I know that there are a lot of families out there who pretty much only take Disney vacations, and there was a time when I found this plan to be...well, a little boring. Why limit yourself when there is so much of this world to see? But when Cadence was given the opportunity to dance in a Disney parade with her friends from Ovations, we found ourselves happily going back to a Disney property for the third time in three years.
Now I get it. I can see why people want to visit again and again. Disney World just has something special that sets it apart from other theme parks. Maybe it's the attention to details like cast members mopping water off the top of the trash cans after a strong Florida downpour. Maybe it's the cleanliness of the parks. Or, maybe it's the fact that Disney cast members just seem so gosh darn happy all the time. Whatever it is, they have this whole theme park thing down to a science. They set the bar, and one of the things I love most about them is that they continue raising that bar by keeping Walt's vision at the forefront of everything they do. I love seeing the areas of the park that are under construction or being refurbished, and decorating the barricades are quotes from Walt Disney that show why they are making improvements. And, it's those constant improvements that make people want to keep coming back year after year.
We Love the New Magic Bands
I know there were some people who were against the idea of the magic bands when they first came out, complaining about the "big brother" element of them, but we liked them.
I liked not having to dig our cards out of the backpack every time we entered the parks, and I didn't have to worry about someone's card getting lost. I also like that they know where you are in the parks because, to me, that's just one more added security precaution. Plus, it adds a whole other level to the experience on certain rides because they have customized it with your name. For example, on It's a Small World, the last scene says goodbye in every language. Well, now they specifically say goodbye to you. There's something pretty cool about seeing your name in print on a Disney ride. There is much more Disney magic going on around the park, so keep your eyes peeled!
Additionally, they have linked the magic bands to the Photo Pass, which is awesome. Again, before you'd have to dig out a card and have it scanned by the photographer, but now they just scan your band.
Improved PhotoPass and Memory Maker Services
They have also included ride photos and videos to the PhotoPass now that they have the ability to know which ride you're on at any given time. The ride photos appear in your account almost immediately, and if you have paid for the photos and activated your account, you can share the pictures on social media or via text message.
We loved being able to send our pictures back home to Grandma and Grandpa as soon as we got off the ride!
FastPass+ - Your Ticket to Dominating Walt Disney World Resort
We absolutely love the improvements that have been made to the FastPasses. It sounded a little complicated at first because you book them in advance now, but enhancing the kiosk system and linking them to the Magic Bands was a real time saver.
If you don't know how it all works, check out this page for more information. In a nutshell, you'll need a Disney account set up. Log in to reserve up to three FastPasses per person per day. Once you use all three, you can log in to the My Disney Experience mobile app on your phone and reserve more. You can reserve one at a time - over and over - until they run out or the parks close.
Since we were staying on Disney Property (The Disney Pop Century Resort), we could reserve our FastPasses 60 days prior to our check in date. Try to book them at the same park as early as possible. This way you can book more for the rest of the day. We actually used 7 FastPass+ in one day at Magic Kingdom and rode absolutely everything we wanted ride. It was fantastic!
Our Other Secret Weapon
If you read about our visit to Universal Resort Orlando, then you may remember an app called Lines by touringplans.com. I really can't say enough good things about it. Do yourself a favor and get this app and pay the minimal fee for the 1-year subscription. We learned about this app in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. This app along with FastPasses have saved us literally HOURS in the parks and allowed us to make the most of our time.
New Rides and Attractions We Loved
There is a reason why the wait time is so long for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
This low-key coaster is big on theme. You should go early and wait in the regular queue at least once because the Imagineers included all kinds of interactive elements for kids to enjoy while they wait.
It's an instant classic, putting in firmly in the 'Best of Walt Disney World' category.
In Epcot, the re-imagined Soarin' was amazing.
It now takes you on a virtual journey around the world. The images are beautiful, and you really do feel like you are flying above the scenes.
Festival of the Lion King is now showing in the Animal Kingdom, and is a 30-minute production full of acrobatics, singing, dancing, trapeze, and amazing set pieces. We loved it, but you'll want to get a FastPass for this one. It's very popular.
