Disney World Review: we crammed it all in!

Disney World Review - meeting Anna and Else

I took a week off from my normal life to go to Disney World with my family. Although I wasn’t editing or doing sessions, I did book a few newborns while away! I hope you don’t mind if I veer off of the photography blog for a bit to publish this Disney World review. I will throw in some advice about photos, though, so keep reading! My apologizes now for how long this is. It’s equally intended to help anyone planning a trip to Disney and for my own record keeping to document our vacation. We did try to cram in as much as we could this trip. There are attractions we won’t do again when we return, but I wanted my boys to experience it all at least once (Small World ride, for example). So, here is my Disney World Review with all the details!

The Basics


After reading about DW in September of 2018, I was very nervous about high temps. I purchased stroller fans and cooling towels. We also only packed athletic gear for each day. No khakis or jean shorts and only sports bras for me. I think the clothing had the biggest impact. We barely used the fans and didn’t even take them with us after the first day. The cooling towels weren’t used at all after day 2.

For the most part, the weather was great. I thought we would be battling the heat from morning to night, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. There really was just about a 2 hour window in the middle of each day when it got very hot, but we were in and out of buildings or rides so often, that it didn’t matter all that much. The boys never complained about being hot.


The parks weren’t all that busy. We took advantage of morning extra magic hours often, but even during regular business hours, it wasn’t crazy busy like I thought it would be. It definitely helped having fast passes so we didn’t have to wait in any long lines. The only time we felt it was too crowded was during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (more on that later). That’s probably the only negative star I would give for this Disney World Review.

Autograph Book

There are so many clever ideas for keeping character autographs. Read any Disney World Review and you will get some great ideas for how to store your autographs. I’ve seen where some people collect the signatures on a photo mat and frame it with a family photo at Disney. There are all kinds of autograph books online and you can get really cute personalized books on Etsy.

I knew I wanted to include both signatures and photos, but I didn’t like the options I found online. They didn’t include enough pages and there was usually only one slot for a photo. I opted for 4×6 index cards and a 2019 Disney photo album that holds 200 photos. With all that space I didn’t have to eliminate any of the character photos that I really liked. Some characters have one photo in the book, while others have multiple. Then after each photo I put the autographed card.

Disney World Review of the Autograph Book

This was handy because I didn’t have to lug around a big book. I just kept a 5×7 envelope with all the cards in my backpack. The best advice I read on autograph books was to take clickable Sharpies and I have to agree. Some of the characters have a hard time holding the marker, let alone messing with a cap. The clickable was easy and quick, plus I didn’t have to worry about us dropping the cap.

Disney World Review - authograph book

When we met Flynn Rider and Rapunzel (the first time) they signed a frying pan with a silver Sharpie. You can tell by the size of my hand how small of a frying pan it was. In fact, it was so small it made its way to the bottom of the backpack and we forgot about it. The next time we went through bag check, the security officer got a good chuckle out of it. It now hangs on our wall next to some photos from the trip. This Disney World Review highly recommends it!

Disney World Review - Rapunzel's pan


You will get so many opinions on whether or not to do the dining plan. I say it really depends on the ages of your kids and what you plan on doing. We knew we wanted a character meal almost daily. The character meals are expensive out of pocket, so it made sense to use the dining plan in that case! If we go again next summer for a shortened trip where we aren’t doing a lot of expensive meals, we may skip the dining plan.

Now, the dining plan itself is really nice. You just scan your magic band to pay. Each meal includes a drink and/or dessert, too. We really didn’t have to worry about anything when it came to eating. Some people who have written a Disney World Review had a hard time using up all their snack credits. Not us! We liked grabbing quick stuff from the resort cafe like bananas and yogurt. We also liked getting bottles of water on occasion at the parks. The only thing we ran out of was table service credits (because Cinderella’s Royal Table uses double), so we paid out of pocket for our meal at Sanna, which is not a character meal.

Planning – Disney World Review
Let’s start from the beginning.

TIP #1 Gift Cards

I started asking for Disney gifts for every holiday and birthday when my first son was born. Whenever someone didn’t know what to get the boys or we didn’t have anymore room for toys, we asked for gift cards. Eventually, the boys understood what they were for and would get excited to receive them. They knew we had to get enough to finally take the trip. After we booked, we bought our own gift cards from Giant Eagle to pay off the balance. Gas perks, anyone?

You combine all the cards into one on the My Disney Experience website. I entered them as I got them to make it easier. Just be sure to keep the main cards in a safe place so you can find them easily. Disney will need to have the full card number when you make a payment. When you have a stack of 100 gift cards and you need one specific number, it can be a pain. You should also hang onto all of them until after your trip, just to be safe.

TIP #2 Travel Agent

Use a travel agent. The Disney TA’s provide a free service to customers. If you are like I was and don’t have a clue about how to book and reserve dining, take advantage of the TA’s. We kind of booked our trip late if you want to get a good resort room. Our TA was great though and kept checking rooms for us. We first inquired in October, but didn’t officially book until January. When it came time to make dining reservations, I was nervous about screwing up, so I let her do that, too. I figured she would know the system better and know which restaurants to prioritize. She managed to get everything on our list! Every Disney World Review I have ever read also suggests using a Disney travel agent.

TIP #3 Smart Moms Planning Disney

Smart Moms Planning Disney! This Facebook group is a huge asset! No matter the question, they have an answer. You can keyword search the group and find many posts related to what you need. They also have files you can read through. I used one of their sponsored travel agents for our booking and I used their discount code for our stroller rental at www.orlandforfamilies.com. Seriously, everything you want to know is in that group!

