Archive for October, 2010

BETAMOUSE #36 – NextGen PhotoPass

by on October 22, 2010

betamouse logoA new episode of Betamouse is out, co-hosted by TouringPlans.com developer Henry Work.

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

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WDW Today Episode 789 – Changing Plans

by on October 21, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 789 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Disney Posts May 2011 Park Hours

by on October 21, 2010

Park hours and schedules for May have been announced and the crowd calendar has been updated accordingly.

With Easter falling during late April in 2011, May becomes even a more tempting time to plan a vacation than usual. Crowds in May will be average (between 4 and 6) with the exception of Memorial Day weekend. Even Memorial Day weekend is a good choice if you must travel during a holiday. There are other holidays that are much worse in terms of crowds. Still, use a touring plan and have fun!

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Updates To Park Schedules In November and December

by on October 21, 2010

Until recently our crowd calendar was working under the assumption that park hours and schedules for Thankgiving and Christmas 2010 were very likely to change. We used historical park hours to build our predictions while we waited for Disney to announce something that was more in line with what we would expect for those busy holiday seasons. Looks like it has arrived.

Perhaps in reaction to increased bookings for the holidays, many changes have been made to park schedules for November and December. Here is a synopsis.

November 2010

  • Hours extended and nighttime parade added on Saturdays at the Magic Kingdom (6th, 13th, 20th)
  • Hours extended for Thanksgiving week at the Magic Kingdom (21st-27th)
  • Hours extended at Disney’s Hollywood Studios throughout November (4th, 7th-20th)
  • Fantasmic! showings added at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (4th, 7th, 11th, 14th, 18th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, 26th, 29th)
  • Hours extended for Thanksgiving week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (21st-28th)

December 2010

  • Hours extended and nighttime parade added at the Magic Kingdom (4th)
  • Fantasmic! showing add at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (2nd, 4th)
  • Hours extended for Christmas week at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (20th-31st)

Whenever park hours are extended it tells us that crowds are likely to be larger than expected. It is a sign that on-site bookings are on the rise since longer hours means more guests. There are still great opportunities to manage your itineraries by following the park recommendations and the per park crowd levels to plan your days wisely. As always, the best defense against large crowds is one of our field tested touring plans. They work! And they will make a 10 day feel like a 7!

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Jasper’s Big Stay

by on October 21, 2010

When pet owners travel the comfort and care of their pets is always a key element of their planning.  You need to know that your pet is going to be safe and well cared for so that you don’t have to be constantly worrying about them or worse, feel that you have to stay home to be with them.  So it’s great to know what options are available to you when you go away, especially at a place like Walt Disney World that has always welcomed pets by providing them a place to stay.

I’ll be honest, when I became a pet owner in my adult life, I really didn’t know what I was getting in to.  When I was younger my typical Long Island “bisected” and reworked family had 2 cats and 2 dogs.  Looking back we went on plenty of trips, even if they were just weekend stays with my grandparents in Flushing.  But I honestly have no idea what my parents did with the pets when we went away.  It just happened and they were there when we got back – I presume neighbors checked in on them.

Cheryl and I have had two cats and one dog before getting our current dog, a Bichon Frise named Jasper.  And we’ve learned quite a lot over the years as we’ve had to arrange their care while we’re away.  No matter what we try to do, Jasper always tries to stow away with us, especially once he figures out that we’re going to Disney World… okay he pretty much assumes that if we’re leaving the house without him that that’s where we’re going.  He wants to spend time at Disney World too, as any good DisneyDoggie would.

Very often, when we’re just going to spend a day in a at WDW we’ll set up Jasper in the office (a.k.a. “The Cave”), with water, toys, and his bed.  Then we’ll monitor him throughout the day via webcam.  We can even leave him watching Disney Channel using the TV card attached to my computer.  Unlike cats who can more or less take care of themselves while you’re away for short periods of time, dogs are much more dependent. So being able to keep an eye on him like this helps to put our minds at ease.

