Dining

Best Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Dining Reservations

by on February 9, 2016

Even though Valentine’s Day has been on February 14 for centuries, it always seems to sneak up every year. And if you’re like me and don’t want to plan well in advance for dining at Disney, you may think that a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at Disney might involve splitting a churro from a cart or a turkey leg for two. Have no fear, though. Even one week out from Valentine’s Day, there are still viable options for a romantic dinner. While you won’t be likely to score signature restaurants around the monorail loop (and you’d need to sell more than just your firstborn to score a Victoria and Albert’s reservation for Valentine’s Day at this late date), here are some reservations that are available as of one week out from Valentine’s Day. The criteria I searched for was a party of 2 for February 14 at 7:00 PM.

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Disney World’s Hardest Dining Reservations to Get and Often-Available Alternatives

by on February 9, 2016

Rose and Crown (5)It’s barely 2016 and we are already busy working on the 2017 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. While the book itself won’t be available until August, we can give you a preview of some of the research we have been doing. One thing that we’ve been looking into quite a bit lately is the availability of Disney Dining Reservations at Walt Disney World. While some of the hard-to-get reservations will not surprise you (hello Cinderella’s Royal Table, my old friend) some might.

What follows contains excerpts from the 2017 Unofficial Guide:

The Reality of Getting Last-Minute Dining Reservations

If your trip is more than 180 days in advance and you want to dine at a popular venue such as Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table, getting up early and getting onto Disney’s reservation website at 6am Eastern time will get you the table you want more than 80% of the time.

The longer you wait, the more effort you’ll have to put in to find a reservation. For example, if you’re trying for breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table within the next 7 days, your chance of finding any table the first time you check is less than 3%, based on our tests. But if you’ve got the time and patience to visit Disney’s website around 30 times over the next week (that’s not a typo), you’ve got a 50/50 shot at finding a last-minute cancellation.

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The Basics: Walt Disney World First Timer’s Guide — The Minimum You Need to Know

by on February 8, 2016

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Over the coming weeks we at the TouringPlans Blog will be going Back to Basics. We often write our posts from the perspective of people who have visited theme parks many, many times and we sometimes forget that there are those who need more basic advice. This entry is our first “Basics” post with several more to follow on topics such as characters, FastPass+, dining, hotels, and how to use our Touring Plans and Crowd Calendar. If there’s anything specific you would like us to cover let us know in the comments. Enjoy!

 

 

Sooooo, you’re planning your first trip to Walt Disney World, and you go onto the internet and ask the masses for advice.  I see exchanges like this all the time:

You: Hi everyone!  I’m planning my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, and I’m not really sure where to begin.  What do I need to know?

Within seconds, responses start to pour in:

Helpful person number 1: Doug is the best Jungle Cruise skipper!  He’s worth waiting for, so try to get on his boat!

Helpful person number 2: If you go to the phone booth in Tomorrowland and pick up the phone, you’ll hear some funny chatter!  It’s a MUST do!

Helpful person number 3:  I’ve never done it myself, but I heard from a bus driver that there’s a secret passageway on the pathway between Space Mountain and Storybook Circus that you can use to get to Animal Kingdom!  Just whisper “Marcelline” into the third shrub on the east side of the path, and a Cast Member will appear and escort you to a high-speed underground rail that connects directly with Expedition Everest!  It will save you so much time AND you get to ride Everest without a wait!

…and so on and so forth — good info to have, and well-intentioned, but not really critical from a planning standpoint for someone that has never even set foot on Disney property.  Before you know it, the signal to noise ratio is unbearable, and you’re getting bombarded with so many niche tips and tricks that the information that is legitimately important for a first timer to have gets lost in the shuffle.     

