Megatron’s First Disney World Visit Highlights: Port Orleans, Full Circle Moments, ADRs, Etc

Baby Bricker’s first visit to Walt Disney World was one of our best ever vacations, and this trip report continues the first installment of ‘What Went Right’ during that family trip. This features photos & thoughts from Port Orleans Riverside, as well as our approach to ADRs, fireworks, dark rides, and photography. Plus, how it helped that we did WDW pre-baby, full circle moments, and why (for us) it’s better to be tourists in the “Disney Bubble” than locals who can visit freely.

As discussed in part one, this was fun and immensely satisfying as we rediscovered Walt Disney World as parents. It was also a huge learning experience. This and the first installment of the trip report focus on the highlights and our successes, but make no mistake–we made plenty of mistakes and a lot went wrong! That’ll be covered in the third and probably/hopefully final part of the trip report.

In the meantime, here’s more of our “wins” as a family taking Baby Bricker (Megatron) to Walt Disney World for the first time. This is going to be another long one, so let’s dig right in…

Port Orleans Riverside – There were a few full circle moments, and one of those started the moment we stepped off the airport shuttle, which was like being transported back to November 2007. Except this time, the Mears bus didn’t have the Disney’s Magical Express wrapper and cost us money.

That was the Christmas trip during which we got engaged, and although the proposal itself occured on the beach of the Poly rather than at Port Orleans Riverside, we were staying at the later. I still remember being a ball of anxiety as we took the boat down the Sassagoula River to Downtown Disney for Earl of Sandwich, nervously getting dressed for dinner, and celebrating post-proposal (spoiler: she said yes) back in our room at Riverside.

We tried to replicate some of our engagement photos at Riverside during this trip, which was a surprisingly easy since not much has changed and our engagement photos were hastily shot with a point & shoot. It was the first of several times that Sarah cried during this trip. (Out of happiness, to be clear.)

Royal Rooms – Megatron is too young for princesses and stereotypically girly stuff. Right now, her top interest is stuffed animals; the main draw to those is colors, textures and–for reasons beyond me–long tags. I do think she has an innate attraction to actual princesses, but that’s not the same as pictures on the wall or regal decor. To be honest, I don’t think she even saw any of that–it can be difficult to tell what catches her attention and what’s just background noise.

One thing I know she loved is the light-up headboards in the Royal Rooms at Riverside. These were a huge hit. She became absolutely enraptured when the fiber optic fireworks started lighting up, bouncing herself on the bed, laughing, and getting all wound up. These fireworks rank right up there with fake fart sounds in terms of the level of amusement offered. I only wish there were an “always on” mode so I didn’t have to press that button every ~30 seconds!

In general, the Royal Rooms at Riverside are still in shockingly good shape. They’re a one and done for us for a while, but that’s an “us issue” rather than a problem with the rooms themselves. They’re really fun and a good reminder that Disney can do lavish and elaborate design–even at a Moderate–that immerses guests in Disney magic. I’d love to see Imagineering have the chance to do more like the Royal Rooms.

Doing Disney Pre-Baby – This one is a given for us since we have this blog and all. We’ve been visiting Walt Disney World since we were kids and have gone countless times as both locals and out-of-state Annual Passholders as adults. Suffice to say, I think it was hugely advantageous that we’ve been to Walt Disney World pre-baby.

In fact, if I could make just one recommendation to future parents, it would be to visit prior to having kids. You don’t have to be like us–even one trip will do the trick! And if you aren’t able to accomplish that, definitely try to go when your kids are still babies and everything is easy. (Or so I’m told. It doesn’t seem easy right now!)

The point is that a Walt Disney World trip before having kids, or at least before they reach their formative years, is familiarizing yourself with the place and resetting expectations. Whatever the expectations of parents planning a first-time trip, they’re probably unrealistic. This is not to say that Walt Disney World will underwhelm or disappoint. Quite the contrary, and I say that with renewed emphasis after seeing the place through our daughter’s eyes for the first time.

