This one is about our first family trip to Disney! I’m sharing our experience, with specific tips toward the end of the post.
Last weekend, we drove down to Orlando from Charlotte for a three-night stay, and it was a whirlwind.
But first, a little history: Dave and I met in downtown Orlando, we were married there and we lived there for several years together, so Central Florida has a special place in our hearts. And Disney has a special place in my heart too, because I worked there after college and held three different jobs there over the course of a couple years, including Epcot Communications Coordinator, Disney Hollywood Studio’s Cast Services Coordinator and Walt Disney Entertainment Communications Manager — always working in backstage capacities. I loved working at Disney, and I’ve always loved visiting Disney parks as a guest as well. I have a ton of special memories there, and now, I have even more after our first family trip to Disney together.
This first family trip to Disney was a long-time coming, and I’d been ready to take Brady to “the most magical place on Earth” for a couple years. However, Dave wanted us to wait until we were sure that Brady could make it through a long day, as well as wait until he would remember most of what we did. I think taking Brady at 6-years-old may have been the “magic” age, if you will. He could hang, and he will remember, and I love that.
We planned this Disney trip about three weeks out, and that was plenty of time to coordinate and organize what we needed to do and see. We stayed at the Grand Floridian Resort on Walt Disney World Resort property, and I would 100 percent stay there again. It’s gorgeous. The rooms were nice. The lobby is extraordinarily special, and we were super close to Magic Kingdom too. There was a little bit of construction around the resort property while we were there, but it didn’t bother us at all. We also had some perks as Disney resort guests, and we bought our park tickets along with our rooms, so it made everything easier.
In this post, I’m going to share pretty much everything about our first family trip to Disney.
Our first family trip to Disney (with tips on visiting Magic Kingdom Park and more)
Let’s get into it …
Spending the first night and morning in Winter Park to visit with friends
We left for Orlando from Charlotte on a Saturday and had zero traffic and only stopped one time. We arrived in Altamonte Springs (just north of downtown Orlando) around 8 p.m., and we had dinner and then checked into our hotel. We stayed off property using some of Dave’s hotel points for the first night (love that), and in the morning, we met up with a bunch of Orlando friends in Winter Park. We met one set of friends and their kids for coffee, then we met two other sets of friends (and some of their kids) for brunch, seeing tons of lovely people in one fell swoop. Once all of that was done, we were off to the Walt Disney World Resort, where we stayed for the next two nights.
Staying at the Grand Floridian Resort
Once on Disney property, we stayed for two nights at the Grand Floridian Resort, and it was so incredibly lovely. Our room was bright and well decorated, and our beds were so-very comfy. I loved walking around the resort, and there’s so much we didn’t do there. The Grand Floridian has some fine-dining options as well as a big pool, and we didn’t fit those in during this trip.
I also loved that our resort was very close to Magic Kingdom Park, so we not only got resort-guest perks, but we were also conveniently located. Disney really knows how to theme a resort, and Grand Floridian — with its Victorian flare — was right up my alley.
Watching Cirque du Soleil “Drawn to Life” at Disney Springs
Our first night on Disney property, we hopped on the Disney bus and went to Disney Springs — a big entertainment dining and shopping complex (formerly Downtown Disney, which is what it was called when I last visited).
At Disney Springs, we walked around and looked in some of the shops, then we headed over to watch the 4 p.m. showing of “Drawn to Life,” a Cirque du Soleil production shown exclusively in Orlando at Disney Springs. We bought these tickets in advance, and they were pretty affordable, coming in at a little less than $100 per ticket.
The show that used to be featured in this venue was called “La Nouba,” and I saw that show twice — it was my first ever Cirque du Soleil experience, and it started something good — because since then, I’ve seen seven different Cirque du Soleil shows in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Orlando over the years.
“Drawn to Life” is designed to be family friendly with loose connections to Disney characters, and it ran 90 minutes, with no intermission. This was Brady’s first time at a big production like this, and he was totally mesmerized. He loved the acrobatics, and he also loved the slapstick comedy in between acts too. This show was a hit for our whole family, and I’m so incredibly glad we did it. I’m forever amazed at the talent in Cirque du Soleil, because some of the things those performers can do are unbelievable.
After the show, we grabbed dinner at The Edison, also at Disney Springs. This gothic-designed restaurant had live music and a great vibe, but the food was only okay. We still enjoyed it though.
Since I had last been to Disney Springs, things have truly changed. There are a ton more restaurants and high-end stores, and we could have spent a lot more time there than we did. I would definitely recommend fitting in time at Disney Springs into your Disney visit if you go.
You do need to make restaurant reservations a few weeks in advance, and had we booked sooner, we would have tried to get into some of the more kid-friendly themed places. We also enjoyed the bus access from our resort to Disney Springs and used it on the way there and back. In fact, once we arrived at the resort, we didn’t use our car until we left to drive home.
