Florida & Disney World Trip!
I’ve gotta say this was one of the best trips we’ve been on. Before we left I had low expectations, thinking it would be more tiring and chaos than fun. Others even warned me that the Disney days wouldn’t be fun for parents, just overwhelming and meltdowns. I am happy to report that it completely exceeded my expectations. I feel rested, I got to relax, I enjoyed Disney with the kids and didn’t feel claustrophobic traveling with 16 people. My mom and dad paid for most of this trip for us, which was so generous of them. She booked our rental vehicles through Costco because that was the best price she found. I’ll share all the details and tips below to hopefully help you have a successful Florida/Disney trip as well.
1) We went for 8 full days (plus two days for travel), which gave us lots of time to do everything we needed, plus gave us relaxing down days. I think this is key if you can afford to take the time. Having days where we just stayed at the house and swam and relaxed was so important for everyone.
2) We travelled with my whole family, so there were lots of cousins for the girls to play with. The days where we were at the house hanging out, I barely ever saw the girls. They just went off with their cousins and did their own thing. This let us adults feel like we got a vacation too. We were able to relax, read, hot tub, visit, etc.
3) We stayed in a big house with 9 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms. This gave us space when we needed it. Traveling with 16 people could be overwhelming, but it wasn’t in this house. We each had our own wing, with our own bathrooms, and plenty of space for “alone time” when needed. It also made it super easy to all hang out and visit in the evenings once the kids went to bed.
4) We ate out for a lot of our dinners. Obviously this is more costly, but as a mom who does all of the cooking at home, a real vacation for me means little to no cooking. We did a few big grocery shops for breakfast and lunch at the house, and made sure they were simple easy things that wouldn’t keep us tied up in the kitchen.
5) We only did two Disney days. I know some people try and cram in 4-5 days at the parks, but that just did not sound fun for us. Our girls are little and are prone to meltdowns when they’re overtired. We did our two top parks, and I’m sure we’ll be back one day to do more!
6) We had a night out just grown-ups. One night my parents watched all 8 grandkids so that us parents could go out on our own. This was such a fun night. We did the airboat ride and just had time with my siblings, which we never get anymore!
7) We didn’t overfill our schedule. We picked a few things we wanted to do while we were there, but left a lot of house/relaxing days.
We stayed at the Solara Resorts. My mom found this house through VRBO and it was perfect for us. There were a few themed rooms, king beds that were super comfy, lots of bathrooms, huge tables for eating, ping pong, fooseball, scrabble, pacman, darts, a theatre room, and a pool and hot tub. There was also laundry which we used often.
The resort also has a shared pool area with little waterslides for the kids and a bigger pool. It wasn’t super hot when we were there and the big pool wasn’t heated so we didn’t ever stay there too long. By the big shared pool there is also a restaurant and they often have afternoon games/activities going on. On our last day they had bracelet making, sand containers, cotton candy and a little petting zoo with alligators, lizards and snakes. It was only a 25 minute drive to Disney too. I definitely recommend staying here! There is also a playground in the complex, and it feels super safe because you have to show your card to get in through the gate. I believe there are also smaller houses if you aren't going with such a big group.
We decided to do one day at Magic Kingdom and one day at Animal Kingdom. These parks were perfect for my girls ages (6, 4 and 3). Tickets start at $109/day, and you get a small discount if you do multiple days. When you purchase your tickets, you pick a window of when you can use them. Once you've bought your tickets you then have to go in and reserve your spot at the specific park you want to go to. Parks do have a capacity limit, so do this asap after you buy your tickets to make sure you get the parks you want. If you want to book restaurant reservations, character dinners, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, these sell out super quick and can be booked up to 60 days in advance. Also, bring a portable charger! You'll be on your phone a lot and you don't want it to die, because you need it for your tickets and photo memories :).
