Three or four years ago, I would’ve told anyone who would listen that I had zero interest in Disney World but here I am, sharing our 5 day Walt Disney World visit in late February 2019! I never went as a kid and pictured it as expensive, hot, crowded, and a complete waste of time. Our family has never been Disney super fans, but we have enjoyed a few of their movies as my kids got older and I started to dig around a little more. I posted in a travel Facebook group asking if it would be worth it if we weren’t crazy into Disney and got some very passionate responses back, pushing me over into the camp that I wanted to decide for myself!
People love to hate on taking vacations to Disney, and I went into it with a skeptical mind, but we really did have a good time. Don’t get me wrong, it was crazy expensive for what it was, we will be visiting England and Wales for cheaper this fall. When pressed to articulate what was so fun, I think it was the feel of an all inclusive vacation with just enough choices and lots of activity! My kids also loved 90% of everything and truly lit up on some of the rides, which of course was a treat for us to watch. It sounds silly but it reminded me a little of Halloween, there was just a hum of excitement from kids and adults alike. People were chatting with strangers on the shuttle bus, being friendly, etc., it was a fun atmosphere.
So, I’m not out to convince anyone that they have to go to Walt Disney World, and I’d always vote for an international trip over Disney if you have to choose, but I do want to share what we did and explain how I went from hating the idea to planning our second trip back for next year!
We visited in late February through early March, which was marked as a “low crowd” time. The weather was perfect; warm enough to swim but not hot enough to be miserable in the parks. We got rained on once but it didn’t damper our stay. Our kids were almost 4 and 6 when we visited, no longer napped, and were used to long hiking vacations, so we skipped the strollers and used a backpack for each of us. We drove down and stayed on site!
While you’re here, check out this post too!
- How to plan for your first time at Disney World – this talks more generally about how to start planning if you don’t know anything about WDW. It’s the post I wish I’d had before we went!
Pin this post about important tips for planning your first Disney World trip with this link or collage photo:
Where we stayed
We stayed the entire trip at the newly renovated Pop Century resort, which is on-site for WDW but one of the cheapest options.
The bathroom was super nice; I appreciated that they switched to non-disposable toiletries to reduce plastic waste. We opted out of “mousekeeping” since we were basically just sleeping there, which gave us a gift card back to spend in the park!
That desk? It’s a murphy bed! I love how the space was set up. There is a small fridge in the corner – no microwave but we used the one in the cafeteria. It was pretty comparable to a cafeteria at a zoo or museum, we ate there once or twice out of convenience and it was fine but not notable.
Something I didn’t know before we got there was that the resorts have regular activities! A few cost extra but some were free. We were too busy to take advantage of any but it was nice to have them.
I didn’t take a picture of the big pool but it is pretty standard. The budget hotels don’t have water slides but the pool was fun and there was a separate splash pad pictured above! There was also a small playground, which was a great place to burn energy the first night we got there. Not pictured is an arcade as well, which we spent a little time in as a fun novelty.
Some folks complain that the theme-ing at Pop Century isn’t very “Disney” but it didn’t bother us. It’s within walking distance to Art of Animation resort where you can see the fun big statues – but you’re not allowed to use their pool unfortunately.
We were happy with our choice and would recommend Pop Century without reservation, no pun intended. We used the laundry to cut down on packing, enjoyed the pool, and liked how close we were to the shuttle buses.
We had 5 days not counting our arrival afternoon and planned for 4 days, 1 in each park, with 1 rest day. It was a good fit for us and we jam packed the days, staying from open to close more or less!
My #1 tip that I wish I could go back in time and tell myself? Research every ride your kids are interested in ahead of time, even if it is in the park on your phone! My son is sensitive and we ruined an afternoon trying to take him on a ride (Avatar’s flight of passage) that had an intro scene that terrified him. If I’d realized you could watch ride videos ahead of time, it would’ve saved us all a lot of tears (although he did recover, thankfully).
I am not going to link every single ride but it’s safe to say there are specific reviews all over the internet for each one if you’re curious or want to do more digging!
Day 1- Epcot
Epcot is broken into two parts – Future World, which has the bulk of the rides, and the World Showcase that has the bulk of the food ( includes Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, Canada). I can’t believe when I read people planning to skip this park with their kids, we absolutely loved it.
