Archive for March, 2012

1900 Park Fare – A Breakfast Review

by on March 26, 2012

My wife and I have a tradition (okay, it’s only the last couple of years, but still) of going to Walt Disney World for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. On our first trip, we made the mistake of also getting the Disney Dining Plan. This was not the smartest move on our part, but in our way we made it work. We tried to focus on eating breakfast at places we had not tried before, and therefore ended up at 1900 Park Fare.

The entrance to 1900 Park Fare is opposite the birdcage elevator seen here.

If you’re not familiar with 1900 Park Fare, it’s tucked away on the bottom floor of the Grand Floridian, near the front of the building. For breakfast, it is a character dining experience, with the chance to meet some characters you don’t normally get to see. Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, and other characters are on-hand to greet guests. That alone was reason for me to try it out, as I’ve never been able to wait in line and greet Mary Poppins.

So, with great anticipation my wife and I took the bus to the Magic Kingdom, then a boat over to the Grand Floridian. And there lies the first problem with 1900 Park Fare – it’s not easy to get to unless you are driving. Since we were reliant on Disney transportation, it took us nearly an hour and ten minutes to arrive, and we missed our reservation time even though we left an hour before the 9 a.m. Advanced Dining Reservation.

That led to a bit of waiting on our part. Normally that is no big deal for me. I actually don’t mind sitting and talking to my wife, but we were both hungry that morning, and the 20 minute wait for a table combined with my desire to get back in the parks was not a great combination. So the end result was that I was not a happy camper when I arrived in the front door of 1900 Park Fare.

This was only made worse by the fact that once our buzzer went off, we were immediately shepherded to a photo backdrop where we were asked to wait in line to take a picture. While it was a nice backdrop, there were no characters there and we had absolutely no intention of buying the photo, which was not included in the price of the meal. It seemed a serious waste of time for a couple without kids and I honestly would not have enjoyed it even with my kids. Sure, I could have asked to skip it, and I understand that Disney will allow that, but it’s really unnecessary when there are no characters around.

The check-in area, right before the unnecessary photo op.

Fortunately, we were soon escorted to our table and allowed to eat! Our waitress came by quickly after we were seated, explained the buffet, and took our drink orders (water and coffee for both of us). Finally, about 9:45, we were able to go eat, only 45 minutes after when we originally had an ADR. Sure, part of that was our fault, but Disney is usually better about such things.

I am not picky about breakfast foods, so it was easy for me to load up at the buffet. This is standard Disney breakfast fare – eggs, bacon, sausage, stale biscuits, gravy, pancakes and assorted pastries. There were, of course, other items like fruit and cereals and healthy stuff, but let’s be honest – I’m on vacation, so I wanted the fattening items. In terms of food quality, it was about what I expected, which is not much.

Disney has a pretty standard breakfast formula, and it doesn’t deviate much from it. The meats and eggs are hot and good, the breads are stale, and the restaurants have no clue how to make gravy. The pastries, provided that they are freshly baked, are generally very good. This was the case with my experience at 1900 Park Fare. As such, I was pleased with the meal, if not overwhelmed by it. Sure, there were more items to get, like freshly carved meats and made-to-order omelets, but the lines were so long that I couldn’t wait for them and still eat the other food on my plate. I did try the “legendary” strawberry soup, but it struck me more as melted ice cream than anything else.

There are few Disney breakfast spots that really strike my fancy (Kona Cafe is the best), so it was more the experience that I was looking forward to when I booked this meal.

That was a disappointment. The characters on site for our meal were Mary Poppins, Alice, the Mad Hatter, Pooh, and Tigger. Now, I have seen Pooh and Tigger many times at The Crystal Palace, so I wasn’t exactly waiting for that opportunity. But as fate would have it, they are the two who came to our table first. And then we waited. Again. Eventually, Mary Poppins came by, but we never did get to see Alice or the Mad Hatter.

For the money we paid for the Dining Plan, it was still a disappointment. A regular breakfast at 1900 Park Fare would be just under $27 per person. With tip included, that comes out to a whopping $68 for breakfast! For that price, I don’t expect to have to wait in long lines, be forced to pay for a picture that I had to wait for, or get mediocre food. My experience may not be indicative of the restaurant as a whole, because I can see where there could be good things there, but at least on this one Friday morning, it was not everything I had hoped it would be.

What about you? Have you guys tried 1900 Park Fare? What did you think?

 

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Stroller Rental Companies Near Walt Disney World

by on March 26, 2012

There are many options for parents who require strollers when coming to Walt Disney World. They can bring their stroller from home, rent one at the parks, or rent from an off site company. If they decide to rent off site, there are several companies to pick from, so which do they choose? Luckily, TouringPlans.com decided to rent strollers from four different companies and compare.

Our Guinea Pigs!

I was joined by Shelley Caran, a blogger at On The Go in MCO and icFlorida.com. We booked a room at All Star Sports (to have the strollers delivered to), grabbed our kids, my sons aged 3 and 18 months, and her 5 year old daughter, and ordered strollers from four different companies to take to Walt Disney World. I reserved all of our strollers the week before using the company’s websites. We rented from Kingdom Strollers, Magic Strollers, Orlando Stroller Rentals, and Baby Wheels Orlando. To keep things even, we ordered the same strollers (City Mini Single) and same accessories (a rain cover) from each company. When we checked in at noon, all of our strollers had arrived and we were ready to go to Walt Disney World!

Kingdom Strollers
Kingdom Strollers had a clean, easy to use website. They offered multiple types of strollers, and even rent full sized cribs. My biggest complaint with them was that they didn’t have very detailed instructions with the stroller. There were directions how to fold and open it, but that was all. If I had not had instructions provided by other companies, I would not have been able to figure out how to recline the seat. Another fairly superficial thing that I find important in a stroller, is a cup holder for me. When I am outside in the heat at Disney World, I almost always have a drink with me, and need a place to put it while I push. Kingdom Strollers was the only company to not provide a “parent console” that included a cup holder. Every other company offered it either by default, or upon request. Kingdom was the only company to send a follow up email. It just said thank you, and they hope to see us again, but it was a nice gesture. The stroller itself was in good condition, except that we did not receive our rain cover we requested.

I called Kingdom Strollers and spoke with Matt, who said that sometimes they run out of covers, so they just short people. I asked him do double check that I was one of the people who was shorted that day. I did not want it to have gotten lost in the luggage holding area, and then be charged for it. He said he did not have the list in front of him, but he would make a note of it. I asked for a return phone call, just to confirm, and he refused and said it was unnecessary since he already made a note and everything would be fine. I found it frustrating that they shorted us the rain cover, without any notice. If it had been rainy season at Walt Disney World, that would have been enough reason for me to use a different company.

