Walt Disney World Vacation with Four Kids – Part II – Traveling and the First Day at Epcot

Now that I’ve got that lengthy planning description out of my system, I can tell you how the trip really went.

I have never been to a Disney theme park before, and I think I was probably more excited than the kids were to go. Not just for myself, but also to watch the kids enjoy themselves. As we neared our departure date I worried I’d built the vacation up so much in my head (Magic! Joy! Great weather! Happy children!) that it could never live up to my expectations.

I am pleased to report that the vacation went even better than I expected. I now understand a bit how some of the Disney fanatics across the world came to be so. I can’t remember where I read it, but there was a line in a guide book or online planning site that said something like, “Disney has figured out how to get people to stand in line for 60 minutes for a ride that will only last 10 minutes, and be happy about it.” So very true. I will also add, “Disney has figured out how to get people to pay inflated prices for a week of fun, and be happy about it.”

Getting to Florida
As I wrote before, we chose to fly after briefly considering driving. The cost savings of driving would have been small compared to the convenience of getting to our destination in one day vs. three.

I felt mildly panicked at the thought of Zachary and I wrangling all four kids through airport security and keeping them occupied on the plane, then on a layover, and then on another plane. But they did really well. The airport was slow when we arrived, and the only thing that tripped us up during security was the jarred baby food in the diaper bag, which had to be removed and inspected.

The flights were relatively uneventful – we brought Jonah’s car seat on which I think was a great decision (vs. having him as a lap infant) because he’s used to having to sit still and not get down in the car seat in the car. The kids did have problems with pressure in their ears, and it was hard to get them to understand how to relieve the pressure, but luckily that lasted, at most, fifteen minutes. We brought art supplies, snacks, and my iPad with some movies and the newest favorite – Angry Birds.

We spent two nights at a hotel near the airport, then took the hotel’s shuttle back to the airport, where we hopped on Disney’s Magical Express. The large coach bus had little TV screens which played a welcome video. We dropped of quite a few people before making it to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We started to get off there, but then realized we were the next stop – Animal Kingdom, Kidani Village.

Check in was painless. I think we got there at around 10 or 11 am so our room wasn’t ready yet, but the front desk took our luggage and gave us our Keys the World (room keys, park tickets, meal plan cards and a way to charge purchases to your room, all in one) and we were on our way. We decided to go to Epcot first, then head back to AKL to meet up with Zachary’s parents at Boma for dinner.

First Day – Epcot
Oh, the excitement! Disney! We waited at our resort for a bus to take us to Epcot and we were all feeling a little giddy. After the bus dropped us off, Zachary and I both looked at each other like, “Now what?”

After going through the bag check (you stand in line before entering each park and they go through all of your bags and stroller baskets) and the gates we had our very first Photo Pass photos taken. Someone gave me this tip before we went – take a picture of each Photo Pass card you get from the photographer, because you need the code to retrieve your pictures later.

Then we got a map of the park and kind of stared at it, dumbfounded, for about ten minutes. We had no idea where to go or what to do. We felt like there was some secret planning information we’d failed to get. I’d read about Fast Passes, so we thought it would be a good idea to check that out. One of the first attractions we saw was Test Track, which is a cars-on-rails attraction that is supposed to make you feel like a crash test dummy.

Fast Passes, for those who know as little about them as we did that first day, are awesome. You approach the attraction and a digital sign tells you how long the wait is if you plan to stand in line, how long the wait is if you have a Fast Pass, and what time your Fast Pass will be for if you get one now.

You use one Key to the World for each person who will be riding, and put the card into a reader which will then give you a paper ticket with a time range during which you will come back and have a much shorter wait. For example, Test Track, at the time, had a wait of 60 minutes. We got Fast Passes for a return time of about 2 or 3, I think it was. So we decided to find a place for lunch.

Walked around aimlessly for a while again, trying to figure out which dining establishments were quick service and which were table service. Because we already had table service reservations for dinner, we needed/wanted to use our quick service for lunch. Found a Mexican restaurant called La Cantina de San Angel.

This was the first of many chicken nuggets for the kids. The dining plan is inexpensive for children, but options are limited. Most restaurants have just 3-4 options for kids, typically chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, some other regular kid-friendly food, and maybe one item that fits the restaurant’s cuisine or theme. If you are concerned about your kids eating a more balanced diet, you may want to order dishes off the adult’s menu to share (not an option with the dining plan).

