Disney is AWESOME, Take Three

Here are some questions I’m getting about our Disney trip, and some thoughts on each. I think I’m done talking about Disney now! Tomorrow: a return to pie. But for now, the all-Disney, all the time, continues!

How young is too young? a.k.a., did Little Miss Sunshine have a good time?

The Little Miss is 2 1/2 years old, and although she did have a really good time, it was a little overwhelming for her. A lot of the shows and rides and fireworks were too loud for her, and she spent at least half the time with her hands over her ears. Also, the days were long for her, and it was important for us to set aside time every afternoon for her to rest. In general, our days went like this: either we’d get to the park right at opening, head home around 1 p.m. for a nap, then return for a couple of hours after an early dinner; or we’d get to the park at opening, push the Little Miss through to 3 p.m. or so (when a lot of the parades are), then call it a day and come home for a quick swim, dinner, and bed.

There were some things she really really loved — in particular it was so awesome to go through It’s A Small World with her, and she was very excited about all the parades. She adored the animals at Animal Kingdom and liked the interactive Kids’ Club activities there. She did NOT like meeting the characters, except for Minnie Mouse — she has a Minnie doll so she knew who Minnie was a litter better than the rest and cared a little more. We also got a little one-on-one time with Belle after Storytime With Belle (an interactive play/presentation at the Magic Kingdom) and she was quite happy to chat with Belle under those very laid back circumstances.

Also, she was a good traveller in that the planes, trains, and buses totally did not freak her out at all, but she required a LOT of entertaining and managing during transport, and that was awfully tiring for us.

In general, it was a lot for her to take in and I do think the older kids got a lot more out of the experience — not to mention the fact that she probably won’t remember anything at all. Actually, the one thing that we’re pretty sure she is going to remember is that Gal Smiley dropped her shoe off the balcony of our hotel room on the first morning. We couldn’t retrieve it ourselves because our rooms were at the Animal Kingdom overlooking the savanna, and people aren’t allowed down there, and the shoe was there for two days before we got it back. About 20 times a day for those first two days, the Little Miss would suddenly exclaim, “Oh no! The animals are eating Gal Smiley’s shoe! WE MUST SAVE IT!” and it was SO CUTE. Even after we had the shoe back, the Little Miss would run to it on occasion to point it out and say that it was safe now, safe from animals eating it.

Hee hee.

Disney tip: Make sure your kids have two pairs of shoes with them, if staying at Animal Kingdom.

Anyway, we plan to wait until she is 5 1/2 — three years from now — before we go back. We might wait even longer if she’s still too short to ride the 44-inch-height-restriction rides, since they’re a lot of fun and really open up the park to fun for the whole family.

How was your hotel?

We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge — Kidani Village. This can be confusing if you are looking in guide books and online, because the Animal Kingdom Lodge used to be only one building. Then they built a second building, and renamed the original building to “Animal Kingdom Lodge — Jambo House” while the new one is Kidani. Still, a lot of guides and sites refer to only the “Animal Kingdom Lodge,” in which case, they mean Jambo House.

Kidani Village is all suites — bedrooms with a sitting/dining room and, for the 1 and 2 bedroom units, a full kitchen. I’ve already talked about the huge benefits of having a full kitchen in my food post. Other benefits of having the suite, though, were in-room laundry (I did laundry at least three times, and we could have easily brought half the clothes with us we did), multiple bathrooms (ours was a 2-bedroom, and it has THREE BATHROOMS, so crazy), and multiple TVs. If you have young kids and will be spending a significant amount of time in your rooms, it’s so worth it to splurge on the suite.

Kidani in particular has half of its rooms overlooking the savanna, where animals can wander up to within 10 feet or so of your balcony. We were constantly amazed at the beauty of seeing these animals just grazing or playing or napping. They are mostly active in the late afternoon, which is exactly when we arrived, and so just watching the animals from our balcony kept the kids busy and dazzled while we settled in, unpacked, and made dinner. I’m not sure I’d pay extra for the view again, but seeing as how we spent a LOT of time on our balcony looking at animals, I think it was worth it for this first time to Disney.

