Roam the Savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with Kids in Walt Disney World

Spend time at the pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Enjoy a safari vacation at Walt Disney World when your family stays at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Waking up to a view of an African game preserve tops many people’s bucket lists. I certainly thought I would never see such a place…until I checked into Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids in January of 2017.

Imagine exploring the African savanna, surrounded by blooming landscapes brimming with countless animals. The chance to take a wildlife safari sounds a bit out of reach, especially for Central Florida. But, I found this and so much more during our latest visit to Walt Disney World.

Enjoy the flowers at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Walk around the grounds of Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids and enjoy the flowers. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Traveling to Walt Disney World many times as a child and seven times as a parent did not prepare me and my kids, ages 11 and 12, for the awesome African adventure in the middle of our most recent Disney trip. The remote site gave us a feeling of a true escape away from the chaos of lines and theme park crowds.

When visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids, I found myself transported to a faraway continent. The soaring ceiling and authentic African artwork are unique. The beautiful tribal prints, ornate carvings and large glass windows kept my eyes constantly darting around the lobby area. In fact, the Animal Kingdom Lodge offers one of the most beautiful properties at Walt Disney World.

Watch the zebra while staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Watching the animals from your room tops my list of must-dos at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Fully themed in African culture, this resorts provides the feeling of a serene escape. The décor, food, and cultural representatives give this resort an authentic vibe. In addition, the educational opportunities and theming makes this resort unique and original.

What I loved at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort 

  • Unique theming
  • Several ethnic dining options with lots of vegetarian items
  • Many educational programs
  • Authentic African art and cultural pieces
  • Two large swimming pools with waterslides
  • Night vision binoculars for animal viewing

What I wanted at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

  • More buses to theme parks
  • Less music (or quieter) poolside
  • A larger, wider hall leading to the elevator

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge 

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort overlooks the savanna.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort buildings overlook the savanna and its animals. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort opened in 2001 and consists of two main buildings–Jambo House and Kidani Village. Separated by a flora-lined half-mile walking trail, the two buildings provide dining and entertainment options for all visitors. Guests can also choose to ride a van that travels between the two buildings every 15 minutes.

Also, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers approximately 43 acres of African savanna-themed, natural looking landforms. The resort provides a home to 200 animals and 130 birds.

Watch animal gaze on the savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Gaze on the grazing animals of the savanna, like this Oryx, at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

The deluxe resort features four main restaurants, a lounge, and two large pools with waterslides. In addition, Animal Kingdom Lodge features a playground, fitness center, free learning opportunities, unique views and safari-themed excursions.

My room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Jambo House offers 972 rooms and 324 units in Kidani Village, part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Resort rooms, designed in a semi-circle, resemble a Kraal African village.

The room at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
My standard room with a savanna view at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

During my stay, I reserved a standard room with a savanna view featuring two queen beds on the third floor of Jambo House. The beds were comfortable, linens plentiful and the room was decorated with African carvings and fabric prints. The balcony features a small table with two chairs that overlooks an active savanna. The savanna provides scenes full of wildlife, including ostriches, zebras, cranes, wildebeests, gazelles and ducks.

The amenities include free Wi-Fi, room service, mini-fridge, and a flat-panel TV. Rooms also feature a desk, two chairs, ceiling fan, coffee maker, and almost all rooms have full balconies. Standard rooms sleep four guests + one child under 3 in a crib.

The bathroom at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort.
Our bathroom featured a granite vanity with two separate sinks. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

The bathroom features a granite vanity outfitted with two sinks though it’s missing the doors that I find in moderate resorts that provide an additional dressing area. I found a iron and board and a hair dryer.

In a separate room, I found a standard tub with a shower head and toilet. The bathroom continues the African savanna theming.

The bathroom at the Animal Kingdom Lodge with kids.
The bathroom at the Animal Kingdom Lodge features a standard tub. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Surprisingly,  rooms provide about 344 sq. ft. which is the smallest of the deluxe resorts. Compared with the larger, yet more expensive Grand Floridian Resort and Spa that features 440 sq. ft.

Table Service Dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge features several restaurants with African and Indian-based cuisines, as well as traditional offerings. In Jambo House, Jiko-The Cooking Place, offers a fine dining experience with a limited menu and romantic ambiance.

