We are a Disney family. Eddie and I grew up on “The Wonderful World of Disney,” we had Disney songs in our wedding and our son Jonah discovered “The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” as soon as he could sit unassisted in front of the TV. Choosing Walt Disney World as the destination for our 20th wedding anniversary vacation was an obvious choice.
Travel Systems: American Airlines (booked via Disney), Magical Express, Disney Bus System, Monorail, Disney Ferryboats
Parks Visited: Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Downtown Disney.
Resorts Visited: Port Orleans French Quarter (booked rooms), Port Orleans Riverside, Disney’s Contemporary Resort (Chef Mickey’s), Disney’s Polynesian (‘Ohana restaurant), Disney’s Ft. Wilderness Campgrounds.
I love to do research (I am a nerd), so I read every Disney blog and tips website I could find to get the best trip our budget could handle. We chose to stay at one of the Disney resorts since we were flying in from Oklahoma and neither of us likes to drive. I chose the Port Orleans French Quarter, a moderate resort, and after visiting two of the deluxe resorts, the Contemporary and the Polynesian, and one of the value resorts, the Ft Wilderness campgrounds, we were very happy with our choice. It’s a smaller resort and farther away from the parks (about a 15 minute Disney bus ride to the Magic Kingdom, but closer to Epcot and Downtown Disney) and very quiet and peaceful with gorgeous landscaping and a Disneyesque Mardi Gras theme.
We stayed in Building 2 which is right across from the pool and very close to the lobby, food court, bus depot and the boats to Downtown Disney. The beautiful magnolia, palm and live oak trees muffled a lot of the sounds from the pool and the quiet, shady resort was a peaceful break from the incessant “OMG, it’s Mickey!!” joy at the parks at the end of the day.
We also chose to participate in the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan. I’ve read reviews that it can save a family up to 30% in food costs, but like anything else, it takes a little planning and fine print reading to really make it worth it. After purchasing the Magic Your Way Package (moderate resort + parks tickets for 5 days) and flights for 3, adding the dining package wasn’t, to me, a significant cost (there’s a reason this is a food blog and not a budgeting one, haha). The Deluxe Dining Plan allows three full meals plus 2 snacks per person a night. THIS IS MORE FOOD THAN ANYONE SHOULD EAT. I wanted us to have better and healthier choices than just churros and pretzels at the park, and the majority of the table service restaurants take the dining plan, so making dining reservations in advance allows you to get more bang for your buck (especially at four-star restaurants like Le Celliers at Epcot or character meals like Chef Mickey’s or The Crystal Palace). Ultimately, it was worth it for us, because I felt a lot better signing the $80 tab at a breakfast where my 3 year-old ate 2 strawberries and a bite of waffle considering I had already paid for it and it would have cost the same if I’d bought him a donut from a street vendor. Plus you can redeem your leftover snack entitlements at Goofy’s Candy Co. (in Downtown Disney) or any of the snack, pastry, confectionery stores, etc, as long as they’re under $5 per item, for souvenirs to take home.
One thing we did to keep costs down was to buy several small, Disney-oriented toys at Michael’s Crafts before we left. We put one out every night after Jonah went to bed with a card decorated to say they were from different characters and sprinkled them with pixie dust. Jonah woke up in the morning to a gift delivered by Tinkerbell from some of his favorite characters. It was one of his favorite parts of the trip.
Disney Hollywood Studios
Our flight arrived at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and we took the Magical Express (where my husband lost his cell phone, vacation hazard #1) to our hotel, got our Magic Your Way cards (which served as our room key, parks ticket and food “credit card”) and hopped the bus to Hollywood Studios. We’d chosen Hollywood Studios for our half day because it had the fewest things we wanted to see and because it was going to be super busy Saturday and Sunday for a Star Wars weekend. Although we’re both Star Wars geeks, we’d weighed the pros and cons of doing the Star Wars weekend and it just seemed too crowded for the experience (the guest was Darth Maul, eh) with a three-year-old who’s more into Woody and Mickey at this point.
