I’ve done trip reports in other forums before, but I decided to write it here this time. This is part memory keeping for me and also to hopefully inspire others to get out and travel with their kids.
Me: I started going to Disney at age 4 and was hooked from day one. During college, I completed two extensive internships with Disney Entertainment and am currently a travel agent specializing in all Disney destinations. As a mom, bringing my family to Disney has taken my Disney love to a whole new level.
Favorite Park: Epcot Favorite Ride: Soarin
Favorite Character: Meg, Belle Favorite Restaurant: Ohana
Noah: My husband never visited Disney as a child. In fact, his first visit was the first time we brought our kids. Now, he’s all about joining the Disney Vacation Club and wants to incorporate Disney into the decor of our home.
Favorite Park: Epcot Favorite Ride: Rock n Rollercoaster
Favorite Character: Goofy Favorite Restaurant: Garden Grill
Madeline (4): A mini-me in training, this girl is all about everything Disney. She knows all the rides, all the restaurants, and all the resorts.
Favorite Park: Animal Kingdom Favorite Ride: Big Thunder Mountain
Favorite Character: Rapunzel Favorite Restaurant: Akershus
Catherine (3): Catherine is all about the characters. She loves engaging in real conversations with them.
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom Favorite Ride: Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Favorite Character: Belle Favorite Restaurant: 1900 Park Fair
Braiden (1): Braiden first road tripped to Disney at 8 weeks old and loves all the characters. Flirting with the princesses and admiring any Disney water feature are his favorite things to do at Disney.
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom Favorite Ride: Carousel
Favorite Character: All of the princesses Favorite Restaurant: Casey’s Corner
Thank you for following along!
June 6, 2017 (Travel Day #1)
Originally, we were planning on leaving pre-dawn on June 7, but my husband (school administrator) found out he would have a half day on June 6 so we decided to leave the afternoon on the 6th, drive 6 hours and stay overnight, and then drive the rest on the following day, still arriving on the 7th a little earlier than anticipated. [Leading up to this trip, all three kids were sick and then I got a sinus infection the day before. It usually takes me 10 days to recover from a sinus infection so I was pretty upset that I’d be sick the whole time.] The girls knew that sometime this summer they were going to Disney, but not when they were going. We arranged for them to go to their grandma’s house so we could pack for the trip without them know. When they came home from grandma’s, they were in for a big surprise.
Once they got home, we hit the road.
We were anticipating a 6 hour drive, with the kids being awake the entire time (other than a brief Braiden nap) so we knew that we’d need to stop at some point. We decided that we’d stop in Effingham, partially because of it’s location but also because I knew it had a Starbucks. When we got to Effingham around 6pm, the kids were still in good spirits so we decided to keep going until they got cranky. Just past Effingham, Catherine announced that she needed to use the restroom. Unfortunately, there aren’t many exits on this stretch of interstate. We finally found a gas station, used it, and then moved on. Down the road, we found a McDonalds and let everyone stretch their legs while we got some food to go. At this point, we started to have a serious discussion about our hotel for the night. Typically, I book hotels far in advance. I even had hotels booked for the way home, but not for tonight. There was so much uncertainty with when we were leaving and how far we would get that I didn’t want to commit to something in advance. I had looked online beforehand and had a few options for us, but when we checked on the road, everything was booked. I mean everything. Not wanting to travel past Paducah, our options were pretty much limited to Metropolis and Paducah. There was some sort of event in town that was filling up the hotels. Finally, we resorted to Motel 6 and they said they could get us two adjoining rooms. We arrived shortly after 9pm and the Motel 6 admitted that they didn’t have any adjoining rooms. We didn’t want to squeeze into one regular room because we were getting ready to spend 8 nights at Disney in a regular hotel room. I didn’t want to be alone in my own room that wasn’t adjoining so we drove around town looking for somewhere that could accommodate us. This brought us to the Thrifty Inn. We got 2 adjoining rooms for under $100 total. In all honesty, it wasn’t unbearable, especially knowing it was for less than 12 hours. The kids actually enjoyed the rooms, especially since there were two of them.
[photo on right courtesy of trip advisor]
June 7 (Travel Day #2)
Braiden and I woke up early and headed out to get gas and breakfast. Then, we got the girls up and were out of there before 7:30am.
Today would be a 12 hour drive, plus stops. The ride was pretty uneventful. We fed the kids breakfast in the car. Braiden took a nap. Nashville had some traffic, but nothing major. We stopped just before Chattanooga and everyone got to stretch their legs. We filled up with gas, but didn’t get any food because we had a million snacks in the van and had a stop planned for about 1.5 hours later.