Though beautifully decorated, the service was mediocre and the beef short ribs and lamb loin (considered the restaurant’s specialties) were both not available on the night we had reservations. Because Jiko-The Cooking Place is categorized as signature dining, we expected more. Consequently, it was our least favorite restaurant at this resort.

Enjoy the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
I enjoyed several of the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

A bustling and popular buffet restaurant, Boma-Flavors of Africa serves breakfast and dinner. My daughters and I ate both breakfast and dinner at Boma and greatly enjoyed the experience. The buffet offers unique African dishes as well as familiar dishes for those less adventurous. We thoroughly enjoyed Simba waffles and jungle juice for breakfast and delicious vegetarian options for dinner.  Click here for a full review of Boma-Flavors of Africa.

Sanaa, which is Swahili for “art” or “work of beauty”, is found in the Animal Kingdom Villas-Kidani Village building. It showcases the most beautiful views of Sunset Savanna. We enjoyed two table service meals at Sanaa and plan to return to try more items.

Presently, the food features unique, flavorful and fresh offerings. Menu items include butter chicken, lentil dhal, seafood curry and African-inspired Biryani with seasonal vegetables. Check out the Indian-style bread service, which comes with five flavors of naan and nine accompaniments. Click here for a full review of Sanaa.

Animal lovers will love this resort at Walt Disney World where guests wake up to gazing animals on the savanna and kids activities at every bend.

Quick Service Dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Also, a large, quick service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner is called Mara. It opens to a patio that overlooks the Uzima Springs Pool and has outdoor and indoor tables.

The menu includes familiar breakfast items such as cinnamon rolls, waffles, eggs and bacon. Lunch and dinner menus offer soups, flatbreads, burgers, and falafel pitas. Mara features salads, fruit cups, and grab-and-go items, too.

Pools at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

The Animal Kingdom Lodge features two main pool areas. Uzima Springs Pool is an 11,000 square foot oasis that faces Uzima Savanna and closest to the guest rooms in Jambo House. With a zero-entry point, a 67-foot waterslide and a lounge and bar connecting to the pool’s deck, this pool gives guests a wonderful place to relax after a long day inside the Disney theme parks. Other features include a children’s wading pool, coupled with two whirlpool spas.

The pools of Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Enjoy an afternoon at the pools of Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Near the Animal Kingdom Villas-Kidani Village, Samawati Springs Pool surprisingly holds 118,138 gallons of water. It features an 128-foot waterslide and zero entry. Uwanja Camp features a children’s water playground with three zones for varying ages.

Poolside huts provide complimentary towels.  Both pools feature lifeguard stations, but check the posted signs near each pool for hours of operation.

Activities at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with Kids

The Hakuna Matata Playground, located between Jambo House and savanna viewing areas, gives children a chance to climb and play.

The most exciting activity at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids is watching the African savanna wildlife in a large habitat. I found many public viewing areas, some with benches and fire pits. Once the sun goes down, night vision binoculars provide a chance to view animals on the dark landscape.

I found lots of kids activities at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Enjoy table tennis at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids during your stay. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Also, my daughters and I met eager African cast members that shared their knowledge and answered questions about their homeland. We found cultural lectures, storytelling and native games available for free, among other things. My daughters chose to decorate cookies and small cakes.

Beyond typical expectations, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge features an exciting dining experience with an animal specialist for as many as 12 guests. Click here for a review of this exclusive experience.

In fact, to enjoy every event at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids, ask for a calendar of resort activities at the front desk of Jambo House and Kidani Village.

Getting to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is located at 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

About one mile from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a short drive southwest from the theme park. Disney transportation provides guests with shuttle buses approximately every 30 minutes.

Twenty-four miles from the Orlando International Airport, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a 30 minute drive from the airport. Click here for driving directions.

Disney provides complimentary buses for resort guests to and from the Orlando International Airport via Disney’s Magical Express motor-coach vehicles. Reserve Magical Express transportation when booking online through the Disney website or by calling (407) 939-1936.

If traveling to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge from another Disney resort, take Disney buses to the Animal Kingdom theme park and board the bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

From a Disney theme park, just board the bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge provides valet parking for $20-$25 a night. Complimentary self-park lots provide spaces for Jambo House guests. Kidani Village features a self-parking garage. Presently, vehicle parking is for resort guests and those with dining reservations.

Looking for More Resorts and Information?