The biggest problem a first-timer encounters is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and knowing where to direct your focus is half the battle.  With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together my “most important concepts” for a first time visitor that provides the bare minimum amount of information you need to successfully plan a trip, and then you can add on to that as you like.  There is probably nowhere on planet earth that rewards a little advance planning like Walt Disney World, so I’d encourage anyone reading this to move beyond this guide, but this will at least provide the concepts that you need to be aware of to plan your first trip that you can use as touchstones if you start to feel a bit lost.  Here goes with the most important things for a first time visitor to know:

  • While you Don’t have to plan every moment, certain planning is wise
  • Understand what FastPass+ is and use it liberally
  • Walt Disney World is probably larger than you think
  • Relax

There you have it, have fun on your trip!

Looking at what I’ve written with the benefit of a few seconds hindsight, it occurs to me that there might be a need for a little more detail.  I promise I’ll keep it light, though, and will limit it to stuff that will really move the needle for you.  Sooooo, without further ado, let’s jump in!

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter

by on February 6, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s A Celebration of Harry Potter. Universal has several great events during the year, including Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights, but one that doesn’t get as much attention celebrates a character who completely changed the fortunes of the Universal Orlando Resort: Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Jam packed into this annual three day event are Q&As with celebrities, wand dueling classes for kids, and a whole bunch of cool stuff inside the Harry Potter Expo. Today we are going to look at our favorite parts of the event, so sit back, take a shot of firewhisky, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – The Sorting Hat Experience

With the Harry Potter books, author JK Rowling created a world that feels as real as our own. It is rich with depth and includes many concepts that readers can instantly identify with. The first Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – finds Harry going to Hogwarts, a magical school for gifted wizards and witches. Each student at Hogwarts is then sorted into one of four houses. Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. The way the students are chosen for the houses is through the Sorting Hat. The first Harry Potter film brought this hat to life in an unforgettable scene, and Universal does its best to recreate that moment at A Celebration of Harry Potter.

Guests are brought up to the Sorting Hat and asked several questions from the robed Team Member (including where they were from, what they did for a living, if there’s a house they feel they might fit well in, etc). The Sorting Hat then announces which house it has sorted them in. It sounds crazy, but it’s fun and it’s popular. In fact the Sorting Hat experience gets some of the longest lines of the entire celebration, and why shouldn’t it? Getting sorted is something many Potter fans dream of, and although filling out a questionnaire on Pottermore is one way to get sorted, getting sorted by the Sorting Hat feels real.

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SATURDAY SIX’s own Megan Stump moments before being sorted into Gryffindor. (photo courtesy of the Universal Orlando Resort)

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“Hmm, difficult. VERY difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There’s talent, oh yes. And a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you? ” – The Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (photo by Hunter Underwood – @elvenage)

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The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: Bait You Can Click On

by on January 30, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a truly special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. What a week. If you’re like us you’ve been deluged with #Blizzard2016 pictures, the Oscars dealing with a diversity problem, and Donald Trump being Donald Trump. However we’ve been informed that a whole lot of stuff happened in the theme park world recently. So we took a page out of our old college playbook and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – Pizza Planet Under Major Refurbishment. Coming Back With a New Theme?

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Could Pizza Planet actually come back with a Muppets theme? (photo by Matt Cleary)

First, some backstory. For years Jim Hill, an icon of theme park media, has been telling the story of how the Muppets were originally going to be used in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. One of the things that never ended up coming to fruition was The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor. Can you imagine a Muppet’s themed restaurant, with a kitchen run by the Swedish Chef, where Mama Melrose’s Restorante Italiano now sits?  Dare to dream.

Now it’s time to put on the detective hat. Recently Pizza Planet at DHS closed down for a long refurbishment. What should have been a wonderfully themed venue themed to the world of Toy Story was instead one of WDW’s most bland restaurants/arcade. Back at the D23 Expo, Disney unveiled details of the upcoming Toy Story Land expansion. This new land is going to built on the other side of the park, so it would be strange to have a Pixar related restaurant (no matter how poorly themed) so far away from everything else. After the construction walls went up around Pizza Planet, WDW uncharacteristically put up a lot of humorous signs on the walls. Gags that are much more in line with the type of jokes  you see in the building of say… Muppet*Vison 3D. In a recent edition of the Disney Dish podcast, Jim Hill said that instead of a Gonzo themed restaurant, we may actually see The Swedish Chef’s Cooking School.

