A Magical Grand Tour

trailhugger

Human Resources
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Mar 19, 2005
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Raleigh
We recently took our wide-open crew on a long strange trip... to Walt Disney World! We applied the best of our training and experiences from three Grand Tour adventures and mined the intarwebs for the cannot-be-missed rides and attractions to plan our attack on Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse.

We consider ourselves seasoned family road-trippers but I can say without hesitation that it is totally reasonable to plan a fun-for-everyone WDW vacation, drive there, not spend a ton on food, and have everyone wanting to plan the next trip before you're even back home!

I can't take all the credit, of course, I did have the help of one very special friend, all thanks to NC4x4! Despite what you may otherwise be lead to believe, @McCracken is a fine family man and his wife is lovely and knows a lot about planning for Disney World!

Lots to tell and, of course, lots of photos to come!

Here's our successful first morning at Epcot, arriving 3 hours ahead of schedule!

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A snack was in order after a crazy ride on Test Track. Sometimes the 4-year-old is tall enough but still not really big enough for the bigger rides. Mobile ordering was a game-changer, but more on that later...

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jeepinmatt

At least half the people are dumber than the rest
Joined
Mar 24, 2005
Location
Stanley, NC

trailhugger

Human Resources
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Mar 19, 2005
Location
Raleigh
Looks like fun! My wife and I had a good time there before we had kids a few years back. I look forward to/dread like hell, taking my boys in the future

It still all depends on the kids but I can't imagine our 4-yo really enjoying it if he were any younger. I'll talk more later about our strategies to keep the hellishness to a minimum!
 

trailhugger

Human Resources
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Mar 19, 2005
Location
Raleigh
Neither @shawn nor I had been to Disney World since we were kids and a lot has changed, including the demise of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (sad trombone) and the addition of Animal Kingdom. Our first task was to browse YouTube videos and blog posts for the best information out there, of which there's quite a lot.

Several blogs had good answers and information for specific questions but our favorite overall was touringplans.com and the companion book, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Those folks have put a lot of time into documenting crowds, wait times, and ride reviews to help plan the most 'magical' journey. They can tell you how crowded the different parks will likely be any day of the year and they can tell you approximate wait times for different rides. They also have cheat sheets for each park and different family situations, offering up what attractions to see in what order to spend the least overall time waiting in line.

We took advantage of their crowd calendars to pick the time for our trip. NOT spring break or other holidays, not in the heat of summer, and not hurricane season were sort of our boundaries. It just so happened that the week after Easter is pretty quiet and it coincided with my birthday, so Happy Birthday to Me!

We used the Touring Plans planning tool to lay out each park day but modified their boilerplate lists to meet our preferences. Fortunately (in our eyes, at least), we could scratch meeting princesses off our lists! Our kids know it's people in costume and only the 4-year-old mentioned any interest in Mickey or Donald. We actually waited in line to meet Wreck-it Ralph and he (the 4-yo) bailed after 10 minutes.

Our goal was to see as much as possible with more smiles than blisters.

Snacks were essential!

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Getting to the animal exhibits early was key to seeing the most creatures at Animal Kingdom. It was a pretty spectacular birthday, too!

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LBarr2002

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2009
Location
SC
We strongly feel 4 is the minimum age to really enjoy it and it still all depends on the kids. I'll talk more later about our strategies to keep the hellishness to a minimum!

We went a month ago. I was dreading it but my cousin is a Disney nut and planned everything. It was me and wife, 2 kids (just before their 3rd and 5th birthdays), cousin, and Nana. We had a good time and I'd actually voluntarily go back in a few years.

We went when we did because my son was stil free. He's also 40" tall and 47lbs. My cousin said he was winning at life because he was free but still got to ride the mine train, slinky dog, splash mountain, etc. He loved it and cried when the rides were over.
 

amcjeepman

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
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Mar 18, 2005
Location
Reidsville, North Carolina
Certainly one of my wife and my favorite destinations. Glad you had a great trip!
 