The writers at Carful of Kids have stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

If looking for off-property resorts, see what we have to say about the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

Click here to learn how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation like a pro.

Tips from a Disney Mom:

  • The four main Animal Kingdom Lodge dining options accept some Disney Dining Plans.
  • Advanced dining reservations are best for all table service restaurants.
  • Because this resort is slightly remote, buses are the only forms of transportation to Disney theme parks.  Consequently, consider driving your own vehicle.
  • Check this resort out, even if you don’t plan to book a room.
  • The Disney planning book I use can be purchased here.

 

4 Ways to a Perfect Spring Day at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Fest

Enjoy the topiaries at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
Enjoy a perfect day strolling among the flowers while watching the butterflies dance about. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Since 1994, every spring the International Flower and Garden Festival opens like a field of flowers across Epcot. From the first week of March until the last week of May, plant lovers drool and daydream as they wander through the eye-popping displays. But what about the kids? I’ve pulled together a list of must dos at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with kids to keep Mom happy.

With over 70 topiary displays with Disney characters from every generation, I love meandering through Epcot discovering the displays. Each character is a piece of plant art and I take a few minutes to discover the details in each. I am amazed how the gardeners use plants and plant products to create characters with amazing detail.

Enjoy the topiaries with kids at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival.
Stop and look at the topiaries of favorite characters at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

And think it’s the same every year, not so. Each year I find my favorite topiaries in a different spot. Even the blooms radiate different colors. As a plant lover, I study the way the gardeners group the plants in eye-popping arrangements. I seriously covet the container groupings. It’s everything I want on my patio.

Even though I am a foodie, I love Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival a tad more than the International Food and Wine Festival in the Fall. Read on and to see why.

Enjoy some pastries at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
I walk through the flowers while I nibble on French pastries. If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A Topiary for Every Movie

Well, almost. My girly faves are Elsa and Anna in Norway and France’s Beauty and the Beast topiaries. For my boys, Phineas and Ferb top the charts.

Stop by Elsa and Anna in Norway at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
A couple of my favorites, Elsa and Anna, enchant guests in Norway. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Along with the themed topiaries, some of the countries have themed gardens too. In Japan we find a display of Bonsai. In the United Kingdom, I’m enchanted by the Shakespeare Garden and the pots of tea plants.

Over 200 floating gardens catch us by surprise. They float and turn in the wind under the monorail near the Odyssey Bridge and the International Gateway.  

Enjoy the Beauty and the Beast topiaries in France when visiting Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
Can’t miss these characters in France, they’re a couple of my favorites too. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Weekend Entertainment

On the weekends, Epcot comes alive with music at the Garden Rocks Concert. A free concert located in the America Gardens Theatre bringing national acts to the World Showcase.

Of course, special tours and tastings tantalize me. Though additional tickets might be required.

Enjoy delightful birdhouse at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
I love the topiaries yet this birdhouse delighted me as well. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with Kids

Kids and gardens can be a hard sell. So stop by the Music Garden Melodies Playground. My favorite feature is sitting in the Adirondack chairs watching my kids play.

Stop and take a photo with Lightening McQueen at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
My youngest needed a photo with Cruz Ramirez. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Another must-do for kids, the Road to Florida 500 features Lightening McQueen and Cruz Ramirez.

We explore the butterfly garden, sponsored by Go-Go Squeez next. After chasing butterflies, my boys slurp down an applesauce pouch in one gulp.

Thumper and Bambi are all-time favorites at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with Kids.
Who can’t pass up Thumper and Bambi on a perfect Spring afternoon at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Kidcot activities, a free educational booklet in selected countries in the World Showcase, get a fresh makeover for Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with kids. Just grab a booklet head to a special desk in each pavilion. For 2017, kids learn about fruit from across the world.

Always running on-time, the miniature outdoor train in Germany excites my boys. I spend a few moments studying the tiny details with real trees to scale.

Take a hint from Snow White on how to get your kids whistling along as you lead the way to Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival.

Dining during International Flower and Garden

One of my favorite parts of International Flower and Garden Festival is the food. Just for the festival, the Epcot chefs roll out farm-to-table offerings while mixologists concoct delicate spring inspired cocktails.

