Archive for January, 2012

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Saratoga Springs Resort Renovations

by on January 31, 2012

Earlier this week the Walt Disney World Resort filed paperwork indicating plans to fully renovate and refurbish the guest hotel rooms at the Wilderness Lodge and Saratoga Springs Resorts. The work on the guest rooms should commence in the next few months and will likely be performed in gradual phases. The contractor, Thor Construction Services, is known for some fairly impressive high-end “luxe” looking projects, including nightclubs and resorts in Las Vegas.

The Wilderness Lodge room rehab (Disney actually calls it a “room rehab” in the filings) should finish by April 2013, while work on the Saratoga Springs rooms should be finished by the end of March 2013.

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Vegan Dining at Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table – No Tofu for You!

by on January 31, 2012

Today’s dining article comes to us from Emily Woesthoff, General Manager of BabycakesNYC, a vegan, gluten-free bakery in Downtown Disney Marketplace. 

Everyone and everything gets a comfy seat at the Chef's Table

Walking into the Grand Floridian, I felt a little bit like Kobayashi. Was I supposed to have prepared for this? Was I maybe going to vomit from eating so much? Should I pre-soak my courses in water to help the marathon of eating on which I was about to embark? No, it was going to be fine, it’s just dinner… a really fancy dinner that I’ve been wanting to eat for years. No big deal.

We arrived promptly for our 5pm seating and waited to be escorted to our table. Some of the gentlemen in our party needed to borrow jackets, including a certain co-author I know. Once we were there, the guys were then told they could remove their jackets, as the Chef’s Table boasted a relaxed atmosphere, and was very different from the main dining room (phew). Get this, I was even given an extra-special fancy stool for my camera. Yup, they brought me a stool for my camera. That and a three car garage are the epitome of class. Our waiter also let the ladies at the table know that there were shawls available should any of us get chilly. At this, I promptly hid my sweater so I could request said shawl a bit later during the meal.

The amuse-bouche started the meal

The table was set up a mere 5 feet from where all of the action was going on in the kitchen.  There was hustle, there was bustle, and most importantly; there was a mirror for those who were seated with their backs to the kitchen so they could see the goings on as well.  Our waiters made introductions, and then Chef Scott Hunnel came out to speak with us.  He was very cordial, and asked about any food allergies at the table along with food preferences.  I was all ready to recite my I’m-vegan-no-I-don’t-eat-fish-or-butter-or-eggs speech when, to my relief, Chef Scott let me know he had a vegan menu planned for me (and no, it wouldn’t contain a drop of honey!).  I’ll admit it, I was a little skeptical.  Was my special menu going to be a lot of tofu on tofu action?  Was it going to be very salad and pasta heavy?  Ladies and gentlemen, I was about to find out.  Let the feasting begin!

The table kicked everything off with a champagne toast. I, on the other hand, prefer to kick things off like a 10 year old on New Year’s Eve, with a sparkling apple cider!  The first dish arrived, and I was extremely stoked because, despite the fact that there were four separate articles of food on the plate, they were all kept to their respective corners, like the beginning of a four person boxing match (I like that). This course is called the “amuse-bouche” (which I believe roughly translates to “something to amuse the bouche”) and featured one of my favorites of the evening, a Consommeé with a strong, biting mushroom flavor that was reminiscent of the best French onion soup broth you have ever tasted.  Also included on the plate were Salsify with Olive Oil and Capers, Vegetable Roulade with Pickled Ginger, and Gold Beet Carpaccio.  Do I know what a lot of that is?  No.  Did I Google it later?  Yes!

Heirloom Tomatoes and Lentils

If the nine courses to follow would be anything like the first, I was ready for them!  I really found the Heirloom Tomatoes with Lentils Charmoula Sauce to be delicious. You may not know this about me, but boy do I have a thing for lentils, especially when they are served a la revenge.  Seriously, eat with me at Boma sometime, I tend to go back to the buffet for cold lentils a third and fourth time.  Those lentils, however, have nothing on these lentils.  The Charmoula Sauce was flavorful, but light enough that it did not overpower the lentils or heirloom tomatoes sharing the plate.

