Archive for January, 2012

Seas with Nemo and Friends to get FASTPASS

by on January 25, 2012

Recently refurbishment walls sprung up at the entrance of The Seas with Nemo and Friends attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park. I’ve been told the walls are up so they can install FASTPASS at the attraction and rework the queue to accommodate it. This is in line with previous comments that when Test Track closes for renovation in April that Epcot would have FASTPASS added at another attraction to compensate.

 

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Martha’s Vineyard Lounge at Disney’s Beach Club Resort

by on January 25, 2012

One night on my last trip we decided to leave Epcot early since it was raining so we opted to visit our resort’s lounge. Since we were staying at the Beach Club we had our sights set on either the Crew’s Cup in the Yacht Club or Martha’s Vineyard at Beach Club. We had all enjoyed the Crew’s Cup before so we were going to head there, but it was really crowded when we arrived. Instead of trying to find seats for a large group we migrated to Martha’s Vineyard as an alternative. So this week I wanted to share my experience at this resort lounge!

As I mentioned, Martha’s Vineyard is in the Beach Club Resort. Guests can access it by walking past the Cape May Cafe, down a hallway that wraps around the restaurant and leads to the entrance to this lounge. These directions may seem a bit confusing, but it really isn’t difficult to find. You may have walked by it before and never even realized it was there! The bar is open from about 5:30 until midnight each night if you would like to unwind here after a long day in the parks.

Since Martha’s Vineyard is within the Beach Club, it continues the beach house theme. The decor is meant to make you feel as though you are vacationing at New England summer home, but I think it falls flat. When you think of Disney World you think of well themed and decorated resorts and restaurants. So it is sort of strange that Martha’s Vineyard is not richly themed in the slightest. It just looks like a room they slapped together with some wicker furniture and lattice work and called it a lounge. It isn’t particularly inviting or warm, it’s just sort of there. A beach house theme is relatively easy to pull off, and it seems like they just missed the mark this time.

To go along with the less than stellar decor, the vibe here is (for a lack of better word) odd. It was fairly quiet on the night we stopped in with only a few other people at the bar or seated at tables watching the flat screen TVs. I tend to travel in a pack so we took over one corner of the lounge and no one seemed to mind. There was no buzz about the place, no energy, no particularly fun atmosphere. It looked like the few people who were there just needed a break from their family vacation and came down to the bar alone. I’m not saying I expect a crazy night out when I got to a Disney resort lounge, but this was the least exciting one I’ve been to (and I’ve been to most of them).

If I haven’t discouraged you enough yet and you’d like to try Martha’s Vineyard the menu here is typical of all the Disney bars and lounges. Beer, wine, and cocktails are all readily available off of the standard Disney World drink menu. There is also a small selection of appetizers if you are hungry. My friends preferred to get food at Beaches and Cream, ask for take away containers, and bring it back with them to the bar though. The bartender gave us no trouble about bringing in outside food, so feel free to do the same.

There was only one bartender on staff that night, but it didn’t seem like he was struggling to keep up since there were not very many people in the lounge. He was friendly and happy to serve my bottle of wine. I certainly couldn’t complain about the service here. If you have a Tables in Wonderland card the bartender accepted it, but had to get a manager from the Cape May Cafe and that may take a few minutes. I’d recommend letting them know you’d like to use your card early so they can get the ball rolling.

While the service at Martha’s Vineyard was fine, but everything else seemed lacking. I much prefer the other bars around the Epcot resort area to Martha’s Vineyard. The Crew’s Cup is very close by and offers a much more fun atmosphere. If you’re willing to take a little stroll the Bellevue Lounge at the Boardwalk is a cozy place to grab a nightcap with friends. Perhaps you’d like to watch the big game. Then head to the ESPN Club to grab some bar food and a few beers. Kimono’s at the Swan serves great drinks and sushi and you can laugh at the people brave enough to sing karaoke. To put it simply, any of the other area lounges are better than Martha’s Vineyard.

How about you? Have you had a similar experience here? Maybe you really love Martha’s Vineyard. Either way let me hear your opinions in the comments!

 

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Teens at Disney World: Not the Impossible Dream

by on January 24, 2012

Let teens do some shopping on their own

Many parents have fantasies of taking their little ones to Disney World—skipping gaily though the Magic Kingdom with their daughter dressed enchantingly as Princess Jasmine; clicking away as their son poses for snapshots at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom.

