In the Parks

My Disney World Christmas Vacation Traditions

by on December 17, 2014

The most magical place on earth gets a little more magical around this time of year when the parks and resorts deck the halls with holiday finery and give Disney fans a reason to take one more Walt Disney World vacation! My family and I love to take a trip to Disney World around the holidays, and we have created a few festive traditions over the years. Check out a few of my Disney World Vacation Christmas Traditions.

Downtown Disney's Days of Christmas Store

Downtown Disney’s Days of Christmas Store

Buying a New Ornament

It just wouldn’t be right to leave Disney World around Christmastime without a new ornament to add to our tree. My favorite place to shop for ornaments is the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe at the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square. I love how it feels like we’re walking through an old, colonial home. For a wider variety of Christmas décor, we like to drop by Disney’s Days of Christmas Store at Downtown Disney, where it really does feel like Christmas all year round.

Holidays Around the World

Epcot’s World Showcase is one of my favorite corners of Disney World, and I especially enjoy Holidays Around the World this time of year, where performances educate guests about the different holiday traditions of their respective countries. It’s a lot of fun to hear and see how other countries celebrate the holidays. Our favorites would be Father Christmas at the United Kingdom and the Voices of Liberty Dickens Carolers at the American Adventure. The special holiday treats and the chance to do a little Christmas shopping is pretty great too. After all, there’s no chance that what you’re buying as a gift is something someone already has when you shop at the stores in the Norway or China or Morocco pavilions.

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Disney History: The Jungle Cruise

by on December 14, 2014

Copyright - Disney

Copyright – Disney

The Jungle Cruise is an iconic Disney attraction that promises danger, adventure, and a whole lot of laughs! Located in Adventureland at both Disneyland and Disney World, the Jungle Cruise was an opening day attraction at both parks and is still entertaining guests today with its witty Jungle Cruise Skippers, the backside of water, and the hilarious names for its steamboats, such as Senegal Sal and Congo Connie. But did you know that the original idea for the Jungle Cruise was very different than the attraction we know today? Did you also know that evidence for the original plan for the Jungle Cruise can be found in two other Disney World parks? Get your pencil and paper ready because for today’s lesson, we are going to brush up on some Disney History: The Jungle Cruise!

The Inspiration

When Disneyland was being built in the 1950s, Walt wanted to create an attraction that represented his True-Life Adventures series. It’s also been said that Walt was a fan of The African Queen, a 1951 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, a mismatched pair who must sail a steamboat down the rivers of Africa. The two ideas morphed into a vision for an attraction where guests would sail down the exotic rivers of the world in a steamboat while observing live wildlife on either side. Naturally, this plan had to be modified when Disney learned that live animals would be difficult to contain, care for, and keep to script, so the solution was to install audio-animatronic animals instead. However, you can find a vintage poster for The African Queen at Hollywood Studios on Sunset Boulevard as it is a Hollywood classic, but also possibly a nod to Walt’s inspiration for the Jungle Cruise!

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Disney World Planning Challenges: Business Conferences—Tips for Squeezing in Some Magic

by on December 10, 2014

Although attending a business conference at or near Walt Disney World isn’t quite the same as taking a vacation trip, it’s still a wish come true for a Disney enthusiast. Several strategies can help you get your Disney fix around a conference schedule. In fact, a business trip to the World can be an excellent opportunity to experience the park in some new and exciting ways.

Balancing Your Time

The first priority in planning time for fun while at a conference at Disney World is figuring out how to balance work and leisure time. Consider arriving in Orlando a day before the conference or giving yourself an extra day after the conference ends. Being creative with the overall time frame of your trip can give you a free half-day or more to enjoy Disney. Once the conference starts, plan to make a quick exit at the end of the day and spend the afternoon or evening at leisure.

Mix It Up—Spending Time In and Out of the Parks

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Downtown Disney’s West Side, including the AMC Dine-In Theatres (photo by Brandon Glover)

With the limited number of hours you’ll be able to spend in the parks (unless you’re lucky enough to have an Annual Pass), it doesn’t make sense to purchase park tickets for every day of your trip. Instead, a business trip can be a chance to experience some of Disney’s offerings outside of the parks such as at Downtown Disney and Disney’s BoardWalk.