TIP #4 Touring Plans

This was a huge help! It’s only $15 for a year’s subscription. The feature I liked best was the mapping. You can plug in everything you want to do and it will put them on a map for you. This way you can move things around into a pattern that makes sense so you aren’t walking all over the park more than you have to (note: when you do this, make sure you click “evaluate” and not “optimize” so your order will stay how you want it).

The rides and attractions were all listed. I would look at the list, go over to Youtube to check it out, and then if it looked good I added it to the itinerary. I saved each plan as a PDF and printed them as a general guide for each day. Overall, things went even smoother than the plan so we were able to adjust the times as we went and even add in some extra fun!

touring plans for Disney World
Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography

TIP #5 Alerts

Alerts! Once you have your dining reservations made and then again once your fast passes are booked, you will need to fine-tune your plans. For the most part, we got everything we wanted, but I did change our plans slightly as I did more research. This is where the alerts are so important. I used Touring Plans and Mouse Dining. They don’t find the same openings at the same time, so it was helpful to have both.

Here’s a scenario we had. I originally wanted to do breakfast at Be Our Guest (the beast’s castle), but after thinking it over, we decided to make that our late entry day because of staying late for the fireworks that night. The breakfast time didn’t work with our plan anymore. When I went to modify our reservation, there were no lunch times available, so I set up alerts to notify me when something opened up. Within a day, I had several texts with lunchtime openings. The texts come with a direct link to book it. You can have multiple reservations, so no need to cancel the one that doesn’t work before booking the new time. Just make sure to cancel the ones you won’t use so you don’t get charged!

www.touringplans.com www.mousedining.com

TIP #6 Memory Maker

Get the Memory Maker. When booking, go ahead and order the Memory Maker. you save $30 when you do it early. Our photos weren’t showing up when we got there and it turned out that our TA forgot to add it to our package. To make up for it she credited us $30 on a Disney gift card. I didn’t want to worry about lugging around my nice camera and wanted to be in some of the photos. Memory Maker was much easier for making that happen. We did take a lot of pictures with our phones, but it was nice to not always need to. Memory Maker includes all the photos taken on rides and anytime you visit a photographer at the parks. Here are just a few examples.

Now for the good stuff! The fun part of this Disney World Review!

Saturday, September 14, 2019
Kicking off the Trip

We managed to keep the trip a secret from the boys until the day we left. When they got up that morning, I had Mickey Mouse pancakes ready for them and the table was covered with their Disney toys. They wanted to know why all the characters were on the table. We made them guess. After a few tries, Matthew asked, “Are we going to Disney World?” When we said yes, Thomas didn’t believe us. He said, “Are you joking? Prove it!” We had an afternoon flight, which was nice to not be rushed.

Disney World Review - pancakes

We used the Magical Express to get from the airport to the resort, however we did not use the luggage service. We landed around 4 P.M. and didn’t want to risk not having our luggage before bed. When you use the luggage service, it can take several hours for your bags to arrive at your resort. The Magical Express shuttle is convenient, but not necessarily quick. We sat for awhile before it left the airport. Overall, though, it was nice not to worry about a rental car or taxi.

At 5:20 I got a text from Orlando for Families saying they hadn’t heard from me and would be closing for the day. I panicked because I had all the emails and confirmation that our stroller rental was ready to go. I called them immediately and thankfully someone answered. They were at the resort 12 minutes later with our stroller. Thank goodness we had it in time for our first day at Magic Kingdom! Take note if you plan to rent a stroller and don’t forget to call them 30 minutes before you arrive, a step I somehow missed. Other than that brief hiccup, it was great! They bring the stroller to you with a case of water and rain cover, then pick it up when you leave.

THE RESORT – what does this Disney World Review say about Animal Kingdom Lodge

We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge in the Jambo building. Check-in wasn’t too bad. All of the workers behind the desk were busy, so a gentleman with an iPad came up to us to get our check-in started. He was having technical issues and went around the desk to a computer. He had a little more trouble there. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes to get past the technical glitches, but he felt bad about it and gave us two anytime fast passes to use the next day. Bonus!

After we checked in, we ate a quick service meal (we were using the dining plan) at the resort restaurant, The Mara. The boys liked the cheese pizza and my husband and I both really enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich. When you are on the dining plan you also get a refillable mug, which is nice if you spend some time at the resort. We didn’t use ours much because we were at the parks for most of the day and didn’t have coffee or soft drinks in the evenings.

The resort had several lookouts for viewing safari animals like giraffes and wildebeests. We walked around viewing the animals after dinner, then headed to our room for a good night’s rest. The resort had a different feel than the rest of Disney World. It was more tranquil and cultural, and had less of the “Disney magic”. It was kind of nice having a slower pace after a busy day of stimulation.

Sunday, September 15, 2019
Fast Passes – Disney World Review

You will notice that throughout our days I got a lot of fast passes and many of them are close together. I had some amazing help making that happen. You see, I know a guy. I can share my resource with you, but I’m telling you, his services are priceless. What he did for us is worth every penny! Without someone running the system behind the scenes, you can’t expect to get through the same amount of attractions that we did. All of the former Disney guests I have talked to can’t believe how much we got to do. We rarely had to wait more than 10 minutes and never in the blazing sun. With two small children, this alone made all the difference in our days!

First Stop
MAGIC KINGDOM -Disney World Review

Cindrella’s Royal Table! It was the meal I was most excited for! I couldn’t believe our TA was able to get us a breakfast reservation. And then later I was able to modify it to an even earlier time! They say this one is hard to get, but you have better luck if you try for it early in your trip (because when your booking window opens you can book for the whole week and a lot of people go for that one first).

