This is a Disney World and Disney Cruise Trip Report on our double adventure vacation with strategies and reviews from a family with four kids going to the happiest place on earth!
When I planned our first ever vacation, I wanted to make sure it was epic, so we did a double Disney World and Disney Cruise vacation with our four kids. Yes, it was insanity in the making. This is our amazing Disney World and Disney Cruise trip report.
Our family has not taken a vacation since my eldest was born. That's seven years guys. After working on finally getting my husband on board (this took a good year), he finally gave me the nod to go ahead and book it. Once that was settled, I was able to start my research and plan the trip.
Let's be honest though. Taking four kids all under the age of seven to a busy amusement park was going to be hell. I knew it would be an emotional rollercoaster for Ryan and I as parents. So we were prepared. Well, we thought we were. Ultimately, it was a rollercoaster of emotions for us: happiness, misery, excitement, joy, fun - every emotion you name it, we felt it.
Would we do it again? I just planned our next vacation, and we haven't even been back 10 days. Ryan doesn't understand it.
So, here's my trip report that includes the itinerary and my review of each part of the vacation! I hope you guys find it useful. I plan on doing a break down of each park, each restaurant and the Disney Cruise in future posts! Let me know what questions you have.
Our Disney World and Disney Cruise High Level Itinerary
Disney World Itinerary and Summary
Here's some background on why we structured our itinerary the way we did:
- Because I knew that it was going to be bat $hit crazy, I planned an INSANE trip because I knew I wouldn't get my husband to agree to travel again to Florida. We decided to go on a double adventure to both Disney World and a Disney Cruise.
- I read a lot about the delicious food at the parks (make sure you read my expectations versus reality where I address this).
- For the Disney World part of the trip, I heard a ton about how amazing the resorts, their restaurants, and their amazing pools. Since the pools are only available to that specific resort's guests, I didn't want to feel like our family was missing out. So we did FOUR different hotel stays (referred also as "split stays"). The only hotel where we stayed more than one day was Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (which I knew that I would specifically love, and it didn't disappoint)!
- We wanted to experience all four of the parks on this trip. I knew that the park lines were insane, so I was willing to pay (up to a certain amount) for ways to NOT wait in line. Early Morning Magic (which is an additional cost) allows park visitors to come early to the parks, so I made sure I planned it around it!
- I wanted to be in control of this part of the trip, so I did not let my travel agent book any of my Fastpasses or Reservations (even though I knew she was quite capable).
Here was our itinerary for the resorts and the parks, which went exactly as planned!
- Sunday: Arrival, Stay at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
- Monday: Hollywood Studios (with Early Morning Magic), Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Tuesday: Magic Kingdom (with Early Morning Magic), Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Wednesday: Epcot, Stay at Contemporary Resort
- Thursday: Animal Kingdom, Stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge
My thoughts on certain parts of Disney World:
Airline: We took a direct Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando, hopped off the plane, grabbed our bags and got the exact minivan we had at home from Alamo. The transition from plane to minivan could not have gone any smoother! However, the flight with a lap toddler was kind of insane. Lorelei, my 18 month old, was pretty much nuts. That's the end of that story.
Resorts: The split-stay was kind of insane because we literally did not sprawl out at any of the hotels. If it were my first trip, I'd still do it again in a heart beat to experience all the hotels and their pools! We visited every resort pool with the exception of Animal Kingdom Lodge's due to time constraints. I loved visiting all the hotels and we found out which ones we loved (Polynesian and Grand Floridian) and which ones we didn't care for (Contemporary and Animal Kingdom). We got one of four of the exact rooms we requested (at the Grand Floridian). In one of the resorts, we got upgraded big time (at Animal Kingdom Lodge). The service at Contemporary was amazing. The Polynesian had an amazing pool, but our pool/marina view turned out to just be a marina view (which we didn't care for).Ryan was adamant about spending time at the park (because we paid for tickets), so we didn't get to use the resort pool as much as the kids wanted to!
Dining Plan: The split-stay also caused some havoc for our Deluxe meal plan, which I had to prepare for. We had to empty ALL of our credits (snack, drink and meals) before we could use the next one. There were several times I had to either go and get a bunch of random snacks or make a special trip to use our drink credits. Getting the Deluxe plan saved us a lot of money IF we were planning on actually ordering what we DID order: which was about a $500 savings. Now, I will say we wouldn't have ordered as much food without the meal plan. However, I did like the fact that I didn't have to worry about cost and just ordered what I wanted to eat. So in exchange for some upfront money, I experienced ease when ordering food at the parks.