Carry bag from Magic Strollers

Magic Strollers
Magic Strollers is the newest offering from Owner’s Locker. Their strollers come in a nice, black, carry bag; you have to attach the wheels yourself, which is not difficult, but a bit annoying. They sent us a text when our stroller was dropped off, which was reassuring. It was good to know our stroller was ready and waiting when we got to the resort. Magic was the most strict on drop off and pick up times. Strollers are dropped off at 10am and picked up at 2pm. If you need your stroller for earlier than 10, they recommend you have it dropped off the day before; if you need it later than 2, then they ask you to pay for an additional day. This stroller also came with few instructions, but did include a certificate from the company that cleaned and sanitized the stroller. This stroller was also in good condition, although the wheels could have used a bit of WD-40.

Orlando Stroller Rentals
Orlando Stroller Rentals is probably the most well known of the rental companies. However, it was one of the more expensive companies we rented from, and the only company that made us pay for a rain cover if we wanted one. Their website was easy to use, although they had fewer add-on options than the other companies. The stroller we received was mechanically in good condition, but the fabric was torn and worn out in several places, and had a couple of stains. On the day we returned the stroller, I got a phone call at 4:15pm, 15 minutes after the designated pick up time, and a very terse voice mail telling me my stroller should already have been returned to bell services. I called the company and informed them the stroller had been handed over to Walt Disney World Bell Services at 10 that morning, and there seemed to be some mistake. About 40 minutes later, I received a call saying there had been a mistake. I understand mistakes happen, but the original voice mail was rude, and accusatory, which was uncalled for, especially since it was not my mistake.

Baby Wheels Orlando
If I ever need to rent a stroller in Orlando again, I would rent from Baby Wheels Orlando. They had, by far, the most detailed instructions, they were incredibly flexible with pick up and drop off times, and they had the best selections of add-ons, many for free. They were not the cheapest company, nor were they the most expensive. They sent a text the morning we checked in confirming our stroller was there, and were extremely helpful when I needed them.

Remember how Kingdom Strollers did not include my rain cover? Well, when you order identical strollers from four different companies, things can get confusing. I originally thought it was the Baby Wheels rain cover that had been forgotten. I called and spoke with Keith, who assured me cover had been delivered, told me exactly where it should be, and asked me to check again. I told him it was most definitely not there. Less than 15 minutes later, Keith called me from bell services at All Star Sports. He drove all the way there to talk with Bell Services and find out what was going on. We quickly figured out that it was my mistake, but I was impressed that Keith went out of his way to make sure that we all knew what had gone wrong. Also, he could not have been nicer about my mistake, even though it caused him to go out of his way.

Have you rented a stroller for a Disney World vacation? Who did you use? What did you think?

Stroller Prices

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Free Tour Series: Sanaa Cultural Tour

by on March 24, 2012

Sanaa Podium

Sanaa Podium

Our forth installment of the Free Tour Series takes us back into the resorts and into yet another restaurant. Thanks to the Sanaa Cultural Tour, I recently discovered what is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to dine on property. This quick 20 minute tour takes guests through the lone table service restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Villas and ends with a tasty treat. (That’s right, more free food!)

First, if you’re not familiar with the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Animal Kingdom Villas area, it’s important to note that each go by a different name. The Lodge building is called Jambo House, whereas the Villas reside at Kidani Village. Whether you are driving or using Disney transportation to get to the resort, you will want to stop at Kidani Village for this tour.

Sanaa Dining Area

Sanaa Dining Area

If you drive and choose to self-park, it can be a very long walk from where the parking lot elevator takes you to the central lobby area. Fortunately, you’re walking indoors with glimpses out on to Kidani’s savannas, but make sure you remember which elevator you used so you can find your car again. I won’t say that I lost my car when I did this tour, but I will say that I took the scenic route to find it.

Sanaa is located below the check-in area in the center of Kidani Village. When I checked in at the podium for the 4pm tour, I was the only only guest. The Cultural Representative leading the tour, a young woman from Botswana, waited 10 more minutes to see if anyone else would be joining us. No one did, and the woman seemed a bit surprised that I was there. I guess not many folks take advantage of the tour.

Window overlooking the savanna

Window overlooking the savanna

Since I had a private tour, the Cultural Representative took her time and was very patient with my taking photos. If you haven’t been, Sanaa is gorgeous. Aesthetically, it is my favorite restaurant on property. “Sanaa” means artwork in Swahili, and the place is covered with a diverse collection of beautiful pieces. The walls are adorned with a items from various African cultures so as to evoke a trading market atmosphere. Beads and necklaces are prominently featured and are a nod to the word “Kidani”, which is Swahili for necklace.

The Representative led me around the intimate dining area explaining the cultural significance of each of the African pieces. She even pointed out a Hidden Mickey as well as Sanaa’s own Pride Rock. Given the small size of the restaurant, I was amazed at how many different design elements had been incorporated. Everything was beautiful, though I did question the logic of displaying beaded loin cloths directly behind the heads of eating guests. My guide laughed, and said she often thought the same thing.

Sanaa Boat Room

The canopy is made from ship sails in this boat-inspired room.

We finished up in the bar area, which is now on my lists of places to return. Even at 4 in the afternoon, the bar was cozy and inviting. Here the Cultural Representative turned me over to one of Sanaa’s chefs. The chef came out and explained how they use tandoori ovens to make naan bread as well as slow cook their meats. He also brought out a sample of their Indian-style Bread Service appetizer, including fresh naan and three different dipping sauces. Since it was only me on the tour, I had the whole thing to myself. Fortunately, I quickly made friends with two ladies at the bar who were more than happy to help me polish off the food.

If you order this appetizer in the restaurant, you get to choose from a selection of nine sauces. On the day of my tour, they gave me the cucumber raita, mango chutney and something green that I still don’t know what it was. I happened to come back for dinner with a group, and we had two orders of the bread service. Rather than having us pick six sauces, the waiter brought us all nine options. This was fabulous, and I highly recommend doing the same if you find yourself with enough people to share.

Indian Style Bread Service Appetizer

Indian Style Bread Service Appetizer

Overall, the tour was short and sweet. Even taking my time time to eat and chat with my new friends, I was out of there in 30 minutes. I’m sure with a larger tour group asking questions, it could take longer. If you do go, I highly recommend asking your Cultural Representative about their home country and experiences. My guide was a busy handling a guest conundrum at the end of my tour, so we didn’t talk much. However, I have chatted up the Cultural Representatives over at Jambo House, and they all were very happy to share.

The Sanaa Cultural Tour is a great respite away from the parks. If you are staying over in the Animal Kingdom area or just want an excuse to come check out the gorgeous resort and savanna, a free tour is just the ticket. A great trip would be following this tour with a drink at the bar or an early dinner at Sanaa. Either way, be sure to check out the animals on the savanna viewable through the windows before the sun goes down.

