In the Parks

Crowd-Free Quick Service Restaurants

by on September 29, 2014

Crowds are probably the biggest complaint you hear at Walt Disney World; and throughout most of the year, crowds are pretty much unavoidable whether you’re in line for an attraction or to board the Monorail or even to dine at a restaurant. For me, a line out of the door at the nearest park quick service restaurant is the worst! This is especially true when I’ve burned off all the calories from my Gaston’s Tavern Cinnamon Roll eight or nine spins on Pirates of the Caribbean ago. So after much trial and error during my trips to the parks and resorts, I have compiled a list of crowd-free quick service restaurants which offer short lines even during the busier times at Disney World. Take a look!

Boardwalk Bakery - A Glass Slipper Vacation

The BoardWalk Bakery

Tortuga Tavern – Only open seasonally, I can’t say that Tortuga Tavern never gets crowded; however, it is known for shorter lines and lower crowds than its next door restaurant, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn. When lunch rolls around, ignore the line out the door for Pecos Bill’s and make your way over to Tortuga.

Gasparilla Island Grill – The Grand Floridian’s quick service restaurant is one of my personal favorite retreats. This is where I usually go for lunch after spending the morning at the Magic Kingdom; and as many times I’ve visited, I have rarely experienced a crowd. The Gasparilla Island Grill is an airy, spacious restaurant with a great selection of flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and desserts, as well as gourmet cupcakes! If the weather is nice, I like to head outside for the outdoor seating which offers a view of the resort’s marina and the tip of Cinderella Castle in the distance. So if you’re looking to escape the lines for some fresh variety, this is where you should go.

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Epcot DiveQuest and Epcot Seas Aqua Tour Review

by on September 28, 2014

Photo Credit - Disney

Photo Credit – Disney

My husband’s aunt and uncle are huge Disney fans. Not only have they made countless trips to the Disney parks, they have been on several in-park tours as well. While chatting with Uncle Keith, he told me all about his experiences with both the Epcot DiveQuest and Epcot Seas Aqua Tour, and I thought I would share his adventures with all of you. If you’d like to read a review of the Dolphins in Depth tour, click here.

Let’s dive right in!

DiveQuest is a three hour experience giving you the opportunity to scuba dive in a 5.7 million gallon tank with over 6,000 sea creatures. In order to take part in this experience, you must be 10 years or older and be SCUBA-certified. (If there are actually any scuba-certified 10-year-olds out there, I applaud you.) To make reservations, call 407-939-8687. The cost is $175.

Keith was told to show up at the main entrance of Epcot about 15 minutes beforehand. The only things he was asked to bring were his swimsuit and scuba-certification card. After arriving at the Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion, he was brought backstage to a classroom. Here, Cast Members summarized the entire program, told everyone what was going to happen, and noted how long everything would take.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Loved the 2014 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

by on September 27, 2014

MNSSHP2014_sign

Remember, click on any picture to see it in full size.

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Loved the 2014 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. A few weeks ago we covered Villains Unleashed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and came away with more questions than answers for the future of that party. Now we are in Halloween season, and that leads us to another hard ticket event focusing on Disney’s “bad guys,” Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) at the Magic Kingdom. Personally, I think this is the highlight of the Walt Disney World year with guests getting the best bang for their buck. The lines for attractions throughout the park are short or nonexistent, lesser seen characters are out for meet ‘n greets (such as Tarzan and Jane), the Dapper Dans get converted over to the Cadaver Dans, and you get to see a wide variety of costumes worn by guests (with several being almost Disney-level in terms of costuming).

The $64,000 question for most people is simple: is MNSSHP worth the price tag of $62-$71 per person? I think so, and here are six more reasons why….

 

# 6 – Unique Food and Snack Options Throughout the Park

MNSSHP2014_Snacks

Poison Apple and Candy Corn soft serve ice cream from Storybook Treats.

 

MNSSHP has always had a couple interesting food and beverage items exclusive to the party, including the mouth watering pumpkin spiced waffle sundae that made its debut at last year’s party. This year Disney has gone all out with a whole bunch of new treats throughout the park that are available only during MNSSHP nights, including at sit down locations such as Be Our Guest and Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. We were looking forward to the candy corn soft serve ice cream available at Storybook Treats, and it did not disappoint, especially with a bunch of candy corn at the bottom of the cup. There was also candy corn cotton candy, which was not as successful. Almost everywhere you turned there was a new treat or drink, including ghost cupcakes at Gaston’s Tavern, candy corn cupcakes at the Main Street Bakery, and a “Buggy Brew” at the Friar’s Nook, which looked like someone went to Diagon Alley and brought back a bunch of Fishy Green Ales. A major thumbs up overall for the variety of items, and let’s hope this trend continues at the upcoming Christmas party in a few weeks.