We arrived at Magic Kingdom about 6:30. If you have a breakfast reservation they let you in a tad earlier than the rest of the crowd. Our breakfast was scheduled for 7:00 and they took us in the side of the castle. Matthew wore his whole prince costume and Thomas wore a prince shirt. Both of them had on crowns. I took clothes for them to change into after breakfast, which worked out fine since there was a bathroom in the castle.

Disney World Review - boy on Main Street

Upon entering you are greeted by Cinderella. She is the only princess who does not come around to the tables. I was so excited for my boys to meet her, that I forgot to have her sign a card for our photo book. Thankfully, the staff was really nice and let me get her autograph after we ate. There is a photographer to take photos with Cinderella, but not at the tables with the other princesses. The only thing I wish the character meals had is a photographer for the Memory Maker. Just be prepared to take your own when in the dining halls.

Disney World Review of meeting Cinderella

Snow White was the first to greet us at our table. Matthew still talks about how she asked him to be her prince. She had the cutest squeaky voice. Next was Aurora. Her hair was so pretty and Matthew loved her pink dress. With each new princess they would make an announcement. They came in pretty fast so Matthew had a hard time focusing on just the one that was at our table. Merida came next and her face was gorgeous. Such big eyes and defined cheekbones. She kissed the card and left lip marks on the autograph. Last, and probably the one Matthew was most excited to meet, was Jasmine.

All the princesses at breakfast in the castle - Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography

We really didn’t pay much attention to the food because we were too busy with the princesses. I got the caramel apple-stuffed french toast. It was delicious, but I had too much adrenaline to finish it. The portions were actually kind of small for the price tag.

Speaking of cost, I knew I wanted to do a lot of character meals. You can use dining credits instead of paying out of pocket for them. The cost of these meals are quite high. They can do that because they know most people will be using the dining plan, but that doesn’t include the gratuity for the wait staff. So, by having a high price tag they can get their workers good tips. I wanted to do this trip right so we booked a lot of sit-down meals to use up those credits. It was a great way to meet a lot of characters!

Attractions/Rides (Disney World Review):

8:15 – Fast Pass for Jungle Cruise. It was relaxing, but not a must-do. The guide told a bunch of lame jokes, and I am amused easily so I had a good time. We probably didn’t need the fast pass, but it used up a tier 2, which we needed to do if we were going to get another tier 1 pass later in the day. The tier system was new to me. Basically you start each day with two tier 2 fast passes and one tier 1. Tier 1 attractions are the hardest to get. You can’t book anymore fast passes until you use up your initial 3, then you book one at a time as you use them during the day.

Each fast pass is good for a one hour window and they can’t overlap. So, we had a Jungle Cruise scheduled at 8:10 and Splash Mountain at 9:10. Once you scan in and use a FP, you can modify the next one. As soon as we scanned for Jungle Cruise at 8:15, my friend was able to get our Splash Mountain changed to 8:35.

8:30 Walk on for Magic Carpets of Aladdin – one of the most exciting moments of this Disney World Review

As we were lining up, Aladdin and Jasmine walked by holding hands. My boys waved to them and it was a very exciting way to start our morning in the park. I told my husband about how they got on the ride once with a family from Smart Moms Planning Disney. And the next thing I knew, they were sitting two seats behind us!

Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography - seeing Aladdin and Jasmine

8:40 Pirates of the Caribbean was walk-on, but I didn’t know what I was doing yet and accidentally used an anytime fast pass that the resort gave us (those aren’t tied to a time or ride and should be saved for a hard to get ride). Oops!

8:57 Splash Mountain FP – one of our favorites! Once we scanned for Splash, our Big Thunder Mountain FP was modified from 10:10 to 9:15. So you see, our original schedule had our first three FP’s ending at 11:10 and we were able to modify and use them all before 9:30.

9:30 Big Thunder Mountain Railroad using FP – another favorite! At one point in the ride you go through a dark mountain while going up the hill. There are screaming bats with red eyes. Thomas didn’t care for the noise and plugged his ears, but he still loved the ride.

9:40 Break for some Dole Whip at Aloha Isle (got a Pooh FP for 9:55 while we rested)

10:13 Winnie the Pooh FP (got a 10:15 FP for Small World while riding Pooh), the only bummer about using a FP for Pooh is you don’t get to do all the fun play stuff while you wait in the queue. I didn’t realize that when we were scanning in. I have heard that the waiting area in the stand-by line is really fun!

10:34 Space Mountain, we used our last anytime FP from the resort

Break- corn dogs from a stand outside of the Magic Carpet area.

11:30 Watched some of the Dance Party at the castle. It was very hot and didn’t have many characters my boys cared about, so we didn’t stay long. At one point a dancer flung his sweat on me during a dance move. Yeah, it was getting toasty.

11:48 FP for Peter Pan – Thomas liked this ride a lot (got a FP for Small World while on Peter Pan)

12:04 It’s a Small World FP (cheesy, but you have to do it at least once, right?)

Lunch Break – Pinnochio Village Haus

1:03 Fast Pass to meet Elena and Cinderella at Fairytale Hall – my son loves Elena! I was worried he would notice a difference in this Cinderella compared to the one we met at breakfast, but this one was more interactive so he loved her just as much and didn’t notice the difference.

Elena and Cinderalla - Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography

1:35 Fast Pass Splash Mountain

2:00 Walked off of Splash Mountain and got a front row spot right at the beginning of the parade. I was worried we wouldn’t find a spot for the parade on Main Street, but I didn’t realize the start of it was right at the base of Splash Mountain. Talk about Pixie Dust on our first day!

2:15 Stand-by for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was about a 15 minute wait, but the line was constantly moving so not bad at all.