Tribal Drums

Tribal Drums

On the other hand, if you want to see Jambo House, try the previously reviewed Culinary Tour of Boma and Jiko. That tour offers a glimpse into two restaurants, but I don’t consider either half as beautiful as Sanaa. Then again, you get double the samples – so it’s a toss up! You really can’t go wrong with either tour.

The Sanaa Cultural Tour is currently offered at 4 p.m. daily. No reservations are accepted, and all you need to do to attend is show up at the Sanaa podium in the Animal Kingdom Villas.  The tour is open to all ages and lasts 20 minutes.   As resort activities can change monthly, check the Resort Activites Calendar or call (407) 938-3000 to confirm the tour schedule.

 

Have you tried the Animal Kingdom Villas Sanaa Cultural Tour?  Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!

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One More Disney Day: The Recap – Finale

by on March 23, 2012

Today we offer the final part of our Leap Day recap series with Tom Bricker, who was in Disneyland, and Brian McNichols, who was in Walt Disney World. Tom and Brian have been trading stories, experiences, and good-natured barbs through all 24 hours. For the start of this miraculous and incredible journey on “One More Disney Day,” see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Walt Disney World

I’m going to be relatively brief in my tying up of the neat little package that was One More Disney Day at the Magic Kingdom.  The end of my night was fuzzy and I didn’t quite make it to the end of the 24 hours so relaying details would be a losing effort.  While everyone ended the night exhausted (guests and Cast Members both), I was happily surprised to see that good moods vastly overwhelmed the bad.  All the general happiness even made my heart melt a bit, although if Tom was there I’m sure it would have just confused his non-emotionally driven programming.

Overall, as an event, One More Disney Day was fantastic.  There wasn’t a lot that I could specifically point at throughout the day but rather a feeling that permeated everything, especially in the earliest and latest hours of the day.  It’s hard to explain but I think it radiated from so many people sharing such a unique experience.  Although the park was busy (and, at times, almost unbearably so) there were a lot of people just having a good time.  Many didn’t care if they rode anything or caught the parade, they simply wanted to be there.  That relaxed atmosphere along with the constant commitment to awesomeness of Disney Cast Members and fans made this much more than just one more Disney day (that was pretty corny…but I’m leaving it so Tom has more ammo).

Disneyland

As late night gave way to early morning, surprisingly, the crowds didn’t seem to lessen. Disneyland was still packed, and the atmosphere continued to be lively. We easily ate more in one 24-hour period than we ever have in our lives, as we kept stopping here and there to try random “special” treats. All in the name of research, as Lou Mongello would say.

When the clock passed 2 am, I had a serious problem. Fatigue began to set in. I fell asleep on an attraction, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it. Sarah encouraged me to go back and take a nap until 5 am, but I was unwavering in my opposition. Twenty-two hours in the park wasn’t 24. Then, something magical happened.

We were standing off to the side of Sleeping Beauty Castle, and a young couple asked me to take a photo of them jumping in front of the Castle with their phone. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. So I told them I’d take it with my camera and email it to them. I dialed in the correct settings and fired off a few shots. Nailed it. It seemed like a fun idea, so I passed off my camera to one of the other photographers in our posse and had him take a photo of Sarah and I doing the same. Sarah and I, apparently, aren’t very good at timing our jumps, because it took us about 20 attempts to get correct. After this, however, I was magically full of energy. It was as if that jumping had given me my second wind! I wasn’t tired again for the rest of the event. (It might also be worth noting that I had a cup and a half of coffee about a half hour before this, and I never drink coffee; that jolt of caffeine might have played a small role…although I prefer my “magical” explanation!)

At some point around 3 am, the crowds started to break. The park was still busy, but it wasn’t chaotic. Wait times subsided, and there was a lot more walking space, in general. This trend continued until around 5:30 am, when we found ourselves in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, just taking in the experience. The darkness of the overnight hour had given way to a twilight hour deep shade of blue as the sun loomed under the horizon. Many people were still growing strong, and a rather sizable crowd had gathered on Main Street, USA. There had been little countdown announcements every hour, and the crowd expected 6 am to be no different. The cheers were so loud when the announcement started playing that I couldn’t hear exactly what it said, but I can’t say I’ve ever experienced people cheering when the park announced that it had concluded its day. It was really something.

Being crazy by nature, I didn’t head for the exit after I heard this. There was another sunrise about to happen! Instead, I rushed off to the Rivers of America and started taking photos. Then, I hurried over to Tomorrowland to do the same. A few table service restaurants had seatings until after 5 am, and attractions like Space Mountain and Star Tours had 30 minute plus queues at 6 am, which meant that the park wouldn’t be cleared of guests until at least 6:30 am. I took full advantage of this, grabbing as many photos as I could of my second sunrise of “One More Disney Day.”

Finally, just after 7 am, I made my way down Main Street to a line of Disneyland managers, who were high-fiving guests and Cast Members in a line as we headed towards the exit. Every one of them had a smile on their face, and they seemed simultaneously ecstatic and relieved to have made it through the day. As the last of us guests made our way through the line, Security Cast Members ran down it, giving high fives to all of the Cast Members on their way out. At approximately 7:11 am, I finally walked out the gates of Disneyland and they shut the gates behind me.

"One More Disney Day" - The End!

I’m not going to give Brian any guff for his corny concluding comment. Because he’s exactly right. To someone who didn’t go, it may seem like it was just another day, albeit one during which the Magic Kingdoms were open for 24 hours and were incredibly crowded. It was so much more. The energy during the event, at least at Disneyland, was palpable, and it was truly an incredible experience.

As I walked back to our hotel, I was filled with excitement and bursting with energy. It had been our best-ever day in Disneyland, bar none. It’s almost impossible to articulate why we had so much fun. (Since a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps someone should put together a collection of photos–a photo book, perhaps–to properly articulate how amazing the day was. Hmmm.) Sometimes, with Disney, the best explanation you can offer for something was that it was “magical.” One More Disney Day at Disneyland was Magical times 23,043.

Did you attend One More Disney Day? Do you now wish you had attended? Would you attend a similar event in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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10 Great Snacks at Disneyland

by on March 23, 2012

Who doesn’t love sitting at home dreaming about food at Disney?  Especially when there doesn’t seem to be anything in your own pantry but less-than-ripe bananas, stale potato chips, and half eaten boxes of cereal.  But I digress…

So let’s dream of Disney snacks!  There’s no way of course to hit on every great snack at Disneyland.  About 30 seconds in Marceline’s Confectionery will tell you that there’s probably 100 good choices in that one store alone.  So I’ll just hit on 10 that my family and I particularly enjoy.

