We did something most annual passholders wouldn’t admit to doing.
We spent a whole day at Magic Kingdom.
As much traveling as we have done to all the other Disney parks, our eldest informed us we had never had done a FULL day at our park. And truthfully, it wasn't something we had necessarily planned to do because it's just so accessible.
As passholders, we're spoiled in getting to go whenever we want to. We make plans off of FastPass availability, do the allotted rides & maybe a few more with low wait times and leave. It's usually a pack-your-own-lunch, splurge-on-a-sweet-treat, we'll-be-home-in-a-few-hours kind of day. It's become easy to come & go to the parks and not fully immerse ourselves in the tourist experience.
But this particular end-of-summer Saturday. we brought their cousin & made our way over to Magic Kingdom for a fun-filled day of playing tourists in our home! And to see if we could do the majority of the park in a day.
The result may surprise most of you, as it did us, because we DID!
So I bet you’re asking, how’d we fair? And it would be selfish of us not to share how we made a magical day out of a HOT August day. Here’s our tried and true tricks that still to this day don’t fail us!
1. Download the Disney World app. Once you have tickets, you can upload them in the system and assign them to a park for FastPass selection at least 30 days before. And if you're lucky enough to be staying on property, you get an additional month and can plan 60 days ahead! The magic trick here and key time is 7am. The system uploads the new date at that time, so have your app open and thumbs ready to go to get the best availability.
We selected a few of the more popular attractions to do right at lunch time, so we could capitalize on the slower morning hours and because the popular rides we were aiming for weren’t available. But you could and should choose an earlier FastPass start time to get more done with minimal waits. Your goal is to get them as early as possible so you can add on more passes during your stay. You should also aim to book Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan's Flight or Space Mountain in that order, as they're the most popular attractions.
The app will also come in handy during your stay. Starting a few days before you can check back in for changes and cancellations. Yes, they’ll always happen because plans change once people get here. The morning of is particularly important, because as people get their coveted FastPasses, they may be releasing YOUR coveted FastPass.
Also, you may have to break up your party to get the FastPasses you desire, but you can try for overlapping hours. And if not, you can always try the kindness of cast members. If all members of your party have a FastPass but at varying times, they can usually shift to match one rider’s time so you all can be together. Disney is about making magic happen, isn’t it, and cast members are usually empowered to do so!
2. Come early. They say the early bird gets the worm, right? In this case it's true ... but be prepared for a whole flock of early birds too.
If you skip breakfast & come hungry, there's plenty of quick service options in the park to satisfy your stomach before you get started. Our little gem is heading to Starbucks right when you get in and using the Starbucks app to get extra perks! We use the app rather than cash/card, and for those that don't know, IT IS ACCEPTED PAYMENT IN DISNEY STARBUCKS! You can't redeem reward stars for food/drink or capitalize on promotional offers in the park (those rules don't apply to Disney Springs though) - but you can use the app to pay and GET STARS for what you would purchase in real life anyways! And for those that are spending savvy (like me), use Raise to purchase discounted Starbucks gift cards so you're saving even more! We grab and go, while delighting in our goodness and making everyone else gawk in jealousy.
The parks opened at 8am the day we arrived and we got in a little past 830am. The parks are quiet first thing in the morning, so use the Disney World app to look at wait times and hit any attractions that seem unusually low. Try to ride any of the above that you didn't get a FastPass for early on, especially with wait times that look made up - more on that next!
3. Ride anything with little to no wait. That's pretty obvious, but really, it’s a must.
Once we arrived, the boys decided to head to Tomorrowland and conquer Space Mountain (1) because it only had a 15 minute wait! Fifteen, 1 - 5, I said that right. We didn't have a FastPass for the ride and this was the lowest wait it'd be all day, so the boys got in line. Which left me and Elle to find a ride in the area that she could get on and that they wouldn't care to miss. Astro Orbiters (2) it is!
Once we all finished on our respective rides we met to get on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (3) and hopped on after a 10 minute wait. The boys are finally at the age where they can ride non-thrill rides unaccompanied, so they had a blast experiencing this game together.
