People always find it surprising that I’ve never been on a family vacation. We didn’t grow up very well-off financially and that meant I missed out on a lot of things that are just a given for most children, like going out to eat at restaurants occasionally or having cable TV.
It’s something I try not to dwell on and is just a part of what makes me me! But when I got to college I realized there’s something else I missed out on: Everyone in the world has been to Disney at least once.
This solidified my belief that going to Disney World is a rite of passage for American children, one that had thus far escaped me. From that point on, Disney World skyrocketed to the top of my list.
When starting to plan my trip, I knew I had to go with someone extremely patient because this was going to be the culmination of my entire childhood personified in amusement park form, meaning I was definitely going to get just as (if not more) excited as all the little kids there.
Lucky for me, I have the best, most patient, friend in the entire word!
Samantha (the best friend) knew how big of a deal going to Disney World was for me. And as a Disney-a-holic herself, she knew first hand just how much stuff there is to do at Disney World. I had some very important decisions to make and she was going to let me make most of them – so kind of her!
So what did she do? She made me a PowerPoint presentation with all the restaurant options, parks, rides, attractions, shows, transportation, etc.!
Based on her expertise, there were certain things that were non-negotiable for us (Tower of Terror, Space Mountain) and then there were rides that are also awesome and would be great to go on if we can swing it.
I have outlined her strong recommendations below:
The first and most important decision I had to make was where we would eat. Dining reservations open up 180 days in advance of your visit. The popular stuff books up right away so you have to make your reservations that day.
Being my first time, Samantha let me decide where we would eat for our 2 fancy sit down meals. I chose Be Our Guest for our best friend lunch because Belle is life, and I chose Les Chefs de France for our group lunch because France is where my soul lives.
Of course when we went to book, Be Our Guest was completely full. Sam checked online almost every day leading up to the trip and was finally able to find us a lunch reservation! We got extremely lucky though, as I have read horror stories about people not being able to get their kids a reservation to character lunches for the life of them. Yikes!
Ride reservations become available 30 days before your trip if you’re not staying at a Disney hotel, 60 if you are. The Disney Fast Pass is included with your ticket – I feel like most people don’t know this!
You’re allowed up to 3 reservations per day BUT they have to be within the same park. So if you make a reservation for Space Mountain which is in Magic Kingdom, you’re other 2 reservations have to also be in Magic Kingdom, so it does kind of dictate the outline of your day. You’re able to add more reservations the day of, however, also for free!
Looking at our plan 30 days out, we knew we wanted to go to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios on day 1 and Animal Kingdom and Epcot on Day 2, so we booked Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Tower of Terror for the first day and planned to play it by ear for our second day.
Dressing the part
If you thought I was too old to dress up in Disney themed attire just because I’m almost 30, you are dead wrong.
This would be my first time at Disney World and we planned to dress the part! On our first day, Samantha and I decided to wear classic Minnie and Mickey gear, focusing on the colors black, red, white, and yellow and featuring our very cool Mickey ears.
Day 2 was our princess themed day. I, would of course, be dressing as Cinderella, and Samantha would be going as Belle. I spent a lot of time on Pinterest looking for Cinderella inspired Disney outfits and landed on a baby blue circle skirt, white shirt, and black choker necklace. I also bought Cinderella Mickey ears but opted not to wear them, but I’ll link those as well!
The Top 5 Rides at Disney
It might have been my first time at Disney, but having been alive on planet earth for 27 years I already knew everything there is to know about all the rides.
I knew that Space Mountain is everyone’s favorite. And I knew Tower of Terror involves a big drop, but that little kids go on it so I can totally handle it. I also knew almost all the words to the Haunted Mansion song thanks to a Disney VHS I had when growing up (thanks mom!).
That being said, I came in with an open mind. I wasn’t going to let any popular opinions affect my impression of the rides, no sir. Without further adieu, here is my definitive list of the 5 best rides at Disney World:
5. SEVEN DWARFS MINE TRAIN
This ride was brand new so naturally it was the most popular ride in the park. The wait was never under 120 minutes, despite checking the Disney app religiously throughout the day. By the end of our second day we still hadn’t gone on it and were just about to throw in the towel when out of no where it started to rain.
11:00 pm rain showers at Disney World are like a God send because all the families bolt for the exit, freeing up the lines for the ultra-dedicated visitors like us. As hundreds of families raced towards the exit, we raced towards the Seven Dwarf Mine Train and were happy to find a wait time of less than 30 minutes when we got there!
Standing in line is pretty fun because they blast “Hi-Ho” over the speakers, which gets you all the more hyped to get your Snow White on. The ride itself is a mid-level coaster that goes pretty fast and is filled with small hills and drops. The Mine Train is well designed, with several surprise appearances from characters, and was a blast overall!
4. HAUNTED MANSION
I knew I’d love this ride because I adore all things haunted, but I ended up loving it more than most of the rides at Disney! As I mentioned before, I had a Disney sing-a-long VHS when I was little and the movie features the song they sing on the Haunted Mansion ride. It turns out the movie is very similar to the ride itself so I felt like I was transporting back to my childhood on this one!
