The Burlington Vermont Moms Blog owners got the opportunity to take on Disney World– with City Mom Collective. Or were we taken over BY Disney? You be the judge!
Wow – our trip was a complete whirlwind! To say that I was a Disney World newbie was an understatement. I had no idea all the amazing steps that Disney takes to make every moment magical. What I learned is that there is no better place to go to a conference and have a perfect family vacation that everyone will love!
How we started our two-family adventure: the BurlingtonVT Moms Blog co-owners, Kathleen and Jemima, had the chance to join the City Mom Collective Sister Site Conference 2020 at Disney World! How could we say no?
The conference was held at the beginning of February 2020. The date set in early 2019. Good thing, I had just enough time to figure out where my family would stay after the convention and to download the ever-so-necessary My Disney Experience App. Trust us on this one – it’s a game-changer. Jemima and I had two separate families joining us after the conference, and we chose two paths for vacationing at Disney. Jemima, my partner in crime and so many other things, went the route of staying “on-campus,” at the gorgeous Coronado Springs Resort for the conference and beyond. I took the “off-campus” route and got the Airbnb Disney-themed home for the family post-conference booked. While I was at it, I jumped on Dollar.com and reserved a rental. My kids always pipe up, ” Get a van!” as though they can drive and have a say in the matter. But they’re not wrong! Is there any other choice of vehicle to drive while on vacation with your family? And with that, I was all set. Right?!? (Ok, Disney pros, hold your laughter.)
City Mom Collective really nailed it when they partnered with Disney for our Sister Site Conference 2020. As an event planner myself, I know the hard work, lists, planning, and endless emails and texts it takes to pull an event like this off. We had sister sites representing nearly 100 different City Mom Collective sites. However, I have to admit, it was awfully nice to sit back and learn, laugh, and enjoy all these smart, inspirational, and may I say, hilarious women. My takeaway of a weekend full of mom bosses: You can do more than you think. You’re smarter than you give yourself credit. When in doubt, ask for help! Yeah, these messages pretty much fit any challenge a mother faces. Simple right? It never hurts to be reminded – and I am so grateful to have spent a few days being reminded about this. It was also empowering to see so many women business owners. Hats off to the team that planned this conference and to all of the speakers, including Brian Dixon and Amy Riveter. Special shout out to our own Jemima Talbot for hosting a workshop on inclusion and diversity. Way to show-up for BVTMB and the values we are striving for today and every day!
Check out just some of the fun we had at Sister Site Conference 2020 at Disney World:
We came. We learned. We laughed. NOW IT’S TIME FOR DISNEY!
Let me say this again – GET YOUR MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP. This is one of those apps that helps you before you even knew you needed help. Months before your trip (okay, if you’re Jemima, 6-8 months before. If you’re me, just the week before) download the app and order your Magic Bands. Where else to start? I am no expert, but I know of some local experts! Deb Holcomb is a Disney Dream Makers travel assistant. Rachael Lizotte is another Disney travel agent extraordinaire. They are always ready to tell you what to eat, which rides your kids will love, and how to save some money.
If you’re as wide-eyed and not so bushy-tailed as I was while dipping my toes into our Disney planning, get in touch with these ladies right after you download the app. Yes – a “Disney plan” is a thing. Like a “birth plan,” it forces you to face the inevitable, educate yourself, and form an idea of how your family wants to spend its time at Disney. Similarly, like a “birth plan,” be ready for it all to go out the window. Just sayin’.
A tale of two families: One stays at a magical Disney World Resort. Second, at an off-Disney Airbnb.
Disney family vacation, staying “off-campus”
Team Drive, by K. Kelly:
There is no way to say it other than- are you a family ready to drive? Or are you a family ready to shuttle? I would say that this is the first question I asked myself before going the Airbnb route. Certainly, there are pros and cons to both staying on-campus at Disney World, and staying off-campus. What renting a vacation home did for me was give my family space and save us money. Yes, there are things to consider like the cost of parking and time spent driving. However, for me, these small cons were quickly outweighed by the pros. Add to the list of pros my love of coffee in bed while on vacation, and the fact that my kids are always happy in the pool, and I was sold. We found a wonderful vacation home that was less than a 10-minute drive to 3 of the 4 Disney World Kingdoms. The home was located in a gated community and had its own small water park exclusively for residents. There were many water slides, an enormous pool, a hot tub, a game room for kids, and a workout center all within a 5-minute walk from our home. We went, and it was fun, but our private pool 4 feet from the living room was an even bigger hit! I would absolutely recreate this stay all over again! We had room, loads of fun, and the kids got more Dodge Grand Caravan time. Who knew that the van would be such a big part of their vacation? Whatever works, right?
