So many places to pick out from Walt Disney World, so how do you pick the right one for you?
There's plenty of different factors that can vary person to person, so there is not a one size fits all solution. Budget is always the number one factor where you start planning. Type of accommodations and what can suit your traveling party's needs. And finally, just the overall experience - are you getting exactly what you want out of this trip?
This time we stayed at one of Disney's Moderate properties, Port Orleans - Riverside, and while we were there took the time to explore sister property Port Orleans - French Quarter.
So how did they meet our expectations?
For starters, let's just talk about what to expect from your stay. You'll enter much like at any other Disney resort, where you'll be greeted by guard gate and directed to the lobby to check-in or do your luggage drop.
With Disney's enhanced technology, you may not even have a reason to stop here other than to leave your car so you can enjoy your day. The My Disney Experience app has everything loaded for you, right on your phone, so you can check-in digitally and then receive a notification to when your room is ready! Room key? No problem! It's on your smart phone via the app, so it will even direct you to your room and allow you to enter your room via your handheld lifeline. But if you're not interested in these no conventions, no need to worry - just stop by Check-In and grab a room key for use during your stay. It would be smart to have on handy anyways, in case of overexhausted phones - and if you're overexhausted yourself, no need to make an unnecessary stop.
Once you leave your car (assuming you have one and your room isn't ready), you can feel free to explore. And just be warned, this resort is MASSIVE. But in a good way. As soon as you step foot on property you feel like you're transported to a different part of the country. And as you walk the grounds, you'll find this ring even more true. The resort has two sets of accommodations - Alligator Bayou, which will be your entry level rooms that look like you're staying in cabins in the wood. The upgrade is to Magnolia Bend, where you're staying on the mansion side and is where you'll find the Royal Guest Rooms.
On the French Quarter side, you'll find more New Orleans (rather than bayou theme) to the complex, and the accommodations make you feel like you're staying in the heart of the city. The property here is not as vast but still offers its unique charms and attention to detail as they make this city come to life. Within each hotel and room location, your pricing to book will vary between type of room (standard double or king) and location (parking view, pool, or woods/resort view ).
This stay we booked ourselves a Royal Guest Room at Riverside and we were placed at Parterre Place for our stay. The building was a little walk away from the lobby and main pool, but it was the closest in proximity to French Quarter - so we felt like we were given a little of both worlds. The room itself was all the magic you'd expect from Disney - making a princess' dream of staying in her suite come to life. The room was carefully decorated with relics of each of the movies, and hidden gems that made finding a little more exciting. Portraits of each princess adorned the walls of the room, and even silhouettes of their respective princes were incorporated into the room. But our favorite part was the firework display on the headboard, that made saying goodnight all the worth while.
Only con for a family is the lack of privacy a resort like this may offer. The moderate resorts have an open shared (double) sink space and closet for hanging clothes. The bathroom with toilet and shower are private behind a door, but if you're looking to change in privacy, you'll have only the security of a curtain to separate yourself from others.
We made this stay one where we completely immersed ourselves in what the resort had to offer. There's something to be said about spending all this time on property and not ever really getting to enjoy all that there is. We wanted to make sure that wasn't the case, so from the moment we arrived we didn't leave.
Both sides of Port Orleans offer a main pool - Ol' Man Island at Riverside and Doubloon Lagoon at French Quarter - along with additional resort pools closer to certain accommodations at Riverside. That was definitely an added bonus of choosing to stay at Riverside in case you were looking for a little quiet time away from the excitement of the main pools. And for us, our building had a pool right from the view of our room so we could easily make our way over to enjoy. It also conveniently happened to be the pool that offered the Movie Under the Stars, so made it even easier to take in all the resort activities that we offered.
Movie Under the Stars is an every other night activity offering at Disney resorts, whether they are poolside or some other central area (like at French Quarter, where they use the grass in between building of Beignet Square) to broadcast a Disney feature to families. Its a nice way to wind down the night and escape the corners of your room for a unique activity to the Disney resorts.
This is all just the beginning, each resort offers the following:
The resorts also each have unique to them offerings in terms of entertainment. You'll find Ye Ha Bob at Riverside playing the piano nightly and jazz musicians at Scat Cat Club (where you'll also find boozy beignets, more on that later)! riverside also offers the much coveted Horse Drawn Carriage rides, which book up fast - so if you're set on the experience reserve ahead of time. If you're unable to get a carriage ride you can also experience Surrey or bike ride rentals, which is a great way to see the whole property - and take yourself over to French Quarter too! Riverside also has a Fishin' Hole and your chance to try to fish (especially if its something you're not going to do back home)!
And if that's not enough for you, this resort is unique in that it has transportation to 2 other resorts and Disney Springs via the ferry boats. Sassaguola River Cruise can take you to Key West Resort, Saratoga Springs, and Disney Springs to explore - operating roughly from 10a to 10p nightly. Even if you don't want to hop off, use this as a chance to just enjoy being on the water and exploring more of the massive Disney property! And maybe taking a sneak peek into where you want to go next time you're here!
If you're looking for your Cajun staples, you've come to the right place to find them!
While both resorts feature food courts and quick service restaurants with the staples you will find property-side, you'll also find some of those classic Louisiana dishes here too!
The flagship restaurant at Port Orleans is located at Riverside, Boatwright's Dining Hall, featuring an excellent selection of meals to satisfy the whole family. Being that this is the only full-service restaurant at this resort, reservations are recommended as it does get busy. And pack a bit of your patience, as it could get busy, so you may need to wait! But if your dining time coincides with the start time of entertainment, the restaurant is right next door to River Roost, so you can pop in to grab a drink and enjoy Yehaa Bob while you wait!
If you're here looking for the NOLA staple of beignets, you've come to the right place. The only place in all of Disney property serving it up, you'll have to head over to French Quarter and visit Scat Cat Club Cafe and Lounge to get your hands on these delicious pockets of sweetness! While the cafe is open at all hours for you to enjoy beignets and a variety of other goodies, if you want a boozy version of the dessert, you'll have to visit the Lounge! Make sure your visit coincides with the live jazz band for a perfect date night on Disney property!