Getting the most out of one day at Magic Kingdom Park
The next day, we went to Magic Kingdom Park. We set out on this trip only planning to do one park, and in hindsight … I wish we had decided to stay one more night and do a second park. I thought we’d be tired and done after a day, but honestly, I was sad to leave and would have loved a second park day.
Knowing we only had one day at Magic Kingdom Park, we wanted to make the most of it. Because we were staying on property at a Disney resort, we were able to get into the park 30 minutes before other guests (but don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people staying on property, so we weren’t the only ones there early). We took the monorail from our hotel and arrived at the park at 8:40 a.m., and it opened at 9 a.m. to the public.
Doing pretty much everything via the My Disney Experience app
Technology has come a long way since I last visited Disney or worked there, and of course, everything can be done on your phone on the My Disney Experience app, which both Dave and I downloaded before our visit.
We could do pretty much everything via the app, including getting into our hotel room, ordering food, booking rides, checking parade times, accessing the park and much more. I would recommend downloading the My Disney Experience app well before your stay and starting to play with it. The “Tip Board” is where you’ll spend much of your time during your park day, booking rides and checking wait times.
On the drive down to Orlando from Charlotte, I set up my app and got acquainted with what I needed to know. It was helpful that both Dave and I could pull up the information on our phones throughout the park day.
Purchasing one Lightning Lane pass each and purchasing Genie+ Passes for the family
We did a bunch of research, mostly through reading one particular Disney blogger’s work and talking to a friend who had recently been, and we knew we wanted to invest in some ways to make our wait times shorter.
We purchased an individual Lightning Lane to ride TRON, the newest light-cycle coaster experience, and then we also purchased Genie+ Passes for all three of us too.
At 7 a.m. on the day of our park visit, we purchased the Lighting Lane time to ride TRON, and it cost $20 per person for us to ride the ride at 9:05 a.m., shortly after the park opening. This was the first thing we did that day, and it was awesome, because we walked directly onto the ride without even a minute wait.
Brady was just tall enough to ride TRON, and he and Dave sat front row. It was a super-fast ride, and it was pretty scary. I enjoyed it, but I was worried how Brady was doing the whole time knowing how scary it was even for me. He loved it, but he also said he wouldn’t go again. We got one of our TRON pictures as part of our Lightning Lane purchase, and this one is hilarious, because Brady’s hair is so windblown …
Also at 7 a.m. on the day of our park visit, we purchased our Genie+ Passes and signed up for our first reservation window. We already knew a few rides we wanted to fit in, so we looked for those when booking reservation windows. I won’t bother getting too deep into explaining Genie+, because it’s confusing, but once we were there and using it, it actually seemed more simple than we had thought while reading up. It cost us $29 per person, over and above our park admission, to access Genie+, and with this service, we booked times to arrive at rides, and we never waited more than 15 minutes at a single ride all day. To give you an example, The Haunted Mansion had a 90-minute standby line for everyone, and we waited for only 15 minutes, having come through the Lightning Lane with our Genie+ Pass return window. The Genie+ Pass delivered, and we were able to do 11 rides/attractions in one day with it, which is incredible, because we didn’t feel rushed at all.
All the rides and attractions we fit into one day
Here are all the rides/attractions we did in one 12-hour day at Magic Kingdom Park on our first family trip to Disney:
- TRON’s Lightcycle Power Run
- It’s A Small World
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor
- The Haunted Mansion
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Swiss Family Treehouse
- The Peoplemover
- Tomorrowland Speedway
We wanted to do the Jungle Cruise and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but we didn’t quite fit them in. Brady wasn’t ready for the other two coasters, so we passed on Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, although personally, I love them both. We totally skipped a lot of the kiddie rides in Storybook Circus, because Brady didn’t want to do any baby rides, and that was fine by us.
We also watched two parades and the big fireworks show and had a longer sit-down lunch at a table-service restaurant. I think we planned our day perfectly, actually. Our only regret is that we didn’t get to a spot to view the fireworks sooner, so we could have had a seat closer to the castle. We watched the fireworks from the side back of Main Street and had an obstructed view of the castle, but we could see into the sky. Speaking of the fireworks, I was so excited for Brady to see Tinkerbell “fly,” but she didn’t. I don’t know if it was an off night or they don’t do that surprise/delight any longer, but that was a big bummer for me.
Walking seven miles around the park in one day and renting a stroller for Brady
I wore my Apple watch on our Magic Kingdom Park day, and we walked a total of seven miles. While some people like to plan all of their activities based on the “land/area” in the park to minimize walking around, we chose to bounce around the park based on what attractions/rides we could get into with our Genie+ Pass.