Rides & Attractions: Disney Junior Live! (this is fantastic if you have a pre-schooler. The Clubhouse gang as puppets, involves characters from Little Einsteins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Handy Manny). The Great Movie Ride (kind of like an elaborate wax museum, except you’re in a moving ride), Muppet 3-D Vision (fun if you’re a big Muppets fan, skip it if you’re not) and Star Tours, the motion simulation Star Wars ride (OMG ride this even if you’ve never seen Star Wars!) Star Tours was fantastic! We went through hyperdrive with C-3PO and through a pod race on Tattoine. Easily my favorite ride of the entire trip, and there was no wait — we walked right on (this was a Thursday afternoon, so…). After the ride was over, my typically laid back son said, “That was awesome! It was like Star Wars!” Considering the most Star Wars he’s seen are the opening credits before he gets distracted, kudos to the ride designers.
Food: We had lunch at the French Quarter when we arrived. The one downside to the FQ (unless you’re a “bring PB&J from home” traveler or, like us, plan to do most of your meals at the parks) is that it only has a food court, not a restaurant. The food is food court level good, but not much variety. We had salads and sandwiches (yes, the first thing I ate at Disney was a green salad. Go me.) We had planned to eat at Pizza Planet at Hollywood Studios, but it was closed (it is also a bit of a letdown from the Pizza Planet in Toy Story, your local Incredible Pizza or Celebration Station or other regional pizza-slash-arcade is probably better). We had burgers and fries from the ABC Commissary which was decent but has limited selection (and since we had the deluxe dining plan, we actually had burgers, fries, large drinks *and* a dessert — again, a bargain for what you pay, but way more than you’d actually want or need after a day at Disney). Snack: Mickey Premium bar! Kind of like a Dove Bar, but Mickey-shaped and only-at-Disney, so the calories magically melt away!
Cool Down: A quick dip in the pool and hot tub and then in bed by 10:30 to get up at 5:00 to get ready for our 7:00 a.m. Chef Mickey’s reservation.
Chef Mickey’s & The Magic Kingdom
Despite all of my research, I have to confess that I overbooked us on day two. I made both of our character meal reservations, Chef Mickey’s (breakfast) and The Crystal Palace (lunch) on the same day, as well as our “event dining” at ‘Ohana’s Hawaiian Restaurant for dinner. This is probably also a good time to mention that the memory card from our digital camera won’t format, so I am relying on pics from my cell for days one and two, and they’re not the best.
Chef Mickey’s is worth the cost (our buffet breakfast would have been $80 for 3 without the dining plan) if you or your child are really into the core Mickey characters. It’s rare to have a character encounter with Mickey and Minnie at the parks (although Daisy, Donald and Pluto are pretty easy to find) so if you want that Mickey or Minnie personal shot or autograph, this is the way to go. (My only pics of Mickey and Minnie with Jonah are on my corrupted memory card, here’s hoping it gets rescued). The food offers many healthy choices, and although it’s known for its Mickey-shaped waffles, most of the resort hotels also have them on their buffets. Fun, boisterous (twirl your napkin!) and you’re pretty much guaranteed a personal visit to your table from Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. Getting to the bus stop at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. reservation was worth it, we had long visits from each character despite the fact that my son was too starstruck to speak to any of them. (He was also mystified, despite being told beforehand, that the “fur” characters don’t talk. He was really confused when he saw them “talk” in the stage shows.)
We took the Monorail from the Contemporary Resort to the Magic Kingdom and we were first in line for the rope drop (park opening) and got to toss pixie dust (confetti) to celebrate the opening of a new day. Getting there early (on a Friday) meant that we walked on to a lot of the most popular rides with no wait.
Rides and Attractions: Fantasyland: Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party (tea cups). Adventureland: Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean. Peter Pan was fun, It’s a Small World is nostalgic and kitschy but maybe not something for older kids and Jonah loved the carpet ride most (although I think that was longest line we stood in — about 15 minutes — the entire time we were at Disney). Pirates is visually amazing; it’s huge! Animatronic Johnny Depp will be in my dreams tonight.