Over in Hollywood Studios is a new production called For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration. It's a 30-minute musical that, in typical Disney fashion, gets everyone singing and laughing. There were enough one-liners in there to keep the adults amused, and the sing-along portions got the kids engaged.
We just missed the opening of the new Frozen ride at the Norway pavilion in Epcot, but we did get to meet Anna and Elsa in their new home. The ride is a re-imagined Maelstrom, which we rode three years ago, so I am very curious to see how it has changed. Oh darn, guess we'll have to visit again! And, speaking of a return trip, we could see the construction happening at Animal Kingdom on the new Avatar inspired attractions. I'm sure that will be awesome, as will all the new Star Wars stuff at Hollywood Studios. I can't wait!
The Nighttime Magic Just Keeps Getting Better
No one does fireworks better than Disney (well, maybe Paris), and we were all very impressed with the new show at Hollywood Studios. I mean, they've combined lasers that look like lightsabers, scenes from the Star Wars movies, and John Williams' music with fireworks. This show premiered only a day or two before we got there, and it was awesome!
Well done, Disney. It doesn't get much geekier or cooler than that. You can read all about the awesomeness here.
The new show, Celebrate the Magic, at Magic Kingdom is pretty great too. I love the projections on the castle that just make it come alive with all of our favorite characters. And, the real life Tinkerbell flying over the crowd was a nice touch as well.
Great Attractions You May Have Missed (We did on our first trip)
Because we were so efficient with our FastPasses, we took the time to check out some other shows in the parks that we had not gotten to see before. In Hollywood Studios, there is a production of Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage. This is a good 30-minute production of Beauty and the Beast, and it was worth seeing. It also gives you a chance to get off your feet and cool off in the shade.
Other things we enjoyed were the Hall of Presidents and the Country Bears Jamboree. The Country Bears were so much fun that the kids wanted to see them twice!
In Animal Kingdom, Flights of Wonder is a show with trained birds and their trainers with a loose storyline that keeps everything moving along. I had no idea you could train so many birds!
In Hollywood Studios, we finally got around to seeing the Indiana Jones™ Epic Stunt Spectacular! We really liked this one! I'd recommend a FastPass for this also, as the line can get pretty long and queues up early.
The Best Food Around the Parks
The last time we did Disney World, we did the meal plan, which worked out well for the character dinners, but we noticed a couple of drawbacks for our family. First, it was just too much food. With every meal coming with dessert, and the portion sizes of the adult meals, we just had trouble eating it all.
Second, the full service meals took up a lot of time. Sometimes, by the time we hopped parks to get to the restaurant, and then sat through all the courses of the meal, we'd lose 2 to 2 1/2 hours. This year, we just paid as we went, and we usually just shared a couple of adult meals with the kids. It was plenty of food for us, especially when you consider all the delicious treats you can get between meals too.
We all agreed that most of the food at Disney World is pretty average, but there are a couple of quick service places that we found to be really good. Our favorites include Sunshine Seasons in the Land pavilion at Epcot that features fresh produce grown right there at Epcot. And, their desserts are some of my favorite treats. I like the whoopie pies. Carrick is a fan of the key lime tart. Their Asian fusion dishes are delicious as well.
The Yak and Yeti quick service in Animal Kingdom is also really tasty. Their fried rice was so good. We loved the Jungle Juice slushes at Animal Kingdom for a snack too. Those are almost as good as Dole Whip! (Almost). And, we also discovered the fajitas at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom. Very yummy.
Another great place for between-meal treats is Big Top Souvenirs in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. We all had some of their beautiful chocolate goodies, and I can vouch for the cake pop. Delicious!
We experienced so many new things this time around at Disney World, including seeing Cadence dance with Dance the World in their first ever Epcot parade. It was an amazing trip, and we can't wait to go again to see what's new in a few years. I don't think we'll ever outgrow Disney.
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Visiting Walt Disney World Resort was part of our #SummerRoadTrip2016. Here are the other fun things we did on this trip:
- The Best Parasailing in Florida
- Visiting Graceland With Kids
- AftT's Guide to Wizarding Around Universal Orlando Resort
- Our Favorite Gear for a Summer Road Trip
- The Best Family Resorts in Gulf Coast Florida
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