The rest of the morning we hit up rides according to wait times and tried to get through a slew of attractions without losing any precious time:
(4) Mad Tea Party - 5 minutes
(5)Dumbo the Flying Elephant - 10 minutes + play time under the big top
(6)The Barnstormer - 10 minutes
(7)Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid - 10 minutes
(8)Mickey's PhilharMagic - 10 minutes
We got to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (9) where Elle was itching to go, and it had a 30 minute wait. We decided to swallow our pride and line up, since we had been running hard and it gave us a chance to plan the rest of the day. Plus this attraction also has another play area, which was enough distraction to make the time go by fairly fast.
4. Recharge at lunch and Order Ahead. While in line, everyone agreed they were hungry, so we decided on Pinocchio Village Haus in Fantasyland for pizza and started to make lunch plans.
You can access quick service restaurant menus right on the app, and even better, you can Order Ahead on there - at no extra charge & once again saving you time. We accessed the app and picked out all our meals for lunch while we waited to board Pooh's honey pot. Once our order was complete, we paid, sent, and got back to our day.
The restaurant doesn't charge or prep your order until you hit the "I'm Here" button to advise them you're ready to eat! Once you get to the respective restaurant, go back into your app, advise them that "I'm Here" and wait for an alert that "Your Order is Ready" to head to the Order Ahead line to pick up your meal! It's that easy! This gave us time to find the perfect spot to eat, unwind, and also sit down rather than spend more time in line.
For us, we were able to grab prime seats for lunch - the windows that overlook the "its a small world" ride. Disney has action signs available to hold up to the unsuspecting guests as they sail by to do as you command (in our case, the YMCA and Chicken Dance were the most fun). The boys had a blast holding up markers that told them to do a random dance and applauded their audience for showing off!
Finished with lunch, it was time to start hitting up our first three FastPass attractions - so a little after 12p we headed towards Pirates of the Caribbean (10), followed by Splash Mountain (11), where I became unfortunate victim to get drenched on the way down.
5. Do something different. Since we used our first two FastPasses back to back, we had a little gap of time available before our last of the original three, Haunted Mansion. So we headed to do some shows we never slow down to see - Enchanted Tiki Room (12) and Country Bear Jamboree (13). Followed by something we hadn't before really ever done - Tom Sawyer Island (14). There we got to hide in caves, play on bridges and explore different passageways.
We also managed to find a quiet spot on the water that faced the parade route, so we got a view under shade and unobstructed (in its own right), for a unique way to see the Festival of Fantasy parade (15). It was definitely a hidden gem & welcome surprise! They have chairs and tables set up for picnicking and it would be the perfect spot to open a Mickey bar ice cream, to treat the kids after exploring!
6. Plan ahead. We head to our last Fast Pass after arriving on mainland, Haunted Mansion (16), which we used at the end of its allotted hour (you get an additional 15 minutes on the back end and 5 minutes on the front to access each FP). So while in line, I grabbed tickets for another FastPass. FastPass works in that after you're done with your original three for the day, you can grab more, one at time to use. We purposely put our 3 back-to-back so we could then fill in as we rode. So we got on the following rides and as FastPasses showed up for the ones available, I managed to grab.
7. Minimize spending with snacks. We try to keep our spending to a minimum when we're at the park, and today was no exception. We knew we were going to stop for lunch/dinner and made sure to order single meals big enough to share. We’ll also opt to order an entree and app to split if nothing else on the menu, and then a kids meal and a side for the kids to split as most come with more than enough food to get through the meal!
But since we were also going to spend all day here, we came well stocked with snacks. We love the option that Disney gives, in allowing us to bring snacks with no limitations, so we make sure to have an insulated backpack ready to go. With this we also make sure to bring reusable drinkware to refill with water; the insulated kind too!
If we do have to purchase, we try to make a stop in the stores for a quick bag of treats. A huge perk of being a passholder are the discounts they give in park and stores. That's no exception to food - so if you can find something to eat at a retail location, rather than a food stop - grab it here for less spent! Same goes for drink as some stores carry bottled beverages for convenience, but cheaper than at a quick service restaurant since you can apply your coveted discount to it!