At some point in my meal, I was served the second-place winner of the evening.  It is called Potato Cannelloni with Arugla and Spinach, White Truffle on the menu, but really, they could have summed it up as Freaking Magic on a Plate. The Potato Cannelloni was like eating mashed potatoes enveloped in a soft shell of deliciousness, with the most amazing mushroom gravy on the side.  I swear, I understand the purpose of blogging, but words can not describe how amazing this tasted.  Anyone planning to have the vegan menu at V&A (we’re on a first initial basis now) in the near future, please sneak one of these into your purse-on-a-stool and bring it back to me.  Seriously.

The second of three, count 'em THREE, desserts

I was blown away, course after course, but I’m sort of really into vegan desserts so I was really excited to be served three amazing dessert courses during this meal.  That’s right, three desserts!  One featured three flavors of sorbet, Pear-Ginger, Spiced Apple, and Red Currant. The pear flavor was fantastic because the ginger was so understated, but the Spiced Apple was the winner.  It tasted like a small scoop of chilled autumn with just a hint of spice.  There was also a Tofu Cheesecake which was divine. It was served topped with a raspberry glaze and ribbons of chocolate.  The best of the three, however, was the Apple Crisp. You know when you get to the bottom of a box of cereal and all of those delicious clusters remain?  That’s what I was reminded of eating the this dessert.  It was like a mini pie, the top was full of crunchy clusters covering warm spiced apples and cranberries with complimentary sweet and spicy flavors.  I was really impressed with all three of the vegan dessert options and the Tofu Cheesecake was one of the prettiest dishes I have ever seen.

The grand prize winner of the evening, though, was only part of a course.  Served alongside Vegetable Ratatouille in Calamarata Pasta, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you 100 Year Balsamic. When I got over the fact that I was dipping my pasta in something that had been aged 100 years, I was able to appreciate the divine, almost maple syrupy taste of the balsamic.  It was so good that I pretty much made all of the other six people at the table try some.  Some of us swiped our fingers in it, others dipped it into Pastry Chef Erich Herbitschek’s Austrian Bread; but we all agreed that it tasted amazing.

A balsamic vinegar older than the combined ages of several people at our table!

Flavor aside, at this point, I realized just how specialized and rare some of these ingredients actually are, and how this menu is so carefully thought out.  I was taken aback to think about how much preparation had gone into this meal, and felt so grateful for the experience and the rare opportunity to eat such an amazing meal.  It was truly an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime-unless-you’re-really-lucky type of experience.  I still can’t get over how wonderfully my vegan diet was accommodated, and how welcoming the staff at Victoria and Albert’s was.  They gave the everyone at the table printed, personalized menus to help us all remember the evening (as if we would soon forget). The ladies at the table also got a red rose to take home as a souvenir.  And despite my best efforts, no, I was not able to keep my eating-shawl as a parting gift.

I feel confident in officially naming this the best vegan meal on property, in the Orlando area, anywhere ever.  If you’re a regular at V&A’s, and you’ve already tried the regular menu, I would highly recommend branching out and trying the vegan options.  I swear, it’s very far from ten courses of tofu.

Victoria and Albert’s is located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa next to Citricos. It offers regular dining room seating, the Queen Victoria’s Room, and the Chef’s Table. The restaurant does not accept the Disney Dining Plan (the Platinum Plan is accepted for the regular dining room). Tables in Wonderland is accepted only at the regular dining room, not the Chef’s Table or the Queen Victoria’s Room. Children under 10 are not allowed at any Victoria and Albert’s seating.

All menus are prix-fixe:

Regular Dining Room – $125, wine pairings an additional $60.

Queen Victoria’s Room and Chef’s Table – $200, wine pairings an additional $95

Wines are also available by the glass.

Have you dreamed of eating at Victoria and Albert’s? Are you are vegan looking for a meal ne plus ultra? Talk about it in the comments!

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“The Magic, The Memories, And You” Receives Updates

by on January 29, 2012

Guest Blogger Travis Munson has been visiting Walt Disney World since he was six years old and recently had the opportunity to move to Orlando. Now, living only minutes away from the parks, he has the chance to follow the many projects currently going on throughout the entire resort.

The award-winning projection show “The Magic, The Memories, & You!” at both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland will be receiving updated “limited edition” segments throughout 2012. This past holiday season saw the first of these updates, with a special segment of the show redone to add a holiday flair. The holiday segment transformed the facades of Cinderella Castle and  “it’s a small world”  into a freshly baked gingerbread house, covered them with sparkling ice, and even featured a quick glimpse of Santa Claus. In November, “The Magic, The Memories, & You!” received the Award for Outstanding Achievement – Show Spectacular from the Themed Entertainment Association.

