Planning a family vacation in Orlando, Florida with young children may at first seem overwhelming. With so many places to see and things to do, where do you begin? Look no further than the purple road signs that lead you straight into the heart of Walt Disney World, and head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/hollywood-studios/
Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers a wide range of activities, from heart-thumping attractions to relaxing stage shows to scrumptious food and treats. Here is how to spend a perfect vacation day in Orlando, Florida with children under the age of seven.
Having visited Disney World seven times, the first piece of advice I give to anyone planning a Disney vacation is to rent a car. Yes, Disney has really cool buses that will take you back and forth from your hotel to the park (if you are staying on property). Yes, it’s free. Yes, they will drop you off almost at the front door of the park.
However, if you have ever relied on the Disney buses as your sole form of transportation, you will agree that having your own vehicle is the way to go. To offset the cost, check with your bank or credit card provider to see if there are loyalty/rewards points you can use for car rentals.
The next way to ensure your vacation day in Orlando is perfect is to plan ahead…way ahead…like six months. I know, you think you are going to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and just walk around enjoying all of the attractions, and when you get hungry you will just waltz into the nearest restaurant and eat, right?
Now, I am not saying you have to plan every minute of your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but without some advance planning, you will be very frustrated trying to console your little prince or princess who is now crying hysterically because they could not get an autograph from Leo of Little Einsteins. There is a reason Disney takes reservations up to six months in advance: they book that quickly.
Unless you want to eat fast food all day, you will need reservations, especially if your children want to meet their favorite characters. Just go online or call (407) WDW-DINE to book a reservation at any of the Disney restaurants. You may be required to provide a credit card number to hold the reservation, but nothing will be charged to your card at that time. When you arrive, you can use whatever form of payment you choose.
Now, let’s begin our day. First, get an early start. Grab a quick breakfast at the hotel or nearby McDonald’s (just to tide you over for a bit) and head straight to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Depending on the time of year, check the Calendar page of the official Disney’s Hollywood Studios website to find out what time the park opens. If you are staying on property, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, which allow you to enter the park up to 1-1/2 hours before the official park opening or stay late after the official closing time.
As soon as you enter the park, put your blinders on and head straight for Toy Story Mania in Pixar Place. It is located directly behind the big sorcerer’s hat (go around to the right) at the end of Hollywood Boulevard – you can’t miss it.
Featuring Woody, Buzz and all of your favorite characters from the movie, this ride takes you on an old-fashioned midway game extravaganza. Add some 3-D glasses and you are transported directly into the games with virtual targets right before your eyes.
Because Toy Story Mania is one of the newest and most popular attractions, ride early in the day or chances are you will not get to see it at all – unless, of course, you enjoy standing in line for three hours in 90-degree heat.
At least one Disney character meal is a must for your Orlando vacation day. My favorite character breakfast is the Playhouse Disney Play ‘n Dine at Hollywood & Vine. This buffet-style meal is served daily from 8:00 a.m. until 11:20 a.m. The cost is $26.99 for adults and $14.99 for children ages 3-9. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, this meal will count as one table service for each person.
A late morning reservation is ideal, and you will not be hungry until dinner. Okay, maybe you will have to get a Mickey ice cream bar sometime during the afternoon, but that should hold you over.
Your kids will love having Mickey waffles with warm maple syrup while dancing with JoJo and Goliath from JoJo’s Circus, and Leo and June from Little Einsteins. All children are invited to join the characters for a rousing rendition of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ‘Hot Dog’ song and conga line around the restaurant.
While you are enjoying your oh-so-fresh Florida orange juice, the characters make their way around to every table for photos and autographs. Just remember not to ask JoJo’s pet lion Goliath for an autograph – lions can’t write, silly! (JoJo would be happy to sign for both of them!)