What we rode or saw:
- Turtle Talk with Crush- This was one of my least favorite attractions. It is very relaxing and air conditioned so maybe it would’ve felt more worth it in summer, but I just didn’t find it that exciting and neither did my kids. It’s like a little mini show with a projection of Crush making jokes and small talk with the crowd.
- The Seas With Nemo and Friends- A cute, easy little ride.
- Soarin’- This is a travel simulation where you hardly move physically and just watch a screen, it was cute and fun. You do move up briefly in the little watching pod so watch a video to prepare any sensitive kids.
- Mission: SPACE- Another one I didn’t go on but it is a space simulation with two intensity levels, my son & husband rode both and enjoyed them.
- Frozen Ever After- This was one of our favorites! A relatively simple ride with a few tiny thrills and lots of Frozen songs.
- IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth- This was a bust for us. To be fair it was very rainy, but we didn’t get into this fireworks show and ended up leaving early. I believe that this show has been discontinued so you don’t have to worry about it, hope the replacement is more fun!
- Met Anna, Elsa, & Mulan- They chat for a minute, snap a photo, and sign autographs. I was surprised by how much fun my kids had with the meet & greets.
- Ate at Biergarten- This is a German buffet meal that we all enjoyed! They play live music and the kids can go down and dance around, the food was great, I recommend it! You can read a full review of the restaurant here.
Something we didn’t do was the kid’s passport program; it was a little kit you bought in the park at one of the kiosks and had stamped at each country. This park was HUGE and I quickly realized I should’ve strategized a little more in terms of walking time between fast passes and dinner, but we survived. Pictured above is the “school bread” which is apparently very popular and for good reason, it was delicious! I got it at the Kringla bakery in NOrway.
Day 2- Animal Kingdom
Online Disney fans seem to get very angry when you suggest AK is similar to a zoo, but guess what, I think it is. There is one section focusing on animals + Africa, one section loosely based on carnival rides + dinosaur bones and then another section called Pandora, from the Avatar movie. I wouldn’t advocate skipping it because we loved the Lion King show and my kids enjoyed the safari ride but if I had to cut one park, it would be this one.
What we rode or saw:
- Flight of Passage– As I mentioned above, this was a gigantic, painful failure for us. Our TA booked us a fast pass for it and I didn’t realize until that day that my youngest wasn’t even tall enough. My eldest was, but he was 100% freaked out by the intro in which they play a realistic lab video that your brain is infected and they are going to hook you up to a machine. Unlike most rides, we couldn’t exit quickly, which meant he had to sob in a corner with me until the video was finally over. Cast members were kinda helpful in that they let me cut back in to go by myself after my husband, but my experience was obviously colored by the trauma preceding it. I didn’t love this ride but can see how it is very unique, it’s a motion simulation with a screen and added elements to make it feel more realistic as you ride one of the Avatar creatures through Pandora.
- Festival of the Lion King– This show was amazing! One of our favorites. Really enjoyable and entertaining.
- Finding Nemo- The Musical– I didn’t see this one personally but my daughter and Mother in law enjoyed it, it’s a show.
- Kilimanjaro Safari– My kids loved this, you ride in a van just like a true safari and see animals.
- Animal exhibits– I can’t find if these had a specific name but there are lots of animals in enclosures similar to a zoo and we walked through most of them.
Another bonus is this cute Wilderness Explorer booklet. We didn’t finish it but each animal spot has a little activity and you get a sticker if you complete it, this was a fun free option.
There aren’t fireworks in the finale show here for the sake of the animals, and we left before it.
Day 3 Disney Springs + Fantasia Putt Putt-
I don’t know if it is standard or a special but we got tickets for free putt putt with our resort reservation, so we hopped over to Fantasia Gardens & Miniature Golf for a bit on our “rest day” in addition to swimming and exploring Disney Springs. I wouldn’t pay their asking price but it was a cute little course albeit a sunny one.
Then we finished at Disney Springs, where we ate at the T-Rex Cafe and poked around the Lego store. The T-Rex Cafe was really fun, similar to Rainforest Cafe with dinosaurs, and the food was surprisingly good. The Lego store had a big play area for building and racing cars, it was a great place to kill time. I wouldn’t seek Disney Springs out necessarily but it was a nice spot to take a breather from the parks.
Day 4 Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom is what people typically think of when they think of Disney World and we were excited to explore it! It’s broken up into a few different sections: adventureland, fantasyland, frontierland, liberty square/main street, & tomorrowland.
