I am so excited you’re here! I hope that through this post you can find some helpful tips and tricks for your own Disney vacation! I am going to take you through our vacation step by step so grab a pen and paper and jot down any information that seems helpful!
Disneys Art of Animation
We chose this hotel because of the Little Mermaid room they offer. I did not realize this at the time, but it is one of the top 5 requested rooms in all of Disney. We had originally planned to have our trip in January, however, all of the mermaid rooms were fully booked. So the cast member who was helping us book our trip was able to find a week in February! We moved our trip back a month just for this room and it was well worth it!
We love this hotel because it has access to the Skyliner. It is considered a value resort, however, as soon as you walk in you feel like you’re at Disney. The pools are great and our themed Little Mermaid room was by far the best room we have ever stayed at. It was so fun for our Ariel-loving girl.
They have a store with Disney apparel, snacks, baby essentials, etc. They also have a Dining Hall, Landscape of Flavors that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. There is also a poolside bar, The Drop Off Pool Bar with the best Pina Coladas.
Other than The Little Mermaid room they also have Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars-themed rooms. Ryan said he would love to stay at Lion king next time. A of A also has a laundry room, arcade, play areas, Movie Under the Stars, and jogging trails.
We always start with Disney Springs on our travel day. We love to go walk through Disney Springs, so we always plan to have an early flight so that we can land around lunchtime and head straight to Disney Springs.
[Here is a little update on how to get to your hotel: Once we landed at MCO we headed to get our luggage and then went to Mears transportation. Disney no longer has its own buses that take you to your hotel. HOWEVER, there is still transportation. Mears is the bus company and it is the exact same thing and located in the exact same spot. It does cost now and you have to reserve your spot ahead of time. Simply log on to the website and put in your flight info and it will reserve a bus for you at the correct time. So easy! It drops you off right at the front door of your hotel.]
If your room is not ready once you get to the hotel, you can drop your luggage off and come back when it’s ready. This is what we usually do, however, this time our room was ready right when we got there. So we went to our room, dropped off our luggage, and headed to Disney Springs.
Disney has free buses to each park and to Disney Springs from your hotel. Once we got to DS we headed straight for D-Luxe burger. It is our fav restaurant and it’s in a great location! If it’s nice you can sit on the patio and it’s right on this little river. We then went to Sprinkles to get a cupcake and then to World of Disney for some shopping. WOD is a huge Disney store that has everything. Disney Springs is so fun at night. They have a stage with performances and fun nightlife. We finished our night with a little train ride for Finley then went home to get some sleep for Magic Kingdom the next day.
Magic Kingdom opened at 9:00 am, however, if you say at a resort you get to enter at 8:30 am. (You can check the times for each park on the Disney app) We left our hotel room at 7:30, went to breakfast at the hotel, took the bus to MK, and got to MK right at 8:30. Ryan headed to get Harrison his first pair of ears while I headed to the castle for photos. (We only found ONE place that sold the boy ears hat. They were located in MK right when you walk in and to the right.)
I like to do photos at the beginning of the day so that we can get them over with and not worry about them later on. Plus, it’s better to do them before anyone gets sweaty or has a blowout. I normally do NOT do photos right in front of the castle. However, I did them this time because there was literally no one right there in front. I think everyone just ran to the rides that have long waits…so I took advantage of the good photo opportunities. The best photo spots are to the left of the castle and to the right by Cinderella’s wishing well. (pictured below)
I obviously needed to start my day with Starbucks so we headed back down Main Street to get coffee. The line looks long but it goes pretty fast. Then we went to meet Mickey because the wait was only about 10 minutes. Make sure to check the Disney app throughout the day to check on wait times.
We always start with Tomorrowland which is right of the castle. So we headed right and started our day! We did the Tomorrowland Speedway, Mad Tea Party, and Dumbo. We had to wait around 30 minutes for each ride so after those rides it was time for lunch. We always eat lunch at Cosmic Rays Starlight Diner because it has a great view of the castle.
After lunch we had lightning lane passes for Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Voyage of The Little Mermaid. So, let’s talk Genie+ and lightning lane…
Disney has discontinued Fast Pass and introduced lightning lanes and Genie+. First, they have introduced Genie which is their free service on the Disney app that helps you plan your day. Based on your location, likes and what you want to do, it creates an itinerary on which rides will have the shortest lines at different times. Next, is the new service Genie+. Genie+ costs $15/person per day. We added it on to our park tickets when we purchased them. This is basically their new fast pass. It allows you to make reservations for SELECT rides. These open at 7:00 am for resort guests. Finally, they have Lighting Lane. LL is a paid fast pass service for the most popular rides in each park. (This is an additional fee from the Genie+) These also open up at 7:00 am for resort guests and these go fast! We paid $15/person for Rise of the Resistance, $8/person for Mickey and Minnies runaway railroad, $11/person for Flight of Passage, $11/person for Remis Ratatouille Adventure, and $11/person for Frozen Ever After. I know it’s frustrating having to pay an additional fee after you already pay to get into the park. However, we skipped all of these lines (most were 2+ hours) and walked right on. Definitely worth it for us.
