Beyond the Parks

Disney Hotel Amenities: The Good, The Bad, and The Unnecessary

by on August 18, 2015

I think everyone can agree that when they stay in a hotel they’re expecting to find, at a minimum, a clean, safe, place to sleep. After that, almost everything else is an amenity: something to induce comfort or convenience rather than an absolute necessity.

Coffee maker at Port Orleans Riverside

Coffee maker at Port Orleans Riverside

Of course most hotels do provide at least a little something beyond fresh sheets and a lock on the door. With extras, they distinguish themselves from competitors, define their brand, and build loyalty. However, the perceived utility and value of specific amenities varies widely. For example, about a year ago a friend of mine stayed at the Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World. She posted a Facebook rant about her anger and disappointment when she didn’t receive turndown service at the hotel. She had paid a premium to stay at the most luxe accommodations on property. She had been looking forward to turndown and was upset when this amenity did not materialize.

My first reaction to her post was that if I didn’t receive turndown, I would be slightly relieved.

I happen to think turndown is silly. I’m perfectly capable of fluffing my own pillows. And when they leave me that little chocolate, I inevitably eat it, which is something I’ve been trying to avoid lately. My friend’s amenity is my annoyance, so much so that I was intrigued when I read about a German hotel with a “reverse housekeeping policy” where they’ll only make up your room if you specifically ask them to. If I’m traveling with my kids, I’m all for full housekeeping service, but when I’m on my own at a hotel, I’d usually prefer to be left alone.

Bath supplies at the Beach Club villas

Bath supplies at the Beach Club villas

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2015 Disney D23 Expo Predictions

by on August 12, 2015

D23expologo

This week marks the fourth ever D23 Expo, which is the exposition event for Disney D23 (the official fan club for The Walt Disney Company). Since 2009, and every second year after that, the event has offered fans the chance to come together and celebrate all things Disney while also getting a sneak peek at upcoming projects across the company’s numerous divisions including parks, film and even video games. With rumors swirling about possible announcements for quite some time now, speculation and anticipation are at a fever pitch. One of my favorite parts of any event like this is making predictions because a) it offers me the chance to brag about how right I was or b) laugh at how wrong I was. I can’t lose! With that in mind, here are my ten predictions for the D23 Expo.

©Disney

©Disney

10. Hollywood Studios Gets a New Name

Let’s get one of the big ones out of the way. Every Disney fan at this point knows that Hollywood Studios is getting a huge revamp. With the new changes will also come a new name for the park, which was previously revealed by Disney CEO Bob Iger after he got tricked by a young fan at the annual shareholders’ meeting. From everything I’ve read, the most popular new name appears to be Hollywood Adventure but at this point, it’s anybody’s guess.

Chance it happens: 90%

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! July 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on July 31, 2015

Welcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. How long? Today marks the two year anniversary! What started out as a simple $1 bet between Len Testa and Laurel Stewart to see if they could take a simple Florida blogger and turn him into a two time runDisney medal winner/PizzaMania champion, has blossomed into into a wondrous creation which has been around to see the debut of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Diagon Alley, and the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The best rags-to-riches story this side of Cinderella, our monthly treks into Orlando’s Disney Outlet Stores have provided highs and lows (and then even more lows) in order to deliver you, Dear Reader, a glimpse into a world which very few have lived long enough to tell about. A sincere thank you to each and every one of you for taking the time to read this little article, and stay tuned at the end for YOUR CHANCE to vote on the future direction of The Magic, the Memories, and Merch!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

The first surprise was seeing new Frozen and Big Hero 6 Tsum Tsums. It’s surprising because when I went to Disney Springs to see Avengers: Age of Ultron in May, these very same Tsum Tsums had just arrived to Once Upon a Toy. Word on the retail street is when new batches of Tsum Tsums arrive at Disney Springs, the old stuff has to go, so we could be seeing lots of Tsum Tsums in the near future.

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Hans, Anna, Sven, and Kristoff Tsum Tsums.

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Hiro, Fred, Go Go Tomago, and Wasabi Tsum Tsums.