1. Dole Whip Float – Of course I had to start here.  It wouldn’t take anyone that reads my blogs very long to pick up on my love for Dole Whip Floats.  Pineapple flavored soft serve ice cream, which many people enjoy alone, but in a float it’s soaked in pineapple juice.  It’s genius.  If you want that cool, refreshing snack that doesn’t feel too heavy in your stomach on a hot day, this is it.  Do notice I did not say these are necessarily “light” snacks.  I just said this one doesn’t feel as heavy in your belly as some of the richer snacks do.  Oh yes – AND it’s delicious.  Did I mention that?  You can find Dole Whips in Adventureland right next to the Enchanted Tiki Room.  By the way, if you go inside the courtyard waiting area for the Tiki room, the line to order is often shorter!

2. Churros – For the uninitiated, churros are basically long, skinny, fried dough dipped in cinnamon and sugar.  Does anybody see anything not to like about that last sentence?  Nope, me neither.  These Disneyland snacks are so popular they have their own Facebook fan page.  Churros can be found all over these days and, as evidenced by the ginormous lines at the many stands where they are sold, the Disneyland version will not disappoint you.  It’s deep fried yumminess.

3. Sourdough Mickey Bread – We discovered our love of the Mickey shaped sourdough bread many years ago.  When you start out on The Bread Tour in California Adventure they’ll even give you a sample to wet your taste buds.  The tour will tell you how the starter for this bread has been around for more than 100 years.  Our family’s personal touring plan involves the bread tour, and then a stop in the Pacific Wharf Café next door to buy a giant Mickey sourdough sometime before lunch.  It’s our go to snack for the rest of the day while waiting in line, or whenever we need a little bite of something to tide us over until the next meal.  Of course, they do have the sourdough in other shapes, and there’s even bowls to eat chili or clam chowder out of.  But seriously, doesn’t everything taste better when it’s shaped like Mickey?

4. Beignets – Speaking of deep fried.  Beignets are square pieces of dough that are deep fried and rolled in powdered sugar.  The more powdered sugar the better seems to be the philosophy at the Jazz Kitchen Express in the Downtown Disney District.  Try walking away from your table there without some powdered sugar somewhere on your face or clothes.  The Jazz Kitchen Express even sells the famous Café du Monde mixes so you can attempt to recreate these at home.  Café Orleans in the Disneyland park has beignets on the menu as well.  And guess what?  They’re shaped like Mickey!  During the holidays Café Orleans ups the ante even more and sells a gingerbread flavored version.  And to top it off, Club 33 has a pumpkin version!  Okay, pumpkin doesn’t really excite me, but I’m sure it does some people!

5. Mickey Shaped Pretzels – I’m sure some of you have picked up on a theme here.  Yes, Disneyland has many seemingly ordinary snacks shaped like our favorite mouse.  The Mickey shaped soft pretzels have been around for quite a while!  I remember the joy my son expressed the first time we encountered them at White Water Snacks in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa back in 2004.  See the picture on the right for proof.  I remember how excited I was when I tried a bite and realized they weren’t the hard overcooked pretzels that are sold at stadiums across the country.  This is a large Mickey shaped soft pretzel with optional dipping sauces like cheese.  I think they’re a really good size for the price.  Disney World has been slow to the party on this one since this pretzel didn’t make its way to the East coast until late summer of 2011.

6. Smoked Turkey Legs – I’ll admit turkey legs aren’t my favorite thing to eat.  In fact, the whole appearance of the pinkish meat still on the bone actually weirds me out a little.  But I included them on this list of favorite snacks because I know they are beloved and I actually get quite a kick out of watching people walking around gnawing on the giant things.  Huge Harley Davidson-sized men.  Tiny, petite, little well-dressed women.  The turkey leg appeal knows no class system.  It appeals to the masses.  The first time someone in my traveling group actually bought one, I was fascinated watching them tear into it.  And maybe – a little horrified.

7. Hand-Dipped Corn Dogs – Do these count as snacks?  Let’s say they do.  These corn dogs are hand-dipped and fried while you wait.  They are so delicious.  There are a few places to get them like Little Red Wagon Corn Dogs on Main Street, U.S.A., or Stage Door Café and Corn Dog Castle in California Adventure.  Diehard fans of the Disneyland corn dog will tell you that one is better than the other, but I haven’t ever had one I didn’t like.

8. Popcorn – Nope, there’s nothing very different about popcorn at Disneyland.  It’s your basic popped fresh popcorn from a cart.  We can’t seem to resist it at Disneyland though.  Maybe it’s the smell that assaults us when we’re weak and hungry.  Maybe it’s the fun of seeing how many different miniature characters you can find that turn the popcorn wheels inside the carts.  Maybe it’s increasing our collection of collectible souvenir buckets at home.  Maybe it’s the crazy expensive R2D2 bucket you can buy in Tomorrowland.  I don’t know what it is, but seriously, we can’t visit Disneyland without at least one of us buying some popcorn!

9. Snacks on a Stick – For a great selection of food on a stick try Bengal Barbeque in Disneyland.  Food on a stick has to be a snack right?  You can definitely make a meal out of these sticks, but they’re good for quick snacks too.  There’s chicken on a stick, two flavors of beef on a stick, vegetables on a stick, and the amazingly popular bacon wrapped asparagus on a stick.  Yes, I said asparagus.  Everything’s better with bacon right?

 

10. Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars – I’ll end with another fan favorite.  At first glance these may seem like a Dove ice cream bar with strategically placed “ears”.  They are, of course, much more than that.  Well maybe they’re not, but remember what I said about food shaped like Mickey?  If you have any doubt how passionately people feel about these ice cream bars, go to any Disney cruise message board and see the uproar that began a few weeks ago when the Disney ships ran out of Mickey bars for some period of time.  There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, cancelling of cruises was considered, there were tears – and that was just from me!

I know I’ve missed some of your favorites, so tell us what they are!  Don’t keep them a secret.  This is one case where I do want to know what I’ve been missing!

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Art of Animation Resort to Open Sections Ahead of Schedule

by on March 22, 2012

Today the Disney Parks Blog has confirmed that the construction at the forthcoming Art of Animation Resort is ahead of schedule and will allow for the various sections within the newest hotel at the Walt Disney World resort to open earlier than originally anticipated. The revised schedule is as follows:

  • Finding Nemo – Family Suites – opening May 31 on schedule
  • Cars – Family Suites – opens June 18 (originally July 31)
  • Lion King – Family Suites – opens August 10 (originally September 30)
  • Little Mermaid – Standard Value Resort Rooms – opens September 15 (originally December 31)

Reservations for these later phases will begin being accepted Friday, March 23, 2012. Additionally Disney released the following statement about the resort:

“We are excited that the Cars, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid wings at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort will all open earlier than we originally planned, bringing more permanent resort jobs to Central Florida sooner,” said Kevin Myers, vice president of resort operations for Walt Disney World Resort. “Demand for family suites exists in the marketplace today and the new opening dates reflect how optimistic we are about tourism in Central Florida.”