In case you are packing for Disney right now and wondering about what you’ll find in a Kidani suite, their kitchens have all the basics you’ll need to cook (pots, pans, cookie sheets, measuring cups, one sharp knife, cheese grater, can opener) and they’ll also give you dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry soap, and a sponge and paper towels for cleaning up. We brought our own tupperware containers (bring at least 5 or 6), ziploc bags (bring at least 20, and wash and reuse them every day), and an extra sharp knife (which we were happy to have). Just about the only thing I wish we had brought was a pair of scissors, for opening packages and snipping off tags and such.

Oh, and one more complaint, in case anyone at Disney is listening: the suite was too dark. I like a lot of light in my kitchen and bathrooms. Pump up the wattage level, please!

What was the weather like?

In January, Florida does get cool. We were wearing pants pretty much every day, although one day was warm enough for shorts and t-shirts. Usually it was pants, t-shirt, and fleece or sweatshirt for the morning hours only. One day it rained so we wore our rain jackets over our sweatshirts; at least three of the days, we used our toques and gloves in the morning and evening hours.

The cool weather did not keep us out of the pool though — if you can stomach the walk over, the water is heated to 80 degrees and is lovely.

How much money did you spend/need?

We hooked our park pass cards up to our credit card, so we could charge just about anything we bought in the park — food or souvenirs. We only needed cash for buying food at the airport on the way home, and for tipping.

OMG, the tipping. Okay, we are totally not seasoned travellers and probably this is old news to most of the world, but did you know that travelling involves a lot of tipping? Even at Disney? So bring something other than $20 American bills if you don’t want to feel like an idiot in front of your Magical Express bus driver, your bellhop, your maid, and the guy who delivered your FedEx packages to your room. DOH.

And don’t ask me how much to tip these people, There’s nothing that can make me feel less like an adult than trying to figure out the world of tipping. Where the heck is James Bond when you need him? I bet he never has issues like this.

So, to sum up: other than the cash we gave the grocery delivery lady for our food, we probably only needed around $50 US cash to tide us through the week.

What were your favourite rides/shows?

The Captain surprised us with his love of the big thrill rides. He’s just barely — BARELY — 44 inches, which qualifies him for most of the roller coasters, but since Gal Smiley wasn’t tall enough to go on them and since the Captain hadn’t really been on anything like that before, we thought we’d be skipping them. But NO. It turns out that six-year-old boys LOVE the roller coasters. His favourites were Expedition Everest, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain, and he also love love loved Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin and the Toy Story Mania and Star Wars rides at Hollywood.

Speaking of Toy Story Mania, that was the only ride the whole week long where we actually saw a real line up. We arrived at the park at 8:30 a.m. – it was early opening day there – and already the line was 40 minutes and they were handing out fastpasses for more than two hours later (seriously, unheard of). By the time we came back around 10:45 a.m. to use our fastpasses, they were fastpassing for 4 p.m. in the afternoon. So go there first!

Gal Smiley is five and just barely — BARELY — 40 inches, which means the only big ride she could go on was Big Thunder Mountain. She went, though — twice — and she liked it. She’s still young enough to prefer the kiddie stuff, though, and her absolute most favourite ride was It’s A Small World. She also loved Goofy’s Barnstormer (a very small roller coaster for preschoolers), Cinderella’s Carousel, and the Tea Cup Spin, and she adored seeing the animals at Animal Kingdom. Gal Smiley was also the most interested of our kids in meeting the characters and was very excited to gather their autographs.

Disney Tip: buy a little hardcover notebook at the dollar store for your kid to get autographs in before you go — otherwise you might be spending $11 on an “autograph book” when you get there. And bring a big marker — the character’s hands are too big and bulky to handle a mini marker or a pen.

The Little Miss I talked about above, but she liked the parades and the ice cream a whole lot, loved Storytime with Belle (at the Magic Kingdom — a nice quiet audience-participation show), and really loved the peace and quiet of the animal walks at Animal Kingdom.

Sir Monkeypants and I loved a lot of the shows. In particular I ADORED Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood, Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom, and Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom. Sir Monkeypants’ favourite was the 3-D Mickey’s Philharmagic at the Magic Kingdom, and we both liked Storytime With Belle at the Magic Kingdom, both because the Captain got called up on stage to participate, and because the girls got a nice quiet meet-and-greet with Belle afterwards (we were last in a very small line, so we got a few extra minutes alone with her).