Restaurants: Overall, the food was okay. I was really hyped up based on what people said about the food at Disney World and Disney Cruises, but we found the food to be, meh. However, I did have a friend that did put it in perspective. The food is definitely better than our local amusement park's restaurants bar none. We absolutely loved Yak & Yeti at Animal Kingdom, it stood out as one of our favorites that was a last minute addition! At Cinderella's Royal Table, I was prepared for the worst as I read that it wasn't the greatest, but I actually found it quite tasty! Is it overpriced for the meal? Yes. Did I have a good experience with the kids? Yes! So, it was totally worth it!
Rides and Attractions: Because of my awesome planning skills (if I do say so myself) and purchase of extra tickets for Fastpasses, the family did not wait in a single line for more than 5 minutes! It was insane. I couldn't believe how well it worked out for us. We made use of Rider Swap where, if you have a kid that is not old enough to ride, they will scan three additional bands so that the other parent that stays back gets a chance to ride with the other kids! Freaking amazing. We also made use of Early Morning Magic at Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, which costed more money than I wanted to spend, but was well worth not waiting in line! Due to time, we did miss out on riding Tower of Terror! Also, our trip coincided with some sort of cheer convention. We saw tons of cheerleaders blocking pathways with backpacks and group lines, which was annoying.
Extra Tickets and Fastpasses: I am so glad I spent more money on this and used loopholes by listening to the Backside of Magic Podcast and setting up super early morning breakfast reservations. Otherwise, we would have waited in insane lines. I want you to look at each of these photos. Look how many people are in them. At 9:05, it will no longer look like this. It will be JAMMED PACKED with people. I'm not lying. When we got in line for the safari at Animal Kingdom, at 9:05, we saw a WALL of people heading our way. It was INSANITY.
Having a Minivan: I loved renting a minivan there. Yes, I hear that Magical Express can take care of your bags as soon as you land at the airport. However, I found that being able to pick up my bag and take it to my car a breeze! Not only that, because my kids all need mid-day naps, it was great being able to hop in a car and go to the next hotel! It's definitely a must if you are wanting to keep important luggage while managing a split stay!
The Kids: They had melt downs almost every day. Ryan and I looked at each other multiple times and said, "Never again." But there were moments that are special to us as well. When Lorelei gave Buzz Lightyear her shoulder move, Ansley met her twin Elena of Avalor, and Aubrey met Elsa! I chocked it up to a parent's rite of passage: a rollercoaster of emotions as a parent going to the happiest place on earth!
Disney Cruise Itinerary
Here's the background on the Disney Cruise part of the trip.
- I heard you should always plan a double adventure with the Disney Cruise being on the last part of the trip, which I would WHOLEHEARTEDLY recommend.
- After picking which cruise we went on, I did NOT want to be the one scheduling everything. Why? Well, for some reason, I thought that this part of the trip would be the LEAST fun (I would later be convinced otherwise).
- I let my Disney travel agent, Sarah with Mickey Travels, handle all of the details. I just told her that I wanted to get the cruise set up and she was able to book ALL the activities, so that I didn't have to wake up to schedule all of the events we wanted to do.
- I knew I had to have her plan: nursery time, massage, date at Palo, the girls dress up day, Conrad's pirate makeover, Frozen meet and greet, and the Princess gathering.
- Ryan really wanted a verandah stateroom with an ocean view. With a family of six, we had to do two separate cabins!
Here was the itinerary for our 3-Night Caribbean Disney Cruise. We did everything as planned, but added a few more nursery trips along the way:
- Friday: Last Walt Disney World Breakfast at Beach Club Resort (I fell in love here), Embark ship at Port Canaveral, Attend Sail Away Party
- Saturday: Arrive at Bahamas (We'd stay on board), Bippity Boppity Boutique, Princess Gathering, Frozen Meet and Greet, Conrad Pirate League Makeover, Pirate Deck Party, Swedish Massage, Beauty and the Beast
- Sunday: Castway Cay, Palo Dinner
- Monday: Travel Home Day
Embarking: Embarking on the Disney Cruise Ship was really easy. Make sure you start using your photo package (if you purchased one) right away! There will be a character at the port posing for photos, and this will be your first chance where they ask you your cabin number so they can associate your face with your photos! I love how they call out and introduce your family! I absolutely loved going to the nursery and checking out the Oceanner's Club during their open house right when we went to the ship! I had our swimsuits packed in our bags, but Ryan was totally against us swimming as soon as we got there.
