Recently, we were blessed to receive a trip to Disney World as a gift a few days before a conference I needed to go to. It was a blast and our children really enjoyed it as well. However, it was quite challenging, too, so I wanted to share our experience so that perhaps we could give people a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare.
Disney World costs a ton.
It is easy to rack up a high bill very quickly if you are not paying attention. We are a military family so we had a slight advantage by booking accommodations at Shades of Green.
Here are the details:
The first tip I have is with the tickets. We live in Florida so the three-day pass for us was the cheapest option – even lower than the military rates. It was $175 for 3 days. Don’t worry if you are not a Florida resident though because your local ITT office on base will have comparable pricing (I think I saw it starts at $195).
The cheapest Accommodations for us were at Shades of Green. The nightly rate is based on rank and divided into 3 categories. I was recently told that the rates fluctuate throughout the year so I looked and checked several dates and availability. The rates did actually vary but only between $5-$10 more per night than what we paid. We stayed May 15 through 18 2019. We were told by someone who used to work at the resort that the best times to go are during the week and before school is out for the summer for the best rates and availability. So we booked Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and checked out Saturday. That seemed to be better at the parks as well as it was much less crowded it seemed than even even on Friday. When we stayed the rates were listed as follows; E6 and below is $119 per night. E7 and above is $149. DOD Civilians can also stay at $159 per night. Most onsite Disney resorts will start at $159+ even with a military discount. So for us, SOG was the best price so that is where we stayed for 3 nights.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the resort. A long time ago people used to tell me it was cheap but not very nice, so that stigma stuck with me all these years. According to an article I read, they renovated the resort in the last few years or so. There are still a few cracks here and there but nothing bad and it seemed very clean. The sinks in the bathrooms have granite counter tops, the carpet seems newer, and the TV console also has a mini-fridge built into it.
Be prepared to walk a lot at shades of green however because the resort is huge. A lot bigger than I really knew. Every room is equipped with 2 beds, a table, 2 chairs, a pull out sofa, a mini fridge, a tub shower combo, and a somewhat private patio or balcony. If you stay on the first floor the sliding glass door opens up to a nice shared grassy area that the kids can run around on if needed. There is housekeeping every day so that is also nice.
One thing that I did not really think about when packing was to pack two pairs of clothes per day if you plan to leave the park for a break. I poured sweat the entire trip at Disney World. It was nice to have those extra clothes to change into during our mid-day break.
We ended up having to do a load of laundry while there. This is an awesome feature to have at the hotel. You never know what can happen so having an onsite laundry facility is awesome. It is relatively cheap as well. $1.00 to wash $1.00 to dry. They also have laundry detergent for $1.00 or laundry bag for $2.00. There were also utility sinks if you need to wash your hands.
The next awesome feature that Shades of Green has is the onsite BX.
This was awesome.
We did not bring enough water bottles with us so the BX had relatively cheap prices for water bottles (around $1), Red Bull’s, snacks, or forgotten toiletries. They also had much cheaper souvenirs as well. This was a lifesaver as water at the Disney resorts or in the parks are $5.75 for a water bottle.
The cheapest thing is to bring a case or jugs of water with you to the hotel and put them in the mini fridge to take with you to Disney World. Also, bring your own snacks and food if you want to save a little money as food at Disney World is very expensive.
So how do I even get to the parks?
Shades of Green has a bus, ferry, or you can walk to the monorail at the Polynesian Resort. It is about a 10-15 minute walk to the monorail but easier for us than the bus. The bus you have to break down the stroller ride then set it back up and takes a while. Plus the bus only goes once an hour to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. On the monorail, you can just get straight on with the stroller any time you want. So that is what we did.
Keep in mind to plan for plenty of time, though. It took us anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to get from the hotel to the entrance to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot (walk to monorail 15 minutes, wait for monorail and security 5-10 minutes, then monorail ride about 15-20 minutes). I did not think about this so we ended up missing some of our fast passes because of it, unfortunately.
Now that we have talked about tickets, where to stay, and how to get there, let’s talk about our actual experience.
Day 1 Epcot:
We traveled all day then went to Epcot once we checked into the hotel. I do not recommend this as we did not have much time at the park because it takes so long to get there. We were crunched for time though to save a little money to not have to stay another night at the hotel so we decided to sacrifice a little bit at Epcot. This was a good choice for us because Epcot is more for adults than kids and we have two small children.
We walked around and looked at stuff and went to our dinner reservations at Akershus Castle. This is a very Norwegian type of set up with foods around the world. The food was good but incredibly small portions. Our bill here was more expensive than Cinderella’s royal table and not near as awesome in my opinion. Upon entry, you will get a picture with Belle (which is why we chose this as dining first) then as you eat the princesses will come around to visit and take a photo. They are all in character and wear pretty awesome attire.