You sit on an upright half-circle shaped cart (similar to a tilt-a-whirl) so that you can only see what is directly in front of you, and the ride rotates as you go through so you’re given different views of the mansion. It’s an actual house inside, so as you’re going through you can see across to other parts of the house. The ride is adorable and so much fun, even for adults!
3. TOWER OF TERROR
So there was a lot of hype for Tower of Terror. It’s in the top 3 for most people, so I had a feeling I’d be into it, but I had no idea what to expect. All I knew about the ride is that there’s a drop, and those kind of rides scare me the most. None of the people in our group would tell me what happens on the ride so I entered completely blind.
**Spoilers for Tower of Terror below**
The premise of Tower of Terror is a mix between a hotel and the Twilight Zone (only really old people like me will be familiar with this show). You enter through a pseudo hotel lobby and then end up in the basement of the building in front of a bank of elevators. Each elevator is a “cart” with several tiered rows for people to sit.
Most drop rides happen outside so you can see other riders go before you and you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Yeah… not the case with this one. Being elevator style means you get in and enter the unkown.
Needless to say, I was shaking in my boots when we walked up to our elevator. We all filed in to the back row, me in the middle of Samantha and Samantha’s mom (because I’m a baby and need the extra body padding) and I was PRETTY SHOCKED to find that there was merely a seat belt. No over-the-shoulder harness that locks you in like you see on every other drop ride in America. Nope, just a seat belt. They assured me this was normal and fine but to this day I am skeptical…
So once I’m strapped into my flimsy automobile seat belt, the elevator goes up and stops a few floors up. The elevator opens, and we’re in a part of the hotel that is very much like the Twilight Zone. There’s holograms of mad scientist looking people and scary lights and sounds happening all around, and then the elevator starts moving and we’re cruising through the building. I don’t remember all the exact details but eventually our cart ends up in a different elevator shaft, where we go up, the doors open, we drop quickly, then go up again, and the doors open up to the outside world where you can look out at all of Disney World, and then we drop again.
Each ride on the Tower of Terror is different so even if you’ve been on it a hundred times you never know which path your cart is going to take or when it’s going to drop, making it just as thrilling for all members of our group!
It was terrifying and fun, and definitely one of the best rides I’ve ever been on!
2. EXPEDITION EVEREST
Expedition Everest is fairly new to Disney and is the only ride we went on in Animal Kingdom. We went first thing in the morning the moment the park opened so we could race to the ride and skip the line, which was the smartest way to do it!
This ride takes theme to the next level. The line is set in Nepal and is heavily decorated with artwork, maps, authentic cultural artifacts, fans, furniture, you name it – they really outdid themselves on this one. Once you weave yourself through the line, you get on the coaster and start cruising through the mountains, the destination being an ascent to Mount Everest.
I don’t want to give away too much on this one because it’s much newer than the Tower of Terror, but there are several surprises on Expedition Everest that make it stand out from every other roller coaster out there. Samantha’s mom and I went on it three times in a row because we couldn’t get enough. 🙂
1. SPLASH MOUNTAIN
Splash Mountain is hands down the best ride at Disney World. I went on it 4 times: once on our first day, and then three times in a row on our second day, one of which where I was the only person on the ride, completely alone.
All I knew about this ride was that I was going to get wet, which I wasn’t too keen on. But it’s a classic Disney ride and is a non-negotiable for first timers, so I welcomed my soaking fate.
We get into our log and it starts cruising around the mountain, similar to most log flume rides out there, and we start climbing a hill (read: conveyor belt) that leads inside the mountain. I would have bet my life that we’d do a loop inside the mountain and then resurface for our dramatic drop and that would be the end of the ride.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. You get inside the mountain and in front of you is a scene from a cartoon. There’s dozens and dozens of animatronic animals and characters singing and dancing, moving side to side. The entire space is painted with bright colors of the sun and the sky and there’s animated plants and flowers, it’s like watching Dorothy walk through Oz for the first time.
You cruise through your first “scene” and then go down a small hill, where I’m thinking “okay this is the drop”, but nope – we entered another room with another different scene, of more singing bears and foxes and animals. There are a total of 4 different rooms with different scenes throughout the entire ride, and you’re in there for a long time. The entire ride lasts at least 6 minutes.
The ride ends with a goodbye from the cartoon friends and then an immediate plummet down the big drop where you get soaking wet. I was truly enamored with Splash Mountain and would have gone on it 10 more times if my friends would’ve let me!
Drinking Around The World
There are two main parts of Disney World: The Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
Although there are four main parks, those are the two staples that really define Disney. When I first learned about The World Showcase at Epcot I was dying to visit all the different countries and try all the foreign foods – that part was exciting enough for me.
But then Samantha told me about Drinking Around the World, which is where the real Epcot fun is.
The plan was to start at Mexico and then continue on counter-clock wise, hitting each country and getting a drink at each for a grand total of 11 drinks. Seems do-able, right?