2:35 Big Thunder Mountain again with a Fast Pass. The car right before us came in soaked, so we quickly put on our ponchos. We rode it in the rain.

3:00 We had a FP for Seven Dwarfs but it was closed so our FP turned into an anytime FP.

3:10 Philharmagic 4d movie

3:45 Space Mountain Fast Pass – this was Matthew’s idea to ride again and he chickened out at that last minute so John and Thomas rode it while Matthew and I visited a souvenir stand to spend some of his money. He picked out an Ariel bubble wand. You see those things all over the park. Kids love them and they are good for keeping them occupied. The wands blow bubbles, light up, and some play music.

4:25 Fast Pass for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

5:00 Anytime FP for Seven Dwarfs – we loved this ride! It’s fun and really smooth. It’s a roller coaster, but part way through you go through the mines and there are dwarfs working and gems all around with the Snow White music playing.

Mine Ride - Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography

5:10 Rode the cars at Tomorrowland Speedway on our way out.

Exhausted and Time to Head Out – that sums up day one of the Disney World Review

5:30 The day was busy and with an early start, everyone was tired. The boys are 4 and 6 and we were definitely glad we went with a double stroller. The City Minis are perfect for bigger kids and they drive easily. The park closed for general admission guests at 6:00, so we headed out. The buses were easy to catch the whole week. They run constantly and we never had to wait very long. The boys crashed on the bus ride back to the resort.

Exhausted at the end of day one - Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography

Monday, September 16, 2019
EPCOT (HUBBY’S FAVORITE) – Disney World Review

7:20 We used Lyft to get a “Minnie Van”, which was a cute Traverse, to get to our breakfast reservation. We were headed to Bon Voyage at Trattoria al Forno, which is on the boardwalk by Epcot.

Minnie Vans offer car seats, which costs a little more than regular Lyft, but gives you a piece of mind for safety! Our driver was very kind, helpful, and knowledgeable.

Minnie vans - Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography

7:45 Reservation – the wait wasn’t too long to get a table. The food was fine, about the same thing that’s offered many places throughout Disney. They did have really good sausage links, which weren’t greasy and settled fine with my stomach. It didn’t take long before the announcements started and Flynn Rider came out. He signed our frying pan and made sure to leave room for “Blondie”, as he called Rapunzel. We also met Ariel and Prince Eric. Flynn and Eric were great and very chatty with the boys. Ariel was kind of a dud and didn’t say much at all. At one point all the characters led the kids in a cha-cha line around the restaurant. Overall, it was a fun experience and great characters to meet.

Disney World Review by Stacey Ash Photography meeting the princes

This Disney World Review highly recommends Bon Voyage at Trattoria al Forno

After breakfast it was just a short walk to Epcot. We entered through the back entrance, the International Gateway. My source told me if we could get to Frozen Ever After by 9:30 we could do stand-by. We were in line by 9:10 and it wasn’t yet crowded. At 9:15 they put the ropes up and the longer lines started to form. They were pretty full when we got off the ride. This ride was awesome! Definitely a favorite for all of us. The technology is so much better than the older stuff at Magic Kingdom and Elsa gives you some pretty sweet surprises during the ride.

9:32 We had a FP for Test Track, but the ride was closed so it turned into an anytime FP.

9:38 We were just about to do stand-by for Spaceship Earth when we got a FP. We quickly moved sides and scanned in.

10:15 FP for Soarin (woo-hoo, it’s a hard to get one!) We all loved it. It’s a 4d ride where you are sitting in front of a giant curved screen, riding through nature.

10:50 Living with the Land FP – an easy boat ride through vegetation. Not exciting at all, but a nice rest. Thomas liked finding the tomato plants.

11:00 My friend was unavailable for awhile, but he set his program up for us and we were able to get fast passes to last until lunch. We did Nemo and Journey into the Imagination.

12:00 Lunch in Mexico at La Cantina de San Angel. This was really good. They have outdoor and indoor seating. We sat in the air conditioning. It was just the rest we all needed. After lunch we went across the street into the Mexico building. There is a cute little boat ride in the back of the building. You wouldn’t really know it was there as you walk by the outside. The building is really neat inside. They have it decorated like nighttime in a Mexican village. The boat ride takes you under the stars. There is also a nice Mexican restaurant inside where you can eat under the stars by street light. We didn’t try it, but it looked really nice. It was Mexican Independence Day when were were there, so outside workers were waving flags and shaking maracas. There was also a live Mariachi band.

1:15 My friend told me not to try to meet Elsa and Anna in the morning, like I originally had planned so we didn’t even try. I did keep an eye on the character wait times on the Disney app. The wait was pretty short, less than 20 minutes, in the middle of the day. The characters were great. Anna found out that my boys take skating lessons and she started practicing the glide with them.

Disney World Review meetnig Anna and Elsa

Disney World Review Honest Tip: Test Track goes down a lot!

1:30 Test Track – it was finally open so we used our anytime FP. There’s a lot of build up before getting to the ride. In fact, that’s pretty common on a lot of the attractions. It gives you something to do and gets you excited for the ride, but some people are annoyed by it. Sometimes you just want to ride and not go through all the hoops, especially if you have been on the ride before.

2:30 Frozen Ever After FP – it took 2000 attempts to get this one! We really wanted to ride this again and it’s the only ride you can’t use your anytime FP for, so we were stoked to get a regular FP for it!

3:00 FP for Turtle Talk with Crush – I don’ think you need a FP for this, but hey if you can get one, it’s always better to be safe! This was really cute. My husband didn’t care for it, but it’s definitely great for the kids. Crush, from Nemo, is on a big interactive screen. He talks to the kids and it’s got a very personal touch. Essentially, there is someone behind the scenes with a microphone making it look like Crush is interacting with the audience. This is actually at the exit of Nemo, so your best bet is to do it then. Since we skipped it after Nemo and came back for it later, we just entered through the gift shop.