Rather, it’s that you will set expectations at an unrealistic level. Thinking you’ll accomplish more than you will and setting the stakes too high, all leading to disappointment when things inevitably do not go to plan. We’ve seen (many times) that the best laid plans often go awry. That’s just true in general, but especially so with kids.

The big thing you should learn from doing Walt Disney World pre-kids is that none of this matters. You’ll be disabused of the notion that you can do everything. You’ll get the impulse to accomplish too much out of your system. You’ll realize that being there is what counts, and it does not matter if that time is spent riding E-Ticket attractions, marveling at a Goofy statue, or playing at the pool.

Forming those coveted ‘core memories’ is what matters, and that can happen anywhere, at any time. Perhaps most importantly, you cannot plan when they’ll be formed. Try choreographing everything too much or forcing core memories and it’s likely to backfire.

This is a long-winded way of saying that we did not set out to accomplish much. Even a few of the things on our very short lists of stuff to do didn’t end up happening. And yet, we accomplished so much more at the same time. Things we never knew we’d love to do.

So I guess what I’m saying is that having experience and thus the luxury of low expectations helped us immensely. That freedom to roll with the punches was something that went right, because it led to unexpected moments of delight and fond family memories. (I hope that last part is actionable even if the first part isn’t.)

Photography – I took like one good landscape photo during our entire week at Walt Disney World. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite that lack of ‘epic’ shots, I can safely say this was my most inspired trip for photography in a long time. That’s because, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the time, my camera was firmly focused on Sarah and Megatron.

I’m still going through all of the photos, but there are already dozens–if not hundreds–that I love. And I don’t just love them because I love my wife and daughter (although that probably does make me a tad biased). It’s because I put in effort to capture those magical moments and loved every second of doing it.

Baby photography also presents a new learning experience for me, especially since I want a decent percentage of the photos not to show Megatron’s face. Portraiture has never been my strong suit, and on top of that, babies–adorable as they might be–aren’t exactly known as cooperative models. All of this combines to pose a new challenge–and another type of photography for me to master.

I’m really pleased with a lot of the photos, but equally as important, I want to get better. I want our daughter to be able to look back at these someday and see the love in them, knowing that her parents think the world of her.

Last-Minute ADRs – As mentioned over the years, we’re not particularly keen on Advance Dining Reservations. We do it as necessary for absolute must-dos, such as when a restaurant is reopening (or opening for the first time…but in the last few years, mostly reopening). In this case, that meant the return of 1900 Park Fare.

Beyond that, we spent a lot of time fixating on ADRs, making and modifying (and in some cases, cancelling and remaking) reservations when we found something “better” or changed our minds. That happened a lot, and the end result was hours of ADR-making; easily the most for any trip since our honeymoon nearly 15 years ago.

In the end, we did not follow-through and do a single ADR made prior to the start of the trip. Not one. Our plans kept “evolving” (because baby), so I kept cancelling, rechecking, and modifying. To my surprise, this worked out flawlessly. We got every single reservation we wanted, including Space 220 Lounge, 1900 Park Fare Breakfast, and 1900 Park Fare Dinner. That’s 3 of the 5 most difficult ADRs at Walt Disney World right now.

Not only did we get the ADRs we wanted, but we got times that we wanted. Granted, the times that we wanted are probably among the least desirable (first or last seatings) for most guests, but the point still stands that we got what we wanted at challenging ADRs, all same-day or the night before. We could’ve done many other meals this way, and were tempted by ADRs for Topolino’s Terrace Breakfast and Artist Point, too.

This has long been our approach as a couple (or for me as a solo traveler), but we worried it’d be different at the tail end of spring break season and as a party of 3 (meaning a table for 4 instead of 2). Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare and Space 220 Lounge were definitely challenging, but we had great success across the board based on what worked with our more spontaneous schedule. It was really great not being tied to plans we made months in advance, especially with a baby!

Fireworks – Going into the trip, I was kind of dreading the nighttime spectaculars. We had no intentions of watching any of them. Even with protective baby earmuffs, we had no desire to subject ourselves to the mass exodus at Magic Kingdom post-fireworks. I’ve seen too many looks of dread in the eyes of parents trying to navigate the chaos and crowds over the years to want to subject us to that just yet.

