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Many of you understand what I mean when I say that Disney is not just a place to me; it’s a part of me!

I’ve been to Disney World twice and Disney Land once before, but it was a dream of mine to go with my husband and young kids. I really wanted to have the experience of Disney as a mom and wife. Life always got in the way, though, and so did the price tag of a Disney vacation.

Disneyland 2011

My sister, Maegan, gave me a really sweet gift for Christmas last year: money to start our Disney fund. I think that was the thing that finally nudged my husband to say yes. Thank you, Maegan!

My husband and I have two little girls, and are expecting a boy this summer. So we decided that three days at Disney would be sufficient for our little ones and a pregnant lady. Also upon agreeing to go to Disney World, my husband asked if we could surprise the girls. It was SO HARD, but somehow we managed to pull it off. I gave my five year-old one super general clue per day about where we were going to go on our “special trip” to keep her excited but still in the dark. On the day of our trip, I gave each kid a bag with the final “clues” of where we were going. The girl received Minnie ears, a Disney Princess coloring pack, and a princess figurine. They were so excited!

We drove about 10 hours to Orlando and arrived late in the evening to our hotel, which I highly recommend! The Red Lion Hotel was the perfect place to crash each evening of our trip. It was 10 minutes from the Disney Parks, and it was cheap, clean, and comfortable.

Even though I was exhausted from our trip, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited.

Day 1: Epcot

We had a good start to our first day, and we were through security by 8:30.

But as we presented our tickets, we ran into an issue. Somehow I had accidentally “stacked” multiple tickets to one person in the Disney app, and so instead of getting into the park, we spent our first forty minutes in line at Guest Services. Thankfully, our ticket issue was a quick fix, and we were finally able to get into Epcot.

The girls thought the Epcot ball was so cool, and they went nuts when they spotted Pluto nearby in a character line.


We headed to the Finding Nemo ride first, and parked the stroller. But before we got in line, a lady at an ice cream stand stopped us and asked if our girls could help her make a special phone call and open her ice cream stand. She told the girls a code to say in the phone, and then told us that Mickey wanted to pay for their ice cream! So our kids got to enjoy ice cream at 9:50 in the morning. It was a nice surprise!

Finding Nemo was a great ride to start with for our kids.

Immediately after the ride, we headed to Turtle Talk with Crush.

I admit, I had very low expectations for Turtle Talk with Crush, but it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the day. We entered a big theater room, and kids were allowed to sit on the floor in front of a big screen. Once Crush arrived on the screen, several kids got to ask Crush questions. I thought Crush’s interactions would be pre-recorded, but…nope! It was very much live, and he was hilarious. I still have no idea how they made the animation match what the voice was saying in real time. My kids definitely enjoyed adding “dude” to their vocabulary.

We wandered through the aquarium exhibits for a bit, but it seemed that many of the tanks were being cleaned or remodeled, so we decided to do a character greet while the girls were still in good spirits. We met Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in one spot. My five year-old was pleased to get her first autographs in her new Disney character book. (This book is really popular for Disney autographs, and we highly recommend it! Our kids loved reading the book throughout the trip. Affiliate link)

We ate a quick peanut butter and jelly lunch outside of the Soarin’ ride. When we were finished, we utilized the Ride Swap option since our two year-old couldn’t ride. A Cast Member helped us set it up. My husband and other daughter waited in the stand-by line for about an hour while I took a snack break with our two year-old. When they were done, I was able to go with my older daughter through the Fast Pass line and ride as well! Soarin’ was one of my favorite rides on the trip. It’s a hang gliding simulation, and it was amazing to feel like we were flying above different parts of the world! My daughter cracked me up as she told me things like, “Now, don’t be scared, Mom” and “You’re gonna love this part!” I was proud of how she handled her first big ride ever.

Our day at Epcot happened to be the last day of Festival of the Arts, and we got to see some incredible artwork around the park (pun intended). The chalk drawings in particular were really cool.

We hoped to attend Animation Academy, but we arrived during a seminar. So instead, we decided to head into World Showcase to visit twelve of the countries around the world.

I tried Sopes de Chilorio at the Mexico festival booth, and though the portion was tiny, it was super tasty.

Outside the Gran Fiesta ride

We waited in a brief line for the Gran Fiesta ride, and afterwards checked out the Coco-themed marketplace. There were tons of lovely, hand-crafted items on display.

On our way to Norway, we enjoyed a live mariachi band sing some songs from “Coco”.

The wait time for meeting Anna and Elsa was only 25 minutes long, so we grabbed our girls’ costumes and hopped in line. Our kids were so starstruck when they saw two of their favorite princesses, that they hardly said anything to them.

