A First-Timers Guide to Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation: Part Two



Updated January 2020

All right! You did it. You booked, planned, packed for, and got to Walt Disney World. Now what? If you missed Part One, don’t fret! Check it out here.

Once There

The first day that we were all there we decided to get unpacked and set up for the next couple of weeks. But of course we had to squeeze in a little taste of Disney, so we all headed to Disney Springs. After we were done, the guys took the kids back to the hotel for a swim while the ladies took an Uber to Walmart.

Pro Tip: Download the Uber app before you go if you don’t already have it. We were able to each add the app and get $10 off our first trip, which was obviously awesome. They have ongoing promos, the current one being $3 off your first 10 trips. Here we stocked up on breakfast and park foods like fresh fruit and veg, cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, etc. We realized after that there was a walking path to go to a grocery store which would’ve been nice to know! One is a convenience store attached to a gas station called “Hess Convenience Store” across from Buena Vista Drive. The nearest “real” grocery store is called Gooding’s. 

There are Cast Member residences just beside Disney Springs. The grocery store was put in for them but anyone can use it. There’s a foot bridge close to the bus depot. For the cheapest option, split an Uber. For convenience, you can even order online from Gooding’s and have them deliver to Disney Springs. They are open 24/7. Our plan for this coming May (2020) is to pre-order from Walmart and get delivery… now delivery HAS changed, you do have to be there for pick up, which isn’t a huge deal but good to know.

For park tickets, we had 8 days. This may seem excessive, but with this being our first trip there was so much to explore. We chose to do 3 full days in Magic Kingdom, 2 days Animal Kingdom, 1 day Epcot, 1 day Hollywood, and then either 1 additional day at Hollywood or Epcot. Initially we thought that we would do one day in Epcot, and then do two in Hollywood Studios. However, once we had been, the group was split about which park to return to for a second time.

The majority of us felt that we wanted more time at Epcot, whereas Erica’s family really wanted to head back to Hollywood Studios. Heidi’s family decided not to choose, and got a park hopper for the day to spend time in the morning at Hollywood Studios, and then join the rest of us in Epcot. 

Keep in mind that if you’re used to Disneyland, where all of the rides are in only two parks, it’s an adjustment that the same amount of rides are split into four parks now instead of two. So there is technically less “to do” in each park, but there’s still tons to experience. It felt like a big adjustment between WDW and DL when it came to having kids under three. In DL, near every big ride there is a little ride. WDW is a lot more spread out, so there isn’t always something for the littles to do. 

The only plus to that is at least you don’t pay for kids under 3. And if you are doing Disney with an infant, going in a large group is great. I felt that the age my kids were when we went was perfect. At 5 & 8 they could do almost everything. My son was just shy of 48″ which did prevent him from a couple of the bigger rides but it didn’t seem to bother him too much at all.

Disney Transport

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6ac7The WDW shuttle system is amazing. A huge perk to staying at a Disney Resort is that each resort has a bus loop. They posted the times. (They ran about every 20 minutes or so). You want to be there about 10 min early.

If you have a stroller, everything has to come off of it and go on your laps. We got really good at collapsing the stroller and grabbing everything. You just want to keep this in mind… in Disneyland you can pack your stroller and leave it the whole week. In WDW, you are constantly collapsing and setting up your stuff. 

We found that keeping our things in bags helped (rather than just tossing items in to the bottom of the stroller). We had our eleven month old in an Ergo, and had our diaper bag hanging off the back of the stroller. When it came time to board, we would snag our bag from the bottom, pop the diaper bag on to my shoulder, and my husband would collapse the stroller.

My husband and I went to WDW for the first time the summer before our big family trip. He ended up having a work function in Florida over my 30th birthday and we were able to spend my birthday, plus another day, in the parks. Since it was only a few days, we ended up staying at a Marriott instead of a Disney Hotel. The hotel was great because it included breakfast but the shuttles were a nightmare. They only had a few scheduled shuttles back and forth to the parks throughout the day.

There wasn’t a shuttle that got us to the Magic Kingdom for opening, which I found really frustrating considering we only had two days in the parks. And then the last shuttle of the night left before the fireworks ended so we had to take a taxi back to the hotel. Disney has shuttles running constantly throughout the day. They start running 1 hr before the parks open I believe, and run at least an hour past park closing. I would not recommend staying at anything that’s not Disney unless you plan to Uber or rent a car. 

We loved having conversations with people on the shuttles. It was so nice to hear about how many times people have been, or why they were there. It was surprising to us how many people lived close to Disneyland and had never been! We also took advantage of the time by putting sunscreen on in the bus. Note – this wouldn’t work with aerosol sunscreen… don’t be that guy. 

Disney Springs

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6ad1For those coming from Disneyland, this is “Downtown Disney”, but on a larger scale.  You cannot just walk here, you have to shuttle, Uber or drive.  

