loved that trip and the one to Disneyland in California five years earlier.
Two decades later, I couldn’t wait to take my own kids to experience the magic of Disney. Sure, there are challenges – long lines, crowds of people and not enough time to see it all. But, it’s all worth it. I wouldn’t trade the magical Disney moments we’ve shared for anything.
The same holds true for my friend, Kristi Dvorak of Arnold. I have visited Disneyland in California three times and the Disney World parks in Orlando three times. Kristi has traveled to Orlando nine times!
We’d like to share a few Disney tips or answers to common questions that we’ve learned throughout the years. We welcome your advice and tips as well.
Should you stay at a Disney resort?
Kristi: I have stayed on and off resort, and I much prefer staying on resort. The Disney resorts are themed and provide a wonderful experience that goes beyond a normal hotel, and there are other important perks that make staying on the property of value. My favorite place to stay on resort without breaking the bank is Disney’s Port Orleans Resort. It’s a moderate level hotel near the Disney Springs area. There are two sections to Port Orleans: Riverside and French Quarter. They are both nicely themed with French Quarter being a bit smaller and quieter. Both have historic Louisiana charm—just walking from your room to the main building for breakfast is a joy and quite scenic. I particularly like the mansions and food court at Riverside. Plus you can take a ferry to Disney Springs, which I recommend.
Kristine: If you are traveling to California, I would recommend staying at a Disney Good-Neighbor Hotel because there are so many to choose from within walking distance to Disneyland.
If you are traveling to Orlando, I would recommend staying at a resort. The first time we visited Orlando, we stayed at a hotel offered a shuttle service to Disney World. We later found out the shuttle only traveled a few times a day, and we had to make several stops at other hotels along the way.
The next time (when we booked our trip with Minks Cruise & Travel), we stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation Studio, and we loved it! We stayed in a Lion-King themed room that had plenty of space for our family of five, including a separate bedroom for the parents! The kids actually chose to leave the parks early one day just to swim in the amazing pool at Art of Animation. Plus, we had multiple opportunities to ride the Disney Magical Express to the parks and to Downtown Disney each day. We also enjoyed the ease of riding Disney’s Magic Express bus to and from the airport.
What is the best age to take your children to Disney?
Kristi: A lot of people who aren’t familiar with Disney think it’s just for kids. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some rides that are just too scary for young kids. Can you take your toddler to Disney? Yes. But just plan your experiences around attractions for young children and don’t expect to see everything. Research the rides before you go, because even though some of them may sound like something for a younger child or doesn’t have a height requirement, they can still be quite overwhelming. One thing Disney does well is to immerse all your senses in the theme of the ride—many of them appear very real, are in the dark, have loud noises, and may give the illusion of being right next to you.
The first time we took our daughter to Disney World, she was five and a half. She held up very well to our rigorous schedule. There are a lot of characters throughout the parks, and a lot of kids (and adults!) like to get their autographs. Our daughter really wasn’t into that, which was fine with us because you can spend a lot of time standing in those lines!
Kristine: The first time we took our kids to Disney, they were 9, 5 and 4. Stroller rental was worth every penny for the younger two. With younger children, I would also advise taking a break sometime during the day as opposed to trying to see and do everything, like we did. I loved seeing my daughter (and my sons!) reaction to the Disney Princess Dinner we scheduled (also worth every penny!). It was the perfect age for that experience. The challenge was that my younger son hadn’t yet grown to the 40-inch mark because he was shorter for his age. He’s also a thrill seeker and wanted to ride on all the great rides. By day 2, we had stuffed Kleenexes in his shoes and spiked his hair to make him tall enough to ride Soarin’ and a few others. It was a fun experience to take them when they were younger, but it is easier and probably more enjoyable for us now that they are older.
What are your favorite Disney restaurants and Dining experiences?
Kristi: Our family isn’t big into dining; it requires a lot of pre-planning to eat at some of the popular restaurants, like knowing what park you will be at on what day and finding a time slot that’s available. Your entire day might have to be planned around when and where you are eating, so we don’t spend a lot of time or money in this area. However, with this said, we usually travel in the offseason, and sometimes you can walk into some restaurants at slow times of the day (just don’t be upset if you can’t!). We really enjoy the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater; it’s a huge building that is painted to look like you’re at a drive-in theater at night. You actually sit in a car-shaped booth and watch old sci-fi movies on a big screen while eating. We also really enjoy the 50’s Prime Time Café. It’s a super-fun atmosphere with entertaining cast members. I still remember our server doing the “choo-choo train” to feed me green beans I had left on my plate; what a hoot! We try to eat at one fun place each trip.
Kristine: On our first Disney trip with the kids, we purchased the Disney Dining Plan because it included a few Character Dining Experiences (the Princess Dinner at Ariel’s Grotto at California’s Adventure Park and the Minnie & Friends Breakfast at Disneyland), and I was glad we did. It’s nice not to worry about paying for food and meals throughout the day as it is expensive to eat in the parks.
What are your favorite Disney rides and attractions?
