Day 1: Animal Kingdom
What a week we had at Disney this past week! Vacations always go by so fast and leave you wishing you could start back from the beginning. I’m going to recap our week day-by-day to try and not make these posts too long. I hope that our experience can help someone else in their planning process. Of course everyone has different preferences, and things like crowd levels, weather, etc. could make a big difference in how your vacation goes.
As I go through our week I’ll try and explain why we did certain things + the mindset behind some of our planning strategy.
What made us decide to go when we did?
We definitely wanted to go on a Disney vacation before Hannah turned 3. Disney’s policy is “free before 3,” which for us meant that prices would go up significantly after her third birthday. She turns three at the end of September. We were on the fence of whether to go in the winter when the weather isn’t as hot, or wait until September and go the week of her birthday. A few things swayed our decision to go now rather than closer to her birthday.
1. The weather. It’s still pretty hot in Orlando at the end of September (mid-high 90’s).
2. Crowds. We estimated that the crowds would be slightly lower in the winter, as opposed to fall, however the data over past few years has been skewed due to Covid.
3. Hurricane season. Hurricane season in Orlando is technically June-November, but the past few years they’ve had a ton of rain in the September-October timeframe. In fact, this past year, they shut down due to a hurricane during the exact week of Hannah’s birthday. I think this is what ultimately made up our minds to shoot for Jan/Feb time frame, rather than fall.
We woke up early on Saturday and drove to Ocala, Florida, where we stayed overnight. This is about an hour and a half north of Orlando. We actually made excellent time driving down, getting in around 5:30 in the evening. We checked into the hotel and ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant which was right next door to the Hilton Ocala, where we were staying.
The next morning we got up and left the hotel around 7:00 am. We made it to Animal Kingdom around 8:30 or so, not too long after park opening (AK opens at 8:00am). Kilimanjaro Safari was a 20 minute wait when we got into the park, so we decided to ride that first.
After we got off Safari, we walked through the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, where we saw lots of animals, including baby gorillas (so cute!)
We grabbed a street corn and some other snacks from the Harambe Fruit Market and headed toward Expedition Everest. This street corn is a must! It’s African street corn, which is different from Mexican street corn that I’ve had. The spices actually gave me gingerbread vibes. Maybe there’s some ginger or some cloves in there? I’m not sure, but it was delicious.
Audrey is our little thrill seeker and she was very excited to ride all the coasters. However, she didn’t like Everest as much as she thought she would. She didn’t like how fast it went and I think the dark got to her a bit too.
Disney Tip: Rider Swap
On rides where there are height requirements, you are able to scan your magic bands (or whatever you use for park entry) for a rider swap. This is how it works: the parent and child(ren) who want to ride first go through the stand-by line to ride. The parent who is staying behind with the little ones scans his/her band with a cast member who should be stationed close to the entrance of the ride. One extra person can scan their band to ride with that parent.
[The last time we went, you were able to scan two bands, which meant both girls got to ride many of the rides twice. Their policy has changed, so that you can only scan one extra band now.]
This meant for most rides, the girls would switch off – one would stand in line with one parent and the other one would stay behind with the other parent. Then when the first group got out we would switch. The people who stay behind and have their bands scanned get to go through the Lightning Lane, rather than the stand-by line. We used this quite a bit and we’re actually able to use it to our advantage to get through some things a little bit quicker. More on that in a later post.
Since Audrey decided, she didn’t want to go a second time, and Raley didn’t want to ride at all, we actually had an extra rider switch to use, so I got to ride Everest twice (whoo hoo!). Everest has always been one of my favorite rides.
For lunch, we grabbed some pizza at Pizzafari, and then made our way to Pandora to get in line for Flight of Passage. David and Raley got in the standby line while Audrey and I scanned our Magic Bands for a rider swap, which would allow us to go through the Lightning Lane once Raley and David were done. The projected wait time for Flight of Passage was 90 minutes, however they waited more like two hours. Many first time Disney goers ask “is it worth the wait?” The answer is YES! This ride is one of the best in all of Disney.
While they were waiting for Flight of Passage, Audrey, Hannah and I strolled over to DinoLand. Audrey had been asking for a Mickey ice cream bar, so I got her one of those to snack on. Then we played in the Boneyard and rode Tricera Top Spin, which Hannah loved! About the time we were done riding Tricera Top Spin, David let us know that they were about to get on the ride, so we walked back over to Pandora.