Below is a breakdown of each stop and what we (or just Samantha) drank:
Mexico is inside a replica of Chichen Itza. Inside, there’s a street scene set in the nighttime (complete with dark sky and stars), and the plaza is filled with fountains and carts selling authentic Mexican goods. There is a small bar to the right, which is where we got our first drink: margaritas. There is also a restaurant inside the temple and a short boat ride!
Amanda Drink Count: 1
Next stop, Canada – my favorite place on earth (besides France). I thought it was a bit odd that of all the countries in the world they chose to feature Canada when it borders half of the US… but I digress.
The Canada pavilion is pretty small and features a replica of the Chateau de Frontenac, a quick-service cart with beers, and Le Cellier, a replica of the real Le Cellier steakhouse in Quebec, which also happens to be the most expensive restaurant in all of Disney. For this stop we each had a Moosehead draft, a classic Canadian beer.
Amanda Drink Count: 2
I was super excited for this pavilion because London was number one on my travel list for 2017 (spoiler alert, I went! Post coming soon!). This pavilion features a street scene straight out of London and has a store and beer cart on one side, and a proper English pub on the other.
Sam and I go straight for the beer cart and each get a draft beer, which we then chug because we also want to go into the pub. By now we’re feeling pretty good, possibly even a little tipsy. We go into the pub and both order a Black and Cider at the pub. Midway through the drinks it hits us: we are now drunk.
Amanda Drink Count: 4
France! My second home! Visiting this pavilion really pulled at the heart strings as it features a miniature Eiffel Tower, cobble stone streets, Parisian cafes, and classic French music playing over the speakers. This is where we were having lunch but we had some time to kill before our reservation so we each got a glass of wine and sipped it outside.
Next it’s time for lunch at Les Chefs de France. One thing about Epcot that is truly remarkable is that they only hire people native to the country they are working in, meaning every person working at the restaurant is a native of France. This was super exciting for me because it meant every in the restaurant spoke French, which is something I love to do when I’m half in the bag.
At lunch I had another glass of wine, and after we stopped in a wine store and each did a flight of champagne, equaling one glass total.
Amanda Drink Count: 7
I’m feeling a little spin-y after France, and I remember thinking I need to slow down on the walk over to Morocco. This pavilion is absolutely gorgeous, featuring a miniature bazaar, cobble stoned streets, detailed archways, and tons of jewel-toned tiling.
I knew I shouldn’t get a drink here, so when Sam suggests getting a Turkish coffee I happily agree. But when we are ordering and I see her order a shot of vanilla vodka in hers, my FOMO gets the best of me and I do the same. Foolish.
Amanda Drink Count: 8
I am wasted. I officially can’t hang. Getting a drink in Japan isn’t even an option for me at this point. Samantha orders some rice wine, and I sit on a bench trying not to throw up.
Amanda Drink Count: 8
Again, why of all the countries in the world did they choose to feature America? It makes no sense to me. But this pavilion did feature a ton of Boston things which was pretty cool. It’s nice to know that every person who visits Disney will get a taste of Boston when they check out the American pavilion!
I’m still too drunk to function so I sit this one out too (that’s 2 countries I’ve missed. Sad.) but Samantha is a trooper and has committed to Drinking Around the World so she orders a Blue Point Toasted Ale. I order a funnel cake.
Amanda Drink Count: 8
She’s back! Like a corpse rising from the dead, I am back and ready for a drink! I order a glass of Pinot Grigio and feel great for re-joining the fun.
Italy’s pavilion is stunning, featuring an authentic replica of the original campanile in St. Mark’s Square and Venetian bridges with gondolas. There’s several dining carts where you can get treats and wines, a pizzeria, and an authentic wine cellar styled restaurant that no one can afford.
I don’t remember exactly what I ate in Italy, but I know I ate pizza and I’m almost positive I ate a dessert item of sorts – perhaps a cannoli? Sounds like something I would do.
Amanda Drink Count: 9
Whatever sobering up I did by sitting out two countries was immediately erased after my glass of wine in Italy. I am too drunk again. It’s now starting to get dark out and Germany is absolutely stunning. Samantha orders a beer, I do not. But we split Mac and Cheese and it was to die for.
Amanda Drink Count: 9
China is beautiful, but it’s dark out so we can’t see the beautiful archway or details clearly. Here we each order a plum wine, and I feel okay enough to participate. After all, plum wine is delicious! Samantha orders us dumplings, which we inhale, and then I go in and get two more orders. Classic.
Amanda Drink Count: 10
Last stop! We’ve finally made it. Norway is where Elsa lives, which means there are approximately 700 little girls running around with blonde braid wigs on. I decide to sit this one out but Samantha has two drinks and I like to think one of them was for me. Norway was fairly uneventful but I bet I would feel differently if I went again during the day and not on the last stop of Drinking Around the World.
Amanda Drink Count: 10
It’s clear that I didn’t make it all the way through my Drinking Around the World experience, but I’m optimistic I’ll make it farther next time. (Try, try again is the saying, yeah?).
Overall going to Disney as an adult for the first time was a great success, and I was so glad I got to share such a meaningful trip with my best friend. If you’re thinking of going to Disney for the first time, share this with your best friend so you can start planning your trip!
Happy to answer any questions that may come up in your planning process in the comment section below!