Fewer parents have fantasies of going to Disney World with their moody 16-year-olds. This, however, is a mistake. (Just wait…) Disney World is actually fantastic for older kids, especially teenagers. With a little planning, both you–and they–can have a terrific time–even if your son refuses to pose for that picture beside the entrance to Splash Mountain.

Note: The following suggestions rely on your comfort level and your teen’s age–not vice versa.

Give him free time
It’s entirely possible that when your husband/four-year-old/great Aunt Mollie wants to ride the spinning teacups for the 12th time, your teen will politely (or not so politely) decline. In fact, he has made it clear that he would much rather hang out in the room for a while and watch the Final Four basketball games and then meet you later. If you both have cell phones, this is a great opportunity to arrange a meeting time and place. If your hotel is on the monorail, so much the better. Arranging a meeting time and place just relies on careful planning and your descriptive powers. For instance, do not say, as others have undoubtedly done before you, “I’ll meet you at the Information Desk in the Magic Kingdom.” That’s kind of like saying, “I’ll meet you in France.” Far better to say, “I will meet you in front of the bottom step that leads directly to the entrance of the Crystal Palace at exactly 3:01 pm.” Your teen will be happy you trusted him; you will be happy you were specific. Arrange check-in points ahead of time: Tell him to text when he gets on the monorail, when he enters the Park, etc. This will give him some free time and not make him feel like he’s merely tagging along every second. Make sure he has some free time every day. Remind him of the adage, ”With freedom comes responsibility.” The more he acts responsibly, the more you’ll trust him.

Give her real responsibility; let her make decisions
Kids and teens know when you are giving them fake jobs or tasks to do. If you’re giving her responsibility, then really do it. For example, put her in charge of all the gifts you buy for friends and family back home. Arrange a budget, have a preliminary discussion, and tell her to check in when she wants your advice–but LET HER FOLLOW THROUGH ON HER OWN.

Following through, by the way, does not mean shadowing her as she looks at Mickey Mouse cups in Downtown Disney and whispering, “I hear Cousin Frank likes Donald Duck…” In the same spirit, if you ask her to get some information from the concierge or make a reservation for a show, do not lurk nearby while she’s at the front desk or “happen” to be standing right there while she’s attempting to book last minute tickets for four.

Accept that they will say no sometimes
This is one of the hardest parts for parents. You want those bright-eyed toddlers squealing in wonder; they want to IM their friends or play arcade games. Know when to push and when to say no. As my mother says, choose your battles. Is it more important for your teens come to dinner at Boma or breakfast at ‘Ohana? Can you bear for them to give up one meal with you? If they want to hang out by the pool when the rest of you go to Downtown Disney, will they meet you you for a movie that evening? Compromise, people. Remember: As in Disney World, so in life.

Initiate the Offer
Don’t always wait for them to come to you; show your teens you trust them by reaching out on your own. (Hint: This also allows you to retain some control over the situation.) For instance, were you to say, “I know you might want to sleep late tomorrow. Why don’t you meet us for lunch at Sunshine Seasons? Just stay in touch, OK?” you will probably be met with a look of both surprise and gratitude.

Or maybe not. You can never tell with teens. But at least you made the effort, and have shown you understand their need for independence.

Remember that they’re teenagers.
As if you could forget. But that means that they may not always (or ever) go along with your fantasy of the perfect family vacation. You–and they–may have to settle for moments, which is actually not that bad.

Because Disney World, paradoxically, is a great place to let them to do a little growing up.

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Choosing A Disney World Hotel: It’s All About the Bathroom

by on January 24, 2012

A perennial question among Walt Disney World travelers is, “How do I decide where to stay?”

Over time, I’ve stayed at every Walt Disney World resort except the Fort Wilderness cabins, and I have toured those, so I am quite familiar with the pros and cons of each type of lodging. I can spend hours parsing the relative merits of room size, transportation options, location, pools, and restaurants, but I’ve finally concluded that deciding factor for me is the bathroom situation.

Spacious shower at the Saratoga Springs Tree House Villas.

I’m going to be elaborating here, the squeamish among you can move along.

