We survived Disney World! Yes, we had pinkeye, a broken phone, and came back a day earlier than we had planned but overall it was an amazing trip. One with lots of fun and lots of memories.
I am by no means an expert on Disney World but I did learn some things that I thought would be helpful to others, especially when planning a trip with little ones.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Saratoga Springs resort, which is on Disney property. We had originally planned on staying at the Polynesian, which is another resort on property that has monorail access. I had heard how important it is to stay on the monorail when you have little kids for easy access to the Magic Kingdom so I thought that was our best bet. Well, my parents let us borrow their points to book a room at Saratoga Springs for that same week so of course we took them up on it. I was a little hesitant to stay at a resort that wasn't on the monorail because I had heard how long the bus rides could be. Well, it ended up being great. We had a one bedroom which was great because Penny woke up early every morning so that allowed Luke to sleep later and it also had a washer/dryer. The pool was great and we had more room than we would have at the Polynesian. Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong with where you stay on property but if you're not staying on the monorail just know that you should plan for extra travel time with the bus or take Minnie Vans.
Minnie Vans are probably my number one tip for Disney. Lyft and Disney teamed up to make things more accessible for families. Through the Lyft app, you can request a Minnie Van, which is a red minivan with white polka-dots. They come equipped with 2 carseats and 2 booster seats and they fit up to 6 people. They will take you anywhere in Disney for $20. I have to say this saved us many times. We used them going to and from most parks. The days we used the bus were hard because Penny didn't want to sit and the whole ride was a struggle. In the Minnie Van, she was strapped into a carseat. Plus, the drivers are Disney cast members and are so helpful answering any questions you have. While we were always basically able to get one, they weren't always available right away.
Our Typical Day
We woke up early, got dressed, gave the kids Cheerios in little baggies to hold them until breakfast. Then we took a Minnie Van or the bus to whichever park we were going to that morning. We had a breakfast planned at each park we went to. They were all character breakfasts with the exception of our breakfast at the Beast's Castle in the Magic Kingdom. (Side tip - there are multiple rooms. We went to the room with the thunder and lightning and Penny was scared out of her mind. You may want to go to the room with the dancing characters - lol.) We were usually out of breakfast by 9 and hit the rides we wanted to and left the park around 11:30. Most times we used the Minnie Van service. We had lunch at the hotel or room and we tried to put Penny down for a nap while Luke swam. The only problem was Penny was so over-stimulated the entire time she didn't want to nap and when she finally fell asleep it was for less than an hour. She wouldn't sleep in the park either - wayyy to much going on for her to close her eyes. Then we went back to the park in the late afternoon and went on a few rides and had dinner. We headed back most nights by 7 pm because my kids really can't do late nights. I think that was the best situation for us but I know many families that keep their kids up late and don't rush into the park in the morning.
I think the character breakfasts were my favorite part of Disney. Both kids loved meeting the characters and it was a nice, calm way to start off the morning. We did 3 character breakfasts and I made the reservations for around 8 am so we were in the park before it opened. We liked The Tusker House in Animal Kingdom and The Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom the best. They were buffet style and my picky eaters both found something to eat. The breakfast at Akerhaus in Epcot was great for any princess lovers. Penny was in her glory while Luke refused to take pictures with them! Lol. Penny even held Ariel's hand for the princess parade. The best part of that breakfast is that if you finish breakfast by 9 am you can walk over to the Frozen Ever After ride and basically walk right onto it since it typically has a really long line and many times you can't get FastPass+ for it.
So Luke is over 40 inches and Penny isn't. A lot of the fun rides in Disney have at least a 40 inch height requirement. Therefore, only one parent could take Luke onto a ride because the other had to hang out with Penny. For parents that have the same issue, Disney has the Rider Swap. You tell the cast member at the front of the ride that you're going to do a Rider Swap and they give you a tag to bring to the cast member when you're getting on the ride. They give you a ticket to come back and ride again without waiting on line so the other person can ride. Basically, your child gets to ride twice and each parent gets to as well. It's a win-win!
Our Favorite Rides
It's a Small World - everyone loved it
Splash Mountain - Luke loved it
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Little Mermaid - Penny loved it
Soarin' - 40" height requirement - Luke, Scott and I loved it
Frozen Ever After
We didn't do many rides at Animal Kingdom. However, we did do the Lion King show, which was amazing. And we didn't make it to Hollywood Studios. It was on our agenda but we skipped it for extra pool time and Epcot.
If you're staying on Disney property, you can make dining reservations 6 months in advance. They really do book up early so try to scope out what you want beforehand. We also made some reservations for great places the day of so don't worry if you didn't get to it.
You can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance. The popular rides really do go quickly.
The Magical Express is a bus that Disney has pick you up from the airport and bring you to your hotel. They will even get your bags from the baggage claim and bring them to your room. Make sure to call Disney and book this with your flight information. Also, remember to pack anything important that you'll need in your carry-on.
We did the Photo Pass and I'm so happy we did. Basically anywhere you see a photographer you can get a picture taken. They scan your Magic Band and the photos go straight to your app. The photos from the rides you go on go there too. We have pictures from Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain and Frozen Ever After. It was especially great because my phone was broken.
We didn't do a meal plan. Honestly, I don't know much about it and didn't look into it. I wanted to option to eat where I wanted each day and I knew we'd eat some meals in our room since we had a full kitchen.
Pack a bathing suit for everyone in your carryon (I used this one). I didn't do that because I figured the kids would want to go into the park. All Luke wanted to do was swim and we were so tired from traveling so we hung at the pool the entire day and he swam in the outfit he wore on the plane.
Plan some time to just hang at the pool. We did a lot more of that than I had anticipated.
You really don't need anything other than shorts and t-shirts if it's hot. I brought a few dresses and they never came out of my suitcase.
We ordered groceries from Garden Grocer. It was so easy and we had water, snacks and stuff for lunch in our hotel room.
Dry Shampoo was the best thing I brought to Disney! Lifesaver.