Disney World without a ton of planning

Hi I’m Rae, Jackie’s sister. I want to talk about how my family did Disney without a ton of planning. Everyone has their own approach when it comes to planning for a trip to Walt Disney World. For the most part- in fact every time I’ve been to Disney World- I’ve been to Disney World with Jackie. Our trip earlier this month was my first trip where I just went with just my immediate family. My partner Stephen, my kiddo Kai, and I packed up our car and headed out on our adventure to visit Disney World without a ton of planning.

*All photos courtesy of Steve Prudente.

Storm Troopers on the Rise of the Resistance

The conference

We were officially in Orlando for a sewing expo called the Sew Magical Expo. I am a hobbyist sewer (check out my website at vernarae.com) and Disney fan, so I was really excited about the conference. A lot of my favorite vendors, pattern designers and fabric creators were there as well. It was really cool to see them all and meet them in person, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. The Expo offered Disney tickets at a discount, so I asked my family if they wanted to go to Disney and who says no to that? 

Because the main purpose of the trip was technically The Sewing Expo, we decided to drive so that I could take at least one of my sewing machines with me. The Expo offers many classes and hands-on tutorials, so having your machine is ideal. We started out Tuesday afternoon and drove to South Carolina from Columbus, Ohio. We woke the next day and made the rest of the trip to Orlando, arriving around 4 p.m.

A little bit of planning

So, you can’t visit Disney World without a little bit of planning. Several months before our trip, we did make theme park reservations to ensure that we could visit the theme parks we wanted on the dates that we wanted. This really isn’t optional because the parks do reach capacity at times and you can be denied entry if you don’t have a reservation- even if you have park tickets.

Jackie would tell you that after theme park reservations, the most important part of planning is making your dining reservations. Despite her advice, we actually took a very relaxed approach to this trip and didn’t book most of our dining reservations until the Sunday before we left (we did book one dinner at Jiko and one breakfast at Ohana at the 60 day mark because these were top priorities for us). We weren’t initially sure that we wanted to commit to eating every meal on-property but ultimately decided this was the least stressful option. This last minute decision also ended up placing us in some of the best restaurants I’m not sure I’d have tried otherwise. It was fun to try new restaurants and visit several different resorts.

Visiting multiple resorts

The various Disney Resorts have amazing theming and restaurant options and it is so fun to explore them if you can make the time. This is especially true during the holidays. After dinner one day, we headed over to the Grand Floridian to see the gingerbread house for the holidays. This gingerbread house is like no other. You walk in the front doors of the main entrance and the smell of gingerbread is all throughout the hotel. It’s beautiful and gigantic. This gingerbread house is so big it is actually used as a temporary bake shop where you can get a whole bunch of different offerings including gingerbread tiles from the roof.

One thing I really enjoyed about the gingerbread house is that there were 23 hidden Mickeys spread around the outside. We took some time and ended up finding 22 of the 23 hidden Mickeys. Sadly, the inside of the gingerbread house was not yet complete and the bake shop was not open yet, but I’m very glad that we took the time to go up and see it.

During the holidays there are many things (like a gingerbread house) that the different Resorts have especially for the holidays. The Contemporary has a different version – a contemporary gingerbread house. The beach club has a gingerbread Christmas carousel. If you get the chance to visit Disney for the winter holidays, definitely take a look around at the different Resorts and all they have to offer.

The Gingerbread House at the Grand Floridian
The Gingerbread House at the Grand Floridian

We also visited the Polynesian Resort for breakfast at Ohana on the last morning of our trip. It is the only definitive place to see my absolute favorite, my main man, Stitch. I, as a grown adult, still get teary eyed, because clearly, I’m emotionally stable. I digress. Lilo, Mickey and Pluto also made appearances.

Park hopping

Although my sister typically discourages park hopping due to the expense, it worked out really well for us on this trip. Because we had recently been to Disney in February of this year, we didn’t feel as much pressure to try not to miss anything. Most of the things that we really enjoyed we’d already done, so we were able to move from one park to another as it suited us. Two days we actually traveled to three different parks.

