As our kids have gotten older, we’ve tried to take an annual trip with the kids to make some memories that will last a lifetime. We’ve done a Disney Cruise, a week at a cottage in Kingston, a trip to Las Vegas, and this year we decided we’d do a week at Disney World in Orlando.
We planned things out for a while, and I looked into the best times to visit Disney when the lines would be shortest, and the weather would not be punishing. We settled on the week of April 22nd – 30, and booked a Villa in Florida. Our condo, the 2100sq foot “Ocean Villa Inn” was listed as minutes away from Disney World with a pool, BBQ, and tons of space.
We decided we would save some money on airfare, and planned to drive down to Florida. We talked with a number of people about the trip, and I got some great recommendations on the cities to stay on the way down.
I bought a copy of “Along Interstate-75” and started planning out our trip. We decided that we would stay in Dalton, Georgia on the way down, and in Berea Kentucky on the way back.
We used the Disney App for a few weeks to plan out our Fast Passes (a Fast Pass is a pre-arranged time to go on a ride). I booked our restaurant reservations for a couple of days, and I learned about Disney Insider terms like “Rope Drop”, and how to get to the best rides at the right time. We decided to take our aging Mazda 5 for the trip, and Char took it to the mechanic for a “will it make it” review. The mechanics passed the car, and said that it would be good for our trip.
By the time we hit the road, we were ready for this vacation to begin.
Day one was an adventure. We hit the road by 8:30, and were over the border before 10. We pushed on through Michigan, and made it into Ohio before lunch. Ohio was a bit of a mess with some horrible construction, and we nearly had a massive collision as the car next to us took some air during a very tight corner and I had to do some crazy maneuvering to avoid an accident.
By the time we stopped for lunch at a Panera Bread in Ohio, we were a couple of hours behind schedule (the plan was to do the majority of the driving on day one, about 14 hours, and only have an 8 hour drive on day 2). We made good time the rest of the day, casually stopping at a couple of rest stops, but pushing through as many pages on the “Along Interstate-75” manual as we could. We hit some rain as we went through the mountains of Tennessee (where we had scary moment number two as we crested a hill and had a second or two where our headlights were too high to see the road). We stopped in Kentucky for a late dinner, and kept pushing through to Georgia.
By about 11pm we arrived in Dalton and made our way to our hotel, a Days Inn which was an older, kind of run down motel.
The next morning we woke at about 8, had breakfast, and headed out. Georgia was a mess, with construction everywhere, and slow traffic. To add to our headaches, we found out that our air conditioning had died that morning as the heat started getting more intense.
The only way we could get relief was by unrolling the windows and driving like it was 1973. We had to pull off the highway at one point and take back roads, and one thing we noticed about Georgia was that it smelled really nice! It smelled of fresh flowers and the greenness of fresh pine trees.
Georgia eventually gave way to Florida, and we stopped at the Florida Tourist Stop to get our fresh Orange Juice before pressing on. Again, Florida was a bit of a construction nightmare, and we struggled through the last 3 hours to get to our destination. When we finally got there, we were incredibly happy. The kids set off to explore our villa (which was larger than our own home), while I went out to get us some dinner.
Our Disney vacation broke down into: Day 1 – Magic Kingdom, Day 2 – Disney Hollywood Studios, Day 3 – Rest Day, Day 4 – Epcot, Day 5 – Disney Animal Kingdom.
We got there for “Rope Drop”, and made our way to one of the most popular rides in the park – The Seven Dwarves Mine Train. I had been keeping an eye on ride times, and the busiest rides seemed to be: Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain. Seven Dwarves, Big Thunder and Splash Mountain are all relatively close to each other, so the thinking was, get to Seven Dwarves and we can try to get on the other two rides quickly. I had Fast Passes for Big Thunder at 10, Space Mountain at 1 and Seven Dwarves at 7pm, but if we hit things earlier, we could get more fast passes.
Rope drop was awesome, the characters gather in front of the Castle, and there is a little skit to open the park, and then everyone rushes inside. We beelined for Seven Dwarves and walked right onto the ride. It is a great ride, full of fast parts, and then slowed down for a Seven Dwarves scene, before you go fast again. It is easy to see why this is a favourite.
That day we rode:
- Seven Dwarves Mine Train
- It’s a Small World
- Haunted Mansion
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- The Pirates of the Carribean
- The Disney Railroad
- Space Mountain
- Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
- Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
- The People Mover
- Tomorrowland Speedway
- The Barnstormer
- Under the Sea the Journey of the Little Mermaid
- And the Seven Dwarves Mine Train again
We ate at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe (which was passable fast food), and the Kona Cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, which was delicious.
