Most years, Orange County Public Schools gives kids the entire week off for Thanksgiving so that everyone can travel. This year, because they want school to end in May (!?), they decided to hold school on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. No travel for us, and no one coming in town, so we got some fantastic family time. How much can we cram into one holiday weekend? Come along and find out!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is our annual Thanksgiving Special and takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2016 was another great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday pre-planning to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts that we love so much. So, for one day only, we ask that all Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a brief moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
# 6 – More Muppets in Walt Disney World!
With two major expansions coming to Disney Hollywood Studios, many fans of The Muppets were afraid that the Muppets courtyard and Muppet Vision 3D would be bulldozed as Disney prepared for our new Star Wars overlords. It didn’t help that in 2014 Muppets Most Wanted underperformed at the box office (making $30M less than The Muppets film which came out in 2011) and The Muppets television show on ABC had a major creative shakeup halfway through its first season, ultimately being cancelled earlier this year. Muppets fans breathed a sigh of relief when Disney officially released their plans for Star Wars at the D23 Expo, leaving the Muppets area of the park untouched.
Then, appearing like an early Christmas present, came a whole bunch of incredible great Muppet news. In October, The Muppets entered the Magic Kingdom for a hilarious new attraction in Liberty Square. The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History is filled with the perfect Muppet humor that can appeal to both adults and children. Over in EPCOT, the Muppet Mobile Lab featuring Beaker and Dr. Honeydew returned after being gone for many years. Meanwhile, back at DHS, the restaurant formerly known as Pizza Planet was completely transformed into the Muppet-themed PizzeRizzo.
So Muppets fans – like myself – started the year fearing we could be seeing the end of The Muppets in Walt Disney World, but by the end of the year we have more Muppets than ever before. Long Live The Muppets!
The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History. (photo by Brandon Glover)
The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History. (photo by Brandon Glover)
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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons You Need to Check Out SeaWorld Orlando! While no one loves Walt Disney World and Universal more than us, it is always good to remember just how many incredible things there are to do during your Orlando vacation outside of the Big Two. Last year we covered Busch Gardens Tampa, which has only gotten better with the debut of its Cobra’s Curse roller coaster (a fantastic family coaster in the vein of Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and today we are going to take a look at one of the most well known parks in the Orlando area, SeaWorld.
SeaWorld Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Located conveniently near both Universal and Walt Disney World, SeaWorld is in the process of building itself back up after several down years following the debut of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village, and the release of the controversial film Blackfish. A new management team is in place, and the company hasn’t made any what were they thinking mistakes in a long time. SeaWorld, much like WDW, Gatorland, and Wet ‘n Wild, is quintessential Orlando, and has been a part of family vacations for decades. Today we’re going to list our favorite reasons on why YOU need to make SeaWorld a part of your next trip to Florida. So sit back, stay out of the splash zone, and let’s start with…
# 6 – Mako and Manta
Thrill ride fans are blessed in Orlando with some truly great coaster experiences in rides such as Space Mountain and Expedition Everest along with Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy and The Incredible Hulk, but SeaWorld is home to two of possibly THE best roller coasters in town. The newest attraction at SeaWorld is Mako, the fastest coaster in town. Its not kidding around, as a hypercoaster Mako is built on raw speed and delivering multiple moments of weightlessness that coaster junkies crave. If you have the need for speed, you must ride Mako. SeaWorld also did an amazing job with the entire area surrounding Mako, as it gives more of a Disney/Universal feel in terms of an immersive experience.
Mako! (photo by Brandon Glover)
Objects in picture are higher than they appear. MUCH higher! (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Mako. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Meanwhile Manta just may be Your Humble Author’s favorite coaster. It all begins with a wonderful queue where you pass through an elaborately designed aquarium. The ride itself has the rider in a unique position where after loading the seat positions itself so the guest is facing the ground. While this position is to simulate riding under a stingray as it swims the ocean, it feels more like you are flying like Superman through the sky and is a wonderfully unique experience. While it may not have the big drops or intense speed of Mako, a ride on Manta is like no other and makes us smile from ear to ear.
Manta. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Manta. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
# 5 – Animal Interaction
One of the absolute best parts of SeaWorld is that it allows guests to get up close and personal to a wide array of animals. Whether it is feeding sea lions, touching a dolphin, or even being able to be just feet away from a swimming manatee, SeaWorld connects us to a world that normally we can’t be a part of. There is a running theme of conservation throughout the park which can actually show the impact we can have – both positive and negative – on the marine life around us. Whereas the message of Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom can be a little abstract to those of us in Orlando, SeaWorld works directly with the environment and animals of Florida.
Dolphin Encounter. (photo by Brandon Glover)
“Pardon me, coming through.” “Pardon me.” “Pardon me. (photo by Mike sperduto)
This fall, my daughter has been taking golf classes after school, and absolutely loves it. As a treat, we decided to spend some time over at Winter Summerland putting her skills to the test for some mini golf.
With Blizzard Beach closed for refurbishment, and arriving not long after they opened, we found that the parking lot was just a bit empty.
Later we realized that we had parked in the Blizzard Beach lot instead of the Winter Summerland lot. Oops. Even so, it was just a short walk to the chalet to check in. Winter Summerland has two courses — a Snow Course and a Sand Course. We decided to go with the snow course, and were told that it would be less than a 10 minute wait until we could get started.
Disney is looking for ways to provide additional transportation options for Guests, therefore, they are now offering a private water taxi from Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.