3:50 Soarin FP – another one? Score! The wait time for stand-by was about 60 minutes most of the day.

5:00 Dinner at Teppan Edo in Japan – fun and delicious. I actually ate salad here! This is a big deal for anyone who knows me. I asked the waitress about the salad dressing because it was tasty. I have tried to replicate it at home (soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic) with no luck. The ladies at our table were celebrating a birthday and shared their chef hats and ice cream treats with the boys. They said the boys were very well behaved, which made us so happy after running them hard for two days. The chef let the boys get pictures behind the grill holding some of his tools. Even though it’s not necessarily a restaurant for kids, they made sure our boys enjoyed themselves.

Disney World Review of Teppan Edo at Epcot Japan

6:20 We tried to meet Mulan at the China pavilion, but she was on a break. We waited for a few minutes, but there were no signs of her returning. We stumbled upon Belle, but the rope was up and she was done with her meet and greet for the day (attempt #1 to get her signature).

6:50 Mission Space – there are mixed reviews about this ride. It’s a simulator for driving a space shuttle. There are two levels you can ride. We did the easier just to be safe, but we all did fine. I think we could have handled the more intense, as well.

7:00 My friend got us a FP for Test Track that turned to an anytime FP because that ride was down again. This happens often so make sure you ride it when it is operating or you may miss your chance.

We decided to head out for the day. Maybe next time we can stay for the IllumiNations. We tried to be careful about not making the boys too tired because we still had a full week ahead of us. As you can see, we didn’t do much in the World Showcase and we also didn’t partake in the Food and Wine Festival. These are things that adults would enjoy more without children, so maybe someday!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
REST DAY – Disney World Review

Initially we had an early breakfast reservation for the Supercalifragilistic at 1900 Park Fare, but thanks to dining alerts (see Tip #5), we were able to get a later time at 10:30 to allow all of us to sleep in and get some extra rest. Just be aware that all reservation changes must be made 24 hours in advance to avoid the charge. The Disney buses do not go from resort to resort, so on this day we took the bus to Magic Kingdom and from there hopped on the ferry to get over to Grand Floridian.

Disney World Review riding the ferry to Grand Flridian

We had a little time to kill so we looked around the gift shop. That’s when I realized I forgot our autograph cards and marker. I was so bummed and planned to buy a pen and find scrap paper somewhere. The worker at the gift shop (top floor) was so kind. She gave me some cardstock certificates that were blank on the back and a permanent marker. She clearly loves her job and was overjoyed to give the boys a “First Trip to Disney” certificate, balloons, and character pins. Then she posed them with a celebration frame so I could get a photo.

As for breakfast, this was one of our favorite meals! Not only was it buffet, but the food was delicious! The character interactions were great. Thomas still talks about how Mad Hatter was teasing Alice. Matthew was singing “Spoonful of Sugar” to Mary Poppins and she joined in. During the meal we also met Winnie the Pooh. On the way out, Tigger was waiting to greet guests. We took the Monorail back to the MK and hopped on a bus to go back to our resort.

Disney World Review - Mary Poppins at Grand Floridian

Pool Time

It was nice having some down time to bond with the kids. The pool water was so warm and clean and the boys loved the water slide. They also joined in on some poolside games, organized by the staff. We finished the afternoon in the giant hot tub.

We didn’t have reservations for dinner because we originally were going to use quick service credits again to eat at the cafe-style restaurant on the property. However, we decided it would be nice to sit down and have a nice meal, so we chanced it and took the short shuttle trip to the other building at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

There, we managed to get a table a Sanaa. This is not a restaurant I had read about in any Disney World reviews before our trip. The nice gift shop worker from earlier once worked at AK Lodge and highly recommended the bread service at Sanna. It came with a variety of bread and about 8 different dipping sauces from sweet to hot. Most of their food had a little bit of African flavor, but the kids were still able to get some of their favorites off of the children’s menu. They loved the dessert! It was a brownie with ice cream and a cookie, all presented on a painter’s tray with colored frosting. They spent a long time painting their cookies before eating. It was so nice having something to keep them occupied while we finished eating.

Kids meals at Sanaa

After dinner we walked around the property (Kidani Village) and viewed the animals from different lookouts. We also discovered they have a really great pool for kids, complete with fountains and dumping buckets. Had we known about it, we would have gone there on our rest day.

We were approached by one of the Vacation Club employees and listened to his spiel about taking a tour. We might have considered it if we didn’t have our days already planned. They provide the transportation, give the kids $75 each on a Disney gift card, and give you several anytime Fast Passes. It’s not a bad deal if you are interested in seeing the time share condos.

Back on our side of the resort we did the night viewing of the animals. The workers provide special binoculars and answer any questions you have about the animals. They are really knowledgeable and we enjoyed talking to them. Walking back to our room we came across a little dance party starting for kids. They were going to be making glow in the dark slime, but we didn’t participate in that. The boys just got the light up Mickey ears and danced under the party lights.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
ANIMAL KINGDOM – Disney World Review

We ate an early breakfast at the resort and arrived by Disney bus at Animal Kingdom around 7:15.

First up, Na’vi River Journey. We walked right on at 7:30. It was a relaxing boat ride through Pandora with lots of neat glow in the dark designs and characters.