Other times, when planning in advance, we’ve had Jasper spend the day in the old Epcot Kennel, or even stay there overnight.  Of the four older Kennels, this was our favorite due to its convenience in terms of parking and access.  When they were taken over by Best Friends, a boarding facility we had used for our last dog up in Massachusetts, we were very excited because they had always taken great care of our dog and even our cats.  Price-wise, the old Kennels were a great value with prices on par with other Kennels.  However smaller pets stayed in a 2’ x 3’ crate, and larger dogs could get 3’ x 4’ accommodations.

When not boarding at Disney World, Jasper stays at a local kennel.  We do this not just because of the price, but because at this facility Jasper gets to stay in a dog run with 6’ of space inside and 6’ of space outside.  It is a fantastic value, they are always willing to take in Jasper, and he has a fantastic time there.  We can drop him off and pick him up on any day of the week except Sunday.  Jasper loves staying there.

However, when Best Friends unveiled their new Pet facility at Walt Disney World, Jasper got very excited, put on his best puppy dog eyes, told me, “Hey daddyman I needz ta go see cousin Yeti ta work on mah roar.”  We decided that his stay would have to coincide with a trip to WDW, and that meant the first weekend in October as I had a lot of friends coming down.  I planned for this to be a one night indoor stay with grooming the next day.  A little tip I learned is that the groom includes a six hour stay for that day. With pickup by noon for his resort stay, that meant 6pm, with a fee should we go past that time.

While it may work, walk-ups at Kennels, especially on holidays like July 4th are very risky.  You should always try to book in advance this is definitely a space is limited issues.  Getting to Disney World with your dog and not having a place for him to stay can really put the kibosh on your plans.

One additional thing you may want to consider when boarding your dog is food.  Most kennels will feed their dogs a standard food offering.  However you can always bring your own food for your dog to eat.  I actually recommend this, dogs can often have stomach issues when they do a hard switch from one food to another.  Looking back to an earlier article, the best way to pack the food for the stay is in baggies.  I recommend labeling these by day and meal.

Booking his stay was very painless, because Jasper was already in their computer system as he’d already “done time” in the Epcot kennel.  They reminded me to bring his shot records.  Boarding facilities are generally looking for three vaccinations: Rabies, DHPP, and Bordetella aka “Kennel Cough”.  Bordetella can be odd to deal with as some Kennels will require it be within the last 6 months, and others within the last 12.  There were many outbreaks during the late 1990s, and it is still a huge concern to this day.

Admittedly, when I saw the prices for the new Kennel, I was a little put off by them as they are roughly twice what they were at the old Kennels in many cases.  There are some perks that are now available that were not at the old Kennels including  the addition of grooming and a large outdoor play area.  A doggie day care facility is also available, which can provide fantastic socialization opportunities for your dog, but it is not available on weekends.  During operating hours you can come to play with and/or walk your dog.  They do also provide the same $2 DVC discount that the old Kennels did.

On checking in, the groomer, Olga, met with us to examine Jasper and to go over how we prefer for his hair to be cut.  Generally, since Jasper is not a show dog, we get for him what is known as a “puppy cut”.  The main reason is that with it he’ll carry a lot less hair which is much better for his well being in the warm Florida weather.  She told me ahead of time exactly how short his hair would be.  The groom includes one specialized service and we chose a nail trim, we also added in whitening shampoo – an all white dog is not the easiest to keep clean.

The price for the groom by itself is on par with that of the groomer we normally use.  I plan to leverage that in the future as this means we can do one day grooming trips where Jasper gets a spa day and we get to go play.  The groomer did a fantastic job considering she had to deal with a dog who’s coat had been purposely let go for about six weeks.

Checking Jasper in was otherwise uneventful, and afterward we were taken on a tour of the facility.  Normally this is something I try to do before I ever bring my dog for a stay anywhere.  However, as I had seen some great pics come out of the opening event for the new Kennel, I felt comfortable enough to take Jasper there.  The indoor kennel where Jasper stayed contains two “rooms” each about 3’ x 4’ – he can move back and forth between the two rooms as he pleases.  So while the price jumped, when the new Kennels opened the value of the stay increased as well.  (note: we were restricted from taking pictures in a number of the rooms at the facility, so I do not have a picture of these accomodations)

Later on in the day we stopped by to see Jasper, and we had a great time playing and running with him.  Behind the facility is a large, though not huge, play area that includes a few water features.  There is also a walkway around the perimeter of the play area that is separately fenced where you can take your dog to stretch his legs and do his business.  The walkway has two possible endings depending on if you choose to exit at the first checkpoint or continue along what the staff calls the “long trail”.

