Where to Stay
I loved the Grand Floridian. I had originally wanted to stay at the Contemporary Resort, but our travel agent found a great rate at the Grand Floridian and we saved $1,000 by staying there that week. Being on the monorail was a priority for me since we had a one year old with us who would need to go back to the hotel for naps and we were traveling with a stroller each day.
Interior of the Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian, Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Resort are the three hotels on the monorail. I don't know that I would stay at the Contemporary after visiting the hotel. The monorail runs right through the middle and all the rooms open to the middle of the hotel. While the property is really nice, I wonder if it is really loud in the rooms because of the setup. When we return to Disney (in a few years when Claire is old enough to get it) I would still like to stay on the monorail because of the ease in getting back and forth to the Magic Kingdom. Waiting a few minutes for the monorail vs. the 15+ you have to wait for a bus is way more convenient to me.
Where to Eat
This was by far the best meal I had all week, and one of the best meals I've ever had. This is a nice restaurant (business casual), but it sits on Disney property so there are plenty of kids and people wearing jeans (including us). It costs the equivalent of 2 sit down meals, but we planned this out ahead of time, and it is completely worth it. The other cool thing is that you can catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks show from the balcony at the restaurant. They pump the music into the restaurant and it is a great location to watch the fireworks from.
Goat Cheese Ravioli
Scallops with risotto
We did the breakfast buffet at Chef Mickey's. I am normally not a fan of buffets, but the food was actually good, and buffets were great for Claire since she wasn't on our dining plan and had to eat off of our plate. At buffets she could eat as much as she pleased! This is also one of the only ways you are going to meet Mickey since he doesn't walk the parks (at least I never saw him). The only annoying thing to me was they take your picture when you enter, but they don't allow you to put it on your photo pass card, you have to buy the print separately. The prints are a package deal and cost something like $30, so we didn't get it. We also enjoyed the buffet at our hotel, 1900 Park Fare. The food was essentially the same, just different characters.
A must do for little princes and princesses! It truly is cool to eat inside Cinderella's castle. We went for lunch and this is another meal that costs the equivalent of 2 sit down meals. Upon entering you get your photo taken with Cinderella. And unlike at Chef Mickey's, you get to take the photos home with you (included in your meal price). You also are given a magic wand (princesses) or sword (princes) and a wishing star. Each of the princesses are a delight to meet (I can't imagine doing that all day long).
This was a last minute reservation the weekend before we left, but turned out to be a great decision. This was another really good meal (and good margarita) and the atmosphere was very cool. If you like Mexican, put this place on your reservation list.
We had the dining plan, which gave us each (except for Claire because she was too young) one snack, fast service meal and sit down meal per day (7 in total). We quickly ran out of fast service meals and ended up paying out of pocket for most of these meals by the last few days. I planned out the sit down meals specifically so we used each meal credit. Knowing what I know now I will probably be smarter with the use of the fast service meals next time (save them for lunch/dinner instead of using them at breakfast).
Reservations (for dining and other experiences) open up 180 days prior to your stay. I booked Cinderella's Royal Table and Chef Mickey's immediately after booking our trip. These are very popular attractions, so I recommend booking everything as soon as possible so you can guarantee your spot (especially if you go during more popular times).
Other Things to Note
- As I said above, reservations open up 180 days prior to your arrival. For popular attractions and meals, book these as soon as you can! This includes the Bippity Boppity Boutique (princess dress up to the extreme), Pirates League, etc. We lucked out in booking the Pirate League experience the weekend before we left, but we also traveled during one of the lowest attendance weeks of the year.
- We brought our stroller with us, but it was apparent that there are stroller rental companies that the majority of people use. We actually had the exact same stroller (Baby Jogger City Mini) that people were renting. It is a great stroller that is easily maneuvered, lightweight and collapses with one hand (key when you are getting on and off a bus by yourself). I have been a stroller hoarder between the two kids, but this one is by far my favorite that I've bought. I also bought a new diaper bag that would be big enough to hold all the baby stuff, snacks and my camera. This one was great and strapped to the stroller as well. I had a small cross body bag with my stuff (money, ID, key, phone, etc.) so I could grab it quickly when we parked the stroller to go on rides.
- I don't know if the park hopper option is really worth it. We only used it once because we had dinner reservations at Epcot but had spent the day at a different park. I think you could totally plan your trip so as not to need to pay the extra for the park hopper option (although I really don't know how much extra it cost us in the end).
- The photo pass card is genius. There are photographers all over the parks, and when you want your photo taken you hand them your card to scan and it holds all of your photos in one location for you. You can then go online to view and purchase your photos from either kiosks on property or when you return home. I'm glad to have a few photos with me in them from the trip!
- I found the information from this blog series to be extremely helpful, and used their recommendations to book most of our trip! I also used a local travel agent, Cary Travel Express, to book our flight and trip package through.
- Don't forget to buy an autograph book and pen for your kids. James loved collecting signatures from all the character meals and also from characters in the parks.
I am a planner by nature and can tend to get a little (lot) uptight and frustrated when things don't go to plan. This vacation was really fun though, for all of us. I was freaking out the weekend before we left, booking last minute reservations until midnight, but all the work you put in up front before you get to Disney is worth it. They really do take care of everything for you and make it easy to just sit back and have fun with your kids. This trip made me confident that we can travel as a family and have a good time. That may sound strange, but I get really uptight and anxious when it comes to coordinating, packing and traveling with everyone. Almost everyone we talked to before we left were shocked that we weren't bringing along grandparents to help out, but we did it! Most (all?) of our trips the past 5 years have been to visit family or family has been along (like our trip to Michigan a few years ago), but this made us realize that we need to prioritize time as a family of 4 to travel to places other than Kansas and Arizona every time.
I want our kids to have the opportunity to travel to new places as they grow up. We vacationed a lot growing up, and I have traveled extensively all over the world since college, but there is still so much of our own country that I haven't seen!
So that is our Disney vacation. In a perfect world I will print the 400+ photos I took and put them into the photo book I bought, or I will create a trip book for our kids to remember this vacation, but being realistic I probably won't (at least not this year). It is a miracle I actually finished these blog posts (two months after we returned)!