There is lots to see and do. They have the largest Disney store in the world, and lots of fun shops, plus tons of food options! We ate at “T-Rex” as a family, which is a dinosaur-themed version of Rainforest Cafe. We had reservations, and were seated in the middle. The food was decent, and it certainly was fun for the kids.  They especially enjoyed digging for bones while we waited for our table. 

Since we were there in 2016 they have added a lot of restaurants and shops. So many places that I would love to try. Many restaurants take reservations, so skip the wait and plan ahead if you can.

Here’s a quick outline of the parks:

Magic Kingdom

This is laid out similarly to DL (like a spoke) but the scope of it is just BIGGER; the castle is bigger, the roads are wider. Our dad kept saying “space creates possibility.” I’m not sure Walt would choose the footprint that Disneyland is on today if he knew what it would become, because everything is just more squished.

As we were walking through the park I remember my husband saying “this is what Disneyland should be like”. A lot of the “problems” (for lack of a better word) in Disneyland were solved in the Magic Kingdom (think bottle necks, and having a hard time getting around because of crowds). I found that there wasn’t the solid wall of people that you can come up against in Disneyland.

A lot of the ride line ups were a new experience. Even though we used FastPass for a lot of the rides, because we had three days in the Magic Kingdom, we could experience things like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan’s Flight for the line up themselves.

Like Disneyland, you want to get there early enough to get photos on Main Street before all the rides open up. They also have an opening show that was really cute! We enjoyed seeing it. It gets you pumped up for the day.

To hear more of our first impressions, head to Magic Kingdom: First Impressions.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios


We ended up starting our WDW experience with this park, and we all had different views of it. My family of five loved it so much. On the one day that we had to choose between parks, our girls chose to go back here instead of Epcot.

A highlight of Hollywood Studios was definitely the shows… the girls wanted to see Indiana Jones twice. Voyage of the Little Mermaid was a super fun show as well. And the Beauty and the Beast show! It was similar to the stage production I remember seeing in Disneyland as a kid (I’m talking 1992!). Our babe, however, was really too young to appreciate any of the shows. It was hard to keep him on our laps, and really wasn’t enjoyable to sit and watch a show unless he was sleeping. I’d love to go back for an “adults-only” viewing. 

My husband and I found that this park didn’t have much to offer for us as a couple, and felt that by lunch we had experienced all that it had to offer ride wise, and caught all of the shows between lunch and dinner. Of course this was pre-baby and pre-Star Wars land. Toy Story Land was also recently added, so the whole feel of this park would be different today than it was when we went.

The highlight IMO was Fantasmic… It was quite a bit different than in Disneyland (where you have to sit on the ground) and it was in a big outdoor arena. It was super fun to have nice seats, and experience it with that big of a scope. I second that opinion! Being seated in the huge amphitheater style seats, it wouldn’t matter where you are sitting. It’s a good view no matter what, which is a huge change from DL. Plus it was a completely different show!  

It was so nice to be able to sit down and watch it after a full day. Just be prepared to hike a bit from the entrance to the stadium. It’s a couple minute walk. Trying to leave we really noticed this. Coming in people are trickling in, but when you leave everyone is being funneled the same way. It was hard to keep track of everyone in our group. Especially because some of us had to locate our strollers. Just like in any of the parks, it’s not always where you leave it. The cast members are constantly moving them around to maximize the space. I suggest having a group meeting place outside of the Fantasmic area. We used FastPass for this show. It fills up quickly!

Since the whole family has been in 2016, there have been a LOT of changes at Hollywood Studios. First, there’s Toy Story Land. This has 3 attractions… Toy Story Mania with a new entrance (same ride as Disneyland though), Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash. Slinky Dog is THE ride in the land, and one of the biggest lineups in the park, besides the rides in Galaxy’s Edge that is…

Speaking of new things, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge! Now, we haven’t been to this area in HS yet, but we HAVE been in Disneyland and we’ve been keeping up to date on things, so we have a great guide for you right here: Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge: Everything You Need to Know. The biggest things to know are that for the foreseeable future, there is an “online boarding group” required for Rise of the Resistance… and as of February 18th 2020 you will be able to FastPass the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (Pro Tip: You can also ride this as a single rider!). Get there super early to *hopefully* get your RotR boarding group.

For the rest of our first impressions of Hollywood Studios, head over here.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom


Here you have theme park meets a zoo.  A lot of our group really enjoyed it (me, me, me!). It’s kind of fun to see real animals along the way. Highlights of this park were Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris (basically a real safari… PRO TIP: Go in the morning before the animals get tired), and Dinosaur (like Indiana Jones Adventure for Disneyland peeps). We were also pleasantly surprised by the Primeval Whirl!

The Kali River Rapids were nowhere near as fun as the Grizzly River Run in DCA. (Why do they insist on spraying you in the face so much on this one???) When we were there, they were still building “Pandora – The World of Avatar” and honestly I need to go back just for that. 

To read our first impressions about Animal Kingdom go here.
To read about how Erica and Danny rope dropped Flight of Passage in Pandora, go here.