Kristi: All of them! Really! I think they’re all great, from Peter Pan’s Flight to Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks show. I recommend them all! Disney’s rides are unique because they tell a story. Take some time to really look at the fine details…the hair on the animatronic pirate’s leg, the unique light fixtures on each ride, the cast members’ uniforms. You might even find a strategically placed hidden Mickey if you look hard enough. And don’t miss the parades and nighttime shows! We used to skip the parades until finally, we made plans to see The Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom — I about cried it was so amazing! See as many shows and attractions as you can.
Kristine: Our family’s favorite ride is Pirates of the Caribbean at both the Magic Kingdom in Orlando and Disneyland in California. It’s a boat ride that features great music and fun little surprise at the beginning. It’s open to all ages and heights. I also love the It’s A Small World Ride. I guess I’m into boat rides! The ride we stood in the line the longest for was Toy Story Midway Mania (at California Adventure). Other favorites are the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Soarin’ Around the World and Space Mountain.
My family, who like thrills more than I do, would say their favorites are Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom in Orlando and Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roll Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios in Orlando.
I also like the shows, 3-D movies and musicals offered at various parks. This is a great time to allow the family to rest and reenergize while enjoying world-class entertainment. And definitely, watch the parades and stay for the fireworks. The only drawback is that no fireworks display that I’ve seen since can ever compare to Disney!
Any special tips once inside the park?
Kristi: If you’ve never been to Disney World, you should be aware that to have the best experience and do everything you want to do, it will require some planning ahead of time, particularly if you are visiting during a busy season. A FastPass+ is a way to make a “reservation” to ride a certain ride at a certain time of day and is highly suggested for any major attraction. Some attractions can easily have wait times of 300 minutes; a FastPass+ will cut that down considerably. One of the benefits of staying on Disney property is you can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance. This is no joke…they go fast and only so many are available per day. Make sure to download the Disney World app to your smartphone before you go; after you use up your allotted passes, you might be able to snag some more!
Kristine: We try to arrive at the parks as early as possible to beat the crowds. We also try to go to the left or clear to the back of the park when we first get in the because most people will go right or start at the front.
Any other special advice?
Kristi: Make sure to plan to spend some time at Disney Springs for shopping, eating, and entertainment! You will want to plan to spend a few hours there to browse through all the fun stores and things to do. We especially liked Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza where you can build your own pizza. The Coca-Cola store was fun to browse, too. The World of Disney store is amazing with 12 rooms of Disney merchandise, and there’s a lot of other “non-Disney” stores to browse also.
I’ve been to Disney World nine times, and I hope to go a lot more! The atmosphere is amazing, and even though I’ve been there nine times, I still haven’t seen everything. Some of the neatest things are found in the smallest details and you see them in the most unexpected moments. They take great care with everything they do to provide a magical experience for their guests. Even the cast members’ clothing (all employees are called cast members) is themed according to the ride and they take on the personality you would expect to find in that particular setting.
We try to allow five days at Disney, sometimes one or two days at Universal, and a day off from the parks to go see the ocean (we like Cocoa Beach) or Kennedy Space Center, Sea World, or just shopping or taking in local attractions. With the opening of Pandora last May, Toy Story Land set to open this summer, and Star Wars Land in 2019, more time might be needed at Disney’s parks—or careful planning—to ensure you get to see all the new areas and rides.
Kristine: Although we love going to Disney with just our immediate family, it was even more fun to travel there with my sister and her family. If you have an odd number of people in your family (we have five) it seems like one person usually has to sit by themselves on many of the rides. We loved having cousins to pair up with and share the Disney Magic. We also brought grandma when we visited Disney for my husband’s 40th birthday. That was fun, too! His birthday is Nov. 18, and that was a great time to visit because we got to see the parks decked out for Christmas and see the Florida “snow,” but the parks weren’t busy yet with holiday crowds.
Do you have any Disney planning resources to recommend?
Kristi: You’re spending a lot of money for your vacation, so if it’s your first time, I recommend research, research, research! You can fly by the seat of your pants, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to see or do everything you wanted. The parks can get very busy and wait times can get very long, eating up a big chunk of your day.
I recommend Dad’s Guide to WDW. Carl Trent, aka “Dad,” breaks things down to make planning simple and fun. Every Friday, he hosts “Friday Lunch With Dad,” a live Facebook event where he shares his thoughts on the latest Disney World news and answers questions from viewers. He also has a new book out called Dad’s Simple, Fun, Magic Guide to Walt Disney World Planning that has some valuable information for planning a Disney World trip. Another resource I love is WDW Magazine. It has amazing photography and keeps you updated on the latest happenings at Disney World; any Disney enthusiast should check it out.
If you need a Disney fix, I recommend listening to Sorcerer Radio. You can stream it to your computer or download their app to your phone and listen to music from the parks, rides, resorts, movies, and more. We listen to it almost every day.
Kristine: Our Disney trip planning was a breeze with the help of Candice Minks of Minks Cruise & Travel in Lincoln. Candice is offering a $25 Disney gift card to Nebraska Family Magazine readers who mention this article when contacting her and booking a Disney vacation for travel anytime in 2018 or 2019. Contact Candice at firstname.lastname@example.org.