8:00 We had a fast pass for Expedition Everest, but we didn’t need to use it. We walked right on twice. It’s a pretty intense ride because at one point it goes backwards in the dark. The boys got a tad scared the first time, but wanted to ride again so it must not have been too bad. All I can say is your equilibrium definitely changes when you get older! The boys wanted to ride a third time, but Mom and Dad just couldn’t do it. We needed to use up the fast pass though, so we just scanned in and walked away.

8:20 Two rounds of Tricera Top Spin. It’s like a bigger version of the kiddie helicopter rides at the fair. The boys had to have an adult with them, but they would have been fine without us.

8:45 Kilimanjaro Safaris fast pass – this was a neat jeep ride to see the animals. They make it feel authentic with the muddy, bumpy ride. The driver gives you facts about the animals as you go and stops so you can get a better view. Matthew got a little bored, but Thomas loved seeing the animals.

Snack – Mickey soft pretzel, tasty!

9:30 Kali River Rapids, walked on standby. It was a fun ride, but short. We definitely got soaked. The boys wanted to ride this again later in the day, but once we were dry the grown-ups really didn’t feel like getting wet again.

10:00 Waited about 10 minutes for Russel and Dug. The line was just forming. While the boys were meeting them, Kevin came up and waved hello. Thomas thought it was hilarious that Dug licked his head.

Disney World Review meeting the UP characters

10:20 Pocahontas – You can find her on the Discovery Island Trails. We headed that way and saw a sign for her so we knew where to enter the trails. In true nature-loving form, she rescued a worm on the pavement that Thomas found. She picked it up with a map and moved it to the foliage. She loved how Matthew said her name. When we were leaving he turned around and waved one last time yelling, “Bye Pocas-and-a-hanna”. She smiled again at that.

Meeting Pocahontas at Animal Kingdom

10:35 Kevin was posing for photos. There’s no autograph to get but he is a big tall beautiful bird who looks great in photos.

10:55 Met Donald Duck on our way to lunch

11:00 Flame Tree Barbecue – this was really good. The lines were a bit long (and we never did get the hang of mobile ordering, which is highly recommended), but the food was delicious. They have big sitting areas under some shade tress, so that was a nice break for lunch.

11:45 Matthew loved the little dance party nearby. The DJ played all of his favorite songs from Disney movies and he got to dance with Timon, Meeko, Kevin, and Rafficki.

12:15 The Boneyard – this is a big playground. There are lots of little tunnels and big slides. It’s a good thing to do when you have some extra time, which we did before the next show.

1:00 Finding Nemo FP – The boys and I loved it. It’s a shortened-version live stage production of the movie. The costumes and stage props are pretty neat.

1:45 Flight of Passage FP – Matthew got checked 3 times through the line for his height. He had grown just enough to clear it. This is probably the hardest to get fast pass in all the parks! It was amazing! It’s a 4d virtual reality experience where you feel like you are riding a banshee from the movie Avatar. You are strapped in like you are sitting on a motorcycle and it moves around while you fly through beautiful scenery, complete with real mist from the ocean on your face and gusts of wind. We had heard it can be pretty intense because at one point you are getting chased, so I was a little nervous for the boys, but they loved it! After we scanned I got a message from my friend that he got us another FP for 2:05 so we were able to get right back on!

3:30 Dole Whip and ice cream cookie sandwich break

3:45 Festival of the Lion King FP – Matthew fell asleep while waiting in line and stayed asleep when we got our seats. Once the show started, he was up and ready to watch. This production was very well done. We were sitting in the lion section so we had to roar when it was our turn and the robotic Simba was next to our bleachers.

4:45 Tried to get on the train, but the last one left at 4:00.

5:20 Dinner at Restaurantosaurus – the usual food of burgers and fries. The staff did bring the boys cupcakes for their first visit. Make sure you wear your “first visit” buttons every day!

6:20 Mickey and Minnie FP – even with our pass we had a bit of a wait. They were wearing their safari outfits. The boys were getting tired and combative. We knew the next night was going to be a late one, so we got our family photo and called it a day.

Mickey and Minnie

Thursday, September 19, 2019
HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS -Disney World Review

We originally planned on taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours, but we knew it would be a late night so we took our chances and let the boys sleep a little longer. We got on the bus at 9:00.

10:25 FP for Voyage of the Little Mermaid – this was a nice little show for seeing Ariel. My only complaint was the shortened version of the movie. There was a large part of the story that was not acted out. Instead they condensed it into a movie clip and then came back to live action to finish the story.

11:30 FP For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration – loved it! The show begins with Anna live on stage with two hosts. She leaves and the hosts continue telling the story of Frozen with clips from the movie and leading the audience in a sing-along for each song from the movie. The hosts made this show amazing. They were so hilarious and entertaining! The big finale included snow falling on the audience and Elsa singing “Let it Go” live on stage.

12:10 Lunch at ABC Commissary

1:00 Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, we didn’t get a FP for this because you can do stand-by and get a seat. We were kind of high up because we got there last minute, but we could still see just fine.

1:45 Slinky Dog FP – the boys loved this roller coaster. It was smooth and fun. Halfway through the ride it stops and pulls back to sling-shot you like a slinky. My favorite thing about the ride was the little details. There are giant toys so you feel like a toy yourself and when the coaster pulls off it sounds like a slinky. It’s so well done!

2:00 Toy Story Mania FP – our original time was 3:00, but my friend’s program moved it to 2:00 as soon as we scanned in for Slinky, so we were able to go from one ride to the next! This was a good one and my 6 year old’s favorite ride of the whole trip. It’s a target shooting game as you ride through different Toy Story scenes.

2:20 Alien Swirling Saucers FP – the program did it again! Once we scanned for TSM, it started working on Alien and got it for 2:25. Then it did even better and bumped it to 2:20 and again to 2:15.