Get the My Disney Experience app before your trip. Everything you’ll need is on there. You get your tickets, plan your day, buy Genie+, book restaurants, check in to rides, etc all from the app. It also lets you plan your day, so you put in the rides/attractions you want to see, and it’ll tell you the best way to see them (avoids you running all over the park and wasting time). Wear comfortable walking shoes, wear sunscreen or bring a hat and I brought a spray bottle/fan from Target and the girls used this a lot during the day when they got hot. Definitely recommend having some kind of spray bottle if it's gonna be hot when you go. You could pack a change of clothes if you plan on doing Splash Mountain or if your kid might have an accident, and bring a sweatshirt for the evening because it cools off!
I highly recommend a stroller for any kid under 6. They day is long and there is so much walking. Everly used it a couple times, but Rosie and Zara really needed it. Both days they fell asleep in it and they needed the break for their legs. It also gave us a place to keep all the snacks/backpacks so we didn't have to carry them all day. We took our Uppababy Vista which was perfect. I saw a few double side-by-side strollers, but honestly they are just so bulky and wide it’s so crowded. You also park your stroller before going on any ride. I had a fanny pack that I put my phone, wallet and valuables in so that I didn’t have to leave it with the stroller.
We packed a TON of snacks and lunch, and then planned to buy dinner each day. We did special snacks that the girls don’t usually get so it would keep spirits high. Individual Nutella packs with breadsticks, cheese and cracker packs, granola bars, turkey sticks, apples, oranges, sandwiches one day and lunchables the next (my girls have never had them and they always ask), squeeze pouches, fruit snacks, suckers, gum and smart sweets. Also bring reusable water bottles, and a few already full. It wasn’t as easy as we thought to find places to refill our water bottles.
We gave each kid a little fanny pack to wear during the day, so that when we went into line for a ride they had snacks with them. They loved this and so did we. Made them feel independent and they could grab a snack whenever they wanted.
We opted to get Genie+ which lets you get on some rides quicker throughout the day, and I 100% recommend this. I honestly wouldn’t do Disney without it. I think it was $18/person per day, but we were able to use it so often throughout the day and skipped so many long lines. With Genie+ the line was never longer than 5 minutes. At Magic Kingdom the only ride you can’t use Genie+ on is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride. It’s the most popular ride, so if you want to skip the line for that ride you have to pay separately for the Lightning Lane, which is another $10/person. We did not do that, and just skipped that ride for the day, because the line is consistently over a 75 minute wait.
You can only purchase Genie+ the morning of your park day at 7am. We would wake up at 6:45am, buy Genie+ on the app and then it lets you pick your first ride that you want to skip the line for. We started with the most popular rides and/or ones we knew the kids wanted to do. Then throughout the day, usually every 1-2 hours it would open up another time slot for you to book another ride. I think throughout the day we were able to use it 4 times at Magic Kingdom, and 4 at Animal Kingdom (we could have used it more, but there were no rides we needed it for). It all depends on how busy the park is and how many people are using Genie+.
I think we liked Magic Kingdom the best because it had the castle and the princesses and the parade. We were able to get on and do every ride we wanted thanks to Genie+. I’ll list a rough idea of our daily schedule below, and when we used Genie+. I’ll also bold our favorite parts of the day.
9am: park opens, we arrived and parked
9:30 – arrived at the train to take us into the park
9:45 – found out the train wasn’t working, headed over to the ferry to get to the park
10:15 – arrive at Magic Kingdom
10:30 – take pictures in front of the castle
10:45 – Big Thunder Mountain (Genie+)
11:20 – Aladdin Magic Carpet Ride (waited 30 minutes in line)
12:00 – Parade
12:30 – eat lunch (we packed sandwiches)
1:30 – pirates of the Caribbean (Genie+)
2:30 – Buzz Light Year (Genie+)
3:30 – meet the princesses (waited about an hour for this one, couldn’t get Genie+)
5:00 – supper at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café
5:45 – Space Mountain (Genie+)
6:30 – Tomorrowland Speedway
7:15 – waited in line for the Mad Tea Party ride, but it went too slow so we had to leave to get to the fireworks
7:45 – head to fireworks
8:00 – watch fireworks
8:15 – head back to the ferry to head home
This had such a different feel than Magic Kingdom. Almost no one is wearing mickey/Minnie ears and shirts, it was less crowded (especially first thing in the morning), and had so much nature. Animal Kingdom also opens earlier at 8am. We also had unused Genie+ passes because so many of the rides already had short lines. I’ll bold our favorite parts of the day.