If your hotel is located near Downtown Disney or you have access to Disney transportation (current construction at Downtown Disney makes traffic and parking a challenge), Downtown Disney can be a great non-park destination. It has lots of dining options and an even wider variety of merchandise than can be found at the parks, and don’t forget about its AMC Dine-In Theatres where you can enjoy both dinner and a movie.

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What’s the Strangest Thing Sold at Epcot?

by on December 9, 2014

There’s plenty to love about shopping at Epcot’s World Showcase. I can’t get enough of the cheery Japanese candy, friendly German Christmas ornaments, or cheeky British tee shirts. And then there are the World Showcase merchandise items that leave me scratching my head. These are the things that leave me thinking, “Who approved that addition to the merchandise list?” “What is the demographic profile of the typical buyer?” and “Has anyone actually ever purchased this item at Epcot before?”

So that you can be as perplexed as I am, here’s a tour of just a few of Epcot’s oddities.

MEXICO

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with vanilla extract. I have several bottles in my pantry standing ready to be called into service for holiday baking. But who goes to a theme park and decides that’s what they’re going to bring home?

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 6: Avocado Margarita at La Cava del Tequila

by on December 6, 2014

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.

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

DAY SIX: Avocado Margarita at La Cava del Tequila (Epcot)

LaCavaStacydrinks

Jalapeño margarita (left) and Avocado margarita (right) at La Cava del Tequila. (photo by Stacey Lantz)

 

Epcot’s La Cava del Tequila is hands down one of our favorite places on Disney property to get a drink. Located inside the Mexico pavilion’s incredible pyramid, La Cava’s dark, intimate, cave-like atmosphere is off the charts. There isn’t much food at La Cava (although of the limited menu, we do highly recommend the chips and guacamole,) but that doesn’t matter because you’re here for the widest selection of margaritas and tequila shots in the theme park universe, not to mention, the best. For Day 6 of the countdown we are spotlighting the Avocado Margarita, a drink so popular it seems to have formed its own cult following within the Disney community. While technically a frozen margarita, the actual drink is more akin to a smoothie, with a smooth taste that is almost impossible to describe. However, we promise you’ll be back for more. The servers at La Cava are also some of the most knowledgable at WDW, so be sure to ask them recommendations based on your personal preferences.

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Menu Monday: Dining with an Imagineer

by on December 1, 2014

“Why are you going THERE again?” If you get asked this question about your vacations to Disney, you completely understand the frustrations. As veterans to the parks of Walt Disney World, we get asked this about once a year minimum. But, my answer is unequivocally because there is something new to experience every time. Whether it be old standard attractions such as Astro Orbiter (which I will get on one day), or completely new shows or parades that Disney has just introduced, you can never do it all.

The famous Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios.

The famous Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios.

We try to make each repeat trip to the World a new adventure. Yes, we have our favorite “must dos” that are a part of every trip we make, such as Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom, a caramel apple oatmeal cookie from the Karamel Kuche in Epcot’s Germany, or a performance of Mulch Sweat n Shears at Hollywood Studios. But we always try to find new Disney magic as well.

For our last trip to Walt Disney World we decided that meeting an Imagineer was high on our priority list, as we had never done it before. Disney has a great program called Dining with an Imagineer. This experience is a lunchtime event. It is a very intimate setting with only 10-12 guests (aged 10 and older) in attendance, plus the Imagineer. It takes place at the Hollywood Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios, and comes with a 4 course meal served in the private Bamboo Room. It is not offered every day; only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Because it is a dining event, you can make reservations for it starting on your 180 day window if you have a resort stay booked.

Needless to say, the morning that our 180 day window opened we were on the computer trying to secure our reservations for the elusive event. Since opportunities and number of seats for this dining event are limited, this was the first priority of that morning. Pixie dust was on our side, and we scored two seats for the day we wanted. Now the long wait began until our trip and this new experience.

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Menu Monday: Birthday Fun at Teppan Edo with Review

by on November 24, 2014

Photo - Tammy Whiting

For those of you who don’t know, Teppan Edo is a delightful restaurant found in the Japan Pavilion located in the World Showcase at Epcot. That was a mouth full, wasn’t it? Here you can enjoy teppan-yaki-style cooking prepared right at your table by a talented Japanese chef. It’s not just a meal, but a fun and unique experience. Trust me, it’s something to put on your culinary bucket list!

Teppan Edo is my favorite place to eat in the World Showcase for two reasons: the memories and the overall experience. The first time my husband and I went to Disney World together, it was our favorite dining experience of the trip. We were with my parents and Michael’s aunt and uncle. Michael had raved about this place as he had been there once before. With such positive reviews coming from a Disney Curmudgeon, I knew this was definitely a place I had to try.