Best part of all this, if none of this appeals to you, you're an easy boat ride or bus transfer to any other resort or restaurant on property to satisfy any craving you may have!
If you still haven't decided on a Disney resort to stay at, but want a little bit of an escape, this is the place to be! This resort was a true gem worth visiting, and even made a little staycation feel like a much earned vacation!
As an ambassador for Happyly, I'm proud to share ways to get families out and making the most of your time together.
If you're looking for travel plans to visit Paris, check out some of our recommendations for Dreaming of Travel: Paris. The city of lights is a magical place to plan an international getaway with your family - from the rich culture, abundant history, and kid-friendly possibilities, you’re going to fall in love with Paris!
What to Expect
Flip Flop Dreams owners Cassandra and Ramon did a wonderful job of outlining everything we needed to know about renting their OG - original glamper. The listing lays out specifications, amenities, costs, etc about renting out their unit. And all is exactly as it seems!
Mind you, we had stayed out at Fort Wilderness before, but I did anything far from "roughing it" with the luxury of a fully equipped cabin and a bunch of pixie dust. Cassandra and I stayed in touch leading up to our date of arrival and she reassured me as I geared up for my first camping experience. I overpacked as usual, because on arrival, we had everything we needed provided by this dynamic duo!
We requested an early check-in and arrived at Fort Wilderness around 1pm to find that Disney had a spot ready. Cassandra and Ramon were on their way, and as we waited, we parked in the main lot and went exploring by foot. Not quite literally though - you can walk, though it is a bit of a walk. Disney also provides free bus service between the main areas and a few other loop bus stops. You can also rent a golf cart - and it is highly recommended to do so in advance, as it can book up before you arrive!
At check in, Disney will provide you with a loop (neighborhood) and a lot number. They'll provide you with guided directions on how to access, as well as additional information on how to contact Guest Services for any other needs. Once we had that spot number, we messaged Cassandra to check in with that information to access the grounds. After they arrived and set up, they advised us they were done and it was ready for us, so we proceeded to head back and check out our home away from home.
There is nothing more we can say about presentation on arrival!
We drove our car to our Preferred Lot (where the space is large enough for a vehicle or two) and found the OG set up ready to greet us!
They had the awning out and lit, the dust rug out with camping chairs set, table cloth on the table and candles lit - and if that wasn't welcoming enough, music playing. Presentation was perfect! What a way to be welcomed to a little piece of their heaven and a way to start your experience with them.
The camper itself is gorgeous! The color scheme and every bit of the details taken to heart and immaculately taken care of - the love in this just shines! The camper has a queen bed right off the entry way with two privacy screens. The kitchen and living area welcomes you to the main part of the cabin, where you can find a loveseat sleeper, booth dining table and kitchen with all the appliances you could need. Stove top, microwave, fridge/freezer, and sink - all fully stocked so you can cook rather than spend while clamping! The back of the cabin boosts a bathroom with shower stall and toilet, tastefully kept simple so the space doesn't feel cramped. And the hit of this all - the BUNK BEDS - four in total and secret hideaways that made my kids heart content!
Outside the camper, we found an outdoor kitchen with mini-fridge, sink, and griddle. So you have plenty of reason to keep you outdoors with the music playing and the drinks flowing. This is exactly what we did as we utilized the space we had at our lot - they come with picnic table, charcoal grill, and plenty of room to relax. We brought all the traditional camping foods and stayed put as we enjoyed what the two of these had to offer together!
Things to Do
Times are weird right now, so the below is all subject to change. But here is some of what to expect at Disney, plus what's been there in the past ... and we're anxiously awaiting to return!
Currently available (as of January 2021) - Hours can vary so check upon arrival
Temporarily unavailable (as of January 2021)
Horse Drawn Carriage Rides
Campfire Lighting at the Meadow Chip-n-Dale Sing-a-Long
Places to Eat
If you want to do more than cook, then Disney has some options in store for you!
Temporarily unavailable (as of 1/23/21)
Ready to book?
So, you're ready to go! Let's get you set up!
We here at Adventure Somewhere will handle booking the site for you. Start by filling out the Fort Wilderness site request form by letting us know who is going, when you want to go, and some of your preferences. Don't know them all? That's ok! We can handle the details and can find the right spot for you.
We'll look for and hold the spot for you! With advance notice we can hold the spot at no charge, but the hold will expire in an specified amount of time. We will communicate that to you as we work through securing the location. That gives you time to get your RV rental situated!
But I can do it myself...
But you save so much more time with a travel advisor! We can help find the right spot for you based off our travel experience. And because of our agency's unique relationship with Disney, we can pass on any perks they give to us, on to you!
Plus, we can help to fill your trip to Orlando with so much more to do!
Want to do more than Orlando? Let us know and we can see what’s available out there for you!
When booking a vacation on your own, you're not getting that level of service. AND it comes at no additional cost to you and with all the extra benefits!
We spent our weekend stay here in a cabin, since the idea of sleeping outdoors still did not settle with me (even with all the pixie dust). The cabins are all in pods with other cabins, so if you’re camping in tent or RV, you’ll have your own roundabout too. But neighborhood are lintermixed, so you can have a prime spot regardless of your lodging option!
The cabins sleep 6 and host even more! You walk into a living/dining space with full kitchen and basic hotel amenities provided (including coffee to start your day). The living area has a sleeper sofa, TV, dining table for 6 and plenty of storage space.
The cabin also has a bedroom with separate entrance with a Queen bed and bunk beds. You have even more storage here, including a closet and chest of drawers (and we know how imperative this is with kids)! The room has its own TV and Disney even provides a safe for your valuables in your home away from home. Full-size bathroom with shower/tub and toiletries are provided.
The cabin has an outdoor area which is perfect for gatherings! You have your own grill and a porch the extends the length of the cabin with picnic table. This is where inspiration for hosting a party here first generated for us - more on that soon though!
Already the great outdoors type? Bring your tent, trailer or RV and rent a plot.
There’s a whole new world (to me) of camping lifestyle that exists! But the comforts of home while you’re away are fantastic.
The various categories of campsites each provide what you need. All offer grills, tables, electrical and water, and for the motor homes even disposal and extra space to begin a few cars.