Characters: We found Alice and the White Rabbit next to the tea cups and got a great pic (you’ll have to trust me; it’s on the corrupted memory card) and Alice and I are BFF now. Woody and Jessie were in Frontierland next to Splash Mountain. My child is NOT camera happy (he somehow skipped that gene from me) and since I was determined to pose him in front of every mouse-shaped shrubbery and statuary in Disney, I didn’t force him to do too many character encounters (we also skipped the autograph book since he’s too young to care).
We had told Jonah that he could take one “friend” with him to Disney World (he’s an indulged only child and a “Mickey Store” fanatic, he has the whole Disney gang) and he chose to take his Daisy Duck. Eddie and I were afraid we’d have to keep up with her, but my kid lugged that duck on 4 flights and through two theme parks and never lost sight of her once. Which was great, because we found the character he *did* care about meeting right in Town Square as you enter the park, and she couldn’t have been more excited that she was his favorite.
Food: Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, Lunch at The Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and Friends, dinner at the Polynesian Resort’s ‘Ohana restaurant. Jonah and Eddie had Mickey-shaped pretzels for snacks in Frontierland that Eddie said were “just okay” but they were totally cute. I am not a big Winnie the Pooh fan (sorry!) so Jonah’s not been very exposed to it, either, but I do like Eeyore and the lunch buffet at the Crystal Palace was full of veggies and lean meats, so I had made lunch reservations for us. It’s lovely and the food was fantastic, so if you’re a Hundred Acre Wood fan, it’s a must-do. Dinner at the Hawaiian-themed ‘Ohana was a little hectic — Eddie was so busy guiding Jonah through the coconut races and the hula dancing contest that he barely got to eat — and it’s a multi-course meal that involves honey-coriander wings, ginger sauced broccoli (fantastic!), pork fried dumplings and then skewers of oak-fired chicken, steak, pork loin and shrimp and ends with bread pudding served ala mode with bananas and caramel sauce. You’ll never want to eat again (and you’ll still have 2 snack entitlements!).
Cool down: A stop at Once Upon a Toy in Downtown Disney to get Jonah’s Disney souvenir, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head Disney-only accessories, followed by a quick dip in the hot tub and then bed because the day had been epic.
Epcot and Chip’n’Dales Campfire Sing-a-Long
We picked Epcot for Saturday because it was rated as the least busy park over a Star Wars weekend. I was very excited about the World Showcase pavilions (I don’t mind a Disney kitsch version of France) and Eddie really wanted to ride Spaceship Earth (which I will forever call the ‘big ball thing.’) There’s also an International Flower & Garden expo, which translated for me into lots of stunning Disney character topiaries.
Rides & Attractions: Spaceship Earth (Jonah rode with me and selected French as our automated language, so Eddie oh-so-helpfully back seat narrated for me, pointing out the Greeks and Romans and the Renaissance until I turned around and sniped, “You know I minored in history and I’m pretty good at inferring, right?” Ah, memories!) The Seas with Nemo and Friends (this was fantastic for kids; Jonah loved it) and the World pavillions — we focused on China, Mexico, France and England.
Characters: We saw Belle in France, but she was going on break. Nooo! I did get a pic of just Belle, which is probably for the best, because I would have fangirled her and it would have been weird. There was a character encounter station that had Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto (and briefly Chip’n’Dale) but Jonah was photo op’d out.
Food: Breakfast at our hotel, lunch reservations at the Rose and Crown in England, a chocolate crepe snack in France and dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Express in Downtown Disney followed by s’mores at Ft. Wilderness. The Rose and Crown is great (if you’re kid-less, hang out at the pub and try the pint sampler) and, like all of the world pavilions, the servers are on work visas from the host countries — our server was Katie from Brighton and she called us all ‘luv’ and thought Jonah’s adoration for mushy peas was adorable. Wolfgang Puck’s is a quick service, inexpensive (for Disney) place and great quality. We packed our own marshmallows, etc, for the campfire sing-a-long and were glad we did, because it’s $10 for a couple of marshmallows and a hershey bar at the park.