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios Open Extra Hour Until 10 p.m. with Additional Fantasmic Tonight

by on March 22, 2012

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open for an extra hour tonight (Thursday, March 22, 2012), closing at 10 p.m. (instead of 9 p.m.), with an additional showing of Fantasmic! scheduled for 10 p.m.

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Remy on the Disney Dream

by on March 22, 2012

As my 15th Wedding Anniversary to my wife, Cheryl, nears, and we’re trying to decide what to do for it, I was reminded of what we did last year by a recent email – we went on a cruise on board the Disney Dream. The Disney community has come up with this “getting to know you” event for cruises where you exchange small gifts via what is called a “Fish Extender.” The name comes from the message hooks next to the cabin doors on the original Disney cruise ships. They all were shaped like fish, and were referred to as “fish hooks.” You hang your fish extender from the message hook outside your door, and people leave their gifts in its pockets.

Being regular cruisers, Cheryl and I have participated in several of these exchanges ranging from only 10 or 12 rooms to 40 rooms. It’s a great way to get to explore the ship and to meet people, which is how I met the lady who emailed me. Cheryl and I had been going around delivering our gifts into fish extenders. These gifts had been little Disney notepads with Disney markers and a few other things. While trying to pick a character that we felt matched the room we were at, the door suddenly opened.

While you might be thinking, “Awkward!” the truth is that those participating in an exchange love this. It’s time to meet and greet. We got to talking about why we were cruising, what plans we had, etc. Now, to me, there are three key components to cruising: relaxing, enjoyment, and eating. So the conversation went almost immediately to food. I mentioned how it was our Anniversary cruise, how we were going to Remy the following night for our Anniversary dinner, and cruising in general. Excitement ensued, and we exchanged contact information using the notepad we were leaving at their room.

The email reminded me of that dinner, and I wanted to talk about the experience some with you. It’s important to note that Remy is a French restaurant, named after the character Remy from the Pixar movie Ratatouille. It is designed to present the look and feel of the restaurant Gusteau’s from the movie, itself. It is one of the most gorgeous places on the entire cruise ship, and even if you’re not planning to dine there, you should take the time to walk through it during non-operating hours – the best time being just after you board the ship. Don’t miss the glass statue of Chef Remy as you enter.

Your meal is started, like all good French meals, with a glass of champagne – in this case a champagne cocktail named after the movie character Colette. It’s a simple mixture of Tattinger and some fruit. Due to Cheryl’s special food needs, we had lot of personal attention from the maitre d’, who basically took over for our waiter as he wanted nothing to go wrong with her meal. We learned a lot about him, how he had been on hand at the restaurant since its first floorboard had been laid, and how he was going to the Fantasy to help set up Remy there, as well.

The first food we were presented with was some special bread for Cheryl, and I got to partake in a very delectable truffle infused bread. It was fantastic, the sort of bread that is so sweet on its own, it doesn’t require butter. The next item was a small salad consisting of a hollowed out heart of palm with some greens inside of it, and an oil and vinegar dressing. We both were able to have this item, and it did not last long on our plates.

From there it was almost non-stop food. Part of it was that when I’m on a cruise ship I like to try as much as possible, so I ordered several items at each stage of the meal to get as much of a sampling as possible. Again cruises and food are joined at the hip – I’ve not been on a cruise where you are denied any food you ask for unless the ingredients are not on board. They went right into a cheese plate. Now since Cheryl can’t eat cheese, the maitre d’ made me a special plate that instead of having a sample of only 7 of the cheeses instead had a sample of every cheese available. And I was talked through eating each one, as several were meant to be combined, had with honey, etc. Pure cheese heaven.

Cheryl had two appetizers, one was a ratatouille, and the other was a warm asparagus salad. Both dishes were thoroughly enjoyed. Having to one up her, I had 3 appetizers: a mozzarella and tomato dish that looked almost like a small pizza without any crust, a tomato soup, and some blood orange smoked bison tips. That really was as amazing as it sounds.

We then moved on to what I can only think of as “second appetizers,” or perhaps “pre-dinner dinner.” I’m just not sure. I was presented with one of the largest pieces of turbot I’ve ever seen a restaurant be willing to part with. Turbot is considered a delicacy fish and is highly prized, especially in French cuisine, for its delicate flavors – paired with a cream sauce, I was not complaining at all. Cheryl had some specially made potato gnocchi, which did not last long.

Then came our main courses, or “second dinner” – I was pretty much in a food coma at this point and became lost in the meal. Cheryl was presented with a simple yet well plated vegetable platter and some potato pancakes. I had ordered the Australian Wagyu beef – Japanese cattle typically crossbred into the Australian cattle population. Not as prized as the pure Japanese cattle, but still popular in modern cuisine. It’s the type of beef that cuts like pie and melts in your mouth.

    

Dinner was followed by a horde of desserts. There was a dark chocolate bar with edible gold foil, as well as what could only be described as a fruit sushi platter. This was followed by a silver box, and inside were chocolates and marshmallows all made at the restaurant. Another special version of this that Cheryl could enjoy was presented, which included some dark chocolate items, along with some handmade lollipops and a special dark chocolate lava cake. As we were rolling out of the restaurant, I asked for a stack of the handmade chocolate bars to go.

    

The meal was fantastic and lasted a few hours, as you could probably imagine. The attention to detail was evident throughout. From the decor, to the silver, and straight through all the courses. If you’re going on either the Dream or the Fantasy and you like fine dining and/or French cuisine, book this meal, and you won’t be disappointed. As this is one of the fine dining restaurants on board (the other being Palo), there is an additional per person charge of $75, and there is a casual fine dining dress code in effect.

What about you? Have you been on the Dream? Going on the Fantasy? Dined at Remy? Have a meal at Remy planned on an upcoming cruise? Love French food? Love fine dining? Love Disney Cruises and all they have to offer? Has it occurred to you that there might be more to life than just surfing and eating?

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Disneyland Railroad Tender Car

by on March 22, 2012

Ever wonder what it would be like to run a live steam locomotive like the ones that power the Disneyland Railroad? A relatively unknown Disney perk (subject to change at anytime) can get you very close to that experience when you see Engine 1 or Engine 2 running. If the conditions are right, you and one guest might be able to score a ride on the tender car. This special seat puts you right there in the cab with the folks running the train.

A confession. I am a train freak. Love ‘em. You can say I have “high iron” in my blood. If you don’t own Steve DeGaetano’s Welcome aboard the Disneyland Railroad and Michael Broggie’s Walt Disney’s Railroad Story then what are you waiting for? You said you were a Disney fan.

The C.K. Holliday (Engine 1) and the E.P. Ripley (Engine 2) are the two original steam locomotives built specifically for Disneyland. For many years, Disneyland didn’t even own the trains. Instead, they were owned and operated by a separate company owned by Walt Disney called Reltaw (Retlaw was Walter spelled backwards). One benefit for Walt by this arrangement, according to Michael Broggie, was his ability to “put on his bib overalls and kerchief, and go wait for the next train. When the train arrived, [Walt] would climb into the cab and tell the engineer that he was on break.” Since everybody at Retlaw was on Walt’s own payroll they did as the boss told them.