UTfball68

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2008
Location
Granite Quarry
We strongly feel 4 is the minimum age to really enjoy it

Disney is my own personal hell...regardless of how little money spent or how little time spending in line or how few crowds there are...it's too much for me. That said, the wife is already plotting grandiose plans for multiple Disney trips with our kids...they're both under 3, and we're planning on a couple more. That age of the child thing though is the only argument I can still cling to. I feel before a certain age, it's all about the parents...and I don't particularly feel like paying for my two year old to put on a dress and do dinner with a princess, since she won't remember it anyway. Not to mention, the few times I have been there, I seem to remember stroller corrals...which means carrying children most the day, and if those children aren't over 48" tall, are limited to about 15% of the rides at the parks. Maybe I'm completely wrong...but if I'm not, I'm hoping I can push this Disney thing out another 5ish years. Otherwise...I'm all ears for any advice navigating small children through Disney.
 

LBarr2002

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2009
Location
SC
Disney is my own personal hell...regardless of how little money spent or how little time spending in line or how few crowds there are...it's too much for me. That said, the wife is already plotting grandiose plans for multiple Disney trips with our kids...they're both under 3, and we're planning on a couple more. That age of the child thing though is the only argument I can still cling to. I feel before a certain age, it's all about the parents...and I don't particularly feel like paying for my two year old to put on a dress and do dinner with a princess, since she won't remember it anyway. Not to mention, the few times I have been there, I seem to remember stroller corrals...which means carrying children most the day, and if those children aren't over 48" tall, are limited to about 15% of the rides at the parks. Maybe I'm completely wrong...but if I'm not, I'm hoping I can push this Disney thing out another 5ish years. Otherwise...I'm all ears for any advice navigating small children through Disney.

36 or 38" gets them on to a lot of rides that are fun for their age. 40" gets them on things I was a little concerned about, but they loved it. Under 3 doesnt need a park ticket and doesnt count for on site resorts, so big savings.

We took a double stroller and would unload at a corral, do the rides/attractions in that area, load up and go to the next area. Our key with little ones was moderation. We didnt stay in parks all day. Go in in the morning, leave around lunch, go back and nap. Some days we went back in, some just did pool and dinner.
 

trailhugger

Human Resources
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Mar 19, 2005
Location
Raleigh
We went a month ago. I was dreading it but my cousin is a Disney nut and planned everything. It was me and wife, 2 kids (just before their 3rd and 5th birthdays), cousin, and Nana. We had a good time and I'd actually voluntarily go back in a few years.

We went when we did because my son was stil free. He's also 40" tall and 47lbs. My cousin said he was winning at life because he was free but still got to ride the mine train, slinky dog, splash mountain, etc. He loved it and cried when the rides were over.

Haha, that's definitely winning! Our youngest is 4 1/2 and 44" tall (at least in shoes), so we tried to let him ride everything he could. We let him ride Avatar and Space Mountain and then he wouldn't ride Slinky Dog, which the older two and I loved. He got back on the horse, though, and rode Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Big Thunder Mountain twice!

Disney is my own personal hell...regardless of how little money spent or how little time spending in line or how few crowds there are...it's too much for me. That said, the wife is already plotting grandiose plans for multiple Disney trips with our kids...they're both under 3, and we're planning on a couple more. That age of the child thing though is the only argument I can still cling to. I feel before a certain age, it's all about the parents...and I don't particularly feel like paying for my two year old to put on a dress and do dinner with a princess, since she won't remember it anyway. Not to mention, the few times I have been there, I seem to remember stroller corrals...which means carrying children most the day, and if those children aren't over 48" tall, are limited to about 15% of the rides at the parks. Maybe I'm completely wrong...but if I'm not, I'm hoping I can push this Disney thing out another 5ish years. Otherwise...I'm all ears for any advice navigating small children through Disney.