Beginning February 1, 2012, Walt Disney Creative Entertainment will debut a new segment that features romantic stained-glassed scenes and music from beloved Disney fairy tale classics such as Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Beauty and the Beast. In addition, the lantern scene from the fan-favorite film Tangled will light up the night sky as Rapunzel’s parents send up a lantern in honor of their lost daughter. This Valentine’s Day-inspired segment will be part of the nightly show through the middle of April.

Also, check out this early look at a summer sandcastle segment!

Images ©Disney

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10 Great Things About the Disneyland Hotel

by on January 27, 2012

Having just stayed at the Disneyland Hotel in November, I thought it was time for a blog about it!  Now that the 2-year renovation is pretty much complete, a blog about it seems even timelier.  If it’s been a while since you’ve visited the Disneyland Hotel, it’s time for another visit!

I really like the Disneyland Hotel.  It may not be my favorite hotel at Disneyland (that distinction would definitely go to the Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa—which I wrote about here as my favorite Disney hotel anywhere bar none), but I always enjoy the Disneyland Hotel.  It’s a good location from which you can easily walk to any location at the Disneyland Resort, it’s got a great pool, and the list goes on.  In fact it goes on below.  In numbers 1-10 as has become my way.

 

1. The Pool – I have always enjoyed the pool at the Disneyland Hotel.  We always liked the Neverland theming with the ship and giant croc.  Ariel was a nice touch by the hot tub too!  The new E-Ticket pool, however, is awesome!  I didn’t quite get the concept art pictures with the monorails, but I definitely got it when I saw the pool in person.  There are multiple slides!  Much better than a lot of Disney resorts.  Combine that with the waterfalls, bubble jets, private cabanas, zero entry, and it’s awesome.  I love it!  Your kids will too!

 

2. The Lobbies – The Disneyland Hotel is composed of three towers.  Each tower is named after one of the lands in Disneyland.  There’s Adventure, Fantasy and Frontier Towers.  Each one is full of memorabilia with wonderful artwork and model displays in the lobbies.  The Fantasy Tower has Mary Blair artwork reminiscent of it’s a small world.  The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad model in the Frontier Tower is huge and super cool!   It’s a recreation of the original concept model for Big Thunder.  And the Adventure Tower contains a homage to the Jungle Cruise.

3. Proximity to the Monorail – Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland is lacking a monorail stop inside a hotel.  Now, the monorail does go by some rooms at the Grand Californian (by the balconies actually), but it doesn’t stop at the hotel!  So, the Disneyland Hotel is the closest of the three Disney hotels to the monorail stop in Downtown Disney at Disneyland.  When you don’t want to walk all the way to the main gate, it’s great to be able to zip into Tomorrowland on the monorail.

 

4. Tangaroa Terrace – Casual Island DiningIt’s so great to finally have a quick service place at the Disneyland Hotel!  It’s not like Downtown Disney is far, but it’s still nice to be able to grab something hot and quick at the resort itself.  Now if you read one of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I was NOT excited about the sweet potato fries!  But I did enjoy breakfast there one morning, and I’m sure other, less picky eaters, will be perfectly happy with a great burger and sweet potato fries.

 

5. Trader Sam’s -  Enchanted Tiki BarBeing a teetotaler myself, I can’t really comment on the specifics of this new bar’s menu.  I can relay that I’ve read some great reviews of it!  Guests are really loving it!  There’s live music on the patio during the evenings and the theming inside is incredible.  Stop by to look even if you don’t drink!

 

 

 

6. Headboards Headboards Headboards – Did I mention the headboards?  Oh my word they are gorgeous!  They’re a striking dark wood with an inlay of the Sleeping Beauty Castle.  When you flip the on switch, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” plays and the fiber optic fireworks light up.  The imagineers were very smart and the lights grow steady and the music stops after a minute so you can keep it on as a nightlight if you want!

