Some Fairytales Do Come True, Just Go To Disney World & You’ll See.
pssst… Want To Win A Trip To Disneyland Paris? Read Below For Details!
Some experiences change your life forever in the very best way possible. Disney World is one of them. Whatever your age, whether or not you’re Mickey’s biggest fan or you’ve watched Frozen 50,000 times with your mini princess Elsa, I promise you that it’s true that Disney World is the happiest place on Earth and that a Disney holiday should be on every family travel bucket list.
When I was a little girl, Mickey Mouse and his crew were regulars in our living room, I’d sing along with Mary Poppins, long for hair like Rapunzels and pester my parents to take me to Disney World (which they did when I was 12 years old – after which I vowed to do the same for my kids). 30 years and three children of my own later, I found myself standing in front of Cinderella’s castle again, reliving the magic.
Whether you’re just starting to introduce your kids to the characters or you want a family holiday that’ll guarantee nothing but smiles, fun, magic and imagination in a world at which you can leave your responsibilities, stresses and routine at the gates and fully immerse yourself in an experience that’s about good old wholesome family fun, then there’s nowhere but Disney.
Getting There & Where To Stay:
A mere 15 hour flight from Dubai (don’t panic, departure is right at the time when your kids should be tucked up in bed so they should be happy to snooze for a good portion of the journey), the Disney experience begins as soon as you arrive at Orlando. If you’re booked into a Disney Resort (there are over 25 with accommodations to suit every family’s needs and budget – Emirates Holidays can help you choose) then you’ll be enjoying heaps of exclusive benefits and savings including complimentary transportation from the airport to your hotel aboard ‘Disney’s Magical Express’, a luxury coach service (themed, of course) to whisk you and your luggage to your destination quick fast. We headed to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, a safari themed property that transports you to the world of The Lion King, complete with lush savannahs, grazing giraffes and pretty pink flamingos to watch from your balcony. As with all Disney resorts, there are complimentary shuttles to all the parks so it’s super easy to get around and if you don’t want to wait for the buses or you’re keen on traveling alone as a family then the Uber style ‘Minnie Vans’ (yup, complete with Minnie style red and white spotty décor) are a cost effective and brilliant way to travel inter-resorts and parks.
How Long Should You Book For & What’s The Best Way To Plan Your Time?
To beat the jetlag and get the most out of your trip, allow for one day per park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom) plus one for your flight and one for chilling when you first arrive – and then one more for shopping (there are outlets galore, take an extra suitcase) or for revisiting some of your favourite attractions. Opt for an early dinner in the parks on day one and be in bed by 8.30pm and you’ll be good to go and Disney ready the next morning!
The First Thing To Do? Download The ‘My Disney Experience’ App as soon as you’ve booked your holiday. From here you can book FastPasses for each park, plan itineraries, explore the resort on an interactive GPS-enabled map, check on wait times for attractions and show times for fireworks and parades, find Character greeting locations and times, browse restaurant menus and make dining reservations, preview your Disney PhotoPass photos throughout your vacation (you’ll be snapped by Disney photographers at plenty of iconic locations and with some of Disney’s best loved Characters) and download, edit and share unlimited photos by purchasing a Memory Maker. Phew! Yup, there’s a lot to take in but all of these tips make the WORLD of difference and will help you get the very most out of your visit so read on….
It’s All About The FastPass
FastPass? Skipping long lines? Oh yes, the wonderful team at Disney have made it easy for you to target the attractions you’ve got your heart set on and reserve select shows up to 60 days before arrival – woohoo! When booking a Disney Resort hotel room you can secure up to 3 FastPass experiences per person per park per day, at no additional charge. And once you’ve used those you can even reserve more if there’s availability. Magic!
Want to take the FastPass option to the next level? Book a VIP guide to act as your family’s personal concierge, pick you up and escort you behind the scenes and to the front of every line while filling you in on fun facts and the history of Disney in the process. This team of guides knows each park inside out and can make anything possible – from booking restaurants to keeping little ones amused if they can’t access some of the attractions – you’ll have them at your disposal for a full 7-12 hours (depending on your booking) and while they don’t come cheap, they’re worth every dollar!
Extra Magic Hours
Guests staying at select Disney resort hotels have the amazing opportunity to enjoy select attractions in the parks before or after regular operating hours (perfect if you’re up early – which we always are, right?!). Your resort will be able to advise which parks are offering the extra hours on which days so that you can plan your time. Brilliant.