I think only maybe 2 or 3 rides have a 48" limit. Most of the bigger rides are 40" or 44". There are stroller corrals for a lot of the big rides because of the space they take up in the queue, so you're really only walking/carrying from there to the back of the line. We took our own single-seater stroller, for the 4-yo and the snack storage, but we let them all take turns riding and sometimes doubled them up. We definitely carried them some, too.

We knew they wouldn't have to walk 3 miles at a stretch but also knew we could potentially be walking 9 miles in a full day at a park. We spent weekend days and evenings the ~2 months before the trip building up stamina by walking the dogs in the neighborhood and on the Greenway. We wanted there to be an expectation that we could all do it and stick together. We kept track and had some 7.5-mile days but, as I'll explain more later, we arranged our days to limit bouncing around the parks too much.
 

trailhugger

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Raleigh
Our key with little ones was moderation. We didnt stay in parks all day. Go in in the morning, leave around lunch, go back and nap. Some days we went back in, some just did pool and dinner.

This x1000. We went into it knowing we wouldn't be able to see or do "it all" but also knowing we didn't want to die on that hill anyway. Touring Plans strongly recommends the long lunch break and we stuck to that. We'd get to the parks before they opened, go back to the hotel for lunch, pool, and quiet time, and then head back (most days) for more fun. We were able to get discounted tickets through a third party site, as well, so that made it possible to spread the Magic Kingdom and Epcot over two days. We spent more days there that way but it was definitely worth it. We did have two days where we stayed in the park until 1 or 2 pm and then didn't go back in the evening.
 

trailhugger

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Sticking to the long-break schedule also meant it made more sense to make breakfast and lunch in the room, which saved us time and money. Some families swear by the Disney dining plan but we were more interested in seeing and doing than eating. Driving from Raleigh, we took a cooler with us. We made breakfast (instant oatmeal or cereal) and sandwiches with fruit and veggies for lunch most days. We took snacks into the park, like beef jerky, trail mix, granola or Lara bars, fruit, (and some gummy and apple sauce pouches for the kids). We took in grocery store water bottles and refilled them from water fountains or got cups of water when we ordered snacks from quick service places (again, the mobile ordering function of the Disney app rocks). We had reservations for two dinners, one at Yak & Yeti for my birthday and a second at Kona Cafe. Our favorite meal, and the best bang for our buck, was the fajita plate and 3 taco plate from Pecos Bills in MK. Taco toppings bar for the win! We also had a great meal at a good price from Blaze Pizza at Disney Springs.

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Waiting on the 'Winged Encounters' parrot show after a quick snack and coffee. This was, by far, one of my favorite things of the whole trip. They've got Macaws trained to music, so they show up and eat peanuts and fly right over your head. They do this every hour, so we got to see them twice.

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rockcity

everyday is a chance to get better
Joined
Apr 10, 2005
Location
Greenville, NC
Planning is everything for Disney. Spend some time up front planning and the trip is so much better. However after just typing that, the kids and I had our best day/evening of the whole trip on an unplanned adventure. :)

I enjoyed it as much as the kids and nearly bought into the DVC because I liked it so much and want to go back again.
 

McCracken

Logan Can't See This
Joined
Jul 9, 2005
Location
With your mom at a nice seafood dinner
Haha, that's definitely winning! Our youngest is 4 1/2 and 44" tall (at least in shoes), so we tried to let him ride everything he could. We let him ride Avatar and Space Mountain and then he wouldn't ride Slinky Dog, which the older two and I loved. He got back on the horse, though, and rode Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Big Thunder Mountain twice!



I think only maybe 2 or 3 rides have a 48" limit. Most of the bigger rides are 40" or 44". There are stroller corrals for a lot of the big rides because of the space they take up in the queue, so you're really only walking/carrying from there to the back of the line. We took our own single-seater stroller, for the 4-yo and the snack storage, but we let them all take turns riding and sometimes doubled them up. We definitely carried them some, too.

