I got back a couple of weeks ago from a long-awaited trip to Walt Disney World! This trip was different from most. This time, we had the opportunity to travel with great friends, one of which is a Disney veteran and another who was visiting for the first time. It was one of those go-go-go trips where we fit as many experiences as possible in five days, including some new ones for my husband Michael and me! We packed a lot into our days because it was a shorter trip than usual. I’m talking 2-3 parks in a day and 15-18 hour days! I’d love to share some of those experiences and lessons learned with you.

DAY ONE – CHECK IN, MAGIC KINGDOM, BE OUR GUEST:

We arrived at noon, checked into the Contemporary Resort and headed straight to Magic Kingdom. To me, walking Main Street the first day you arrive is the best way to say “I’M AT WALT DISNEY WORLD”!! Despite the park being crazy crowded, it was one of those perfect first days. We went to Be Our Guest for dinner and wow, it was amazing. For the last two years, I have read review after review of this place and heard how beautiful it is. But still, when I walked in, I was blown away. I was transported and the table service dinner felt like a special experience. We had an outstanding Cast Member serving us who really played up the experience. I was excited to sit in the Main Ballroom. The West Wing is really cool and the Rose Garden is beautiful, but I wanted the experience of being in the room that the restaurant is known for. I highlight recommend the French Onion soup. It basically had an inch of broiled cheese which screamed “VACATION” to me! In the garlands, there were small stained glass-like ornaments of the film’s characters; a perfect example of Disney’s attention to detail!

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The park was open until 1:00am that night. That’s such a great time to be in the Magic Kingdom. The crowds really dwindled down around 11:00pm and waits were minimal after a busy afternoon. And after a long day, it was nice to just walk back to the Contemporary instead of trying to board a bus or the Monorail. It was the main reason we decided to stay there and was well worth it. The proximity allowed us to maximize park time on a quick trip.

DAY TWO – EPCOT, DISNEY SPRINGS, HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS, OSBORNE:

For Day Two, we decided to book Fastpasses for Hollywood Studios in the late afternoon before the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. That meant a very early morning at Epcot’s Future World the next day! We were able to get on Soarin’ and Test Track with only a 20-minute wait each. You’ve heard it a million times…but get there for rope drop and it will always pay off!

Next, we headed to Disney Springs for lunch. I am a huge fan of the new Disney Springs! Again, totally packed being a weekend but it was a beautiful place with some interesting shops and restaurants. Joffrey’s Tea Traders was a highlight. If you love tea, this is the place for you. For lunch, we tried the food truck park next to D-Street for the first time. There, you’ll find four food trucks, each serving some of the best dishes from each of the parks. We were a little disappointed to find that only two of the trucks were open for lunch. The others opened around 4:30pm. It was actual Disney chefs cooking and serving the food and the trucks had that cool food truck vibe. I had the hand-dipped corn dog and waffle fries at the “Best of Magic Kingdom” truck. The corn dog is an icon at Disneyland, and this version lived up to the hype! The waffle fries were extra crunchy thanks to a dusting of cornmeal. You could stand and eat at little cocktail tables they had set up throughout the area or find a bench to take a seat. This is definitely a fun option if you are at Disney Springs. I mean, seriously look at this delicious batter!!

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Another highlight for me was seeing the presence of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the Marvel Super Hero Headquarters shop next to D-Street. I am a huge Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan and I’ve found there isn’t a strong S.H.I.E.L.D. presence compared to the rest of Marvel at retail stores. Still, there was very little S.H.I.E.L.D. merch at the shop, but seeing the place decked out in the logo was really exciting!

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We stopped by Jock’s Lindsey’s Hanger Bar for a drink. This is a must do if you want to sit back, relax and enjoy the afternoon. We grabbed a primo spot on the patio (the entire place is open seating) and watched the water while sipping on some delicious, refreshing cocktails. I had the Cool-Headed Monkey and my husband Michael had The Scottish Professor. Both were two thumbs up!

Hollywood Studios was next! I was immediately hit with the huge Star Wars presence at the park. Storm Troopers were walking around the courtyard outside of the Star Wars Launch Bay, Star Wars merch was everywhere and basically every fifth person had a BB-8 stein! It was exciting! After Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror and Star Tours, we went over to Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Like most people, I am pretty heartbroken about this being the last year. Knowing this, I tried to soak in every minute I could. We were out there in the rain for about two hours and even then, it wasn’t enough time! I was surprised with how emotional I was that night. This event is one of those experiences that is truly joyful. There’s no waiting in line, no stressing over Fastpasses….just celebrating with friends and family. But, good things are on the way!

If you are a fan of Once Upon a Time, you have to check out Mr. Gold’s shop window! I have anticipated visiting this display for a long time and kinda freaked out when I saw it. The attention to detail in the display and the props was so fun for Oncers like me. My guess is this is probably going away with the rest of the Streets of America, but here’s hoping it’s relocated elsewhere in the park!