Sip a cocktail while strolling among the flowers at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival.
I really can’t say no to a champagne cocktail. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

At the outdoor kitchens sprinkled in the countries, I find farm-to-table items offering fresh alternatives for families. The small plates entice me to sample in every country. And the signature cocktails are hard to pass up, especially the champagne cocktails.

Looking for resorts and more information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

If looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information. If this is your first visit, don’t try to do everything.

Disclosure:

My visit to Walt Disney World was hosted for review purposes. Some of my resort stays were hosted.

This post contains affiliate link in which I get a small commission if you purchase a book.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Day of Adulting – Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival

 

Epcot, International Food and Wine Festival,
Need a break? Love food, wine and chocolate? I know I do so I headed over to Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival to sample my way across the World Showcase recently.

The International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot in Walt Disney World offers a day of sampling culinary treats from around the world while walking from one country to the next in Epcot’s World Showcase. Since the first festival in 1995, each year brings more sampling. Though one question persists, what to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival?

The International Food and Wine Festival features special events like cooking demonstrations, cookbook signings and bottle signings. Along with the culinary world tour, savory and sweet curated samplings are expertly paired with wine and spirits. With smaller portions, I found it easy to sample lots of dishes to find a new favorite and the cocktail prices were reasonable.

What to Eat at the International Food and Wine Festival

I spent a couple of hours riding my favorite rides, like Soarin’ Around the World that reopened this summer, before heading over to the World Showcase. I’m not the most adventurous morning eater, in fact I usually skip breakfast, though the International Food and Wine Festival opens at 9 a.m.

What to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival is your vegan.
I sampled the vegan offerings like the Loaded Greek Nachos at the Greece kiosk.

After a quick stop at Epcot’s Guest Relations Booth for the Times Guide, a Festival passport and a map, I’m ready and hungry. The International Food and Wine Festival passport is your go-to guide for information, like the regional-inspired offerings from each country. The pocket-sized passport includes stickers that let you mark off your culinary adventures.

In addition to the regular countries that reside in Epcot’s World Showcase, the International Food and Wine Festival includes pop-up kiosks with additional countries like Greece and Australia. I found booths dedicated to desserts and champagne along with farm fresh offerings in the Showcase Plaza, the area across the bridge.

What to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival, like a classic cheese plate paired with wine.
The artist’s palette loaded with wine and cheese pairings pleases a crowd at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival with vegans isn’t an issue. I found the Loaded Greek Nachos with meatless sausage and vegan Tzatziki (Greece).

And not so vegan options like Bavarian Bratwurst with a hard roll (Germany) and the Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce (Canada), satisfied my meatier appetite.

For my sweet side, the Chocolate Studio offered a red wine chocolate truffle that paired with Fonseca Bin No. 27 Port. The Wine and Dine Studio offered an artist’s palette of wine and cheese, a pairing of La Bonne Vie goat cheese with dried cranberry bread, karst cave-aged cheddar cheese paired with a fig compote and a Statesboro blue cheese served with candied walnuts. The palette included Conundrum White Blend, Kurt Russell’s GoGi “Goldie” Chardonnay and Robert Mondavi Winery Maestro Red Blend.

What to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival, have some port and chocolate.
A glass of port paired with a red wine truffle. You just have to sit down to enjoy this treat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit, it was hot, like highs over 90F with humidity to match. So I sampled bubbles, like the St-Germain Sparkling Kir in France. The Mimosa Royale with sparkling wine, orange juice and orange liqueur offered a refreshing afternoon break in Morocco. The Wyder’s Dry Pear Hard Cider located near the entrance of the World Showcase was light on the palette too.

Events at the International Food and Wine Festival

All items can be purchased separately at the kiosks but if you want to order, eat and repeat then purchase an International Food and Wine Festival Tasting Sampler. For eight food and beverage entitlements across the World Showcase, it’s $59 plus tax. For 16 food and beverage entitlements, it’s $109 plus tax. The card comes on a bracelet for easy swipe-and-go; no fiddling with a wallet.

What to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival. I love a champagne cocktail.
On a hot day I find a champagne cocktail refreshing like the Mimosa I got in Morocco. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Want to celebrate in high style at Epcot? The Ultimate Day at the International Food and Wine Festival helps you accomplish your mission. And it offers everything imaginable so you don’t have to answer the question, what to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival.