Campsites range from space for just a tent all the way up to a Premium site nearest the prime location - the Meadow (more on that later).
Once you’re parked, you’re home so get comfortable. Recommend to have a golf cart or bicycle for transportation, unless you don’t mind walking (like us)!
Forgot something? You have a shop onsite to pick up what you need - the selection isn’t large, buts convenient. Want to shop with cheaper prices? You still have access to your car, on-site with you and can easily access a local store. Don’t want to leave at all? Use a grocery delivery service to have it brought right to you!
And if you’re here doing the holidays, check out all the beautifully creative displays! These campers show up and it’s so impressive (and a great way to get in the spirit)! Below is even a shot of one of our personal friends and their family’s amazing dedication to this!
This is your vacation after all, so make the most of your time right on site!
So you’re here now. What is there to do?
Actually, what isn’t there! We stayed two nights and spent our first at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party which In hindsight took away from a weekend of what could’ve been R&R! We’d recommend for a short weekend to enjoy the camping experience only - any days over, add in the parks!
What’s in store at Fort Wilderbess?
Meadow Swimmin’ Pool & nearby playground
▪ Bring towels as they are not provided
Horse Drawn Carriage Rides from Crockett’s Tavern
▪ $55 for 25-minute (2 adults, 3 children or 4 adults)
▪ Reservations (407) 939-7529
▪ Boston Whaler (seats up to 6 guests); $45/per half hour
▪ Reservations not required, first-come, first serve
▪ Dockside and guided excursions available at marina
8:30A – 2:30P Horse Back Riding
▪ From age 9, $55/person
9A – 5P Canoe Rentals & Kayak Rentals
▪ From age 11, $13/person
10A – 3P Pony Rides at Tri-Circle-D Ranch
▪ From age 2 ($8 per child)
▪ Explore the ranch and see the horses used in the parks
6P & 8:30P Wagon Rides from Pioneer Hall
▪ $12 (10+), $8 (3-9), FREE (2 & under)
SUNSET Campfire Lighting at the Meadow Chip-n-Dale Sing-a-Long & Movie
11A-5P Meadow Snack Bar
3P – 10P Crockett’s Tavern open – beer, wine & bar food
430P – 10P Trail’s End open for Dinner (Reservations available)
5P–10P The Chuck Wagon open (by the campfire)
▪ Reservations recommended
▪ Starting at $38+/ child & $64+/adult (Category seating)
So what about this birthday party idea out here?
Our nature loving 7 year old wanted a birthday party of adventure. We wanted something different. We all also had discussed staying out here at some point. So after some careful thought and detailed party planning, we decided why not host a party here?!
It’s not such a far fetched idea as we’ve heard from friends about parties they’ve hosted or attended here as well! So we knew we were right on track for a great time!
We decided to a Wilderness Explorer themed party, of the UP kind, and have our explorer and friends enjoy the wilderness. We initially were planning to host the party at the cabin, as there was room enough for a small gathering. But our particular cabin was situated in a weird spot for outdoor running around. Had we stayed at the cabin, it would’ve been perfect for a good little cookout and scavenger hunt.
But for active elementary school kids, we decided to move to the Meadow and host it there! The Meadow has the main resort pool & splash pad, playground, tennis courts, bike rentals, and a covered gazebo with grills. There’s other picnic tables scattered around too in case the first-come, first-serve facility is completely occupied.
We fired up the grill, let the kids play, and after some time did some specially created Wilderness Explorer activity books. A lunch of burgers and hot dogs perfectly complemented the laid back day we had. We had a cupcake serenade for bringing in his 8th year, and still after all that - headed to the pool!
We had a later start time to the party, 3p, purposely to coincide with the Campfire Sing-Along. And it perfectly went with an empty pool for swimming when our kids all swarmed it for an evening dip! Those friends that lasted all the way through made their way with us to the campfire. We had also gifted all his friends with s’more kir party favors, so everyone was ready for roasting on the fire!
Logistically for our guests, it took some maneuvering but cost them nothing more than their time. Disney allows two cars per cabin, but will charge for those staying overnight. Otherwise if you’re a visiting day guest, just state your purposes and they guide you. Our friends had to park at the front and then take a bus to the location, and same in return. So packing light is ideal since a little trekking is necessary. But for the magic, it’s all worth it!
Interested in seeing if you can make this come to life? Let us get you started on a quote for either a cabin or campsite. Click the button below so we can get some basic details to get started!
We had the amazing opportunity of getting to stay at these two gems in Hawaiian family fun! Both resorts are highly revered by families with little and big ones alike because of its diversity in venues, array of amenities for all ages, and the convenience that each of these mega resorts provide to cater to all.
So how did they stack up against each other and which one is better for you and yours?
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Disney's Oahu based property, is everything you expect from a Disney hotel - and not just one in Hawaii. Aulani is located in Ko Olina, just west of the airport and heading into a drier, more industrial part of the island. But the resort area of Ko Olina is also home to a variety of high end properties for vacation goers looking to escape the traffic of Waikiki. And driving up to it, Aulani is everything you'd expect from Disney magic.
On arrival, you're greeted with infused waters and fresh flower leis for women, kukui nut for men and kids receive Menehune necklaces, which are the famed characters of Hawaiian folklore that "lurk" around property. While you're on property, you're welcomed "home" as Aulani does sit as part of the Disney Vacation Club portfolio - and they even have designated showrooms to showcase with anyone interested in learning more about becoming a member. For us regular guests, being welcomed home was definitely just a nice touch to make us feel even more welcome here!
The resort is very accessible with two towers connected by the main entry building, where you can find shops and the flagship restaurant offering character dining. Walking through the lobby, you can head outside to the lanai and get a full glorious view of the resort. And you'll see that once you're here, you're here - restaurants line both sides of of the property, the pools are centrally situated with the beach in the horizon, and the parking garage and main roads out of sight, so you really have no reason to head back to your car!
We booked an entry level room - garden pool view and were granted a low floor request we made. This was perfect because we ended up being situated right by the lazy river. And with a separate patio entrance that led out to the pool area, we enjoyed our easy accessibility to the fun at this resort, especially since we were going to be spending ALL of our time here!