We knew they wouldn't have to walk 3 miles at a stretch but also knew we could potentially be walking 9 miles in a full day at a park. We spent weekend days and evenings the ~2 months before the trip building up stamina by walking the dogs in the neighborhood and on the Greenway. We wanted there to be an expectation that we could all do it and stick together. We kept track and had some 7.5-mile days but, as I'll explain more later, we arranged our days to limit bouncing around the parks too much.

Our girl won't ride Big Thunder Mtn. She hates it. However, she'll ride 7 Dwarves and Slinky Dog all day long. We've yet to let her try Space Mtn or Rock n' Rollercoaster but I'm sure the day will come. Then she'll proclaim she's never riding them again :rolleyes:
 

XJsavage

Warlock of Zante plantation
Joined
Aug 15, 2009
Location
South Carolina
That's awesome this happened. WDW and Universal studios as a kid was an experience I'll take with me forever.
 

trailhugger

Human Resources
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Mar 19, 2005
Location
Raleigh
For the uninitiated (or those not great with maps), the parks are mostly arranged into "Land" theme areas such as Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land, Pandora, The Land, etc. We arranged our "touring plans" to see everything in an area before moving on to a different "land" as much as possible. This was somewhat counter to the touring plans guidelines which are "optimized for least overall waiting." In some cases we did move around so we could catch a big attraction first thing in the morning before the line built up or to meet a Fast Pass+ reservation, but our method limited the pinball sensation of bouncing across the park, provided a good balance and variety of rides and activities, and still kept our wait times relatively short. We had a pretty tidy timeline for each day but also allowed wiggle room for snack and potty breaks and checking out the ducks and bunnies. We never did see an armadillo, though.

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It turned out that we'd planned to go to Hollywood Studios on their 30th Anniversary. They actually opened up the park an hour early (and gave out nifty buttons and posters), so we got to spend extra time appreciating the oversized stuff in Toy Story Land and we squeezed in an extra ride or two along with our half-day touring plan list. There were people lined up for special limited merchandise but we were just excited to get good seats for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. It was still just as good as I remembered it.

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Previous Grand Tour adventures have really emphasized that the best laid plan can and will run afoul and the ability to punt is critical. One day it was especially humid and made everyone grouchy, our Fast Pass+ ride was broken down, and the next thing on our list was out in the sun. So we pushed our Fast Pass to the afternoon and found something to do in the AC. One day a rain storm cancelled out our Fast Pass+ ride and the next thing on our list didn't open for 45 minutes. Stuff happens and, like Crush the Sea Turtle likes to say, "go with the flow."

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jeepinmatt

At least half the people are dumber than the rest
Joined
Mar 24, 2005
Location
Stanley, NC
Best part about these pictures? @shawn is taking them instead of in them :p
 

shelby27604

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 6, 2013
Location
Raleigh
I never got the chance to go to Disney as a kid, and I am pretty sure it has shaped me into the cynical, crowd hating person I am today....and YES..... I am ok with that!

Looks like everyone had a great time though, I hope you are proud of yourselves, you are shaping some likely well rounded little humans there.
 
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CasterTroy

Motarded
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Mar 21, 2005
Location
Wallburg
I never got the change to go to Disney as a kid, and I am pretty sure it has shaped me into the cynical, crowd hating person I am today


I went at 10, 15, 30 & 35. Pretty sure it MADE me a crowd hating, cynical, sarcastic, yankee despising, foreigner intolerant asshole with zero patients for stupid people. Which, I'm ok with...but causes problems when the Food Lion up from the house is busy and I just need a couple of items :kaioken:

Shawn and Cyd are much more patient and create a joyous experience for their kids
 

shelby27604

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Jun 6, 2013
Location
Raleigh
I went at 10, 15, 30 & 35. Pretty sure it MADE me a crowd hating, cynical, sarcastic, yankee despising, foreigner intolerant asshole with zero patients for stupid people. Which, I'm ok with...but causes problems when the Food Lion up from the house is busy and I just need a couple of items :kaioken:

Maybe if you stopped bringing the cat everywhere.....people would be nicer to you? It seems natural that you might be out of place at a resort run by two enormous rats.
 
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