When you plan your first visit to Disney World, you can get overwhelmed quickly by the choices. With four distinct parks that cover a large area, Disney World can be daunting. Where do you stay? Which park should you go to and what rides and experiences are must sees? If it is your first time to Disney World, I recommend staying on property. Here’s why.
- Easy access! There are 31 Disney owned properties and they range from budget friendly hotels and campsites to deluxe villas and suites. Some of these properties, such as the luxurious Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and the more moderately priced Contemporary and Polynesian resorts, are located on the Monorail system. It links the hotels to the theme parks. Other hotels inside the park such as my favorite, Animal Kingdom Lodge, require shuttles and/or ferries to the parks. Being able to take a break or a nap mid day becomes much easier when you are staying inside Disney. You don’t have to travel as far and in my experience, you are more willing to return to the parks at night. Whenever I stay off property, I never end up returning to the park after the mid-day nap. Too much hassle. At least one night, I recommend returning to see the fireworks and parades.
- Extra Magic hours! Every day, one of the four theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, opens its doors one hour earlier for guests who stay in Disney-owned properties. What an amazing way to get a jumpstart on your day! This can be the difference between waiting 20 minutes for a coveted ride or 3 hours! If you’re an early riser or your children are, why not enjoy the extra hour in the park.
- Free transportation from the airport! Disney offers a complimentary Orlando airport- to- hotel bus service called the Magical Express. You should reserve this service in advance and Disney will provide you with special luggage tags. When you arrive in Orlando, you skip the baggage claim and head directly to the Disney welcome center. We’ve used this several times. My boys love watching the Disney cartoons inside the bus. And we love having our bags delivered to our room, for free!
- Free self parking at the theme parks and resort hotels! When we didn’t take the Magical Express, we rented a car at the airport and drove ourselves to the parks. Daily parking in the theme park costs $20. That gives you access to parking at all four parks. We felt good staying on property and saving that daily $20 charge.
- MagicBands! When you stay on property, you receive a complimentary MagicBand. It is waterproof wristband that you can use as your room key, your key to get into the park and your charge card to make any purchases. You don’t need to bring your wallet or any other cards inside the park. You receive the MagicBands ahead of your stay, sign into your Disney account and link them to your reservation. My boys personalized their MagicBands and used them to unlock special surprises throughout the resort. We liked having one less thing to carry in our pockets.
- Speaking of buying anything- staying on property allows you to use the free delivery service. We only had to carry our balloons! You can purchase souvenirs anywhere inside the park and they will be delivered for free to your room by the next afternoon.
Staying off property has its advantages too. You can find great deals at resorts that have shuttles to the theme parks. When you stay off property, you can choose how much Disney you want. Now, it’s up to you to decide. Do you prefer staying on or off property?
My family loves all things Disney and the 3 day Disney Dream cruise to the Bahamas did not let us down!
Here are 8 things to consider for your Disney Dream cruise to the Bahamas:
- Bring your pirate gear! Pirate night kicked off with a buccaneer themed dinner, followed by a stage show featuring Mickey and the gang. It was fun to see everyone dressed in their pirate gear. The night ended with a spectacular display of fireworks.
- Plan an excursion! Everyday, you can choose to stay on board or take an excursion. In Nassau, we interacted with the dolphins at the Atlantis resort. My three and five year olds were hesitant at first, but once they saw how docile the dolphins were, they waded into the water. Even though it was an extra expense, it was our favorite excursion. How often do you get to pet a dolphin?
- Get off the boat at Castaway Cay. This is Disney’s private island. Rent a cabana or lounge on a complimentary beach chair. Disney provides it all- the towels and a huge lunch buffet, frequented by many of the Disney characters. We took a glass bottom boat tour. Our crew taught us about the native fish and the correct pronunciation of Cay—it’s “Key.” After the boat tour, we grabbed beach chairs and jumped in the ocean. There’s a nice set up with waterslides near the shore.
- Enjoy the phenomenal Disney productions. Each Broadway style show lasted about 45 minutes – the right length for young families. We sat in the front and in the back during two different shows and our boys could see well. These high energy productions kept us entertained each night.
- Take advantage of the kids club. Our boys spent a few hours there while we had a quiet dinner. The boys wanted to return but we had too many other fun activities planned, which brings me to my next piece of advice…
- Plan your day. You can be as busy or relaxed as you want. In hindsight, I would have slowed down. We tried to do every event and by 8 pm, we were exhausted. We liked our oceanview stateroom with bunk beds for the boys and a curtain to draw so the adults had some privacy. It also had a great balcony with chairs and I liked that there was a water closet separate from the shower and the sink. If one of the boys had a bathroom emergency while someone was showering, it wasn’t a problem. Disney does a great job with those little details that are important to young families.