Dave and I are both in strong walking shape, and so is Brady, so this worked fine for us. We never tired of walking, and it kept us moving all day. We did, however, choose to rent a Disney stroller for Brady around lunch-time, and he rode in that for some of our longer walks the rest of the day. He had spoken to a friend his age a week before we left who loved riding in a big red stroller at Disney, so that’s what convinced him (having originally said he was too big of a boy to get back into a stroller, having not been in one in like three years). The stroller was a great choice, and it was well worth the $15 rental fee. We saw some people with fancy home-made signs for their strollers, by the way. We hadn’t thought to do that.
Enjoying a sit-down table-service lunch at Jungle Skipper Canteen
When you think of Magic Kingdom Park, you’re probably not thinking about food. Theme park food is never anything special, and we had low expectations for our meals. We ate breakfast in the hotel room (okay, actually, we did a Door Dash order from Starbucks right to our hotel), and we brought snacks in my backpack. But we made a sit-down table-service lunch reservation at Jungle Skipper Canteen ahead of time at 12:55 p.m. This was the perfect lunch time, and it felt good to sit down in air conditioning for a while (however, we were lucky to encounter some fairly mild Central Florida weather in October, and it was in the 80s, which was nice). Also, this was our best meal of our whole trip. The food at Jungle Skipper Canteen was excellent.
We grabbed ice cream after the parade, and for dinner, we pre-ordered some chicken sandwiches from the Cosmic Ray, which we ate on the ground while waiting for the fireworks to start. That meal was certainly nothing special, and more of what you’d expect to get. But boy, our lunch was so yummy, it was a nice surprise.
By the way, you can bring food into the Magic Kingdom, so I highly recommend packing plenty of snacks in your bag. You can also bring in a water bottle, although there are hardly any good refill stations. We mostly had to refill our waters from water fountains, which isn’t ideal, but we made it work.
The behind-the-scenes real talk from our one day at Magic Kingdom Park
One part of the story I haven’t mentioned yet is that the night before our park day, I hardly slept, and this is very rare for me. I’m a great sleeper and a great traveler, and I hardly have any issues. But I had had some later-than-usual caffeine, and apparently was coming down with something, so I didn’t get the rest I needed. On park day, I woke up feeling super tired and like I had a bad cold. It was not how I wanted to feel on this big day, and I was pretty down about it. But, I did my best to roll with the punches and enjoy myself. At many moments, I did enjoy myself. But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that I was also sad sometimes. I broke down in tears in front of the castle in the mid-morning, because I wasn’t feeling like myself and was so disappointed in the timing of it all. And I only say this for two reasons: (#1) You need a good night of sleep before a day like this, and I should have had some of my usual sleep helpers with me — that was on me for not bringing my magnesium spray and other items I can access at home to support good sleep. (#2) Going on a big (and pricey) trip like a Disney trip is a lot of pressure to have a great time in a short amount of time. Anything can happen, and I was prepared for other emergencies or situations, but had never once thought I would be the one who was sick. If we had more days at the park, maybe I would have felt better the next day.
But, I think it’s important to note that time heals, and just a few days later, I’m already forgetting how I felt on our first family trip to Disney and only holding onto the great memories we made. So that’s the last I’ll say about that.
Our favorite Magic Kingdom moments
Brady’s favorite ride was Peter Pan’s Flight. Dave’s favorite ride was TRON. I really enjoyed being on The Peoplemover around sunset and getting a view of one side of the park. I also enjoyed the parades, and it would have been cool to have been right on the sidewalk to view the parades up really close, but we were a few rows of people back both times. Overall, to me, watching Brady take it all in was the very best part, and I felt that a lot during our day there.
We caught the monorail back to our hotel shortly after the fireworks concluded around 8:45 p.m., so we truly made it 12 hours at Magic Kingdom Park. If I had felt a little better, I may have wanted to let Brady fall asleep in the stroller and keep going, but it seemed like we had done enough at that point, without ever really feeling rushed.
I made a video about our one-day trip to Magic Kingdom Park, and you can see that here.
Enjoying breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort with all the special characters
When I woke up the day after our Magic Kingdom Park experience, I was absolutely not ready for our first family Disney trip to end. I opened up my phone and looked for a character breakfast and was so excited to find out that Chef Mickey’s had availability that very morning, so we could do one more thing before driving back to Charlotte. I hadn’t really packed extra clothes for this, but we each had one clean outfit, so we wore what we had, hopped on the monorail and made it to the Contemporary Resort.
The Contemporary Resort is cool because the monorail goes directly through the lobby. We spent a little time walking around the gift stores and then made our way to Chef Mickey’s, also in the lobby of the resort. We checked into the restaurant, were instantly seated and met our waiter, who was excellent. Chef Mickey’s is a breakfast buffet, but our waiter brought us beverages and checked on us a lot. He also made sure we got to meet all the Disney friends, and we sure did.
