Walt Disney World Trip Report: Planning and Arrival Day

Ask me a few years ago if I would ever plan a family trip to Walt Disney World, and the response would have been a resounding NOPE, not gonna happen.

Although I grew up quoting Disney movies and wearing out the Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid soundtrack cassettes in my parents' car stereos, I had a vague yet overwhelmingly unattractive idea of what a Disney trip entailed: oppressive heat; seas of sweaty, stressed people; overpriced everything; and a pre-travel planning process that looked something akin to another full-time job.  Couple that with my husband's social anxiety, which can make sprawling, crowded, unfamiliar places the stuff of nightmares, and it was a clear no-go for us.

The more Matt began to connect to Disney, though, and the more we saw the stories Disney weaves from a little one's perspective again, the more that definite no began to shift until it became a full-fledged member of the maybe list.  And for me, even a maybe warrants extensive research, itinerary drafting, and general playing around to sort out whether it's doable.

Early on in that research process, I came across Shannon Albert's WDW Prep School, a website dedicated to helping people plan Disney World trips.  I pored over each post and listened to her podcast WDW Prep To Go every time I was in the car or flying solo in my kitchen.  Shannon's infectious enthusiasm for Disney and her six-step planning process led me, quite unexpectedly, to fall in love with Disney World and to feel confident in booking our family's trip for December of this year.

We decided on a December trip because we wanted to experience Christmas in the parks.  However, we selected dates that would get us there in between the heaviest crowds around Thanksgiving and the Christmas-to-New Year's surge.  Our final plan included five nights at the Wilderness Lodge with three park days, plus tickets to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party on our final night.

On Monday, December 7, after a year of planning, Erik, Matt, and I walked into the Wilderness Lodge for the first time.  From the very first cast member's "Welcome home," we truly felt it.  We'd found a second home.  It's not an exaggeration to say that this trip changed our lives.

Our arrival night was low-key.  We settled into our room and tried to assess how the hotel's DVC expansion might affect our trip (short answer - other than a not-great view and a sweet little treat from the hotel management, it didn't), then we headed to dinner.

We had a 6:40 dinner reservation at Chef Mickey's, so once we were all set in the room, we headed down to the boat dock for a ride over to the Contemporary.

On this first ride, we swung by Fort Wilderness first and got to watch the sun set over Bay Lake.  I hadn't anticipated using the boats as much as we did throughout the trip, but we did come to rely on them pretty heavily, and they were absolutely a highlight of our Disney routine.

Chef Mickey's was, for us, a great first meal.  Matt has an affinity for the main Disney gang and had received both a surprise invitation letter from Mickey the night before our trip and a welcome box of goodies in our room, so getting to begin with The Mouse himself, as well as Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto, was perfect.  It didn't hurt that, the rowdy dining room filled with families helped to mask his post-car-ride squirreliness, too.

Well-fed and grinning from ear to ear, we headed back to the Wilderness Lodge for the night.

This is Part 1 of our trip report.  As I continue the write-up, I'll add links here to each day's post.  Next up: The Magic Kingdom.  Stay tuned!