Our family has been staying in Florida all of February as part of our year of nomadic living. We just spent seven days at Disney World, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about the experience. This is by no means a comprehensive Disney planning page—there are like five thousand of those on the Internet. These are just my thoughts. (There are like five thousand of those, too, but I narrowed it down to fifteen, just to be nice.) Here goes:
1 Early February is a PERFECT time to come to Disney World. The weather is warm, but mild. The park crowds are low up until President’s Day weekend. And everyone who lives north of the Mason-Dixon line knows that February is the most torturous winter month, when you’re so sick of cold and snow that you seriously consider dropping some serious dough to escape it.
It was hot enough one day (85!) that we had to hit the splash area. Sorry, Chicago friends.
2 Speaking of serious dough, it would be insanely easy to spend $10,000 on a Disney World vacation. And you could easily drop twice that, if you really went all-out. The 2-bedroom suite at the Grand Floridian (Disney’s swankiest resort) is $2600 a night. A NIGHT, PEOPLE. You certainly don’t have to spend anywhere near that, but it’s an option. For whom? I have no idea. But it’s an option nonetheless.
The Disney Boardwalk is free, though! And they have awesome magic shows running several times a night.
3 For the record, we didn’t spend nearly that much. We didn’t have to fly or rent a car, we didn’t stay at the Disney properties, and our condo was already an accounted-for living expense ($1200 for the month, if you really wanted to know). So basically, all we had for vacation costs were the park tickets, parking ($15/day) and food. We brought our own lunch, snacks, and water bottles in, so we saved on food, though we did buy some treats, a handful of meals, and one ridiculously expensive character breakfast in the parks. We also don’t buy souvenirs other than the smashed pennies—which I used to think were stupid, but now think is the best invention ever—for 51 cents a piece. So for seven days at Disney, we spent less than $2000. Not too shabby for a major Disney vacation as a family of five.
Scenes from the Indiana Jones stunt show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Despite the seemingly high cost of tickets, you really do get your money’s worth in entertainment.
4 $10,000 or $20,000 would have been nice, though. Truth be told, even if we had that much expendable cash, I doubt we’d spend it on a Disney vacation (I had a hard time not feeling indulgent as it was—it’s just who I am). But you could create a true fairy tale experience for yourself if you wanted to and had the means. The Disney “magic” is mostly what you’re paying for anyway, and as a friend so eloquently hashtagged, #momoneymomagic. So true. 🙂
The girls are fuzzy, but Norway in Epcot is pretty. And empty at 9:00 in the morning. More on that later.
5 Seven days may seem long, but we could have used another day. We took a day off in the middle, so we didn’t get too wiped out. But eight days probably would have been perfect, so we could go to each of the main parks twice. If you only hit each park one day, you miss a lot. The shows are amazing, and the theming is so perfectly executed, it’s nice to be able to take some time to really soak it in, rather than just hustling from ride to ride. The cost difference between seven and eight days is only $10 per ticket, so in hindsight, since we were still going to be in the area, we should have paid the extra $50 to add another day. But you can only add days if you haven’t used all the days on your ticket yet, which, of course, I didn’t find out until after our seventh day. Oh well. Can’t complain.
6 For real, though, you can’t complain at Disney World. It’s practically sacrilegious. Anything you complain about at Disney World is a First World Problem at its finest. There’s no way to complain at a Disney park without sounding like a privileged, whiny brat.
This is the only face you’re allowed to have at Disney World.
Or this one. All smiles.
Even this terra cotta soldier in the China pavilion knows you have to smile at Disney.
7 It takes a few days to get your “park legs.” Even my husband—who is a runner and in fabulous shape—felt it. Running an hour a day is a lot different than walking all day for several days straight. The entirety of Walt Disney World is the size of San Francisco (yes, really), so there’s a LOT of walking involved. And standing. Shoes matter. And even with good shoes, your feet still hurt by the end of the day. After three or four days, you’ve built up stamina and don’t feel it nearly as much. But the first couple of days are doozies.
8 If you really don’t like people, don’t go to Disney World. We were there during the lowest time of the year, and it still felt like there were still a lot of people. The lines were short (except for Peter Pan’s Flight in Magic Kingdom—what is with that ride??), but there are still people, people, people everywhere. I can’t even imagine what it’s like during peak times.
Sometimes people are fun, though.
9 The weather forecast in Florida is only reliable one day ahead. The forecast changes constantly. It’s mostly been gorgeous, but we had a couple of brief rainy spells in the parks. One day, we got on the Winnie the Pooh ride and it was sunny, and when we got off, there was 1/2 inch of water on the ground. We didn’t see a drop of rain. It literally dumped during our three minute ride. So weird.
10 Even though you can’t complain at Disney World, I’m going to give an example of when it might happen anyway. Let’s say it’s hot, it’s crowded, the kids are tired, your feet hurt, you’re all hungry, a squirrel broke into your cooler bag while you were on a ride (true story), and you’re having hard time finding a restaurant where everyone with food allergies can eat that won’t also clear your bank account—then it’s a little sucky for a spell. And you plop down on a bench, ask yourself where the magic went, feel guilty for being a privileged whiner, and try to calculate exactly how un-American it is to hate Disney World.
