All images © thebucketlistfamily.com
Jessica Gee and family, better known as The Bucket List Family, enjoy 30 stays in 30 days at Walt Disney World.
In August 2015, we sold all of our worldly possessions to take our kids, four-year-old Dorothy and two-year-old Manilla, on an adventure. Fast forward 26 months later and we are still a full-time travelling family. We’ve been to 45 countries, stayed in dozens of hotel rooms and flown on more than 150 flights. We live out of two large suitcases, one carry-on, and we each carry a backpack. On average, we travel to a new place every week and document our travels on social media as The Bucket List Family.
Imagine our excitement when Disney reached out to us this summer for a special project, called 30 Stays in 30 Days, exploring Walt Disney World, Florida. We would enjoy wonderful Disney restaurants and stay in a new resort – every single night. We felt well equipped to take on their generous challenge.
Every morning we would wake up to a knock on our door. A surprise suitcase was delivered and inside included clues to where we were heading that day. Some days we knew exactly where we were going; others were a complete mystery. Over 30 days we experienced resort living at its best, each so different from the last. Can you imagine the excitement of living in a treehouse, a bungalow, an RV, a fourbedroom suite and even in Cinderella’s Castle?
What I didn’t know about Disney
I grew up going to Walt Disney World with my family and I knew the parks had many different facets but outside of the parks, there are so many restaurants, shows, tours, activities and traditions I never knew about. Here are a few standouts we discovered.
Who knew you could camp at Walt Disney World? One night, we stayed in an RV in the campgrounds of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge. We went to the Hoop-dee-doo Revue (another thing we didn’t know existed), played baseball at our campground and finished the day roasting s’mores with Chip ‘n Dale. This was such a different Disney experience and was one of our favourite days.
At the Grand Floridian, my four-year-old daughter, Dorothy, had the day of her dreams when she enjoyed a makeover at the resort’s Perfectly Princess Tea Party. All dolled up, she headed downstairs to the tea party to meet party hosts Princess Rose and Sleeping Beauty. I’ve never seen my daughter so star-struck. We left with wands, tiaras, a princess doll and memories of some special one-on-one time with a princess.
Sana’a, located at Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, became our new favourite restaurant on a Disney property. The restaurant is African/Indian fusion and its bread sampler platters are a staple, with four different types of naan to try with different curries and sauces.
Not without hitches
Our 30 days at Walt Disney Word certainly weren’t without hitches. On day 24, Hurricane Irma came barrelling toward Central Florida, our first ever experience of a hurricane. We weren’t sure if we should continue, postpone or cancel the project. After much deliberation with the Disney team, we decided to hunker down, staying for an extra five extra days at Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
To my surprise, when most tourists were packing up and leaving, local Florida residents flocked to Walt Disney World. Locals know that Disney is well equipped with food, water and generators to get them through any natural disaster. I was so impressed with the quality of care we received while staying on the property. The staff were incredibly kind and kept us informed throughout the days leading up to the hurricane and during the storm. And during a 30-hour-plus lockdown, we were kept entertained. Donald Duck hosted a hula-hoop contest with guests in the lobby, while lifeguards helped kids paint ceramics, and free Disney movies were available in our room. Walt Disney World managed to make a magical experience out of what could easily have been a terrible one.
So, which hotels?
Before this project I had only ever stayed at one Disney property. When I was at the high school cheerleading nationals, we stayed at Disney All-Star Sports Resort. But after 30 different hotels in 30 days I am now a true convert to staying at a Disney property.
The Extra Magic Hours – extended theme park hours available only to Disney resort guests – certainly makes your stay worth the extra cost. During the exclusive opening hour, you can beat the queues on more popular rides and fit in so much more. Plus, you can book your fast passes in advance, allowing you to never have to stand in two-hour-plus queues for popular rides like the ones at Pandora – The World of Avatar, in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.
Each resort has its own unique vibe, whisking you off to imaginary Disney lands. No detail is overlooked; food, decor and character visits are all on point and as much of a visual feast as the parks themselves. Of course, after visiting each of the hotel over the course of a month, every member of our family has their favourites.
Manilla and Dorothy’s was the Art of Animation Resort. We stayed there on two different occasions: once in Radiator Springs where my little boy was in absolute Cars heaven and the other Under The Sea with Ariel and friends. The kids’ imaginations ran wild and they loved the jumbo characters on the buildings along with the incredible details that were themed to each room.
Garrett’s favourite was Disney’s Polynesian Resort. The style, food, characters and pool made for a super busy and fun day. The location, situated right across from Magic Kingdom, is amazing and we spent one night in a bungalow, where we were able to watch the fireworks show from the back porch.
My favourite park is Epcot so I really loved Disney’s Beach and Yacht Club and The Boardwalk. The hotels are very classic and comfortable and I loved being just a seven-minute walk from Epcot, especially during their Food and Wine Festival.
Like many families, mine has a raft of long-standing Disney traditions that have been established over the years. People tend to have their go-to resort, hit the same parks in the same order and visit the same attractions year after year, including us. But after 30 days of total Walt Disney World immersion, I have come to the conclusion that we still haven’t experienced everything Walt Disney World has to offer, though we have most certainly added a whole lot of new Disney traditions to our family’s list.
Initially, I was a little nervous about this project because I didn’t want us to end up suffering Walt Disney World fatigue. Thirty days in Orlando at the end of the summer when the crowds and heat were at their peak seemed a bit overwhelming. But we made sure to pace ourselves and spent a lot of our time enjoying the offerings of each resort. We played in pools, tried different restaurants, joined activities, attended shows and didn’t get Disney fatigue. In fact, we are going back for more Disney in Paris this month.
This article appeared in volume 54 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.