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!

Tales From The Walt Disney World Planning Trenches

We’re finally doing it – we’re going to Walt Disney World. In a couple of months, we will fly down to interior Florida and spend six days within the 40 square miles hailed as the Most Magical Place on Earth. Earlier this year, I wrote about all the reasons why we’ve chosen other destinations over Walt Disney World for vacations so I do have to chuckle that we’ll end up visiting Mickey less than a year after I published that post. Why the change of heart? Well – there are a handful of reasons why we decided to bite the bullet sooner rather than later…

  • Our kids really want to go. People certainly don’t accuse us of taking kid-centric vacations (pictures from our visit to Stonehenge exemplify this fact). When we visited Disneyland almost three years ago, Clay and I planned the trip with the idea of “We’re doing this for the kids…“. Well wouldn’t you know – I think Clay and I ended up enjoying our three days at Disneyland more than the kids. While our kids really do love our families adventures, they’ve mentioned a few times how they’d like to visit WDW. And truth be told, Clay and I do too.
  • Armed Forces Salute tickets aren’t getting any cheaper. Look – Disney World is not an inexpensive vacation. Disney has offered the Armed Forces Salute off-and-on since 2002 at varying discount levels. Since 2009, the Armed Forces Salute ticket prices have increased each year. We’ve always known we’d visit WDW eventually so early 2020 seems as good of a time as any to finally take the plunge. According to the WDW website, a 4-day non-park hopper ticket that allows guests to visit one park per day is $335/ticket. For comparison, we purchased 6-day Park Hopper ticket vouchers at Fort Belvoir for $301/each.
  • We want a winter escape. Washington DC is the winter is beautiful. There is nothing quite like seeing all of the monuments covered in snow. But by the end of the January/beginning of February timeframe, we’re always itching to escape somewhere warm for a little while. Only caveat? It is not cheap. When pricing tropical destinations to visit this winter, we mentioned, “Geez, visiting these places will cost more than Disney World!” We originally started to plan to visit over Spring Break (apparently we felt like being gluttons for punishment) but last week, we decided that we wanted to go as a mid-winter break from the gloomy DC weather instead.
  • We don’t know where we’re going next. We’re anxiously waiting to find out where the Army will send us this upcoming summer. We’re hopeful that we will be able to go on another big adventure this summer (Italy? Road trip up into the Canadian Rockies? Alaska? Ireland?) but with so much uncertainty tied to report dates and unknown locations, we’re bracing ourselves for the possibility of needing to scale back our big summer trip this year. We’re going to try our hardest to squeeze something in though!

The Not So Overwhelming But Still Intimidating Planning Process. This picture of Violet at Disneyland is exactly how I felt going into the Disney World planning process. Before kids, Clay and I would fly across the country without hotel reservations – instead choosing to Priceline a hotel upon landing. We loved the adventure of the unknown. And we love a good last minute trip. For example, a couple of years ago, we received our household goods and booked a vacation package to Deerfield Beach, Florida that had the four of us flying the next day. That’s how we like to roll, which is pretty much the opposite when it comes to a WDW vacation. It didn’t help that people would say things like, “Wow – you really are booking your trip last minute!” Since when is booking a trip 70-days out considered last minute?!?

So last weekend, I put out an SOS message on Facebook and within minutes, I had a bunch of people holding my hand telling me that it would be okay. By Sunday night, we had reservations to stay on-property and reservations for one sit-down meal each day. By Tuesday night, we had ticket vouchers in hand and plane tickets reserved. And now here we are – just waiting for the 60-day FastPast window to open up. We chose not to use a Disney Planner because we actually found ourselves enjoying the planning process and sitting side-by-side on our laptops researching various aspects of the trip. If that isn’t romance, I don’t know what is. In the past five days, we’ve completely planned a WDW trip, we’ve watched the first two episodes of The Imagineering Story on Disney+, and we’ve binged on related YouTube videos so we’ve pretty much jumped into the WDW pool cannonball style.

The excitement is building and we’re fully embracing the dorky Disney family vibe. Will mouse ears be involved? Yes. Will we wear coordinating Mickey shirts? You bet. Will this trip launch a yearly pilgrimage to WDW for our family? Nope. But I have no doubt that our visit to the most Magical Place on Earth will be a fantastic week for our family.

What are you MUST-DO’s at Walt Disney World? Those of you who are well-versed in Disney culture or have visiting WDW before, I’d love to hear your favorite things to do while in the parks. Is there a certain restaurant that you love? A ride that’s worth waiting in line for if a FastPast+ doesn’t work out? A certain snack that no trip to WDW would be complete without having? What is your favorite life-hack related to WDW? I’d love to hear it!