We had some traffic in Chattanooga, but crossed into Georgia just fine. Atlanta is always a bear, but today was okay. On the south side of Atlanta, we had a special stop for the kids. Well, let’s face it, Noah and I were much more excited about this stop. Two years ago we saw a sign for the Dwarf House and it grabbed our attention. We didn’t stop because we were stuck in traffic and really wanted to make it to our hotel for the night. Last year, we traveled on a Sunday, and the Dwarf House is closed on Sundays so this year we knew we needed to stop. Our new departure time made it possible to hit Atlanta before rush hour so this was definitely going to be a stop for us.
Braiden was such a trooper!
The Dwarf House is the original Chik Fil A located in Hapeville, Georgia. More than a traditional Chik Fil A, there is a old-school cafe in the front, a regular Chik Fil A on the side, and then another sit down area in the back. We ordered a Hot Brown platter and Midnight Sandwich platter and were back on the road. We really liked this stop. It was fun visiting somewhere off the beaten path and the food was pretty good. While we were there, we got our text saying our room was ready. Initially, I was disappointed with our room number because I had requested a brand new refurbished room in a different area of the resort, but using my handy resort room finder, I discovered that our room was a ground floor corner room overlooking the lake and only three minutes from the lobby. I showed Noah a picture of the view from our room (thanks to my handy resource) and we agreed that this was a good fit for us even though it wasn’t refurbished. We hit the road with the hopes of stopping one more time in the six hours we had left to drive.
[our room information from Touring Plans]
We did okay driving from Atlanta to Valdosta. We knew that we needed to stop somewhere in between Atlanta and Disney and I wanted coffee so we settled in Valdosta. Although clear all day, the rain set in just before Valdosta. We got coffee and gas and continued on. Entering Florida, we opted out of a stop at the welcome center with the hopes of making it to our resort before 9pm. The rain picked up to the point that there were multiple accidents. One thing I know about Florida weather is that the rain usually doesn’t last long, so as the driver I knew to really maximize the moments when the rain stopped. It finally cleared up for good when we hit the Turnpike and before we knew it we were driving past Universal on I-4 and then driving through (actually around since there was construction) the Disney World gates.
We arrived at our resort and since we had done online check in, were able to go straight to our room just in time to view the Hollywood Studios fireworks from our room. I took the kids for a walk around the resort while Noah unloaded the van. It was moments like that that we really missed the amenities we had the past few years staying at deluxe resorts. While we walked around, the kids started getting really excited about all the Disney elements of the resort. If you look closely, you’ll see little Madeline on the bottom left. After checking out the resort, we grabbed Noah from unloading the van and showed him around.
Our resort this trip was Pop Century. I had stayed here in 2004 during my first college program which was right after it had opened. Pop Century is a value resort themed after the decades of the 20th century. Braiden loved the larger than life figures. Heading into the lobby, the kids loved the giant retro tv playing old school cartoons. Noah loved the complimentary old school video games. We made our way back to our room and got some rest.
June 8 (Resort Day)
Braiden woke up early, as expected, and I took him out for a walk around the resort. Catherine was 14 months for her first vacation so now that Braiden was almost 18 months, I had an idea of how it would go. The differences between C at 14 months and B at 18 months is that C could talk, but not walk. B can walk like crazy, but doesn’t talk with real words. B is also still nursing at morning, naps, and bed. After walking the resort, he played in the lobby kid area, then we set up our window decorations, and I left out our tip envelop for housekeeping.
Today was our ‘resort day’ so we didn’t have plans to go to any parks today. We wanted to relax and gear up for the rest of the trip. We spent the morning splashing in the Hippy Dippy Pool and then we dried off and headed to our sister resort, Art of Animation, to check it out over there. Art of Animation was originally meant to be part of Pop Century, but due to budget constraints, it was postponed and became its own resort themed after movies.
First up was the Cars section.
Then we moved into the Finding Nemo section. The highlight of the Finding Nemo section is the Big Blue Pool, but the kids found the play zone just as fun!
Next, was Lion King.
Finally was the Little Mermaid section.
When we were at the Little Mermaid, I actually ran into one of the dancers on my dance team. What a small world! It looked like it was going to start raining and was almost nap time for the girls (B had already fallen asleep in the stroller) so we headed back to the room and then Braiden and I headed out for our afternoon adventure, knowing we would meet up for dinner.
