How we had the Disney Experience WITHOUT the Parks

We've had a little tradition develop in our family. It happened the way traditions usually unfold, just by chance and then I run with it. It's become a right of passage and the kids (and mommy!) look forward to the celebration. So in our family, when a kiddo turns 2 we forgo a big party (those are the norm for every year because well, parties are my thing) and instead we pack up our crew for a weekend of Disney. It turns out to be the birthday boy or girls first Disney experience and we have a staycation for the whole weekend. When my two older kids reached this milestone, we trampled all over Disney World Theme Parks. Sienna's birthday is in November and Titus' in March so the weather is always perfect for a day out under the sun. Adella (my youngest) just recently turned two and because I don't her to have #thirdkidproblems I was adamant that we do the exact activities we did with her older siblings. My husband quickly reminded me of a few things...

1)I hate to sweat

2) I hate crowds

3) It is the busiest time of year for Disney in Orlando

4) It is the hottest time of the year

Point taken dude. Much to my demise, he was right. Don't you dare tell him. Those words even taste bad coming out. ;) So I had to get creative. My little miss was definitely not going to miss out on our family tradition. Insert in "Having the Disney Experience Without The Parks."  

We planned our weekend of celebration for Friday-Sunday. Our choice our resort has always been Disney's Polynesian Resort. It feels like you're going to a tropical Island even though we just drove 40 minutes to get there. Being locals, it makes this weekend so much easier because it's just a quick drive away. We planned to get there at check in time 3-4ish I believe to start off our stay. IF I was a good planner or on time to anything in my life... we would've gotten there even earlier and enjoyed things around the resort before we checked in but that's not how I roll. We love everything about Disney's Polynesian Resor, we're greeted with a friendship cast member who tosses a lei around everyones neck (the littlest wasn't having any of that) and makes the kids feel super special. They used to have hula people in the lobby which was a huge hit with the kids but this time they told us they didn't do that anymore. Note to the resort (since obviously all the big wigs read my blog) bring that back. We loved it. Check out all of the beautiful grounds of the resort. It's seriously a little getaway right in the middle of Orlando with the beauty of the tropics mixed with the magic of Disney...what more can you want?

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We always let the kids explore around the resort. Our first year here when we brought my oldest 7 years ago (oh my gosh!! wahhh.) we packed in so many activities at the theme parks that we didn't get to enjoy all the resort had to offer. We basically just came back late from the theme park exhausted and went straight to the room. Rookie mistake. The cost is pretty hefty per night so you want to get all you can out of the beautiful terrain, fun activities, and stuff to do around the resort. 

So if you have small children, getting in and out of the carseats is the WORST. Too much in and out and my 2 year old loses her ish. That being said, we like to adventure off for our meals to other resorts. We ALWAYS pick our activities with places along the stops where we can use the monorail. It's basically a "ride" for the kids and we don't have to lug around stuff in and out of the car and pay for more parking. It's a win win. 

Our first night of dinner, I reserved us dinner at the Princess character dinner at 1900 Park Fare at The Grand Floridian Hotel. The buffet is good and the characters come around to your table. Literally, every single character stops by your table and talks with your kids and takes a picture. No waiting in lines, no sweating outside, no occupying them while you wait (they are stuffing their faces in between!) and it is magical. We absolutely love character dining. It is the ultimate trick to experiencing "Disney" without the park. Especially at the toddler stage, which is why we do this when our kids turn 2. They are old enough to just love the characters but not old enough to really ride any rides or suffer through the wait times for different activities in the park. The character dining is the PERFECT medium until they get much older.

Okay, I am no Disney professional. Literally, I'm just a local Floridian who experienced Disney a million times nonchalantly growing up and half-butt plans my kids trips there. I don't know all the latest stuff or even have annual passes. Put I do have a tip for the other slacker moms out there. I know some people plan their trips months in advance and use the My Disney Experience app. and all that but I'm riding the struggle bus most days and that's not my jelly. Anywho,  my average tip from this less than expert is to schedule your dining at "off" times. We did dinner at 8:40. Seems late for young kids but seriously, it's vacation! Most people don't take their kids so late and it leaves the buffet fresher and the crowd less. 

