family / personal / travel

Alohomora! Unlocking a Magical Family Trip to Universal Studios Orlando (and Magic Kingdom!) Part 1

Phew, that’s a seriously long title!

Here in snowy Syracuse, wintertime is normally a long, drawn-out, depressing, snowbound, gloomy 4 month event (although I’m writing this on a sunny, 60 degree day in February, so… yay global warming?). And because the winter sucks so much, it’s usually when I tend to dream about getting away into sunshine and warmer weather (which I would have liked to do this year but the whole newborn thing kind of vetoed those plans!). But since I was dreaming about vacationing, it reminded me of our awesome trip to Orlando last year, so I decided I would write up a trip report!


so ready for a sunny getaway!

In January of 2016, we made our getaway to Orlando FL, land of the kiddie (and adult!) wonderlands of Universal Studios and Walt Disney World. Now, this wasn’t the first time my husband and I had been to either one; however it was the first time we would be bringing our baby Melanie! Well, not so much a baby anymore – Melanie was 1 year and 2 months at that point, an active little toddler already! Even so, many people thought it was foolish for us to bring her since she wouldn’t remember anything. True, but part of the fun of the trip was seeing her reactions to everything – it was so sweet! I will treasure those memories and pictures forever.

We flew into Orlando from Syracuse (this time we opted for a direct flight, so much better if you can swing it!) and after getting our rental car, checked into our hotel – the Floridays Resort Orlando. It’s a huge complex with awesome 2 to 3 bedroom suites, lots of space for 3 adults (me, my husband, and my mother-in-law) and Melanie to spread out in. The hotel provided both a crib and a pack-n-play for us to use, and the stroller I had rented from Orlando Stroller Rentals was delivered to the hotel, so as soon as we got to Floridays we were all ready to go!

On our first night we took it slow, having dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant (where Melanie discovered her love of lemons!) and then settling in for the night. Because God help us, we had a very ambitious schedule to follow the next day that involved waking up at 5 AM and we needed to be well rested!

The next day we woke up super early and got prepared for our first full day in Orlando. Our plan was to head to Magic Kingdom! First, I wanted to check out the Polynesian, a deluxe Disney resort, and have breakfast there. The reason we did this was because you can’t park directly at Magic Kingdom – you have to park at the Ticket and Transportation Center and then either take the monorail or a ferry to Magic Kingdom. I figured that if we parked early at the TTC, we would snag a nice upfront parking spot, have time to eat breakfast at the Poly, and then easily take the monorail to Magic Kingdom to make it for rope drop (the Polynesian is one of a few resorts on the monorail loop). And lo and behold the plan worked, for the most part!

The only part that wasn’t exactly to my liking was that we didn’t get to the park early enough to see the welcome show and rope drop – we must have just missed it because people were just starting to file into the park. But we  managed to get in, take a few pictures with the castle (damn that crane in the distance!) and get in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Magic Kingdom was the perfect park for Melanie, with plenty of toddler-friendly rides for her. We rode Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, the Mad Tea Party, Prince Charming Carousel… I was actually surprised by how many of the rides she was able to do, despite only being 1 year old.

orlando-78We had a walk-in lunch at Be Our Guest restaurant, inside the Beauty and the Beast themed castle. It has a beautiful ballroom as the main dining room, with the infamous and spooky west wing and a more generically themed room as side rooms to dine in as well. And even if you don’t get to dine in the west wing you can still check it out and take pictures of the ripped portrait (watch it for some special effects!) and the famous enchanted rose.

After lunch, Melanie was pretty sleepy and ended up taking her nap while we watched the Festival of Fantasy parade. It actually worked out pretty well, although I was mildly disappointed she didn’t get to see the characters and their ornate floats. What an awesome parade!

After the parade, we met up with my father, who happened to be in Orlando for a very exciting (ha) refrigeration conference! I got him a slightly cheaper conference Disney ticket, which allows entry after  5 PM. I was nagging him to get here right around 5 pm… because I had booked Fastpass+ on his MagicBand!

I had booked two character meetings, one with Ariel (my favorite!) and another at the Princess Fairytale Hall where they had Rapunzel and Cinderella. At Ariel’s Grotto, they let all of us in even though only one person had the Fastpass reservation – probably because it wasn’t very busy.


the fam and ariel!

However, at the Princess Fairytale Hall it was hopping – and therefore they said they could only allow one person (who had the Fastpass) in with Melanie! They did eventually relent and let me and my husband on. But that’s good to know for the future! Oops!

We met Rapunzel first, and then Melanie found herself wandering of her own accord to Cinderella! It was so cute to see her interact with Cinderella… I think she was fascinated by her gloves.


awestruck melanie!

After the photos though, I realized something horrible! The first photographer with Rapunzel hadn’t scanned our magicband, which is what links those photos to us! I immediately emailed and called Disney, but even after 2 weeks they weren’t able to find those Rapunzel photos for us. I was really disappointed by that… so we only have the one picture that they took with our camera for us. Sigh! Well, at least we have that one.

After meeting characters, it was time for dinner at Tony’s Town Square restaurant, which is inspired by Lady and the Tramp and serves Italian food. I wasn’t expecting too much, but the food was pretty good! Honestly I chose the restaurant because it seemed relatively close to where we would be sitting for the Wishes fireworks, and the Plaza restaurant was totally booked.

After dinner was the big finale – Wishes! I love Disney’s fireworks and projection shows so I even made a Fastpass for them so we would have a semi-decent view. However, the location of the Fastpass viewing area was a little different from what I remember a few years ago, and also much more crowded, unfortunately. Still, the show was fantastic! My father was holding Melanie (while I took pictures, ha!) and she was clapping her hands and saying “Wow!” with every fireworks burst! I’m lucky that she didn’t freak out and start crying, hehe.

It was an amazing end to the night. However… the night wasn’t over yet since we still had to get out of the park, which was an absolute nightmare with a stroller in the crowds! Talk about a crush of humanity. I guess in retrospect maybe we should have either waited for the crowds to disperse somewhat or watched the fireworks from Main Street, closer to the exit. Oh well! There’s always next time, and since I’m obsessed with Disney there will be definitely be a next time!

My next post will be about our days in Universal Studios, which was the real “meat” of the trip – we are crazy Harry Potter fans and we couldn’t wait to get in and see the new Diagon Alley portion!


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