The 7-hour day begins with brunch at the Wonders Retreat then head to the VIP lounge for beverage demonstrations. A guided craft beer sampling comes after a ride on Frozen Ever After and Soarin’ Around the World. Finish the day up with champagne and reserved seats at the Eat to the Beat Concert Series. The day costs $399 a person and doesn’t include admission to the park.

 

Looking to get away this fall, Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival offers sips and nibbles from across the world.

Don’t forget the Eat to the Beat Concert Series at the American Gardens Theatre with a different band every few days hitting the stage at 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Hour-long cooking classes teach budding gourmands the insider tricks, daily at 4:00 p.m. for $49 per person.

As always, the day caps off with fireworks with the Illuminations Reflections of Earth. A spectacular show that’s packed with power and fire.

Kids at the International Food and Wine Festival 

I want to leisurely walk around and sample the culinary offerings while enjoying all the details of each country in Epcot. That’s why I didn’t take my kids, 8, 12 and 13, to this year’s International Food and Wine Festival.

The World Showcase in Epcot has activities for kids but my kids don’t like them. Sorry, it’s the truth. They want to head to the rides and stay there for the whole day. And kids get whiney if they don’t get their way. So Mom left them at home for this quick trip.

What to eat at the International Food and Wine Festival,
What to do at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival with your kids? Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit, I rode a few of my favorite rides, like Soarin’ Around the World, Spaceship Earth and Living with the Land. Then I headed to the World Showcase for the rest of the day to eat, drink and enjoy being an adult. As a Mom, I don’t get to do this often and we all know a kid can kill a wine buzz.

If you bring your kids, the Kidcot Fun Stops offer kids the opportunity to create arts and crafts at 11 different World Showcase stops. Just for the International Food and Wine Festival, kids can play hike-and-squeak with Remy from Ratatouille. After purchasing a map with stickers from the official festival merchandise location, kids search for Remy hidden across the World Showcase and turn in the booklet for a special treat when they’re done.

Looking for resorts and more information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa. One of my friends recently stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort too.

If looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information. If this is your first visit, don’t try to do everything.

 

Need more hints? I wrote a newbie guide to planning a last minute Walt Disney World trip.

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post uses affiliate links in which I get a commission if you purchase a book.

Know before you go:

  • The International Food and Wine Festival is free with a one-day park admission ($) though that doesn’t include any food or wine. This festival doesn’t offer free samples.
  • While the rest of the country is cooling off, September is hot and humid in Central Florida. I suggest visiting Walt Disney World in October unless you are used to heat and humidity.
  • Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival is popular, expect large crowds over the weekends.
  • Remember the water bottle to stay hydrated, sunscreen, a hat, comfy shoes, a mister and face wipes all packed in your backpack.

How to Plan a Last Minute Walt Disney World Trip

 

Walt Disney World, Epcot, Mickey Mouse,
The Carful of Kids explored Walt Disney World for four days during the International Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot.

What would you do if you had to plan a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World? A while back, I got the opportunity to explore Walt Disney World as a part of a work trip and had to plan a trip for four in a couple of weeks. Before this, we spent only one day in a whirlwind tour of Disneyland. So how does a national parks, road-tripping Mom plan a last-minute Walt Disney World vacation?

I lost my mind.

Taking a Disney trip requires planning. Really. For a moment I thought could wing it. Then my best friend, traveling companion and fellow Walt Disney World newbie talked some sense into me.

If we wing it, she said, we’ll be walking around, getting nowhere, wasting all our time in line. She was right. Her sister, a Walt Disney World veteran, had given her that advice.

Top 9 Tips

1. So I logged on to Amazon and bought the book. Which book? I bought the one with the most pages, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2016.

2. Then I read it cover-to-cover, my friends. Is it boring? You bet, but I still read the book. I recommend this. Packed with lots of information that will save you time and money. Don’t skip the book!

Epcot, Walt Disney World, Epcot at Niight

3. Then I took the book with me. The thick, heavy book lived in my backpack. Hard to believe but I thumbed through the book A LOT in the parks. I checked to see how scary a ride was for my youngest who still takes about the scary ride from four years ago. I checked to see if a ride was worth the wait. The book was right.

4. I made a touring plan with the help of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2016 and I stuck to it. A plan helped to keep my group on schedule and to use our time wisely.

5. The Orlando International Airport is not next to Walt Disney World. I mean that would be great! Nope, It’s a $70 taxi ride away so I wanted to stay at a Walt Disney World resort because of the complimentary Magical Express transportation. That and this was my first trip, I didn’t know my way around and didn’t want to get too far from the parks.

Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Dole Whip,
Grab a Dole Whip to get the tired kids refreshed and ready for more riding.

6. I loaded up on snacks, like protein bars, nuts and fruit leather, and stashed them in my backpack. Each of us had a water bottle so we didn’t sip on soda in the parks. The food at Disney is expensive and so-so at best, except for a few signature items like the Dole Whip.

7. I also got myself kids meals. I’m not proud. Pro tip: Have the kids hold a table so no one asks how many kids you have.

8. I stopped by the Dollar Store and loaded up on glow sticks, autograph books and Disney tattoos. I threw this stuff in their cinch sacks with a couple of sharpies.

9. A note about dining reservations. I skipped this because my boys aren’t into food and the typical Disney characters. They would rather ride rides. Now when Walt Disney World opens a Star Wars themed restaurant, my boys will be all over it. So if you are planning a last minute trip, don’t sweat the dining reservations and eat at quick service instead.

What to do when Your Favorite Resort is Booked

I didn’t have a lot of time to plan my April trip, about a month. So the value-priced rooms disappeared before I could snag one for the Saturday night of our five-day, four-night trip to Walt Disney World.

To make it work, I ended up with reservations at three different resorts. No biggie, I’ll just transfer resorts. I’ll make it work. I’m a family travel writer, it’s just part of the job. That and I didn’t have a choice.

So I learned a lot from my three-resort tour of Walt Disney World. My trip was part of a work conference so a couple of rooms were booked at a Walt Disney World deluxe resort. Since I arrived early to explore the parks, I booked a room at a value resort. Then the least-expensive room I could find for a Saturday night was a moderate resort.

Have to plan a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World and you've never been? I know the feeling. I've got some hints and tricks for your trip.

I had my freak out moment when I couldn’t find a room for under $600 for a few weeks. And I wasn’t going to spend that on a family trip. If I’m spending that kind of money on a room, my lovely children will be at Grandma’s. But maybe, that’s just me.

By stalking the Walt Disney World website, sometimes more rooms come available about 4 weeks out. Don’t count on this feature but check daily for resort availability. If a room does come available, grab it and don’t wait. You can always cancel.

Walt Disney World will transfer your luggage for free from one Walt Disney World resort to another Walt Disney World resort. I found this out by asking my pals and Disney experts at TravelingMom.com.

My Stay at a Value Resort

The Pop Century Resort is a value resort ($-$$) 1.7 miles away from Hollywood Studios. It features four areas named after decades of the 20th century with a total of 2,880 rooms along the shores of Hour Glass Lake and cross from the Art of Animation Resort.

If your kids spend all day in the park, this might be the resort for you. Pop Century Resort Review, Walt Disney World,
If your kids spend all day in the park, this might be the resort for you.

The Pop Century Resort is fun. The buildings exude energy and draw me through the resort. From the four-story tall bowling pins and the ginormous 60s flowers pasted to the sides of the candy-colored buildings, this place is a hit with the young at heart.

Hits of the Pop Century Resort

  • Over the top theme that kids love
  • Nice pool
  • Great option if you plan on spending all your time in the parks.
The atmosphere at the Pop Century Resort is FUN. Resort Review Walt Disney World,
The Hippy-Dippy Pool has a fun atmosphere for the kids.

Misses of the Pop Century Resort

  • Farther away from parks but closer than off-property lodging
  • Limited activities for kids, no fishing or pirate cruises
  • Limited to quick-service dining
  • No character breakfasts
  • No in-room coffee maker
  • Small rooms and skimpy linens
This is a basic room at Walt Disney World. If your family just needs a place to sleep, this might be the resort for you. resort review, Pop Century Resort,
If your family just needs a place to sleep, this might be the resort for you.

My Stay at a Moderate Resort

The Caribbean Beach Resort is a moderate resort ($$-$$$) 4.1 miles from Epcot. An expansive property that includes seven villages with a total of 2,112 rooms along the shores of the 45-acre Barefoot Bay.

Along the shore of Barefoot Bay, the Caribbean Beach Resort blends a tranquil setting with plenty of activities for the kids. Walt Disney World
Caribbean Beach Resort offers its guests lots of activities and white-sand beaches

The Caribbean Beach Resort evokes the calm and serenity of a beach vacation yet includes a resort-style pool that’s sure to excite the kids. With its expansive grounds and lush, tropical landscaping, the Caribbean Beach Resort never felt crowded.