And I have to admit, Elsa’s dress was really stunning in real life! This picture doesn’t do it justice.

It wasn’t quite time for our FastPass for the Frozen Ever After ride, so we killed some time in a neat shop in China. We were disappointed when we couldn’t figure out where Mulan was.

The Frozen ride was one of the best dark rides, in my opinion. Everything was crafted beautifully, and the music was really captivating. Plus, there was a backwards drop that came out of nowhere, which was pretty unexpected for a kid ride.

On our way to the next area, we encountered a roadblock due to the bridge being lifted for a boat to pass through. This created a ridiculous people-traffic problem, and we had a difficult time navigating the crowds once the bridge settled back in. By the time we entered Germany, our little ones were pretty grumpy and didn’t have patience to make it though another long princess line to see Snow White. I grabbed a photo of her, though.

We browsed through a Japanese shop and enjoyed looking at the beautiful kimonos and fans. It was short-lived though, as hanger brewed in our kids.

Of all places to eat in World Showcase, we settled on getting the girls chicken strips and fries in the America area. It was a good break, and we got a kick out of watching our two year-old chase away hungry birds, just to get her hand covered in bird poop.

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There were tons of booths filled with gorgeous Disney artwork, and I wished to be rich so I could purchase about 20 of the paintings.

In Morocco, we met Princess Jasmine. She was a sweetheart, and I was pleased that our kids were less shy with her. Our two year-old asked Jasmine if she could wish for a giant cupcake. Jasmine said she would pass the request to the Genie.

Soon after, my pregnancy food aversions really kicked in, and my husband and I had trouble finding something to eat that didn’t smell bad to me. Walking through the United Kingdom (famous for their fish n’ chips) was torture.

But everything was so beautiful in World Showcase! We were blown away by the architecture and details of each “country”.

We hoped to meet Aurora, but she was on break from her Character Spot. Also, the Belle line was really long, so we kept making our way around World Showcase in an effort to stroll our two year-old to sleep. Our efforts were in vain, but we tried.

We stopped to see the waterfall in Canada before going to take a break at the Pixar Short Films Festival.

The films were great. I adored the film called “Feast”, which was about a hungry dog that helps unite his family.

We saw that the Figment ride had a five minute wait time, so we jumped on. However, less than ten feet from the loading area, the ride stopped. 25 minutes later, we were finally freed from our car and were able to continue our evening. I was so thankful none of us had to go to the bathroom during that time.

Baymax was still greeting people when we walked by his Character Spot, so we took advantage of his short line. The girls loved hugging him!

The Festival of the Arts included a Disney Broadway concert, but sadly, our misadventure with the Figment ride sucked up the last bit of energy from our kids. We decided to skip the concert and fireworks, but we did ride Spaceship Earth on our way out of the park. We also saw some cool light-up art on the sidewalk!

My husband and I were famished, so we grabbed Arby’s on the way back to the hotel. It tasted so good after a long, wonderful day.

Day 2: Magic Kingdom

The second day, we went to Magic Kingdom! I couldn’t contain my excitement to see the popular Disney park.

Dressing our girls alike really helped us keep track of them in the busy parks!

Our plan to leave early for the Magic Kingdom flopped, due to everyone moving in slow motion. We were exhausted from the day before!

It was 9:00 before we even arrived in the parking lot, and the line at the monorail station was daunting. We decided to take the ferry instead, which turned out to be a good decision. It was a smooth ride with plenty of elbow room.

Enjoying the ferry ride! Normally, we don’t let her have her pacifier during the day, but we made an exception for the trip.

After getting through security, we slowly made our way towards Main Street. Once we hit Main Street, I felt instantly rejuvenated as I heard music from the street performers and witnessed my family see the castle for the first time.

Everyone was in the prime photo location in front of the castle, so I snapped a quick pic on our way to Fantasy Land.

Merida was on break from the Fairytale Garden, so we jumped in the nearly empty Teacup ride. The ride was a bit much for my pregnant self, but the kids loved it.

The line for the Flying Dumbo ride seemed non-existent, but we were deceived. There was a huge line inside of the circus tent! Luckily, it actually moved pretty fast, and we had a nice ride in the sky.

Next up was the Barnstormer, which was a ride my five year-old daughter was really looking forward to. She did a great job being in the front row on her first roller coaster! She is too short to be seen in the picture, but that’s my cute husband in the blue.

We had a brief wait to meet Daisy and Pluto in their cool circus attire.

We ate a quick packed lunch before continuing. The Journey of the Little Mermaid ride was down for maintenance, so we decided to use our FastPass to meet Ariel at her grotto. I was so happy to wait 15 minutes instead of the hour in the stand-by line.