When we booked our trip to Hawaii, we knew we'd want to stay a few days at Aulani on our pursuit of visiting as many Disney properties worldwide! The per night cost became a matter of how much time we spent here, because we didn't want to lose any time away, but rather enjoy what we paid for. Disney's price is steep in comparison to other properties in Hawaii, especially if you plan to spend most of your time exploring the island. But when you compare the cost of Aulani to other Disney resorts, you'll see that their Hawaiian sister hotel is priced no higher than staying at some of the premier Disney properties all over the world.
So what does the price include, outside of room?
The price does not include:
Other things to note:
Hilton Hawaiian Village
Location, location, location!
I think the one thing that could sell this place alone is location. Not only is it centrally located in Honolulu but it also is quite honestly the only resort on Waikiki with prime beach access. This is where you want to stay if you want to be in the hustle and bustle of the city of Honolulu, but not on busy Waikiki itself. The resort is closer to the marina, but from the beach you have postcard views of Diamond Head in the distance.
On arrival, you drive through the Rainbow Bazaar, a small through street with a marketplace of shops and restaurants on either side. You pull up to the open air lobby building where you can leave the car on idle while you get yourself checked in. They aren't greeting you with the leis like Disney did on arrival, but the guest service was just as superb. Once checked in, you're given a full map of the property, which is lined by 8 towers, 5 pools, and various shops and restaurants (even beyond the Bazaar). Like Aluani, parking is not include - you have the option of valet for $52/daily or self park at $45/daily. If you opt to self park, the garage is back at the entrance to the Bazaar and once you're situated, you do have in/out privileges.
The resort feels and is massive! And is only matched with the number of people you see everywhere. It's definitely a different vibe than the "quieter" Aulani as there is a lot of movement here - but it only makes you want to get in on the action. The lobby really is the central point to the resort, but there isn't a spot that grants you an overall view of the resort. Each tower is like a world in itself, each with its own pool, bar, restaurant - but best of all, you have full access to the whole village while you're here! Beyond the Rainbow Tower, you will find the strip of beach that is designed for Hilton guests - though the chairs do come at an extra cost to rent for the day. Also good to note, all beaches are public and aren't just limited to hotel guests (same goes for Aulani). Next to the beach is the manmade lagoon for someone wanting the feel of the ocean but with the calmness of a pool - this is also home to water activities like paddle boarding and paddle boat rentals.
We booked a room without a particular request here, but they upgraded us to a high floor and view of the water. This was a nice change of pace since there really isn't a ground floor room option, and with the sheer magnitude of this resort, I'm not sure I'd want to be so close to the noise. Our room was generous in size, larger than Disney's with room to spare - but the bathroom could have used more square footage to make it easier for a family to utilize!
For this leg of the trip in Hawaii, we wanted to book a place that we could come back to and enjoy but also not feel burdened leaving for the price, as we wanted to see the rest of the island! The price point here made that comfortable to do. We considered other options but all lacked the proximity to the beach we wanted - so we fell for the idea that this was a great resort for the family to relax at after a busy day out. And it really is - there's so much to do & was a great place to wind down at after full days! And on top of that, its in Honolulu - so if your list of things to do include checking off spots on Waikiki, you're right here! Leave the car behind and go for a walk to discover what the city has to offer - that's what we did!
So what does the price include, outside of room?
The price does not include:
Other things to note:
Which One’s for You?
We wanted to start our vacation on a lighter more relaxing note to catch up with the time change, so we enjoyed all we could out of Aulani. But we definitely would not have stayed here if we were leaving to go sightseeing - unless we were DVC members or got an unbelievable price per night. We enjoyed two nights to settle in and get some R&R before our adventure started. It is also not conveniently located to much on the island beyond the North Shore. You may avoid the traffic of Honolulu (which was not that bad), but you would be driving a little farther because of where it is situated. Stay here if you plan to stay PUT here. And if you're even toying with the idea of staying here, do it for at least a few days of your trip. It's definitely a place to visit and you won't regret it - we loved our times to unwind with Disney magic before we visited the beauty of Hawaii!
Hilton Hawaiian Village felt like great place to leave and come back go to. It was a great resort, but I could not imagine spending all my days here just because of the sheer magnitude of the resort. It was a nice place to retreat to after days of fun because we were still able to take in all the amenities without feeling like we missed out, because it did lack some of the magic Disney has. And the price made it even easier to leave - since it was at half the cost of what we paid at Disney. If you want a prime place on Waikiki beach, with ground level pools and a village all its own, this is the place for you! It was a nice way to get wrapped into what Honolulu had to offer and not feel like we were missing out on any magic - because we made what we wanted out of our days when we returned!
Either way you can’t go wrong! But it’s all a matter of what you want from your time in paradise!
Still undecided? Check out our Highlights on Instagram for more information about our time at either resort!
Is a Pacific Coast Highway Trip on your bucket list?
It was on ours and so we decided to pack our bags, book a plane ticket, and make our way from SoCal to the Bay Area and explore in between. We didn't nearly cover the vastness of this beautiful stretch of coastal road, but we chose stops that worked for us with certain goals in mind. And we loved every bit of what we saw, and what we wish we had more time to see.
What did our week+ in California look like winding the up the open highway? Read on!
Some prefer to start further south in San Diego but started our trip in LA for reasons all our own!
1. Flight - we flew Delta and wanted a direct flight. Plus, with our Companion Certificate and Skymiles, we only ended up paying about $400 total for the 4 of us to go to west.
2. Location - we wanted to start south and watch the hills turn into cliffs and dramatically change course. Some may argue a trip from north to south would be better since you ride along the coast (rather than the inner most lane), but for us that didn't make a difference on the drive.
3. Disneyland - we wanted to start the trip with a treat for the kids! Capitalize on all the energy they had and use it for something they would truly marvel over.
What to do in LA? What is there not to do?!
After you pick up your rental, head towards Hollywood. You want a picture with the iconic sign and there are some many good spots to get it from, including the Griffith Observatory, which also includes panoramic views all around. If you're heading down to Hollywood Blvd to check out the sights there, head to shopping complex Hollywood and Highland for great views! While you're there, the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame and Mann's Chinese Theater (where these days you can watch new movie releases at) are within sight.