Disney Springs

On our first night, we had (very recently made) dinner reservations at Disney Springs at City works for 5 p.m. We wanted something light, casual, and quick. We knew we would be hungry after a long day’s drive. City Works was a great place for us. They had over 50 beer selections on tap (my partner and I love craft beer) in addition to a diverse menu of gastropub favorites with something for everyone. 

We also wanted to spend a little time at Disney Springs, taking it in, shopping and exploring the different things that they had for us. We were unable to spend as much in Disney Springs as we had intended because Stephen was feeling a little under the weather. One of the cool things that we did get to do before we left was trying the Coca-Cola Store soda flight. The soda flight contains 16 popular sodas from all around the world. I truly do not remember which one was my favorite but I will tell you that some of the flavors resembled apple, mango, tea, ginger ale, root beer, and most of them were delightful. Of course, there were one or two that were simply not good at all, but were worth trying to get the full experience.

We had three people and we still were not able to come close to finishing the flight. I’m not sure how many people we would need to finish every drop of every one of the 16 samples but three was definitely not enough. I felt a little bit bad tossing some of the soda but overall the experience and tasting the different sodas from all over the world was a unique experience and I definitely would suggest you to try this as well.  To find the flight at the Coca-Cola Store in Disney Springs, you need to go to the third floor of the store where they have a food and beverage bar.

The Coca-Cola store also offers a float flight. We opted not to try it as we could not even finish the sodas, it looks like the float flight only had five samples and looked delightful. Perhaps we will try that one next time.

Epcot

On the first day of our trip, we visited Epcot where the Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind ride had just opened. We really wanted to ride this ride more than anything else in the whole park, so we made it our first priority.  There is not currently a standby line option available, so the only way that you can ride Guardians of the Galaxy is to sign up for the virtual queue (which is free) or to purchase an individual Lightning Lane (which is currently $14 per person). Both of these selections become available right at 7 a.m.

Stephen and I decided to divide and conquer and try to get both in the virtual cue and purchase the Lightning Lanes. He got into the virtual queue and I purchased our Individual Lightning Lane. We got very lucky the way that it worked out. We got into the third group for the virtual queue with a return time of 9:30-10:30 and our Lightning Lane was for 8:30 a.m. right when the park opened.  Because we got our selections right at 7 a.m., we rode Guardians of the Galaxy twice before 10 a.m. and took a quick break for breakfast in between rides. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind

The ride is absolutely amazing!  I purposefully did not read or listen to anything about the ride before getting on because I wanted it to be a total and complete surprise, which I highly recommend to you as well. I don’t want to give too much away but one thing I will tell you is that the music changes every time and you never know what you’re going to get, so each ride experience is unique. We rounded out our experience in Epcot by enjoying a couple more of our favorite rides including Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and we even stopped by to see Figment.

Epcot was also hosting the Food and Wine Festival featuring a variety of food carts with different selections all around the world. We each tried something new. Stephen and I each tried escargot, the kiddo grabbed a cheese croissant from France, and we headed over to Morocco and grabbed pistachio cake dessert for lunch. Around noon, it started to get a little warm for our liking. Because we had the park hopper, we left Epcot and went over to Typhoon Lagoon (more about that later).

Hollywood Studios

After dinner on our first day, we headed over to Hollywood Studios and hopped onto Rise of the Resistance and walked around a bit before heading to the Fantasmic show to finish off the night. Little did I know that this was the first day of Fantasmic’s return- it had been closed since early 2020. They offered two shows, and we opted for the later one at 9:30 p.m. We got to the general area around 9 p.m., and found that the line to get in was huge. after waiting about 40 minutes in line we were able to our seats and seeing the amazing show (again, no spoilers), but Aladdin definitely makes an appearance.