Ariel is our five year-old’s very favorite princess, and our daughter could hardly speak because she was in such awe of the mermaid. I was sad that we were ushered out kind of quickly by the Cast Members, because I really wanted to soak up the special moment.

I was not surprised that we were turned away from the Be Our Guest restaurant when we inquired about getting in. I had tried for over a month to get a reservation, and was unsuccessful. Still, the morning had gone so well otherwise that I was determined to not be too bummed.

Well, out of nowhere, five billion people appeared in Magic Kingdom. We could not get to the side of the pathways, and we could hardly move because there were so many guests. I’m seriously stressed thinking about it even now. Wasn’t February supposed to be “off-season”? Every ride we passed suddenly had a minimum of a 70 minute wait. We finally “escaped” for a minute in the Swiss Family Treehouse, which still took us twenty minutes to get through.

Desperate to get out of the mass of people, we circled back towards the castle to go meet Tiana and Rapunzel. We stumbled upon the Move It, Shake It! dance party and enjoyed seeing some of our favorite characters dancing on giant floats.

On our way to the Princess Hall, our little Two saw the giant carousel. When we saw the 80 minute wait, we continued to move away from it, and our daughter was not pleased. She cried for a good portion of the time we waited to meet the princesses, but she perked up right away once she saw them.

Tiana was a sweetheart, and our girls asked her about what her favorite thing to make was. Tiana told them about beignets, and asked them what they should all make together sometime. They settled on making cupcakes with ice cream on top, and planned on Elsa making the ice cream from scratch.

“What’s your trick?” our youngest asked Rapunzel before proceeding to break dance for her. Rapunzel did her own cool spin, and connected with our older daughter on the topic of purple being their favorite colors. I secretly wanted to ask her how heavy her hair was.

Peter Pan’s Flight *only* had a 65 minute wait, so we went on that before heading to Frontier Land to catch the big parade.

We managed to snag a somewhat decent vantage point, minus a tree that blocked some of the taller float items. It was exciting to see the ornate floats and some characters we hadn’t seen yet.

Of course I watched the parade, but I sure loved watching my kids watch the parade.

I was crushed when my big camera died, and that I left my extra batteries in the car. I had so many pictures left to take, and my phone camera was absolute rubbish. Looking back, I should have just slipped into a shop because they probably had batteries. But I did not think of it at the time.

The crowds were still unbelievably bad after the parade, and I had to get off my feet. (Don’t wear sandals, even if they are comfy. You will pay for it.) So we found a place to sit, snack, and regroup. I admit, I was a little bit miserable during this part of the trip, because we were all tired and so stressed from the amount of people in the park.

We decided to try Adventure Land again, and were relieved to find that the crowds had thinned a bit over there. We felt some rain, and put our stroller cover on so our stuff wouldn’t get soaked while we were in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Our exhausted toddler let out a blood-curdling scream after the 20th time of being asked not to swing on the ropes in line. Honestly, I was too tired to care about the rude looks we received. Literally two minutes later, she was asleep on my husband’s shoulder, and slept through the whole ride. She was a totally happy kid after she woke up.

I was excited to meet Captain Jack Sparrow in the line, too. I had secretly hoped it was Johnny Depp, but this actor still played the part well. 

We decided to beat the dinner rush and ate at Pecos Bill’s. We ordered the fajita platter, the taco trio, and macaroni and cheese for the girls. It was pretty good food, and we left very full.

The rain was coming down hard at this point, and we put on our rain gear before leaving the restaurant. My husband went to ride Space Mountain while I took our kids to meet Elena and Cinderella.

Our FastPass for this experience meant we were only waiting for about seven minutes for our turn! I meant it when I said our toddler was much happier after her little nap- she would not stop talking to Elena! But Elena seemed to be loving it, and she interacted with our girls for a good three or four minutes. (Doesn’t seem long, but we were usually swept out of a character meet after one minute!)

I was so sad I didn’t have a better camera for these sweet interactions!

Cinderella was great, too. It was funny when she almost broke character, laughing in surprise when my kids began to break dance for her. She taught them to curtsy in return, and again, we got about three or four wonderful minutes with her.   

I was so happy to see that many people had left the park by this time, and so we backtracked to catch some of the things we had missed earlier. Also, we snapped a couple of quick family selfies with my husband’s phone. They aren’t the perfect Instagram-worthy pictures, but I am so happy we have them!

Enchanted Tales with Belle turned out to be one of our favorite experiences. Each child got a part in a “play” for Belle, and got to interact closely with her.  Our kids were Phillipe the horse and a picture frame. 🙂 I loved how intimate the experience was, and everything was so cute and well done. Again, remember that my camera was dead and I know these picture kind of suck.