The next day after participating in the WDWFoodieFest, serving drinks at the TouringPlans.com Meetup at the Mexico Pavillion in World Showcase, and a staff dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel, we headed off to pick up Jasper.  He was in fantastic spirits and you could tell he had a good time. The groomer had done a fantastic job, he looked great.  My one big disappointment came while checking out.  In the lobby there is a screensaver running of dogs who stay at the facility, but no matter how long I watched I never saw Jasper.  Apparently, he hadn’t stayed long enough to be displayed on the screen.  To me that seemed to be a petty rule.

The total cost of Jasper’s stay and groom was $103.  This breaks down as follows:

$32 1 Day Indoor Stay w/DVC Discount
$53 Grooming, Shampoo, Brush, Haircut, Nail Trim
$2 Whitening Shampoo
$16 Late Groom Pickup

Overall, while the stay was more expensive then if Jasper had stayed closer to home, considering that the groom was reasonably priced, the value was not terrible.  It just isn’t great.  That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t use the facility again, especially for grooming as I indicated earlier.  But I’m not rushing back either.  Best Friends has a rate chart here.

What about you? Have you ever boarded your dog at Walt Disney World?  How do you feel about the new Kennel?  Have you tried it?  Do you like it?  Did your dog like it?  To quote Jasper, “Hokey Woofkerinos!

As always feel free to look me up on Twitter or Facebook as tperlmutter.

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My Food and Wine Festival Experience

by on October 20, 2010

If you’ve been following along my Disney adventures on the Touring Plans Blog you may remember I just took a trip to WDW a couple of weeks ago.  You can read all about that trip here, but I’d like to take this week to focus on Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival and the time I spent there.  For the folks who are not familiar with this annual event, the Food and Wine Festival comes to Disney’s Epcot every fall for several weeks of yummy fun.  This time around the theme was “Celebrating 15 years of Delicious Discoveries.”

I had only done the festival one other time, and we only really sampled a few sips and snacks on that trip so I was really looking forward to hitting it this time around.  Heck, I even booked a stay at the Yacht Club so I could be within walking distance of the wining and dining fun.  I did my research on the event and what was new this year.  I checked out the Disney Food Blog to read menus and got myself all excited to experience the Festival.  I couldn’t wait to enjoy leisurely afternoons with my friends munching on tasty morsels with a drink in hand.

Ha! Leisurely?  Who was I kidding?  While I had high hopes of taking it easy strolling around World Showcase with good friends and good food, it didn’t quite work out as planned.  There was so much going on that weekend with the 5k, the half marathon, and all of the Disney community events that I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked at the festival.  I also thought I’d get to enjoy Food and Wine with fewer crowds during the half marathon after party.  Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work out either since the party was a mob scene.  So while I did not get to hang out at the Festival as much as I would have liked to, I did enjoy the time I spent there.  I think I’ll try again next year and hope for a more successful outing.

With all that being said, let’s take a moment to get a lay of the land during the festival for the readers who may be heading down in the coming weeks.  Guests are welcomed to the event at the main gate with a display in the entry garden in front of Space Ship Earth to set the tone for your visit to Epcot. The Festival Welcome Center is set up in the old Wonders of Life Pavilion in Future World.  There guests will find a wine shop, merchandise, and areas for seminars, book signings, and other special activities. The rest of the Food and Wine fun is scattered throughout World Showcase.  28 booth line the walkways of World Showcase offering food and drink from countries from Chili to New Zealand and everywhere in between.

