Florida Part One: Epcot

Adam's maternal grandmother passed away recently, so we changed our flights to Houston for Thanksgiving to go to her memorial instead. It was in Florida on the second Saturday of December. I think Seattle to Orlando is pretty much the farthest you can fly within the continental United States. Add in three children under five and the prospect of a quick fly-in-on-Friday-fly-out-Sunday weekend trip sounded pretty unappealing. We knew we needed to extend our trip by a few days to make it worthwhile, but we thought it would be too cold to just hang out at the beach. So Disney World was the logical choice! We'd already been talking about going to Disney Land during Claire's kindergarten year - we were thinking next winter right before Betsy turned two.


We spent two days at the park - one at Epcot and one at the Magic Kingdom. We wanted to go to Epcot because it seemed the most different from anything you'd find at Disney Land. (We hope to go to a Disney park again in the future, but it'll probably the one on the west coast.) We also wanted to do a princess character breakfast/lunch and the Akershus Banquet Hall in Epcot has much more availability than Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom.

To prepare for our trip, I read "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids 2016." We stayed at the guide's highest rated off-site hotel, Staybridge Suites Lake Buena Vista, a mile away from the park. We got a two-bedroom suite for $120/night. It came with a great complimentary breakfast and our suite even had a giant closet off the master bedroom that was perfect for Betsy's pack-n-play.

A big perk of traveling in the off-season was the huge discount on rental cars. We rented a minivan for six days and paid $250 - compared to the $800 we paid for the same amount of time when we went to Ottawa this summer. And that was with the 25% discount thanks to the exchange rate! A minivan meant we could bring our double stroller on the trip (we can't fit luggage and a double stroller into a regular sedan) which was soooooo nice. The strollers you can rent from Disney aren't that great and we didn't want to deal with a third-party stroller rental company for just two days.


We got to the Epcot front gate at 8:45 and the park opened a couple minutes later, ahead of their posted 9:00 opening time. We immediately booked it to Norway for the Frozen Ever After ride. The rest of the World Showcase doesn't open until 11:00, but Norway, as the home to all things Frozen, gets cranking right away. We couldn't get a Fast Pass for the this ride (it actually looked like they just weren't offering Fast Pass for it at all because we never saw anyone get in the Fast Pass line) but thankfully first thing in the morning we waited under thirty minutes. Frozen Ever After just opened this past summer - it was awesome to kick off our Disney experience with a brand new ride! The animatronics were amazing, especially Olaf, Sven, and the trolls. You really felt like you had stepped into the movie.


Next was meeting Elsa and Anna in their Royal Sommerhus, which thankfully also had an under thirty minute wait.



I bought the girls autograph books from the Disney Store ahead of time. They have a spot for 4x6 pictures next to each signature page, so we added those when we got home and now they're a perfect souvenir. We also bought Magic Bands at the Disney Store, which served as a our entrance ticket. Our Fast Pass and dining reservations were also linked to the bands. The Photo Pass photographers scan your Magic Band after taking your picture and then the photos automatically load onto your My Disney Experience profile. We purchased all the images for $60 a day. Oh, and I thought they'd love having special outfits to wear at the park, but I found those on super sale at Macy's.


We had just enough time for a potty break and a quick browsing in the gift shop before our 11:00 breakfast reservation at Akershus Banquet Hall. You can actually make dining reservations 180 days in advance, but I was able to find this one by just checking the website several times a day. We were really happy with our time slot because it served as lunch for us but we paid the significantly cheaper breakfast prices.


We met Belle as soon as we walked into the restaurant and then were shown to our table. The food was really good - they brought bacon and a cheesy potato breakfast casserole to the table. There was also a buffet with pastries, cheese, and fruit. Of course, Claire and Maggie were way too excited to eat much.





We met all the princesses we were hoping to - Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, and Ariel - all the ones that you can expect to see there the majority of the time, but that they don't guarantee. It was so worth it to us to meet them all in one swoop rather than waiting in many lines!


After lunch, we circled back to the Mexico pavilion and walked right onto the Gran Fiesta Tour ride.


We walked past Norway again and onto China, where we met Mulan.


We strolled through Germany and Italy.




We had planned to watch the Voices of Liberty and the American Adventure show, but Maggie and Betsy fell asleep in the stroller just was were approaching the theater. We were told we couldn't bring strollers inside and we weren't moving as quickly as we'd thought we would when we were planning our day (surprise, surprise) so we decided to keep walking.


We passed through Japan, Morocco, France, Great Britain, and Canada.








At some point along the way, Maggie woke up and the big girls decided on their souvenir for the day - a lanyard and four pins to start their own pin collections. They had a fun trading with Disney employees for the rest of the trip and will hopefully enjoy adding to their collections on a future visit.



We crossed back into Future World and rode Journey into Imagination with Figment. Right next to the ride was the Visa Character Spot. For no charge, I switched my regular Chase debit card to a Disney one, which got us into this character meet-and-greet.

We did Living with the Land next, which was honestly super boring. I fell asleep! It's basically a tour of the Epcot gardens. We wish we had skipped that one in favor of spending some time looking at the aquarium exhibits in the Finding Nemo area.


We did Turtle Talk with Crush and the Nemo ride, but our kids were losing steam so we opted out of the aquarium. We took a popsicle break, regrouped and did one last ride, Spaceship Earth, which is inside the iconic Epcot sphere.


We left the park at 5:30. Our hotel had actually had complimentary dinner Monday through Wednesday, so we went back for free hot dogs, chips, and salad. Such a great perk after a long day! At Epcot, our fast passes were for Journey into Imagination, Turtle Talk, and Spaceship Earth. We didn't actually need any of them because the rides had no line. We decided ahead of time that since we only had two days here, we weren't going to split up for any rides. That meant we skipped Soarin' even though Claire was tall enough to go on it. Our favorite rides of the day were Frozen Ever After, followed by Spaceship Earth. Stay tuned for the Magic Kingdom!

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