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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.

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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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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Drinks, Snacks and Food options at DIAGON ALLEY

by on July 11, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best Drinks, Snacks, and Food Options at DIAGON ALLEY. We are still celebrating the one year anniversary of Universal’s Diagon Alley, and today we are going to look at the unsung hero of this incredible land. No, not our favorite ride the Hogwart’s Express. No, not the love of our lives Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Not even the glorious dragon sitting high atop Gringotts Bank breathing fire. Forget all that stuff, our unsung hero is the new themed food and beverage items Diagon Alley brought into our lives… things we had no idea we were missing but now can’t live without! As theme park foodies it’s going to be pretty much impossible to narrow our list down to just the top six, but we’re going to try anyway starting with…

# 6 – Butterbeer Ice Cream

The biggest debate in theme parks right now is not who’s better between Universal and Disney, or the Raptor Experience and Val the Velociraptor, but instead it is the hotly contested debate of which style of Butterbeer is the best? Many will stand by the traditional Butterbeer, while others swear by the Frozen version. Your humble author’s opinion is that hot Butterbeer trumps them all, but there is something to be said about Butterbeer Ice Cream that made it’s debut with Diagon Alley. Available at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor (but the pros know to skip that line and head over to Fountain of Fair Fortune instead) Butterbeer ice cream is mostly vanilla soft-serve with swirls of Butterbeer flavoring. Like the Butterbeer drinks, the ice cream is very sweet, but it certainly feels right eating inside the Wizarding World. Now when exactly will Universal start selling a Butterbeer float?!

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Butterbeer Ice Cream. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s DIAGON ALLEY

by on July 11, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s DIAGON ALLEY. Who can believe it was just one year ago that Diagon Alley opened at Universal Studios Florida and changed the way we looked at immersive lands inside a theme park forever? When Hogsmeade Village opened in Islands of Adventure in 2010, it immediately became a gold standard and had industry-changing effects on themed merchandise as well as food and beverage. You can make a case that Butterbeer alone changed the entire future of the Universal parks by becoming such a phenomenon that it helped the $250 Million area pay for itself within six months. That immediate and unqualified success led to a fast tracking of many things, including Diagon Alley. 

But could Universal Creative top Hogsmeade Village, with the iconic Hogwarts Castle facade for Forbidden Journey, interactive show stopper Ollivanders, and wonderfully detailed areas like the Hog’s Head pub? SPOILER ALERT: Yes. Yes, they did. Today we are going to look six of the many reasons we love Diagon Alley and to narrow down our list we consulted with an expert in Muggle Studies, Megan Stump. You may remember Meg from last year’s #PotterWatch, where she was on hand for 30 straight days leading up to the grand opening. So grab your favorite Pygmy Puff (or Horcrux, if you’re Voldemort) and settle in for the countdown, starting with….

# 6 – The Entrance

One of the most unforgettable moments of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was Harry’s entrance into Diagon Alley. It was his introduction to the wizarding world, but was also ours. It was something both real and fantastical at the same time. Harry entered Diagon Alley through a magical brick wall, which revealed an entrance after an elaborate shifting of the bricks. In order to accommodate more than 500 Muggles a day into the land, Universal had to be a little creative in recreating this experience. They succeeded by having guests walk through a brick wall which slowly reveals the wonder of Diagon Alley before them.

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To get into Diagon Alley, guests enter the London Waterfront area to find a magical brick wall… (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Potterheads Amelia Brose and Sasha Atherton enter Diagon Alley for the very first time. An unforgettable experience. (photo by Megan Stump)

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

by on June 30, 2015

MMM positiveWe have reached the end of June and the non-stop amount of theme park new continues. Most importantly, our prayers were answered and Disney World banned the use of selfie sticks at any of its four theme parks, two water parks, and DisneyQuest. Over at Animal Kingdom, snacks shaped in the form of animal poop became an instant success last week, generating more viral attention for Disney than I have seen in years, yet they have already been taken off the market. Meanwhile at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Frozen Summer Fun began its summer run, but with the good comes the bad, as it was also announced that The Magic of Disney Animation would be joining the Studio Backlot Tour, the Legend of Capt Jack Sparrow, Sounds Dangerous, American Idol Experience, and the Sorcerer’s Hat in the great big theme park in the sky. Universal, already in the middle of building an E-Ticket attraction (Skull Island: The Reign of Kong), a new hotel (Sapphire Falls) and a water park (Volcano Bay) also just committed to what looks like a MAJOR renovation of the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the removal of what is expected to be Twister: Ride It Out for a rumored attraction based on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Don’t the theme parks know it’s summer and they are supposed to be resting on their laurels while the theme parks are packed?!

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).