7. Steakhouse 5524 layer chocolate cake.  I think that’s enough said.

8. Signature Suites – Not that I’ve been privileged enough to stay in one, but Disneyland has some great themed suites.  The Mickey Mouse Penthouse, Pirates of the Caribbean Suite, Fairy Tale Suite, Adventureland Suite, and Big Thunder Mountain Suite.  These suites are themed to the hilt!  If you want to escape from reality, this is your chance to be completely immersed in Disney magic.  Your pocketbook will pay a pretty penny for that immersion, but many guests obviously feel it’s worth it!  These suites are constantly booked!

 

 

9. Goofy’s KitchenGoofy’s Kitchen is the closest thing Disneyland has to one of my favorite character buffets – Chef Mickey’s.  At Goofy’s Kitchen, the food is really good for a buffet, and there are characters everywhere.  Not the Fab 5 like at Chef Mickey’s but a different assortment.  Goofy is, of course, always there, I mean it’s his kitchen so he should be there.  We’ve also seen Aladdin, several different princesses (though never more than one princess at a time), Max, Baloo, Genie, etc.  When our kids were little we were regulars.  We’ve had some of our best character interactions at Goofy’s Kitchen.  The tablecloths are paper so the characters love to draw pictures on them.  Who knew Goofy could draw so well?  It’s also the perfect place to celebrate a child’s birthday!  Who am I kidding, it’s a great place to celebrate an adult’s birthday!

10. The Views – Disneyland Hotel has some great views.  The disclaimer here is that all the rooms definitely do NOT have great views!  In fact, the room I stayed in back in November had a decidedly ugly view of the parking lot!  But some of the views are just gorgeous.  The upper floors of the Adventure Tower that overlook Downtown Disney will give you a view of Downtown Disney straight ahead with Space Mountain on your left and maybe even a glimpse of the The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror on the right!  You can see it all!

How about you?  What do you like about the Disneyland Hotel?

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Walt Disney World Attractions to Skip?!

by on January 27, 2012

Through the Desolate Streets; Through the Magical Castle

I love efficiency. I love Disney theme parks. Logic would dictate that using a Touring Plan would perfectly combine these two interests of mine, right? Up until we began testing Optimized Touring Plans, I didn’t really use the plans much at Walt Disney World. This is because I find myself liking a somewhat odd selection of attractions, the full cross-section of which isn’t available in the Unofficial Guide or in TouringPlans.com’s Premium Touring Plans. This is why I’ve become fond of the Optimized Touring Plans. I can input all of my peculiar preferences and have it spit out the best order for visiting these attractions. Since the optimization is being done by some satellite in outer space (or something like that, I think), I don’t have to worry about being judged for liking a “bad” attraction.

Perhaps “unpopular” is a better word choice than “bad.” In my mind, every single attraction is worth experiencing at least once, and I don’t want to skip any unpopular attractions because I’ve found that my opinion of a lot of attractions often differs from popular sentiment.

Skippy and S.I.R.

To be sure, vacation time is finite, and it’s unrealistic to visit every single attraction on every single trip. Walt Disney World is simply too vast for this to be feasible, unless you’re on one of those 13-week long European Walt Disney World vacations. It thus becomes important to have a list of attractions to efficiently visit so you can experience as many attractions as possible on each trip.

How do you arrive at such a list? I think there are attractions that are just plain bad, and it seems to me that a lot of people in the fan community feel the same way. Stitch’s Great Escape, Journey into Imagination (3.0), and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin all immediately come to mind. However, I’ve met people who absolutely love each one of these attractions.

Therein lies the problem. While popular sentiment may suggest that the Haunted Mansion is an exquisite attraction and Jungle Cruise shouldn’t be missed for its dry humor and wit, some people prefer attractions I’d consider duds over these. In fact, in perusing the first edition of The Color Companion to Walt Disney World, I discovered that a now defunct attraction, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, scored higher than the Haunted Mansion and the Jungle Cruise.  Likewise, another defunct attraction, The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, scored higher than Jungle Cruise. I’d rather be stuck on “it’s a small world” for twenty-four consecutive hours (hmmm…that sounds like a challenge!) than have to sit through Honey, I Shrunk The Audience even once more! Then again, “it’s a small world” is one of my favorite attractions. Some people hate “it’s a small world.”

America, Spread Your Golden Wings

Browse through a few “worst attraction” or “rides to skip” threads over on a couple popular Disney message boards, and you’ll find many cautionary tales about atrocious attractions such as Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, Hall of Presidents, and even the American Adventure. If I didn’t know better, given the last two attractions on that list, I’d suggest these message boards had been infiltrated and subverted for some sort of radical  communist agenda. However, I realize that the greater likelihood is that everyone has different attraction preferences and many people don’t enjoy long Audio-Animatronics based stage shows.