The breakfast at Chef Mickey’s was really tasty, especially those Mickey waffles. But what was even better was the character interaction. I had no idea how much we would love this 90-minute meal because of that.
Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy all made their way to our table to greet us. They hugged us, took pictures with us and interacted in the best way — without ever saying a word. I had tears in my eyes for some of this breakfast, because it felt so truly special to me. Brady was completely in awe and was pumped/nervous/elated to see these Disney celebrities up close and personal.
We really felt the Disney magic during this character breakfast, and it ended up being my favorite activity of our whole trip. I felt a little better this day too, and I think having ended our first family Disney trip with such a great moment was the perfect cherry on top.
We could have used our Genie+ Pass or waited in line to meet some characters at Magic Kingdom, but I think having more time in this character dining setting was absolutely the right choice. Three cheers for a last-minute booking on a whim, because it delivered!
I made a video about our character breakfast experience, and you can see that here.
Closing thoughts on our first family trip to Disney
I’ve wanted to take Brady to Disney for a very long time, and I will say that the experience was even better than I expected. While not everything went perfectly (because that’s life), I feel like we made some incredible memories, and we chose the exact right age to take him. I thought our hotel was gorgeous, we loved introducing Brady to Cirque du Soleil, the weather was pretty mild while we were at the theme park, and the character breakfast was so special. This trip was worth every penny, and I’m so thankful we were able to go on it!
Now that we’ve been home for a few days, I’ve been feeling the post-Disney blues, and I really want to go back and do it again next year and stay even longer.
Tips for your first family Disney trip
As promised, here are some tips, if you’re thinking of planning your first family Disney trip:
- Most of the year, Walt Disney World Resort is very hot and humid. If you go in the summer, prepare to move a little slower because of the sweltering heat and beware of daily thunderstorms. We chose to go in late October, and our weather was pretty mild for Central Florida, with high temperatures in the mid-eighties. We were never cold though, so at least we didn’t need to pack extra sweatshirts.
- If you can swing staying on property, you get some perks. We were not only able to get into the park early, but we were also able to book our Lightning Lane ride before other guests, who were staying off property. Plus, the monorail, boat and bus system on Disney property is amazing, and we never had to move our car or pay for parking anywhere.
- It’s impossible to do absolutely everything in one day at a park. If you’re only planning to make one Disney trip, you’ll need a couple days to do more than one park. In hindsight, I would have done two park days, with one full Magic Kingdom day and maybe a full Epcot day. There is also Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the water parks. I have no interest in the water parks, but if we go back, I’d love to do another park on our trip. When we go again, I’ll probably try to do late fall, because it was very nice to not have to worry about super-hot weather.
- Disney pricing changes based on the day and season. If you can go to the parks in the middle of the week, you’ll probably pay a little bit less. We were at Magic Kingdom Park on a Monday, and although it was crowded, it was manageable.
- Consider a character-based dining experience to meet a lot of characters at once. This was my favorite activity we did!
- Be ready to wait in lines or pay extra for Genie+ Passes. If you can get the Genie+ Passes for you and your family, you should. Taking away so much time waiting in lines absolutely added to our day and let us do way more than we would have if we waited in the standby line for each attraction. Time is everything.
- Download the My Disney Experience app. Start looking around it, because you’ll need the app for just about everything.
- Wear matching shirts! So many families were in matching gear at the park, and I think it’s a fun thing to do. We purchased our matching shirts off Amazon, and we loved them. Here’s my shirt, Brady’s shirt and Dave’s shirt.
- Bring water bottles and snacks into the park. You don’t have to buy all your food at the park, so pack some snacks.
- Feeling healthy, strong and rested is essential! Being at a theme park all day requires stamina. Do your best to keep yourself and family rested and healthy leading up to your Disney trip.
- Speaking of families, Disney isn’t just for kids. We saw a lot of couples and adults enjoying all the park has to offer without any little ones in sight. In fact, this was my first time going to Disney with a kid. Yes, it was so special to share it with Brady, but you don’t have to have kids to love Disney.
- This trip is an investment! Nothing about going on your first family Disney trip is cheap, so plan head to save where you can. We drove down, we stayed off property the first night, we booked during a slightly slower season on a Monday, and we packed snacks and waters in our bag. Yes, we spent a lot on the park tickets, resort, food and Genie+ Passes, but we felt like that was worth it to us to get the most out of our day.
Thanks for reading this post about our first family trip to Disney. It was a truly magical memory for our little family, and I’m still smiling just thinking about it! Don’t forget to check out my videos about our trip here and here.
Other posts you may like
- Our joint family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- Highlights from our adults-only all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic
- Highlights from a girls’ weekend in Charleston, South Carolina
Questions of the day for you
Have you ever been to a Disney park?
What’s your dream vacation?