We knew this was our only chance to see the show and were definitely glad we dedicated that time. It’s new, it’s wonderful, it’s amazing! I highly recommend that you get to the amphitheater well before the start time of the show to grab a seat. We were placed near stage right and had no issues seeing the entire show. There is not a bad seat in the entire place. The show let out well after the park closed by which time we were ready for bed.

We returned to Hollywood Studios on our final day at The House of the Mouse. We opted to grab the Genie+ for this day to ensure we would be able to ride all of the rides in Hollywood Studios we had our hearts set on – specifically Slinky Dog Dash. It did help us to get on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and a few others as well.

Once again, I wish they would bring back the virtual queue for these rides as the wait time often gets well over 120 minutes. If I’m being honest, we all want the free Fast Passes and the Dining Plans to return, but Disney has not made any such announcements or hints as if these will ever return. I have a feeling the free fast passes are a thing of the past. As long as people are willing and able to pay for the Individual Lightning Lanes, they are here to stay.

Animal Kingdom

On our second day in the parks, we started our day very early at 7 a.m. in Animal Kingdom. We decided to rope-drop Pandora – Flight of Passage and also grabbed a Lightning Lane while waiting in line for the rope drop. Once again we rode the biggest ride in the entire park twice before 10am. I think we’re onto something here. Flight of Passage is a wonderful ride where you truly feel as if you’re riding on the back of a banshee in Pandora.

During our two rides, we noticed that some of the water jets were not functioning properly, which was disappointing. We agreed that this feature is an essential part of the ride and felt that it lost something because they were not working. I was also excited to finally get to ride Dinosaur. Every time I’ve attempted to ride, it’s broken down either while I’ve been in line or while I’m on the actual ride. I’ll tell you, it actually exceeded my expectations, which, were clearly very low.

Expedition Everest (which was down for refurbishment in February) was up and running, so I got to ride it for the first time. I absolutely loved it. We wrapped up our half day at Animal Kingdom with lunch at Restaurantasaurus and, using our park hoppers, headed over to Hollywood Studios for a few more rides before dinner. We ended the day at Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner at Jiko. Our table wasn’t quite ready for us so we took some time to explore the outdoor areas of the resort which overlook the Savanna. The meal was traditional Ethiopian fare – sponge bread with various toppings. Every bite was wonderful and paired perfectly with the suggested white wine.

Magic Kingdom

We visited Magic Kingdom after dinner one evening for some rides and hopped on Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan. Peter Pan was one of the rides we didn’t get to back in February, and even though it’s not anything to write home about, it’s a classic that you have to do at least once. We finished up the evening with some shopping.

Having a car when you’re hopping to three parks a day is absolutely essential, however when park hopping to The Magic Kingdom, I highly recommend taking the Ferry instead of the monorail as the monorail stopped at three resorts and took a very long time before we actually got to the park. Sadly this cut our park time down by almost an entire hour, with the wait, the travel and the loading/unloading. We absolutely still made the most of it. I should also mention that if you pay to park your car at the resort, you get free parking at all theme parks during your stay.

On our last evening in Orlando, we attended the special ticketed event of Mickey’s Magical Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom! The party comes with unlimited hot chocolate, eggnog, and cookies as well as several special treats available for purchase. Mickey and his friends do a special stage show offered four times between 7 p.m. and midnight, two parades, and one amazing fireworks show. Sadly, tropical storm Nicole turned into hurricane Nicole and we were faced with rain for most of the party and the shows and parades were canceled. Who would ever think that you would have to worry about a hurricane at Disney World in November? Though it was disheartening, every ride was a walk-on for the most part. We were able to enjoy every ride we wanted, and some were actually a bit more thrilling in the rain.

Big Thunder Mountain and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train have a whole new intensity when you’re also getting rained on. We also decided to take a trip on Splash Mountain (which will be closing for an exciting renovation soon) for good measure. I’d say we got our money’s worth out of our ponchos that evening for sure. We were also grateful to have some indoor or covered rides like Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and the “Jingle” Cruise. Several of these rides also had special holiday overlays that created a unique experience you wouldn’t see on a normal day in the park any other time of year. Of course, we rounded out the evening with a little more shopping before heading back to the hotel to dry out and begin our preparations to head home…and run away from Hurricane Nicole.

