Well, we did it. We survived a trip to Disney World with a 1.5 and 3.5 year-old. Why Disney, you ask? Well, add together a Captain Hook obsessed little boy and a Minnie/Mickey/Donald, Little Mermaid-obsessed little girl, and two parents who wanted to warm up after a brutal Minnesota January, Disney World was our vacation spot of choice. I wanted to jot down some tips and opinions of things we did in case any one out there is thinking of taking their young toddlers, or in case we want to go again soon and I need to jog my memory.
This was my 9th (or maybe 10th?) time to WDW (Walt Disney World) and I was amazed at the changes since my last visit in 2007. Most remarkably the New Fantasyland area in Magic Kingdom which was great for entertainment of multiple toddlers. Another change is all the pirate-centric activities, which are probably put in place so parent’s have an alternative to spend money on their kids beyond the typical princess fare.
First off, I am a big fan of staying on Disney property, especially since WDW started the new Magical Express bus service that picks travelers up at the airport and delivers them and their luggage right to the hotel. They even pick up your checked baggage from baggage claim and deliver it to the room. However, there is a 3-hour wait on that so make sure must-have items are in your carry on. Yes, it can be cheaper to stay off property, rent a car, drive in to the park every day, etc. BUT, if you believe time is money and don’t particularly enjoy hauling car seats with you when you travel, the convenience of Disney property is well worth the extra money (I’m not even convinced it would be extra money if you stayed at a value resort).
We chose the Wilderness Lodge which is on the high end of the price spectrum but I have found that January is a great time to stay there. Our Woods view (one upgrade above the most basic standard view room) was only $204.10 a night (plus about $25 in taxes) which felt like a steal since the same room carries a $350+ per night price tag in high season. Yes, truth be told, we could have stayed at a value resort for about $100 a night. We discussed hotel choice numerous times because that is one of the places to cut down vacation costs, especially in WDW. In the end, we decided to stay at Wilderness Lodge because 1) We LOVE it there! But beyond that, we tried to justify it by telling ourselves, 2) it is close in proximity to Magic Kingdom, where we planned to spend most of our time. 3) connected by bus and boat (bonus for a pirate-loving boy who thinks every boat in water is a pirate ship) to Magic Kingdom to give is variable transport options. 4) It was close enough we could go back to the hotel for nap time if we wanted without wasting most of the day. 5) We planned to do two events at the Contemporary Hotel which is just a quick boat ride away adding to the convenience, without the even more hefty price tag of being on the monorail like the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. 6) As a guest staying on Disney property you get Extra Magic Hours. Each day one of the parks either opens early or stays open late and only people staying at a Disney hotel can enter so you have a little bit of crowd control.
My parents drove all the way from Minnesota to meet us down there and it was great to see them when we arrived. One side note tip, if you have anyone traveling with you who has trouble walking long distances, Disney hotels themselves are huge and very tiring to navigate. Each park rents electronic scooters for around $40 a day but they are available only on a first come, first serve basis. Disney has a handful of approved vendors for electronic scooters which deliver them straight to the hotel. Each Disney bus can hold two scooters, and the large boat which transports from Wilderness to Magic Kingdom can hold three. It is a WAY better deal to get the scooter delivered to the hotel by one of the vendors, saving the hassle of waiting in line and saves feet from the stress of large hotel walks. They are dropped off at the hotel, come with a charger, can be parked in the hallway overnight to charge so they don’t take up hotel room space, and the company picks them up. If you run out of battery at a Disney park and forgot the charger, the company comes to the park and gives you a new battery. Awesome service!
Since we didn’t get to the hotel until about 4, we had not planned to go to a park. In hindsight, it probably would have been cheaper to go to a park than do the event we did, since once you get over a 4-day single park ticket pass it is only about $10 a day to add on additional days. However, our little guy is OBSESSED with Captain Hook and the absolute only guarantee to meet him is on the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage which takes place at the Contemporary Resort.
At $59 per adult and $34 per child (under 3 is free) it was actually more pricey than breakfast in Cinderella’s Castle. For our family, it was worth every penny but certainly wouldn’t be for everyone. It starts at 6:45 p.m., but if you show up around 6:15 to sign in there are a few little activities to do like a scavenger hunt, coloring pages, and simply letting your kids play with other pirate-wanna-be’s. Everyone in the group gets a bandana with the logo and a picture of Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, the stars of the night.
At 6:45, you are allowed in to one of the ballrooms at the Contemporary and there are lots of snacks available; cheesecake, dessert bars, bags of chips and popcorn, cotton candy (which our little guy had his first ever bag of and was SO excited), ice cream bars, frozen fruit bars, lemonade, tea. It would be a good idea to grab a simple sandwich or share a pizza ahead of time and plan on eating “side dishes” and desserts there. Up until about 7:15, guests can snack on as much as they want and take pictures with Hook and Smee.
About 7:20 everyone lines up at the door and is assigned either a Captain Hook or Mr. Smee boat group. Hook and Smee lead their group down to the boat dock and then wave good bye and “helper” pirates take over the entertainment. It is a small boat (not electronic cart friendly but they can be left on the dock right outside the boat) and heavy blankets are provided if it is chilly outside. The boat parks in the lagoon with a great view of Cinderella’s castle and a gorgeous view of the fireworks display, including the music which accompanies the show inside the Magic Kingdom so the complete choreography can be appreciated.
Overall, it was a great event for our family due to the Captain Hook obsession, and a great way to start the trip with a little Disney magic without jumping right in to a theme park excursion. If you do not have any pirate lovers in your family, it may be a good thing to skip since the snacks themselves are not worth the price and you can see the water view of the fireworks by timing a boat ride back to the Magic Kingdom parking lot or back to the Wilderness Lodge for right when they start. It is not possible to hear the music which compliments the fireworks but the changing color castle and fireworks are a show on their own.