Disney World 2024

In February we decided to take on our first ever family trip to Disney World! The timing was pretty perfect.. right before James was three (aka he was still free!) and Eli was a happy camper in the carrier or stroller all day long.

It was exhausting, a bit chaotic at times, memorable, and filled with a whole lotta joy.

Sharing a few highlights on where we stayed and favorite “must-dos” below so that I can look back and remember this special trip for many years to come!

James' getting noticed or his 1st visit to Disney World on Main Street during the daily parade fun!

Getting there:

We flew from ATL to Orlando and hopped on a charter bus to our hotel. After going back and forth on whether or not we should rent a car, book a private van transfer OR a more public transportation option, we chose to book our round-trip ride with Mears Connect. It was affordable (kids rode free), easy and convenient to find within the Orlando airport, no clunky toddler carseat necessary, and SO nice not having to worry about a car during our stay. (plus- any form of public transportation is basically a ride for our toddler so it’s like a bonus activity!)

Where We Stayed:

Thanks for our awesome Disney Expert / Travel Agent, @TravelwithMeghan , we ended up at the perfect hotel for our family.

We stayed at the Art of Animation in the Cars-themed family suite. Just like the name implies, every single detail on our section of the hotel was 100% decked out in Cars pixar everything. Life-sized “Cars” from the movie, a “cozy cone” pool right outside our hotel door and the room itself was a mix of Lightning McQueen and Mater. (Really embracing my toddler boy mom era!)

AOA is a massive property with various other Disney movie themes including Lion King, Finding Nemo, and the Little Mermaid. The Finding Nemo pool and splash pad is one of the largest amongst all the on-site Disney properties. Food was decent and bus transportation to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom were both included in the price and very convenient. We never had to wait for more than 10-15 minutes max before taking off from the hotel or coming back to the hotel from the parks.

One of the big benefits of staying at this property is the walkable access to the Skyliner. This would have come in especially handy had we been visiting Epcot or Hollywood Studios. Nonetheless, we took advantage of the free entertainment as we hopped on a daily “Gondola” ride to the ‘Boardwalk‘ and beyond.

TIP – if looking for a quieter, low-key outing, I highly recommend the checking out the Boardwalk. Easy for kiddos to run around, much less crowded than other tourist stops; good pizza by the slice and ice-cream to end the night.

Parks We Visited:

We decided to stick to just 2 parks during our stay. James is currently obsessed with Mickey & Friends (thank you Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) so really his day was made as soon as we met our first character. We’re also an animal family so Animal Kingdom was our 2nd must-see.

Our first day was a travel day so we kept it low-key, hung out at the hotel pool, splash pad and playground before 3 full days of go-go-go ahead.

Days 1 & 3: Magic Kingdom

You can’t go to Disney with a baby and a toddler and NOT visit Magic Kingdom obviously. It’s 100% built for this age and it did not disappoint.

Top Rides I’d recommend with a baby and toddler:

  • It’s a Small World (was a hit – James would have rode it 50x if he could)
  • Dumbo (another favorite of James and luckily the line goes very fast since it’s not one of the most popular rides once you get to kids > 4 or so)
  • People Mover ( yes .. this was a favorite with no line that James and I took right before fireworks. It’s not really a ‘ride’ per-se but it’s entertaining for a 2 year old and relaxing for an adult as well! *especially recommend about 30 min – 1 hour before fireworks as you can take in all the lights and excitement of the night life in Disney*)

** unless your 2-3 year old is an absolute dare-devil, maybe steer clear of the ” toddler roller coaster “aka the Barnstormer. James talked a big talk and wanted to ride it but right before going down the first big hill, his face turned cherry red as he announced to Daddy that he wanted OFF. Obviously it was too late for that but I’m pretty sure we traumatized him from roller coasters for a while…!)

Non-ride Favorites:

  • Festival of Fantasy Parade on Main Street: As mentioned above, James just LOVES Mickey & Friends so getting to see them every possible opportunity was a highlight
  • See Mickey at Town Square Theater
  • Fireworks: I was a little hesitant to keep James out solo given he typically is knocked out sleeping before 8:30PM and the firework show didn’t start until 8:00 but it was 100% worth it. He has talked about it for months after getting home. The music, laser show, and fireworks are just as entertaining for adults!
  • Meet the ‘Dashing Disney Pals’ at ‘Pete’s Silly Sideshow”: A great opportunity to meet Goofy, Donald, Daisy and Minnie. We went towards the end of the day and there was barely a line.
  • Eat at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe: Good mexican style food. Easy, fast, and (as are all Disney spots) VERY family friendly.

Day 2: Animal Kingdom

We broke up our 2 days in Magic Kingdom by going to Animal Kingdom in between. Like I said earlier, our family loves animals so this was just as enjoyable for Mike and I!

Our Park Highlights:

  • Character Lunch at the Tusker House: 1000000% recommend doing one character dining experience if you have a toddler who is in love with the characters as ours is. It was unforgettable albeit, an expensive experience. Worth every second watching the awe in James’ eyes when each character stopped by individually to visit our table followed by a safari style dance around the restaurant. **Note- you can make reservations 60 days ahead of your visit and they go fast! Lucky for us our Travel agent secured them for us as well as at Chef Mickey’s and Topolino’s but for budget reasons, we chose to only do one.**
  • Festival of the Lion King: A 40 minute show that is entertaining for both kids and adults. Located in the ‘Africa’ section in AK.
  • The Boneyard: A great spot to sit back and let your toddler run around, get their excess energy out and not stand in any lines for a minute. It’s an open air space with slides and a ‘dino dig’ for little ones to enjoy.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris: a guided and very ‘ realistic’ safari experience through the African savanna. Fun for the whole family and would highly recommend making this your first, early morning stop both to skip the long lines and the heat.

While this trip was absolutely exhausting on many accounts (what isn’t when traveling with 2 under 3 years old?!), it was also magical. The joy and excitement on James’ face during countless moments throughout our days made it all worth it. He was literally jumping for joy when he saw Mickey, Donald, Goofy and friends; was in awe watching his first ever firework show, and asked to ride Dumbo 50X over. If I could go back in time, I’d do it all again with maybe a small tweak in terms of putting more time into understanding the Genie+ and Lightning Passes before traveling (b/c WOW that is way more complicated than the good ole’ Fast Pass that was around when I was a kid).

It might be a few more years before we decide to venture back into the fun chaos that is a Disney World trip with little ones but we’ll definitely be back 😉

Character lunch in Animal Kingdom complete with big hugs for Mickey Mouse and friends!
Hanging out at the Finding Nemo splash pad at one of the largest pools in all the Disney World property hotels!

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