Our trip to Disney during the Christmas season was my second visit to the parks; we’d gone with my in-laws when my boys were both under 5. Because my boys were so young, our experience of Disney this time was quite different, because did different things.
Here I’ll highlight a smattering of experiences–including the new Beauty and the Beast features, an Avatar ride, food, the holiday features and more, in no particular order.
- Meeting Princesses. First time for this. My daughter is nearly 5, so she was at just the age to be in awe…at first. The first Disney movie princess she met was Tiana (because you had to meet Tiana before Rapunzel), and my daughter didn’t even now who Tiana was. (We watched The Princess and the Frog once, years ago, but it wasn’t well liked; the voodoo aspect of the story made it scary to the kids, and I didn’t want that playing on repeat in my house either.) But, the amazing thing is, after meeting 4 princesses that night, my daughter said Tiana was her favorite! Why? Because she took the time to talk with my daughter; asked about her family, her life.
After that first night of meeting Princesses in the Magic Kingdom, my daughter’s tune changed. She’s come to the trip stating that Anna and Elsa were her favorite and a priority to meet. However, by day 4, when we were eating at Akershus, right next to the house where Anna and Elsa are to meet, she said, when I asked, that she didn’t want to wait in line to meet anyone , because, “they aren’t the real her. It’s just someone to pretending to be Anna and Elsa, so I don’t want to do that.”
Come to find out, she wanted to meet characters that looked like their cartoons–and now I understand, reflecting back to recall whom my girl met first–on day one: Sophia the First:
Sophia was a portrayed by a human woman, but wearing a suit of skin that covered even her hands and neck, topped by a big cartoon head. I guess Naomi expected more of that! But she grew accustomed to the princesses being played by an actress. However, when she met Belle, I learned that she fully expected to meet Emma Watson, the actress from the new Disney version!
However, Belle was so sweet and enchanting both times my daughter interacted with her, Naomi seemed to forgive her for not being Ms. Watson.
But by the time we had our character dinner at Akershus, I had to instruct my daughter to still pose with them and allow me to take a picture. Because you can’t tell the princesses, as they come to each table, “No thanks, my daughter doesn’t care about you anymore–because you’re not the real one.”
2. Cinderella’s Castle restaurant versus Akershus in Epcot, both of which feature a bevy of princesses who will meet your children. We went to Cinderella’s Castle with the boys years ago–because they wanted the sword that is given to each boy who comes! (Seriously. The only reason.) It was nice. We were there for lunch. The kids ate mac n cheese. I don’t recall what I had anymore. It cost two dinner credits per person.
Akerashus, on the other hand, costs only one meal credit, though it lacks nothing that Akershus offers (well, maybe the complimentary sword or tiara given to each child…) Cinderella is even at Akershus. (For some irony though, Akershus is in the Norway section of Epcot, adjacent to the Frozen ride, and Anna and Elsa are princesses who never put in an appearance there… We saw Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty.) The food was really great: a salad and hors d’eouvres bar to start, then I had an exquisite creamy wine sauce pasta with seafood, and dessert was a little tray of three desserts for my daughter and I to share: a bread pudding, an apple cake, and a delicious chocolate mousse treat.
We had wanted to take our daughter to Cinderella’s castle, and even though my husband tried to book it the first day it’s permitted–180 days from the trip–there were no openings! My husband stalked it for months, to no avail. He booked Akershus as a second choice, by default. I see no default; I’d book there again and not feel I missed a thing. The two offerings are so comparable, you need only one or the other. (And one costs half as much….)
2. Full meal plan versus partial: We didn’t know what we were doing on our first trip to Disney with my in-laws years ago–and that is why we got a 3-meals-a-day dining plan (though it was offered half price as a special). But we just didn’t know–how abundant the food was and how after a couple days, we regretted it. We were so full, we didn’t want to go to the next meal! Not to mention the time it takes to do 3 sit-down meals a day.
So this time, we got a dining pan with one sit-down meal a day, one quick service, and two snacks. That is truly more than adequate.
But in that trade off, we also did lose something.
On our first trip, our hats were off to Disney because the way they structured everything (high price though it may be), it was paid for up-front, and all dining decisions were made up-front, so much of the stress of meals simply evaporated! (And that’s invaluable when you’re dining with toddlers!)
While downgrading to less food was better and smarter as far as the amount of food really needed, we lost the eradication of the stress of choosing a place to eat 1-2 times a day. AND–a new Pandora’s box was unleashed by some amazingly dedicated should who tabulated every snack available in all the parks, with it’s price! But there are pros and cons to this knowledge.
Pros to this list: we sometimes ate snacks as lunch, and it was great to know to go to the little tea stand outside China in Epcot to get 2 egg rolls or curry chicken pockets as a snack, or humus and veggies in Animal Kingdom. My kids loved a fruit and in Animal Kingdom’s Africa section that sold fruit and cheese, including a little Babybel round that fascinates them (I think it’s the round package…). I love knowing that all choices aren’t sugary treats.
