Disney, the Lovely Elephant in our Backyard: Photos and Tips from our Visit

We lived in the Orlando area for over a year before we ventured to Disney.  We consider it the expensive, exotic elephant in our backyard.  A few weeks ago, we finally splurged on annual passes for the family and will be spending the rest of the year trying to get our money's worth. With 3 kids in tow, we pace ourselves, are we don't park-hop; we spend no more than 3 hours so everyone has fun and there are few meltdowns.  It is not unusual to overhear this comment at Disney,"we saved for this vacation all year, and you better have fun!" The best thing about the annual pass or multi-day pass is that there is no pressure to pack all the fun into 1 day.

Face it, young kids only care about Minne and Mickey, so our first stop was the Magic Kingdom.  Cinderella's Castle is mesmerizing!  Adults actually stopped texting and taking photos and just stared at it as if remembering the fairy tales of their childhood.  It really is that enchanting. Mickey and Minnie and the entire Disney cast of characters entertained the crowd with a happy and grand performance that you could only get at the "happiest place on earth."

Lions, tigers, giraffes, oh my! We wanted an exciting but not frenitic experience so we visited the Animal Kingdom. After about 20 minutes there, we saw only a handful of animals and later learned that in order to see the animals, we had to go on a Safari. Before we found the Safari, we encountered some large but friendly dinosaurs.

Am I the only grownup afraid of roller coasters? Thankfully, the kids don't meet the height requirement. If you dare, this is the Expedition Everest.

Finally, the Safari!

Beautiful but I was very nervous being so close to the tigers.

The Safari is accessed by visiting Africa so if you if your main goal is to see the animals, head straight to there. The timer at the entrance told us that the wait was 30 minutes and although the line move pretty quickly, it did take 30 minutes to get to the safari jeep. The tour takes about 20 minutes and our guide was an amazing actor because he was fun and animated and he simulated near crashes, a shaky bridge and attack from poachers.

I just wanted to go rub his belly.

The second most breathtaking view is of the Tree of Life, which rules the park. Look closely at the animal carvings.

Based on our experience, here are a few tips:

  • Arrive before 10 a.m or after 3 when the crowds are gone because it is easier to get on rides.
  • Get a Fast Pass so that your wait for popular rides will be shorter. 
  • When you enter, ask what time the parade begins. The parades are a wonderful way for the entire family to have fun. By the way, if you are not a big fan of parades, while the crowd is at the parade, visit your favorite ride b/c the line will be shorter.
  • If you have kids, rent a stroller at the gate. There are places to park your stroller next to the rides.
  • If possible, obtain a map of the park before you go and circle your "must do" rides/shows. Walking around Disney holding a map is no fun.
  • Food is expensive so bring snacks and water for the kids.
  • Everyone should wear comfortable shoes.
  • Steer the kids away from the gift shops, unless you can afford a $30 animal pillow. I had to remind the kids that tantrums are not allowed in Mickey's house.
  • If you go on Safari, sit the kids in the center because the ride can be bumpy and scary for young kids.
  • If you are Vegan, try getting some cupcakes from Babycakes in Downtown Disney before you enter the main parks.  The South African restaurant Jiko at Disney's Animal Lodge has a Vegan menu with great food but it is expensive.

Fun Times to Visit:  Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (March to June), the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (September to November), Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween. 

We are looking forward to visiting Hollywood Studios, Epcot and the water parks and will update this post with additional tips after we visit.  In the meantime, enjoy the photos.