Buffets are great especially if you have picky eaters. Kids (and adults) can choose from a huge assortment of fresh fruit, pastries, Mickey-shaped waffles, pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, sausage links or patties, and old-fashioned country sausage and gravy. Your kids may even find a new food they like – my son never tried cantaloupe before our visit, and now he loves it!
After breakfast, stroll down the streets of “old Hollywood” and see the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Visit the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, or experience the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Adventure. Go behind the scenes on the Studio Backlot Tour and learn how some of the most amazing special effects are created for movies.
If you dare, ride the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Not for the faint of heart, this attraction will have your hair standing on end before you even get to the top of the tower. Creepy hotel clerks and porters tell the tale of how the formerly ritzy Hollywood Tower Hotel has deteriorated into its current dilapidated state. The stomach-churning finale comes when the freight elevator malfunctions sending you up then down, then up again, randomly up to seven times.
For a respite from the heat, The Voyage of the Little Mermaid show is a one-hour Broadway-style stage show you can enjoy from the comfort of your air-conditioned seat. Ariel is brought to life with authentic mermaid tail and dinner-fork comb. Vibrant colors and breathtaking music and choreography make this a must-see for every little girl who dreams of meeting her prince and living happily ever after.
Be sure to be back to Hollywood Boulevard near Echo Lake by 3:00 p.m. for the 35-minute Block Party Bash, an interactive dance-party parade that will immerse you in the world of toys from Disney-Pixar movies. Dance with little green army men, wave to Mike and Sully, and sing along to your favorite Disney songs.
By the time the parade is over your little ones will be so over-stimulated that now would be a good time to head back to the hotel for a little R&R or a swim in the pool. This is one of the times you will be thankful that you rented a car so you do not have to wait in line for the Disney buses, which by this time are packed with hot, sweaty, tired, cranky, sticky, sunburned visitors – just like you.
After you have recharged your batteries, it is time to head out for the rest of your perfect vacation day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The best deal for dinner is the Fantasmic! Dinner Package, which includes dinner at one of three restaurants and preferred seating at the show.
In this ultimate good vs. evil extravaganza, Fantasmic! is an exciting display of water, fireworks, video and live-action characters. Sorcerer Mickey and his friends battle the villains you love to hate. Breathtaking video displayed on dancing sprays of water and laser light, combined with heart pumping music from the movies, make this a multi-sensory show like no other.
Restaurants participating in the Fantasmic! Dinner Package are The Hollywood Brown Derby, Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, and Hollywood & Vine.
The Mama Melrose package includes an appetizer, entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage. The cost is $32.99 for adults and $11.99 for children ages 3-9.
The Brown Derby offers a la carte selections with entrées ranging from $33.00 to $49.99. The Brown Derby is a Signature restaurant and may two table credits from your Disney Dining Plan.
The dinner buffet at Hollywood & Vine is a totally different experience than the breakfast buffet. No characters here, and a lot more variety of food. Along with kid-friendly favorites such as chicken fingers and hot dogs, adults will love the selection of carved beef, fresh fish and shrimp as far as the eye can see. Plus, it only uses one table credit per person on the Disney Dining Plan. For those not on the dining plan, the cost is $30.99 for adults and $15.99 for children ages 3-9.
The designated seating area in the Hollywood Hills Ampitheater is accessed through the Highlands Gate on Sunset Boulevard next to the Beauty and the Beast stage. Arrive at least 30 minutes early for the best seat selection. For optimal viewing, sit left or right of center. Folks sitting in the front rows will get wet. Keep in mind this is an outdoor theater and may be canceled due to weather.
Fantasmic! does not run every day, so check show dates and times. The show starts at dusk and last about 25 minutes so times may vary.
After the show, your little ones should be sufficiently tuckered out. Head back to the hotel and get some rest. I think you will agree that visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida is the perfect way to spend a vacation day with children under the age of seven.
For more Disney travel tips, read Top Ten Websites for Planning a DisneyWorld Vacation and Top Ten Insider Tips for Visiting DisneyWorld.
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