Once seated, you will get a choice of an entree and then go to the salad bar for an appetizer. There they have cheeses from Europe, salad bar, and bread tables. Something special to get here is a light up drink (alcoholic for adults or kids get a light up straw on the drink). We enjoyed this add on. Then you finish with a delicious dessert tray with a chocolate mousse, bread pudding, and some sort of strawberry cottage cheese thing. It is very good food and small portions. Then at the end of dinner, the princesses line up and do a parade with the kiddos. Overall it was enjoyable. It cost $420 for 4 adults and 2 children, and 3 alcoholic beverages) for our family to eat there.
There are fireworks at every resort at 9 pm every night so definitely stay for those. Epcot has a water parade with fireworks and it is pretty cool.
Everyone piles out of the parks at the same time after the fireworks so be prepared to wait to get back to your hotel. We had to wait about 45 minutes for a monorail the first night from Epcot.
Day 2 Magic Kingdom:
The second day we went to the Magic Kingdom. We got up got a coffee from the little Starbucks at the entrance to shades of green then walked to the monorail.
Once we got to the Magic Kingdom we decided to try “Be Our Guest” for breakfast. It is a Beauty and the Beast themed castle.
The architecture was gorgeous. They even have animated snow falling outside of the windows of the castle.
It has three rooms: the beast side, the beauty side, and the ballroom in the middle. Once you walk into the castle you get a rose beeper and order your food at the door. You then sit down at a table and fix your own drink. A few minutes later someone will bring you your food. There are no characters for breakfast but the food was good. It was a neat place to sit out of the heat for a few minutes. It cost $91.59 for 2 adults and 2 children to eat there for breakfast.
Next, we were off to Ariel’s Grotto. This was such a cool ride for the kids and even us as adults. You hop onto a clamshell and take a 6 minute AC ride through The Little Mermaid with animated characters.
Then we went to “Its a Small World”. It was interesting, to say the least. You hop onto a little boat and ride about 10 minutes through different cultural worlds. The kids enjoyed the boat ride and to get out of the heat for a few minutes. This was a great fast pass to have as the wait was at least an hour without it. I won’t lie, though. The ride was slightly creepy…
Then we went and took a picture in front of Cinderella’s Castle. This was my must-have picture from the trip. We got family shirts made that were so cute and so I wanted a picture in front of the castle.
We decided to get the military discounted memory maker package for $98. You can only get this inside the park at guest services but it was so worth it to me. You can go to any park photographer and they will take your picture with nice camera equipment and it instantly uploads to your My Disney account. They also add special features like this (tinker bell) for a little extra magic. So fun!
If you choose not to get the memory maker, you can still see the pictures but they just have large logos on them. As a mom and a photographer, it was nice for me to actually get to be in the pictures instead of having to be the one to take them (and lug a heavy camera around).
The day we went it was just beautiful. The clouds even had character shapes. I almost felt like I was in an alternate reality because everything was so different than I had ever experienced.
I am a photographer so I have to add a little blurb in here about photography. A lot of the photographers at the park have Nikon cameras. They use a nice flash with a diffuser over the flash. You will want to look at your pictures as soon as they take them and upload them to your Disney account app just in case that photographer didn’t quite get it right. We had this problem at Animal Kingdom. I think she was new and didn’t really know how to use the camera because in the picture we have the tree growing from our heads instead of off to the side as it should be. I did not realize it until later that day when it was too late. I am grateful to at least have a picture, however.
Around 11 am, they had a parade of characters that was pretty cool near the entrance. It was all the characters walking and riding floats.
We then rode the monorail back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. We changed our clothes and ate some snacks. This would also be a good time if your little princess wants to get her hair or makeup done. We did not think about it until the last minute so none of the salons had any availability the same day. Shades of Green only has people on certain days. That is the cheapest option. The French Quarter also has a boutique and can usually accommodate same day appointments. However, it was a little pricey for me. It is about $100 to get under 12 hair and makeup done. Then there is also the Bippity Boppity Boutique as well. That is a little more expensive and has to be made 24 hours in advance. It is inside the Magic Kingdom. I just ended up letting my kiddo be natural because it was hot and she wanted to be comfortable (and I forgot the curling iron-whoops!).
After we went back and rested at the hotel for a couple of hours we went back to Magic Kingdom and rode the Haunted Mansion. Thank goodness for fast passes. There was a 3-hour wait if we did not have them. It was worth the ride though. It was creepy and well done. The 3D graphics were really neat. It was a little too scary for my 5-year-old though so just be cautious if you have small children.
We then walked around the park for a little while and waited for our dinner reservations. They will not let you check in early so be aware of that. They also close off the castle an hour before the fireworks so it is kind of a pain to get to during that time.
Our dinner reservations were at 8:25 but we did not get seated until about 9PM. Once you check in you are brought inside the pictures to sit and wait and also get a picture taken with Cinderella. So that was cool. Then you walk up 3 flights of stairs to the dining area. It is much smaller than I thought it would be but I liked that it was quiet and quaint.
Meet and greet with Cinderella at Cinderellas Castle
The food was so good.