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DAY THREE: ANIMAL KINGDOM, MAGIC KINGDOM AND POLYNESIAN FUN

Animal Kingdom is now my second favorite park. I continue to be amazed at and appreciate the detail in this park and at the Lodge. We had one of those perfect mornings at the park. Saving our Fastpasses for that afternoon at Magic Kingdom, we were at Animal Kingdom at rope drop to go straight to Everest and the Kilimanjaro Safaris. We literally walked on both attractions! For lunch, we went straight to the new Harambe Market. The food here is amazing!!! We had the Ground Beef Kabob Flatbread with a fresh broccoli, cherry tomato and red onion salad in a light vinaigrette. My friend had the spiced ribs and slaw pictured below and loved the dish. This place takes quick service at Disney World to a different level. I finished the delicious meal with a refreshing Dole Whip with coconut rum. It’s sold just around the corner from the Market. This is another winner, but beware, bees swarmed us at the outdoor seating at Harambe! Not sure if this was due to the sweet Dole Whip, but you may want to take this treat to go.

That afternoon, we spent just a few hours at Magic Kingdom. We experienced Seven Dwarves Mine Train again, which was fun, and hung out at Gaston’s for a bit. That’s a cool spot to relax, regroup and share a cinnamon roll. That night, it was all about the Polynesian Village! This was our first time to check out the resort after the renovations and it was beautiful! I introduced my friends to the tried-and-true Lapu Lapu at Tambu Lounge followed by dinner at Kona Cafe (try the crab rangoon sushi roll!) and checked out Trader Sam’s. Trust me and try to carve out a night at the Polynesian for your next trip if you haven’t already checked out the resort post renovations.

DAY FOUR: EPCOT AND MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY

Today was the day for the Epcot World Showcase. Our first-time Disney guest had this at the top of her list and we had a blast! It was surprisingly very crowded but still a great time. Probably the best dessert we had the entire trip was the Caramel Kiss at Germany. It’s like hot chocolate but melted caramel. It hit me like a ton of bricks. So much richness and unlike anything I’ve had before.  GET THIS!

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One of our fails for the trip was trying to snack around World Showcase. We knew it wasn’t Food and Wine Festival, but we figured we could still make a meal out of snacking at the permanent kiosks in each country. We were mistaken! Most of the snacks at the kiosks were desserts and the quick service options were full meals. We ate an egg roll in China and with growling stomachs, we ultimately grabbed a sandwich at the new-to-us expanded cafe in the France pavilion. The sandwiches tasted like what I had in Paris years ago; simple with great bread, fresh herbs and lots of cheese. However, seating is limited and potentially a tough place for large parties to sit together. You may want to instead take the food to-go and find a nice place to sit along the fountain outside.

On night two we had a situation at our resort that I had to call to the attention of the hotel manager. Disney made it right and then some! Mistakes can happy, but it’s how you handle them that matters most. Among other things, he gave us a couple of Fastpasses each so we were able to experience Soarin’ and Test Track again. It was Disney customer service at it’s finest!

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was our final night and it was perfect! We walked on every ride, especially after it got dark. Since Fastpasses are not distributed for the event and park attendance is capped low, it was so easy to navigate the park and experience a lot of attractions in a short amount of time. This alone is worth the price of admission! We ate at Pecos Bill for dinner because we wanted to try their new burrito bowls. This is another great value and a much needed break from fried food! We didn’t realize the Christmas parade starts outside the restaurant next to Splash Mountain, so we were surprised to find that when we walked out a few minutes before the parade started we got great viewing spots. I highly recommend considering forgoing the 1-2 hour wait for a spot to view the parade on Main Street and instead consider viewing the parade from a less crowded spot in Frontierland. Another tip is to ride Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad during the first parade if you can get across the parade path in time and then catch the second parade. Those rides were so empty during the parade that they were literally sending boats down with 2-3 people on them. You may get stuck in that area while the parade goes by but you could probably do those attractions 2-3 times during the parade.

I highly recommend the Very Merry Christmas Party. It is such a special night. Seeing Celebrate the Magic, Wishes and then the snow coming down is like nothing else. No dry eyes here 🙂

DAY FIVE: HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS AND SEE YA REAL SOON

Hollywood Studios was our final park of the trip. It was finally time for the Star Wars Launch Bay! This is another MUST DO! They have a 10-15 minute film with an overview of the work being done at Lucasfilm. Interviews with people leading the different groups and media outlets (films, video games, television animation, story) showed you how passionate and talented this team is and gave me a greater appreciation of what’s coming for Star Wars. It’s in good hands! When we walked out of the film, we saw two lines: one to meet Darth Vader and one to meet a Wookie. We opted for Vader and this was an unexpected highlight of the trip. The queue was full but moved quickly. This was my first taste of the immersive experience coming to Star Wars land and I was speechless. I thought this would be just a photo op but it was so much more! I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that when you meet Vader, be ready for more than just a simple photo! Also, when we walked out, Jawas were running around! You could walk right up to them, take photos, and they were playing tricks on a few folks. It was such a surprise and icing on the cake for this Star Wars experience!

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Overall, this was another great trip. Traveling with friends was a blast! Next up, I’ll share some of my favorite merch I found in the parks and hotels with lots of pictures. Disney merch is on point right now and there is a lot to be excited about! Anyways, until next time…

Jess

Follow me on Twitter @MerchMouse

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