Again, after closing down the restaurant we decided to explore the Grand Floridian Hotel. It's got beautiful style and fountains and great open spaces. The kids just love posing and making me take their picture with different stuff, wha la! They're happy as a clam.

 Little miss was putting on a dance show on that flat area to the music playing throughout the hotel. 

Little miss was putting on a dance show on that flat area to the music playing throughout the hotel. 

 This is his Dog pose incase you couldn't tell. LOL

This is his Dog pose incase you couldn't tell. LOL

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn. Again, we rode the FUN ride the "monorail" over to Chef Mickey's Restaurant at the Contemporary Resort. I followed suit of my plan and made our breakfast at 7:15 AM. There was no long wait to get in and lots of open tables. When we left it was about 9:00 AM and the waiting area was PACKED, so it's official... I'm a genius. 

These Mickey Mouse waffles are a favorite ALL around in our family. They are yummy and adorable. Actually the whole spread for breakfast is pretty solid. Again the kids just ate right up totally distracted and content while we waited and every single character came right up to us. Our youngest was infatuated with Minnie. She's currently obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and this was her first time seeing them "in person". Our trips to see Santa and the Easter Bunny haven't gone stellar so I was nervous but homegirl ATE. THEM. UP. My older are reaching that "cool kid" age but they even turned into little wide eyed kids with wonder when the characters asked for a hug or a high five. I loved it! Made my mama heart swell. 

PS: If you tell them you're celebrating your kid's birthday when you book the reservations, they will bring out a cupcake with a candle EVERY SINGLE TIME. Adella ate her weight in cupcakes the whole time. She's just like her mama. 

After breakfast we headed back to the Polynesian Resort and spent the entire day at the pool. No pics because #wateraroundmyphone and #mominabathingsuit. This is a PG site y'all. I'm keeping it classy. ;) There is a splash park to play in and a big pool with a swirly slide. The kids were in heaven. We've stayed here twice before and never got to enjoy the pool. It was so much better to have the free time for fun and the water to keep us cool under this HOT Florida summer sun. We only stayed for one night because I believe in quality over quantity. We got out of the pool and ate a little lunch at the cute pool cafe. We just requested a late check out and went up to our room to change for the rest of the day after that.  

For dinner, our plans were to head on over to Mickey's Backyard BBQ at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. Again, my last minute scheduling totally worked in our favor this time around. I had originally made our reservations for someplace inside Magic Kingdom before I succumbed to my husband's logic because I was determined to be "in the park." But after we settled on this alternative was to experience Disney, I called to cancel that reservation. (I always recommend booking immediately with an opening when called last minute because again, most people call WAY in advance.) Luckily, they were able to switch my reservation to Mickey's Backyard BBQ without "penalty" (seriously, just ask to talk to a manager and they begin to sing a different tune with the whole "no refund or cancellation stuff). 

Mickey's Backyard BBQ was by far my favorite. People are of course a little pushy when it gets a little crowded but otherwise everything was wonderful. The kids can dance with the characters, take pictures with them, and have tons of up close interactions with Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, or Chip n Dale. The music is fun and the food is actually pretty dang good. We had such a great time and it was well worth the money.

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Once the BBQ fun ended we took the boat and then the monorail back to The Polynesian Resort and found a good spot on their beach. The kids ran around and we parked on some lounge chairs.  Ahem ... I parked in a chair and apparently my hottie hubby practiced his modeling poses. ha! I'd pick your spot about an hour before the fireworks show happens at Magic Kingdom (9:30?) because that's the perfect viewing spot. A little light show floats across the lake and then we enjoyed the fireworks while relaxing without the crowd! Right after that, we just carried the kiddos to the car (it was late! 10:30ish) and headed home after squeezing every ounce of fun out of our "weekend" at not-so-much Disney. 

To finish off our weekend of Disney without Disney... we had some family and close friends over for a Minnie Mouse themed get together. The perfect end to the best weekend celebrating our sweet girl. Again, I am no expert on Disney but wanted to share our sweet little tradition with other families who would enjoy it as well! See ya real soon! (good grief, I couldn't help myself).