We are kind of the biggest Disney fans ever here at Pure Wander. Personally, I’m partial to Disney World in Florida, while Ashley is bananas for Disneyland in California. We’ve heard great things about the mouse in Paris and Tokyo too. When it comes to the theme parks worldwide, we know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to where to stay, how to optimize your time and the best food to eat every day. We even know things like the best age for Disney World and what the kiddos (and adults) love the most.
As a first, I spent a good week at Disney World in Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2018, right in the thick of vacation-time for families. Not to mention, it was stupid hot out, paired with torrential downpours in between. Some may think it’s silly to do Disney World in the summer, but I found it a thrill.
On top of the crowds and weather? We did Disney….with teenagers. The toughest crowd to please. Good news is, both us adults and the teens had a blast. Need a game plan? Here’s how we did Disney below so you can gear up for next year, or Disney Holidays 2020!
Table of Contents
The Plan 90 Days Before Disney World
Where to Stay
Even the most spontaneous of travelers and vacationers need to have a rough idea of how to tackle Disney World. Last time I spent multiple days at the parks was when I was a kiddo, and the tech was far from there. Nowadays, Disney makes it easy to plan your visit way ahead of time to make for smooth sailing. You can book accommodations, know which parks to visit first, make dinner reservations and even scope out the best seating for shows in the Disney app and online.
A Pop of Convenience
Choose a good place for your budget and timeframe to stay at first. We loved the Pop Century Resort and were super surprised by it’s wonderful, Scandinavian-style rooms. Simple, yet clean and cozy, the room had one pop-up murphy bed, regular bed and sliding bathroom doors. I was impressed by the storage space as well as the full-size toiletries that are installed in the room. It’s wonderfully eco-friendly and I’m happy I didn’t have to wrestle with some tiny to-go shampoo bottle! The teens loved the pool scene at night too. It seems parks are forgoed at night so they can hang back at the hotel and relax. A cocktail bar and plenty of loungers makes the area pleasant for adults too.
Pop Century is close to the parks and offers free shuttle services like all other resorts within the park. To be honest, the food service at this resort was a bit lacking – lots of heavy roasts and fried foods that weren’t preferred in the dead of summer. But luckily there’s tons of options in the parks themselves to skirt this issue.
For a more upscale experience, we were highly impressed with the beautiful Animal Kingdom Lodge. Located just outside the main park (backing up to the actual wildlife reserve) is this beautiful property. While a little vaguely just “Africa”, they do touch upon a bunch of different cultures and do try to differentiate each country and it’s gifts. Most of the staff are from various African nations.
We had one of the best evenings of the trip at Boma, highly regarded as one of the best restaurants at Disney World. Buffet-style, this place offers endless dishes hailing from more than 50 countries in Africa. Stews and roasts, salads and mains dishes, vegan-friendly options and of course, dessert, are all available. They have an excellent South African wine selection as well. Boma is ideal for a mixed group with teens, as they do have pasta and chicken options too for picky eaters.
After investing in tickets, hotels and flights to Disney, the last thing you might want to do is shell out for a FastPass. But don’t worry – it’s now included in all standard tickets!
You can reserve your favorite rides up to 30 days in advance per day. Pick wisely, as the limit is three per person up front. Choose the busiest rides, like coasters and new attractions. After you do the first three (go for the morning if you can), you can then reserve the next ones while in the park on the day of. This streamlined our experienced so much, especially as we can reserve them together as a group through the Disney World app.
Once You’re There: Best Disney Parks and Plans
Speaking of the app, this was a lifesaver almost every day we were exploring the parks. Make sure you bring a spare battery pack so your phones don’t run out of juice. You can track just about everything through the app – wait times for each ride, maps of the parks and even dinner reservations. Paired with my MagicBand, it’s a breeze to navigate the crowds with little stress.
This might be a basic tip, but leave room for lots of spontaneity. One of my favorite things to do is simply soak up the magic (just like I did freaking out all over Happy Potter’s Diagon Alley in Universal). Leave time for shows passing by, character run-ins, people watching and even the occasional ride that goes down for maintenance.