During the past two years, here is a sampling of some of my Walt Disney World hotel stays:

  • Polynesian, two adjoining rooms, five people – myself, hubby and three daughters, two bathrooms
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani two bedroom villa, five people – myself, hubby and three daughters, three bathrooms
  • Old Key West, studio, four people – myself and three daughters, one bathroom
  • Contemporary, solo, one bathroom
  • Beach Club Villas one-bedroom, three people – myself and two daughters, one bathroom
  • Beach Club Villas studio, two people – myself and hubby, one bathroom
  • Pop Century, solo, one bathroom
  • Pop Century, two people – myself and one daughter, one bathroom
  • Caribbean Beach, solo, one bathroom

As you can see, I’ve recently experienced the full range of Disney hotel offerings, from living large to just the basics. Having so much variety within a relatively short of amount of time has allowed me to crystalize my thoughts on Disney hotel stays. Depending on the type of vacation I’m having, I’m equally as fine with cheap and simple as I am with posh and pricey. What I’m not fine with is waiting for the bathroom, or feeling pressured because someone else is waiting around while I use the bathroom. I’ve learned that when I’m at Walt Disney World, I want to be at Walt Disney World, not negotiating whose turn it is to use the toilet.

Two sinks at the Caribbean Beach resort

I have found that most hotel room features or resort amenities can be accommodated for in other ways. Don’t like waiting for a bus at the values? Rent a car. Don’t like the bargain shampoo/conditioner combo at a value? Bring your own toiletries. Want more/better meals than what they’re serving at the food court? Go ahead and eat at a different resort. But when you’re trying to get ready in the morning, the bathroom structure in your room is immutable and, well, impactful.

For example, staying solo at any level of resort works well for bathroom use. Obviously no one is fighting me for the facilities there. From this perspective, there is no difference to me between the value, moderate, and deluxe stays; as long as the facilities are clean and functional, I’m happy. If I’m busy doing research or otherwise “working,” saving money by staying at a value is all good in my book.

I’ve also been fine when staying in any level room with my husband or just one of my daughters. Two people can easily work out their morning routine to stay out of each other’s way during the, um, business portion of the morning.

Basic, but functional at the Pop Century

However, my most recent WDW stay was at in a studio the Beach Club villas with my husband. Most of the time we were okey-dokey sharing the one bathroom, but (not to put too fine a point on things) we really struggled on the morning of the half marathon, which we both ran. Our “timing” was off because of the 3:00 a.m. wake up call and our nervous first-race stomachs. Hubby ended up taking advantage of the facilities in the hotel lobby, but neither of us felt this was an ideal solution. Sometimes you just want to have your own space, ya know?

Things get further complicated when you’re sharing a bathroom with more people. My more challenging hotel stays have been when I’ve been in groups of three or more people sharing one bathroom. Perhaps this has to do with the composition of my particular family. My three daughters are all teens and tweens. And did I mention that they’re girls? And did I mention that they’re teens and tweens, with all the adolescent angst that goes along with this? Oh, and they all have really long hair, which needs to be washed, and dried, and styled, and maybe styled again depending on the weather. This means they each need a solid half hour minimumof quality bathroom time each morning, even if they’ve showered the night before.

More fancy at the Contemporary

Making rope drop ain’t gonna happen with this crew when we’re all competing for one commode or mirror. That’s a real problem for my touringplan-following, type-A personality.

Our recent stay with the most family conflict was in the studio at Old Key West. We had plenty of space for sleep, but when we four women tried to get washed and dressed in time for a Chef Mickey’s breakfast, more than a little chaos ensued. Conversely, our best stay was at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Not because of the huge amount of space (which there was) or the view of the zebras (super cool), but because we had three glorious bathrooms. The ALK situation worked better for us than even the two bedrooms at the, in my opinion, much better located Polynesian, all because we had an additional bathroom.

My new biggest criteria for deciding where to stay is our ability to keep our person to bathroom ratio low. If the five of us are traveling together, I would rather stay in a value resort family suite with two bathrooms than in a standard room in a deluxe with just the one bathroom. No amount of monorail access and complimentary H2O conditioner is worth a catfight. But maybe that’s just me.

How does your family cope with bathroom issues on vacation? Does it matter to you if the toilet and shower are in separate rooms? Does it matter if you have two sinks? Do you mind sharing a bathroom with non-nuclear-family traveling companions (like a friend, or your mother-in-law)? What odd things are the deciding factors for where you decide to stay? Let us know in the comments below.