This is not to disparage those whose opinion of attractions is contrary to my opinion, but rather, to illustrate why I’m hesitant to give much weight to anyone else’s opinion of an attraction. Were my first visit to Walt Disney World today and I were to listen to others on message boards, I would have skipped these four attractions. If you regularly read my posts, you know that I love Carousel of Progress and I think that Country Bear Jamboree is brilliant. I’m also the second most patriotic person in North America (to Sam the Eagle), so I love Hall of Presidents and American Adventure. In fact, each one of these four attractions is in my Walt Disney World Top 10 “Must Sees.” I can’t imagine one of our Walt Disney World trips not including these attractions. Yet, if my first visit were tomorrow and I followed the advice I’ve read numerous times in message boards, I might end up skipping them all.

Brer Critters

Is the solution to this for others to stop rating attractions? Most certainly not. Ratings and accompanying descriptions provide a great baseline for creating a Touring Plan. For many people, attraction ratings, especially those derived from guest consensus, are accurate. Similarly, there are certain qualities that attraction critics, much like film critics, can use to logically arrive at their score. Still, attraction reviews, much like film reviews, are subjective. Film critics fairly unanimously rate Beauty and the Beast higher than Mars Needs Moms. Most people will probably prefer the former to the latter, so movie reviews offer solid advice to many people. However, that does not to invalidate your opinion if you prefer Mars Needs Moms to Beauty and the Beast. Likewise, you might find that you prefer Stitch’s Great Escape to the Haunted Mansion.

Spaceship Earth Dwarfs the Moon

Ratings and descriptions can help you determine what type of attraction you’re more inclined to like, but they should always be used merely as a starting point. If you’re passionate about irreverent singing bears, don’t skip Country Bear Jamboree just because you read some blog post calling it the worst and most outdated attraction ever. Read between the lines in descriptions and decide for yourself what attractions you think would most appeal to you, personally. By reading descriptions while keeping in mind attraction scores, you can come up with your own list of “Must See” attractions to enter into your Optimized Touring Plan and experience during your finite vacation time. You might find yourself often going against the grain, but the payoff will be worth it!

I’m certain I’m not the only one who loves some attractions that many people don’t like. Which unpopular attractions do you love? Do you have any “guilty pleasure” attractions? I know we have at least ONE Stitch’s Great Escape fan out there; do you like it? No judgment here, so speak up in the comments and share your favorite attractions that others don’t seem to like!

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If I Could Change The Crowd Calendar…

by on January 26, 2012

The Crowd Calendar is one of our more popular products at TouringPlans.com and we put a lot of time and effort into developing and maintaining it. The fun part is trying to think of ways to enhance it for our readers. So we thought, why not ask directly from the people who use it the most?

What enhancements would you like to see to the crowd calendar?

Here are some of our ideas, what do you think?

  1. Include other parks like Universal, Legoland or Magic Mountain
  2. Include the Water Parks
  3. Include more details about special events
  4. Add the dates of hotel discounts (past and future)
  5. Add weather information
  6. Put attraction refurbishment dates on the calendar
  7. Relate the crowd ratings more towards crowd density (number of people in the parks), rather than wait times
  8. Make it more visual with charts, graphs or photos
  9. Custom calendars just for the dates of my visit
  10. Other ideas…?

Go ahead and help us brainstorm, all ideas are welcome. Add yours to our wish list by commenting below.

 

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A Solo Trip Recap

by on January 26, 2012

It’s not typical practice for me to talk about my trips in great detail on the Touring Plans blog. I usually leave that for my personal blog. However, I’d like to tell you briefly about my solo trip and how it all turned out since so many of you took the time to write in and give your solo trip tips. Wow! Say that ten times fast. Solo trip tips! Solo trip tips!

The four and a half days that I spent alone at Disney World undoubtedly changed me for the better. I was able to reconnect with myself and learn how to be okay with just spending time with just me… and thousands of other park guests. If you followed me on Twitter during my vacation then you probably understood how I felt at different points in the trip.