Following our arrival, we waited in the “lobby” for a short time before being seated. As we walked down a long hall way, I could peak into each room to see wait staff and chefs tending to their guests. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Now, the grill is centered around family-style seating so if you’re an introvert, you may have to keep an open mind. My parents could talk to a wall, so they plopped right down next to a middle-aged couple from New York. Yes, they had a New York accent. Yes, I couldn’t get enough of it. We soon learned that they were teachers like my mom, so they all had plenty to gab about.

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Menu Monday: Best Counter Service Restaurants in Magic Kingdom

by on November 17, 2014

Be Our Guest RestaurantPicking your favorite Walt Disney World counter/quick service restaurant is like picking your favorite child, sure on some days you may like one more than the other (come on, we’ve all been there!), but overall, you just can’t choose a favorite! Dining in Walt Disney World has become a favorite past time among repeat guests. And now, more often than not, first time guests have their own “bucket list” of restaurants to eat at or snack to try. With this increase in demand and expectation, Disney has responded by adding more restaurants and expanding the menus of their current restaurants. These adjustments also come with price increases. As Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin from ABC’s Once Upon A Time always reminds us, “all magic comes with a price” even Disney’s pixie-dusted munchies. But fear not intrepid traveler and foodie, you can indulge your taste buds and save your budget with the counter/quick service restaurants available at every Disney Park and resort. But with literally, over a hundred to choose from (seriously, 102 – I counted!), I’m here to help you select the best of the best, park by park and even among the resorts. This article will focus on the counter service options of the Magic Kingdom. The focus will be on restaurants that offer a full meal option. Though there are many additional locations I could have included in this list, I narrowed it down to exclude those counter locations that really only sell snacks. After watching hours of Master Chef and Chopped, I’ve devised a ranking system that will incorporate four criteria into the ultimate calculation for the best counter service meals.  The criteria are:

  • Best value (portion/cost ratio) = 10 points
  • Flavor = 10 points
  • Originality = 5 points
  • Atmosphere = 5 points
  • Grand total = 30 possible points

Be Our Guest – New Fantasyland

This latest addition to the Magic Kingdom dining line-up has everyone crazed to make dinner reservations or snag the elusive lunch FastPass+ option. The menu is a bit pricier than other counter service option, and it’s only available as a counter service during the lunch hours (10:30am to 2:30pm). Starting at 4pm, Be Our Guest is considered a Table Service restaurant where prices increase and the menu changes a bit.

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My New Favorite Disney World Souvenir Finds

by on October 29, 2014

Little Mermaid Mouse Ears

Little Mermaid Mouse Ears

I don’t know about you, but souvenir shopping is a huge part of my Disney World Vacations. I always enjoy browsing through the stores at the parks and resorts for new merchandise; and during my past few trips to Disney World this year, I have discovered some magical, new items. So take a look at just a few of my new favorite Disney World souvenir finds!

Little Mermaid Mouse Ears – $19.00

As a huge Little Mermaid fan, I was thrilled when I came across these Little Mermaid Mouse Ears! I had seen the Belle and Cinderella themed Mouse Ears before, but this design is by far my favorite. I especially like the pearl accents! Surprisingly, I only found this twist on Disney’s classic headgear at Epcot’s Mouse Gear and Downtown Disney’s World of Disney Store during my most recent trip to Disney World, but hopefully that has changed. After all, who wouldn’t want to sport these ears around the parks, right?

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Disney World Itinerary : Making Epcot a 2-day park

by on October 29, 2014

Epcot.

Epcot.

I recently posted a guide for planning which parks to visit on your 4-1/2 day Disney World vacation, providing a “one-size-fits-most” itinerary for each age group. Epcot doesn’t make it in the preschool itinerary and is only a half day on the school age children itinerary, but it finally gets a full day on both the tween and teen itineraries (two days of Epcot are included on the adult itinerary). My family (with tweens) would tweek the tween itinerary a bit and plan two days at Epcot, because we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface in a one day visit.

With the two distinct areas of Future World and World Showcase, Epcot is certainly large enough to warrant a two day visit. If you are a family who enjoys a more education focused theme park, two days at Epcot may be a winner. Here are ten benefits to spending two days at Epcot instead of one.

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