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Using the TouringPlans.com Tools – Disney World Least Expensive Ticket Calculator

by on January 23, 2012

Tickets. They can be a huge decision for a family trying to make their way to Walt Disney World for a vacation. After all, the cost of one day at Disney World is fast approaching $100 in ticket prices alone. It might be an easier discussion if you are talking about one trip and you know exactly how many days you plan to go to the parks, but what if you want to come back another time this year? Or maybe you plan to take a shorter trip this year and a longer one next year? Do you spring for No Expiration? Do you buy an Annual Pass? It’s enough to drive a person mad.

I wanted to focus more on the race than on tickets.

Luckily, TouringPlans.com is here to help you. I found myself in a slippery ticket situation for Marathon Weekend, where I suddenly had to decide in January whether I or my kids would be making return trips to Disney in the next 12 months. I don’t know about you, but with my work schedule, the kids’ activities and the seemingly always changing school calendar, I was not prepared for planning my year out in advance like that. So what did I do? I went to the Least Expensive Ticket Calculator.

This is probably the most underrated tool here at TouringPlans.com. Although the tools focusing on crowds, lines and touring schedules are great, many people struggle with ticket issues, and the Least Expensive Ticket Calculator can save you money. Let me lay out my situation from Marathon Weekend and show you how I used the Least Expensive Ticket Calculator to pick the best tickets for my family. To start off with, none of my family had tickets. Last year, we all had bought Annual Passes, but due to a shift in the school calendar, we had been forced to cancel a week long trip to Disney World in mid-summer. That meant that my kids had bought an Annual Pass for a grand total of 8 days in the parks, which was probably not the most efficient use of our money. I was determined not to let that happen again.

The Least Expensive Ticket Calculator is here! To save money, no less.

For the weekend, we were scheduled to arrive on Thursday midday, then check in for the 5K and have an early dinner. That was to be followed by the race on Friday, with touring afterwards, then cheering for friends Saturday morning and some more park touring. Easy answer, right? Two days worth of tickets should do it. Wrong. There was more to consider. My wife and I have made it a tradition to take a long weekend away from the kids and head to the Food & Wine Festival. So we knew that at least the two of us would be coming back within the year. But that meant that we had different ticket needs than our kids. Fun, huh? We would like to take the kids back to Disney sometime this year, but right now we cannot be sure that will happen. There was always the option of buying Annual Passes for them, but as I mentioned, I got burned with that last year.

In order to solve this dilemma, I tapped into Len Testa’s brain by heading over to the Least Expensive Ticket Calculator. The tool asked me some simple questions in order to determine the best options for my ticket conundrum. First, how many adults and children were going and then how many days would I be going to the parks. Then the calculator spits out the best options for my situation. Now, that’s a little simplistic for the variables I have going on, so I clicked on “Advanced Options” and was given more criteria to help sort out the situation. The Advanced Options give me the choice of adding Water Parks, Disney Quest or No Expiration to the tickets. It also takes into account whether there is a chance you will return within 12 months and if you can accept delivery of the tickets in the next 3 weeks rather than wait and pick them up at Disney.

I can hear some of you out there wondering how the Ticket Calculator can help with two different sets of tickets, such as my ticket versus my kids’. Well the easiest thing to do is to run the different scenarios. For example, for my kids, I ran the numbers as if they were only going for these two days, then again as though we would bring them back for a week long trip in the summer. Doing this can expose some quirks in the Magic Your Way ticket system. For example, did you know that an Annual Pass is actually cheaper than a 10 Day Park Hopper Ticket with No Expiration? It is, which was a big temptation for me. After all, if the kids have Annual Passes, the we can go to Disney World whenever we want, right? In the end, the best option was to get Annual Passes for my wife and myself, and simply the Two Day Park Hopper tickets for the kids. That way, if we did decide to go back with the kids later, my wife and I were set, and we saved the money now of having to pay for a full year’s worth of tickets that the kids may not use. But that is just one way I have used the Least Expensive Ticket Calculator. It is a really handy tool that all of you should check out. If you have used it before, how did your ticket calculations come out?