Our day was packed, and we stayed for the fireworks display around 9, which was an amazing show, and then headed back to our condo, exhausted.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Day two saw us dragging our heels a little bit as we dragged ourselves out of the condo and headed to Hollywood Studios…where we were too late for the Jedi Academy. We had Fast Passes that day for only two rides – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Toy Story Midway Mania.
Hollywood Studios is only about half a park right now as a ton of space is currently under construction for the new 14 acre Star Wars Land opening in 2019, and the new Toy Story Land which will be opening in 2018. Still, there are a lot of cool things here, but this park is starting to show its age and needs a solid refresh. You can tell that the original “theme” of Old Hollywood is slowly being replaced by more Character interactions, and the Star Wars presence in particular is strong here.
I would recommend waiting until after 2019 to visit Hollywood Studios.
That day we rode:
- Star Tours
- Toy Story Midway Mania
- The Great Movie Ride
- MuppetVision 3D
- Rock N Roller Coaster
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Toy Story Midway Mania is the most fun, and we rode that twice. We really enjoyed the Tower of Terror, and the kids favourite ride was the Great Movie Ride, despite its cheesiness.
Rest day (Disney’s Hollywood Springs)
Our third day was our rest day. We spent most of the day by the pool and trying to beat the heat (which was getting unbearable). However we went to Disney’s Hollywood Springs which was a pretty cool place. Unfortunately we were all beat and just didn’t have the energy to explore a ton.
Day four was our Epcot day. For me it was the most disappointing. Epcot seems in need of a major refurbishment as there’s not a ton of experiences to do, but there is plenty of opportunity to spend money. We immediately went to the Frozen ride and waited in the line, which was probably the longest line of the week, but still less than an hour. I loved the Frozen ride because it uses the new animatronics which feature projected faces, allowing them to have amazing movements (the Seven Dwarves Mine Train also uses this technology).
A lot of the rides at Epcot are not great though. Figment’s journey into imagination is particularly bad, and Ellen’s Energy Adventure is a 45 minute snooze fest that we mercifully missed.
At Epcot we rode:
- Frozen Ever After
- Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
- Journey into Imagination
- O Canada!
- Spaceship Earth
- Test Track
- Turtle Talk with Crush
Soarin’ was great, and apparently the same technology is being used for the new Avatar Banshee ride. Unfortunately Test Track broke down while we were on the ride and we didn’t get to finish it. We only made it around the very first loop in our cars.
Epcot featured one of our favourite meals of the trip at the Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria, which had one of the best pizzas I have ever enjoyed.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom is an amazing park. It’s the combination of a zoo and a theme park in one place. There are three different themed areas in Animal Kingdom. The animal section, where all the animals are. The Dinosaur section. While we were there the Avatar section was being completed, and wouldn’t be opened for a month.
It was an amazing place, but unfortunately the heat was unbearable while we were there.
- Expedition Everest
- Kilimanjaro Safari
- Kali River Rapids
- Primeval Whirl
We went back to see the night time show at Animal Kingdom, but unfortunately it was
After we left, Disney opened the Avatar land, and there is now an entirely themed world and two new rides based on the world of Avatar, making Animal Kingdom a must see place.
Our trip back home was more of the same from the trip there. We left at 5am to avoid the majority of the ridiculous heat, and hopefully be somewhere that we could survive with our busted air conditioning. Florida takes forever to get through. Georgia was a mess of construction. We stayed in Berea Kentucky at the Red Roof Inn, which was much better than the hotel in Dalton. Our final day of travel was much better than the first one, the temperatures were more moderate, and as we approached Canada we actually turned on the heat for the first time in more than a week.
Overall, our Disney vacation was amazing, it left us wanting to do more. The kids were incredible on the car trip despite the ridiculous heat, and the long drive. If we did it again, we would likely fly and stay on property, in spite of the increased cost.
I really want to plan a trip to the new Star Wars themed resort for the spring of 2020, but who knows if our then teenaged daughter and near teen son will even want to tag along?
The book – Along Interstate-75 was the most invaluable thing we could have purchased. It not only showed us how to get where we were going, but also showed us several options along the way. Every rest stop, truck stop, lodging and restaurant was laid out in an easy to follow manner, and each page represented about 20 minutes of driving.
I cannot recommend this book enough.