8. Grab the perfect spot for fireworks. Since we had snacked all day, we opted for a very late, very light dinner. We once again used Order Ahead to stop at Casey's for hot dogs and created our dinner menu as we walked over. We found a table outside as patrons cleared their plates, and then waited for the alert that our meal was ready. Since we ate at the end of the dinner rush (around 9p, like we said VERY late), we were seated in the perfect spot for the Happily Ever After (26) fireworks display. We didn't have to worry about people standing in front of us or using our shoulders (and my case, tip toes) to get the kids to see. Everyone around us remained seated and we could peacefully enjoy the show in a contained area, content with our full bellies and rested feet. Perfect!
9. Make a game of it. We love that Disney introduces different ways to see the park, including the Sorcerer's Apprentice game which we always make a point to collect additional cards at the firehouse on Main Street before continuing our game. The game is time consuming though, as you have to hunt for portals and fight villains to unlock the next clue. It definitely is a distraction for the kids on a slow day, but since this was anything but, we skipped playing on this visit.
We did start using Play Disney on the Disney app and were collecting tokens for visiting attractions. Play Disney doesn't require any additional effort though. You just have your phone ready to go as you line up and then you've collected for just visiting. We got through most of the park, so after fireworks, we made it a point to get at least one more.
10. Finish strong. We had managed to squeeze in one last FastPass and really the second to last ride we could nab for the day - Peter Pan's Flight (27). We decided to call it after we had hit this Play Disney point and really our point of exhaustion. The park closed at midnight and we were content with our 10pm end time.
And though we missed doing one of the most popular attractions, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, we had a better than good run. We had four little feet run strong all day, smiling ear to ear and we hit up 27 attractions! We couldn't be happier with how we ALL faired on our day as tourists.
Planning your own day? Here’s the order to nab FastPasses to make your day worth while.
It was a perfectly magical day! The type that you don't typically bank on but end up becoming one of your favorite memories. We're glad we had a little coaxing from a well-behaved kid and allowed ourselves all to be kids again for the day!
(Disneyland) California Dreamin’
Back in 2017 we were craving some California vibes and decided that a Pacific Coast Highway road trip was in order - we made plans to make our way up to San Fran by way of LA. We planned out our days visiting coastal cities, wineries in Central Cali, and the beauty of the Bay Area (more on all that later). But we also knew that with our proximity to Disneyland with two young kids, who were part of four of the biggest Disney fans, we had to make a stop!
And we're so glad we did! Brows might be raised as to why we'd go all the way out there, when we have everything that Walt Disney World has to offer right in our backyard (and quite literally at our disposal). But one is not like the other; the experience between the original and the remix are completely different. And in many ways, we actually ended up liking Disneyland better!
We didn't cease to tell anyone that asked, or maybe questioned our trip, about what an amazing experience it was to see the park that Walt himself designed. And we got local Californians who couldn't agree more. But for someone who hasn't been, here are the reasons why if you're even a bit of a Disney fan, you should stop to see where all the magic started!
1. The resort feels exclusive. Yes, much like Walt Disney World, once you enter Disneyland California you feel like you're in a world all their own. But much different than Walt Disney World, if you're staying on property, you can leave your car and not need it again until you pack up to leave!
Walt Disney World has miles upon miles of roads that make this megastructure amazing to visit - there's another spot to see at every turn! Disneyland is situated within Anaheim city limits, but once you get on property, the real world gets left behind. For Orlando locals, or those familiar with the spot, the best comparison is to that of Universal Orlando Resort. All hotels and activities are within walking distance of each other and if you're staying on-site, you don't need to hit a major road way to get anywhere you need to go. You know it is situated in the middle of the real world, but from where you are, nothing else seems to exist. And quite honestly, it has a very similar layout to Universal Orlando that it made us feel a little at home.
For our trip, we opted to stay at one of the three Disney branded properties, Paradise Pier, which was about a 10 minute walk to Downtown Disney District. Upon arrival, we parked our car, checked in, and made our way towards all the action! Our walk took us past the classic Disneyland Hotel, which brings you glimpses of what this place used to be in all its original glory. Once you get through security, you're where all the magic happens! A movie theater welcomes you to the District, and is surrounded by plenty of other stops including The LEGO store, Splitsville and The VOID. There's a huge selection of restaurants, with all types of cuisines and plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy perfect Southern California nights. The flagship World of Disney store leads you directly to the Esplanade between the two parks.