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Magic Kingdom Splash Mountain Show Quality Advisory

by on January 23, 2012

Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park has been experiencing significant technical difficulties in its various show scenes during the past few days. It has been conveyed to us by the employees who staff the attraction that certain mechanical parts are needed to make the necessary repairs and those parts are not readily on hand. Disney is, at this time, choosing to operate the attraction with non-functional show scenes during the interim period. There is currently no estimated timeline for the repairs to be completed.

It is understandable that some guests may not want to subject their children or even themselves to “bad show” at Walt Disney World. If you want to experience the attraction as it was designed, you may wish to visit the Magic Kingdom at a later date. If you want to see for yourself what exactly is wrong, you can preview a video of the problem provided by Kevin Yee and then decide for yourself if you want to still visit the attraction. An update with be posted when there are any further details.

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Four Parks in One Day, A Touring Plan Odyssey

by on January 23, 2012

This post comes to us from TouringPlans.com subscriber and WDW Today listener Fred Butler. He brings us the story of his own Ultimate Touring Plan….

After having listened to Episode 411: Four Parks in One Day of the WDW Today podcast too many times to count, my wife and I decided it was finally time to undertake the four parks in one day adventure for ourselves. We had a free day from the conference we were attending at the Boardwalk Inn in January 2012, giving us the perfect opportunity. Since we hadn’t rented a car during this visit, we had no choice but to meet the challenge using exclusively Disney transportation. What follows is a diary of our four parks in one day adventure.

6:00 AM – We woke up, ate a quick breakfast, and headed out to the bus stop. We only waited around 10 minutes for a bus from to Animal Kingdom, and we were on our way.

The early bird sees the lion on Kilimanjaro Safaris

7:00 AM – We entered Animal Kingdom with a crowd of maybe 100 or 150 people on this 40 degree Extra Magic Hour morning. I’ve never seen a park this empty in my life! Kilimanjaro Safaris didn’t open until 8:00, so first we rode Expedition Everest. We got into the queue corals at the front of the line, and noticed they were only running one train! We waited about 5 minutes before riding, but the people behind us probably waited much longer unless they added more trains. Next we rode DINOSAUR (also a walk-on), then queued up for the safari (which wasn’t quite open yet). We waited a few minutes, then were loaded into the first safari vehicle of the day. After waiting in the vehicle for a while (with our outstanding safari guide stalling us with lots of corny jokes), we were off on our safari. We had a great time – it was our first time riding the safari early in the morning. The animals were very active, and we even saw the lions up and about. After getting some coffee at the Royal Anandupur Tea Company, we went out to the bus stop for Hollywood Studios. This was the part of the day I was the most worried about. I wondered how many people would be travelling from Animal Kingdom to the Studios this early in the morning. I feared Disney would only be running this bus every hour. But my fears were unfounded – a bus showed up in 10 minutes and we were off to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (almost in time for rope drop!).

9:10 and already on the second park of the day!

9:10 AM – We arrived at the Studios and made a beeline for Toy Story Mania! The sign said the wait was 65 minutes, but we only waited around 30 minutes. The best part of the day: I beat my wife’s score on this ride for the first time ever. Then we got Fastpasses for the Tower of Terror, rode Star Tours (around a 10 minute wait) and grabbed a snack at Starring Rolls Café while waiting for our 10:45 AM Tower of Terror Fastpasses. After a delightful ride of the Tower of Terror, we headed to Epcot via the walkway connecting the two parks. By this time of the day, the temperature had warmed up to a beautiful 60 degrees.

11:45 AM – We arrived in Epcot, and I headed straight for the Land Pavilion to get Soarin’ Fastpasses. Unfortunately the Fastpass distribution times were for 6:20, which would interfere with our dinner plans at Kona Cafe (I should have checked the Tip Board). So we got Test Track Fastpasses instead (good for a more convenient 4:15), then decided to have a spur of the moment lunch at the San Angel Inn. I love the atmosphere and food at this restaurant – I just wish the prices were a little lower! After lunch, we hopped on Maelstrom (which had a 5 minute wait), then walked back to the Boardwalk.

2:00 PM – We hung out at the Boardwalk, getting some much needed afternoon rest.

3:45 PM – We walked back to Epcot. First we rode Spaceship Earth, then Test Track using our Fastpasses. We had some extra time, so we rode Living with the Land because he hadn’t done it in a while. Finishing up with Epcot, we were off to the Magic Kingdom area.