The steam locomotives are one of the defining features of the Magic Kingdom parks. I would argue that Disneyland wouldn’t exist if it were not for these two trains. Walt owned a 1/8-scale live steam locomotive called the Lilly Belle and ran it in his backyard in Holmby Hills. According to Broggie, Walt learned a couple of lessons with his backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific. First, there is just something about steam trains that fascinates children and adults.

Second, Walt learned how an earthen berm around his property could screen visual intrusions. A berm is a narrow ledge or shelf generally made of dirt with the top or bottom of a slope planted with trees and plants to control a view. Along the top edge is a dense layer of plant materials. As Walt told his daughter Diane, “I built that bank up on the canyon so when I was down there playing with my trains, my neighbors wouldn’t be annoyed.” An earthen berm is another defining feature of the Magic Kingdom parks. A berm is what prevents the real world from intruding into Disneyland.

Engine 1, the C.K. Holliday (4-4-0 America – 5/8ths scale) is somewhat based on the Lilly Belle, Walt’s backyard 1/8th scale locomotive. That locomotive is based on a famous Central Pacific Steam Locomotive that you can see in Sacramento, California. Since this would be a rural train, it was fueled by wood. The wide smokestack was able to catch embers. Engine 2, the E.P. Ripley is a replica of a coal-burning 4-4-0 American with its narrow smokestack. Here is some guilt free news. Today all of the Disneyland trains are run on bio-diesel (including French-fry oil).

Both locomotives are named after former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad presidents. Originally, the C.K. Holliday only stopped at the Frontierland station and the rolling stock was cattle cars. The E.P. Ripley only stopped at the Main Street Station.

For me, my favorite may have to be E.P. Ripley because this was the locomotive that Walt guided into the Main Street station on the opening day broadcast. The expression on his face reveals a man having the time of his life.

The tender car holds the fuel and water for the locomotive and is usually not an attractive place to be. But the C.K. Holliday and the E.P. Ripley were purpose built as pleasure trains and there is a place for guests. The other three Disneyland Baldwin locomotives were built for business and do not have such a perk.

The little bench seat fits two guests. You do not get to hear the spiel, but who cares. Due to the diminutive scale of the locomotives, you feel like you are inside the cab. This is one of my favorite things to do and I save it for very special occasions.

How do you get to ride the tender car? Keep in mind, Disneyland can turn the program on and off and has done so. The best way is to very politely ask the Cast Member working the Main Street station and have a lot of patience. You may have to wait for a long period of time. There are four reasons they will not allow you ride:

  1. They need to refill the water tank to feed the boiler.
  2. They need to blow down the boiler. This is a process whereby they remove the sediments that build up in the boiler. You can watch this process happen frequently at the New Orleans Square station. Sometimes they will do this at the Tomorrowland station as well.
  3. They are changing crews.
  4. The Cast Member just doesn’t want to deal with it at that time.

If you get the green light, it may still take a few passes. This gives you a good chance to soak up the exhibits in the train station. Once your train has arrived, you will bypass the regular line and push pass the little gate leading to the locomotive. Watch your head, as the roof is very low. Step up on the metal plates and take a seat. They have one of those little plastic seatbelts you must wear.

This perk is for a round trip only. You cannot exit early. Soon you will note how cozy the space is and how close you are to the Engineer, Fireman, and the boiler. You are just behind the locomotive and the floor plates of the tender and locomotive move independently beneath your feet. It can get very hot in here. You are right up against the firebox. The fireman can teach you about the water meter and proper water levels. You get a real sense of the power of steam.

It is a very different experience because you are sitting with no cover over your head. The Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas take on a whole new meaning as you feel the shed surrounding you.

The Cast Members operating the train are some of the friendliest in the park. They are always glad to answer questions and help you to understand how this machine lives and breathes. The amount of tweaking done by the fireman is always a surprise. You will learn that a steam engine is a very complex machine each position requires a lot of training. I understand a minimum of 200 hours just to be fireman.

The crews have told me that locomotives are very finicky and have personalities. It is fun to hear the debate between crewmembers as to each engines positive and negative traits.

If you get the chance to take a ride on the tender car you will be glad you did. I know what job I want when I retire….

For more from Sam, buy his book Walt and the Promise of Progress City.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Tipping At Walt Disney World

by on March 21, 2012

One of the most frequent areas of confusion for Disney guests is the topic of tipping. International guests may be unfamiliar with American tipping in general. There are some Disney travel situations where guests tip differently than at other travel destinations. And some folks are just plain miffed that they have to tip at all.

With an aim at reducing anxiety, here are some frequently asked questions about tipping at Walt Disney World.

TRANSPORTATION

I’ve arrived at Orlando International airport, do I have to tip anyone here?

At the airport, and throughout your trip, you should tip anyone who handles your luggage for you in your presence. The rule of thumb is that you tip about a dollar per bag, or two dollars if the bag is extra heavy. If you’re claiming your bags yourself and taking them to a cab, rental car agency, limo service, or Magical Express bus on you own, then you won’t need to tip anyone while you’re in the airport. If you use a porter to assist you with moving your bags from the luggage carousel to ground transportation, then you tip the porter.

No need to tip your inter-park bus driver.

I’m taking Magical Express to my Disney resort, do I have to tip the driver?

You’ll see a sign at the front of the bus telling you that driver will accept tips. If you’re just hopping off and on the bus, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, if the driver is helping your store luggage under the bus, go by the dollar per bag rule.

Did you notice that I said you should tip anyone who handles your bags “in your presence”? If you’ve used the yellow Magical Express luggage tags and had Disney take your bags directly to the hotel for you, then you won’t see the person who’s doing your luggage transport. In this situation, you’re off the hook for tipping.

I’m taking a shuttle to an off-site hotel. Do I tip the driver?

It’s the same situation as Magical Express. If the driver helps with your bags, offer about a dollar a bag.

What do you mean “about” a dollar a bag?

Assuming that you have normal weight bags, aim to tip a dollar a bag. However, it’s good manners to round up, and poor form to ask a bellman or porter for change. This means that if your family has three or four suitcases and all you have a five dollar bill in your wallet, give the porter the fiver.

I’m renting a car. Do I have to tip anyone?

Not at the airport, but maybe later.

I’m taking a limo service or town car to my hotel. Do I tip the driver?

Depending on the agency you’re using, the tip may be included in the price. Be sure to ask this when you set up your booking. In general, plan to tip about 15% of the fare. If the driver has done something extraordinary for you, such as making an extra stop or assisting with car seats or colossal amounts of luggage, tip more.