After lunch the kids wanted to go into the pyramid, which is part of Mexico in Epcot. We walked through the market and then discovered a boat ride inside. The kids’ first attraction at Disney! I am not sure if it’s because it was the first ride they went on, or because they really loved it, but it was the runaway favorite of the entire trip.

It is called the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. You get onto a boat which takes you through scenes of Mexico and video screens on the wall of Donald Duck and two other animated birds going around Mexico. It is not the most exciting attraction I’ve ever been on, but as we’d find, the tamer the ride, the more the kids liked it.

By the time we finished inside the pyramid, it was time to head back to Test Track. For rides young babies can’t go on (or rides some older kids refuse to go on), Disney has what they call Rider Swap, which allows parents to trade off staying with kids too young for rides without having to stand in line twice, which is a great feature. The attraction operators give you a ticket, like a fast pass, that will allow the waiting adult to go back through the fast pass line with up to two kids after the first adult gets done with the ride.

Zachary took the older three kids to stand in the Fast Pass line while Jonah and I were told to go wait for them at the ride’s exit. They came out and poor kids were crying! One thing to note about Disney rides if you have sensitive children with wild imaginations – some rides you don’t think will be scary will still end up being scary for the kids. Test Track has an elaborate wait line which includes a trip to a “briefing room” which plays a video talking about how they test cars with crash test dummies. The final scene in the video shows a car really crashing. Well, poor Isla didn’t realize that the video wasn’t going to come true – and the attraction does have moments designed to make you think you were going to crash. So the kids were quite scared.

Once we explained how the ride would not crash, I did convince Isla and Grant to go back with me with the rider swap passes, but Miles could not be convinced.

It’s been too long since we took the vacation, and now I don’t remember how the rest of our time at Epcot played out that day. It did involve a stop at an ice cream cart for Mickey ears chocolate covered ice cream on a stick, and an Itzakadoozie.

We had planned to go back to our hotel room before dinner, but didn’t have enough time, so took the buses instead to Animal Kingdom Lodge for our dinner reservations at Boma. While we were waiting Zachary’s parents arrived – hooray for Grammie and Grandad!

Boma was one of my favorite meals the entire week. It is an African-inspired buffet. Normally I don’t find buffet food to be inspiring at all, but this food was flavorful and plentiful. Some standard buffet fare, but for the most part it was unique dishes.

A note about food allergies: I am allergic to shellfish, and Jonah is allergic to eggs. Eating out, especially at buffets, can be worrisome when you don’t know exactly what is in everything. Does that salad have egg in the dressing? Is that chicken or crab meat?

When you make your dining reservations online (also known as ADRs, advance dining reservations), there is a spot to mark whether anyone has allergies. Disney takes this VERY seriously. At every sit down restaurant we went to, the chef (not just a server, but the chef) came to our table to explain what was safe for us to eat and what wasn’t. The chef at Boma took me through the entire buffet line to explain about the ingredients of the food. For someone who probably has to do that many times each day, he didn’t seem put off by it or like he was trying to rush me at all. Very reassuring to know what Jonah and I could safely eat.

After our great dinner it was back to the hotel where we had our only major mishap of the week. We found out we had a room adjoining Zachary’s parents (awesome), but our luggage was not in our rooms yet, and we had four tired kids ready to get their pajamas on and get into bed (not awesome). A call to the front desk revealed they didn’t actually know where our luggage was. Definitely not awesome.

Turns out our last name was similar to the last name of other guests on our floor, and our luggage had been brought to that room, instead. I don’t know if those guests rifled through our clothes or not, but about 30 minutes after we discovered the luggage issue we had all of our stuff in the room and put the kids to bed. Zachary and I were in a bedroom with Jonah in a pack n play, Isla and Grant shared the sleeper sofa, and Miles took the sleeper chair.

We all slept well, ready to get started on our next day, heading to Epcot again.

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  1. […] Disney World Vacation with Four Kids – Part I – The Planning Walt Disney World Vacation with Four Kids – Part II – Traveling and the First Day at Epc… Walt Disney World Vacation with Four Kids – Part III – Epcot (Again) and Magic Kingdom […]

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