There were countless experiences that were priceless. From my sensual and educational private tequila tasting at La Cava Del Tequila, to my relaxing 3 hour dinner at Jiko where I met interesting people and shared life stories. I even attended my very first Touring Plans meet in Epcot!

Many of you wrote to me on Twitter or posted a comment on my previous post here on TouringPlans.com’s blog and I was surprised at how many people said they suddenly felt inspired to try a trip to Disney World by themselves. While I definitely would not and could not call myself a solo touring expert, I feel that I can share my afterthoughts and suggestions for anyone that is ready to brave this new experience for themselves. It’s something to really think about before you decide to go alone, but when you do, dive into it head first.

As I said, I had a memorable dinner at Jiko. This was my first signature meal ever at Walt Disney World believe it or not. If you’ve never indulged in Disney’s fine dining and you’re going solo, do it! Forget the price and get whatever you want. That is a direct tip from Chef Joshua and he was right. The man took good care of me and I owe him a lot for how well my night turned out.

Be social and sit up at a counter or bar where you can watch the chefs or bartenders work their magic. They’ll chat it up with you and make you feel special. Any other patron who sits down next to you is also probably open to a little conversation and trust me, it’s welcome conversation after you’ve not had anyone to talk to for a few days. You don’t realize how very little you use your voice when you’re alone.

Something that I thought was going to be harder for this power touring guru was the ability to go slow. I surprised myself. On my first day at Animal Kingdom, I was in the parks for an hour and a half before I even stepped foot into an attraction queue. I took a lot of pictures, grabbed a tea, and just strolled around in the sun’s warmth. It was so new to me to travel like that and also so absolutely wonderful. I discovered a new appreciation for Animal Kingdom all because of a slower pace. My suggestion to those who find themselves in the parks alone is to take your time. Don’t rush things. The parks will always be there and not “accomplishing” something just gives you a reason to return.

At numerous times throughout the year, folks from TouringPlans.com and The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World are cooking up different opportunities to meet up in the parks. Never been to a meet? Going there solo is a perfect way to give it a shot. I had a great time at my first meet and partially because I didn’t have to worry about dragging people along or leaving people behind. After not saying much more than, “Jambo” for a few days, I loved being able to talk to people about all things Disney. If you can, try scheduling your trip around a TouringPlans.com meet or another online community get together in the parks. It’ll be worth it! Trust me!

I’d like to thank all of you that followed me on my vacation. I’ve essentially been wearing a “Stalkers welcome” sign on my head for a week. Your suggestions and words of positivity helped me on my journey. I truly hope that many of you are more prepared and better educated about solo touring.

If you decide to take your first solo trip, be sure to let us folks here at TouringPlans.com know about how it goes!

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Running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon – Part 2

by on January 26, 2012

The race through Walt Disney World, continued from last week

7:00 am

The Sun has begun to rise, and the scene is gorgeous. I start to cry a bit as I realize where I am. I’m about to cross under the “Underwater Bridge” that connects Bay Lake with the Seven Seas Lagoon. The early sunshine is glinting off of Space Mountain and the Contemporary. For the past year I’ve joked with Cheryl about running right here on this very spot. I take a few pictures and then prepare to head underwater by holding my nose, something my father used to have me do at this spot. Moments later an arm comes around me, and I’m caught off guard. It’s Len and Laurel, we talk a bit and pass a few bad jokes back and forth before they run off ahead. I text everyone on Main Street, U.S.A. to let them know I’m coming.

7:10 am

From the backstage entrance to Magic Kingdom, I get my first glimpse of Cinderella’s Castle, and I get excited. There has been no part of this race I’ve enjoyed more in the past few years than cheering for the runners on Main Street. Now here I was, one of those runners. I know to stay to the left side and exactly where to look for my friends. Arriving, I see friends including Dana and Shalon. I’m shaking hands and hugging a lot of people, and then I find Cheryl and give her a big hug and a kiss. I remember saying hi to BeciLou (who was excited to see me wearing a WDW Radio hat), MoJo, and the “Box People”.

7:15 am

Heading through the Hub, they send us into Tomorrowland. Once there, I stop for pictures with Buzz Lightyear and then Stitch near the entrance to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Again, I make a quick call to the Be Our Guest Podcast live show. The connection is much better for me this time, we chatted briefly, told them I was having an awesome time, and said good-bye. Then I’m off again.