What we rode or saw:
- Ate at Cinderella’s Royal Table– This was a huge splurge for us! It’s the only character meal we did and a big one; you meet several princesses at once and get to go in the “big castle”. This is the only way you can go into the castle and it’s painfully pricey. We did breakfast, the food was good, and the kids were thrilled with the cheapie sword & wand they got as free souvenirs! It was worth it, for us.
- Met Merida
- Peter Pan’s Flight ride– This was a really sweet, fun ride.
- It’s a small world ride– A classic, we felt like we had to do it, it was exactly what you’d expect.
- Festival of Fantasy parade– One of our favorites!! It just happened to be near us and we loved it. The fire breathing dragon from Sleeping Beauty was a hit along the other floats and dancers. Highly recommend staking out a spot ahead of time.
- Castle show– I can’t find what this was called but they have regular mini shows in front of the castle with dancing and singing, it was worth stopping for.
- Haunted Mansion– I wasn’t sure what to expect from this classic ride but the intro spooked my sensitive eldest and he was able to exit early without issue. It’s not very scary and just an easy ride through the mansion.
- Magic Carpets of Aladdin– Hardly worth mentioning, this is a typical carnival style super tiny up and down ride but they enjoyed it.
- Buzz lightyear ride– This was another hit, where the kids got to “shoot” at targets/Zerg in the dark.
- Happily Ever After fireworks show– One of our favorites from the entire trip! They combined projected overlays on the castle with fireworks over the top, beautiful music, and a special appearance from a ziplining Tinkerbell. We all thoroughly enjoyed this – make sure to go early and stake out a spot. We took dinner over and ate while we waited!
- Jungle Cruise– This felt cheesy, a ride through a faux river with animatronic animals but my kids enjoyed it.
- Pirates of the Caribbean ride– I didn’t ride this with them but they all enjoyed it, even without knowing anything about the movie.
- Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor– An interactive “comedy” show, this wasn’t a big hit for me but the kids did get some giggles.
- Swiss family treehouse– This was a big disappointment for us! It really didn’t have anything fun to do, you basically walk up the stairs and look around and walk back down. Unless you’re super invested in the story, skip this.
- Tom Sawyer Island– A great spot for kids to hang loose and climb on stuff, we definitely needed this in the middle of the day.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train– I didn’t ride this but it wasn’t too scary for my 4 year old and they all enjoyed it.
We had such a fun day here. Two cool things we didn’t do but you might want to check out are virtual, interactive games through the park: A Pirate’s Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas game & Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game.
Day 5 Hollywood Studios
It seems like a lot of people choose Hollywood Studios to skip if they have to pick one, but we really loved it. This park has less clearly defined zones but they include echo lake area, grand avenue area, Toy Story Land, animation courtyard, sunset boulevard, and the brand new Star Wars: Galaxy Edge area (that wasn’t open yet when we were there).
What we rode or saw:
- Met Chewy, BB8, Olaf– As a heads up, these characters don’t do autographs! Chewy was our favorite by far.
- Little Mermaid show– This was a fun little show with good music.
- Star Wars show– My kids are super into Star Wars and loved this show, you see a ton of new & old characters and it is well worth it even though it is outside in the sun.
- Star Wars parade– This features stormtroopers and a battle or two, I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch it but we enjoyed watching.
- Slinky dog dash rollercoaster– I didn’t ride this but both my kids did and loved it!
- Frozen show– This felt a bit tired after the fun ride and meet & greet at Epcot, but my kids enjoyed it.
- Fantasmic fireworks show– Another big win! We loved the pyrotechnics mixed in with the show and really had fun watching this.
One thing we didn’t do was the free jedi training event- you can read more about the experience and how to snag a spot here! We’re excited to read more about Galaxy’s Edge this fall.
Overall trip reflections
Like I said, we had a really good time to our own surprise. People talk often about “disney magic” where the cast members go above and beyond to make a kid’s day or fix a problem and while we didn’t see any of that ourselves or secondhand, everyone was super nice, everywhere was super clean, and it was fun to be at a place that 100% accommodated and was excited to host families with kids. We didn’t see a ton of fighting, angry parents or whiny kids like I was a little worried about, and enjoyed the mix of eating, shows, rides, and things to look at. I hope the list of our favorites and what we did helps someone else plan well!
Have you been to Disney? What’s your take?