I’m taking a taxi to my hotel. Do I tip the driver?

Yes. Taxi drivers also get about 15% of the fare. Again, if the cabbie does something above-and-beyond, tip more.

Does the taxi tip level remain the same for shorter trips?

Generally, yes. For shorter trips on WDW property you may end up with a ride that costs seven or eight dollars. In a situation like this, it’s often easier for both you and the driver if you round up to ten dollars. It’s considered poor form to tip the driver in coins. Always round to the next higher dollar in your tip.

Taxis are one situation where asking for change for the tip is OK. For example, if your cab ride is $11 and you have a twenty in your wallet, it’s perfectly acceptable to say to the driver, “Here’s a twenty, can I have six back, please.” This tells the driver that you’re paying the fare and giving him a $3.00 tip.

What was that “maybe later” you said earlier with the rental car tipping?

All the Disney resorts have self-parking which is free for guests. No need to tip anyone if all you’re doing is self-parking your own car or a rental car.

The deluxe resorts also have valet parking available for a fee. If you use the valet parking service, in addition to paying the daily rate (currently $14), you’ll need to tip the attendant each time you get your car. A dollar or two will suffice.

Do I have to tip the bus/boat/monorail driver who takes me from my Disney hotel to the theme parks?

Nope. This is a no-tip situation, but a smile and a cheery “thank you” would be nice.

Is there anyone special I need to tip when I’m leaving Walt Disney World?

If you use the Resort Airline Check-In service at your Disney resort, you should tip the agent who tags your bags. These folks are not Disney employees. Consider them in the same way you would porters at the airport and give them about a dollar a bag. Remember, Resort Airline Check-In is responsible for getting your luggage onto your plane. It’s better if they’re happy.

You do tip the folks at Resort Airline Check-In.

AT THE HOTEL

Ta da! I’m at the hotel. Who needs a tip first?

Much of the tipping at your hotel is centered around luggage assistance. Yet again, if someone touches your bag, they should be tipped about a dollar a bag. If a bellman not only takes your bags to your room for you, but also provides additional information about the hotel or the workings of your room, then a bit more may be in order.

You’ll also give a dollar a bag to the bellman who helps you with luggage when you’re leaving the hotel.

All this tipping for moving my bags is really adding up. How can I economize?

You can avoid a lot of tipping if you transport your bags yourself. This may not be feasible for guests with medical challenges, copious amounts of luggage, more small children than adults, or owners of non-wheeled luggage. However, if you’re able-bodied and each member of your party can handle their own rolling bag, then by all means deal with your own luggage and circumvent the tip stream.

What’s this I hear about tipping mousekeeper housekeepers?

Yes, this is a thing.

It’s polite to leave about a dollar per day, per person in your party, as a tip for the cast members that make up your room. If you’re a family of five, this means a five dollar tip for your housekeeper each day. You’re supposed to leave the tip separately each day, rather than at the end of your stay, because there likely will be different cast cleaning your room over the course of your visit. You’re also supposed to leave the tip in an envelope with a nice note that says “thank you.” This makes it clear to the housekeeper that the tip is indeed for her, and not just a bit of cash that you forgot you left on the dresser.

Many guests make fun projects for their kids based around decorating the housekeeper tip envelopes. A quick Google of “Mousekeeping Tip Envelopes” will give you lots of links to people who are more creative and patient than I am.

Now it’s time for Erin’s true confessions: I rarely tip the housekeepers. If the housekeeper does something special like make towel animals or arrange my kids’ stuffed animals in a Mickey-centric Last Supper tableau, then yes, I’ll leave a few bucks in appreciation. Also, if my kids have been super messy (um, the sand was supposed to be wiped off your feet before you got to the room), I’ll leave some cash to assuage my guilt. But otherwise, I usually don’t.

Clearly this is some glitch in my programming because I go absolutely insane with rage when people undertip at restaurants. A housekeeper is clearly working just as hard in a service job as a waiter. Do as I say, people, not as I do.

Even if your Jungle Cruise driver is so good he makes you cry, he still doesn’t get a tip.

Do I tip those random helpful people at the hotel?

Generally not. Disney has greeters and random helpful, cheerful souls all over the place. They don’t expect to be tipped for answering simple questions, opening doors, or pointing you in the right direction.

Are there exceptions to this?

If someone actually does something for you, offer a tip. For example, if you call down to housekeeping for more pillows or towels, give the person who brings them a few dollars. If a bell desk cast member calls a taxi for you, give them a dollar or two.

What about the concierge?

Every Walt Disney World hotel has a concierge desk where you can ask directions, pick up tickets, get assistance with dining reservations, etc. For basic requests, there’s no need to tip. If you find a concierge particularly helpful or if they make multiple meal or recreation reservations or solve a thorny problem for you, offer a tip of $5-10. Most likely this will be firmly, but politely, declined, but it’s kind to offer.

If you’re staying at an off site hotel and a concierge there provides you with assistance, you should tip $5-10 for simple requests, and $20 or more for complicated requests. This most assuredly will not be declined.

DINING

Is there anyone I’m supposed to tip at a counter service restaurant?

No. There’s no need for tipping at counter service venues.

Restaurant tipping information is provided in several languages.

How much am I supposed to tip at table service restaurants?

I’m just going to say it: You should be tipping 18-20% at table service restaurants, possibly more if you’ve had truly exceptional service or have lingered at a signature restaurant.

Eighteen to twenty percent? Really? I though I was being generous by tipping fifteen percent.

Yes, really. The 15% thing is just so 1990s. No flames, please.

I super-double-plus promise you that I’m not making this up. 18-20% is now the tipping norm in U.S. metro areas (of which Orlando is one).

To keep everyone on the same page, Disney restaurants often place a little card about tipping in the bill presentation folder. The card says: “We are often asked about gratuities. No gratuity has been added to your bill. Quality service is customarily acknowledged by a gratuity of 18% to 20%. Thank you.”

Many of the questions we receive on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel are related to tipping. To keep myself educated on the topic I’ve been collecting articles about tipping for the past four years. I have sources ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the most recent edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette that will back me up: you really should be tipping at least 18% at table service restaurants.

In all cases, remember that you’re tipping on the bill, not the bill plus tax.

OK, that’s what I should do, but is it what I absolutely have to do?

Of course it’s really up to you to decide how much you want to tip. If you’ve taken root in the land of 15% tippers, then it’s up to you to decide if that’s where you want to stay.

There are, however, a few situations where the 18% tip is mandated. These are:

  • Parties of six or more. The 18% gratuity will be assessed regardless of the age of the guests (babies are included) and regardless of whether the bill is broken up into separate sub-checks.
  • Guests dining at prepaid restaurants and dinner shows including: Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop Dee Doo Review, Spirit of Aloha Luau, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
  • Guests using the Tables in Wonderland discount card or Cast Member discount.

