Our Walt Disney World Vacation – The First Day

We did it. We spent 6 days at the self-proclaimed Most Magical Place on Earth, despite writing a post last year detailing the reasons why we hadn’t gone to Walt Disney World (WDW) yet. I do not plan on giving each day of our trip it’s own blog post by any means but because I felt so overwhelmed by the planning process when we first decided to jump into the WDW pool, I thought it’d be nice to break down our experience and lessons learned into more manageable nuggets of information.

We had a 7:00am flight from Reagan National to Orlando International Airport. Because we were staying on property, we were able to utilize the Magical Express service, which includes complimentary luggage delivery and transportation to WDW. About a month prior to our trip, we were mailed special tags for our luggage. We handed over our checked luggage in Washington DC and didn’t see it again until we walked into our cabin later than night – it felt great to bypass baggage claim and walk right to the Magical Express boarding area upon landing in Orlando. Because we were going straight to Hollywood Studios, we packed our carry-ons accordingly – Clay carried a backpack and I carried my favorite travel bag/purse (the NorthFace Elecrtra Daypack).  The process to check into Magical Express was super easy (we just scanned our Magic Bands) and before we knew it, our chartered bus was heading to WDW.

 When the Magical Express dropped us off at Fort Wilderness (I’ll write a blog post specifically detailing why we likely won’t choose to stay there again), we hopped on another bus to Hollywood Studios and before we knew it, we walking into our first WDW park together as a family. We purchased Disney Salutes 6-Day Park Hopper ticket vouchers from the Fort Belvoir MWR Office ($294.75/ticket). The ticket numbers were on the back of the vouchers, so we were able to book our FastPass+ at the 60-day mark (because we were staying on property) but because they weren’t true tickets, we had to visit Guest Services in order to exchange them and get the information synced with our Magic Bands. It was an easy 5-minute process and while there, we also purchased the Memory Maker at a discounted rate ($99).

I had only been to WDW once growing up on a family vacation and it was Clay’s and the kid’s first time. I was a freshman in high school, we didn’t stay on property, and we were only there for three days so I don’t remember a lot about the trip – only little snippets. Our six-day Disney World extravaganza was very different from what I experienced as a kid so in many ways, it felt like my first visit too. I remember my time at MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) the most so I was happy to oblige our son’s request to make Hollywood Studios our first park because he had one thing on his mind ever since we announced our vacation plans: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

We walked around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, in awe of the craftsmanship. While I enjoy the Star Wars movie franchise, I had to ask Clay and our children a lot of clarifying questions about the little details peppered throughout the land. We were starving so we grabbed lunch at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. We opted to purchase the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) for this trip (I plan to write a post detailing our experience with DDP) so we used a Quick Service credit, which also included alcoholic beverages for myself and Clay.

That afternoon and evening, we saw the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, rode Star Tours, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Toy Story Mania, and Muppet Vision 3D. We ate snacks, walked around the various ‘lands’ within the park, and popped into shops before finally deciding to head back to Fort Wilderness around 7pm so we could finally see our cabin. We had checked-in online using the My Disney Experience earlier that day so all we had to do was walk up to the cabin, click the ‘unlock door’ button on the app, and scan our Magic Bands.

After relaxing in our cabin for a bit, we took transportation from a bus stop near our cabin down to the beach to grab dinner at P&J’s Southern Takeout (another Quick Service meal) and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks across Bay Lake. I’d like to say that it was the perfect end to a fantastic day but to be honest, we were exhausted. Next time, we won’t try and pack so much into the day we land in Orlando…lesson learned!

Why We Haven’t Gone to Walt Disney World Yet

We’re currently in the brainstorming phase of planning our summer family vacation – it’s always a bit of a dance to figure out a location that works within our budget and peaks our interest. We have at least one weekend trip planned each month leading up to our ‘big’ vacation plus our Spring Break trip so we’re not working with unlimited funds. We were able to go to England and France last year – we’re hopeful we can swing something just as amazing this year but only if the good deal fairy sprinkles some dust in our direction. I’m not sure about you guys but whenever we engage in conversations with other parents about summer travel, it is always inevitable that Walt Disney World comes up at some point.

A trip to Disney World feels like both the ultimate parenting benchmark and the pinnacle family vacation. While we’ve spent three days at Disneyland a couple of years ago (and loved it), we have yet to jump into Disney World pool for a variety of reasons. We have many friends who have had truly wonderful vacations to the most magical place on earth (to be fair – we also have friends who sum up their Disney World experience with an eh). There has to be a valid reason why 52 million people visit interior Florida…

…so why haven’t we gone yet?

It’s expensive! With a simple Google search, you can find a plethora of information about planning a Disney World vacation with various budgets. Money.com broke down various Disney World vacations that rang in between $3500 and $10,000. As a family, we love to travel. Our children have seen over two-thirds of the United States and have stamped passports. But we do not have an unlimited vacation fund – we have IRAs, 529s, real estate investments, youth sports, and extra-curricular activities that all need money in their respective pots before cash is even placed into our vacation fund. Simply put – if we spent a lot of money on a Disney World vacation, we wouldn’t have the funds to travel anywhere else for the year.

For the record – we priced a trip to Disney World last year and with what we were quoted (including military discount) for 5 days at Disney World was higher than what we ended up spending on our 8-day trip to Europe – including airfare.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Disney is pricing out the middle class. For some families, Disney World is an annual trip. For others, it is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation that will be referenced for years. There are no shortage of articles and opinions about how Yes – I know there are tips and tricks to bring the cost of a Disney World vacation into a more reasonable range but that brings me to my next point…

The planning process is overwhelming! It’s impossible to ask a question in a Facebook group about Disney World without a handful of people offering their services as a Disney planner. Going to Disney World isn’t as simple as buying tickets and securing a hotel. There are FastPasses that need to be booked, dining reservations to be made, and I’m pretty sure a blood oath is required at some point. As someone who hasn’t experience Disney World since childhood – the process of planning a trip there in the 21st century is overwhelming. When we travel, we love to see where the day takes us based on recommendations of locals and people we meet along the way. A Disney World vacation is the complete opposite of how we travel so spending hours planning our days ahead of time feels quite foreign. Not wrong per se, but certainly different.

It’s in Orlando. There are few places I dislike more in the world than interior Florida – especially during the summer. I’m sure that we will go to Disney World at some point but I guarantee that it won’t be during June, July, or August. The fact that it is in Orlando is a major buzzkill for us. For that reason, planning another trip to Disneyland in California is much more appealing than dropping $5000 in a place with 99% humidity and no ocean. Sorry Orlando lovers – it just isn’t for us.

The crowds. Disney World is family-friendly, magical, clean, escape from the regular world so I can’t really begrudge people for wanting to go there. While there are peak and off-peak times to visit – there will always be crowds. One thing that Disney does great is make waiting in line as enjoyable as possible so while waiting 60+ minutes for a ride isn’t preferable, it is at least more enjoyable at Disney theme parks than other ones. But it is still crowded.

There are other places we want to go more. The cost combined with the fact that there are simple other places we’ve wanted to go more in the world are the two main reasons why we haven’t gone to Disney World yet. We feel that our trip to Disneyland ‘checked the box’ so-to-speak for our children so we don’t really feel the pressure to take them to Disney World anytime soon. We may not know where we are going this summer but it definitely won’t be Disney World. We haven’t ruled it out in the future but it just isn’t for us right now.

Disneyland Splash Mountain

Have you gone to Disney World yet? Do you find it to be the best place on earth or completely overrated or somewhere in between?