Will Pizza Planet return from it’s refurbishment as a Muppets themed restaurant? Time will tell, but it is almost assuredly not coming back as Pizza Planet and for that we can all be thankful. To stay up to date on this story follow the boys over at WDWThemeParks.com.

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Guests Can Modify Disney Dining Reservations Online

by on January 27, 2016

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

Have you ever made an Advance Dining Reservation and then realized that you needed to make an adjustment because you had a conflict that popped up or because the number of Guests you were bringing to the dining experience changed? It’s happened to me multiple times, however, in the past, I was unable to change my reservation, so I had to either cancel the reservation and start over or beg and be at the mercy of the Cast Member upon arrival at the restaurant.

Well no more! Now, Guests are able to easily modify their Advance Dining Reservations online, right from their computer. No more calling reservations to change seating time or number of Guests in the party!

Guests can make these modifications up to 20 minutes prior to their reserved seating time, however, keep in mind that this option is only available to be able to do through the website, not through a smart phone app, such as My Disney Experience or the Disneyland app. Guests looking to modify reservations can do so by visiting http://www.disneyworld.com/dining or www.disneyland.com/dining

Guests will still have the option to call can also call (714) 781-DINE for Disneyland or 407-WDW-DINE for Walt Disney World to speak with a Dining Reservation agent.

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SATURDAY SIX: The Top Six Vegan & Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants in Walt Disney World

by on January 16, 2016

This week’s  SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Top Six Vegan & Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants at WDW. When readers come to the SATURDAY SIX for food they are generally looking for the most unhealthy (Pop-Tart Sandwich), most outrageous (Beaches & Cream’s Kitchen Sink sundae), or most likely to have been created out of a fever dream (Animal Kingdom poop snacks). But there’s actually another side to theme park dining: a healthy side. Today we are going to look the top six vegan & vegetarian friendly restaurants at WDW. Some people choose to eat vegan because of dietary restriction or allergies, some due to animal welfare concerns, and others for their health, but whatever the reason Walt Disney World is a great place to accommodate their needs. Today we reached out to an expert in this area, Emily Woesthoff, former general manager of Erin Mckenna’s Bakery NYC in Disney Springs (a vegan bakery). Emily is a lifelong Disney fan and just celebrated her 11th year of losing her mind eating vegan. There is no better person to guide us on this journey, so take it away Emily!

If I was given the good fortune to have a limitless supply of cash, and the superpower to make an ADR wherever I please, the following six-ish restaurants would be my go-to table service locations for vegan dining at Walt Disney World! While I haven’t yet managed to eat at every restaurant on property, I’ve dined at quite a few. The list below features my favorites, please keep in mind they are in no particular order. 

6 – ‘Ohana (Polynesian Village Resort)

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‘Ohana.

Yup. The infamous meat-fest that is ‘Ohana made the list. Crazy, right? I waited a really long time to eat here for a few reasons. First, all anyone ever talks about when they mention ‘Ohana is that it’s very meat-heavy. I had only assumed that they basically sat you in front of a roasted pig with an apple in his mouth and said, “have at it!” Second, I’m not a huge fan of the stuff-your-face-as-much-as-you-can-we-are-not-going-to-stop-bringing-you-food restaurants. It’s just too much pressure! And finally, I had accidentally been reading the restaurant’s name as O’Hana for quite a number of years, and I just didn’t think Polynesian-Irish fusion food would work. 