Hits of the Caribbean Beach Resort:

  • The Fuentes del Morro pool is one of the best of the Walt Disney World resorts.
  • Lots of activities for the kids, like fishing excursions and pirate cruises
  • Larger rooms with more amenities, nice if you’ll be spending more time in the room
  • More dining options, quick-service and casual dining
  • A pool in every village
  • White-sand beaches
The interior of the Caribbean Beach Resort with the TV, coffee maker and trundle-hiding credenza. Caribbean Beach Resort, Walt Disney Resort,
The interior of the Caribbean Beach Resort with the TV, coffee maker and trundle-hiding credenza.

Misses of the Caribbean Beach Resort:

  • Huge resort that requires its own bus to get around
  • No character breakfasts
  • No private patios or balconies
  • A motel feeling, I entered my room from an outside corridor.

My Stay at a Deluxe Resort 

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa ($$$$$+) is the Walt Disney World’s flagship resort located on 40-acres next to the Seven Seas Lagoon. Built to resemble a grand Victorian seaside resort of the late 19th Century, it features 867 guest rooms across the main building and five additional buildings. Next to the lagoon is a pool, a white sand beach, a marina and a view of Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom.

The Courtyard Pool is the place to rejuvenate the kids after a day in the parks. Walt Disney World, The Grand Floridian Resort, WDW,
The Courtyard Pool is the place to rejuvenate the kids after a day in the parks.

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa offers a grand experience for families who yearn for the convenience a Walt Disney World Resort and want a refined environment to decompress from the energy of the parks. Walking into the Grand Floridian lobby is sensory experience, the architecture is as impressive as the 3-foot tall flower arrangements that greet me. The service is refined yet welcoming.

Hits of the Grand Floridian Resort

  • Beautiful accommodations
  • Lots of dining options including quick service, casual dining and fine dining.
  • Character meals
  • Lobby entertainment
  • The most transportation options to get to the parks—bus, monorail or ferry
  • The highest level of service of the Walt Disney World resorts
  • One of the best spas in Orlando
The beds in our room at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa make for a great night's sleep. Walt Disney World, Review of the Grand Floridian Resort,
The beds in our room at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa make for a great night’s sleep.

Misses of the Grand Floridian Resort 

  • Nice pool but not my kid’s favorite
  • My kids were immune to their luxurious surroundings and wanted to spend all their time in the parks.
  • Beautiful property but off-site luxury resorts give you more for less
The Alice-in-Wonderland themed water play area for the littlest guests is a must-do. Walt Disney World, Review of the Grand Floridian Resort,
The Alice-in-Wonderland themed water play area for the littlest guests is a must-do.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I had to change resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World and they will transfer your bags free-of-cost. I preferred to pack up our bags and roll them down to bell services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient since we wanted to get to the parks as early as possible.

The process was fairly easy and I had only one small incident. One of our bags had a tag on it stating it was left on the transportation bus. Nothing was missing.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Art of Animation Resort and the Coronado Springs Resort.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Disclosure: 

Some of the rooms were hosted.

This post contains affiliate links in which I get a small commission if you purchase a book.

Know before you go:

  • By checking frequently for cancellations, I found a room on a booked Saturday night about 3 to 4 weeks before my scheduled arrival.
  • Make reservations as soon as possible, even for slower months, if you’re visiting during a weekend.
  • If you are transferring resorts during your stay, pack light. One rolling bag per adult. One rolling bag for every couple of kids. Backpack for the adults and cinch sacks for the kids.
  • Missed all the dining reservations? Skip it. There’s plenty of quick-service places to eat. My kids don’t miss the experience and just wanted to ride the rides.
  • Pack refillable water bottles and skip the soda. Take protein or granola bars for snacks while in line or on the bus.
  • Bring running shoes for the park. No flip-flops, sandals or hiking sandals; they all killed my feet.

 

Celebrate Spring at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival

Part of this trip was provided for free for review purposes. The opinions are solely that of the writer.

Ranger Mickey leads the ways as Disney celebrate the National Park Service's Centennial. Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival
Ranger Mickey leads the way to Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival.