Upon arriving at Epcot one of the first things we did was purchase the wristband gift card sold for the event.  It is simply a smaller version of a regular gift card which comes attached to a stretchy bracelet to make life easier for folks enjoying the festivities.  I highly recommend picking one up if you are headed to Epcot for Food and Wine.  There are several benefits to using one of these cards.  First of all, you won’t have to fumble around with cash at every booth.  Another great thing about the card is that is a built in budget.  If you only want to spend $30 around World Showcase during your visit, just put that amount on your card.  Once your $30 is spent you know its time to move onto one of the 900 other activities offered throughout WDW.

Speaking of money, lets discuss how much touring around the festival might set you back.  Let’s be clear this is not a cheap event if you intend to sample the goodies at several booths and spend days wandering around this International hot spot.  For example, a Godiva chocolate liquor iced coffee costs $7.95 and it is not a large serving by any stretch of the imagination.   However, there are ways to keep your budget under control my getting a hold of an event guide and selecting a few sips and snacks from around the world you can’t live without.  Making these decisions may be hard, but if you are working with a tight budget your wallet (and possibly your liver) will thank you later.  Guests should also keep in mind most of the portions provided for a fairly high cost are small.  While this allows you to taste several of the festival’s offerings without getting stuffed, you may be shocked to see what you get for the price.

If you really want to splurge there are several presentations and demonstrations guests may opt to attend for an extra fee.  Some of these events can be enjoyed for as little as eight dollars, but others like the Party for the Senses will sent you back $135.  Some of these demonstrations are given by well known chefs and beverage experts.  I even saw a host from the Food Network at my resort who was in town to speak during the first weekend of the festival.  I like to eat, but I am not enough of a foodie to pay for these events.  I’d love to hear about readers’ experiences at these seminars and demonstrations.

Although I did not get to try as many international delicacies as I would have liked to, the bits I did get to sample were pretty stellar.  I can recommend the Belgian waffle and their Godiva coffee drink with full confidence.  I also really enjoyed the Fisherman’s Pie at the Irish booth.  My friends also seemed to enjoy the warm chocolate lava cake with a Bailey’s Irish cream ganache.  The sweet treat called a Nanamiano (which I will never be able to properly pronounce) bar in Canada was also great for chocolate lovers.  Despite running out of time to sample more culinary delights we had a great time tasting what we could and hanging out together at the festival!

I highly recommend checking out the Food and Wine Festival for yourself!  Even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you can enjoy a beautiful fall day in World Showcase occasionally snacking.  It would be a great excuse to take a weekend trip with your sweetie or gather up some friends to hit Epcot.  Every Disney World enthusiast should try to experience this annual event at least once.  My friends and I are already talking about going back next year!

So what about you?  Have you paid a visit to the Food and Wine Festival this year? Let me know what you thought about this year’s event as well as some of your fondest memories of years past.  The readers of the Touring Plans Blog are always looking for great tips for touring WDW so please don’t be shy!

Next week I’ll take a closer look at my recent stay at the Yacht Club!

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WDW Today Episode 788 – Listener Questions

by on October 19, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 788 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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All-Star Music Resort Family Suite Review

by on October 18, 2010

“I’m sorry. We don’t have a reservation under that name at this resort or any other Disney resort.”  This was the rocky start to my relationship with Disney’s All-Star Music Resort.  Baffled and sent away with my tail tucked between my legs, I found a seat in the lobby.  I needed wifi to pull up my confirmation email (which admittedly I should have already had with me), but I quickly learned there was no wifi anywhere.  I waited in the check-in line a second time to inquire about getting an internet connection but was told this was only available for an extra fee with (wait for it). . . a room reservation.  Sent away with my tail tucked between my legs for a second time, I spent some time seeking wifi and tracking down my confirmation email.

Once I was armed with the proof that my clan did, indeed, have the right to occupy one of the resort’s family suites, I waited in the check-in line for a third time.  The reservation was found under my last name with an incorrect spelling.  I was relieved–that is until I was told I needed to pay the balance on the room.  “This room should have already been paid for,” I explained to the lady behind the counter.  She pleasantly explained that the first night had been paid off but not the second, and I was bewildered when she asked if I would please hand over my credit card for the $300 per night charge. I was certain it had already been covered.  However, I thought it over for a few seconds and considered the fact that if I had to wait in that check-in line one more time I might hang myself.  With that visual in mind, I gave the woman my sparkling Disney Visa.  The matter would have to be figured out later as my family needed accommodations, and I knew we would not be able to find another room easily on the holiday weekend.