Hungry? Visit Pink's Hot Dogs for this staple in Hollywood since the 1930s. The giant loaded hot dogs of all varieties were delicious and worth the wait at this counter service restaurant with outdoor seating. Just be warned, parking may be hard to find!
Then make it a point to cruise around greater LA County - from driving down Sunset Strip to admiring all the luxury of Beverly Hills to hitting up the pier in Santa Monica for some fun or even just checking out another city along the shoreline. There's so much to do in LA, you can easily spend a few days here!
This was *the* destination for us on arrival - to spend a few days at Disneyland California! The parks are nestled in the middle of Anaheim and really a world all their own. We highly recommend spending at least two days here, as there's enough to do without feeling rushed.
The resort itself has 3 Disney hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian, and Pacific Pier), 2 theme parks (Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure) and the entertainment complex of Downtown Disney. Each park deserves a day all their own to fully immerse and explore AND because there's just that much to do! Promise. They have more attractions per park than the sister parks in Orlando!
There’s so much to cover here we have an article all their own for the parks! Read all about our time at Disneyland and why it quickly became our favorite Disney parks - this alone may be the reason you want to come out here!
Make your way past Malibu and the stunning beach communities of So Cal as you head north up PCH. You'll venture into the beautiful city of Santa Barbara nestled along the coasts and the hills, and upon our arrival, covered in smog. It was such a beautiful piece of real estate as we traveled the highway as, we slowly witnessed the change from relatively flat southern Cali.
We also stumbled up on the mission trail here, where we made a bit of an adventure within one. El Camino Real is a collection of 21 missions from San Diego to Sonoma, each spread out about 30 miles from each other. The Spanish missions, from a time when Spain held strong in California, are the oldest piece of history in the state and a captivating game to play while you're on your road trip. Look for the bell markers to signify the trail of missions as you travel el camino.
We only had time to explore the mission in Santa Barbara durinfbour short stop here, but wish we had spent even more time in this stunning city on the sea.
Does the name sound familiar, 90s babies? Well it should if you're a Clueless fan. It the namesake for the "Pismo Beach Relief" that the movie was fundraising for. And for us it was such a welcome surprise! Just when we thought we left everything So Cal had to offer, here's this little beach town that just exudes everything you want from California.
We spent just enough time here to park and play in the sand, bit could easily have spent hours more. From the beautiful shoreline to the relaxed surfer vibes, this is definitely the place you want to go to when trying to escape the hustle of the big cities and the bustle of Hollywood. It was the quintessential beach town on the California coast and a welcome stop for us to stretch as we made our way to our next stop!
Here's another name sake for you! Finding Dory, anyone?
With the name dropped so often in the movie, once we saw signs that we were approaching, we made sure to make a stop to just say we've been! Morro Bay was a seaside village lined with shiplap buildings and the sea painted with an iconic rock. We stopped to check it out just because our curiosity got the best of us, and we're glad we did!
We drove to the inlet that approached the famous rock and were greeted by a sea of otters sunbathing in the bay! What a fun surprise to encounter and certainly a place that made us want to stick around long enough to see what this town had to offer.
San Simeon is best known for Hearst Castle, and though we would've loved to spend a day there, with two little ones our plans led us elsewhere. Seashore - to be exact - to watch the elephant seals. This detour on our trip was a treat, because what a neat experience it was to encounter these giants literally feet from us. Sparring and barking in their own environment, doing just what nature taught them to do. The kids delighted in getting to see animals in the wild and we loved the chance to get to teach something up close and personal.
For this roadtrip in 2017 though, this was as far north as we were able to go on PCH. The road was shut down in Big Sur due to mudslides, so we were forced to diverge inland ... which ended up being a fortunate accident.
Paso Robles was our serendipity on this trip!
We would never have planned a stop here on our way up, as its not on the PCH. But since we had to diverge because of Mother Nature, we got to explore such a beautiful part of the state! This central California wine country is filled with beautiful rolling hills and fields of wineries in between hills. We even spotted a black bear as we drove these rural areas, making his way around home.
We made a stop on arrival at Four Lanterns, a family-friendly winery offering outdoor seating, live music and space to roam. Once we finished our visit and by the time dinner rolled around, we head to downtown Paso. A quaint town made up of a main city block and with some chic restaurants and an adorable Central Park. We had a wonderful dinner at Artisan, a contemporary concept with fresh meals and delightful drinks. A welcome reward after a day of driving!
Our drive was a shorter one, but to a very anticipated destination! MONTEREY!
Yes, home of Big Little Lies, where we had just dived into in 2017, so we anticipate seeing what this stunning location had to offer. It was a beautiful coastal city, with a downtown to match its charm, and lined with mountain and boats.
The attraction here, beyond the show that mapped it, is Monterey Bay Aquarium - where we spent an afternoon discovering with the kids. Just the fact that at times you're staring at the sea while looking at exhibits is a fascinating concept all its own! The experience was only topped by the visitors we had at the dinner that evening - seals and otters splashing under our prime view table at Domenicos on the Wharf!
The only thing we missed doing in our short stop here is going whale-watching - we would have loved the chance to see these beasts in their natural home!
It wasn’t initially on our itinerary but we made another trip back and hit up this beautiful beach village. Adorably lined with pristine local shops and eats, Carmel was a wonderful find on our second trip out west!
For wine lovers, this is also a smaller wine region. Though the vineyards are few and most require reservations to tour, the town has plenty of wineries to taste what they grow!
We NEEDED to see Big Sur, so before we continued north, we quickly headed back south to see how far we could go before being turned away. And we did not once regret this decision. This drive is absolutely beautiful - more than words can even paint to life. We made it as far as Pfeffier State Park as we drove the winding coast to see the beauty of it all. Only to be turned around and do it all again! We certainly didn't mind.
On arrival back, we made sure to take the 17 Mile Drive which would inevitably take us to world famous Pebble Beach. We completed this trip with a visit to the chilly shore, but feeling every bit much accomplished that we were able to see this gorgeous piece of California real estate on our trip!