8:15am – Arrive at the park
8:30am – Walk to the park entrance
9:00am – Dinosaur Ride
9:30am – Triceratops Spin ride
10:00am - It’s Tough to be a Bug Show
10:30am – Finding Nemo Show
11:30 – Na’vi River Journey Ride (Genie+)
12:15 – Gorilla Walk (I wouldn’t do this right before Kilimanjaro, or at all, because it’s basically all the same animals you’ll see)
12:45 – Kilimanjaro safari (Genie+)
1:45 – Expedition Everest Ride (Genie+)
2:30 – Meet Mickey & Minnie (waited about 40 minutes in line)
4:00 – Lion King Show (Genie+)
5:00 – Dinner at the Flame Tree BBQ (not very good IMO)
5:30 – Boneyard playground
6:00 – Watch the tree lighting
6:15 – Head back to our car to go home!
Air Boat Ride & City Walk
We booked with Boggy Creek Adventures for our parents night out and it was such a good experience. We opted to pay a little bit more and get a private ride. It came to $100 per person Canadian, so pretty pricey, but glad we did it. We got an hour ride and go to see 5 big alligators and a lot of little baby ones. Our guide was Connor and he was so friendly and knew so much. After the ride we headed to City Walk for dinner. You have to pay $30 for parking, unless it’s after 6pm, and we arrived at 5:45 and they still made us pay, but we had to get to our 6pm reservation. We went to Antojitos Mexican Restaurant which was so good, highly recommend. We wanted Voodoo donuts but the line was way too long and we were all too tired to wait. Then we just walked around the area a bit and headed back home.
We knew we wanted to spend a day at the ocean, and we decided on St Pete’s beach, because we were worried Cocoa Beach would have damage from the hurricane. It wasn’t a super hot day, but the kids had a lot of fun. We bought little buckets at the dollar store before we went for them to collect shells, and a few pails and shovels for them to play with. They spent most of their time collecting shells, and then we walked down the beach to some of the hotels and found a huge inflatable slide. It was $20/person to ride it, but Jason somehow convinced them to let us all try it once for free. Zara was terrified, Rosie didn’t go on, and Everly loved it. We spent a few hours at the beach and then headed to a touristy shop so the girls could get a souvenir, and then to Crabby Bill’s for dinner. Everyone really liked their food and it was a fun atmosphere right on the ocean.
Celebration for Family Photos
One evening we headed to Celebration Town, which is a super cute little old Florida town. The buildings were colorful and there were a few restaurants and dessert shops. We got family photos taken here with Flytographer so we could have a memory of our trip! You can use code STACEYK50 if you want to get photos done with them too on any trip! They have photographers all over the world. Then we went to the Celebrtion Town Tavern for dinner, and Kilwin's for icecream. The best part of the night though was at the end the kids just ran around and played in the fountain and got soaking wet. We loved this area!
So many people said we should do this, and honestly I was underwhelmed. It was our last night so maybe we were just tired, but it was so hard to find parking, and then it was so full when we were in there, and it’s just a bunch of shops/restaurants where your kids ask to buy everything lol. Maybe go earlier than we did (6pm) so you have more time, it does say there’s a DJ dance party for kids but we didn’t stay to find it. There’s also a permanent cirque du soleil show there. I think if you’re staying at a Disney resort you can just shuttle over here, so that might be easier and more enjoyable.
We did hit up Target a few times, but we didn’t have much suitcase room to bring anything back, so didn’t really buy anything. They do have a lot of Disney stuff though, so if you can't find anything before you go, you'll be able to stock up there. They have lots of clothes for the whole family, hats, ears, accessories, etc. It was such a fun trip and I think we’ll go back in 5 years with just our family when the girls are older and we can do Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios! Send me an email or DM me on Instagram if you have any questions!