I also like that you pay for it when you book it so you don’t have to worry about paying for it the day of, plus you know what you are actually being charged versus the other restaurants for some reason hide it until you get the check. Once you sit down, you get to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert. We chose to do the wine flight and it was excellent. One thing that is awesome about eating a late dinner at the castle is that you get to sit and eat and watch the fireworks at the same time in the AC.
After dinner, they give the kids plastic princess wands or swords for boys. One thing to note is that the bathrooms at the castle were not very clean but they at least had soap and paper towels. Eating at the Castle was my favorite part of the entire trip. That castle is magical. Maybe it was something about watching fireworks and enjoying dinner surrounded by wondrous, gothic architecture and Disney princesses or maybe it was just the wine. I am not sure but it was awesome!
Finally, we started the walk back to the monorail and the fireworks were still going to we sat and watched for a few minutes and it was pretty awesome. They have a light show narration with fireworks. Once we got to the monorail it took a good 30 minutes to get on one then another 20-minute ride back to the Polynesian. Then, of course, the 15-20 minute walk to the hotel room at Shades of Green.
Day 3 Animal Kingdom:
The third day we chose to go to Ohana at the Polynesian for the character breakfast. This was my children’s favorite place out of the whole trip.
Once you check in you get to take a picture with Pluto.
Character meet and greet at Ohana – Polynesian Resort
Then you sit down and the waitress takes your order for drinks. She brings you a skillet full of eggs, sausage, ham, and pineapple, and Mickey pancakes, along with a plate of fruits and Hawaiian pineapple pastry. While you eat breakfast Lilo, Sitch, and Mickey characters come around to take pictures.
Ohana breakfast at Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Once breakfast is over, they do a parade of children with maracas. Overall the breakfast was good, the characters were fun, and it was a great experience. We paid $94.62 for 2 adults and 2 children to eat breakfast there. You can always eat breakfast at the hotel for a lot cheaper but our kiddos really enjoyed the character dining at Ohana so I highly recommend it.
Then we walked back to Shades of Green to get on the bus to get to Animal Kingdom. The buses run every 20 minutes from Shades of Green. You have to fold up the stroller to get on the bus, but this is the only way to get to Animal Kingdom from Shades, outside of driving yourself.
This is something I always wanted to do from when I was a little girl. I was very disappointed with Animal Kingdom. There were not very many animals to see.
We started off walking through the Gorilla walk but it was disappointing. Supposedly, there was just a baby gorilla born recently but you can’t see it or any other gorillas. There were birds and a few zebras, though. There were a ton of people and very narrow walkways so if you have a stroller just don’t even try to use it because you won’t fit and there are just way too many people.
Next, we went to The Festival of the Lion King Show. That was pretty neat and entertaining. You don’t need a fast pass for this though. The fast past line seemed longer than the regular line.
Then, we went on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Definitely get a fast pass for this. I am so glad we did the fast pass because if not we would be in line for 2 hours.
Boy pointing at a rhino on Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safari ride
Either way, in my opinion, the ride was not worth the wait. It looks fun in the commercials but in actuality, you are riding a truck through some trees to see animals you can see at a zoo. There were no lions or tigers and the animals are a pretty far distance away from you. We saw one cheetah, 2 rhinos, one hippo, 2 giraffes, flamingos, and a couple of Okapis. It was hot also so bring a fan.
The most fun part of Animal Kingdom to me you did not need even need a ticket for – The Rain Forest Cafe!
These restaurants are so neat. The food is really good and the experience is cool, too. They have a huge fish tank at the entrance with lots of fish, cool stuff in the gift shop, and the mock rainstorms are a great touch. Be careful the times you go though as the wait can go from 5 minutes to 2 hours in a matter of minutes. We were lucky and went right at 11am on a Friday and only had to wait about 10 minutes. If we had waited even 15 more minutes we would have had over an hour wait.
The coolest part is that there is a back entrance to animal kingdom so you don’t have to go through the front gate or back through security to get back into the park. It is neat because there are a few misting fans walking into the restaurants to keep cool if you want to be outside. I also found some really cool finds on the clearance racks in there. I got some adult souvenir T-shirt’s for $5 and some kids shirts for $10.
There were so many people at the park on Friday when we went it made it so miserable to me. We could barely walk and it was really hot. At that point, we decided that we were done and just went back to the hotel. After 3 days of walking a total of almost 20 miles, we all had blisters on the bottoms of our feet and it hurt to walk.
Another park goer told me that Dino Land was pretty cool but we never made it.
One bit of advice I can give is to plan dining reservations and fast passes as far in advance as possible. If you don’t get the one you want keep checking every night at midnight and something will probably open up. Fast Passes were the only rides/ shows we did. Without one, you will most likely wait 1-3 hours. Us having small kids I highly doubt they could have waited that long without us losing our minds.
In conclusion, Disney World is huge and there is so much to see, do, and a lot of walking. So be prepared for it to take a while to get to where you are going, a lot of congestion of people, and a few blisters on your feet. It is fun but incredibly exhausting. So here is to a vacation from the vacation.
From my family to yours, safe travels and enjoy your trip!