5:15 PM – We rode the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center, and then walked to the Polynesian. We had made a 6:30 reservation at Kona Café, but showed up closer to 5:30 and were seated right away. After dinner, we walked to the resort monorail stop at the Polynesian, then headed for our final park of the day: the Magic Kingdom.

Last park of the day!

7:00 PM – We arrived at the Magic Kingdom. Our plan had been to Fastpass Splash Mountain right away, but when we got to Splash there was literally no one waiting in line. It must have had something to do with the 45 degree evening weather. I’d never seen the queue so empty; it was kind of eerie. We rode Splash Mountain in the front seat (which may have been a mistake since we got a little wet). After that we went on the The Haunted Mansion (walk-on), then saw Mickey’s Philharmagic (the best 3D movie at WDW, and possibly the best attraction at the Magic Kingdom). At that point it was parade time, so we got on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with only a 15 minute wait. We debated whether to stay longer, but decided to leave during the fireworks to beat the crowds. We waited 10 minutes for a bus back to the Boardwalk, then we were on our way home.

9:45 PM – Back in our hotel room, exhausted, we watched television and then went to bed.

All in all we had a great time doing four parks in one day. We did three attractions in each of Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, and four attractions in each of Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. The biggest surprise: Disney transportation was reliable and efficient throughout the entire day. We could have easily done more if we were willing to forgo the afternoon break or to stay later at the Magic Kingdom. We were using a 10 day no expiration park hopper ticket; four parks in one day is an excellent way to get the most out of this type of ticket.

The aftermath

Have you ever done four parks in one day? How did it go?

Fred first visited Walt Disney World in 1977 at age one. After a 29 year drought, he rekindled his love of the Disney parks with a trip to Disneyland in 2006. Now he visits Walt Disney World whenever he can. Depending on the day, his favorite ride is Soarin’, Expedition Everest, or the Tower of Terror.

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Pepper Market At Coronado Springs Resort Continues Buffet Service

by on January 21, 2012

In December, Walt Disney World’s Coronado Springs Resort began testing a new Buffet format in their Quick Service Restaurant, Pepper Market. The test was scheduled to end at the beginning of January, but they decided to continue in hopes of getting more feedback. I attended the Buffet for lunch, both during the original test, and again mid-January, and for so many reasons, this is now one of my favorite restaurants on Walt Disney World Property.

I liked Pepper Market just fine before. The food was awesome, and a good value, but the setup of the restaurant was a bit odd. Guests were seated and had a waitress, like at a table service restaurant; but the waitress only got drinks for the table. Guests then went and ordered and picked up their own food, got a card stamped showing what they ordered, and then after they ate, went and checked out at a cash register.

The buffet works so much better in the space they have. It operates much like a table service buffet, so much so that I kept forgetting it was a counter service restaurant. The only thing that is different, is that you still walk up to the register to pay at the end of your meal.

The food selection is outstanding. They have pizza, pasta, fresh paninis, carved meats, potatoes, salads, soups, build-your-own taco bar, enchiladas, grilled chicken, burritos, and much more. They also have a good children’s selection with chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, french fries, etc. While some of the options sound like standard buffet fare, this isn’t your typical Disney food. Pepper Market is owned by an outside company, and so they don’t have the same standard pizza, chicken, and macaroni. Everything we tried was fresh, hot, and delicious.

Another fantastic thing about the Pepper Market buffet is that it isn’t crowded. It’s at a fairly out of the way resort, that most people don’t visit unless they are staying there, and those that do eat at the restaurant are cycled through fairly quickly because of the buffet/quick service style. On the right you can see a picture of what the dining room looked like at 12:30 in the afternoon on the day we decided to go. It was only our table and 3 others!

Possibly because it was so quiet, the service was fantastic. Everyone from the seaters to the waitstaff to the folks behind the counter and in the kitchen spoke with us, played with the kids, asked if we needed anything…it was outstanding. The whole restaurant just felt very welcoming and friendly.

For guests using the Disney Dining Plan, the Pepper Market buffet counts as a Quick Service restaurant. So, you can eat at the all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet for just one quick service credit. All you can eat for one counter service credit is a pretty incredible value for Disney’s meal plan.

As a local, the Pepper Market is someplace that I will frequent. Good food, good value, good service…it’s an all around win.