When we were there they had not brought back the Festival of Fantasy parade. However, they had cavalcades throughout the day so you can wave to different characters. These cavalcades are scheduled on the app so just check each day to see when they will be happening.
We finished our day with the fireworks show which was amazing! We headed back to our hotel for dinner and to get some rest for Hollywood Studios the next day.
Ryan woke up right at 7:00 am to reserve his lighting lane pass for Rise of The Resistance. Then we got ready and headed straight for the Skyliner.
[Info on the Skyliner: The Skyliner is our favorite! It is like a ski lift that takes you from certain resorts to Hollywood Studios or Epcot. Our resort has the Skyliner which is one of the reasons why we love staying there. Another great part of the Skyliner is that you do not need to fold up your stroller…you can just roll it on. You have to fold up your stroller on the buses.]
The Skyliner dropped us off at the front and we headed to Galaxy’s Edge. Ryan rode ROR and we walked around a little bit before heading to Toy Story Land. We took our photos (remember, I like doing this first thing). There are so many good photo spots in HS…especially in Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge! Cast Members will take your photo with your phone! We had lunch at Woody’s Lunchbox for the first time and it was one of my fav meals I had!
Next, Ryan rode single rider for Smugglers Run while we ran across the park to see Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage! (Some rides open up Single Rider options which is a way to ride a ride faster. You basically get to ride with another party that needs one more person. This works well for us because Ryan rides a lot of rides that we don’t ride)
We then went to see the Disney JR. characters. I was so excited to see that they brought them back! She got to see all of her fav characters and got to take photos with them!
We usually stay until Fantasmic at night, however, Fantasmic hasn’t returned yet. So, we headed back to the hotel to let Finley swim. We then headed to Epcot for dinner. There are so many food options at Epcot and so many different types of food! We ate at the Mexico Pavilion and it was amazing!
Again, Ryan woke up at 7:00 am to make his selections for different rides. He was able to get Flight of Passage and the Kilimanjaro Safaris. We took the bus to AK and headed straight for Starbucks. It was so nice not having to get there early and try to rush to a ride to beat the crowds.
We started with the Festival of The Lion King which is my favorite! It was a little shorter from the original show pre-covid. But it was still amazing! We headed towards Asia and took photos by the tree. The best photo spot is NOT in front of the tree. It’s on the side (in Asia) on a little walkway. (pictured below)
We then headed to Dinoland USA and saw a boat cavalcade on the way there with Donald and Dasiy! We played games and won some stuffed animals. Finley and Ryan share a love for carnival games. We ate lunch at Flame Tree BBQ. We eat lunch here every time we’re in AK.
Next, we headed to the safari. I feel like this is so underrated! I love it because it’s a cool way to see animals and it’s a nice break from walking! AK is a half-day park for our family so after the safari we headed to Hollywood Studios so Ryan could ride some more rides. We headed to dinner at the ABC Commisionary (we also eat here every time we’re in HS). Then we got Finley ice cream like we had promised her all day. We ended the night playing on this little play area at our hotel.
We were in no hurry to get to Epcot early because there were only two rides that we really wanted to get and we got lighting lane passes for them later on in the day. So we slept in a little and had breakfast at our hotel. We then hopped on the Skyliner and headed to Epcot. Ryan had also got a lighting lane pass for Finding Nemo just in case it was busy. We walked up and there was no line so we canceled the pass so we could use it on something else.
The Finding Nemo are is so cool. After you get off the ride, you enter this huge building with amazing sea life! There are aquariums and interactive areas where you can learn more about different fish. Next, we headed to Spaceship Earth (the Epcot Ball) for photos. I do not have a great photo spot for this so we just took them where we found a free spot. (pictured below) Goofy also happened to be there so we got photos with him too!
We rode Spaceship Earth and then headed to lunch. I wanted to try something different since we had Mexican food the time before. So we went to China and ate at the Lotus Blossom Cafe. This may have been my fav meal of the trip! Next, we went to The Frozen Ever After ride. This is one of the rides Ryan woke up early for to secure a lighting lane pass. This line was about 2 hours and we walked right on! After that, we skipped the 2-hour Ratatouille line and walked right on with lighting lane. Probably my fav ride in all of Disney!
We went to Disney’s Yacht and Beach club for dessert. They have this 50th celebration milkshake at Beaches and cream that I really wanted to try. They actually have a walk-up to-go window so you don’t need a reservation! I walked right up, ordered, and got my shake in like 2 minutes! (photo below)
Every time we go to Disney I like to take photos of Finley in different princess dresses. Her current fav princess is Repunzel, so we got her dressed as Repunzel and headed to Magic Kingdom. We took photos and she got to meet Repunzel while dressed as Repunzel. We ended the night with dinner at the hotel.
We had a slow morning because our Chef Mickey reservation was not until 10:00 am. We got to sleep in and take our time heading to the Contemporary. Chef Mickey is inside the Contemporary hotel. In order to get there, you have to take a bus from your hotel to Magic Kingdom and then hop on the monorail. The monorail will take you to the Contemporary.