Food and Restaurants: There was food 24 hours a day via room service (which we never used). I loved how we rotated restaurants every night! We got the early time for meals on the ship, which proved to be awesome with littles. The main entrees were mediocre, but the desserts were amazing. Our server, Anthony, was incredible! He made the experience so fun for our kids! We absolutely loved Animator's Palette. The fact that the turtle got my hubby involved in the action was totally worth it!
Bippity Boppity Boutique and Pirates League Makeovers: The kids had a blast! I had an 18 month old who wouldn't sit through anything. So Ryan actually missed the girls getting dolled up! I loved how our travel agent booked the boutique right before the Princess Gathering! She also booked Conrad's Pirate League makeover right before the Pirate Party! It was pretty awesome.
Stateroom Attendant: Sutrisna was our stateroom attendant who made everything amazing. On our three nights, he made the following animals: frog, swan, monkey, and we even got a Pirate! Every night, he put everything back in it's place when we were gone. I have no idea how he knew were were gone, but he did. It was crazy.
Staterooms: We had to purchase two staterooms, which was pretty expensive for a cruise like this. We loved our stateroom and loved having two rooms - one for the parents and one for the kids. It actually worked out really, really well! It was spacious. The murphy bed was awesome (if you have connecting cabins like us, there is only one room with a murphy bed). We got stateroom 9566 and 9568, which was near the mid-ship elevators and basically 2-3 levels down from anywhere we wanted to be. It was great!
Swedish Massage: It was okay and kind of overpriced. I didn't realize I'd get a product sale at the end, but overall, I probably wouldn't do this again.
Characters: The character lines were really long, even on the last day! I would recommend reviewing the navigator (the ship's daily schedule that your Stateroom Attendant will place in your room) and making sure you get there BEFORE the time of the character meet! The ones that you don't want to miss because they come out less than the others are: Captain Hook and Jack Sparrow! I loved having the kids set up for the Princess Gathering and Frozen Meet and Greet!
Photo Package: Seriously, you need to make use of it. At Castaway Cay, wait in line for those photos. We didn't because I told the family we needed to rush to get a spot, and that totally backfired. There is always room.
Castaway Cay: It's beautiful. The beach isn't as pristine as I thought it would be. The food was good. The virgin Pina Colada was delicious! I loved how small and quaint it was!
Oceaneers Club: The kids absolutely loved it. We could not pull them away from it when we came to pick them up! They got to do crafts, games and even met some characters that we didn't get to see like Stitch, Pluto and Captain Hook! It also got my hubby and I a chance to hang by ourselves!
It's a Small World Nursery: Lorelei took to the nursery. It was so cute! When we went to open house, she went and sat in the chair, bear and all. It was the cutest thing! We were able to get her in even though we didn't have her scheduled. The ladies were so great! Lorelei even got to meet Donald Duck while at the nursery - and they took a picture of it!
Bahamas: We didn't get off the ship. We were totally okay with it.
Aquaduct: It's freaking amazing. Ansley and I rode it while we could see Nassau and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! Me, one of my kiddo's, laughing and seeing an island from a tube on top of a cruise boat. Seriously, life could not get any better (and yet, it surprises me when it does)!
Palo: The food was "okay". Palo (the extra experience) was also okay; we actually completely felt out of place because it was so fancy. When the hostess began pointing out the blown glass, I could hear Ryan giggling inside. Then, the palette cleansing sorbet came out, and we busted out laughing. Clearly, we didn't belong.
Fish Extenders: This was SO MUCH FUN. This is where you get gifts for a small number of other cruisers and receive gifts back! We had a blast doing this!
My Go-To Disney World and Disney Cruise Planning Tools
What you need to know about me is this, I have an addicting personality. This means that once I get my mind set on something, I go at it 100%. This trip, after Ryan gave me his blessing, took over 18 months to plan. I'm not even kidding. I had PTO on my calendar for 18 months. So, I'm sharing with you my tools of the trade during the 18 month research stint I did for our expensive trip (I'll get to that in a minute).
- Google Spreadsheet: I used this spreadsheet to plan my itinerary and FastPass strategy.
- Touring Plans: I used this to understand walking times and where all the attractions were. I also used their service to visually see room views for each resort's room types and use their services to submit "requests" to Disney for certain rooms. I also used their mobile app to review their chatrooms, called Lines, to see what other "Liners" were experiencing in the park! Most of the people that chat there are either in the park or are Disney fanatics! It's actually great to have on your phone to get quick advice if you are in the parks.