It’s basically a foodie heaven. If that’s not your thing, there is plenty more to experience in this park. The whole World Showcase was so much fun just to walk around and explore the different countries. You could buy a passport, or they gave each of our kids a free Duffy fan. The kids could colour the front of it and then at each different country they had artists that would sign each one. Our kids really loved this!

Also really fun to know, in each “section” they hire people from those countries (hello 10 month program I wish I knew about before I got married!) so it is really cool to ask them questions.

Because we knew so little about Walt Disney World at the time, we didn’t know how amazing it was that we got to be there for the International Flower & Garden Festival! There are only four festivals per year… Flower & Garden (Spring), Food & Wine (Fall), Festival of the Holidays (Christmas) and Festival of the Arts (Winter)

You can click here for our guide on to the Festival of the Arts.
And to hear about our first impressions of Epcot check out our post

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon

This water park, I think, is more for older kids/teens and adults for the most part. One look at the wave that came out of the simulator was the first time in my life I have regretted being outnumbered by my kids. With so many young kids, it was overwhelming. The waves go up to 6 feet high. Do yourself a favour and just go watch a video on YouTube with the waves. It’s BANANAS. They do alternate the big waves with the smaller waves, so you could get out before it became too much. I just didn’t feel like we could relax as much with the surf pool.

This place was super rad, and had the same set up us Blizzard Beach for littles. It had more thrilling water slides than Blizzard Beach. They had these two roller coaster type water slides (Crush ‘n’ Gusher) that were unreal! 

For kids that were too big for the smaller kid area, and too small for the bigger thrills, it was hard to find enough for them to do. If thrill rides are your thing, you will find there is a lot for you here. There is a pool with actual snorkeling! My kids were not brave enough to try it but I got the chance to do it and I loved it. 

Disney’s Blizzard Beach

We loved everything about Blizzard Beach. We loved that it was like Christmas. Our parents loved the lazy river with the two babies because they could nap and laze around the park a couple of times. We loved the ski lift up to the family ride (Teamboat Springs). Honestly, we must’ve done that ride 100 times. We loved the food options, coffee, teen area, and water slides. For the kids aged 3-9 this really was the best water park. Our kids asked to come back several times on our days off. We only did Typhoon Lagoon once but did Blizzard Beach three times.

For our complete thoughts about the water parks, check out our blog post here: WDW: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.

Mini Golf

We had eight “Water Park and More” passes and so we did Blizzard Beach and mini golf on the same day because it’s on the same property. That day used two of the eight “and More” days that we had. See our post here for an update on how they are doing the Water Park and More tickets. We did Disney’s Winter Summerland, a Christmas themed course. It was great! The other course is Disney’s Fantasia Gardens. We chose to skip the mini golf with our eleven month old since he wasn’t walking quite yet. However, one year would’ve made all the difference. We went mini golfing the year after in our home town, and he absolutely loved it.

Night Off


One of the nights our parents graciously gave us the night off! They took all 7 of the kids for a walk to McDonald’s and back to the hotel. This gave us parents an amazing night to remember!

There’s so much to do around WDW. One of the things I really regret not doing over the 15 days was seeing more of the other Disney Hotels. I don’t think we realized that we could just freely check out all of the lobbies and food courts etc., and I wish we had seen more. You would think with 15 days we would have had lots of time to explore. WDW is so large and there’s so much to see that we just didn’t get to see and experience all of the things we would have liked to have seen. Next time!

Heidi and I (and our husbands) took the shuttle to Disney’s BoardWalk and had dinner at an Italian restaurant called “Trattoria al Forno”. It was reasonably priced. If you like Italian I highly recommend it. Erica and I both had the Pasta alla Carbonara and I would order that again it was so good. We were able to sit on the patio, which was fantastic, then we walked the whole boardwalk, and it was a really lovely evening. We also didn’t have reservations, so it was nice to have table service and not wait too long.

It was really nice being able to pop over to Disney Springs and do some shopping baby free. We got an ice cream cone from Ghirardelli’s, which is something we always get in DCA. It gives me that warm, Disney feeling.

My husband and I went into Orlando on one of our days off and got to experience the Orlando Eye and the shopping center surrounding it. It included an aquarium, a bone museum, a Ripley’s museum, and a ton of awesome restaurants. The only thing I wish we had known was to shuttle to Disney Springs instead of taking a taxi from the hotel as it would have saved us significantly. They don’t have buses that run out of the “Disney bubble” and we didn’t have our phones active on this trip to use Uber. 

For some ideas on other things that you can do around Orlando, check out our post here.

We really thought this would be a once in a lifetime trip, and we savoured every moment. To be able to all go together was unbelievable! But we are planning the next one (surprise, surprise) and there will be at LEAST 23 of us, because we’ve (well not “we”, Danielle and Elisia and Courtenay) have added babies/toddlers since 2016. So many new things have been added since we all went in 2016. Even still, there are going to be things that aren’t open yet when we go again (so technically I guess we are planning our next 2 future trips!).

Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle

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