Much to my surprise, the vegan options at ‘Ohana are outstanding! The same lettuce wraps that meat-eaters rave about can be made vegan! There was also a considerable portion of stir fried noodles, vegetables, and tofu from which to choose, along with a starter of crispy pita chips and hummus, too! Vegan ice cream was available for dessert, if one can manage to save room for dessert at ‘Ohana. There’s also a bit of during meal entertainment, which definitely enhanced the experience. Since this restaurant is “all you care to enjoy,” the price can be a little steep. I recommend coming here with a big appetite!

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Vegan dessert at ‘Ohana.

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Skipper Canteen Soft Opening Review

by on January 4, 2016

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The World Famous Skipper Canteen!

If you’ve ever felt hunger pangs while trekking through a tropical jungle outpost or while traveling niles and niles and niles down a dangerous river, then you know what it’s like to be a skipper in need of sustenance. Luckily for you, I’ve got just the place for you to visit the next time you’re in need – the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen!  The Skipper Canteen is a new table-service restaurant at the Magic Kingdom inspired by (and thematically connected to) the Jungle Cruise attraction.  The skippers who traverse the wild leading guided excursions through the jungle have to have a place to eat, right?

One of the biggest victories from my latest trip to Disney World was the fact that we managed to catch the soft opening of the Skipper Canteen, and I’ve got lots to share! As of the writing of this article, advanced reservations are not yet being accepted for the canteen, but it is expected that they should be available in the near future. We learned of the soft opening simply by walking by the restaurant. Skippers were outside letting people know that the Skipper Canteen was open and they were taking walk-ups. 

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25 Drinks of Christmas – Day Twenty Five: Nautilus at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

by on December 25, 2015

We’re back with everyone’s favorite theme park advent calendar: a daily countdown of our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld building anticipation to the Big Day. 

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where the drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY TWENTY FIVE: Nautilus at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort)

Dive! Dive! Dive!

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The Nautilus at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. (photo by Brandon Glover)

No, you are not suffering from deja vu. Yes, we have made several trips to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto during our countdown. We started off with a bang when we had a Polynesian Pearl pulled out of the shell. Then we battened down the hatches for a Tropical Dark & Stormy. We couldn’t leave out the HippopotoMai-Tai, could we? We saved the best for last though as the #1 drink on our countdown this year is the legendary NAUTILUS.

Served in an amazing souvenir bowl with the form of the Nautilus from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this is one drink meant to be shared, as you could possibly be seeing a giant squid in Seven Seas Lagoon if you tried to go it alone. The entire room transforms when a Nautilus is ordered and even the servers get in on the fun. Lighting effects make the room appear as if you are going under water, audio plays orders from the Nautilus captain, and there are several  physical effects happening across the Grotto (keep your head on a swivel).  The Nautilus is an E-Ticket drink in an E-Ticket bar and it is hands-down our favorite drink of Christmas 2015.

Ingredients: Barbancourt Pango Rhum, Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, Combier Creme de Peche de Vigne Liqueur, Tropical Juices, and Falernum. Served in a souvenir Nautilus.

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Everyone’s happy when a Nautilus is on its way! (photo by Brandon Glover)

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The Nautilus souvenir bowl can be used in many ways. (photo by George Booras)

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The 12 Days of a Theme Park Christmas

by on December 24, 2015

Everyone has their favorite Christmas traditions. For some it’s a dramatic reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, while for others it is the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story. Many of us enjoy reading the famous poem 12 Days of Christmas, even going so far as to figuring out how much all those items would cost (imagine if they were bought at a theme park!) This year we are starting a new tradition on the blog with a look at the 12 Days of a Theme Park Christmas. Get close to your loved ones, slip on an ugly sweater, drink a big sip of egg nog, and let’s begin with…

TWELVE CLOSED ATTRACTIONS

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This is a busy time for the Disney Dump as many attractions have been added to the pile. A great time to invest in construction walls though!

ELEVEN BANISHED BUBBLE GUNS

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Guns have been completely banned from Walt Disney World, even the bubble guns.

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