If you fall into one of these categories, take extra care to look over your bill. You’re certainly welcome to add more to your tip if you received exceptional service, but you don’t want to inadvertently double tip.

I’m eating a buffet. Do I have to tip the same amount as at a regular table service restaurant?

In my experience, the servers at Disney’s buffets work just as hard, if not harder, than those at traditional table service restaurants. There’s a lot more clearing and refilling than at other meals. However, if you feel that buffets are in a different category of dining, then it’s up to you to decide your tip level. But remember, if you’re a party of six or more, an 18% gratuity will be automatically added to your bill.

Most Disney restaurant bills include suggested tip amounts.

Do I have to tip if I’m using the Disney Dining Plan?

Yes, you do. Many years ago, the tip was included with the Dining Plan. It’s not any more.

If I’m paying with Dining Plan credits, how do I know how much to tip?

If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, your bill will include a notation about how much you would have paid had you been paying cash. Tip based on that amount.

If you’re a big eater on the Dining Plan, your tips over the course of a vacation can end up being quite substantial. Be sure to factor this into your budget.

Do I have to pay my restaurant tip in cash?

No. You can use any acceptable form of payment at Disney World to pay your tip. Cash, credit card, debit card, room charge and Disney gift cards all work well.

What happens if I have really bad service? Can I stiff the waiter?

Personally, I have never had truly horrendous service at Walt Disney World and have only had semi-bad service a handful of times in upwards of a thousand dining experiences. The likelihood of you having a horrible server is minimal.

However, if you do encounter service that’s sub-standard, the best thing to do is speak to a manager at the restaurant. They can work with you to rectify any negative issues. It’s better to get the problem fixed than to walk away angry.

Also, remember that your tip is related to your service, not to the food. If you’re unsatisfied with your food, speak to the manager, don’t take it out on the waiter.

Only a few dining experiences have the tip included in the price of the meal.

I’m having a night-cap. What do I tip the bartender?

If you’re just having drinks, one to two dollars per drink is the right amount. If you’re also getting food, go with 18-20%.

I’ve had looong day in the parks. We’ve decided to get room service. What do I tip?

The In-Room Dining menus state, “A $3.00 delivery charge, applicable sales tax, and an 18% service charge will be added to all orders.”

It’s not obligatory, but if the server who brings your food to your room is extra nice or helpful, you could hand him $3-5 to be extra nice back.

IN THE PARKS

I’m a mover and a shaker. Can I tip the cast member at Soarin’ a sawbuck to sneak me into the FastPass line?

Um, no. But you get points for creativity. Cast members doing their regular job in the parks are not allowed to accept tips/bribes/grift/etc. If they are seen accepting tips, this is grounds for dismissal.

A cast member has completely made my day. She (pick one or more) helped my child find her favorite character, got me a new ice cream cone after I dropped mine, let me drive the Jungle Cruise boat, told me about the high-value Toy Story Mania targets. Can I tip her as a thank you?

You’ve got your heart in the right place, but still, no tipping for regular parks cast.

But I reeeeaaally want to thank them properly.

Some super sweet guests carry a small bag of thank you cards or tiny treats from their home town when they go to the parks. They’ll offer these to cast members who have shown them a special courtesy. Cast are allow to accept these de minimus tokens.

While giving a kind cast member a Statue of Liberty pencil sharpener is nice, what’s even better is giving the cast member some documented props. Guest comments weigh heavily in cast member performance evaluations. Your positive remarks can help good cast members get promoted into better jobs. To make an official comment, pick up a comment card at the Guest Services office at the parks. If you’d rather wait until you get home, you can send comments to:

Walt Disney World Guest Communications
PO Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040

The e-mail address for Guest Communications is: wdw.guest.communications@disneyworld.com.

Be sure to include the cast member’s name and hometown (both noted on their name tag), as well as a description of the cast member’s good deed and approximately where/when it happened.

Is there really no one at the parks to tip?

There are a few small exceptions to the “no tipping in the parks” rule.

You can tip cast involved in your personal beautification at the Harmony Barber Shop, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, or Pirates League. For the Barber Shop, tip about 15% of your bill. At one point tipping at the BBB had been prohibited, but in recent years this rule seems to have been relaxed. If you feel so inclined, you may offer a 15% tip to the Fairy Godmothers in Training or the Pirate tutors.

What about tour guides? Do I tip them?

Not the Walt Disney World tour guides. They’re not allowed to take your tip. If you’re with a private tour group, a tip very well may be expected. Speak with your tour carrier for guidelines.

ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD BE THINKING OF?

Outside of the parks there are plenty of relaxation and recreation opportunities. These activities are often outsourced to contractors. For example, Nikki Bryan Spas runs the spa services at the Grand Floridian and Saratoga Springs resorts and Sammy Duvall runs the water sports centers. Contractors generally are allowed to accept tips.

We’re treating ourselves to a massage. Do I tip the masseusse

Plan on tipping 15-20% of the bill for any personal care or grooming service. Massages, manicures, haircuts, facials, and those poolside hair wraps all merit a tip of at least 15%.

I’m taking my beloved out on the town and we’re leaving the kids behind. Do I tip the sitter?

The cast at the Disney childcare centers (Neverland Club, etc.) will not be expecting a tip. If you’re using Disney’s in-room sitting subcontractors such as Kids Nite Out, then a tip should be offered. This could range from rounding up the bill by a few dollars to an extra $100 or more if the real-world version of Mary Poppins has tamed your unruly mob. For a normal, competent sitter, a tip of $10-20 is a nice gesture.

I’m going water skiing at the Contemporary. Do I tip the boat driver?

Offer a tip of at least 15% for any specialty recreation. This includes boat drivers, waterski instructors, parasailing guides, tennis instructors, and the like. For golf instructors and caddies, use standard golf club etiquette on tipping.

Tips for your water sports guide are welcome.

I’m still lost, what do I do?

When in doubt, ask other guests, or ask at the Guest Services offices in the parks. They’ll give you the scoop on tipping norms.

If you had one piece of advice to give me overall, what would it be?

Carry a lot of singles.

That’s it?

When in doubt about tipping, remember the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words if you, or your parent, or child, or best friend were in a service role, how would you want them to be treated. Tip accordingly.

And at the risk of getting all soapboxy here for a sec, if you’re traveling with kids, think about the example that you’re setting for them. Do you want to teach your kids that it’s OK to stiff the waiter?

With that in mind, you heard it here first, I vow that from now on I will leave a tip for the housekeepers and will teach my kids to do the same.

I’m bizarrely intrigued by all this. What were some of those resources you mentioned about tipping?

Ask and ye shall receive. Here are some places to learn more about tipping:

So fellow travelers, what are your thoughts on tipping? Do international guests think we Americans are crazy? Have you made any tipping gaffes that are keeping you up at night? Let us know in the comments below.

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