Cons: You don’t want to get caught in the trap of comparing values of the snacks. If you become focused on not getting a frozen banana you want because it’s $3 when you could get a whole sundae at another stand, it can take over. You could get stuck in thinking you should just pay cash for the cheap snacks and save your snack credits for things with a higher value–but then you’re thinking about the money and weighing decisions–and in reality, we still didn’t even use up all our snack credits by the end of the week! We had two left over. Good strategy–get what you want to eat, no matter its comparative value, and don’t buy anything outright to “save” your snacks credits–spend the credits first and then see IF (big if) you actually run out and need to purchase anything with cash. (That’s just my advice to avoid the day-to-day stress and pretend you’re really in a magic kingdom…)
3. Be Our Guest restaurant: The glowing reviews we read about this place were absolutely correct. You can’t believe it’s considered a quick-service. We went twice for breakfast–once for my daughter and myself, then another time with the entire family because my son, whom we thought would be disinterested, was upset he didn’t get to go! The food was very good (including the tray of pastries for the table to share), but the details really bring it home. The waiter brought the food in full character, not just the post-Renaissance costume of knickers–but with a French accent, finesse and all. And the fact that we were eating in an opulent ballroom, decked out for Christmas no less, mesmerized my daughter.
When the whole family went, the boys wanted to eat the West Wing–so dark and dreary, my photos didn’t turn out! In there, the chandeliers are thick with decaying, hanging cloths, the prince’s portrait is ripped, and the only light appears to come from embers in an old fireplace. In a corner sits a gated-off area with the rose behind glass. this place gets full points for decor.
Tip: It really makes a difference if you order your food ahead of coming. Because we did, both times, we were led directly in to get a seat, instead of the right-hand side line that was long and winding.
The details at this place–inside and out–were impressive:
4. Storytime with Belle. My daughter had no interest in checking this out. We didn’t really know what it was–a place where a costumed Belle told a story? Well, thankfully, on our last day, in the afternoon, our daughter decided she wanted to go. And boy, it was one of the best things we did! Inside, you wait in a small room of a cottage, and when it’s time you’re led to a wood shop. Inside, someone begins to tell you a story and the mirror on the wall, with a screen of smoke, transforms into a doorway that leads into the castle.
In this lush hallway, the talking wardrobe welcomes all the children. When she opens, props come out as children are recruited to play the parts to re-enact the story of how Belle and Beast fell in love. My daughter got the “role” of a dancing dinner plate.
Then we were led to another room where Lumiere welcomed us and introduced Belle, who entered from the side. Belle narrated, calling the kids forward when their part required them . (All of this is perfectly short–just the perfect time-span for the littles.)
Then, when I thought it was over, each child is called up by name and introduced to Belle formally as she took their hands and gave them a bookmark for reading–since we were sitting in the castle’s library!
We almost didn’t get to this, and in the end, I thought it was one of the best features for small ones.
5. Avatar Flight of Passage My daughter was too small, and someone had to stay with her. So my boys and hubby took this ride together–a ride for which a friend of ours said he waited in line for two hours, and “it was totally worth it!” My family agreed–it was the best ride they’ve been on, bar none.
My boys and hubby had fast-passes–which is good because that day, wait times were well over two hours–185 minutes at times! Because of those wait times, I, with no fast-pass, never did it.
So my review of this is dependent on their testimony. But after the fact that I missed it, we were given a great tip: we can get 5 fast passes, even though one of our party is too small. If we’d gotten all 5, I could have gone on the ride (with one lucky son who got to go twice) after the rest of the family already had their turn, while my husband stayed with our little girl while I rode. (I wish we’d thought of that earlier…just didn’t.)
6. Heavenly Desserts at Kringla Bakerie in the Norway section of Epcot. (Or the Frozen bakery, as my girl calls it, since it is in the Norway section, close to the Frozen ride.) The first day we went to Epcot, I got one pastry there. On our last night there, we had a lot of snack credits left, so the plan was to try as many different things as we could in the World Showcase. I took two kids to the Kringla Bakeri and we shared two types of pastries–and then we were too full to eat anything else. But they had been so good, at the end of the night, we went back and bought 5 more pastries for the whole family to sample the next day, before our flight home! My daughter tried Anna’s birthday cupcake, pictured below (a little squished after a stroller ride in a package). Now, I’m a girl who rarely tries anything that’s not chocolate (because you know, how can you ever bypass chocolate!), but the berry cream puff is so good, I got it twice! The only chocolate item, the mousse viking hat, was the only thing we didn’t really love. But the School bread, troll horn, cupcakes, cream puff and snow globe all got big thumbs up from us! I seriously have since dreamed about having another cream puff!
7. Christmas features. We had hopes of spending time just going to see how different places and hotels decorated–but there was always so much to do! But yes, everywhere you went in Disney was decked out:
And the characters dressed for the ocassion:
I’m someone who loves the Christmas season, so I loved the atmosphere, the music, etc., –even though, really, it didn’t really feel like Christmas because it was in the high 70s, and I’m from the North!
The entertainment also changed its regular feature to reflect the season; we saw the Frozen-themed stage show in Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom’s noon show in front of Cinderella’s castle. My daughter loved all of this, and she went nuts when it “snowed” at the end of the Frozen show.
I really wanted to make it to the Christmas Nativity reading and candlelight processional, but the evening we could spend the time in Epcot to see it happened to be the night Whoopie Goldburg was the featured celebrity reader, and we found people waiting in line over an hour before each show time! With the ages of my kids, we weren’t spending our last evening there in line, so we missed that. Epcot had a lot of seasonal entertainment–a stage with a group performing Christmas and Kwanzaa songs, a Hanakkuh event, and in many countries’ sections of the World Showcase, that region’s representation of a Santa figure. I walked by and heard a bit of Papa Noel but missed the rest. Too many things to check out, not enough time!
And as unbelievable as it may sound, one of the most breathtaking things I saw was the Cinderella castle lit up at night. You’d think I’d seen it before; what’s the big deal. But it looked like shimmering crystal the way they do it for the holidays.
Well, I could write enough about Disney to fill many posts, but these were some highlights!
What are your best tips and observations of Disney?