It was a fun experience! The restaurant is usually a buffet, however, because of Covid, they do it a little differently. They serve everything family style but you can request more of everything! So it’s still all-you-can-eat. We had cheesy hashbrowns, Mickey waffles, bacon, sausage, brisket, eggs, pastries, and Finley was served a Mickey pancake. We saw Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto. They come by and let you take photos before moving on to the next table. They were patient and waited until I got my photo. I didn’t feel rushed at all. They actually each came by twice! I would definitely do this again!
We then headed to MK to see the castle one last time. After that, we headed to HS one last time. Finley got to see her fav characters again and I had popcorn (my fav snack in the park) while Ryan rode Tower of Terror. We ended HS with seeing Mickley and Minnie again. Then, it was off to Epcot for the last time. I wanted Italian food, however, they did not have any quick-service restaurants and all of their sit-down restaurants were booked. So we went to a cart and got mozzarella balls and a frozen Italian margarita. Then we ended the night with pizza at our hotel.
Our Mears bus came bright and early at 5:55 am to pick us up from the hotel. I am thankful that it came so early because our flight was scheduled at 9:00 and the airport was packed! It took us about 45 minutes just to make it through security. Then we had to take the tram to our terminal. We made it with a little time to spare so we had breakfast and then made it to our gate right in time for priority boarding.
Tips on how to save money? One myth about Disney World is that it has to be crazy expensive. That’s just not true. There are so many ways to cut costs and to save before you get there and while you’re there. 1. Stay at a value resort. 2. Pack your own food (Yes, you can take food and drinks into the parks). 3. Buy Disney cups, bubble wands, etc beforehand so you don’t have to buy merch when you’re there. 4. Ask for Disney gift cards for birthdays, Christmas, etc. 5. Buy Disney gift cards at Target and use your redcard. (I have never done this but I hear of people doing it who get 5% back even on gift cards…with a shot!) Also, it’s a great way to save. Just randomly buy a $10-$15 Disney gift card any time you’re at Target. It will add up and you can just put it aside without thinking about it. 6. Skip Park Hopper. I personally love Park Hopper, however, it does add up. You can easily do one park a day and not pay extra for Park Hopper.
How is Disney different during Covid? I went to Disney back in 2020 right when it opened back up and it was a lot different than pre-covid. However, now things have started going back to normal. I would say the biggest change is not getting to take photos side by side with the characters. They have brought back some characters and you can take photos with them. You just can’t stand right next to them. Also, you have to wear masks on public transportation. The first few days we were there we had to wear a mask at ALL indoor locations. Then on Thursday, they switched it to only transportation. The last thing I would say would be that not all the shows are back…but they’re coming back! We saw Frozen sing-along, Festival of the Lion King, and Beauty and The Beast Live on stage. My fav parade is Festival of Fantasy and they had not brought it back when we were there but I hear that it’s coming back soon! Also, Fantasmic is my fav show and it was not there where we were there but I also hear that it’s coming back sometime this year!
Which rides to use Lighting lane on? This is definitely personal preference. In my opinion…in MK: Seven Dwarfs mine train, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan, and Jungle Cruise. Those are all the busiest rides. I would say to not use these passes on Teacups, dumbo, Winnie the pooh, Carasoul, etc. In HS: Tower of Terror, Rise of the Resistance, Smugglers Run, Slingydog Dash, Mickey and Minnies runaway railroad, and Rock “N” Rollercoaster. In AK: Flight of Passage, The Navi River, and Expedition Everest. In Epcot: Frozen Ever After and Remis Ratatouille Adventure.
Tips and tricks
- FREE buttons for special occasions.
- Refillable mugs. These are great because it’s a souvenir plus you get unlimited refills for the duration of your trip! The only downside is that you can not fill them up at the parks. Only at resorts.
- Magic bands. You do not need these but they’re fun to have. You can select the one that you want on the app when purchasing tickets. However, there are so many to choose from once you get to Disney! These are not necessary though. You can now link your park tickets to your phone and apple watch. I love them though because it’s so easy to scan to get into each park and to pay for everything. Every place at Disney accepts magic band payments. Your magic band is linked to your credit card…so easy!
- Masks. Required on the plane but our airlines (Spirit) did not make Finley wear one. They are required on all transportation at Disney (including children over 2).
- Sneakers. Trust me. Wear sneakers. And take breaks from walking regularly. Your feet will thank you.
- Water bottles. Take your own and refill them at the parks.
- Stroller sign. This is a great way to identify your stroller in the large mass of stroller parking.
- Disney countdown and packing list. These were fun to have while getting prepared for our trip!
The stroller sign, Disney countdown, and packing list are from Fernandina Paper co!
I think this is everything that I can think of! If you have any questions please ask! The park is changing daily with covid-precautions so things may be different once you get there. Plus, they are adding more and more things back as time goes on. So stay up to date by following them on social media!