Update: The price for the Pepper Market Lunch Buffet is $16.99 for adults and $9.99 for Children 3-9. Children under 3 are free.

Have you visited the Pepper Market Buffet? What did you think? Would you go to a Quick Service Buffet?

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The Marshall Plan to Rebuild Postwar Europe, As An Unofficial Guide Touring Plan

by on January 20, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012 is the 65th anniversary of General George Marshall’s appointment as U.S. Secretary of State.  Among Marshall’s many accomplishments was making the initial case for the U.S. and its allies to provide economic support to post-WWII Europe, in a speech to Harvard University in June, 1947.  The Marshall Plan, as the aid package became known, ran from 1947 to 1951 and is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s great achievements.

Reader Kurt Sutton marks this anniversary by condensing the entire five-year project into a 13-step Unofficial Guide Touring Plan.

The Unofficial Guide Marshall Plan or (How to rebuild Europe and Stop Communism in a Day Plan)

Plan Summary

This touring plan is for Heads of State who wish to build and stabilize the economy in European nations after a widespread war has been resolved. This plan will attempt to remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and make Europe prosperous (though these are not guarantees.) It has been created by people who will have no part in its actual implementation. It is designed to allow European countries to buy American goods, and is in no way attempting to become a deterrent to Communism. Those who wish not to participate in the plan can hide behind the nearest wall, as convenient. Failure to use plan may result in Communist leadership.

Plan Steps

1. End war in Europe (may require Communist country).

2. Go to lavish negotiation in Paris (we’re not animals after all).

3. Invite Soviet Union to join (attempt not to roll eyes whilst doing so).

4. Divide money amongst war-riddled countries (a little less for Germany).

5. Watch Soviet Union build giant wall in Berlin (do not attempt to enter East Germany as wait to exit may take longer than expected).

6. Bring salesman to show off how great it is to “Buy American.”

7. Dismantle German factories (access to West side only).

8. Eat lunch (Swiss food is good for a large, neutral group).

9. Go to Canada while it finally has a large economy.

10. Return to Germany. If Berlin wall is not down yet, obtain FASTPASS.

11. Head to Cuba, watch strategic holes being constructed for “no reason” (do not mention Pigs being in a Bay).

12. If you have FASTPASS for the Berlin Wall, use it now.

13. Watch Communism fall.

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10 Things You Should Know About the 2012 Disney Dining Plan at Disneyland

by on January 20, 2012

Okay, I’ve been promising to write this blog for quite a while now but I’ve been putting it off!  Why have I been putting it off?  Because the dining plan at Disneyland is so confusing!  And I’m a travel agent who has been trained in all things Disney!  I’ve gone through online training and sat through actual classes at Disneyland about the dining plan and yet still, I find it confusing.  Hopefully I can shed a little light on it here.

I’ll tell you right up front, this blog is coming from a fan of Walt Disney World’s Dining Plan.  I consider Disney World’s plan to be easy to use, and, depending on your eating habits, it can save you money.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for a lot of guests.  At Disney World, depending on which plan you purchase, you get a certain number of meals and snacks per person per night of stay.  The cost of individual items is usually not a factor.  For instance, if you are using a dining credit at Le Cellier Steakhouse at lunch and you want that New York Strip Steak for $31.99 – get it.  It’s covered!  Disneyland’s plan is very different, however.  Here are some things you should know about it.

1. Disneyland’s Dining Plan is essentially prepaying for your meals.  You can either purchase individual character meal vouchers, or there are four meal plans to choose from (which also include character meal vouchers).  They are:  Donald’s 2-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan, Goofy 3-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan, Minnie’s 4-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan and Mickey’s 5-Day Dine in the Magic Meal Plan.  Each plan includes a different number of vouchers (to include character meal vouchers) with an established dollar value printed on them.  Except in the case of character meal vouchers when used at a character meal (described in #8 below), the vouchers are worth exactly the amount printed on them.  When you use them, that amount will be applied to your bill.

2. With the Disneyland dining plan, you can buy a shorter length plan than the number of nights you stay.  You can’t do this at Disney World, unless you split stays, so in this regard, the Disneyland meal plan provides a little more flexibility.  If you are staying 3 nights but are only interested in a couple of nice sit down meals, you can get the 2-day plan!  That way you won’t be stuck with extra vouchers at the end of your vacation.  Another major difference with the Disney World plan is that everyone on the same vacation package at Disneyland does not have to purchase the meal plan.  Parents can buy it for their teenagers and not for themselves, for example.

