MacMeekins Do Disney


We started going to Disney (unintentionally) regularly when Liam was a little over three years old.  Being a bit of a doubter myself, the thought of spending time in endless lines with screaming children, as well as a tremendous amount of cash on a vacation that was less than restful and didn't include sand between my toes with drinks that have umbrellas in them was not my idea of vacation.

Sure it's no lying on a beach somewhere, but, if we are being honest, with three kiddos, I'm not getting any downtime at the beach anyway.  Sure, the lines can be long with the occasional screaming child (which may or may not have been my own) and yes, fine, for what you spend on your holiday there you can take a small tour group to Europe.  But what I cannot argue is the sheer magic and fun of it all, particularly being able to experience that magic through the eyes of your children.

Now that we've racked up  a few trips under our belts, I thought I'd put together all of our recommendations, must-dos, tips, & tricks under one roof for those who might be taking the plunge themselves. The first thing I'd recommend you do is hire a planner to help.  I'll get into it later, but they are a tremendous help, sanity-saver, and overall super fun to work with.

Where to stay:
We prefer to stay on the monorail.  This is mainly because as long as we have been going, our children get the most out of the Magic Kingdom and it's super easy to get to from the monorail without have to breakdown a stroller in the process.  My personal favorite is the Grand Floridian, but more recently we've stayed at The Polynesian.  The latter is a little more themed, but not tremendously over the top and is home to Stitch (who our son loves), as well as Dole Whip (which I love).

To dine or not to dine?
One of the biggest questions I am asked and I always have is: do we get a dining plan? Honestly, I don't think there is a tremendous amount of cost savings if you do sign up for the dining plan (thought there is a little bit of cost savings for adults as alcoholic beverages are now included in it at some locations).  Either you pay for it up front or you pay for it while you are there, but ultimately it's easier for us to not have to mess with it while we are there and also a little less sticker shock.  We've always gotten a dining plan and because we often do several character dining experiences, even with the plan, we end up paying for some meals while we are there even after we've paid for the plan.  Either way, it's less of a hassle so we do it anyway.

Some of our favorite places to eat are:
+ In the Magic Kingdom: Be Our Guest (Dinner), The Royal Table (Lunch), Columbia Harbour House (Lunch/Dinner), Skipper Canteen (Dinner)
+ In Hollywood Studios: Woody's Lunchbox (Lunch), The Hollywood Brown Derby (Dinner), Dockside Diner (Lunch), Hollywood & Vine (Lunch & great for younger kids)
+ In Animal Kingdom: Tamu Tamu (for the Dole Whip and as an added bonus, they'll include rum), Yak & Yeti (Lunch/Dinner), Pongu Pongu (for a Rum Blossom, pictured)
+ In Epcot: The Coral Reef (Dinner and ask to sit close to the tank), Yorkshire County Fish House (Lunch/Dinner), Via Napoli (Lunch/Dinner - amazing pizza)
+ Resorts: Ohana (Polynesian), Chef Mickey's (Contemporary), Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge), 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian)

You can make dining reservations 180 days prior to your arrival date and I'd recommend you jump on some of the more popular joints (highlighted below) if you want to get in ASAP.

Fast Passes:
If you stay on Disney property, you can make fast past selections 60 days prior to your arrival, initially up to 3 a day.  The strategy is to get the fast pass reservations in the morning because once you have used your fast passes in a day, you can get more.  People are constantly switching up their schedules depending upon wait times, etc. so it's worthwhile to keep checking back to see if you can bypass the lines in the rides you want to get on.  Some rides that are absolutely worth the fast pass:

+ In the Magic Kingdom: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Flight of Peter Pan* (I know, it's sounds ridiculous, but the line for this one gets insane and kids love it), The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Barnstormer*, Space Mountain,Thunder Mountain Railroad, Dumbo* (particularly if you have little kids)
+ In Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror, SlinkyDog, Frozen Sing Along* (though you don't need a FastPass, it's nice because you will likely be there with small kids and waiting in line with them can be special), Smuggler's Run, Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railroad (new and from what I've heard totally worth it)
        + Rise of the Resistance: If you are reading this in 2020, this is an entirely different subset of
           FastPass.  When you enter the park, you have to pull up the DisneyExperience App and join
           a boarding group.  Due to the popularity, boarding groups are full generally within the first
           15-30 mins of the park being open.  When we were there in February, Scott & Liam got to
           the park super early (6:30 am - and some were there earlier) and did get in an early group -                   mostly because there was only 2 of them in their group.  From what I am told, it's 100%
          worth it.
+ In Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Avatar Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safari* (go in the morning)
+ In Epcot: Soarin', Frozen Ever After*

*Great options for young kids

What to do with little ones:
The first time we took Liam to Disney, he was nearly 4 and tall enough to ride most everything.  The girls have been twice now and both times were barely able to ride much.  So the question is, why are you bringing kids to Disney if they can't ride the rides.  There's plenty to do with younger kiddos like:

+ Go hang with their favorite characters.  At Magic Kingdom, there are plenty of character meet and greets, particularly of the princess variety.  At Hollywood Studios, there is an entire portion dedicated to Disney Jr, including a dance party and characters to meet.  At Epcot, you can find the original characters all over the place, as well as Elsa & Anna, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, Aurora, and Belle.
Explore the parks.  At Animal Kingdom, there are trails that you can walk and see all sorts of animals that live on the grounds including the tigers, as well as the Wilderness Explorer program where kids walk around and earn badges.  Epcot is a great place to stroll around, grab an adult beverage and show the kids the sights and the tastes of the world.  (Note: there is tremendous work being done at Epcot while they re-do the front portion of the park, but the world showcase is untouched and open)

What to pack:
Whatever your perspective is on dressing for Disney (matching family outfits, coordinated, or happy to get out of the hotel in one piece), go for comfort.  Think tennis shoes (I promise there are some stylish options out there), clothes that easily breathe (because it's always hot in Orlando), and things that can layer (on the occasion that it's chilly in the morning).  My go-to for cute Disney clothes for the kids is Gap or Old Navy.

For me, I opt for more themed pieces.  A sparkly skirt when we are at Hollywood Studios as a nod to C3P0 paired with matching ears and a fun shirt; something polka dot when we are in the Magic Kingdom like my girl Minnie; a piece in animal print at Animal Kingdom...you get the idea. And when in doubt, I throw on a pair of Minnie ears.

Make your life easier by:
+ Hire a Disney Planner.  They are your go-to for all things Disney - they can book dining reservations for you, Fast Passes, connect you with unique experiences in the parks.  Do it - they make your life (and trip) that much easier and so much fun.
+ Renting a stroller for the parks once you get there. Orlando Stroller Rentals will drop your stroller off at your resort and pick it back up for you. You can also grab them at the airport.
+ Use Lyft Minnie Vans to get around when you aren't using the Disney Transportation systems.  We use the Minnie Vans to get to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well as Disney Springs.
+ Go ahead and pre-order the PhotoPass.  You'll save some money and then you can tack advantage of tons of photo-spots around the parks plus you won't have to ask random people to take pictures of your whole crew. Plus there are some unique photo options at each park that you can take advantage of.

I know that the parks are currently closed, indefinitely as we practice social-distancing and stay healthy, but hopefully these tips help you for when the parks open back up and you can hang out with all of your Disney pals.

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