We took a bus from Downtown Disney after dinner to the Ft. Wilderness Resort and Campground and walked to the Meadow for the s’mores, cowboy sing-a-long, character encounter with Chip’n’Dale and the outdoor movie. This was one of our favorite events of the trip and it was absolutely FREE (s’mores fixings aside). Anyone could walk in and take part. The sing-a-long was fun (though we missed part of it due to getting to dinner late) and Jonah got to see Chip’n’Dale (he was over having his picture taken with them). The marshmallow roast was fun and laid back and then we bought Jonah a popcorn with one his snack credits and watched The Three Caballeros on the outdoor screen (hi-def, incredible visually). He loved the movie, but we left halfway through due to the bus ride back and the fact that we were all asleep on our feet.
Cool down: Jonah passed out in my arms on the bus ride home, we dropped our marshmallows and crawled into bed.
Magic Kingdom, Part 2
This was the day to do all the things we’d missed the first go around with the Magic Kingdom, as well as see the Electrical Parade and the Wishes fireworks show (we were going to watch that from the Polynesian’s beach on day two, but it rained).
Rides & Attractions: Tomorrowland: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Astro Orbiter, Carousel of Progress, PeopleMover. (Jonah loved the Buzz Lightyear Ride and easily beat my laser gun score, the Carousel of Progress is unintentionally hilarious if you’re remotely snarky — sorry, Walt.) Frontierland: Splash Mountain (I was terrified Jonah was going to fall out — he was totally fine and sad he didn’t get wetter. It was described as “SO COOL.”) Fantasyland: Dumbo, Goofy’s Barnburner, Prince Charming Regal Carousel. Adventureland: Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Liberty Square: Haunted Mansion.
Food: We had breakfast at the Main Street Bakery in the Magic Kingdom (where my husband said he’d had the greatest, soft, gooey, warm cinnamon roll he’d ever had. I am not a cinnamon fan, so we’ll take his rec and roll with it). We had lunch at the Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney — amazing brownie creme pies, yes I gained 10 pounds in four days, your point? — which my child slept through and dinner was at Casey’s Corner in the Magic Kingdom. Hot dogs. Oh, wait, Disney Dining Plan: deluxe footlong chili dogs, fries, large drinks, and cotton candy and Cracker Jacks (which went on the plane home with us). The fun thing about Casey’s was that the baseball attired staff broke into “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and threw free cracker jacks into the waiting crowd, plus we ate sitting on bleachers and watching Goofy sports movies. Great if you’re a sports’ fan, good chili dogs if you’re me.
After I had a Dole Whip Float from the Aloha Isle in Adventureland (Jonah had cotton candy and Eddie had a second Mickey Premium bar), we went back to the hotel for some pool time and a nap before heading back to the Magic Kingdom for the night time activities.
Characters: We got fairly good sidewalk seating in front of Cinderella’s castle and watched the “Dream Along With Mickey” show that involved Mickey and the gang, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty as well as Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and their princes. Jonah was mesmerized.
Cool down: After taking the train, seeing the castle show, riding every ride we wanted to ride, having more snacks than anyone would need (and several leftover) we ended our Disney parks visit with the Electrical Parade and the Wishes fireworks show. The electrical parade can’t be captured in pictures. It’s visually amazing and the characters are so close! (We watched it in Liberty Square next to the Hall of Presidents.) The Wishes fireworks show is so moving, especially if you grew up with Disney and love the songs.
We took the bus to Downtown Disney and did one last tour through the shops (and used up our leftover snack credits in the candy and snacks stores for the flight — seriously, who can eat that much in 5 days??) and then boarded the Magical Express for the Orlando Airport and arrived home in Oklahoma early Monday evening with a suitcase full of pixie dust and mouse ears.
And, to had adhere to the self-made, arbitrary parameters of my blog, one of my favorite recipes from our trip.
Baked Salmon with Cilantro Pesto
- cooking spray, optional
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
- 3 tablespoons fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons shredded or grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt-free garlic-herb seasoning blend
- 4 salmon filets, about 4 ounces each, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or lightly spray with cooking spray.
- In a food processor or blender, process the pesto ingredients for 15 to 20 seconds, or until slightly chunky.
- Place the fillets about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Spread the pesto evenly over the top of the fillets. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sliced almonds.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
- Calories: 206 Total Fat: 9.5 g Fiber:1 g
- 5 Weight Watcher’s Points