- DisBoards Gift Card Thread: You can literally get greater than 5% off of your Disney World (or Disney Cruise) by paying attention Disney Gift Card deals!
- AutoSlash: Great place to get a deal on car rental!
- Backside of Magic Podcast: These guys are also fanatics, and are super funny! This is a podcast that calls out all of the Disney World loopholes and provides advice on saving money and saving time!
- Unlocking the Magic: This cute couple provides insight on making the most of your trip without being too crazy. It's opposite of Backside of Magic, so provides you a different perspective.
- Target: I purchase Disney eGift Cards at 5% off with my Target Redcard. That's saving 5% off your trip.
- My Travel Agent: Sarah. She's amazing.
The REAL Cost of a Disney World and Disney Cruise for a Family of Six
Before I jump into the cost of this trip, let me tell you a little bit about WHY I have decided to share the cost. I share them with you to INFORM you on how much experiences like this cost outside of what is marketed to you.
Our epic trip was a little more expensive than most because I paid for more experiences and paid to NOT wait in line. However, our trip wasn't at the upper end either (those that pay over $10,000 for a VIP tour guide to pass all the lines and those that have EPIC staterooms on the Disney Cruise Ship).
People always say Disney World is expensive, and let me be the first to tell you, it is! However, there are CHEAPER and LESS EXPENSIVE ways to experience Disney World. Assuming that this could be our first and last trip to Disney World, I wanted to make sure it was awesome (and it was!).
For our investment in this trip, I wanted to make the most of my experience without spending too much time in line (I'll share tips in a different post). I also wanted to experience A LOT. I might not be spending time at each thing/event/attraction, but I wanted to do everything. I just wanted to share so that you have context on the expenses. I will say we did awesome at not buying a lot of souvenirs! We came home with one Banchi for Conrad and a few of the flattened pennies from the various penny machine! I was REALLY proud of us!
Here's a breakdown of my Disney World and Disney Cruise, total cost for a family of six: $17,390.57
- Passport fees for all four kids and for parents: $696.50
- Plane Tickets: $1,618.90
- 5 Night Hotel Stays with Meals (Deluxe Plan) and Photos: $5,303.58
- Park Tickets: $1,763.64
- Additional Park Tickets, Early Morning Magic Tickets: $1,029.50
- Car Rental: $303.60
- Stroller Rental: $121.30
- Pre-Purchased Costumes/Dress Up for the Trip: $250
- Autograph Books and Pillows: $100
- Cruise with 2 Verandah Cabins: $4,864.36
- Cruise - Additional Experiences: Adult Dinner at Palo, Alcohol, Swedish Massage, Bippity Boppity Boutique for Ansley and Aubrey, Pirates League for Conrad: $1,047.22
- Cruise Photo Package: $269.75
- Souvenir: $22.00
Summary of Things I Would Have Done Differently at Disney World and Disney Cruise Ship
With anything, there are always things that you regret not doing or doing. Here are some of the things that come to mind. However, I will say I loved how things turned out anyway! These things would have made things that much more awesome.
- Going back to Hollywood Studios after the kids' naps.
- Taken that initial photo at Castaway Cay after getting off the ship.
- Make use of the photo package both at Disney World and the Disney Cruise Ship.
- Not cancel the Chef Mickey reservation.
- Longer cruise, it was too short!
Overall, the family had a blast. Sure, my two youngest won't remember it. It just means we need to go back some day! We loved the cruise more than we thought we would, so we actually booked a placeholder (refundable) on board. Pretty awesome! If you can swing it, I would highly recommend doing both a Disney World trip with a Disney Cruise on the backend of it!
Let me know what questions you have! Check out my post where I share other Disney hacks as well, including how to skip lines at Disney World!
Family Cruise Vacation Inspiration
If you loved this trip report for Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, check out my other posts that you might love:
- Honest Review of Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas (Bahamas, Honduras, Perfect Day at Coco Cay, and Cozumel)
- Comparison of Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas versus Disney Dream Cruise for Families with Young Kids
- Disney Dream Connecting Staterooms and Cabins
- Symphony of the Seas Connecting Balcony Cabins
- Disney Land and Sea - Trip Report and Vacation Review
- Planning a Disney Land and Sea Vacation - What Month to Go
- Disney Expectations versus Reality
- Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas Cruise to Alaska with Kids