After a quick dash, I stopped in front of the Mad Tea Party to take a picture with the Queen of Hearts. Texting with Cliff, he pointed out I was going to want to stop again for Flynn Rider and Rapunzel who were just around the corner past The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I started to run again, but just past Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and before going through Cinderella’s Castle, I stopped for a picture with the Castle itself and then again with Donald and Daisy.

7:34 am

Emerging from the Castle, I head around to the front to pose for the official race picture, only to bump into my friends Dee and Neil. Entering Liberty Square I passed by Mile Marker 6. Then its picture time once again, this time with TianaPrince Naveen, and Louis. I got to wait in line with Dee and Neil and talk with them some more. Entering, Frontierland I can’t resist a picture with the Country BearsHeading out of Magic Kingdom I caught some pictures of the Pirate Ship parade float, the line was crazy-long and I wasn’t willing to wait for this one.

7:51 am

Just outside of Magic Kingdom I passed by Mile Marker 7, and saw Mary Poppins and Bert. Though I’d been warned this can be a fairly boring stretch of road, I decided that it was time for the trek back to Epcot, and I’d spent enough time with characters. I knew there were friends waiting for me up ahead. Once more I kept to the left along the orange cones, and not long after Mile 8, near the Polynesian Resort, I got to see, wave to, and blow kisses to my Disney Film Project Podcast co-host Ryan, his wife Sally, and the rest of Clan Kilpatrick.

8:16 am

Running along World Center Drive there was a table sponsored by the Clif Bar Company. They were handing out some of their new Clif Shot Gel flavors. Now the last time I had one of these it wasn’t something I enjoyed. However, at the Health & Fitness Expo table they had talked me into trying one, so I grabbed a mocha. Honestly, I’m sticking with the Bloks – it was like sticking raw brownie batter in my mouth. Not necessarily a bad thing, just not a taste I want in my mouth during a race.

8:30 am

It’s time for what Mike Scopa has referred to as the Heartbreak Hill Trinity. You start up the incline of one of the widest diameter butterfly exit ramps in perhaps all of Central Florida. At the top you get one of the neatest effects in the entire race. You can look down at the runners crossing underneath the World Drive overpass that you’re now standing on – I spent a few minutes cheering them on with some other guys.

Then you realize why he calls this a trinity. Sure you made it up the ramp, but now you see before you another hill. And beyond it you can see more runners heading up a third hill & second overpass that takes them over the entrance road for Epcot. Mile Marker 11 is at the top of the second hill. At this point my iPhone starts playing Life’s a Happy Song from The Muppets and it feels so perfect and right as I look and see Spaceship Earth. Another tearful moment for me.

8:45 am

On that third and final hill, my iPhone bids me farewell as it runs out of juice. That’s what I get for texting and taking pictures all race long. I wrap my earphones around the phone and tuck it into a belt pouch. Coming over the hill I see the bus stops and again know to stay to the left. Up ahead I again find Lou, and my wife Cheryl. I give her another big hug and kiss. And then I run off again.

8:50 am

Now I’m inside Epcot, passing by Spaceship Earth, heading past the Fountain of Nations, and down around the Christmas Tree at the entrance to World Showcase. This is it, the home stretch. Less than a mile to go until the finish line. They lead us backstage and past a gospel choir. Truthfully if all races don’t end with a gospel choir, they probably should (write your Congressman). Once again I stay to the left and get to see Shalon, Dana, and Kelly once more right there at Mile Marker 13.

9:05 am

At this point if you haven’t resigned yourself to being done, you will. One tenth of a mile from the finish line in the Epcot parking lot, and nowhere else to go, I bow to my friends and run off. Knowing I want a really good photo for my finish, I get a nice gap between myself and other runners. Giving a High-5 to Mickey Mouse, I cross the finish line and I’m done. Not far after that I get my Donald Duck medal, and I’m crying and laughing all over again.

The feeling of accomplishment and the emotion wrapped inside of it is incredible. I’m starting to plan more Disney races going into 2013, and I’m considering (but not yet comfortable with) doing the Full Marathon instead of the Half – a Mickey Medal does sound nice. I’d love to do the Expedition Everest Challenge again, and I’m planning to definitely do the Tower of Terror 10-Miler. Not to mention all the friends I’m planning to cheer for during the Princess Half Marathon, and helping to encourage others to also run. Running is an exciting part of who I am, and I intend to continue sharing it with you.