My fear was that we’d inadvertently end up needing to exit around fireworks time, and I was anxious about inadvertently having to deal with that congestion. Thankfully, that was never the case. We avoided them all of our nights in the parks, while also “rediscovering” just how much you can accomplish while everyone else is watching the shows. (Something we really “learned” with Disney Enchantment, which we seldom made a point of seeing.)

While it didn’t make sense from a purely strategic perspective, I have few better memories from the trip than when we looped “it’s a small world” repeatedly during Happily Ever After and got our own boat each time. Doing Peter Pan’s Flight with no wait was also great, as were the other Fantasyland dark rides.

Megatron has an affinity for bright lights and sounds, so we did end up watching once from the observation area at the Contemporary after dinner at Contempo Cafe, and that was a really fun experience. Megatron’s eyes lit up and she kept gazing up or back at us–I’d like to think it was a “do you guys see this amazingness in the sky, pretty crazy, right?!” reaction.

It was also Sarah’s first time seeing Happily Ever After in a while, and it was an emotional experience for her. That fireworks show has become meaningful for us over the years, especially upon its return in 2021. Back then, it felt like we (collectively) had made it to the other side. On this night in 2024, it felt like our family had.

Dark Rides – As mentioned above, we rode “it’s a small world” repeatedly. It turns out that Baby Bricker is a big fan of dark rides (yep, she’s ours!) She loved every single dark ride that we did, including Haunted Mansion. (She’s fearless…for now!) This wasn’t a huge surprise–Megatron is a big fan of colors, shapes and sounds, so dark rides really have it all from her perspective.

We found “it’s a small world” and Living with the Land to be the best dark rides for our family, as they have a lot that’s visually engaging, are bright enough that we can see her reactions to the show scenes, and they’re also boat rides. Whereas the PeopleMover consistently put her to sleep (it’s just like being in the car for a baby!), the water below the boat seemed to help stimulate and maintain her attention…and not put her to sleep.

Now watch, our next half-dozen rides on “it’s a small world” at Disneyland will all become nap sessions. (Few things seem more consistent or predictable with babies than inconsistency and unpredictability about how their reactions “evolve” over time.)

Skipping Genie – We were open to buying Genie+ for Magic Kingdom going into the trip, but that was really about it. In the end, we didn’t buy it anywhere and were very pleased with that decision. Pretty much every single attraction that we wanted to do as a family is unpopular, so that certainly helped. Megatron isn’t quite tall enough to do TRON Lightcycle Run, Mission Space, or even Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Give her a few more months.

It also helped that we had no desire to do attractions individually. I’d imagine that’ll change at some point, but I’ve done enough rides by myself in the last year for a lifetime, and this trip was all about experiencing things together as a family. (Another reason why it’s nice to do Disney pre-baby.)

On top of that, our schedule was very dynamic and dictated by the needs of Megatron. (Also, we tried to do rides while she was awake.) Buying Genie+ and weaving that into our schedule would’ve been tilting at windmills, and I’m glad we didn’t hassle with it. We will again at some point, I’m sure, but not for now. (I’m also now looking forward to pre-arrival Lightning Lanes less–I can’t imagine that with small kids.)

Vacation Vibe – Having lived in both Orange Counties (California and Florida), we prefer experiencing Walt Disney World like tourists. To be sure, there are major advantages to being a local, but on balance, I’d rather experience the Vacation Kingdom of the World as a vacation. Even my solo monthly research trips have been more enjoyable (and honestly, more fruitful) and more encompassing now that I’m experiencing the parks again like a tourist.

Being able to pop in for a few hours at at time definitely has its advantages. More than anything else, I miss going to EPCOT for dinner, watching the fireworks, and doing laps of World Showcase as the park closed. Don’t get me wrong–we had an amazing time living in Florida and enjoyed experiences we never could’ve as tourists.

But also, there’s a degree to which everything becomes routine and starts losing its luster. I think that’s probably why some locals fixate on faults and problems–they’re easier to spot when Disney is interchangeable with the mall, and stops being a truly special place.