Typhoon Lagoon

I have never been to Typhoon Lagoon before. I had gone to Blizzard Beach as a kid, but it was closed during our visit to get a Frozen(!) facelift. Typhoon Lagoon was perfect for cooling off in the heat of the day. And since we had purchased Park Hopper tickets, it was a no-brainer to check out this water park. In November, it wasn’t very busy, but I can imagine that during the summer months this park would be packed. They have a gigantic wave pool which really wasn’t my thing. What I did love was that they have three water coasters- each one of different intensity. For me, that took the cake.

The park also had several tube slides, one of which was for a whole family. I don’t think that you could spend a full day at Typhoon Lagoon (and it is only open from 10 to 5 currently) but we had plenty of time to do everything we wanted including taking a leisurely lap on the lazy river. We finished up, showered at the park and headed to the hotel to get ready for Dinner at Toledo – Tapas, Steak, & Seafood located in Coronado Springs Resort (another last-minute dining reservation that we were able to snag).

Disney miniature golf

After enjoying the first day of the conference, we had reservations for Ale & Compass at The Yacht Club Resort. When we finished with dinner, we decided to go to one of Disney’s two mini golf courses, the Winter Summerland near Blizzard Beach. We will have to check out Fantasia Gardens next time around. The miniature golf courses do not require a park ticket and were a nice way to fit in a little Disney magic on a conference day. The mini golf was cute and ‘punny’ fun, but I was surprised by how non-Disney it was.

The Winter Summerland mini golf course was split into two separate 9-hole courses. Winterland is all about Santa getting ready for Christmas, while Summerland is all about Santa on a beach vacation in the off-season. Kai chose to do the Summerland course. It was enjoyable and something that one typically does not seek out at Disney World, but is a wonderful option for travel days and days off from the parks.

I also learned that Disney has a footgolf course. Footgolf is a newer sport where the same rules of golf and scoring are present, but you’re kicking a soccer ball instead of swinging a club and at a golf ball. I was hoping we’d be able to test out this sport, alas, time did not allow for this adventure. There’s always next time.

Conclusion

So would I return to Disney without a ton of planning in the future? Absolutely, the stress free Disney style is much better for me. We did everything we had truly wanted to do, but moreover visiting the other resorts, seeing the theming, and environment is something I’ll continue to incorporate into my Disney adventures. We found that taking a relaxed approach made everyone more calm and relaxed during the trip. Of course, if this is your first trip to Disney, you might want to do a bit more scheduling to make sure that you can fit everything in.

Disney during the holiday season was beautiful and I would like to visit Disney in the second or third week of December when the holiday festivities are in full swing. Although we got to see many of the decorations, it was too early to see or experience a lot of the holiday offerings. There’s simply something magical with the parks all dressed up for the holidays. We can’t wait for our next trip (which unfortunately won’t be until 2024 or 2025) when we plan to visit the Galactic Star Cruiser.

Posing with the family in front of the Hollywood Studios Christmas tree

I must also mention that I have the best Disney Travel Planner available: Kirsten at Favorite Grampy Travels. Visit her Facebook group- Always an Adventure Mom– to stay up to date on the latest news at the House of the Mouse. Thank you sister, for letting me take over the blog for the day! That’s all for me folks, back to your regularly scheduled blog posts.

Have you ever visited Disney World without a ton of planning? What was your experience like?

If you are planning an upcoming trip to Disney World, check out Jackie’s post on the new Genie+ and Lightning Lane Services. And if you want to do a bit more planning before you trip, you should definitely her post on the best Disney World planning tips, tools, and resources.

I am so glad you visited us at Jack and Bax. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (sign up available either on the right sidebar or at the bottom of the page). And please follow me on Instagram and Facebook so that you don’t miss any of our upcoming projects!

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