This trip started off with a surreal experience at the Disney Character Warehouse on I-Drive (close to Universal) because everything in the store was 50% off the already discounted prices. A lot of stuff that was normally in the store was gone though, such as Tsum Tsums, most of the pins, all the plush, etc. Later in our journey I’ll explain why this once-in-a-lifetime sale was happening. However, to show the type of deal that this was, that next level bananas Mama Melrose sign had been brought down to “just” $30 after all the discounts were applied. I was tempted to buy it, if only as a gag gift for Len Testa, but somehow held back.

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I promised to all that I will personally buy the BoardWalk Pizza Window sign if it is ever for sale. Because that will mean the place has finally been closed and I’ll be in euphoria.

It’s long been known that WDW Today’s own Matt Hochberg is terrified of the Dinosaur attraction at DHS, and you can imagine why if his parents ever got him this photo frame as a kid. I actually wish Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights merch was this scary. Originally $14.95, this was marked down to $7.99 (and keep in mind that would be $4 after the final discount.)

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Mesmerizing.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s BoardWalk Resort

by on June 27, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. While we have done articles on several of our favorite Walt Disney World resorts, including Animal Kingdom Lodge, Art of Animation, and Port Orleans French Quarter, it was the BoardWalk Inn & Villas which was the hardest to cut down to just our six favorite things. The overall depth of theming and amount of details throughout the resort is second to none. 

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Disney’s BoardWalk.

The BoardWalk was the second of Disney Vacation Club properties to be built (following Old Key West) and its “story” revolves around  the great East Coast boardwalk areas of the 1920s and 30s. In the early part of the 20th century places like Coney Island in New York and Atlantic City in New Jersey were the Walt Disney World of their day. Attractions, restaurants, hotels… they were the place to be. Disney Imagineers and architect Robert A.M. Stern pulled from this incredible era of history of America to create Disney’s BoardWalk and left tons of wonderful details for guests to appreciate. The details are just one of the many reasons we think this resort is the bee’s knees, so let’s begin counting down our top six reasons starting with…

# 6 – The Lobby

There are some lobbies at Walt Disney World which will have you picking your jaw off the floor (most notably the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge) but what the BoardWalk lacks in expansiveness it makes up for in fantastic show elements, such as the gorgeous Hippocampus Electrolier hanging above. A hippocampus is a creature from Greek mythology that is part horse, part fish, while electrolier is a name for a ceiling fixture holding electric lamps (a name which never took hold and is just referred to as a chandelier today.) Weighing in at 3,000 pounds and intricately detailed, this may very well be the most impressive chandelier on Disney property, and imagine what that is saying.

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The BoardWalk’s stunning hippocampus electrolier. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love JURASSIC PARK at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on June 20, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love JURASSIC PARK at the Universal Orlando Resort. With Jurassic World becoming a worldwide smash (the first film ever to take in a half a billion dollars in its opening weekend. To put that number in perspective, the last Jurassic Park film, Jurassic Park III, made $368M in it’s entire six month theatrical run) we figured it is high time to cover one of our favorite areas in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Jurassic Park. While the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man has been the critic’s darling since the day it opened in 1999 and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter completely changed Orlando tourism when it debuted in 2010, Jurassic Park has always been my favorite “island” in the park. Why? Several reasons, and today we’re going to count them down for you starting with….

# 6 – Jurassic Park River Adventure

Jurassic Park River Adventure hits a lot of great beats for me and it all starts with the attraction being a boat ride. From the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom to Living with the Land and Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros in Epcot, if it’s a boat ride, it’s probably one of my favorite attractions in the park. Our journey on JP River Adventure begins by passing through the iconic Jurassic Park gates and proceeds to give a Jungle Cruise-like leisurely ride while enjoying some larger-than-life dinosaurs. As theme park rides will do, “something goes terribly wrong” and we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a raptor attack and surprise, you’re NOT the alpha. In fact you just may be dinner. It is during the second half of the ride when the tension gets amped up, highlighted by the incredible T-Rex animatronic and a huge drop to cap off the ride.

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Splash down at the Jurassic Park River Adventure. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

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“Open Paddock 9!” (photo by Jeff Kyle)

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MagicBand Watch Slider Review

by on June 15, 2015

Finally, a watch for a MagicBand…? (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

Finally, a watch for a MagicBand…? (Photo by Julia Mascardo)

Confession: I haven’t worn a wristwatch in almost 20 years, yet when I slip on a MagicBand not a day goes by that I don’t look down at that band on my wrist to check the time.

For more than a year, I have been looking at the internet for some sort of watch attachment for a MagicBand. Finally, Disney created a watch slider (or MagicSlider) attachment for your MagicBand, on sale anywhere that MagicBands and accessories are sold. But is this really what people have been asking for?

