Happy Throwback Thursday! As you may know, last month we celebrated my son's 5th birthday at the greatest place on Earth...Disney World! Our vacation to Orlando and time at Disney was so magical, and my son's excitement is something I will cherish forever. It was even more special because I celebrated my 5th birthday years ago at Disney World.
Whether you've been to Disney before or are considering going for the first time, I wanted to share some family travel tips and a recap of what made our trip so special.
1. Airport and flight fun for kids
I must admit, I was a little nervous traveling with the kids because it was their first time flying and our flights weren't non-stop. However, our travel experience was so good, and thankfully we didn't disturb the other flight passengers lol. At the airport, getting through the airport/security and on the flight was a breeze because we had a 6:00am flight and there was priority seating for families with small kids (praise the Lord!). Although I dreaded waking up super early, it all worked out for the best; primary reason being the kids slept the whole first flight. Our connecting flight to Orlando was a little delayed due to rain, but with our double stroller I was able to stroll the kids around so they wouldn't get antsy sitting. Plus, there was a bookstore in the airport where we could read and of course plenty of food options. The kids flight experience was also fun because of Delta Airlines. My son was able to sit in the pilot's cockpit and take a photo, and during the flight we all enjoyed movies thanks to screens on the backs of each seat. Sidebar - I watched Burnt starring Bradley Cooper on the plane, and it was amazing and so inspiring!
2. Resort style accommodations
We had the pleasure of staying at Holiday Inn's Club Vacations at Orange Lake Resort, which exceeded my expectations! The resort staff was friendly, and there were so many on-site amenities including: miniature and championship golf courses, restaurants, pools, water park, water sports, fitness center, activity center and more. There were many lodging options ranging from studios, to 1-bedroom villas, up to spacious three-bedroom villas. The 2 bedroom villa was perfect for my family of 4 and came with a fully equipped kitchen, a dining room/living room area with a sofa sleeper, a furnished patio and more. It was so nice to have the flexibility of doing things both on and off of the resort.
3. Traveling with family and friends
Our trip would not have been the same if it wasn't for our family and close friends joining us. It was a total of 20 of us who celebrated with Cameron, including the grandparents, my brother and 3 of our couple friends and their kids who are all around the same age group as Cameron and Cassidy. Needless to say with 13 adults and 7 kids, the fun and laughs were endless! Our group enjoyed our time together so much, and we bonded even more. Obviously since it was a vacation for everyone, we made the schedule flexible and optional so that there was plenty of downtime for folks to venture off on their own, too. One thing that also made this group trip a success was discussing ideas prior to going. Often times groups try to "wing it" and figure out everything when they get there, which is ok in some scenarios. However, when traveling with kids we found it was best to have a tentative plan in place, to maximize the time when you're on vacation. Let's face it, kids are anxious and don't want to wait around for hours figuring out what's next.
4. Animal Kingdom
I am so glad that we went to Animal Kingdom! We went there that Friday, and it was a great first taste of the Disney Experience. From animal themed rides to seeing so many real life animals, the kids were in heaven. And of course, all Disney Parks have Disney characters, who were so friendly. Our day at Animal Kingdom ran smoothly thanks to our Fast Pass. Included with the advanced purchase of your Disney Parks ticket(s) via the Disney Experience app, you get to pre-schedule up to 3 rides...how awesome is that! So in most cases this also means extremely shorter or no wait time for those scheduled rides. There was only 1 instance where our fast pass ride had an extremely longer wait than the regular line, in which case we just hopped over into the regular line. One of our favorite highlights from Animal Kingdom was the Safari ride where we rode in an open air vehicle and saw real-live animals such as the king of the jungle himself, the lion. Another favorite was the live music and entertainment in the Africa section of the park, where the kids were able to use instruments and participate in the live show. We ended our day at Animal Kingdom with a photo op with Mickey and Minnie...the kids were so happy, and I was over the moon!
5. Magic Kingdom
We all spent that Saturday, which was Cameron's actual birthday, at Magic Kingdom and the entire day and park was truly magical! One of the things our group all kept saying is Disney is a well oiled machine and Walt Disney was a genius. Disney truly invested in making sure that guests had an amazing experience, and that you walk away feeling like you got your money's worth...and we really did. From the amazing street parade where you got to see so many of the popular Disney characters, to the electric parade at night featuring even more characters, to the castle where little princesses could get dolled up to the fireworks show and more, Disney definitely wins hands down as the best amusement park for kids. As with Animal Kingdom, doing the Fast Pass for Magic Kingdom helped us to get in and out of rides. Magic Kingdom is huge, so we naturally couldn't ride and do everything in one day but we did so much and the kids had the best time ever. Having/renting strollers, putting on sunblock and bringing frozen bottled water helped to ensure that the kids stayed hydrated and protected from the sun and safe with opportunities to rest their tired feet. The strollers also served a double purpose to haul our bags and souvenirs. If you are looking for a vacation to celebrate your child's birthday, I would definitely recommend Disney. You can even receive a free birthday button from Magic Kingdom's town hall and a dessert from most restaurants in the park.
6. Disney Springs
During our trip, we also spent an afternoon/evening at Disney Springs, which is an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex by the Disney World Resort. If you love good food, retail therapy and live music then Disney Springs will be heaven on Earth for you. Some of our favorite stops there were Kate Spade, Ugg, and T-Rex Restaurant. The dinosaur themed restaurant in particular was a major win in the kids eyes because it was literally like dinosaurs came to life right by your dinner table...if only they had 1 in Maryland :-(
7. What I would do different next time
This was for sure our best vacation as a family, and one I will never forget. If we travel to Disney again, which we might even do for Cassidy's 5th birthday, I would do the following:
- Stay for 6-7 days. We arrived on a Thursday around 2pm, and left that following Monday around 3pm. We did a lot during that time, but would love to do a little more next time.
- Buy a 2 day ticket for Magic Kingdom. One day is great, but I know 2 days gives the option to ride more rides because you can't and won't want to do them all in 1 day.
- Go for Christmas or in the Spring. Cam is a summer baby, and it was soooo hot in Orlando, but of course you forget how hot it is when you see Mickey and Minnie Mouse. But since I've gone in the summer 3 times now, I would love to see what it's like at Christmas or in the Spring.
- Non-stop flights. Although our flight experience was still amazing with the 1-stops, obviously non-stop always gets your there quicker.
- Hang out more around Orlando with hubby. My husband and I enjoyed 1 date day thanks to my parents watching the kids. We went to Universal Studios and shopped and enjoyed the scenery at Disney Springs. However, I'm sure Orlando has many other great places and things for couples to do...so go-kart racing, amusement parks, date night and more fun for just the two of us next time.
- Remember to bring my professional camera. I was so bummed that I left my Nikon at home, especially since I just took a photography class. However, my iPhone and Snapchat helped to capture all of the wonderful memories of our trip.
I hope that you are continuing to enjoy summer, and will get to enjoy some vacation time soon if you haven't already. Share your vacation plans or where you've been this year in the comments section. If you have questions about traveling to Disney that this post didn't answer, share your questions in the comments section, too.