Disney Family Vacation, an “on-campus” experience
Team Stay, by Jemima Talbot:
Jemima and her family decided to stay on-campus at the Coronado Springs resort. Anyone who knows Jemima knows that she hates traffic, hates navigating, and doesn’t want to be in charge of more things while she is on vacation. Staying on-campus at Disney took care of all of her needs. I mean, if any company knows how to think of everything to make your vacation hassle-free, it’s Disney. Staying in a Disney World resort comes with: transportation to and from the airport, Magic Bands for everyone in your party, 60-day out access to make Fast Pass reservations for rides and attractions (as opposed to 30-days if you stay off-campus,) one extra Magic Hour to spend in a kingdom each day, and, all the magic that comes with staying in a room decorated with images of Mickey. Plus, she only had 4 people in her party, and it made more sense for her to stay in one hotel room on the Disney World campus.
You really can’t overemphasize how nice it is to be picked up at the airport and driven right to your hotel. If you land before 10pm, Disney even picks up your luggage at Baggage Claim and delivers it to your room. These days, packing everything in one suitcase makes it heavy work to move one suitcase around. It feels entirely luxurious to not touch your bag after you check it at your departing airport until you’re ready to change into your warm-weather clothing. The Disney buses leave frequently and you don’t have to wait long to board. Its also fantastic to not have to deal with airport traffic, or returning a rental car first thing in the morning on the day you leave. After all the walking a Disney World vacation entails, the last thing you want to do is race through the airport looking for where you have to check-in. Let the Disney bus make everything easy.
Another thing people staying on campus love is the fun Disney food options. Mango margaritas at brunch? Sure! Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles Jemima didn’t have to make- YES! She was thoroughly won over by the many dining options at Coronado Springs, including a lovely place in the center of the giant pond that is encircled by the resort. After leaving winter in Vermont behind, who wouldn’t want to dine in the warm, fresh air?
Jemima and her family spent hours in the pool and hot tub. Coronado Springs has a large heated pool and a water slide for guests. But if I know Jemima, I am sure she spent as much time as possible in the hot tub. There really is no better way to soak out the aches and pains from walking 5-7 miles every day. This reminds me of a tip you need to remember no matter where you stay: wear your most comfortable shoes and bring blister covers whether or not you think you’ll need them. A day in any of the parks is a marathon, and you do not want to have less fun because of foot pain or blisters. And plan some downtime in a hot tub, if you can.
Hollywood Studios, Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – As experienced by Team Drive
Once our home base was settled, I had to finally buckle down and figure out how my family would best enjoy Disney. Family of four: mom, dad, a 9.5-year-old girl, and a 7-year-old boy. None of us are too gung-ho on any particular Disney theme or movie – oh WHO AM I KIDDING – um, STAR WARS!!! Now, my kids love Disney and all that comes with the word, place, and emotion that is conjured just by uttering the word, Disney. But hello, the Star Wars exhibit was first on our list. So, that’s where our trip begins. The first stop, Hollywood Studios. It’s like ripping off a bandaid. Start with the first decision and the rest of the chips, or Kingdoms, fall where they may.
Where the chips fell? Well, not to sound sappy or high on the magical powers of Disney but my family was entirely enchanted with all things Disney. Our first day at Hollywood Studios lead us straight to the kids’ first real ride on – The Slinky Dog Dash. Yes, for those keeping score, I said that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was first. I caved, and I also discovered a shortcut through Toy Story Land to Galaxy’s Edge. In Toy Story Land, I found myself immediately bathed in the happiness of my children’s smiles. “We’re here!” they yelled and I exhaled, for a moment. FYI, the Slinky Dog Dash is the perfect not-so extreme rollercoaster. We went more than once. After photos with a few characters (Jemima will cover the PhotoPass) and a few more stops, we were off to Galaxy’s Edge.
Happy Surprises at Hollywood Studios:
- Jedi Training Academy. This one takes some planning but is well worth it if you have a little one that is strong with the force. They really need to make one of these for later in life Jedis. Arrive, collect your Jedi cape and lightsaber and be taught by the best and test your skills against the dark side. COME ON!