We also made a point of going late to the Magic Kingdom one night to see the fireworks, and they were amazing and beautiful (but the Little Miss had to watch with her hands over her ears.

Two rides that did not impress us: Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan at the Magic Kingdom. The lines for both are super long, and the ride is only one minute long. We used fastpass for these and even then, they were only meh. Do not wait a long time for these — I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for little kids to wait a half hour for a ride only to have it last one minute and then be told to get off. Fastpass if you can, or skip them altogether.

Disney is AWESOME, Take Two

So, the Captain has food allergies. Plus, eating fast food for a week is not our idea of a good time. So we were not interested in the Disney meal plan.

Although, let me interrupt myself here to say that Disney does try very hard to accomodate different diets. If you do have allergies or sensitivities or issues with gluten, you can just call their allergy line for help. They’ll send you a list of the different foods they carry for special diets, and where to buy them. In general, you can buy allergy-safe products at one place in each park — so it’s a little inconvenient in that you have to get to that one place in the park, and also, you probably only have one or two choices at most for every single meal, but still, it’s nice to know that if you are out in the park and need food, there will be something, at least, to eat.


First of all, we got ourselves a suite at Disney — a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen. Ours was at Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom, and I think this whole idea of having a kitchen to cook in is becoming more popular, because Disney has a bunch of new towers and “villas” and such where you can get your own full kitchen. It’s expensive — we would only be able to afford a suite like this in the off season, and only if they have a good sale on, which they did.


First, let’s talk cost. I have no idea what the Disney meal plans cost, but our family of five ate for around $300 – total – for the whole week. Actually, I didn’t think of that before, but maybe it helps justify the extra cost of the suite given the savings in food. Hm.

Second, let’s talk about where it came from. One of the big benefits to us of staying on the Disney site was that we did not have to rent a car, and we didn’t have to take three car seats with us on the plane. Our original plan was to take a taxi from the hotel, once we got there, to a grocery store in nearby Lake Buena Vista to shop, but we heard that the resort was actually quite a ways out. Even from the Animal Kingdom, which is the closest to civilization, it’d be a 20 minute plus cab ride — out and then back again — and that would be pretty pricey, not to mention annoying and inconvenient.

So we decided to have our groceries delivered, and it worked out great!

We used NetGrocer,com for all of our non-perishables. (Disclosure: NetGrocer is giving me BUBKIS to mention them.) NetGrocer has a huge inventory of products and we were able to find the critical items — Sunbutter and Rice Dream rice milk — right there on the site. We ordered stuff like cereal, crackers, raisins, pretzels, bread, and bagels from them — basically everything we could, because we liked being able to pick out exactly what we wanted by brand name and size.

We placed the order about a month ahead of time and I emailed them directly to let them know that we were coming from Canada and needed the food to be delivered to the park on a specific date. Also, I should mention that NetGrocer will not accept Canadian credit cards on their website, but you can pay with PayPal, which is what we did.

I also called our Disney resort directly (not the main line, but the hotel’s specific line) to tell them to expect the delivery, and they said they’d have no problem accepting it and holding it for us until we arrived. Disney = awesome.

NetGrocer filled the order about a week before our arrival date. They emailed me with a couple of things that they were out of, suggesting substitutions, which were quite acceptable. Then they sent the groceries (three boxes’ worth) by FedEx to Disney and they actually arrived several days before we did. Yay! Total NetGrocer stuff was about $130 in groceries, $30 delivery fee, $160 total.

I also made an online order from Divvies.com. (Disclosure: Divvies is giving me NADA to mention them.) Divvies is a company that makes sweets — cupcakes, cookies, and candy — that is all egg-free, milk-free, and nut-free. Don’t you want some, NOW? Unfortunately, Divvies does not deliver to Canada and does not sell anywhere in Canada. But if you are going to DisneyWorld, they DO deliver there. OH YEAH, BABY.