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SATURDAY CLASSIX: Six “Secrets” of the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando

by on July 25, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY CLASSIC looks at Six “Secrets” of the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando. Located in CityWalk, directly between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando is the largest Hard Rock in the entire world. With a giant collection of memorabilia that is second to maybe only the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, this particular Hard Rock venue is a dream come true for music lovers. Let’s take a look at the top six “secrets,” shall we?  (Remember, clicking on any picture will open it up in full size)

# 6– A piece of the Berlin Wall sits outside

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A segment of the Berlin Wall

This is one item that many guests haven’t noticed even if they have been to the Hard Rock Cafe many times. On the side of the building, on the walk way which leads to the Blue Man Group, sits a piece of the actual Berlin Wall. An amazing piece of history, the Hard Rock has one the few pieces of the Berlin Wall that you can see in America. There is a strong relationship between rock n’ roll and the fall of communism in the 1980s, with this slab of the Wall being a reminder of that. In related trivia, the Hard Rock Cafe in Munich, Germany has a guitar on display that was actually carved from a piece of the Wall.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Best Restaurants at Universal’s CityWalk

by on July 25, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best Restaurants at Universal’s CityWalk. Over the last 18 months, CityWalk at the Universal Orlando Resort has undergone an amazing transformation by opening seven new dining locations. These new venues combined with the locations already onsite make for one of the best places in Orlando to experience a wide variety of unique dining. Today we are going to look at the Very Best restaurants in CityWalk and to do so we consulted a blue ribbon panel comprised of Universal podcasters and bloggers. Their votes have been tabulated, and let’s begin the countdown of good eatin’ starting with…

# 6 – Antojitos

Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food is a postmodern tribute to Mexican street culture featuring a large open kitchen framed by graffiti graphics and eye-catching neon. The downstairs area has a central bar with surrounding booths fashioned from reclaimed wood and metal. This area can get very noisy, so if you want a quieter meal, ask for one of the private rooms upstairs. Or, grab a seat on the patio or balcony to watch the CityWalk crowds go by. With the best selection of tequila this side of La Cava del Tequila, Antojitos is at it’s best while sipping on a strong margarita and enjoying house made guacamole. The restaurant has several features that are pretty much unforgettable; several tables which look like giant bird cages, a wall of tattooed plastic baby dolls, and a multi-colored mission-style facade. While I was apprehensive about that vibrant color scheme when seeing the original concept art, I find myself drawn to this area because of the eye catching colors and the huge weather vane sitting at the top. One of the most fun parts of the restaurant is the mariachi band that will alternate between traditional Mexican music and covering popular songs from today. It’s fantastic! Antojitos was the first restaurant in CityWalk to be a Universal creation and they nailed it.

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Antojitos Authentic Mexican. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Empanadas Tres Marias at Antojitos. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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Menu Monday: Whispering Canyon Café Breakfast Review

by on July 20, 2015

Today we are visiting one of my favorite on property breakfast experiences:  Whispering Canyon Café.  I say experience because it is so much more than just a place to eat.  Whispering Canyon is a place to laugh and have a good time.  It is a character breakfast of sorts, but not with your traditional Disney characters and at no additional cost; No Princesses, Mickey, or other Fab Five member here.  The characters I am referring to are the wonderful Cast Member waiters and waitresses.  They bring the restaurant alive, and keep our family coming back for more.

What:  Whispering Canyon Café
Where:  located directly off the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge
When:  Breakfast is served every day 7:30-11:30am
“The goings-on can get a little loud, and that’s just the way we like it.”

To play or not to play.

To play or not to play.

Our last waitress, M.T., was a real hoot.  We had a blast with her sarcastic humor.  She knew how to work her “audiences” as well.  She could read the patrons at her table perfectly and acted accordingly.  The table to our left was a family with 3 children.  She joked with the children and even put one of them “in jail”.  The large table to our right was not in the mood for fun.  They had clearly just come to eat breakfast and not partake in any of the shenanigans.  M.T. reacted accordingly and they got your normal no-fun-all-business waitress.  They were perfectly content.  We have a darker sense of humor and she seemed to tune right in to it.  We were in stiches before our order was even taken.

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Menu Monday: Boma Breakfast Review

by on July 20, 2015

Boma SignLooking for the best breakfast spot in all of Disney World? Look no further than the Boma breakfast buffet at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Nestled in a quiet spot on the first floor of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House, you will find this hidden gem. Known for its delicious as well as adventurous dinner buffet complete with the famous Zebra Domes, many guests are unaware that a spectacular breakfast is also served here. The Boma breakfast buffet offers an amazing variety of tasty foods so even the most picky of eaters, like myself, can find plenty of things to try. Boma is my family’s favorite breakfast place in Disney World and when we visited again last month, it did not disappoint!

Thinking of checking it out for yourself on your next Disney World vacation? Read on for everything you need to know about the Boma breakfast buffet.

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SATURDAY SIX SHARK SPECIAL: Six Reasons Universal Fans Are Gonna Love Sharknado 3

by on July 18, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons Universal Fans Are Gonna LOVE Sharknado 3. Unlike some other “Studios” in Orlando (wink wink), Universal Studios Florida continues to be a working production studio for film and television. What do The Godfather, Jaws, and E.T. have in common? None of them were filmed at USF, but you know what was? Bring It On: In It To Win It, Psycho IV: The Beginning, and Ace Ventura Jr: Pet Detective. That legacy of fine filmmaking continues this very week as on Wednesday, July 22nd at 9/8c the Syfy network will air Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! which had several scenes shot at the Universal Orlando Resort!