If you're looking to stay in the middle of it all, we recommend Disney Grand Californian as it is situated above the retail locations of Downtown Disney. Bonus, also has its own exclusive entrance to Disney's California Adventure - so you could quite literally leave your hotel and be right in the park!
2. Small but fierce. Disneyland is smaller - much smaller. But it was a big part of why we liked it so much!
If you hadn't heard it before, the whole Disneyland park has been said to fit in Magic Kingdom's parking lot. It seems like a discouraging fact when you hear it, but haven’t seen it to believe it. But once you're there, that fun fact hardly seems true - the intimacy is a welcoming feature of the park!
We know the effort it takes to see the Walt Disney World parks, and as we were trying to cram two whole parks in only two days, we started doubting how much we could do without completely wearing the kids (or ourselves) out. Especially since this was the first leg of our 10-day road trip!
Our doubts carried no weight - the size of the parks actually made the trip! We loved the fact that with two young kids, compact parks meant manageable while still feeling completely immersive! I love to rave about how while we waited to ride Alice in Wonderland, we stood in an open air queue right next to the route for the Main Street Electrical Parade as it rolled by. Where at Walt Disney World can you do that?! We kept them distracted and entertained all while best utilizing our time there!
This park was definitely proof that less is sometimes more!
3. Size doesn't matter! Because even though it is smaller, there's actually more to do per park!
Yes, you read that right. There’s more to do at the Disneyland parks than those at Walt Disney World. But now if you're adding up everything all 4 parks have vs their 2, that's not going to equate. But when we were looking at the map of Disneyland, we counted at least a handful or more attractions than at Magic Kingdom. You know, the park that is said to fit in the other’s lot.
The same went for California Adventure - compared to any of the other parks here, it had more to do by square foot. Which in turn made it feel like our stay there was worth every penny since we were going to accomplish just as much in two days than we would in the same time here. .
But if this alone isn't reason for you to go visit, I don't know what is. That you can go visit another park and actually see a few things slightly different than we can, is actually really cool.
4. Come see the classic rides! We love that Walt Disney World gets an update and something fresh pops up to keep guests coming for more. But there's something special about seeing what Walt built and the nostalgia that comes with it.
Upon entering Disneyland, after walking down a 3/4 scale Main Street and passing through the gates of Sleeping Beauty's castle, you'll find King Arthur Carousel as the centerpiece of Fantasyland, much like at Magic Kingdom. But surrounding it, you'll find Snow White's Scary Adventures (remember the scary witch at the end - yes, they have her there too!) and Pinocchio's Daring Journey (we were a little jealous we never had this) on one side; Peter Pan's Flight and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on the other. Mr Toad's, guys! How much do you miss that?! Right next to Dumbo the Flying Elephant, you could ride a car in Casey Jr. Circus Train, which couldn't have made my little guy's heart sing anymore with his then train obsession! My princess fell in love with the Storybook Land Boats and loved to shout about which princess lived every different themed land we sailed by. There was just something special about riding these very simple yet, timeless rides - it made you very much in awe the innovative mind of those that opened this over 60 years ago!
The Mad Tea Party is an open air attraction, which is hands down much better to experience with the lanterns lighting up the cool California night. And to top it off, "it's a small world" is by far the most beautiful facade you will see - glimmering in white and gold as you wait in sunshine to board the boat. The ride itself has an adorable touch of Disney characters hidden in each land each is respectively from, making the ride that much more adorable to enjoy as we looked for them with the kids!
Remember the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarines? They still have them here, except now they've been rethemed to Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. I couldn't tell you my excitement to step back down on that sub and bring my kids along - it felt like I was their age all over again! On top of that, the "race cars" of Autopia are absolutely worth the wait to ride - because you know you'll want to get a picture with one in all its cartoon cuteness.
