The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Walt Disney World Resort, who invite you to discover a world of magic and memories the whole family will share.
Ah, the Walt Disney World family vacation. The character-filled days, fireworks-filled evenings, surprisingly great food and drink for parents, and that joy — plastered to your kids’ faces for the duration of the trip. This last part is what Walt Disney World is really all about; awe-filled spells that are the stuff of life-long memories. Seeking to capture these moments, we sent a professional photographer and his family to Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Dan and Tracy DeWaard took their 4-year-old girl, January, for one long magical weekend to document the thrills along the way for the rest of us. This much is clear — this is a trip that will have a lasting impression for the three of them.
When you take a 4-year-old to Epcot, don’t expect them to stop to smell the flowers — for long at least. January took a few seconds to appreciate the petals at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, a seasonal favorite in the spring (parents going to Walt Disney World this Fall, rejoice: the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will be in full swing then), but was soon ready to see her favorite characters and explore their worlds. “The flowers were pretty amazing,” says Dan DeWaard, “but January was more about getting to the next ride.”
Connecting with characters doesn’t require a super fan. January, who in her four years on this planet had not yet seen Mulan or Aladdin, met with the title characters from both movies and immediately took to them. “Mulan was so sweet — January connected personally to her right away,” says DeWaard. As for Aladdin and Jasmine? January was a quick learn about Arabian nights, helping the two characters call out for their magic carpet to come take them on a ride.
January met the characters she knew best as well — Elsa and Anna. “She saw them,” says DeWaard, “and literally started running toward them.”
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
From the real-life habitats of planet Earth’s megafauna to the larger-than-life plant and beings within Pandora – The World of Avatar, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is ripe for exploration.
After checking out the landscape, January dove into a number of shows including Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – The Musical. “We all really enjoyed the woodsy parts of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but the shows were what really did it for her.”
January’s favorite ride at Walt Disney World, according to her parents, was the TriceraTop Spin. After many rounds on this dinosaur, January sat down to recap a big day at the animal kingdom. Afterwards, she jumped into the pool at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (below), where the family stayed during their visit to wrap a perfect day.
Any time you go to Walt Disney World, the days are filled to the brim — with rides, characters, swimming, balloons — but even the youngest kids are rarely worse for the wear. “They were packed days, but somehow they didn’t feel like it. It was all a new experience, but it wasn’t too much for January. She was the perfect age for all that we did.”
The DeWaard’s Take on Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom: A Long Weekend Itinerary
- Fly in from Seattle
- Grab a bite at the Whispering Canyon Cafe, check out the lagoon and head for early bedtime at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
- Head to Epcot and go straight to see Mulan in the China Pavilion.
- Check out the Frozen Ever After ride and then meet Elsa and Anna in the flesh.
- Check out The Seas with Nemo & Friends.
- Grab a bite (fish tacos anyone?) at Sunshine Seasons.
- Take the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros through the Mexico Pavilion.
- Head on down to the Morocco Pavilion to see Aladdin and Jasmine.
- Grab a bite at the Electric Umbrella located in Epcot’s Future World.
- Head on back to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to swim, nap, and grab dinner at Tokyo Dining in Epcot.
- Tour Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including:
- Got to the Adventurers Outpost on Discovery Island; meet Mickey and Minnie.
- Grab a bite at Lunch at Satu’li Canteen located in Pandora – The World of Avatar.
- See the Festival of the Lion King.
- See Finding Nemo – The Musical.
- Head on back to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to swim, rest, and then head out for a final meal at Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen in the Magic Kingdom Park.
- Pack for the flight back home.