- Choose your dining time asap. We missed the window for the early seating at 6 pm and had an 8 pm dinner time. Each night, you sit with the same people and have the same wait staff, but you eat at a different themed restaurant. We are early eaters, so the second dining time at 8 pm didn’t work for us. We tried it the first night and my boys fell asleep in their food! Our waiter said it was possible to change but we never requested it. Instead, we ate as a family at a buffet area. Chicken nugget paradise!
8) Be ready for crowds. We went while school was in session, which we thought would be less crowded, but the pools were packed. Disney cruise line, following US Public Health service requirements, requires all swimmers to be potty trained. No swim diapers allowed in the pools or on the slides. There are splash areas where toddlers in swim diapers can go. Our boys were too short for the AquaDuck, the on board water slide, but they enjoyed a smaller water slide on the pool deck. We loved the beach at Castaway Cay and the large pools and slides at Atlantis.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience. It was crowded but that’s something we expect when we do anything Disney related. This cruise was a fun way to introduce our family to the high seas. We could feel the boat moving at dinner but for the most part, it was smooth sailing. Disney cruise line pays attention to the details and makes cruising with a young family a pleasant experience.
We’ve always wanted to take the kids to Hawaii, but we were never brave enough to take the 8 hour flight from Texas. Enter Disney’s Aulani resort on Oahu. Suddenly, Hawaii seemed possible, even with our young kids! We spent a week enjoying the resort and there was still more to see.
Here’s my top 5:
1) Be an early riser and claim your seat at the beach or pool! Both are family friendly. At the pool, we explored the 2 water slides and the climbing structure at Menehune Bridge.
We also enjoyed the character pool parties at the main pool, which is zero entry level. At the beach, swim, snorkel, paddleboard or kayak! There are virutally no waves and the water is clear enough to see the fish.
My boys had a blast chasing after the fish. We brought our own swim googles. You can rent the snorkels, paddleboards and kayaks. The beach toys are free. My boys loved making sandcastles!
2) Rainbow Reef- My five year old grew very brave and decided to go into the Rainbow Reef, the island’s only saltwater lagoon reef, full of thousands of colorful fish.
It’s only about 8 feet deep and perfect for beginner snorklers. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. Everyone wears an inflatable life jacket and there are lifeguards on duty. The best part- there was a observation deck and a viewing window so I could take pictures of my son’s first snorkeling experience. Awesome!
3) Aunty’s Beach house: This is Aulani’s kid’s club. The kids can go for open play or for the planned activities. Save yourself some headaches and sign up for the activities before you arrive. I saw some groggy parents lining up at 6:30 am to get their child a spot! Not my idea of a good time on vacation. During their time at Aunty’s house, my boys made space goo with Stitch. This was free, but there were some paid experiences too.
4) Get get the daily Iwa! This is your daily guide to what’s happening at the resort. There’s a phone number you can call at 8 am- which we called at exactly 8 am every morning- to find out where the characters will be. We found Minnie and Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Stitch and Chip and Dale.
These two chipmunks were the best; they always interacted and danced with my boys whenever they saw them. We also signed up for the breakfast with the characters. Honestly, this was unnecessary as we got photos and interactions with all the same characters just roaming the resort. With this resort, you get the Disney flair- a handful of character sightings and a character breakfast, without the rides.
5) The Starlight Hui- It is very late at night, usually from 8-9 pm, but if you take a nap in the afternoon and can make it, this show is a must see!
My boys loved it. We didn’t even plan to see it; we just saw a line and jumped on in. It’s crazy how Disney gets you to do that! We showed up at 6:30 pm and waited in line for an hour! Be prepared for a wait if you want to be in the front row. The family next to us played Heads Up on their IPhones which looked fun. They also brought a pizza from one of the resort cafes and a kit to build snowman cookies, also from the resort cafe. It was a great idea to keep their kids busy! The pre show is from 7:30-8. That’s when they teach the kids to hula which is fun to watch. Then at 8, the magic starts.
Hula dancers grace the stage while fire dancers perform a tame version of their dance. We had two amazing ukulele players who played all my favorite Christmas carols, plus the Stars Wars theme. It was probably my favorite part! The Disney characters showed up at the very end of the show and led a few dances.
Across the street from Aulani, there is a shopping plaza with a coffee shop, convenience store, restaurant and clothing store just to name a few. Hauling groceries back and forth with two preschoolers didn’t work for us so we rented a car. You can rent a car at the resort or the airport. While it’s not cheap to rent and park a car at Aulani, it was worth it for us. We drove to Starbucks, McDonald’s and Jamba Juice within two miles of the resort. One day, we even ventured into Honolulu- be prepared for traffic early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
We visited the Honolulu aquarium (we spent about an hour there and felt that was enough time) and splashed in the famous Waikiki beach (very crowded!). If you don’t feel like renting a car, you can take paid excursions from Aulani too. Check out Aulani’s website to plan your trip!