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Daisy Lauren’s Best Week Ever: September 25, 2014 with Food & Wine

by on September 25, 2014

1Hi, Everyone! Welcome to the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World! This week we’re spending a blustery morning at Animal Kingdom, making a rare trip to Universal Orlando for a behind the scenes tour, and visiting Epcot to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. So who’s ready for a super fun week? Let’s get going! :)

I’m always a fan of visiting Animal Kingdom in the rain because the animals love a good shower. However, this weekend was a bit of an exception. Normally rain passes quickly here, but Saturday morning it looked like there was no end in sight! Even the animals seemed to be hunkered down for the storm. The entire first half of the safari all we saw was a sleeping rhino! The poor driver, he kept rattling off facts, but you could tell he was having a tough time. Luckily, a group of giraffes came to our rescue, and the safari improved from there.

Lots of female elephants were out. They love the rain, and I was hoping to catch one taking a bath, but they were all above water munching on some breakfast. Want to see how cute they were? Well, you’ll have to click to read more!

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Disney Savvy Tips for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

by on September 24, 2014

Cinderella Castle - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Cinderella Castle at Christmas

Ed. – We realize it’s still over a month until Halloween, and you haven’t even ordered your Thanksgiving Turducken yet, but tickets are already on sale for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Enjoy the Food&Wine-aweenThanksmas season and have a Happy New Marathon Weekend.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a popular, hard ticket event at Disney World where guests can enjoy holiday festivities and the Christmas spirit at the most magical park of them all, the Magic Kingdom! The party is scheduled for select dates throughout November and December. In addition to the festive atmosphere, but also a series of holiday performances and activities to enjoy. Like what? New this year is the lighting, or rather freezing, of Cinderella Castle by Frozen’s Elsa! The party also offers character dance parties, Holiday Wishes, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, character meets, and so much more. To help you maximize the Disney magic, I’ve got a little early Christmas present:

Disney Savvy Tips for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Plan for the Cold - Contrary to popular opinion, Florida is not warm and sunny all year long. In fact, it can get very chilly at Disney World during the holiday season, especially at night. The past two times I attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, I’ve needed several layers or even a coat to keep warm. When your party date draws close, check the extended forecast or monthly average temperatures for an idea of how to dress.

Watch the Once Upon a Christmastime Parade from Main Street – Many guests have their own opinions for where to watch the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Electrical Parade; but for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, I encourage everyone to find a spot on Main Street, U.S.A. for the popular Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. Why? Main Street, U.S.A. is the only location in the park where fake snow drifts down from above as the parade passes by, creating a picture-perfect winter wonderland! Spots along the parade route go quickly, so claim a space early!

Prepare for Rain - During my first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party experience, it rained the whole night! Myself, along with most of the party guests, just donned a poncho and braved the damp, but there were few changes to the party due to the inclement weather. First of all, some elements of the parade were removed for safety purposes. The main floats were still included, but some of the characters and dancers were not. Whenever the weather isn’t cooperative, Disney does their best to carry on the night as planned, but some performances and live entertainment can be cancelled, delayed, or altered. It’s just something to prepare yourself and another reason to check the forecast.

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A Guide to Walt Disney World Attraction Vehicles and Seating: Magic Kingdom

by on September 23, 2014

t_logo_fbThe seating situation on Disney World rides and attractions is a cause for concern with many guests. Physical constraints, size, and family configuration are all reasons why you might have issues with the attraction seating. For example:

  • I’m a single parent with two small children, will I be separated from them on rides?
  • I’m a plus-sized person, can I fit into the ride vehicles without embarrassment?
  • My knees are bad, will I have to step up or down to get into the ride vehicles?
  • I’m in a wheelchair, do I have to transfer out of it to go on the rides?
  • I have a large party, how will we be split up when visiting the attractions?
  • I have balance issues, will the attraction vehicle be moving while I’m trying to board?

To answer these questions and more, here’s a photo guide to all the vehicle and attraction seating at Walt Disney World. Pull down on that lap bar, we’re going for a ride…

MAIN STREET USA

Walt Disney World Railroad

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Best Places to Find Pins at Disney World

by on September 21, 2014

Disney Pin Trading has become somewhat of a Disney vacation pastime and is one of my personal favorite things to do when I visit Disney World. What is Disney Pin Trading? Well, all throughout Disney World you will find metal pins for sale representing everything from characters to resorts to attractions to special events. The more pins you purchase, the greater your collection, plus you have great mementos to remember your vacation by; but this souvenir experience is also interactive in that you can trade with Cast Members, or with other guests, if they so choose. It’s a fun activity that everyone can enjoy while exploring the parks and resorts!

Disney Pin Trading - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Disney Pin Trading

Now you will find Disney Pins for sale almost everywhere throughout the parks and resorts, but there are some corners of Disney World where you may find a better selection of pins or those rare, special edition pins or just maybe that one you’ve been hunting for the whole trip. So read on to check out my best places to find pins at Disney World!

Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion – This particular Epcot pavilion is one of my favorites because there’s a lot more to see than just the fountain and restaurants found at the front. The Morocco Pavilion actually extends back farther than what you may realize in a network of exotic, winding streets which contain lots of things to see and a few shops. It’s impressive and trust me, you will have a hard time reminding yourself that you’re actually in Central Florida and not Morocco! Anyway, back to Disney Pins. So because most guests don’t realize that the Morocco pavilion offers more than just what’s at the front door, the Cast Members who work at the rear of the pavilion, and their lanyards, aren’t visited by guests nearly as much as at others. While nothing is guaranteed, Morocco, in my opinion, is a good bet for those rare Cast Member pins!

Stores & Service Locations – Most shops and stores at the parks have their own individual pin boards from which you can trade from. Some stores have their own “themed” boards that match the theme of the land or attraction they belong to, which only makes trading even more fun! Some of the pin boards at the Disney World Resorts are only brought out at certain times and may have a trading limit. If you’re not sure, feel free to ask! In addition, many service locations at Disney World, such as stroller rentals, also have their own pin boards. I’ve even heard of a pin covered stroller with a stuffed Mickey Mouse in the seat from which you can trade at the Magic Kingdom! Pin boards are where I go to in order to trade because you never know what you might find, and very few guests realize that service locations have their own pin boards.

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Disney World Planning Challenges: Tough-to-Get Reservations—From FastPass+ to Dining

by on September 17, 2014

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Sign. Photo by Katie McNair

Photo by Katie McNair

Even with lots of research, some aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation are—let’s just say—resistant to planning. In fact, they can seem like downright mysteries to first-time vacationers and expert Disney World planners alike. A major challenge when planning a Disney World vacation is successfully reserving tough-to-get experiences that become available for booking at unpredictable times initially, book up extremely quickly, or both. Although there is no surefire way to snag these reservations, there are some ways to improve your chances.

First, though, it can be helpful for you to have a bit of background on the experiences that have given or are currently giving planners the most difficulty.

Hard-to-Get Reservations

Photo by Sarah Graffam

Photo by Sarah Graffam

Currently topping the list of difficult-to-get reservations are FastPass+ reservations for Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. In addition, obtaining reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurant can be a real challenge.

Experiences that have proven difficult for guests to book in the past and that can still present a challenge in some cases include FastPass+ for popular rides like Epcot’s Soarin’ and Test Track as well as Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, FastPass+ for parades and nighttime shows, FastPass+ for shows at special events such as Star Wars Weekends, reservations for the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package, reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party, and, the original most-difficult-to-get reservation, dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant.

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Disney Princess Dress (and other Costume) FAQ

by on September 17, 2014

t_logo_fbWith Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to take another look at the Disney Princess Dress situation. This is an update of my 2012 article on the state of the princess dress, with new photos, pricing, resources, and details on the all important FROZEN dress situation. So put on your tiara and polish your crystal plastic shoes, ’cause here we gooooo.

Do most girls wear princess dresses at Walt Disney World?

When you’re just walking around the park, you’ll see just a small percentage of girls ages about 3 to 8 wearing princess costumes, maybe 5%. However, there are some places at the parks where the percentage of girls in princess attire will be much higher. My non-scientific, personal observation is that something along the lines of 50-60% of the preschool and elementary age girls at the princess-themed character meals will be wearing princess dresses. Note that this also means that 40-50% of the girls there will NOT be wearing gowns. Very few girls older than age 8 or 9 will be wearing princess dresses at meals, or anywhere else.

Something on the order of 80% of the girls getting makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) will be sporting some form of princess attire. Similarly, something on the order of 80-90% of the children attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party will be wearing costumes. These might be princess gowns, but could just as easily be something else entirely.

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Does Diagon Alley Feel Like Home (London)?

by on September 16, 2014

The actual Diagon Alley Set from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

The actual Diagon Alley Set from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Ed. – We’re happy to bring back our International Youth Correspondent for another kid’s eye article. We’re also grateful to the Duncan family for being so accommodating when we rang them up and asked to borrow their children for a day.

When I heard that Universal Studios Florida was to welcome Diagon Alley as a new land, and that it was to be connected to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter already existing as Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, by the Hogwarts Express train, I was thrilled. I am a colossal Harry Potter fan and had already visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, where the eight Harry Potter movies were filmed, for an audio guided tour of the sets. I couldn’t wait to see how Universal was going to duplicate the original Diagon Alley set, replicate my home of London in general, and build the Knight Bus, Platform 9¾, and, of course, Gringotts Bank.

So when we visited Orlando this summer, my brother and I decided to adopt some American parents for the day, Len Testa and Laurel Stewart – the TouringPlans legends – to take us around the new area and attractions. Len had even concocted a back story in case someone asked how my brother and I got our English accents; we were to reply: “From our nanny, Mary Poppins.” And to do so with a perfectly straight face! I would have totally failed and was so glad we didn’t have to use this in the end.

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