Then head over to New Orleans Square for Pirates of the Caribbean, where you get quite a lengthy boat ride as you sail from the depths of the Louisiana bayou to the Gulf sea. You pass right by the famous Blue Bayou Restaurant and envy the diners who nabbed a spot. Early reservations, every bit of the 60 days before, is absolutely true - trust us, we learned the hard way!
Seeing all the originals and imagining that these came at a time when nothing like this existed is amazing. It makes your truly appreciate how genius Walt and his time were for bringing this and so much more to life!
5. New thrills! Want something a little more updated? They have LOADS of it too! Head to Disney California Adventure for not only more updated rides, but also new experiences compared to what Orlando has to offer!
Their Tower of Terror has been rethemed to Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! which is quite honestly a total upgrade to make it a lot more entertaining. Cars Land takes you straight to Radiator Springs, where you can find Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, and the main attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, which is absolutely amazing! Further into the park you'll find the Pixar Pier, which houses the iconic Ferris wheel that California Adventure is known for, as well as Incredicoaster (a pretty intense ride for those coaster lovers)! Our little ones also LOVED It's a Bug's Land, though it has since closed down. The area had a huge selection of rides for tots & allowed them to feel as small as a bug with their bigger than life surroundings.
In Disneyland you can find updated attractions of the past, like that of Mickey's Towntoon. It is set in an adorable little town, complete with streets, trolley cars, and each character's unique home - including Mickey's house, Minnie's House, Chip and Dale's Treehouse, Donald's Boat, and Goofy's Playhouse. The space is also shared by Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin and Gadget's Go Coaster - a perfect little wonderland for the littlest of kids, tucked in the back of the park!
6. Weather's great. You CAN NOT beat Southern California's weather. We woke up to slightly cool days, covered in haze. But as the sun broke through it warmed up and we had nothing but golden sun & bright blue skies. We fully took advantage of this gorgeous, predictable (which we don't have at home) weather and made the most of every minute in the parks.
Did we mention that at the end of June the temperature was in the 70s for the high? Yeah, it was that perfect!
The weather's so great, "it's a small world" made a point to call it out on the ride!
7. The added benefits made the parks even easier to see. We'll be the first to admit, we came into this in full tourist let's-try-to-get-as-much-done-as-possible mode. But there was no need to!
For starters, the park doesn't run at nearly the capacity our parks fo. We never at any point felt like we were caught in the masses or disappointed by wait times - and we came during their peak season. Yes it was busy, but never insane!
We took advantage of the perks of staying on-site and utilized Extra Magic Hours to beat the crowds. Staying at Paradise Pier, we booked a Club Level room (which we HIGHLY recommend) for all the added benefits!, We were given some appropriately themed Mickey sweets in our room at arrival which was great after a long day of travel. Club Level provides you with a lounge which includes snacks and appetizers, along with beverages and a daily beer and wine hour for the length of your stay! There was also a concierge available at all lounge hours to help plan your day!
So we'd get up, have a quick continental breakfast, load up on snacks (they had cereal, individual bags of chips, fruit, and soda available to take at your discretion), and then head to the park for opening at 8am. We'd ride line free attractions for the first couple hours of the park being open, and the extra hours allowed us to do all the major rides before wait times set in. Then we started pulling FastPasses.
The FastPass system there is not like our mobile one here - you're not initially limited on FastPass pulls, just timing of them. So, for example, if I grab a pass at 955am valid for use between 10am - 11am, I can walk over to another attraction at 10am and pull another FastPass - even if I didn't use the first one. That means if the next FastPass is time stamped with a soon forthcoming time, I can pull another and then use all three back to back. This was great as it gave us some set plans and then also allowed us to wait in some short lines, all before our passes expired. It also gave us an advantage to get on the more popular rides, since we don’t have a cap on passes we just had to wait an allotted time before pulling the next!
And now they have the purchase option of MaxPass, which allows you to have full access to passes on your phone once entering the park. So if you’re a planner and want the convenience of mobile selection, it’s definitely worth the minimal upgrade fee!
Using FastPasses, we found that by lunch time we had completed most of each park, and with that we'd go back to the hotel for a mid-day siesta. We got to enjoy the hotel's pool and water slides, take a quick nap, and then head back down to the Club Lounge for an evening bite and drinks, before heading back to close down the park. Both kids ran hard during the day, but doing this, both kids also lasted way past the stroke of midnight. We couldn't recommend staying on-site more for all the benefits it offers - for everyone!