What about you? Did you run any races during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend? The 5K? The Half? The Full? How did you do? Did you have fun? If not, are you interested in doing so in the future? Words can’t express what we’re all feeling at this very moment.

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Save The Date For One More Disney Day At Walt Disney World and Disneyland on February 29

by on January 25, 2012

On February 29, 2012, both Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in Anaheim will be open for 24 hours. Guests can enjoy these parks from 6am until 6am the following day, March 1. If you are going to be in the parks those days, keep a look out for details of the events that TouringPlans.com will be hosting. While we are still waiting for more scheduling announcements from Disney before we finalize plans, we want to make sure that YOU know we are organizing some fun stuff and are planning to join us! Hope to see you there!

Will you be in either Magic Kingdom or Disneyland on February 29? What are you the most excited about? What fun things would you like to see us do?

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Character Meals: Vol 6 – Crystal Palace

by on January 25, 2012

What is the difference between a character meal and a regular meal? The characters (I started with an easy one to get the brain warmed up). The trouble with some of the character meals is that you can get burned out on certain characters if you do these things a lot. For instance, there is a strong possibility that I will eat three different meals with Mickey on my next trip. There is, however, only one place that you can dine with Winnie the Pooh and friends…that’s right, the Crystal Palace (I gave it away in the title again, didn’t I?).It's not just a meal...it's a Friendship Day Celebration!

Atmosphere

The Crystal Palace is located in the Magic Kingdom, just off of Main Street U.S.A. and facing the main hub. It is a beautiful building made seemingly entirely of window (hey, I get why they call it ‘Crystal Palace’ now). It really is a remarkably nice space, full of light and tastefully decorated. It is also quite loud, which seems to be a common theme of these character meal posts.

There isn’t really a theme as far as I can tell, although it does incorporate into Main Street very well. It almost seems to be a throwback to days when women in hats would attend brunch accompanied by men with top hats, canes, and a monocle (although I might be confusingly adding Mr. Peanut in there somewhere).

Honestly, one of my favorite things about eating at the Crystal Palace is the location. Since it is right near the hub of the Magic Kingdom, it can be added into a day of touring remarkably easy. You can walk out the door and head right for your favorite attraction without having to worry about added transportation time. Of course you may have to worry about the 10 pounds you just put on at the buffet, but I’m sure you can walk that off.

Characters

The characters that attend meals here are Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about these characters. They were not dressed in hideous costumes (hi Cape May Cafe), and they came to our table often and spaced at wonderfully regular intervals (hi again, Cape May). In fact, Eeyore was even brought back to our table out of order because my daughter missed him the first time (2 year old bladders wait for no character). All of the characters were patient and playful with the children, and Piglet had an expectedly horrified reaction to my sausage link.

Food

If I was going to get picky about the Crystal Palace, this is where it would be. My family and I were here for breakfast and, while good, it was mostly the same things served at any breakfast buffet in Walt Disney World. Bacon, sausage, Mickey waffles, and egg-like objects were all there for consumption (or to poke at and pretend you don’t like…ah, kids). I’m not going to spend a ton of time on the food because you already know what it’s like…simple, standard, filling, and fine, but nothing special. (If you would like to see for yourself you can now find the menu on Touring Plans)

Odds, Ends, and Details

Character meals at Crystal Palace are offered for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are priced right about at what you are probably expecting from Disney: Breakfast is $22.99/$12.99 (adult/child) per person plus tax. Lunch is $24.99/$13.99 and dinner is $36.99/$17.99. It is definitely not a steal, but not out of the ordinary for Disney’s character meals.

Final Thoughts

As you can probably tell by the brief-ness of this post (well, brief for me anyway), I don’t have a ton to say about the Crystal Palace. That is by no means a bad thing, but it’s not a great thing either. Everything is fine about the meal, the food, characters, building, location…all good to very good. The best thing I can say is that there were absolutely no complaints from anyone in my party. The worst thing I can say is that my wife had forgotten we even had this meal until I mentioned it.

I would eat here again and I would recommend it to anyone, especially fans of Pooh (okay, that’s my one and only childish giggle at the name… I restrained myself). I would say not to go in expecting anything fantastic, but a solid meal in a very nice building in a great location.

Thanks for reading!

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My previous character meal reviews:

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