Splitting up, the girls stayed at the resort while Braiden and I headed to Target. After Target, we headed to Disney Springs and parked in the LIME GARAGE which was pretty close to the Marketplace. Braiden and I headed straight to Earl of Sandwich where we had the absolute best sandwich EVER, the Holiday Turkey Sandwich. I didn’t take any pictures because I was busy juggling an overtired Braiden, but this sandwich had turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and gravy. Everything melted together; it was simply amazing. Then we went to Goofy’s Candy Company for my must-do make your own rice crispy treat.
Afterwards, we walked to Saratoga Springs for a little break. If you’re not familiar with Saratoga Springs, you can either take a boat or walk from the Marketplace. It took us about five minutes to walk from the Marketplace to this park. I stayed at Saratoga Springs awhile ago when it was called the Disney Institute and I definitely think that reimaging Downtown Disney/Disney Springs has definitely increased the appeal of this resort.
After relaxing at the park at Saratoga Springs and enjoying our Rice Krispie treat, we made our may back toward Disney Springs.
Back at Disney Springs, we scoped out a few more shops but didn’t buy anything. We got back to the van and drove over to Fort Wilderness. We parked at the Outpost at the front of Fort Wilderness and since Noah had the double stroller, I just wore Braiden so I wouldn’t have to bring the single stroller too. We waited for a few minutes and a bus to the Settlement arrived. From the Settlement bus stop, we walked to the beach and waited for Noah and the girls to arrive. Check out A Beginner’s Guide to Fort Wilderness, Part One , A Beginner’s Guide to Disney’s Fort Wilderness, Part Two , and A Beginner’s Guide to Disney’s Fort Wilderness, Part Three for more information on all things Fort Wilderness. This was my first time driving and parking out front. Previously, I had either stayed here and parked at my cabin, arrived via boat from Magic Kingdom, or had a day pass to visit my parents and parked at their site.
Meanwhile, Noah and the girls woke from their naps, took a bus to the Magic Kingdom, and transferred to a Fort Wilderness boat. This was Noah’s first time going to Fort Wilderness or actually ever navigating Disney transport without me and he did fine with my directions.
Once we met up, we spent some time hanging out at the beach at Fort Wilderness. The kids ‘played’ tetherball with some of the campers and then we headed to dinner.
I was super excited about tonight’s dinner because it’s something that I’ve been meaning to do, but we never built in enough time outside the parks to really do it. We headed to Trails End and found a picnic table out front. Tonight’s dinner would be at the to-go area of Trails End. It’s from the same kitchen as the actual restaurant, but for $24 we got the Giddyap and Go [a massive amount of chicken, corn bread, and a double order of mac and cheese]. We also got our typical order of free ice waters for all. The food was amazing and not only were we full (for less than the cost of one person at the buffet), but we had plenty of left overs to bring back to our room. We ate just outside of Pioneer Hall, home of the Hoop Dee Do Musical Revue. The kids loved being able to actually hear parts of the dinner show from outside. That’s on our list for when they’re a little older. After dinner, we checked out the Settle Trading Post and then Cinderella’s ponies.
We continued on toward the Meadows area of the resort. Located in the middle of the resort, this is home to the campfire singalong with Chip and Dale (also has the pool, quick service, trading post, and other recreation). Braiden had fallen asleep in the stroller so we decided to walk instead of using the internal bus. It was about a 15 minute walk, definitely not too bad.
We checked out the Meadows Trading Post.
Then, relaxed while Braiden napped. Catherine pouted because she was scolded for hitting.
There are tons of recreation opportunities at Fort Wilderness!
We headed to the campfire area and we got there early enough that they got to run around and play with some other kids.
The Campfire Singalong with Chip n Dale is one of my personal favorite things outside the Disney parks. It’s a fun, free way to meet characters. First, a cowboy comes on a small stage and begins the show. Shortly after, Chip n Dale came out and did a short thing with the cowboy and then started mingling with the crowd. The last time I was here, they mingled together, but now they mingle separately. While they mingled, the cowboy lead the crowd in songs. We were only able to meet Chip before it was time for the movie to begin. If you want to meet both Chip and Dale, sit in the area closest to the movie screen (benches, not bleachers). The movie tonight was Little Mermaid, which all three kids love, but Braiden made the executive decision that we needed to head back to Pop Century when the singalong was over.
I am so happy we did the sing along! The kids loved it and next time we might bring some amores supplies (if they can handle it). Free activity + characters = a great night! We walked back to the front of the resort where the van was parked. I’m also glad we walked instead of taking the internal buses. The buses are great, but often people complain of the wait times. I’m glad to now know that the walk is totally doable, even with a 4 year old on foot. We headed back to Pop Century and wound down for the evening. Everyone was excited for our first Disney park day tomorrow!