8. Book a dining experience in advance. Our carefree approach also allowed us to take in some extra special character dining. On our first day we had booked a princess character dining, which at the time was offered at Pacific Wharf. We enjoyed a prie fixe meal and met with 5 princesses, including Ariel who met us at the entry. We used their PhotoPass benefits to get pictures of our lunch and were never at any point rushed to finish. We sat outside in that perfect California weather, overlooking Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens Park, and watched their eyes light up every time a new princess (or a plate of food) came to them.
Each princess took her time when speaking to our kids and gave them each special attention and we couldn't be more grateful for them allowing to soak in that moment. For two that get to see this all the time at home, I thought it'd lose a little bit of it's wonder. But it didn't it all. We also made it a special point to bring a Princess Story Book that our daughter loved, to have each princess sign the chapter about them; now when we read it at home, it’s also full of fond memories of our time in California.
For our second day, we had attempted to make dinner reservations at Blue Bayou, because it came highly recommended and after seeing it and its menu in person, we knew we had to try. No such luck - this is why we recommend booking dining in advance ( reservations open up 60 days prior to travel at Disneyland)!
We instead ate at Cafe Orleans and every bit enjoyed the Cajun style food, the live music, people watching and those beignets! Makes me drool just looking at them!
9. This is Walt's kingdom. You can feel his timeless presence in the Disneyland park, like Walt still has his hand on it. We met employees who were there from the beginning and still spoke about him with a smile on their face. For the reputation that those in the great Los Angeles region get, the people we met here were genuine, warm and full of love.
Characters walked around without handlers in sight; and really interacted with those that came to visit. The park was kept up to very pristine standards. There was a general light hearted vibe in the air - no rush to fit this all in your family vacation, just be present. It was truly amazing to have a vacation that felt like one and immerse ourselves in every experience with our kids.
People would find out we were form Orlando and envy the fact that we get to go to the World. But we in turn envy that this park was theirs - such a simpler way to live and with a pureness you could feel from its creation.
10. Roadtrip! You're in the perfect part of the country to load up the car and watch the terrain change! How could you not want to come visit Disneyland and then let the compass guide you as part of a bigger trip? In our case, we headed north after our two & 1/2 perfectly magical days at Disneyland - and made another week’s worth of amazing memories.
It was definitely the way to set off an incredible trip and if you have the opportunity to go visit, we urge you to do so! It's worth every penny spent and second of your time. Then if you’re longing for more real world adventure, load up the car and see all the PCH has to offer. This has been one of our families best and most memorable trips to date - and we’d do it all over again!
Orlando Beyond the Theme Parks
What does it mean to be an Orlando resident? Orlando - the name is synonymous with Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and so on. If you ever have that opportunity to visit to visit these places that put us on the map, we urge you to come! We get to call these places our playgrounds. If not because we have passes to visit year round but for a weekend getaway or a much needed staycation. We do realize how lucky we are that visiting these places are even an option while raising our children.
But beyond the parks that made us renowned, there is a whole other world of wonder here. Yes, they are in fact the reason we're even on the map, thanks to Walt himself. Before Disney came marching in, most of Central Florida was swamp lands and citrus groves, so we owe him a lot of credit to building our estate. But as a local knows, there's so much more than just theme park thrills here at home. The variety of local gems that make Orlando this wonderful melting pot of diversity, interests and activities is plentiful and can delight anyone.
Downtown is the heart of this city, and is so much more than the business district. It is the true central hub and makes getting to any of its four corners easily accessible. It's also one of our favorite spots, because we love the feel of true Orlando that it shines and the facelift it is continuously receiving to update with our expanding population.
And there's even more ...
And ALL this is a just a preview of this vast area and how much more there is to do.
... & we KNOW we missed so much more there that makes this place absolutely amazing. It truly lives up to its notorious hashtag of #orlandodoesntsuck, because really, it doesn't. Spend some time with a local outside the theme parks and really see how wonderful it is to call this place home!