The papers were signed, and I was told that the room was available immediately.  Dragging my luggage and family of five along, I approached and opened the door to our suite on the second floor.  Bam! The intense smell of chlorine bleach hit me like a Mac truck.  “Whoa!” I exclaimed, “Back up! No children may enter here yet!”  My kids were tired. They were sweating. They were irritable, but there was no way I would let them in the room.  I reasoned that mild perspiration never hurt anyone; however, inhaling chlorine bleach had, and I made them wait out on the balcony while I did my best to air out the room.

After a few minutes with the door held open, the smell abated enough for everyone to enter.  This was when the course of our experience changed.  Everyone “ooohed and ahhhhed” as we inspected our temporary digs.  A living room featured a TV, table, a couple dining chairs, hidden beds in the sofa, stuffed chair, and ottoman.  It was simply but tastefully accented with a musical theme.  Equally simple and yet completely practical was a kitchenette with cabinets, sink, mini fridge, and microwave.  Around a corner was separate bedroom with TV, queen bed, and desk.  But clearly my favorite amenity was the set-up of two separate bathrooms, something of which even some DVC accommodations don’t boast.  We immediately felt quite comfortable in its crisp and clean atmosphere.

When I ventured out to the food court after settling in our quarters, it impressed me as just as clever.  It had separate stations such as a bakery, a grill, a pizzeria, an ice cream counter, waffle station, and beverage island.  The service was quick and efficient.  I sampled a burger and fries from the grill and sat amongst the colorful murals and posters of music celebrities in the court. It was a pleasant half hour for me.  My little ones colored at a strategically placed table that was stocked with coloring sheets and crayons .  I sat peacefully nearby and watched “Sonny With A Chance” on a mounted flat screen TV and finished my fries in peace.

“The grounds are somewhat eclectic and charming,” I noted when I scouted the area.  As with every Value Resort, All-Star Music was dotted with garish structures establishing its theme.  This style always creates a playful and energetic setting for families; however, hidden between the vivid musical monuments I found a rather serene environment–a fenced in rose garden with benches and a fountain.  Had I sought out relaxation, this would have been my area of choice.  But alas, relaxing is not my strong point when at Walt Disney World, and my family sought out action in these stomping grounds.

We followed the action trail to a central location of the resort.  Here we found the primary attraction of All-Star Music–the pools.  My family spent a large amount of time at the main pool on both days we were there.  The unique guitar shape of the pool along with the water gun-shooting Three Caballeros fountain in the center drew my kids like a Pooh Bear to the hunny pot. Imagine our enthusiasm when we discovered that pool parties were a daily event with energetic DJs and a nightly pool-side movie.  It is no surprise that this became the hot spot for the Knopps, and my kids returned from these pool events with bright smiles and tired eyes.

When our troop finally checked out of the family suite of Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, I conceded that it had been a great experience once we were actually permitted to set up camp.  The price seemed a bit steep, but being a large family who had need for some kitchen space, the cost was possibly justified.  Also, the second bathroom was appreciated on more than one occasion.  After all when you have young ones that “gotta go” at the same time, no mom wants to be praying that one can “hold it” while the other is lolly-gagging on the latrine.  With this arrangement we found ample places for everyone to be “relieved” as well as get ready to go without standing on top of one another.  In addition to that, the resort pool activities did create some wonderful family moments for which there was no price tag.  For my family with three younger children, it seemed a fantastic place to establish home base while running around the Walt Disney World Resort.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIpI1jx1h3A

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What I Learned In the World

by on October 18, 2010

I have just returned from a fabulous 4 day trip to Walt Disney World, getting in late Sunday night from what was a most remarkable trip.  This time out, it was only my wife and I, as we left the kids at home.  As my wife said when we made it back, “That’s what a honeymoon should be like!”  I quite agree.  That said, there were several things, good and bad that I learned on this trip.  Allow me to pass those tips on to you, loyal reader.  

