We decided to celebrate Stella's third birthday this year at the most magical place on Earth-Disney World! And to be honest, it might be our favorite family vacation to date.
They might be too young to remember, but those are memories you will cherish forever.
We deemed 2023 the year of travel so coming into this vacation, I was a little nervous but mostly excited. Previous vacations, while fun, were so exhausting that I almost needed a vacation afterwards. But there is just something about Disney. Maybe it's the nostalgia or the abundance of Mickey themed sweets, but I felt the magic too. Here's our itinerary as well as some tips and tricks from our magical week.
We had a 4 day hopper pass and dedicated a week to explore. We checked in at Shades of Green (SOG) on Sunday and checked out on Saturday. Weather threw a wrench into our plans so we changed our rest day from Wednesday to Thursday but I highly recommend taking a rest day on day 3 if you have littles.
Checked in and grabbed some food at Manginos. This wasn't my favorite Italian ever but the convenience of being in the hotel was 10/10 after a long road trip. We stocked up on ponchos, water, and snacks from the Exchange, then grabbed some breakfast items from the lobby cafe. There's a buffet at the resort and if you decide to eat there everyday, the resort offers a discount you can take advantage of when you check in. I knew we wanted to snag reservations at either O'hana or Cinderella's Royal Table so we decided against it.
Magic Hours, here we come! We started the day early with some croissants and pastries I snagged the day prior and took the bus to Animal Kingdom. The weather was forecasted to be rainy and stormy especially later on in the week so we wanted to spend the best weather day here.
Stella and Harden loved Kilimanjaro Safari, the Na'vi River, and walking through Harambe's Tour especially since all the gorillas were super active. Justin and I both walked on to Expedition Everest thanks to Disney offering rider swap for parents.
We also decided to purchase the memory maker and highly recommend it. For military, the cost is $99 for ALL the days. Being a photographer, I could critique the quality, lighting, composition, etc all day but the same goes for me that I tell my clients - just get in the picture. Years to come, you'll look at those photos and cherish the memories.
We had lunch reservations for a character dining at Tusker House. There's a kid height buffet, and I kid you not, this was the kids' favorite part. They served themselves and ate every single bit of what they put on their plates especially the mac and cheese. My favorites were the rosemary bread roll that I made a ham cheese sandwich with, the shawarma lamb with naan and fixings, and the banana bread pudding.
We decided to head back to the hotel so we all could nap. We didn't have any dinner plans and thought it'd be fun to hang out in Epcot and that's when we discovered the most amazing news.
*If you're staying at a Disney Resort, Shades of Green included, there is another virtual queue at 6 pm you can enter for Magic Hours.*
This meant we could snag a spot for Disney's newest ride, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Y'all, this ride was epic. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say, Disney Imagineers outdid themselves. I'm excited for this new level of rides at the parks.
We then made our way to Norway so the kids could meet Elsa and Anna and then ride Frozen. Harden kept blowing kisses and Stella was starstruck. The kids tapped out around 8:30 so we came back to the hotel for some zzzs.
This morning we opted for a slightly later wake up so we could snag a hot and fresh bagel sandwich from Shades of Green's Express Cafe by the bus stop. We were able to take it on the go and it hit the spot perfectly. Then off we went to explore Magic Kingdom. Because the forecast wasn't the best, the crowds were thin which was pretty awesome.
We spent most of our time in Adventureland and Fantasyland. The kids loved the kiddie rides but Stella was finally tall enough to ride Barnstormer and loved every second of it. She's already begging to ride Slinky Dog.
We had reservations for lunch at Be Our Guest (BOG) for another character dining and it was amazing! My recommendation, get the filet mignon. For the kids that are Guests of Mickey, it comes with complimentary mac and cheese as well as the 'gray stuff' in the shape of Mickey Mouse. If you can dine in the West Wing, I highly recommend it. The was the kids' favorite character dining INSIDE the park.
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
We returned to the hotel after BOG so the kids could get a solid nap because we had tickets to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party that night! The kids were troopers and rallied. We made it to the park just before 6 pm so we could join the virtual queue from Tron. Once again, Disney Imagineers rocked it.
After riding Tron, we grabbed some dinner at Cosmic Rays as well as snagged our snickerdoodle cookies and hot cocoa. There was a dance party and the kids had a blast. Even characters like Timone and Princess Sophia came and partied. Stella was having such a good time, she didn't want to leave the dance floor. The dinner wasn't anything to write home about but the cookies are pretty dang tasty.
We snagged our ornaments then headed to watch the Frozen Show at Cinderella's Castle. If you can, I would get as close as possible. There's a lot going on stage and we were too far to see most of it unfortunately. We also missed the Mickey Show. But, we got AMAZING seats on Main Street for the Christmas Parade. This was definitely the highlight of the night for us. They even made it snow on Main Street and watching the kids' reactions was magical in itself.