3. The vouchers expire at the end of the year in which they are purchased.  Unlike Disney World’s dining plan where dining credits expire on midnight the day of check out, at Disneyland the vouchers expire at the end of the calendar year.  So, you may be able to save them for your next trip if you don’t use them all the first time.

4. Similar to Disney World’s plan, you can’t add a Disneyland dining plan onto a room-only reservation.  At Disney World there are exceptions for things like a Disney Vacation Club stay, military discount, or Annual Passholder reservation.  At Disneyland, however, there are no exceptions.  Also, considering that what constitutes a package at Disneyland is sometimes different than what constitutes a package at Disney World, it can be difficult to know if you can add on a meal plan.  At Disneyland, you can’t assume that because you added tickets onto your room-only reservation that you can also add the dining plan.  To confuse things even further, Disneyland also has a ticket that is considered a package even if you don’t have a room of any kind booked!  It’s called Passport Plus and you can add dining plans to it.  You can, however, add character vouchers onto a room-only reservation.

5. You cannot use the vouchers everywhere.  Unlike the plan at Disney World where it’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t participate (especially with the 2012 plan adding a bunch of new restaurants like T-Rex Cafe and both Rainforest Cafés) Disneyland’s vouchers don’t work at restaurants or food carts in Downtown Disney where you will undoubtedly want to eat because of the great selection of restaurants there.  It didn’t used to work at the Disneyland Resort Hotels, but thankfully Disney has fixed that problem.

6. There is a difference between the types of character meal vouchers.  The Premium Character Dining vouchers cost $40 and are for lunch or dinner at Ariel’s Grotto (although they do not work for the World of Color dinner packages) and breakfast, lunch and dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen.  The [not-as-premium] Character Dining vouchers cost $33 and are for Minnie and Friends Breakfast at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland, Surfs Up! Breakfast at the PCH Grill in the Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, or Chip and Dale’s Critter Breakfast at Storytellers Café in the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

7. Character Meal Vouchers do not necessarily mean characters.  Both kinds of character meal vouchers can be used at places other than character meals.  If you purchase Mickey’s 5-Day Meal Plan for an adult, you will see it includes 3 character dining experiences, 1 premium character dining experience, 4 $15 dining vouchers and 4 snack vouchers.  The character vouchers have a dollar value and you can redeem them at any participating restaurant.  The value of the voucher you use will be applied to the meal.

8. It is possible to save money using the Disneyland dining plan.  And when I say save money, I mean just a few dollars.  When you use a character meal vouchers at a character meal, they are worth the value of the meal.  If you’re not traveling during a peak holiday season when character meal prices can be inflated, you will save a little.  For example, the current price for an adult dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen is $35.99.  A Premium Character Dining voucher is $40.  Because the voucher includes tax and gratuity which would add up to more than the difference of $4.01, you can actually save a few bucks.

9. It is also possible to lose money using the Disneyland dining plan.  Again, when I say lose money, I am probably talking minimal amounts.  If you use a $5 snack voucher for a snack that costs $4.50, you will not get change.

10. If you don’t want to carry cash, the Disneyland dining plan may be for you (Disney uses this as a selling point).  Since carrying credit cards or gift cards would also save you from carrying cash, I’ve tried to think of scenarios in which carrying meal vouchers worth specific amounts would be more convenient than carrying credit cards or gift cards.  As the mother of two teenagers, one scenario does come to mind.  If you let the teens go explore Disneyland by themselves for a while, vouchers may be better to give them than credit cards or gift cards.  The way I see it, there are two possible benefits with the vouchers in this scenario.  First, it’s not as big a deal if they lose a $5 voucher as compared to a credit card or gift card, and second, they can’t spend $20 on food if you only give them $10 to spend!

So there you have it!  An attempt to explain the Disneyland dining plan, and some pros and cons about it (could it be any different than the Disney World dining plan?).  Hopefully, the Disneyland dining plan is clearer now – at least a little!

How about you?  Do you still have questions about the plan or have any experiences to share?  What changes would you like to see made in the Disneyland dining plan?

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