My daughters 1st birthday, 2014, we took her to Disney World and I remember sitting on the bus heading to Magic Kingdom. A family was across from us and a little girl no more than 7 looked at her Mom and said, "I can't wait to see and meet Mickey. I wonder what he will say to me?" She said, "You realize he's not real. It's a costume. This is a theme park honey." The look on that little girls face...in that moment she lost some of her childhood and magic and in that moment I changed how I was going to parent. I was going to always make sure my kids knew how magical they were and the difference that sparkle could have on the world.
Fast forward 8 years and we are back for her birthday, while celebrating my middle daughter heading to kindergarten and good golly what a wonderful trip! We took all 3 kids (whew!) but it was so much fun, especially seeing Disney through the eyes of a little boy this time who loved Buzz, Lightening McQueen and of course the love of his life, Elsa.
Our Budget For The Trip
I really wanted to make this trip as affordable as possible. Every 3-4 years, we head to a Disney park which gives us plenty of time to save. My total budget I wanted to stay under for this trip out of pocket was $3,000 and we did it. We had our hotel paid for with credit card points which that total was $1,200 and because we used our credit card company to book, we were given a $100 voucher which we used for breakfast each morning. For holidays and birthdays I ask for gift cards for myself and we use those to pay for food. This trip we had $700 in Disney, Visa and Mastercard gift cards to use. I split that between the 4 days at the park. Since we are military, we had a fantastic discount for tickets, which we are so thankful for. For 4 days at the park including hopper passes for 4 people we paid $1,300 out of pocket. Now, I didn't expect gas to be so expensive when we started planning but all in all our gas was $250 there and back. The girls each had $100 to pick out some souvenirs from us and then extra money from some family members.
Where We Stayed and Why I Recommend It
When we went for Christmas in 2019 (which who knew that would be the last family vacation we would have for awhile) I booked Animal Kingdom Lodge. What a gorgeous hotel! Breath taking. So beautiful, BUT it's so far away from everything. It took 25 minutes to get to Magic Kingdom by bus, and that is before the boat or monorail to get there. We were always the last stop I felt and we were limited to 1 place to eat.
As a child, my Mom always booked the Swan & Dolphin, such great memories and a classy hotel, so she suggested this for our recent trip. I found a great deal being a Marriot Elite member, and with our credit card points that made it a no brainer choice. It's so close to everything! Walking distance to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and right down the road from Magic Kingdom, 7 minutes. It's also right over a small bridge walk to the Boardwalk, Beach Club and Yacht Club which those rooms are about $500 plus a night. So every evening we would eat at the marketplace at Yacht Club or Beach Club and then grab a yummy treat along the Boardwalk. So it's like you're staying on Disney property, with out the price.
Money Saving & Good Tips
If you are driving, I highly recommend you bring your own bottles of water or water bottle. A bottle of Dasani was almost $5 at all the parks, so we ended up buying a Minnie sipper and filling that up everyday. Also, bring a cooler with with snacks. I had bread and some peanut butter in case the kids needed a snack while in the room. Bubble wands while fun are $30 at Disney, and you can find them for $10 at Walmart, so buy them there and surprise your kiddos when you get to the parks. Here are some other items I recommend:
sun buddies sun screen applicator
portable phone charger
towels that grow with water
misting water bottle
portable changing pad
A lot of people will tell you to book dining reservations in advance. I say, no way to this. My best advice for your trip is to go with the flow and don't get stressed about the whole dining reservations thing. I always check reservations the week of and I always score one. In fact, I checked for Chef Mickey's on that Tuesday before we left and scored a reservation for Thursday at the time I wanted even. Chef Mickey's also has been my favorite character dining experience and we always budget for one of these reservations. It's all you can eat and the food is amazing! You can spend hours waiting in the lines at the parks to feel rushed, or you can book a meal where you are relaxed and have 1 on 1 time.
Set aside two days for Magic Kingdom. I have always done this and it's the best tip. There's no way you can fit it all in one day especially with sweet little babes who need naps or even time out of the sun. Day 1 we hit up Tomorrow Land, Fantasy Land and Liberty Square and our second day we do Adventureland, Frontierland and Main Street USA (parades, fireworks, shopping). Also, add a day in your trip to relax at the hotel, by the pool or even take a boat ride, trust me, a day for everyone to rest will make the trip much better.
Things That Need Work
So, I'm NOT a fan of Genie Plus. I know I'm always Miss Positivity BUT y'all, I hated it. And if you don't understand it, please read about it before you go, it was hard for me to navigate and my head was always in my phone. If you don't buy it, which it's $15 extra per person, during the busy season and while we were there, you just won't be able to ride most of the rides. Lines for the most popular (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Millennium Falcon, Frozen Forever After, etc) were well over 70 minutes. Also, you can’t book any attractions until 7am the day of, so everyday I set my alarm to try to get us on these rides. Also, you can't pick the time, so if there's only a genie plus time for 11:30-:12:30 and you have lunch reservations, you can't skip it for the next one, you'll have to wait until it pops up and is available. So if you book, and need to cancel the attraction, and then try to rebook the time for a later time, pray there's a time, often times there wasn't ( I miss fast pass!).
My Genie plus tip do NOT buy it for Epcot, it's not worth it and I asked for a refund, which was so graciously given to me even though it says (in very small fine print AFTER you buy it, that it is not refundable). I bought Genie plus for our Epcot day after seeing times for a certain ride, once purchased it told me no ride times were avaible. I'm talking a matter of seconds from buying to hitting the secure lighting lane button.
Another issue I had was Slinky Dog breaks down a lot, like a lot! We had our Genie plus time cancelled our first time and rebooked for the next day (Epcot is always a half day for us with the kids). So we went back at 5:30pm the following day and it was shut down AGAIN. So they gave us a free pass, but not for any ride, it was to the shows or an older ride. Slinky Dog is a ride that sells out fast for Genie plus fyi, and I felt to tell me to use it for the Frozen show which never had a line or even Toy Story Mania which had a short line, was not in the same category as the rollercoaster. You can see below what rides we couldn't use our Genie Plus on even though I paid for it and these rides comes with the purchased price of Genie Plus (expect Rise of the Resistance which is an extra $10 I believe on top of Genie plus if you want to ride).
We did notice some cast members who seemed to not be having a magical time, but for the most part the park seemed "happy" despite blog posts about unhappy cast members. Everyone was helpful and very kind to us, especially at Epcot, I noticed the most happiest cast members there. In fact one evening, my son had just had it, was so tired and crying, they brought him over a cupcake. He held on to that thing for dear life and did not share LOL.
Magic of Disney
As always, we enjoyed our time at Walt Disney World. I grew up a Disney kid. My parents always taking me and never letting the magic escape me. Even at 36 years old I believe Mickey Mouse is real. That Tinker Bell has pixie dust. That Captain Jack Sparrow is the reason why the rum is always gone. They never shattered my dreams and I'll be the same way for my kids. Never dull your kids dreams or let them see there's no magic. We all have magic, we just need to learn how to use it. PS I had to grab this 50th Mickey plush. It's so me and I love all the colors! That fun patch album DIY I posted a couple weeks ago is on my Instagram reels page, go check it out.