Ron and I thought through pretty thoroughly about which Disney parks we wanted to make it a priority to get to on this trip, especially knowing that we would have a limited number of days at the parks. The Magic Kingdom was a must, of course – and since our girls are all animal lovers, we knew they would definitely like Animal Kingdom. If we could manage a 3rd day, we debated back and forth between Hollywood Studios and Epcot – but since a 3rd day didn’t happen, we didn’t worry about it too much.
Hollywood Studios would have been cool, but I figured that Epcot would be a lot of walking and the World Showcase wouldn’t interest the girls too much at their ages. On this, I was happy to be proven wrong on our first Disney day.
We got up bright and early on Friday so we could get to Animal Kingdom right when it opened at 9am. We were supposed to meet Ron’s cousin Erin there – she works for the park (caring for the animals at the Animal Kingdom resort areas) and as an employee she was able to get three of us into the park for free. We purchased one-day park hopper child passes for Hannah and Becca on our own and Erin walked through the front of the park with us, and gave us some tips on what to see (and where to find a/c since it was a hot, sticky day).
Abbi got a rough start that morning, but as soon as Ron mentioned getting ice cream to settle her stomach, she was miraculously fine. We held off on ice cream until after we’d gone on our first ride – something Hannah was greatly looking forward to, the Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition. I’d been on this ride back in 2011 when I visited this park for the first time myself, during the Traveling Mom 2011 blogger retreat, and knew my girls would love it too. I was hopeful that we’d see some of the animals up close, and they definitely didn’t disappoint.
We saw giraffes, elephants, a couple of lionesses, rhinos, several types of birds, warthogs, and many more types of animals. The girls loved seeing a baby elephant and Becca was thrilled to get a glimpse of the lionesses since lions are her favorite animal. It was a great way to start off our Animal Kingdom experience.
Afterward, Ron made good on his ice cream promise and then we headed over to the character spot in Camp Minnie-Mickey since I discovered (using the Disney Mobile Magic app – so helpful! TMOM post coming soon) that Minnie was there at the time. Becca loves Minnie Mouse and Minnie is the one character she most wanted to meet on this trip. When we got to the spot, we were excited to see not only Minnie, but Mickey, Pocahontas, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale, and Baloo along with King Louie. The lines were short, so we got autographs and photos with all of them. Becca was the most excited to get a hug from Minnie, and Ron surprised Donald Duck with his own Donald impression, which got a double-take and then a thumbs-up and high five from the character.
Our next stop was the air-conditioned comfort of the Festival of the Lion King show. This was a high excitement, fast-paced show that was a lot of fun and we all really enjoyed it. Afterward, we stopped for lunch at Pizzafari. It rained while we were inside but thankfully the rain stopped soon after we left to head over into the Asia section of the park. Our next stop was the Kali River Rapids ride. This was both a lot of fun and a mistake. We saw the warnings that you would get wet on this ride (and could get soaked), but with the hot sticky weather, we figured that getting wet would equal cooling off.
We were wrong on that one! The ride was awesome, but all five of us ended up on the soaked end of the spectrum. As in wet, down to underwear and socks. And if you’ve never walked around on a hot, sticky day in wet underwear and socks – well, it’s definitely not comfortable. We did a few more things at the park (Hannah loved the It’s Tough to be a Bug show that the other girls skipped) but after the parade, we decided that we were wet, uncomfortable and basically done with Animal Kingdom. Hannah loved everything about this park, but Abbi and Becca were less impressed.
We stopped back off at the house for a quick break and changes of clothes. Since Animal Kingdom closed before the other parks, we’d already decided that we could take the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in Epcot – I wanted to take the girls on the Nemo ride there and also on Soarin’. By the time we stopped for dinner, we got to Epcot around 7pm. This was much more of what the girls were expecting for a Disney park, and all three of them had an absolute blast. We started off with Spaceship Earth, which quickly became Abbi’s favorite ride. Then we did The Seas with Nemo and Friends, which Becca loved so much that we went on it a second time afterward. The wait time for Soarin’ was 75 minutes (and all fast passes had already been distributed), so we ended up skipping that one.
The unequivocal hit of Epcot though wasn’t a ride – it was an experience. In the same building as the Nemo ride is a huge aquarium that has manatees, sea turtles, all kinds of fish – and a couple of dolphins. All 3 girls were amazed to see the dolphins and we watched for quite some time. There’s a lot of other fun activities in there too – the girls all posed in Bruce the shark’s mouth over in Bruce’s SharkWorld, which they thought was pretty cool.
Our last activity at Epcot was the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show – which was incredible. The fireworks were amazing, and we loved everything about the show. The girls were tired, but mesmerized and so excited. As we waited for the show, I pointed out the various World Showcase pavilions across the lake, and realized that Epcot would have been a good idea for a full-day activity after all. Oh well, it’ll be good to have something new to see the next time we make it down to Orlando.
We drove back to our vacation house rental, thoroughly tired but full of wonderful memories from our first Disney day. Tomorrow is our Magic Kingdom day and I’m so looking forward to sharing my favorite rides and attractions with the girls for the first time.
My five quick take-away tips from the day, when doing Disney with kids:
- Don’t underestimate what your kids will be able to do and enjoy. But know your kids well and plan to hit something for everyone at each park.
- If it’s a really hot day, plan to hit an air-conditioned show or attraction every hour or two in order to cool everyone down for a bit. Carry water bottles that you can refill throughout the day. And avoid water rides unless you’ve got spare clothes.
- Use the Disney Mobile Magic app to navigate the park – you can find out when the next events and shows are, send yourself text reminders, and see what characters are at the park. Plus there are park maps right within the app and you can use gps to locate your position, as kind of an always-updating ‘you are here’ sort of thing.
- Don’t overplan your day – if the kids want to go on a ride a second time or spend 40 minutes watching dolphins, those are the things that mean the most to them and that will be the most special memories they’ll take away afterward.
- Take lots of pictures to remember your day by – cell phone cameras are an easy and quick way to snap a shot, and Disney PhotoPass photographers and character spot personnel are always happy to take a photo with your phone or camera for you so you can all get into the shot for a group photo.
Thank you to Ron’s cousin Erin for getting Ron, Abbi and I into the parks on this day. We paid full-price for child park hopper one-day passes for Hannah and Becca, and everything else in the parks was on our own dime.