- Beat the heat and get a free souvenir at Animation Academy. Need to slow things down? Cool off? Then take the kids and learn to make your own Disney character and watch them come to life. This one takes FastPass!
- Staying all day? Find yourself still wondering around after dark? Then definitely stay for Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular. This light/pyrotechnical show is like nothing I have ever seen. A dazzling way to end the day for sure.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Believe the hype. It’s everything you’ve dreamt about. As we walked in, we were transformed into visitors to a land far, far away. We had blue milk on Tattoine. We avoided Stormtroopers searching for Rebel forces and roaming through the streets, and I felt as if I was about to hear George Lucas yell, “Cut!” Yep, it’s that good. I walked under the Millenium Falcon and I was instantly 8 years-old again. Next stop, Rise of the Resistance. This is the perfect family-friendly ride (PSA, if you have any issues with motion sickness during 3D movies, this may not be the ride for you.) For this ride, you enter a Rebel aircraft and virtually blast off at warp speed to join a battle against the Darkside. I was giddy. I could go on and on, but don’t worry, I won’t. Except to say, “May the force be with you.”
Magic Kingdom: Always Magical, Always Classic – As enjoyed by Team Stay
If you’re a Disney purist, Magic Kingdom has to be your first stop. Cinderella’s Castle is the epicenter of the park, and it is magnificent and breathtaking, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. And seeing it in movies and in photographs does nothing to prepare you to see the Castle in person. It is amazing. It’s also a great central point that allows you to orient yourself pretty easily from anywhere in the Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom is home to the classic rides and attractions. From the Country Bear Jamboree (which is old, I mean classic as dirt) to It’s a Small World, to the always-thrilling Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Space Mountain- there’s a lot to do in Magic Kingdom. There are also some amazing food options… can you say, “DOLE WHIP“? Dole Whip is the most delicious pineapple soft-serve ice cream in the world. This time, I had a Dole Whip float- pineapple ice cream in a cup of fresh pineapple juice. Delicious! I also advise hitting the smoked turkey leg kiosk, which is sort of behind the Castle and to the right. Yum!
Magic Kingdom is wonderful if your child is interested in meeting any of the Disney characters. This year, the kids weren’t into meeting characters, but in past Disney World visits, we have enjoyed getting autographs from Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, and more. We also did no character meals on this visit, which helped us save money. That said, watching your child chase Mickey while you devour platefuls of bacon at the Tusker House character breakfast is priceless.
Happy Surprises at Magic Kingdom:
- Want to make the most of any trip to Disney – especially Magic Kingdom? Disney character autographs are the way to top off the magic. Remember to bring your own sharpie, which makes it easier for the characters to grasp the marker.
- See a pin you love? Did you know that if you have a Disney pin to trade the Disney employee will trade with you? Grab a lanyard (hot tip, Party City has loads of Disney accessories that are perfect for any trip to Disney) they make a great spot to show off your pins!
- Dole Whip treat – enough said.
We Couldn’t Stop there – Epcot and Animal Kingdom Await
Team Drive – we were lucky enough to have family nearby. This addition to our Disney fun provided an opportunity for three generations to put on their ears and have some fun. Finding a Disney experience that the whole family would enjoy took us straight to Epcot. Full disclosure; we set the kids up for a day with fewer rides and more food, family and, fun. We did our homework and knew things to do, attractions not to be missed- therefore solidifying more wows than whines from the little ones. First stop, the gift shop – stay with me. While savoring each country, kids can follow along with the Epcot Kid’s Passport, so pick one up as you enter the park. It is well worth $13 as kids follow a scavenger hunt type guide through Epcot. Look for the eleven stations, one in each country. All stations are shaded and conveniently located near a snack station for everyone to enjoy. So, have a seat and a snack while your kids check another county off their list! Hot tip, press “Attractions” on your My Experience Disney App and it will show exactly where to go.
Happy surprises at Epcot:
- I for one loved the Canada Far and Wide Circle-Vision 360. Being from Northern Vermont, the kids liked pointing out all the places they had been from the beautiful video.
- The Parfumerie Eau de World in Paris, France. I cannot say enough about the kindness the staff showed my kiddos there. I could not have guessed how much fun (and time) they would have at a parfumerie. They still have their test strips and my daughter got a bonus mini makeover!
- A must-stop for me was the Mitsukoshi store in Japan. I had heard stories, followed on Instagram, and seen YouTube videos. It did not disappoint. Mitsukoshi is a day all to itself. There is so much to see, and around every corner is something you never knew existed – who doesn’t need a knitted cap for their cat or lychee gummies? And the smile on my daughter, Elaina’s face during her kimono fitting was enchanting.