For this special edition of the SATURDAY SIX we had to look beyond our usual gang of theme park titans and instead pluck an expert who can not only cut his chops at Universal and Disney, but also wines and dines with the Hollywood Elite. Allow us to introduce BANKS LEE. You probably know Banks from his various duties including host of Attractions Magazine: The Show, treasured podcast guest, videographer, editor, and actor. That’s right, actor. And one of the things Banks used his thespian skills in was a little movie named Sharknado 3.

SHARKANDO_SATSIX_LOGO

Strap yourselves in folks, as we are handing the SATURDAY SIX reigns over to Banks as he tells us exactly why Universal fans are going to LOVE Sharknado 3, starting with…

# 6 – Bruce the Shark gets a cameo

Honestly, how could you have a Sharknado film take place at Universal without having the symbol of the iconic Jaws ride and beloved Amity area make a cameo? Though there was a chance of it not happening. According to the director Anthony Ferrante, in order to film a scene at the Bruce photo-op, they had to get permission from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Thankfully Amblin gave the production crew clearance to film the world’s most famous shark, and the scene will also feature another cameo in the form of Jerry Springer playing a manic tourist.

SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO! -- Pictured: Jerry Springer as Manic Tourist -- (Photo by: Raymond Liu/Syfy)

SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO! — Pictured: Jerry Springer as Manic Tourist and Bruce the shark as “Bruce the shark.” — (Photo by: Raymond Liu/Syfy)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s OLD KEY WEST Resort

by on July 18, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Old Key West Resort. One of Walt Disney World’s biggest strengths against all of its competitors is the wide variety of unique resorts it has on property to offer guests. We’ve covered several here on the SATURDAY SIX including Value Resorts such as Art of Animation and Pop Century, Moderate Resorts with Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, and Deluxe Resorts including the Contemporary. While our reviews on both Animal Kingdom Lodge and BoardWalk Inn & Villas included a Disney Vacation Club component, today we are going to take a look at our first DVC exclusive resort with Old Key West.

OldKeyWest_MainSIgn

 

In fact, Old Key West was the very first Disney Vacation Club resort built at WDW. Originally named Disney’s Vacation Club Resort in 1991, it wasn’t until 1996 when the name was changed to Old Key West. With its pastel colored buildings and lush vegetation throughout, the resort definitely stands out from the other hotels on property. When Walt Disney said “Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland…the blessing of size” he may have been foreshadowing Old Key West, as the resort itself is massive.

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Welcome to Conch Flats, the mythical town of Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

 

With the sprawling size comes some downsides, including many rooms being quite far away from the check-in area and several of the resort’s amenities. There is an internal bus system, and the grounds are gorgeous to walk across, but it may be a shock to guests who have not stayed at such a large resort. Thankfully the TouringPlans Hotel Room Request will help make getting a room closer to front easier, but it is still something to consider. That said, the size of Old Key West is also a positive, as it is one of the best places at WDW to spend time at outside of the parks because there is so much to do. So sit back, grab a plate of conch fritters and an ice cold margarita and let’s begin counting down our top six reasons we love OKW starting with…

# 6 – The Sandcastle Pool Area

Anyone who travels with their family on vacation knows how important pools are when it comes to selecting a resort. For our family, pools with slides now rank above any E-Ticket attraction or dining experience at WDW. Old Key West has a total of 4 pools spread out across property, but the Sandcastle Pool located by the front of the resort is where you want to be. In this area you’ll find the main pool along with its incredible 125 foot waterslide and a plethora of  nearby activities. There are several play areas for the younger set, a whirlpool spa, a sandy beach, and even a themed sauna!

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The Sandcastle Pool at Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

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Theming around the Sandcastle Pool.

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Tips and Tricks for Maximizing Suitcase Space

by on July 13, 2015

Photo - Angela DahlgrenI’ve read many a post on what to bring to Walt Disney World. In fact, I’ve even written about the topic here and here! However, I don’t often see posts on how to maximize the space in ones suitcase. So, today I bring you just that. Whether its a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, here are my space-saving tips!

Note: This article is targeting toward a more casual vacation. I’m hopeless when it comes to packing for business & formal events. Huge overpacker. 

Make a packing list

For me, this is crucial. It is the ONLY way I won’t forget anything. As you place the item in the suitcase, cross it off your list. This may also prevent you from overpacking.

Extra tip: The night before, I like to make a list of all the last minute items I’ll need to add (i.e. phone charger, toothbrush) the morning I leave.

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