So we made an order there of treats for the Captain — some to eat the week we were there, but most just to bring home to freeze for him to have on special occasions. I emailed them after placing my order to let them know it was for Disney and it should be delivered on such-and-such a date, and they were totally cool with that. And again, our order arrived for us at the hotel a few days before we did. Yay! I forget how much the Divvies stuff was, but most of it came home with us, so say we spent $10 or so for the cookies that the Captain actually ate during the week there.

Oh, and I should mention that you’ll need the address of your hotel to fill out these orders, but you can get it from the Disney site.

Lastly, we still needed milk, produce, and meats for the week. We got these from WeGoShop.com. (Disclosure: WeGoShop is giving me ZIP for mentioning them.) WeGoShop is really just an umbrella organization for a bunch of local franchisees. In the Orlando/Disney area, the franchisee is Marge Peck, and when you place your order on their site, it goes to her (also, she asks that you call her after placing your order to confirm your delivery time — her number is there on the order page).

Marge is a total doll, and I love her. She is a woman who cares, let me tell you. We asked for delivery at 7:30 on the evening we arrived — we hoped to be at the hotel by 5, but just in case of bad weather/delayed flights/whatever, we decided to build in a bit of a cushion. But we actually got to the hotel around 4:30, and while we were waiting for Marge, she called us like, four times to ask us questions. Which brand would be best? Would it be okay if she swapped x for y? Did we mean cheese block or cheese slices? You could tell that she wanted us to have exactly what we asked for, and she totally shopped for us as if buying her own groceries. She was just so awesome! Total cost of our fresh groceries was around $83, plus $22 delivery charge, plus a tip (tip of 10-15% is expected). We ended up giving her $120 in cash (we weren’t sure if she would take a Canadian credit card, so I just estimated the cost of our order using Canadian equivalents — I was within $5 — and brought enough cash).

Sooooo much could have gone wrong with this plan, but it all worked out pretty well. The only glitch was with the NetGrocer order, but it was not their fault — the problem was FedEx. FedEx delivered the order to the wrong address — instead of sending it to Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, they dropped it at Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House, which is the hotel next door. We had a very stressful hour after arrival when we were there, but our groceries were not there, until a very nice man named Earl (LOVE YOU, EARL) found them over at Jambo and had them brought directly to our room. I should add that I prepared extensively for this possibility by having a list in my carry all of all relevant information — phone numbers for NetGrocer and FedEx, confirmation and tracking numbers for both, and Marge’s contact info should I have to call her and add more to our order before she came out to deliver to us. It was a phone call to FedEx that revealed that the boxes were actually delivered to the wrong address. But in the end we got our boxes and it was all good.

And on top of all this, we also brought about a half-suitcase worth of food — three dozen muffins I had made at home and some bread that was safe for the Captain; the pre-mixed dry half of things like pancakes and biscuits, to be used for some of our dinners; small amounts of things like sugar, tea bags, and rice vinegar that I’d need for cooking that I didn’t want to order a great big package of.

And voila! We had groceries for the entire week, and never had to leave the resort.

Every morning we’d have breakfast in our suite, and then we’d pack lunch (sandwiches or cheese and bagels) and snacks for the park. We quickly learned to pack a LOT of food for the park — we’d leave the hotel by 8 a.m,, the kids would want a snack by 9:30, lunch by 11 at the latest, and then another snack around 1. We’d pack lots of fruit and veggies because it’s so easy to get dehydrated from all the walking in the sun, the kids ate way more produce than usual (awesomesauce!). We also brought juice boxes for the kids every day (thanks, NetGrocer!) and Sir Monkeypants and I drank water from the refillable bottles we carried around with us. We’d usually be back at the hotel around 2 p.m. so the Little Miss could rest or nap; some days we’d swim then make dinner and have an early bedtime, and other days we’d eat “dinner” at 4 p.m. then go back to the park for two or three hours (bringing along more snacks and water) until 7 or so.

I think that families with older kids would not find that this plan works for them as well. They’d probably be able to go for longer at the park — I know that when Sir Monkeypants’ sister takes her kids, they usually head over to the park around 11 a.m. and then stay right through until close. So I’m not sure that making dinner at your suite every night makes sense for families on that schedule, but it sure did work for us. We were so happy to be able to feed the Captain his usual food, and Sir Monkeypants and I really appreciated both the savings and not having to eat the same fried foods every day for the duration of our stay. It didn’t really take much time out of our day to go back to the suite and eat, then return — we were going to do it anyway, so the kids could have a break. I really can’t recommend this solution enough.