We heard so much about Santa Cruz from others that we wanted to check out this beach town and see what it was about!
For starters, the homes lining the cliffs with prime view of the ocean were stunning. All were quintessential California homes as we would imagine them. But we also used this stop to let the kids have some of their kind of fun again. We spent the evening playing on the Boardwalk as a way to wind down the trip.
Carnival food, rides, games and even local beer is exactly what we needed after so much exploring. And as an added bonus, we had the perfect sunset to top off our stay. We would definitely recommend this as a stop for kids of any age!
On the skirts of Silicon Valley, this city felt like a perfect blend of SoCal meets the Bay. This stop was intentional on this trip, to visit a very dear friend and meet he mr baby boy. And she welcomed us to her home to spend the 4th of July by the pool, grilling out, and living like locals!
The day ended with us heading downtown for official celebrations, including fireworks and eating hot dogs from street carts. It was the cherry on top for a way to spend this holiday!
This wouldn’t have been a stop we picked out on our own, but we’re so glad we were introduced to Filoli. The beautiful garden situated in city limits, this places is absolutely worth a detour to see.
The drive there is tree lined upon rolling hills. On arrival, you’re greeted at a majestic house beckoned by acres of beautiful topiaries. Breathtaking is the least of word I could use to describe it! An afternoon spent exploring these wonders is enough but you could easily get lost here for a whole day!
Half Moon Bay
Imagine a picturesque coast washed away by the sea, where the only thing more impressive is the crashing waves offshore. That’s Half Moon Bay. We stopped here to check out the views, and get a little bit of that California sun & sand. We finished the day with lunch and drinks at the Ritz Carlton where we sat at fire pits to take in the breathtaking views
Our final official stop on this trip didn’t come without a little mishap - reminder to always check your safe before leaving your room! We made it all the way to San Fran to get an early morning cable car ride (without the lines) when we realized our mistake.
So we came back later (on a family reunion) and finished this stop. We hopped on cable car at Hyde & ___ and rode it into central San Fran! Goal accomplished. We visited the Painted Ladies, Drive down Lombardi Street, watched the sea lions bark at Pier 39, walked Fisherman’s Wharf and ate at Boudin Bakery - all the iconic SF things to do!
If you want a quick overview of the city, hop on a double decker! It’s the easiest way to get a lay of the land and figure out the areas you want to explore more! We recommend a stop in the Japanese Tea Garden for some serenity in the city! If you want something a little different to explore (and you’re a fan like us), the Walt Disney Museum at the Presidio is the perfect place to learn about his legacy and see his dreams come to life. Bonus, you get some scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge!
But make sure your finish your trip with a visit to Baker’s Beach for the most spectacular view of the Golden Gate! If you come at sunset, you can watch the day fade to night while your backdrop is painted all sorts of lovely colors.
Need dinner plans? Cliff House is at land’s end, where San Francisco begins as they proclaim! The spot is perfect for a seafood feast and great views. Sweet tooth? You can’t forget Ghiradelli’s - because what’s a visit without a stop!
If you’re headed across the Golden Gate to Sausalito, you can’t skip one of the best things on this side of the bay. Take time to explore Muir Woods and the glory of these fantastic creations of God. The forest will leave you speechless, and if you time out coming at the right time of day, you’ll have a special experience.
We arrived after the park office closed but before the park did, which granted us free entry and plenty of spots to park on site. The best part of this though was the stillness that overtakes the park when it’s not run over by crowds. It truly makes you feel at one with nature and in deep respect for it. On your way down, take in the views of the ocean meets the mountains, it’s another moment that can stop you in your tracks.
And if you’ve worked up an appetite from all that exploring, make sure to make a final stop at In-N-Out if you haven’t yet! There’s something special about this place with the simplicity in its food, burgers and fries with a sauce all their own that you’ll be dreaming of for years to come! Take it up a notch and get your order Animal Style for a truly unforgettable experience. Best off all, there’s always an In-N-Out en route to satisfy your craving!
If you have time, add in Napa and Sonoma to your plans! This region is so different from everything else there is out there and worth a post all it’s own about the places to check out - with or without kids!
When you're some of the biggest Disney fans, you've seen 2 of their 6 international locations, and you're an hour away, what do you do? You go,of course!
But how does Disneyland Paris stack up to the stateside parks? And how do you make the most of your time visiting a place that has to compete with the majestic history you're surrounded with in Europe.
Here's our take on getting the most of your Disneyland Paris visit!
Where to stay?
We chose to stay at a Disney hotel to capitalize on the on-site perks - proximity and Extra Magic Time. Disney has a plethora of properties, including 6 Disney hotels within walking distance of the parks and 2 Disney Nature hotels which are set further out and require a car to access. Disney also has a variety of Partner Hotels in the area that provide shuttle buses to the parks and may offer a little lower price per night of your stay.
We wanted some place that we could maximize our time at the resort and at the same time feel like we were getting an experience worth the price. We chose to stay at Disney's Newport Bay Club, a hotel right onsite and walking distance to Disney Village. Anyone familiar with the Walt Disney World set of hotels, Newport Bay is the equivalent of Yacht & Beach or Boardwalk, taking you back to a time of living on the water and enjoying the luxuries of full scale seaside resorts. The hotel is beautiful, just as her sister properties here in Orlando; and massive - we stayed on a wing that was quite a hike to get to, but that was located directly next to the indoor pool.
Deciding what you want out of a hotel is what works for your family. All Disneyland Paris hotels offer all-you-can-eat buffets and adult lounges on property, but not all have a quick service option for dining. We would have loved to have some of those conveniences, like an on-site restaurant for snacks on-the-go and a fridge in the room to store leftovers (or in our case, milk). Closest proximity to the park is the Disneyland Hotel, which would allow easiest access to the two parks and Disney Village. If you rather skip on big meals and have a fast option for food, then Disney's Hotel Cheyenne and Disney's Hotel Santa Fe both offer Starbucks on property, but are a little further out from the parks. Hotels with moderate pricing but with proximity to entertainment, Disney Sequoia Lodge & Disney's Hotel New York (currently rebranding to the Art of Marvel) should be considered. And if neither of those are in your price range, there are a host of offsite options, but you lose the perks that Disney gives you, like Extra Magic Time to enjoy attractions before the general public.