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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Most Interesting, Most Unusual, and Strangest Souvenirs in EPCOT’s World Showcase

by on June 13, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Most Interesting, Most Unusual, and Strangest Souvenirs in Epcot’s World Showcase. After last week’s article on the Six Best Snacks in World Showcase, we’re going stay in the same area and look at another underrated part of Epcot; all the unique gift shops. This is the one theme park in Orlando, if not the world, where you will not find the same old stuff. Outside of the Norway Pavilion, it’s pretty much impossible to find any Frozen merchandise and you will have to go to Future World if you want the Disney Parks merchandise you will usually see at the other parks, Disney resorts, or Disney Springs. It’s a breath of fresh air and there are so many incredible items throughout World Showcase. However today we are not going to look at those. Instead we are going to look in the nooks and crannies and find the six most interesting, unusual, and strangest items starting with….

# 6 – Panda Sitting On a Toilet (China Pavilion)

While World Showcase is filled my with great shopping experiences, by far and away my favorite area to browse is at the Yong Feng Shangdian Department Store in the China Pavilion. It is a gigantic store packed with some of the coolest and most unusual in all of WDW. Wall of actual swords? CHECK. Intricately designed wooden ships? CHECK. Jade sculptures? Gorgeous Chinese dresses? Paper fans and chop sticks? All here. This is a store you could spend the better part of an hour just walking through and checking everything out. It also may contain the most amount of panda related items in Florida. Panda stuffed animals, keychains, coffee mugs, earmuffs… you name it, this store has it. The greatest of all panda items is this Panda Siting on a Toilet toy. Who knows why it could possibly exist, but aren’t you glad it does?

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Panda has to be reading a collection of the SATURDAY SIX, right? Only thing that makes sense.

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Wait a second. SOLAR POWERED?! Now I’m going to have to buy this to see exactly what it does. Will report back Dear Readers.

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A Star Wars Weekends Experience Without a Plan

by on June 10, 2015

©Disney

©Disney

One of my favorite annual events at Walt Disney World is Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Star Wars Weekends takes place Fridays through Sundays from mid-May to mid-June and has only expanded over the years.

Today fellow fans of the force can get autographs and photos with Star Wars characters and celebrities, watch the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade and the Symphony in the Stars fireworks display, take in the Stars of the Saga Star Wars Celebrity Talk Show, and, for the kids, participate in the Padawan Mind Challenge and Jedi Training Academy.

There’s also Star Wars themed dining and shopping and even more events for the major fans! Clearly, Star Wars Weekends is true to its name as you need weekends to do it all; but what if, like me, you really don’t want to spend hours in line or have to live by your times guide. What if you just want to check out the event? Sure there are touring plans that work great, but is it actually possible to enjoy a day at Star Wars Weekends by flying casual? Last week, I decided to find out and went to the event on a whim with no plan, no FastPass+, and absolutely no agenda. As it turns out, I was still able to see and do quite a bit. So for today, I’m going to share with you Padawans how I had A Star Wars Weekends Experience Without a Plan.

I Visited on a Friday – I decided to check out the event on a Friday; and as Friday is still a work day, I found that the crowds and wait times weren’t quite as bad as what I could have experienced on a Saturday or Sunday. For example, The Great Movie Ride had only a 30 minute wait time on Friday while on Sunday, the posted wait time on My Disney Experience was 60 minutes.

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

by on May 31, 2015

MMM positiveMay has come to a close and the start of the Theme Park Summer (AKA Some Attractions Are Worth Melting For) is upon us. In case you weren’t paying attention, May just happened to be one of the biggest of the year. Star Wars Weekends started, and I even wrote a handy dandy guide on how you can survive it in Six Simple Steps. Universal had a busy month, officially announcing the new King Kong attraction, a partnership with Nintendo that will bring new attractions to the Florida parks, and a brand new ultra-themed water park in Volcano Bay that looks to compete with Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Meanwhile out in California Disneyland delivered the goods in a major way with their new Paint the Night electrical parade, debuting 60 new pressed pennies, added a new World of Color show, and even a new nighttime fireworks spectacular! Walt Disney World fans weren’t left out in the cold either, as the Lunching Pad at the Magic Kingdom has a brand new crisped rice treat that looks like a flip flop. Everyone came up a winner this month!

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).

Our first step is checking out the new Tsum Tsums that have arrived, which naturally have become the newest thing I’m addicted to. Here are two of our favorite pals from Toy Story, Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

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Toy Story Tsum Tsums.

There were also several puppies from 101 Dalmations along with Cruella Deville.

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How many of the 101 Dalmations have official names and are identifiable by fans? Do people have their favorites like the Seven Dwarfs?

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