Provide your own transportation – I have listened to Len Testa and the WDW Today Podcast for years now.  I heard them every time they said that you should rent a car when flying to Disney World, and yet I did not listen.  On our honeymoon, years ago, my wife and I had flown down, used Disney transportation, and had a magnificent time.  It was so relaxing to let them worry about getting us where we needed to be, and I wanted that feeling again. 

 The problem was, the buses were not nearly as efficient as they were years ago.  We waited 30 minutes for a bus to Epcot on our first day there, and at the end of the night, hiked what seemed like miles to the Pop Century bus stop at Epcot, only to wait another 20 minutes for a bus back.  Because of the transportation, we ended up altering our plans significantly throughout the trip, which leads to the second thing I learned.

 Call an audible – It’s football terminology, I know, but it’s football season, right?  While you’re at Walt Disney World, it’s entirely tempting to use all the magnificent plans from this site, make dining reservations months in advance and have every minute of the day planned out, and attack things with military precision. 

I’m not against that at all, but I have to say that I learned to go with the flow a bit more on this trip.  Every day, we had a plan of what we wanted to do, and when we wanted to arrive.  Every day, we changed some of those plans.  Based on staying out late one night, we slept in the next day, even though we had a breakfast reservation.   We took it easy, grabbed a boat instead of a bus, and enjoyed a quiet morning. It ended up being a great plan, because we stayed out later that night than we had planned and had a fantastic time, because we weren’t exhausted.

Pace yourself – This can apply to so many things, but since we were down for the Food & Wine Festival, it had a few meanings for us.  Last year, we tried to enjoy the festival in one day.  Big mistake.  This year, we spread the fun over three of our four days on the trip, and that worked much better.   

By the same token, since we knew we’d be doing a lot of walking around World Showcase and to other venues (see the transportation issue), we decided not to go commando style every single day.  This ended up being a great plan, as we were able to stay out longer, enjoy ourselves, and not feel awful every night from all we did.

Share the fun – I knew this before, but learned how much fun it could be this time around.  Whatever your social media/communication preference is, be it Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc., it makes your trip so much better to share the experience as you go along.  Everyone’s used to doing this when they get home – posting the pics, telling the stories, etc. – but doing it while you are there is even better.

 This really hit home for me on Saturday night.  As we enjoyed a delightful dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse, then proceeded on to Jellyrolls and Paradiso 37, I enjoyed talking with people via Twitter all night long, taking suggestions on what to do next, sending pictures, and generally having a great time.  Sharing the magic is now part of the fun for me, and I can’t imagine a trip without it.

People make the magic – Again, something I kind of knew, but really hit home this time out.  I’ve been talking with people on Twitter for over a year now, but this trip finally got to meet some great people, like our own Todd Perlmutter and JL Knopp from right here on the site.  I met so many great people this trip, and every time I was touched and amazed that people would take time out of their trips to say hello. 

 But even moreso, it was the cast members who made things so much fun.  From the Halloween Party cast members remarking on my Zorro costume, to the Food and Wine booth attendants sharing tips on what to try next, almost every cast member was smiling and happy.  It reminded me of why I go to Disney.  I see so many grumpy people in the work a day world, it’s nice to see the happiness of Disney every so often.

 So, that was my trip.  What about you?  What were some surprising things you might have learned on your last trip to the World?

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Sweet Halloween Sights at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor

by on October 18, 2010

The Magic Kingdom‘s Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, like other Main Street businesses, is themed from bottom to very tippy top — even for Halloween! But while you’ll see spooky faces carved into other Main Street jack-o-lanterns, at the Ice Cream Parlor you’ll see only sweet sights.

From a kiddie cone…

to a triple-scoop waffle cone…

to their famous Plaza Ice Cream Sundae

I think we all know why we suddenly have a craving for ice cream!

Sweet treats and Happy Halloween!

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