We found this remnant of a sandwich from our cooler six feet away from our stroller. They broke the zipper of the cooler open! Stupid little rodents.
11 And yet, Disney magic prevails. It’s a real thing, that magic. Even when you slip into a cranky spell, something always happens to suck you right back to the magic. Maybe a group of Chinese acrobats appear out of nowhere and wow you with their freaky contortionist talents. Or maybe Mary Poppins walks by in her pretty white dress, sending you emotionally careening back to your childhood. Or maybe you taste the chocolate mousse in the France pavilion at Epcot and reach a state of culinary nirvana you never knew existed. (Seriously, that mousse is worth the cost of admission.) Disney really does have the magic thing down. Even if you want to complain, you can’t complain for long. Disney just won’t stand for it. No sir.
How can you be grumpy when this is happening in front of you?
And this is my favorite “magic” photo, during the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle. Look at those faces! (It also illustrates why 2-year-olds get free admission to the Disney Parks. See our little friend up there with his face and ears covered.)
12 Not only does Disney have the magic down, but they’ve mastered the mundane logistical details as well. It’s hard not to be impressed with how efficiently Disney manages the tens of thousands of people going in and out of the parks each day. You’d expect parking to be a hassle, but it’s a breeze. They direct you exactly where to park, you walk down to the end of your row, hop on a tram that comes every couple of minutes to transport you to the park, and there you are. To get to Magic Kingdom, you hop on a monorail or a ferry that takes you to the park gates. Getting out is a breeze, too. The way they angle and organize the cars, you just drive forward and out. It’s just very, very well-organized.
Since a photo of the parking lot would be really boring, here’s a guy doing a handstand on a stack of chairs. Mundane logistics, I tell you.
13 It’s surprisingly difficult to take great photos at a Disney park. If you’ve been on my blog for any length of time, you know how much I love to take pictures. But there are a few things that make it tricky at Disney World:
Sun. It’s usually very sunny. That might not seem like a problem, but full sun means crappy lighting for photos. People are either squinting or shadowed. And because it’s so far south, twilight—the good lighting time—goes by really fast.
People. There are people everywhere, and they all want photos in front of the iconic scenes, so getting a nice shot of just your family or kids is practically impossible.
Distraction. You’re focused on making the most of your time, there’s a lot of hustling to rides you really want to experience, and the kids are not keen on stopping to take pictures. You’re also trying to take in the immensity of the awesomeness of the world Disney has created, so snapping photos isn’t always on your mind.
Futility. That last point is only somewhat true. Taking pictures was almost always on my mind, but I didn’t feel like photos would do it justice. You can find photos of Disney World all over the place. It’s not the same as being there. There’s very much a sense that anything you photograph just isn’t going to capture the experience adequately. And to come close to capturing it, you’d have to take photos constantly and miss out on the actual experience. So I finally gave up and just took a few pictures for posterity.
See? Squinty. But still cute.
Going to Magic Kingdom for a second day meant we got to go on the Riverboat and go out to Tom Sawyer’s Island as well. I doubt many people who go for one day partake in those attractions unless they’re seniors. (No offense to seniors—I love the Riverboat. And Tom Sawyer’s Island was fun to explore.)
Dole Pineapple Whip. Yes please and thank you.
Before the fireworks, they do this whole show with music where they transform the castle into a gazillion different things. It’s AMAZING. Like blow-me-away kind of cool. I just loved it. Again, impossible to capture on film.
And this? This I just thought was adorable. BoyWonder giving The Muse some love. 🙂
14 The water here stinks. Like, literally reeks. It smells like sulfur, which smells like rotten eggs. Even with a Brita filter, it’s hard to completely get rid of that smell. I’ve gotten used to it, but the kids and hubby can’t stand it. It’s very strong in our condo. In Disney World, sometimes the drinking fountains have the sulfur smell, and sometimes they don’t. It seems a bit random. But if you come from somewhere with unsmelly water, it’s very noticeable.
Hey, Dolittle—what do you think of the water in Florida?
“It’s so gross!”
15 Disney has perfected perfection. I seriously want to live on Main Street USA.
Especially at night. Seriously impossible to capture in a photo.
Or Epcot’s World Showcase.
Germany would be lovely, but any country will do.
Cinderella’s Castle wouldn’t be too shabby, either.
Especially if I got fireworks out my window every night.
There’s a lot more I could say, but you’ve been here long enough. In separate post, I’ll explain how we managed to avoid a 3-hour wait to meet Elsa and Anna from Frozen—the only Disney princesses either of our girls have ever shown any affinity towards.
And we’ll have some stories to tell from Universal Studios as well, as we start our 3-day stint there tomorrow. Harry Potter World, here we come!
Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.