Obviously, I cannot speak for everyone–but Walt Disney World just “hits differently” for us when experienced as a wholly immersive multi-day vacation destination divorced from the real world. The Disney Bubble is definitely a thing, and it’s fantastic. (Not to discourage anyone from becoming a local, as that’s a novel and unique experience in its own right.)

There are a couple of reasons why this Walt Disney World trip resonated even more than normal. The first is simply because it was Sarah’s and my first vacation together since November 2022. While have traveled a lot (exclusively to Walt Disney World) in the last year-plus, she erred on the side of caution during a (risky) pregnancy.

So this trip was a long time coming, and was a really welcome relief. That would’ve been the case even if it were just us–it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. On top of that, seeing the parks through the eyes of our baby just dialed everything up to 11.

The second reason is that there’s really no easy “popping in” to Disneyland. There have been times when it has taken us nearly an hour from the time we arrived at Mickey & Friends until we entered the parks. That’s just the parking and walking time, and does not include our commute, which also can add a lot of time if we get unlucky with traffic. (Is it really considered “unlucky” if it’s the rule rather than exception?) Probably stating the obvious, but that can set a certain tone for the visit to come.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some absolutely fantastic days at Disneyland. Our first during the holiday season remains the high-water mark to this day, and I’m so thankful that went so well. Most of these days and nights in the park have been fun, but there’s still just something different about Disneyland as a regular local versus Walt Disney World as a tourist. I think it’s one of those “if you know, you know” things and further explanation isn’t going to move the needle one way or the other.

Meanwhile, our first vacation to Walt Disney World with Baby Bricker–and first in over a year for us as a couple–was nothing short of magical. We were fully present throughout the trip, without distractions of the real world inside the Disney Bubble–we went fully into “Vacation Mode.” There were a number of goosebumps moments, flashbacks to past trips, and the aforementioned full circle experiences.

I know I’m rambling at this point, and it’s difficult to articulate what this means. One specific example is a favorite memory of mine from our second trip together as adults back in 2007. We got dressed up, took the monorail to the Contemporary, and enjoyed a fine feast at California Grill. We were broke college students at the time, and this was our first truly fancy date night.

Leaving on the monorail after that incredible meal and seeing the lights and sights out the window, we felt the magic. That was the night that got us forever hooked on Walt Disney World. I knew, right then, that this was the place my future wife and our future kids would be coming for the rest of our lives. Obviously, I didn’t know the specifics or how things would play out (or wouldn’t) in the intervening years…but I just knew.

Fast forward over 15 years, and we’re leaving the Contemporary after baby’s first character meal at Chef Mickey’s. We board the monorail and have a cabin to ourselves, and our hearts just feel full. I look over at my daughter and wife, and it’s like one of those jump-cut flashbacks in movies, like the present flickering and merging with the past or something. I couldn’t help but get choked up a little. Anyway, this entire trip was filled with moments just like that.

This is another one of those “if you know, you know” things. Except the difference here is that I’m betting that most of you know exactly what I mean here. Walt Disney World is a truly magical place, with excellent attractions, incredible restaurants, exemplary Cast Members, and so much more.

But it’s the indelible memories we make with family and friends, and a longing for those nostalgic trips down memory lane, that keep so many of us coming back. A decade from now, I won’t remember how the food tasted that day at Chef Mickey’s. But seeing the look on my daughter’s face as she was determined to grab some mouse nose or when she began laughing uncontrollably (for no reason?) at Pluto or that full circle feeling as we were sitting alone together on that monorail…I couldn’t forget those moments even if I tried. The uninitiated who don’t “get” Disney will never understand, but you do. And it’s why we all keep going back home to Walt Disney World, again and again.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Thoughts on what went right during Baby Bricker’s first trip to Walt Disney World? Anything else you’re interested in reading about with regard to Megatron, babies in the parks, etc? Anecdotes of your own about first visits to the Disney parks? Any other questions? Hearing your feedback is always appreciated, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

69 Responses to “Megatron’s First Disney World Visit Highlights: Port Orleans, Full Circle Moments, ADRs, Etc”
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