Disneyland Paris has also already started to implement extra security measures like scanning all bags (and people) before entering the hotel, which I applaud. It was our first touch of reality with the world we live in today; but it was welcome to see a proactive approach to make sure the magic isn't compromised.
Amount of Time?
This is all up to how much you want to do. We wanted the experience so we chose to end our trip here and wind down with some fun Disney days. We booked two nights because we wanted to enjoy two full days in the park. We arrived early enough to enjoy one park, leaving our bags with the porter and able to get settled in to our room after we finished our day.
The parks are located a walk away from the hotel, passing through Disney Village complex and then with a fork in the road to decide which way to go. The set up is very similar to Disneyland California and very convenient for anyone wanting to experience everything in one day. They have some of the big name restaurants they do stateside, like Rainforest Cafe, Planet Hollywood and McDonald's, but also have unique concepts like Annette's Diner (ode to the original Mouseketeer) and a character filled Wild West stage show at Buffalo's Bills.
If you want to spend any time checking out the night-time entertainment, there warrants an extra night just to enjoy a dinner show - and use that extra day to book an excursion to the surrounding area. Disney offers tours to chateaus and small countryside villages to get a taste of the beautiful region outside Paris that hosts their parks.
Disneyland Paris also offers great package deals that may also be worth skipping a stay in Paris and opting to make the commute to the city instead. We had considered this option when we found a package that would allow us to stay on property for 5 nights for the price of 3. The package also included tickets and granted children free admission - so ultimately we'd be getting a 5-day ticket & 5-night hotel stay for the whole family for the price of two adults on a 3-day package. One rate also included club level room, which would give you exclusive check-in and access to the club lounge, with refreshments and light appetizers served all day. In hindsight, the offer was too incredible to pass up - but we did, because we also knew we wanted to indulge in our first time in Paris. But someone wanting to shop savvy, it is every bit worth searching for a package like this!
Which Ticket to Get?
Absolutely buy tickets ahead of time and snag them on a deal, as they'll also be cheaper online than at the park. We had pre-purchased tickets off the Disneyland Paris site as they were running a deal that got Adults in for the price of Children tickets and we couldn't pass that up!
There are two parks to choose from, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios. We opted to purchase a 1 Day Ticket for each park and completely immerse ourselves in that park. And personally, we felt like a day in each park was more than enough time!
The tickets are sold on an attendance calendar so depending on when you visit, the cheaper it is (weekdays early in summer run cheaper than weekends or late summer). The parks also operate on hours depending on season, with Walt Disney Studios Park closing earlier than the original. During our stay, Walt Disney Studios closed at 8pm on weekends and 6pm on weekdays, so we opted to do the newer park first to maximize our weekend day at the park. Disneyland Park remained open until midnight either day. Since we had one park tickets and we wanted to capitalize on our energy and the late hours, we opted to save Disneyland for last.
Walt Disney Studios Park
Walt Disney Studios is the newer park, and reminiscent of Hollywood Studios in Orlando. It houses two of the newer attractions, Crush's Coaster and Ratatouille, which were our main objectives to see. Just like Disneyland, Paris still has the old FastPass distribution system - you don't have a limit to how many you get in a day and you can get your next one after the distribution window on your ticket opens up (which is usually at the ride time). So if you're lucky and get a FastPass for the exact hour you're in (which is possible), you can also get another pass within a few minutes and ride back to back line-free rides.
We made our way in and went directly for Ratatouille since we wanted to all get on a ride together and this one was it. We got our FP and proceeded to ride other attractions in Pixar Place, an ode to Disney-Pixar films like Cars and Toy Story. There we spun on Luigi, had a Slinky Dog Dash and then made it back over to experience Ratatouille. The ride took us on a 3-D adventure in a mouse's point-of-view through the restaurant featured in the movie and the streets of Paris - it was adorable and left the kids squealing!
We caught a few other attractions we didn't have back home, including Disney Junior Live which had different cartoons featured than they do in Orlando, which was exciting for the kids to see! We also rode the underwhelming attractions of Armageddon and the Backstage Tour. The one thing we had high on our list to see before we left for the day was the coveted Mickey and Magician show, which was fantastic! Housed in a theater, this is a production including live singing and stage effects - it was amazing to see the caliber of show that Europe delivers and really can speak to the level of performance this culture relishes in.
The park itself is overshadowed by the Disneyland Hotel, so upon approaching it, you see the beautiful grounds of their flagship property, but no sign of the iconic castle. You pass under the hotel into the ticket turnstiles and only after crossing the official entry of the railroad station do you see Sleeping Beauty's castle.
The park is very reminiscent of Disneyland California, in its simplicity, attention to detail and accessiblity of attractions. It goes back to a simpler time when things weren't as rushed and the experience was greater than the exposure. It had all the classic rides you expect at any of the flagship parks, with enhancements like HyperSpace Mountain (which was unfortunately closed for maintenance during our visit). The park had also just celebrated its 25th anniversary, so it had a sense of grandeur still in the air to celebrate such an event.
The details are so clean and crisp, but it did lack a little of the magic you find back home. We tried to pinpoint what, and couldn't place our fingers on it until after we left - atmosphere music. We're so used to having music ushering us along and making the pace for our walk, that we failed to notice that the parks didn't have much. You heard the faint music from the attractions as you passed by, but as you walk between lands, taking in the park and existing in the moment, there's no soundtrack to live by. Us spoiled Disney kids really fail to see how wonderful something so simple as this is.
The parks also operate on the classic FastPass distribution system, much like Disneyland California. They do have limited attractions offering passes so waiting in lines may be inevitable. But the parks do not nearly have the waits that the stateside parks do, outside the more popular attractions which beckon visitors. It's absolutely worth waiting in line for those, and even more so for waiting for the shows. The performances here are all live and it is incredible to see the magic of that experience come to life. It is also worth noting that all shows are done in a mix of English and French dialogue, so it makes for a truly memorable experience to get a bit of each culture combined.