2:35 Toy Soldiers – the boys got to play along with the toy soldiers’ commands. They were just getting ready to play a game when it started sprinkling. I’m guessing with their green make-up they can’t stay out in the rain. It was fun watching the boys play along at least for a little bit. Everything in Toy Story Land is so cute and well done!

Toy soldiers

2:45 Epic Eats – this is a stand outside of Indiana Jones. We had to try the Oreo Funnel Cake. Delicious, but messy!

3:15 Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (Disney World Review)

This is a neat reenactment of a movie set with a lot of stunts and explosions.

4:15 Hollywood Tower Hotel (Tower of Terror) FP – only one elevator was working so the line did move a little slow, but not horribly with our FP. I still can’t believe the boys agreed to ride this. At one little point in the pitch black Matthew said he was scared, but he is easy to reassure and pretty good about being brave. Thomas was plugging his ears to help with the fear and then frantically tried to grab for the handles during the fall. We have been on a lot of dropping rides and I have been on the biggest rides at Cedar Point. For some reason, my stomach dropped more on this ride than I ever remember feeling before.

5:00 Dinner at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiono – We got the Fantasmic Package, which was a great move! They give you a ticket for Fantasmic with reserved seating so you don’t have to worry about beating the crowds. The food was good here too. My drink came with a color changing ice cube.

6:00 We tried to do Celebrate with the Incredibles, but we didn’t know the last show as at 5:00. I felt bad for Thomas because those are the characters he most wanted to see. We did manage to meet Edna Mode and Thomas posed with some of the costumes.

Meeting Edna Mode

6:20 Met Buzz Lightyear – the line wasn’t too bad. He was right outside of Slinky Dog Dash. He used a stamp for his autograph.

Buzz Lightyear at Hollywood Studios, Disney World

6:30 Toy Story Mania FP – Thomas was so excited to get to do this again!

7:15 Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy – very cool! There is a real talking Lightning car.

8:00 Fantasmic – We had great seats with our passes from dinner! The boys loved it. There are lots of fancy lights, flames, music, and fireworks. All of the major Disney characters also go by on boats.

Fantasmic, excellent seats!

8:50 FP, Slinky Dog Dash at night – it’s just as nice at night, maybe even better because the track is all lit up!

Another great day in the books!

Friday, September 20, 2019
MAGIC KINGDOM – Disney World Review

We originally planned on arriving at 8 AM, but we got so much accomplished on our first day at MK and knew it was going to be a late night, so we let everyone sleep in a bit for our last day. We arrived at 10:30 and immediately used a FP to meet Tinker Bell. She is at the front of the park so you are better off to plan her visit when you are entering or exiting. Tink was really sweet and spent a good amount of time talking to the boys. The camera there is stationary and takes random pictures during your visit.

11:15 I was so excited to find the photographers who do the aerial zooming photos in front of the castle. I knew where to find them and was surprised to see there was no line! It’s so neat. Find the photographers slightly to the right of the castle by the bushes. This Disney World Review says it’s worth it!

11:35 FP for Enchanted Tales with Belle

We were really looking forward to this one! It’s a reenactment of the story with live Belle, a magic mirror, and talking Lumiere. The boys (especially Matthew) had been practicing their roar for the past 8 months in hopes of earning the part as the Beast. It worked because Thomas got to be the Beast (Matthew was so sad), which meant that he got to dance with her at the end. Matthew was chosen as the horse and did an adorable neigh on cue. The only bummer was that we didn’t get her autograph (attempt #2).

Disney World Review of Enchanted Tales with Belle

Lunch at Be Our Guest

This was kind of a mess. I wish another Disney World Review would have prepared me for this. We arrived 10 minutes before our reservation time. The line was very long, going back into the park. I heard several groups in front of us say they didn’t have reservations, so I walked to the front to see what was going on and where we should go for reservations. Then I got snapped at by another lady waiting in line because “she had a reservation”. Yep, so did I, which is why I was trying to ask the worker what was going on.

Reluctantly, I went back to my spot in the madness. Finally, they shouted that only people with reservations should be in line. That didn’t really help because people wanted to take their chances and stayed in line. Eventually a lady with an ipad came up and checked us in, allowing us to bypass all those people. Then, it was a lot more waiting. There was another huge line going into the castle to order your food. It’s pretty obvious they overbook this restaurant.

Standing outside the Beast's castle

Our reservation time was 12:25, we arrived around 12:15, and we were in our seats around 12:45. The main ballroom was pretty packed, but we were able to find one table in the west wing. It wasn’t clean, but it’s all we could find so we waited there until a busser could clear it. The west wing is really dark and even after your eyes adjust it’s still super dark. In fact, I even dipped a fry in what I thought was sweet potato sauce, but it ended up being applesauce. My food was really good. It was different from most of the stuff we had eaten all week in the parks. The boys enjoyed eating near the enchanted rose and watching a petal fall occasionally.

Eating inside the Beast's castle - Disney World Review by Stacey Ash

1:40 FP for Seven Dwarfs – We loved it the first day, so we did it again!

1:55 The workers kindly let us scan early to meet Tiana and Rapunzel since our FP time conflicted with Bippity Boppity Boutique.

2:20 Bippity Boppity Boutique – You have to call them directly to book this in advance. You can’t do it on the app or Disney website. We did the knight package. They have an amazing full suite, but it’s velvet and long sleeved. That definitely wasn’t going to work in 80 degree weather. The boys were happy with their knight t-shirts, shields, and swords. It was a fun experience for them. Right across the street you can do a quick photoshoot in the back of the shop, after they get all fancied up. It was great and Matthew had way too much fun with the camera!