Do the iconic rides first and leave a whole day or two for Magic Kingdom. I also loved a day in Animal Kingdom, even if just for the giant Everest roller coaster and the Kali River Rapids.
Epcot is fast becoming a new favorite – now that’s I’m a grown-up kid. It was like a gift to go through each country too. I thought I might think it kitschy to stroll around England, France or Morocco, but even the sometimes cringey stereotypes made for a valiant effort and did remind me of the actual destinations.
A Little Coco Loco!
Recently, Disney has transformed the somewhat vague Aztec/Mayan/Mexican area into a shrine for the Coco movie. Coco is a special work of art, and I was delighted to see they found a home for it in Epcot. Check out the small Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) exhibit in the temple. With a Viva la Mexico margarita tower in hand, of course.
You’ve Got A Friend in Me
Your strategy might be different if you’re a huge Toy Story fan – the new park inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios is well worth an afternoon. We were there for the opening weekend and it was UNBELIEVABLE. The Disney details are not to be missed in this walk down memory lane. Rumor has it there will be a Star Wars experience coming to this park soon too, so its reboot makes for allotting more time there.
Toy Story has one new roller coaster, the Slinky Dog Dash. Other attractions include the 4-D Toy Story Mania ride and alien-themed saucer spinner. But just to walk around the full-on environment of primary colors, giant resin retro toys and lots of fun characters. I’m a mush anyways, but I definitely teared up walking into Toy Story Land to re-live the movie I loved as a 10-year-old.
For the Kids: What to Teens do at Disney?
I was with a large group of teens from the In Sync dance studio in Massachusetts. They were selected to perform in a parade through the Magic Kingdom, as well as a medley show at Epcot with other troupes from all over the country. So, the packs were large and really, really honking pumped to be there.
Leave time for photos. For real. My mother-in-law and I walked around Epcot sipping margaritas on our own and managed to cover all the countries at a brisk pace in a couple hours. When we had three teenage girls in tow, this took for-ev-er. When they met up with their guy friends and a few more girls with GoPros, the pace slowed to a crawl. This is part of the fun though – they’re all hanging out in a controlled environment, off the web and living in the moment. Let them enjoy the parks the way they want and allow for extra strolling time.
The teens loved the wildest rides too of course. I paired up with my 14-year-old brother-in-law, deciding that Everest and Splash Mountain were some of our favorites. After a stomach full of snacks though, we definitely should have skipped “Mission Space”. In Epcot it’s one of the more unassuming attractions, but it simulates 2.5Gs of pressure at your launched to Mars…not a fun feeling. Also not fun for those who aren’t thrilled about tight spaces. NEXT.
The shows are often a bit too young for teenagers, but there are a few dance-centric parades that caught their attention in Magic Kingdom. The guys also like the Japanese drum performance outside in Epcot, and the African music dance and band in Animal Kingdom. The girls did like some of the more nostalgic spectacles, like the Once Upon a Time Castle Show in Magic Kingdom that plays lots of old tunes and stories.
Visiting Disney World: Current Times (2020)
Of course, for those reading in 2020, Disney World is looking, well, entirely different. The coronavirus pandemic had fully shut down the theme park from March through early July.
While Disney World is re-opened now, it doesn’t look anything like before. Various new safety regulations are in place, from temperature checks to social distancing and mask requirements (yes, on rides too!). Packed lines for rides and hugging your favorite Disney character are things of the past.
There have been numerous articles written about whether or not it’s worth it to visit the reopened park. Ultimately, it is up to you what kind of trip you are looking for, and whether the increased precautions would damper your mood or are welcome changes. For instance, lessened crowds might be exactly what you were hoping for. Either way, be sure you are complying with safety guidelines in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep yourself (and others!) healthy.
Have a blast at your next Disney trip and feel free to leave a comment anytime with your questions! We’ve love to help you plan and get excited about the magic.