I could go on for days about our trip there, but I will let the pictures do the talking instead. If you ever have the opportunity and are even a bit of a Disney fan, take the day trip out here. You can take a metro from central Paris which will drop you off at the end of Disney Village and within a two minute walk to either park.
Any other tips?
Any Disney fan will agree, it is definitely worth the experience to see how cultures influence each of their parks worldwide. The parks are very similar but yet so unique in their own way. It brought us so much perspective to ride the Small World an ocean away and listen to the words with true relativity to our time here.
If visiting Disney is on your bucket list, make a stop here, its worth it. It's incredible to see what one man with a vision was able to create, all with one little mouse - that has changed the way the world experiences happiness.
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!
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!
It’s our favorite time of the year here in Orlando! The holiday rush is calming down, the masses are starting to leave (though we love our tourists and all that they do for our great city), and our annual passes are full force again! There’s a nice calm after the storm in the parks, where you can enjoy the stillness and the BEAUTIFUL weather Orlando winter brings. If you're a local, you know that in some ways, right now The City Beautiful feels exclusively yours.
We also love this time of year because it gives us a chance to enjoy some of the perks about living with a theme park in our backyard that we tend to take for granted. There’s SO much to do at Disney than just the rides and we wanted to give you a preview of some of our favorite activities that make an appearance when it quiets down around here.
1. Four times a year RunDisney hosts a racing event on property for guests that want to view the parks in a whole different light! November starts race season with the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend and then it quiets down again until January. The beginning of January brings the only marathon race with Walt Disney World Marathon Race Weekend, followed by the Princess Half Marathon Weekend in February, and rounding off with the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend in April. These events are so exhilarating, from the registration process (will I even get a spot?) to the week of anticipation! The days leading up to the actual races, you will have to go to ESPN Wide World of Sports to pick up your bib, and this also gives you a chance to peruse the numerous vendors, selling everything from racing gear to themed merchandise. It’s a runner’s delight ... and really can inspire anyone to do want to run these races (we're about to run our 4th half marathon)!
And if running anything with marathon in it is not your thing, each of the race weekends above offer a 5K & 10K, as well as kid races! If timing doesn't line up, consider racing at Port Orleans - French Quarter, where the on-site property hosts a Beignet Fun Run most Sundays (except race weekends) and you finish with a sweet treat to celebrate!
There's so much excitement in the air when a race comes to town!
2. In-park events start to come alive again in January, when EPCOT welcomes back the annual International Festival of the Arts. This particular event mimics the likeliness of the other in-park events, but draws on creativity and imagination. There are speciality food booths lining the World Showcase that make food a work of art, artists with their masterpieces on display, and performances by broadway stars, to name a few of the activities.
Festival of the Arts, which is in its third year, runs Jan 18 – Feb 25, 2019 and joins the ranks of the International Flower & Garden Festival, the renowned International Food & Wine Festival, as well as Festival of the Holidays. Flower and Garden happens in spring and showcases the horticulture in the park with their magnificent colors and celebrates the art of growing food. For those that like to munch around the world, the booths are back with deliciaes grown on property and Disney’s culinary team once again delighting in sample size. Food & Wine, which is a staple for many, comes back earlier than ever and with more booths than before to celebrate the culinary cultures of the world. And Festival of the Holidays introduces worldwide food and holiday traditions during the season! These events are included in your EPCOT or multi-park admission ticket.
3. Disney Special Events always has a special place in our hearts, as it’s a fun way to see the parks from a different lens. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party encourages guests of all ages to dress up and trick or treat at Magic Kingdom! We have attended the event a handful of times and each one we love the memories we make in costume. Even though most rides are up and running during the event, you can fully enjoy the event without even stepping foot on a ride! We use this time to load up on candy, wait for special character meet and greet & dance parties, watch parades & shows unique to this event, and catch the full park fireworks display.
Following Halloween is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, where the park lights up at night in celebration of the holidays. From meeting Santa, to cookies and cocoa to your heart’s desire and topping it off with one-of-a-kind parades, shows and fireworks, this event is an added bonus, especially if you call this home for the holidays. These are sepearately ticketed events, but if you were wanting to explore the park in a different light, this is definitely something to check out!
4. Ever thought about staying on property? Right now might be the time! Disney offers hotel specials and discounts to Florida residents throughout the year. When you come make plans to spend time at the resort, enjoy the pool(s), participate in activities and RELAX! If the park is still calling you, you can always go, but we like to enjoy a true staycation exclusively at a Disney hotel to take in all it has to offer! We enjoyed Art of Animation a few years back, and swimming in one of their 3 pools until the sun disappeared. After sunset, they had movies on the green between the buildings. It was perfect.
If staying at the resorts is not for you, consider just popping by for a visit. The dining options are fantastic! From heading over to the Magic Kingdom loop and heading on the monorail for a date night; strolling Disney's BoardWalk and renting a tandem bicycle to explore the area; or dining with characters dining at a handful of the resorts. There's plenty to do that doesn't even require a ticket into the park!
5. Another option outside the parks is to check out the various activities of Disney Springs. From bowling at Splitsville, catching a show at House of Blues, seeing the world from above on Aerophile, or watching a movie at AMC, that’s only a portion of what the entertainment complex has to offer. The original Disney Village still stands in all of her glory, with classic shops and restaurants, like Rainforest Café and T-Rex, for kids of all ages. We just visited and got to catch the last night of the Christmas Tree Trail, where Disney Springs dressed a tree for the likes of every Disney movie! Heading over to the newer Disney Springs you will find more eclectic dining and shopping options. You can easily make a day of exploring the area or enjoy a Disney date night (we particularly enjoyed the progressive dinner style ones we’ve done).
For those that are toying with the idea of becoming loyal Disney patrons like us, Disney offers a host of ticket options. From day tickets to annual passes, you can find the one to customize what you need. And right now they have a special promotional offers for FL residents if you're not ready to dive in - the Florida Resident Discover Ticket offers 3 Days starting at $175!
If you're ready to explore options of visiting that can fit you, anything from a day trip to the resort to a staycation or full on vacation, let us know! We'd be thrilled to help you plan a trip, perfect for you!