Many of you followed along with all my wedding recaps, including my ceremony, reception, and portrait series. So right after our wedding — literally the next day — Zach and I took off to Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando, Florida, for our honeymoon. Zach had only been once as a kid, and I had never been, so with our love of Disney, it seemed like the perfect place for us to go on our honeymoon! With that, I am starting a new Walt Disney World series! I will be going over all aspects of a WDW trip, including everything we did in each of the four WDW parks, everything we ate, restaurant reviews, etc. We also spent two days in Universal Studios Orlando, which I will also devote a post to. Also, if there is anything in particular you would like to know, leave me a message in the comments!
I thought I would start with a brief introduction. We were in WDW from December 17, 2017–January 4, 2018, a little over two weeks. This meant we were in WDW for both Christmas and New Year's, which are the busiest times of year. Needless to say, it was very crowded. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Disney Springs, which was located just a few blocks from, you guessed it, Disney Springs. Disney Springs is the WDW equivalent of Downtown Disney and is full of shopping, restaurants, Disney activities, and an outdoor theater. It is significantly bigger than Downtown Disney and offers so much food and entertainment — you could literally spend a few days there alone (but more on that later; I will also devote a post to everything we saw and ate in Disney Springs).
The Holiday Inn Disney Springs is not a Disney Resort Hotel, but it still offered shuttle service to the parks and had some fun Disney-esque elements. You could buy tickets to the park (as well as tickets to Universal Studios and SeaWorld) at the hotel, and it had its own Disney store right in the lobby. The room we stayed in was very spacious and included a fridge, microwave, and Keurig coffee machine. These were great to have for late-night meals, in-room breakfasts, and, most importantly, the desperately needed jolt of caffeine every morning. Unfortunately, breakfast is not included as part of your stay at the Holiday Inn, although they do have a full restaurant, café, and bar.
Full disclosure on how we paid for this trip (since we try to be honest on the blog about budgeting and how to save a buck!): Zach’s dad gifted us his hotel points that he earned through work trips using IHG, which completely covered our hotel stay for the entire trip. We had been saving up with the intention of paying for our hotel but were grateful that he gifted us his hotel points! So, if you travel a lot for work and earn points/rewards from your hotel stays or credit card, this is a great use for them since you’ll have so many other expenses to cover!
Also, in case you don't know, there are four major theme parks at WDW: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. We were grateful the hotel had a free shuttle to all four Disney parks that, in theory, ran every 30 minutes. However, we found it to be almost different every day — sometimes it would be right on time, while other times it would be more like 45 minutes. It seemed that we also got down from our room just when the bus took off and would end up sitting for a full 30 minutes at the stop. There were several times we ended up taking a Lyft on days when we really just wanted to get to the parks. Luckily, Zach had a promotional coupon that got us 50 percent off rides for several days of our trip. Travel between parks, or the resort hotels and parks, was much easier and more efficient. WDW has its own fleet of buses that run roughly every 10-15 minutes, so it’s not too hard to quickly catch a bus if you are in the parks or at a resort. However, unlike Disneyland and California Adventure, the parks are not very close to one another. We learned quickly that you have to plan about a full hour (+/-) to travel between parks. However, one perk of being an annual passholder (we're passholders for both Disneyland and WDW) is that at each park there is a passholder-only entrance! Sometimes it was significantly shorter, other times much longer. But still, a nice perk!
We didn’t have a chance to try this, but WDW recently started its own on-demand car service through a partnership with Lyft called Minnie Vans. These vans are decked out in red and white polka dots, come fully equipped with car seats, and cost $20 a ride. Plus, WDW is currently starting construction on a gondola system called the Skyliner to provide additional travel options between some of the resorts and parks. I think even Disney knows how time-consuming traveling can be between the four parks as well as the resorts, so it’s nice to see that they’re trying to provide guests with more options.
We primarily planned our days around what fast passes we had. For our West Coast readers, at WDW, you reserve your fast passes ahead of time. If you’re staying at a resort hotel, you can reserve passes up to 60 days in advance. If not, it’s 30 days in advance. This makes it incredibly difficult to get fast passes for some popular rides, but we were still able to get several. While we didn’t get to take advantage of this, some non-Disney hotels near the parks are now going to be offering the same perk to its guests in 2018, including the Holiday Inn we were at. We just missed it! You can reserve your fast passes through the Disney app.
Another major factor in planning out our days were our dining reservations. If you’ve read any of our Disney blog posts — like Festival of Holidays, Lunar New Year, or Halloween Time — you know that trying food at Disney parks is one of our favorite things to do and was a huge priority for us when planning our trip. There are several signature restaurants at WDW, and we had reservations for a few of them. Dining reservations have to be made 180 days in advance, and this applies to everyone. Some dining reservations are highly sought-after and very difficult to acquire, even with booking 180 days ahead — most notably Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, Ohana, and Victoria & Alberts.
Dining reservations opened at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, which meant . . . 3:00 a.m. for us on Pacific Standard Time. Zach, bless his heart, set alarms on several mornings to get us reservations. Fortunately, it paid off because we got reservations at every restaurant we wanted. If you don’t make reservations 180 days in advance, you most likely won’t be able to get one at all for some of these restaurants (especially for dinner reservations).
On top of visiting all four parks and planning out dining reservations, we highly recommend making time to check out the resort hotels themselves because each one is elaborately decorated with its own theme. We ran out of time to see all the ones we wanted to, but fortunately we were still able to see several. In total, there are 25 resort hotels in WDW. Not all of them are as grand as others, so you definitely don’t need to see all of them, but there are a few notable ones you definitely should see. (I’ll have a post later on devoted to that, too.)
We had spent the entire year before the trip (and while planning the wedding) preparing for this vacation, and it was such a dream come true. Seriously a trip of a lifetime. I am excited to share it with our readers as well as document as much as I can remember so I can always look back on it. Up next will be posts on everything we did in each park, everything we ate, restaurant reviews, Universal Studios, and several others! As I post more, I’ll update this article to link all future posts and use this introduction as a “Table of Contents” of sorts. This will be a long ongoing series for the next couple of months. But don’t worry; we’ll still have plenty of non-Disney and Disneyland content in between. Hope you enjoy!
With all the churros and turkey legs you care to enjoy,