We checked back to see if the Ariel ride was fixed, and we were in luck! It was nice to take a break from walking, and the ride was a pretty good one.

It was 7:30 pm when we got out of that ride, and I was bummed because we hadn’t even seen Tomorrow Land yet. But we managed to squeeze in a round of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before the fireworks started.

The areas in front of the castle were completely packed, so we couldn’t see the projections well. But it didn’t make the fireworks any less magical for me. I definitely teared up a little as I soaked in the fact that I was living the moment I had dreamed about- watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks with my kids and husband. 

It was so tempting to stay until the park closed, but the rain was crazy, and we still had a long trek back to our car. We squeezed in the monorail this time back to the parking lot. It took us over an hour to get from the castle to our car.

I’ve never seen our kids fall asleep so fast as I did that night.

It was a stressful day, but still really quite a perfect day.

Day 3: Animal Kingdom

We were content to move slower that day, and felt it wise to let the kids sleep in instead of booking it to rope drop.

I braced myself for another day of insane crowds, but really, it wasn’t terrible.

We headed to the Festival of the Lion King first. I remembered this show from when I was a kid, and it was still stunning as an adult. I loved it all- the music, acrobatics, costumes. It was an invigorating start to the day.

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Right after the show, our five year-old drank so deeply from a Powerade that she got a huge suction bruise on her upper lip! She looked like she had a purple mustache for the rest of the trip, poor thing.

The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail had too many people to be able to enjoy it as fully as we wanted. But it was a beautiful trail!

We went to the Discovery Island Trails and found Pocahontas. Our five year-old asked her when she started cliff diving, and you could tell Pocahontas enjoyed crafting that story.

We explored the areas around the Tree of Life next. That tree is a total Disney masterpiece. It is so gorgeous. We couldn’t believe how many animals were carved in to the surface of the tree.

Soon after, we went to the 3D show “Tough to Be a Bug”, and it scared the crap out of our girls.

On our way to eat lunch at Flame Tree Barbeque, we stumbled upon the Hakuna Matata Dance Party. We had a blast dancing with Timon, Terk, Baloo, and Rafiki.

We also spotted Kevin the bird on her way somewhere.

My husband and I split the St. Louis Ribs Platter and Pulled Pork fries at Flame Tree, and the kids ate macaroni from Eight Spoon Cafe. All of it was delicious.

I managed to get a FastPass for the Na’vi River ride, so we went to Pandora after lunch. Again, Disney did a fantastic job with this world. And the ride was really, really cool.

I encouraged my husband to ride the banshee ride while I took the kids to Dino Land. We rode the Triceratop Spin twice before checking out the Boneyard. One look there told me that there was no way I could keep with the kids by myself, so instead we stopped for a chocolate shake break.

A young girl kindly gave our toddler a small pink dinosaur plush that she had won and didn’t want. So it was that Pink the dinosaur entered our family.

Soon after, we met Donald Duck and danced with him. I laughed when we were leaving and my toddler told Donald that she liked his shoes.

The plan was to meet my husband in Dino Land, but he had to wait almost two hours to get on the Pandora ride. So we changed our meeting spot to be by the Finding Nemo Musical entrance.

It rained again on our way there, and our little Two again had an “I haven’t napped” meltdown as we waited for another half hour for my husband. I was frustrated because a group of people nearby were so rude about me and my kids. As I walked away from them, trying to calm down my daughter, a Cast Member hurried over to warn me about a hawk eating a mouse on top of the lamp post I was pacing under.

“Just be careful, he likes to eat his dinner alone,” she told me. I was happy not to get raked by a hawk.

My husband finally arrived two minutes before the show started. It took me a while to calm down after the massive meltdown, but eventually I was able to enjoy the show. I especially loved the costumes and puppetry. I could have done without the music, though. I think the songs were written for a very young audience.

After the show, we were sad to find that most of Asia had closed down for the night. I grabbed a FastPass for the Everest roller coaster and convinced my husband to ride while our little daughter napped in the stroller.

He was back in under 15 minutes, and we decided to go back to Pandora to explore it in greater depth. I definitely think this was one of the coolest areas in all the Disney Parks.

It was time for dinner and the kids were running out of steam, so we left the park with the intention to eat at Disney Springs and to check out the Lego Store and a Disney souvenir shop.

Somehow, we just ended up at Buffalo Wild Wings eating massive burgers, which was also great.

Maybe next time? And I hope that next time is really, really soon.

-Mariah

Don’t miss my Disney tips post for planning your vacation!