We tapped out after the parade and decided to watch the fireworks from our hotel balcony. The kids stayed up way too late (1030 pm) which contributed to a very rough day 3.
Hollywood Studios, consisting of meltdowns and mayhem. All jokes aside, it was a very rough day for us. The weather was rainy and the kids were cranky. We decided to do Toy Story Land and Star Wars. We rode all the rides a previous trip (one without littles) so I opted to hang with Stella and Harden and let Justin be a kid for a bit.
Afterwards we celebrated with a drink at Ola's Cantina and it was just as good as I remembered. We both ordered the Fuzzy Tauntaun that makes your mom tingle as well as a snack for the kids called Ola's Obsession. Watching the kids try pop rocks for the first time was the cutest thing ever). 10/10 recommend.
Harden took a long nap giving Stella some one on one time with us which we spent riding the Alien Swirling Saucers in Toy Story Land. We opted to head home early and just relax the rest of the afternoon.
We ate dinner that night at The Boathouse in Disney Springs and did some shopping at World of Disney (WOD). The food was okay but the view was awesome.
Rest day, finally! I woke up early (5 am) and was able to snag reservations at O'hana for Stella's birthday, knock out some laundry, and grabbed the crew some breakfast from Express Cafe downstairs. Laundry at SOG costs $3.00 for washer and $3.00 for dryer. The facility provides detergent.
For our rest day, we decided to take the monorail and resort hop. First stop, Grand Floridian to check out the giant gingerbread house. It made for a cute photo op. We perused the stores but they honestly were a smaller version of WOD. I love collecting Disney puzzles and every store/resort seems to carry a different one which is pretty cool.
We continued to Polynesian Resort. It was pouring down rain so we couldn't explore outside for either park unfortunately. That being said, we knew we didn't want to stay out too late so having an 11 AM O'hana reservation was perfect. This was the kids' favorite character dining OVERALL and it was Justin's and my favorite too.
The food was great and plentiful. Think family style with fresh fruit, delicious biscuits, Mickey and Stitch shaped waffles, eggs, potatoes, ham, the works. The character meet and greet is what made it top notch though. Up until this point, Stella was so scared of EVERY character, even Elsa and Anna. But when Mickey and Stitch came around to the tables, Stella (and Harden) were dishing out high fives, fist bumps and even hugs. At one point, Stella and Stitch were having a giggle fit and she kept saying 'punch buggy'. We went back to the hotel for nap time afterwards.
We ate dinner at Raglan Road in Disney Springs and we thought it was delicious and a must-eat place for any itinerary. I got the Slow Roll Pork and Justin the Braised Be Beef. Our plates were licked clean by the end. Even the kids meals were tasty (Shepards pie and Chicken pot pie). If you can request a table in good view of the stage, do it. The kids loved watching the dancers and musicians perform.
Today was our second day at Magic Kingdom and if you have littles, I definitely recommend planning at least two days here because there is just that much to see and do. We were out the door and on the bus by 8 AM. We wanted to eat at Sleepy Hollow in the park and it did not disappoint. We got a mouth watering Belgian Waffle loaded with Nutella, strawberries, blueberries, and bananas and shared one as a family. It was so good!
We spent the morning in Adventureland and Fantasyland again and were able to hit all the rides we wanted. The kids' favorite was a toss between Pirates of the Caribbean and Prince Charming Carousel. Cinderella's step sisters hopped on the horses with us too - so fun!
For lunch, we ate at the Friar's Nook and it is a great quick service option for kids because everything revolves around Mac and cheese but also because their kid snack packs are pretty healthy too! Think lunchable with wheat thins instead of crackers and fruit instead of cookies.
It started to rain so we decided to call it for the day and head back for nap time.
At 5 pm, we headed to Epcot and opted for dinner at Les Crepes de Paris. Their hard sides were delicious and the dining was light and kid friendly. That being said, it was Epcot's Food and Wine Festival and it would have been fun to try some of the country pop ups that were solely for the event like Kenya or Australia.
The big rides we wanted to hit this time around was Ratatouille (super cute 4D ride), Frozen and Guardians. Unfortunately Frozen broke just before we got on and we found out we were ineligible to join the 6 PM queue for Guardians because there were no Magic Hours for Epcot on Fridays. Lesson Learned, make sure to check beforehand. Thankfully a Cast Member hooked us up with Lightning Lane for Guardians of the Galaxy. We made sure to go in the Disney app and left them some love for making our trip unforgettable.
We did a little picnic brunch in the room catered by mama with fixings from Express Cafe (can you tell I really liked dining there), packed and hit the road.
There are a ton of Facebook groups that offer up left over groceries, ponchos, balloons, even strollers and Shades of Green was no different. You'll find the 'hidden treasures' left in the Laundry Room on the second floor. So, on your next visit, it never hurts to swing by and do a quick shelf check to start your magical vacation off right.