The carful of kids love our national parks and we’ve spent years driving to the corners of our country to explore them. So why are the carful of kids exploring Disney during National Parks Week? What does Disney and the National Parks have in common? I find out at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival.

Disney is a sponsor of the National Park Service’s Centennial. I was a little shocked to hear this myself. I love Disney and I love our national parks but they’re kinda different.

Ranger Mickey celebrates the National Park Centennial at Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival.
Ranger Mickey celebrates the National Park’s Centennial at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival.

During the carful of kid’s exploration of Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival, I find Mickey as a Park Ranger in the National Park Foundation’s garden. Mickey celebrates the National Park’s Centennial and encourages kids to find their park. Yea, Ranger Mickey encourages families to explore the national park near them.

I am in love with the Lady topiary. Do you think I can take her back on the plane? Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival
I’m in love with the Lady topiary. Do you think I can take her back on the plane?

Every spring since 1994, the International Flower and Garden Festival plants itself in Epcot. From the first week of March until the last week of May, plant lovers gaze and daydream as they wander through the amazing displays. It’s a must for the gardener, young and old.

Snow White and her Dwarfs march along next the the World Showcase Lagoon. Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival
Snow White and her Dwarfs march along next to the World Showcase Lagoon.

With over 70 topiary displays with Disney characters of every generation, I love meandering through Epcot’s World Showcase discovering each display. Each character is a piece of plant art and I take a few minutes to discover the details in each. They’re spectacular.

Cogsworth is dancing away the day in his flower bed home in Epcot's France. International Flower and Garden Festival
Cogsworth is dancing away the day in his flower bed home in Epcot’s France.

For music-lovers, Epcot comes alive with the Garden Rocks Concert Series on the weekends. Check out the free concert located in the America Gardens Theatre; bringing national acts to the World Showcase.

Cinderella and Her Prince dance away as the setting sun baths them in golden light. Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival
Cinderella and Her Prince dance as the setting sun baths them in golden light.

The floating gardens under the monorail near the Odyssey Bridge catch us by surprise. Turning ever so slightly in the breeze, they’re a delight. Everywhere I look, there’s beds of plant color that only Disney can dream up.

Belle and the Beast are crowd pleasers in Epcot's France. International Flower and Garden Festival
Belle and the Beast are crowd pleasers in Epcot’s France.

Next to the floating gardens, the carful of kids explore the butterfly garden that’s sponsored by Go-Go Squeez. After chasing butterflies, the carful of kids slurp an apple sauce pouch down in one gulp, compliments of Go-Go Squeez.

In Epcot's United Kingdom, I'm enchanted with the teacup gardens in all my favorite varieties. International Flower and Garden Festival
In Epcot’s United Kingdom, I’m enchanted with the teacup gardens in all my favorite varieties.

Along with the themed topiaries, some of the countries have themed gardens too. In Japan we find a display of Bonsai. In the United Kingdom, I’m enchanted in the Shakespeare Garden.

The traditional English garden dedicated to Shakespeare is a delight for Anglophiles and book-lovers alike. International Flower and Garden Festival
The traditional English garden dedicated to Shakespeare is a delight for Anglophiles and book-lovers alike.

If your kids aren’t as mesmerized with the International Flower and Garden Festival, find the kid-pleasing miniature outdoor train. I’m as delighted as my boys with Epcot’s Garden Railway located in Germany. With a scaled, living landscape and several trains running at once, it’s a must for the whole family.

Epcot's Garden Railway enchants kids and adults alike in Germany with it's tiny town and bonsai-like landscape. International Flower and Garden Festival
Epcot’s Garden Railway enchants kids and adults alike in Germany with it’s tiny town and bonsai-like, living landscape.

As the sun dips and the light begins to fade, the topiaries transform again. Thanks to their lighting, the topiaries glow into the night.

After the sun sets, Epcot's Minnie and Pluto topiaries glow against the inky, night sky. International Flower and Garden Festival
After the sun sets, Epcot’s Minnie and Pluto topiaries glow against the inky, night sky.

Along with the garden displays and topiaries, Epcot’s celebrates its farm-to-table initiative. With produce grown in the park, the International Flower and Garden Festival has special menu items throughout Epcot’s World Showcase. In the outdoor kitchens that are sprinkled throughout, I find farm-to-table items that are fresh alternatives for families. Yum!

Up Next: More Disney Fun!