As many of you know who have been reading my blog over the years, I am a HUGE Disney fan. In fact, Justin surprised me with a trip there with our kiddos for my 40th birthday. *Cue the waterworks.* And, in true birthday style, I surprised Justin last year by bringing the entire family to Disneyland for his birthday (even both sets of grandparents came!), so we could all enjoy the most magical place on earth together. Click here to read all about that adventure and my advice on coordinating a big family trip! Here are a few throwback photos from our trip last year:
My family and I are super fortunate to have been able to visit both Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. Based on this experience, I get a lot of questions in my DMs on Instagram (@Jillian.Harris) asking me which park I prefer.
Let me start by saying this: both resorts really are the happiest place on earth if you (1) wear supportive shoes that don’t give you blisters, (2) schedule snack breaks to keep everyone in good spirits, and (3) no one throws a tantrum (parents included, LOL)!
But, I understand your dilemma! Which to choose when they are both so awesome? Since we were in California this past week for a very special photoshoot (more details on that to come!) and, of course, made a stop at Disney, I thought now would be the perfect time to share our past experiences at both parks. (But, DON’T WORRY!! I full recap of our recent Disneyland trip last week is on the way…) So, here’s a breakdown of our experience at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, to help you make the decision for which park best suits your family:
Walt Disney World Resort – Orlando, Florida
Our Length of Stay
We booked a four-day trip to Walt Disney World, and was it ever EPIC!! However, next time I would book a longer vacation there, so we have more time to explore each of the parks in full. Ideally, I would want to book at least one day at each park, one day at the waterpark and then the last day would be spent at our favourite park after visiting them all.
While this may seem obvious, Florida is MUCH hotter than California. If you like the heat and sun, Florida’s resort may be calling your name. But, if you’re a little averse to the heat and are still set on visiting this resort, consider going at a cooler time of year.
About the Parks
Like all things Florida, the Disney World resort encapsulates the “go big or go home mentality.” I’m talking not one, not two, but FOUR different parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and EPCOT (my personal favourite). What I didn’t realize is that each of these parks is not within close walking distance (note to self: look at a map!). So, I would recommend planning to spend a day or several days at each. While this may seem overwhelming, it IS easy to get from park to park by car, gondola or train (about 15-20 minutes travel time). To maximize your time, I would suggest blocking out a full day at one park or picking one for the morning and another for the afternoon. More time on the rides and less time travelling is a YES from me!!
Another nice thing about the parks is that since there are four of them, they are actually smaller individually. So, you can try most of the rides at one park within a day and not feel like you missed out if you don’t have another day booked.
But, enough about travel time… here’s my recap of each park:
If you want that old-school Disney adventure, visit Magic Kingdom. It has so many classic rides all clustered together, making it easy for the kids to jump from ride to ride! In terms of the length of stay, I would advise at least a day and a half at the Magic Kingdom park. One day just isn’t enough!!
Our favourite rides and attractions at Magic Kingdom were Mickey’s PhilharMagic (but you MUST get a seat in the middle), the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Peter Pan (oh, the nostalgia!), and The Little Mermaid.
When you start feeling hangry, you will find your classic chicken fingers and fries food options nearby.
Note: While you CAN consume alcoholic beverages on the park grounds, it needs to be at the restaurants.
At Hollywood Studios, you will find Star Wars Land. So, bring your little Jedis because they are sure to LOVE this part of the park! Another element that I enjoyed about Hollywood Studios was that the vibe was super retro. While there are definitely long lines, if you are strategic about your Genie Passes, you could avoid a lot of that and do the park in one day.
Our favourite rides at this park were Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and The Tower of Terror.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to try the Rock ‘n Roll Rollercoaster, but a Team Jilly member says, “IT’S THE BEST!!!!” So, I guess you will all have to try it and report back!
Then, there’s Animal Kingdom. For us, it wasn’t our favourite because it was extremely hot the day we went, and we had trouble getting on rides (because I forgot to look up height restrictions before… oops). It also didn’t help that we got mixed up about what day we were booked at Animal Kingdom, so by the time we arrived, it was busier in the day. All that being said, I would happily give Animal Kingdom another shot. I think luck was not on our side that day, but I think if we go into it next time checking height restrictions ahead of time and using our Genie Passes, it would be a great experience.
If you do visit Animal Kingdom, I would recommend going on the Bug’s Life ride! That was a super cute one, but you have to get a seat in the middle for it to be worthwhile. Trust me!
Another thing I wanted to mention about Animal Kingdom was that I was a bit nervous about the animal component since the animals were in captivity, but I followed up our visit by reading this company policy about how Disneyland takes care of its animals. I would recommend giving it a read if you also have mixed feelings about the park like I did.
Our favourite family moments at the resort were definitely spent at EPCOT park: standout rides included the Frozen Ever After ride (Annie’s favourite!), the Ratatouille ride (my favourite!), The Guardians of the Galaxy ride (mine and Leo’s favourite!) and Living of the Land where you learn all about growing fruits and vegetables (Justin’s favourite!). While there are definitely fewer rides for the little ones at this park, the ones they did have were super memorable!
Pro tip: if you need a break from the sun, hop on the Living of the Land ride because it provides some shade, so much in fact that Annie became a frequent napper on that ride!
Another great thing about EPCOT is that it has THE BEST food and drinks. Plus, you can wander around with a cocktail or mimosa in hand (thank you, Disney!). It’s laid out so that they have restaurants from many different countries and cultures, one next to the other, which I just LOVED to see! It was fun to try food from different places with the kids!
Note: Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to visit the waterslide park in Florida, which sounds so fun and like a perfect activity for the hot Florida climate. Oh well… guess we’ll have to book another trip, Justin!! *hint, hint*
After a full day of rides and indulging in a delicious meal or two, we enjoyed finishing the night off by watching the fireworks as a family. A Disney classic!
Well, there you have it! Your ultimate guide to the North American Disney resorts!
My biggest tips are to get Genie Passes if you are going to Disney World and download the Genie App. They will make your life SO much easier. To purchase your Genie Passes, make sure to grab them at midnight the night before. You will have to decide that night which rides you want to do and be sure to look at the map when picking your rides so that you pick rides in proximity to each other. If you are staying on the Disney property, at 7 am you can book your first Lightning Lane and a virtual line—meaning, you will have your first two rides booked by 7 am!! After that, you can typically book your next set of rides every two hours. To keep on top of this and strategically use our Genie Passes, I set an alarm on my phone to go off every two hours to remind me to book our next couple of rides. Learn more about Lightning Lanes and Genie Passes here!
If you don’t want to worry about organizing Genie Passes and booking rides every two hours, you can definitely experience the Disneyland Resort in California without that hassle, as it’s a less busy, more relaxed resort overall. Plus, since the park is quite compact (compared to Florida), there is less walking required, which is especially nice if you have little ones.
Both the California and Florida resorts are PHENOMENAL, and I feel confident saying that no matter if you choose an East-coast or West-coast Disney vacation, your family is sure to have a BLAST!!!