One thing on our must do list for Animal Kingdom was the Festival of the Lion King show. By the time Raley and David got off of Flight of Passage, it was getting close to time for the next Lion King show and I knew that we wouldn’t have time for Audrey and I to go through Flight of Passage AND make that show. We decided to go to Festival of the Lion King and then come back to ride Flight of Passage after. Audrey was a little mad at me for that decision, however we all thoroughly enjoyed the show (this is a must do! It’s so good!). Hannah was so cute clapping along and bouncing up and down with the songs.
As soon as Festival of the Lion King was over, Audrey and I went through the Lightning Lane to ride Flight of Passage and David took Raley to get some Dole Whip at Tamu Tamu. [Raley is a girl after my own heart – she’s all about the Dole Whip! At every park, she’d ask “do they have Dole Whip here?”]
Something that I didn’t realize, or maybe I forgot, is that these newer rides that have the videos before you actually get on the ride actually take about 30 minutes to get through, even if you go through the Lightning Lane. This includes Flight of Passage, Guardians of the Galaxy, Rise of the Resistance, etc.
Last time we were at Disney in 2021, Audrey did not get to ride Flight of Passage because she didn’t meet the height requirement. However, she did get to ride Soarin’ at Epcot (which is a similar flying feeling to FoP) and she hated it. I think she felt like she was going to fall and was a bit scared of heights. So I was a little bit worried about whether or not she would like FoP. Thankfully, she loved it and had a HUGE grin on her face the entire ride, which is so much fun to watch! I think the look of pure joy on their faces is the main thing I will remember from this trip.
As soon as she got off, she asked to ride it again. It always tugs at my heart a bit when they ask to ride something again because I know we won’t be back for quite a while.
We had hoped to make the last Finding Nemo show of the day at 4:00pm, however we didn’t make it over there in time for the show. Instead David took the big girls to ride Dinosaur while Hannah and I strolled around and looked for coffee. I came across this little snack place called Dino-Bite Snacks which had a cold brew float (cold brew with ice cream!) it was just what I needed.
Next, we all rode Tricera Top Spin. This was one of the few things at Animal Kingdom that Hannah was able to do. We love Animal Kingdom, but for the little ones, there’s not as much for them to do there as there is at other parks.
David and I decided that instead of trying to ride Na’vi River Journey, which was about an hour wait, that he would take the big girls to ride Flight of Passage again. At that time (5:45ish) the posted wait time was 60 minutes. They ended up waiting about 80.
In the meantime, Hannah and I did It’s Tough to be a Bug (which terrified her😳) and then got some dinner. I felt so bad that Tough to be a Bug scared Hannah. Right off the bat, a spider launched a 3D acorn toward the audience and it freaked her out. She carried that fear into some other rides the next couple days that I don’t think would have scared her otherwise. By the end of the week, I think she had forgotten about it, but I felt terrible for traumatizing her.
The park closed at 7:00pm, which meant that David and the big girls were not going to get off the ride in time to order dinner so I mobile ordered their food from Flame Tree BBQ to be picked up just before 7:00. Hannah and I sat in the seating area beside Flame Tree and waited on them to get back, which was around 7:20. Even though the park closes at 7:00, they don’t actually kick you out right at 7. That’s just when restaurants and shops start to close.
We did not do Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) on our Animal Kingdom day. I think that an ILL for Flight of Passage would have been beneficial for helping us do more things we wanted to do + possibly getting us back to the resort earlier, however we didn’t find it worth the money. It would have been $13/person, which wasn’t worth it to us.
That’s it for our first day! Tomorrow we go to Magic Kingdom!
Matching Hakuna Matata t-shirts: Big Lil Tee on Etsy
Matching animal print Minnie Ears: Minnie Castle on Etsy
Hannah’s Minnie headband: Minnie Castle on Etsy
Catch up on the rest of our trip:
All Things Genie+
Day 2: Magic Kingdom
Day 3: Epcot
Day 4: Disney Springs and Art of Animation
Day 5: Hollywood Studios
Day 6: Magic Kingdom
Family Disney Vacation 2018
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