I also wanted to mention that we did eat out for dinner one night. We wanted to try it, to see how it would go if we came back to Disney and didn’t get a suite. We chose the Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom, because it was close and because it had a lot of kid-friendly items on the menu. They were great there — the chef himself came out to talk to us and ended up making a special dish just for the Captain that wasn’t on the menu. But despite the great service, it was not a great experience and we wouldn’t go back. It’s very loud in there, with the animals and the water and the storms and whatnot, and the Little Miss spent the whole time whining and whining and covering her ears. Meanwhile, Gal Smiley and the Captain declared their food to be gross, and in the end all three of them basically had french fries for dinner. Sir Monkeypants and I took turns gobbling down our food while trying to comfort the Little Miss and cajole the bigger two into eating something meaningful, and in the end, we paid close to $100 for what was a very stressful experience full of very hard work.

When we go back again, we’ll definitely be eating all our meals in our suite. At the most, I think we’d maybe try to get pizza from room service (there’s one hotel with an in-house pizzaria — I think it is Fort Wilderness?) or maybe try eating at the fast food/take out style restaurants in our hotel. Having a special dinner off site just is not worth it to us.

So the fact that all our food arrived on schedule, and we ate well, and (amazingly!!!) we had almost exactly the right amount of food to eat it all up by the last day, made Disney all the more awesome. Awesome!

What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

So! We have booked a trip to DisneyWorld.

And it almost killed us.

Here’s a tip to those of you who are considering Disney this year: it’s impossible to fly there. Seriously.

We actually made an accommodation reservation at Disney way back in mid-October. Then we started watching for flights and seat sales. Every few days we’d check all the major airlines for options. We’d check Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. Eventually, we started checking Syracuse and Rochester in New York, and even Buffalo, which would have involved a two-day driving drip on each end.

And there was nothing. I KNOW.

We were only ever offered absolutely ridiculous options. Nothing was ever non-stop; there was always at least one stopover, and often this meant a total travelling time of 7 or 8 hours. We saw departure times of 5 am or 11 pm. We were actually considering options that had us getting up at 3 am, driving for five hours, then taking a six hour flight with two stops.

And all of these options STILL cost a fortune – way more than our budget. It was very depressing. We devoted many nights to searching the web, only to go to bed heartbroken. We began to wonder if we would ever find anything, and it was making us both cranky and snippy.

Last night Sir Monkeypants decided to power through at the computer and find something, ANYTHING, that would make it work. We happened to see a commercial for a seat sale on WestJet while watching TV last night, so we started there.

And we found out that if we shifted our trip by a few days — going a week or so earlier — we could get cheaper flights.

And if we were willing to go from a Wednesday to a Wednesday, instead of a Saturday to a Saturday as booked with Disney, we could get a pretty good price with excellent flight times. Middle of the day, daylight hours flight times.

From Ottawa. DIRECT.

Within budget!

So the only problem was that our Disney reservation did not match the WonderFlights, and the Disney website did not show us any possible accomodations for the new week.

This is when I began to freak out a little. I don’t deal well with change. When Sir Monkeypants starts monkeying around with our plans, I get this pathetic look on my face that says, “You are right now ripping out my still-beating heart, covering it with maple syrup, and devouring it before my eyes.”

Usually this look is a bit of a hot-button for Sir Monkeypants. But he carried on like a trooper, ignoring my sad little whimpers…now we won’t be able to stay at Disney and I don’t know where we will go and we’ll probably have to sleep on the streets and I am so sad right now I want to die. He kept checking and checking the Disney site for other hotels and places to stay while I gave him The Look over his shoulder for a couple of hours.

Then eventually we decided to just call Disney and tell them what was going on and ask if they could do anything for us.

And you know what? THEY COULD.

They shifted our reservation to the new dates with no problem.

Then I wept with joy.

Then we booked flights, and Sir Monkeypants wept with joy.

Then we both fell into bed, exhausted, but at last, with a plan in hand.