 Bippity Boppity Boutique

3:15 Barnstormer – this is definitely a kiddie coaster. It’s short, but pretty rough. I doubt we will do this one again when we return.

3:30 Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, had a FP, but it was walk on so we switched our FP to Grotto. This is like many other rides at the park. Nice and easy, going past scenes from the movie.

3:40 FP to Meet Ariel at her Grotto – she had her tail at this meet and greet. She was great and the boys thought she was hilarious. She kept pulling her hand away when they tried to give her a high five.

Funny Ariel - Disney World Review

4:00 Took the Monorail to Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. This felt like a cafeteria or airport restaurant to me. It’s open and not very private, but kind of neat to watch the monorail coming and going. The food was good and plenty of choices with it being a buffet. We met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto.

6:00 We got so stuffed at dinner, that we decided to walk back to the park. It was a quick 15 minutes on a paved path. Not bad at all.

We had tickets for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I can’t remember our order and what all we did. You can’t get FP’s during the party hours and my documentation isn’t great, but I’ll tell you what I can recall. There are treat stations throughout the park. The lines moved pretty quickly, but they were all long. We waited once and decided that was enough. We didn’t pay extra for these tickets just to get candy.

The character lines were huge. It was an hour wait for Moana and there is no other time to meet her in any of the parks. Again, we didn’t want to waste our time, knowing there were other things we wanted to do before the parade at 9:15. We did get on Aladdin’s carpets. That line was short and the boys liked it the first day. It’s designed like the helicopters at any fair, where the kids can control going up and down. Only on the carpets, the back seat controls the tilt of the car. Matthew was driving in the front with me and we were determined to be at the right height for the spitting camel. We successfully got it to squirt our car. Matthew loved getting Daddy wet.

We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Standby wasn’t too bad.

One thing on our must-do list was getting our photo with Rapunzel’s lanterns. We stumbled upon them early. The line was already forming around 7:45 and the photographers were setting up. We jumped in line with only about 5 families in front of us. They started snapping pictures early and we were done by 8:00. The line by then was pretty long, so I suggest getting there early!

Rapunzel's Lanterns

The line for Haunted Mansion was 30 minutes and we opted not to wait (one of the boys was in a mood at the time).

I saw on the map that Belle and Gaston were out. We headed that way for our third attempt to get Belle’s autograph. We waited 35 minutes and my boys were next to go when they shut the line down. I was so upset. It was even earlier than I remembered. I took a couple of photos (which is how I know what time it was) when we were next to go. Gaston had pointed at Matthew and said hey, making him even more excited. Then they cut us off, right after two large groups of all adults took up a ton of time, talking and doing every combination of groupings possible.

My photos have a time stamp of 8:17 and they said we could continue to wait in line to hold our spot for when Belle and Gaston returned at 9:00. Ugh, all night we had been avoiding waiting an hour and now they were telling us it would be at total of 80 minutes, plus missing the night parade! All of the other characters throughout the week were never gone more than 10 minutes. So, we gave up in order to get a spot for the Halloween parade. Matthew didn’t understand and said, “But, Mommy, why? She is your favorite princess and I wanted you to meet her,” all while I held back the tears for him.

So yeah, in 3 hours we did 2 rides and the lanterns, not really worth the $70 price tag for the the extra tickets. They really do need to limit the number of tickets more on these special nights. The crowds during the party were the worst of our whole trip.

9:15 The parade was fantastic! Most of the well-known characters were in the parade, including some we had missed meeting, like the Incredibles. Then we watched the fireworks from the stairs at the exit. Another great show with special effects.

Magic Kingdom fireworks at night

And the boys were beat! We were nervous for our 4:30 A.M. wake up call, but they did surprisingly well getting up that early. When you use the shuttle to the airport, you have to leave the resort 3-4 hours before your departure time.

The situation with Belle really sat with me for days to come. I think it was a combination of things, but mostly feeling like we wasted our time for something we paid extra for. I couldn’t believe they would shut the line down, knowing the big parade was coming up. In the end, I wrote it all out and sent an e-mail to Disney’s customer service, who kindly refunded us for the party tickets. I’m still sad we don’t have that autograph, but I feel a lot better now that we didn’t spend the extra money.

That’s a Wrap – What now?

That’s a wrap on this Disney World Review! There are still things we want to do when we go back some day. I felt bad that Thomas didn’t get to meet the characters he likes such as Olaf, Stitch, Woody and the Incredibles, so that’s a priority. We also need to meet Belle, Peter Pan, Aladdin, the Genie, the Step-sisters, Fairy Godmother, Jesse, Bo Beep, and hopefully Moana if they can ever find an authentic-looking one!

As for rides and attractions, we need to try People Mover, Wildlife Express Train, Haunted Mansion, Celebrate with the Incredibles at Pixar Place, and stand-by for Winnie the Pooh. I suppose we should check out everything in Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios and the Aerosmith roller coaster once the boys are big enough. I would also love to explore the the nations more at Epcot.

Our Favorites from this Disney World Review:
– Magic Kingdom: 7 Dwarfs, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Splash Mountain
– Epcot: Frozen Ever After, Test Track, Soarin’
– Animal Kingdom: Flight of Passage, Festival of the Lion King
– Hollywood Studios: For the First Time in Forever, Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Mania, Fantasmic
– Restaurants: 1900 Park Fare breakfast, Flaming Tree Barbecue at AK


Since wrint this Disney World Review, the fast pass procedures have changed. Be sure to learn about the Genie Pass when planning your trip. Are you sticking close to home this summer? Here are some fun things to do around Columbus, Ohio.

Need to reach me? Stacey@StaceyAshPhoto.com

Thanks for reading! I hope it was helpful!
– Stacey

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