The Disney Dining Plan
Add a dining plan to your reservation and you’ll be able to go for full board of half board dining in quick service stops (perfect for lunch on the go when you’re maximizing on time in the parks) and table service restaurants. You can also pre-order meals via your ‘My Disney Experience’ app which is a godsend when you’ve got hungry little kids in tow who ‘cannot wait another second’ for food! Oh and here’s something very sweet – opt for a ‘dessert party’ package and you’ll get all-you-can-eat treats and a guaranteed VIP viewing of the evening show in whichever park you’re in.
Talking of dining, don’t forget to book in for a character breakfast and the chance to meet some of your Disney faves over pancakes and waffles. Having Mary Poppins instruct your kiddos to go to bed on time and be good children is simply priceless!
The Baby Switch Service
Nope you can’t switch your little person for one with better behaviour (as tempting as that might be sometimes!) but you can enjoy rides and attractions that are a little grown up for your tinies by taking turns – you go first with any members of the family who can join while hubby takes care of the baby and then make the switch without needing to wait in line again, hooray!
What about the parks themselves? What can you expect/see/do?
I honestly don’t know where to start with this, mamas, it’s almost impossible to pen the right words to describe the incredible experiences available at each of the Disney parks – they really do have to be seen to be believed. The attention to detail is unparalleled, cast members stay in character at all times (Mickey really is a mouse by the way so don’t even think about questioning it), everything is themed down to the tiniest decorations for each area and even waiting in line feels like part of the experience with things to do and see so that you’ll barely notice the time.
We started at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park which wasn’t part of Walt Disney World when I visited years ago and which now offers a safari style tour in a huge jeep style vehicle where you can spot and learn about creatures including crocs, hippos, lions and more, all happily roaming a beautifully created space that literally transports you to the African plains. The highlights in this park were the ‘Expedition Everest’ rollercoaster ride (this is coming from someone who has never really enjoyed rollercoasters but was totally converted after the trip) which takes you on a very speedy (and sometimes backwards…) ride through the Himalayas (kids over 113 cms can join and most of them screamed less than I did!) and the new ‘Pandora, The World Of Avatar’ land which celebrates the magic of nature. Pandora is not only home to the ‘Na’avi River Journey’ which takes you on a boat ride through a beautiful bioluminescent rainforest but also to the hugely celebrated ‘Avatar Flight Of Passage’, literally the most MOST incredible ride ever. I’m talking flying on the back of a banshee in a 3D experience that’ll have you hurtling through canyons, soaring over trees, splashed by ocean waves and discovering the Valley of Mo’ara through the eyes of a banshee. Quite simply breathtaking (I cried – honestly!) and even if you don’t have FastPasses for this ride it’s worth the four hour wait in a line which will immerse you in the Pandora experience along the way and little ones over 112cm can join too (and WILL love it!).
By night, Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s ‘Tree Of Life’ awakens and comes to life with beautiful illuminations and colours and the ‘Rivers Of Light’ show on the water shimmers and shines and is guaranteed to make for sweet dreams that night.
The following day we headed to Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow), a beautifully landscaped park which celebrates the beauty of today’s world with a vision of the where the Disney imagineers (the people who make the magic happen) have created a world in which you can visit 11 countries and get a taste for each (literally – there’s everything from a British pub to a traditional Japanese restaurant) plus meet Princesses Anna and Elsa in Norway (Arendelle), board a rocket to Mars and take to the seas with Nemo and friends plus so much more. The highlights for us were ‘Soarin’ Around the World!’, a huge IMAX projection that brings the feeling of flight to life and makes you feel as though you’re hang gliding over some of the world’s most incredible landmarks. From the Great Wall of China to Sydney Harbour, over mountains and waterfalls, this attraction is simply amazing. We also loved ‘Test Drive’ and the opportunity to design a virtual car before actually ‘racing’ it against all the others designed in the same session, perfect for the competitive among us (um…guilty as charged!) and completely hilarious (our car may have looked ridiculous but it performed beautifully!) and, of course, ‘Frozen Ever After’ and the chance to enter the magical world of Arendelle aboard an ancient Norwegian vessel complete with sing-along opportunities and the chance to spot all of the movie’s most loved personalities. If you’re a mama of girls then this attraction is a must – as is the chance for your wannabe Elsa to wear her princess dress with pride (by the way, Disney World absolutely welcomes and encourages dressing up so don’t be surprised to see everyone from babies to grandmas donning Mickey Mouse ears or full-on character costumes!).
As night fell, we snacked on desserts while watching Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, a fabulous fireworks show over the lagoon. Another magical day living out the Disney dream.