Last stop…for us anyway – Animal Kingdom (spoiler alert, we’re going to have to go back!)
What family vacation is complete without lions, and tigers, and bears? Well, for us it was lions and Everest and Avatar! I had built-up Animal Kingdom to my family as if we were going to a different planet. Or hadn’t we? The Animal Kingdom is a different beast from the rest. The moment you arrive you feel less in a Disney theme park and more in an interactive movie set. The Tree of Life greets you and if you’re lucky or a planner (I think by now you have figured I am not the latter) a flying flock of macaws will welcome you as you arrive. I would not have believed it had I not seen it – really, it was jaw-dropping.
Tree, check. Sufficiently impressed by flying birds and atmosphere, check. Off to Pandora – World of Avatar. Have you heard about this more recent addition? This place is out of this world! Stop one for us was Avatar: Flight of Passage. I could go on this ride ALL-DAY-LONG. This 20-minute experience takes you into the world of Pandora atop a winged banshee as an avatar – you read that right! First, walk into the depths of the science space station and then get “paired” with your own avatar. Second, off to meet your banshee. That’s just the beginning of the Disney level magic and showmanship that keeps the whole family grinning. Flight of Passage is another simulated ride similar to Rise of the Resistance. However, this one takes you looping through all of the regions of Pandora. The best part; your “ride on the banshee” is similar to sitting on a motorcycle – if the engine were lungs! Your seat actually mimics the feeling of the banshee breathing heavily underneath you. So fantastic!
Happy surprises at the Animal Kingdom:
- Similar to the Epcot Passport, Animal Kingdom has the Wilderness Explorers Badges. Over 30 stops to learn and collect a badge. It’s free – fun – self-paced and is a wonderful keepsake. Badges cover things like; forestry, animal calls, dinosaurs with hands-on activities like writing your name in Hindi, learning to code a HAM radio, or play an African drum to list a few.
- I don’t know what it is about drums and kids but it never fails. The Tam-Tam Drummers of Harambe usually perform once an hour in the African village. It’s a great spot with drinks, shade, and restrooms: the trifecta of family-friendly theme park attractions.
- Head over the Windtraders and make your own Na’vi necklace. Simple, affordable (and in spectacular airconditioning:).
Mom Must-Haves: Ways to Take Your Disney Game to the Next Level:
Memory Maker PhotoPass: A Must-Have for this Mom, and Probably most Moms
Get the PhotoPass.
Oh, you need more information? The Disney Memory Maker PhotoPass is a must if you like photos to remember your trip. It’s $169 if you purchase it three full days prior to arriving at Disney World. If you purchase the Memory Maker PhotoPass from Disney, its $199. Is this expensive? Yes. Will you treasure the many photos you can take with professional photographers who are scattered all around every kingdom? It depends on what you like. I LOVE the Memory Maker PhotoPass, and feel like the animated photos, particularly in the new Star Wars Experience in Hollywood Studios, can not be missed.
Start Your Disney Trip Off with Curbside (or as close as you can get) Dollar Car Rental
I may have a problem. I cannot have a vacation without a rental van. This time around, I decided to try out Dollar Rental. Things could not have gone more smoothly, and my family landed at midnight! We checked-in to jokes and the agent asking the kids about what they wanted to see at Disney. Let’s be clear, at this point he may have been nicer to my kids than I was. Stress-free points for having the Dodge Grand Caravan literally 25 yards from Orlando Baggage Claim. Another reason to go with Dollar, they take debit cards, in most U.S. cities. This can really be a deal-breaker for families trying to make a vacation work on a budget.
Stop the Question: “Mom will you buy this for me?”
This is an easy one. Before your trip, purchase a $25 Disney gift card. Present the gift card to the kids with the big news about the trip and let them know that it’s theirs to spend at Disney. This saved me either hundreds in stuffed animals or thousands in therapy. Maybe both.
Being Grateful. It’s Easy to Lose Sight Amongst all the Disney Magic
Let it be said: DISNEY IS A BIG DEAL
I’m not sure when we’ll be able to make it back to Disney and I wanted to find a way to slow things down and maybe spread some magic. I purchased 24 Disney Mickey ears and brought them along so my kids could give them away. They had fun making friends and surprising kids with free Mickey ears. Smiles abound.