Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

There’s no right or wrong way to kick off a vacation at Walt Disney World.  But a bit of advance planning for some arrival day fun helps make the most of every precious vacation minute.

Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

First let’s take a quick look at some of the factors that influence your arrival day options

  • What time will you reach the World?  Will you have most of a day? Part of a day? Arrive Late?
  • What size is your travel party?  Maneuvering a group takes time and sometimes more effort that expected.  Spending a bit of time in advance to map out at least a framework of plans is super helpful when you’re traveling with a group.
  • Littles or Bigs?  Will your children need naps?  Did they have to get up extra early for travel?  (Also, it’s good to know before you go what the height requirements are on various attractions.)
  • Will you have park tickets on day one?

Some suggestions…

Lots of folks don’t purchase park tickets for arrival day.  Before we became annual passholders, our family fell into this category.  If you’re staying near or on Disney property, you can jump right into the Disney Bubble and start soaking up the magic before you ever visit a park.

Here are some tried and true ideas:

  • Explore your resort.  It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the location of restaurants, shops, pools, activities and transportation.  Many Disney World resorts have evening activities like movies, story-telling and S’mores-making – ask about the events schedule when checking in. 
  • If you have a car, make a grocery run.  Stock up on things like snacks, water, and breakfast foods.
  • Plan ahead for a nice dinner.  (Reservations at Disney resorts can be made 180 days in advance.)  There are so many restaurants to choose from, we usually pick someplace new to try on our first day of vacation.
  • Check out Disney Springs.  There’s something for all ages including fun shops, cool atmosphere, and live entertainment.  With or without reservations, there are a bunch of great places to eat.
  • Hang out at the pool.  We have lots of friends who claim this is their most favorite way to kick of a Disney vacation.
  • Turn in early so you can hit the parks refreshed first thing the next day.
  • During the holiday season, resort-hop to check out the amazing decorations.

Have Park Tickets?  With a little advance planning, you can dive right into the action!  If you only have three or four days in Walt Disney World, a few extra hours in the parks on arrival day can make a huge difference in the number of shows and attractions you get to experience.

Head straight to a park:

  • Book FastPasses starting about two hours post-arrival.  That gives plenty of time to check in at your resort and make your way to whichever park you’ve chosen.  Between FastPasses, keep an eye on the wait times in the My Disney Experience app and you’ll be amazed at how many attractions you can fit in on day one.
  • Magic Kingdom is my personal favorite arrival-day park.  There’s no better welcome to the Disney Bubble than seeing Cinderella Castle right away and soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of Main Street USA.
  • Want a casual, low-key arrival day in a park?  Choose Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  During any of Epcot’s festivals, there’s nothing more relaxing to me than a stroll around World Showcase sampling food and drinks along the way.  In Animal Kingdom, exploring the trails and animal exhibits is a laid back way to check out the park without waiting in long lines or rushing around.
  • Pre-shop a bit for park souvenirs to purchase later.
  • Plan a nice dinner at your favorite in-park restaurant.  We like Tiffins (Animal Kingdom), Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom), Via Napoli (Epcot) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
  • Pick a nighttime spectacular to wrap up the day.  Whether it’s Happily Ever After in Magic Kingdom, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular or Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Illuminations:  Reflections of Earth in Epcot, or Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom – there’s a magical way to end your first day of vacation no matter which park you choose.

Now it’s your turn!  What’s your favorite way to start a Disney World vacation?

 

Disney Dining – Adventureland’s Skipper Canteen

“Magic Kingdom’s newest themed table service eatery boasts both excellent service and uniquely delicious fare – in an exotic setting full of humor and whimsy.” – Me (my inner restaurant critic)

We found ourselves in Magic Kingdom with the huge post-Christmas crowds on a gorgeous Monday morning.  While we didn’t arrive for the 7:00 am park opening, we had managed to ride Big Thunder Mountain by FastPass, eat breakfast at Be Our Guest, tour Haunted Mansion on standby (less than 30 minutes), and FastPass Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – all by about 10:45…why not wander over to Adventureland?  Maybe, by some miracle, we could lunch at the new Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen before our last FastPass of the day (Enchanted Tales With Belle)?Skipper-Canteen-Courtyard-Ceiling

Disney Dining – Adventureland’s Skipper Canteen

Once we located the entrance, it was about 11 o’clock.  Two Cast Members were working the podium outside and just a couple of other parties were already waiting in the courtyard.  I was quickly told that our wait would be about 20 minutes and if I provided my cell phone number, I’d receive a text when our table was ready.  We may have just eaten breakfast about an-hour-and-a-half earlier, but I was not missing this opportunity!  Raymond’s pretty flexible and was happy to go along.Skipper-Canteen-Waiting-Area

While we waited, I wandered around taking pictures and, exactly on time, I got the text to tell us our table was ready.  The next step is to go inside to another waiting area.  Skipper-Canteen-interiorOur name was called right away and the hostess escorted us to our table in the large main dining room called “The Mess Hall”.  There are a couple of smaller dining rooms off of the main one – The Falls Family Parlor and the S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventurers) Room.Skipper-Canteen-Mess-Hall Skipper-Canteen-ArtifactsAs one would expect, and similar to the much larger layout of Be Our Guest, each room is fantastically themed.  There are too many details and Jungle Cruise artifacts to take in during a single visit…very clever!  (More on the Canteen’s back story here.)

Bobby was our server and he was excellent!  Passionate about his new Skipper position, he delivered our food and those famous Skipper puns with equal skill.  That’s where this restaurant sets itself apart – the food and service are much better than typical theme-park fare and the theming and back story are so well done – the overall experience is wonderful!  (Seriously – every tiny detail made me happy!)Skipper-Canteen-Menu-ArtSkipper-Canteen-Menu

Bread arrived while we were looking over the menu.  The round loaf of Ambasha bread is accompanied by honey seasoned with a healthy dose of Fenugreek (herb with a maple-like flavor commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine) which made this starter taste exotic and delicious!Skipper-Canteen-Bread

Since we had just eaten breakfast, Raymond and I decided to share three courses so we could taste a whole meal without stuffing ourselves or wasting food.  We started with the S.E.A. Shu Mai (A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Mung Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed) $10.  This was perfect!  The dipping sauce was exactly right – a little spicy and salty and the perfect complement to the dumplings.Skipper-Canteen-Appetizer

Our entrée selection was the Rice Noodle Bowl with Chicken (Pho Broth served with Jalapeños with mix of fresh Herbs) $22. This sounds plain but was spicy and delicious!  Everything prepared on site from scratch makes this experience extra special.  The flavors and presentation of the food, combined with the atmosphere and service, truly make you forget you’re eating in a theme park.Skipper-Canteen-Noodle-Bowl

We wrapped up our little culinary adventure with the Sugar Crusted Congee Pudding (Caramelized Custard with Millet, Almonds, Apricot, Dates, and Honey-Almond Tuile) $8.  Normally, we aren’t big on dessert, but this sounded unique and interesting and was absolutely delicious.  The combination of flavors and textures was perfect.Skipper-Canteen-Pudding

We did not take advantage of the specialty (non-alcoholic) drink menu on this visit, but opted for iced tea and water.  Our total bill was very reasonable and we walked away completely satisfied.  If Skipper Canteen represents the future of in-park dining at Walt Disney World, we cannot WAIT to see what’s next!Skipper-Canteen-Display Skipper-Canteen-Jungle-Cruise-Sign Skipper-Canteen-Collection Skipper-Canteen-Barrel

Are you adventurous enough to try the new Jungle Cruise Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen?  What would keep you from dining there?