A new day, a new park! Day 3 was all about Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place of movies, music, theater and television where you’re just as likely to walk past a Star Wars storm trooper or see kids in Jedi training as you are to meet Buzz Lightyear or get a snap with Donald Duck. Hollywood Studios has heaps to do and is also home to three of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World – Tower of Terror (a haunted hotel experience that includes ‘falling’ in a broken elevator). Terrifying? Yes. But absolutely exhilarating, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – perhaps the wildest of all of Disney World’s rollers not least because you’ll be looping, dropping and corkscrewing in the dark, to an Aerosmith soundtrack and experiencing 0-57 mph in less than three seconds. Yikes! Oh and apparently at one point you’ll be pulling 5 g’s (that’s two more than astronauts used to experience at liftoff). You get the picture! Expect screaming and adrenalin – you either love that kind of thing or hate it (I thought I’d fall in the latter camp but actually I wanted to go AGAIN!). And as for something a little gentler for the kiddos, Toy Story Midway Mania is an interactive attraction which sees your vehicle passing through a virtual arcade with games including ring tossing and ball throwing which you can take part in using a special lever in your booth – the kids will love the easy targets! If you have Star Wars fans at home then ‘Star Tours: The Adventure Continues’ is a simulator ride which will have you and your crew flying through the galaxy. The ride film is projected in 3D and has more than 50 combinations of opening and ending scenes so you could ride it all day without seeing the same thing twice (maybe don’t tell the kids that..or they might want to!). As with all of the Disney parks, Hollywood Studios concludes the day with a show – in this case it’s ‘Fantasmic’ starring Mickey Mouse in his role as the Sorcerers Apprentice from Fantasia, created entirely from lasers, projections, mist, fireworks, lighting effects and music. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to end each day with a concentrated version of Disney magic and that feeling that you can’t wait to start again the next morning!
Day Four – our last at Disney World (sob!) and, the absolute icing on the cake, a visit to The Magic Kingdom, home to Cinderella’s Castle, to Beauty & The Beast, to The Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo The Elephant, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Main Street USA on which Disney’s famous parade takes place. We toured the park with VIP guides to make sure that we got the very best of everything in the little time we had – this meant no waiting in lines and the most amazing location from which to view the parade and the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle at the end of the day. The Magic Kingdom captures all that is Disney, from character meet ups to an overwhelming atmosphere of happiness and some of Disney World’s most loved attractions. This park is perfect for little kids, with beginner style roller coasters to easy going rides including teacups, magic carpets and fairground style attractions. We absolutely loved the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a fun and fast (but not too fast for little ones) coaster that weaves between forests and mountain terrain plus shows you the most adorable glimpse into a mine sparkling with gems. If you’re up for a giggle and your kids want to interact with some of the characters then relive the magic of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at ‘Enchanted Tales With Belle’, a reenactment starring Belle, Lumiere and the audience too, all in the Beast’s library. And don’t miss Pirates Of The Caribbean, an indoor cruise among the very realistic waterways of Captain Jack Sparrow’s world (sadly without Johnny Depp, mamas!) or Space Mountain, my absolute favourite roller coaster in all of Disney World, zipping you through space and starry galaxies at high speed and with the occasional unexpected dip (cue more screaming!).
But it’s the ‘Festival Of Fancy’ parade which celebrates all of the stories you love and pays tribute to Disney favourites from The Little Mermaid to Tangled and all those in-between through floats, choreographed dance, fire breathing dragons and an original music score which puts the ‘magic’ into The Magic Kingdom, along with the chance to meet and chat with Mickey Mouse afterwards (once he’s caught his breath of course – he is a real mouse remember). Grab your spot for the parade 15 minutes beforehand (insider tip: standing in front of one of the Main Street USA stores and you’ll get wafts of a/c while you watch!). And no trip to Disney World would be complete without seeing the ‘Happily Ever After Fireworks Show’ over Cinderella’s Castle – the prelude to many a Disney movie, the most spectacular fireworks in the world, and the end of our incredible Disney experience.
I loved it as a child, I loved it as an adult and, as mamas, seeing our children’s eyes light up and their imaginations soar in a world where dreams really do come true and where magic really does exist – well it really doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Disney World is four holidays in one, it’s a complete escape with a huge sprinkling of fairy dust and a reminder that there’s still plenty to be happy and excited about in the world.
Walt Disney’s beautiful, wonderful magical place that ‘started with a mouse’ is something that everyone should experience at least once (ok am hoping for at least ten) times in their life. I can’t wait to do it all again.
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