This new water taxi offering will take Guests directly to any destination around Seven Seas Lagoon for $20 each way, per family. (Do keep in mind that return service must be booked separately and this private boat ride may not be available from the Magic Kingdom.) Each boat will be able to accommodate up to 10 passengers. The private experience is based on availability from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and to make a reservation, Guests should call the the Grand Floridan recreation line at 321-318-8212.
To access your private water taxi, Guests should visit the Marina at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, located next to the Sugar Loaf building.
This option may come in handy when attempting to get from one resort to another, especially for something like dining reservations.
The water taxi is not replacing current transportation options, but is instead being offered in addition to current offerings.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special 2016 ELECTION SPECIAL – a look at how a President Trump or a President Clinton could affect Walt Disney World. We are mere days away from a historic election here in the United States. While many are concerned with the outcome of the election and how it will impact things like healthcare, national security, and taxes, we here at the SATURDAY SIX only care about the most important issue at stake: theme parks. We commissioned an all-star, blue ribbon panel made up of political experts, former imagineers, and futurists to give us a blueprint of what could happen. Unfortunately, none of them showed up. So instead we’re going to present to you OUR thoughts of what could happen to Walt Disney World depeHnding on how YOU vote on November 8th (although, for some of you the voting date is November 28th.) Whether you’re a shill for Hill or belong in a basket of deplorables, we have the result you don’t want to see. So sit back, proudly display your I Voted button, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…
# 6 – IF TRUMP WINS: We’re going to build a WALL around EPCOT’s Mexico Pavilion and THEY’RE going to pay for it
Sorry La Cava, but we need to protect our borders….and Arendelle’s too. (photo by Daisy Lauren and Matt Cleary)
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President on June 16, 2015, he made a bold promise. “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” Donald himself has estimated this cost to be in the range of 10-12 billion dollars, while others have estimated it would be closer to 25 billion. With that type of money at stake, we’ll probably see Disney expand the monorail to the Port Orleans resorts before Mexico pays for this wall. However, a great way The Donald can save face is by actually building a wall around Mexico…the Mexico Pavilion at EPCOT! While it may be hard to get the actual Mexican government to write a check, we feel confident that we could shake a few pesos out of La Cava del Tequila and the Three Caballeros to get this done.
# 5 – IF CLINTON WINS: Princesses to switch their dresses for smart and stylish pantsuits
Princess Power! (photo by Matt Cleary)
A couple months ago there was a brouhaha in the Theme Park Universe because of something thought unfathomable by many Disney fans: the company changed Jasmine’s meet and greet outfit. For too long Disney Princesses have been forced to wear their iconic dresses no matter the occasion, and if we have our first woman in the White House it is high time to change that! No longer will Ariel cruelly be forced to wear scratchy sea shells as a top, because now the entire Disney Princess wardrobe will consist of smart and stylish pantsuits! As strong, courageous, and powerful women, each Disney Princess will rock these outfits like nobody’s business (attire.)
My wife and I recently decided to visit Paris for a week, and as you may be aware, there is a Disney resort there — so being the complete Disney dorks that we are, paying a visit to Disneyland Paris was a must-do. Of course, our daughter was staying in the Orlando area with her grandparents and we had to come back through there to get her, so we decided to pay the Mouse a quick visit at Walt Disney World while we got over our jetlag. Shortly after arriving back home, I had to head out to Southern California for work, and it presented me with an opportunity — even if only briefly — to visit my third Disney resort in just over 2 weeks. I had to take it.
So, apart from the whirlwind of travel, what is it like to experience every Disney resort in the Western Hemisphere back-to-back-to-back? The three resorts share similar layouts and several attractions, but my biggest takeaway is how much it highlighted the differences between these outwardly similar parks. So, without further ado, let me share some of the biggest stuff I noticed, and pass out a few superlatives…
Many of you are close enough to Orlando to drive down when you visit Walt Disney World or Universal Studios Orlando, but for the rest of us, flying is the only viable option. Southwest Airlines is Orlando International Airport’s largest carrier, and between that and the traffic I often see on Disney trip planning forums and Facebook groups, I know that many of you will be using Southwest to get to Orlando. As you may be aware, however, Southwest operates a little differently than other airlines, and that can make flying with them a bit confusing to the uninitiated. I happen to fly on Southwest a ton — I am at their highest loyalty tier, in fact — and wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences about Southwest and how to get the most out of your travel experience with them.
First, the basics: Southwest fares fall into three categories:
Wanna Get Away? Fares are the cheapest fares, and they are more likely to be available the earlier you book. You can sometimes find them close to your travel date, but if your goal is to pay as little as possible, booking at the earliest possible opportunity is going to get you the best prices as even the price of these fares tends to rise as you get closer to your departure date. They are nonrefundable, but you can cancel them and get a credit for a future flight or switch to another flight just by paying the difference in fare. These fares tend to be at most approximately 50% less than the refundable fares, but they can be even cheaper, particularly during fare sales.
Anytime fares are fares that can be refunded for cash if your plans change and you need to cancel your flights. They are significantly more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares, and are the cheapest fares you are most likely to see if you’re booking within a week or so of departure.
Business Select fares are the most expensive fares, and they tend to be $20 or so more expensive than an Anytime fare. They are also fully refundable, and they additionally entitle you to one free drink and allow you to be one of the first 15 people on the plane. This early boarding perk is far more important on a Southwest flight because of their open seating policy, which I’ll explain in a bit more detail below.
A recent comment from another parent said it all: “When they call it Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, they’re not talking about the price. That truly IS scary!” Even going to one of the most affordable nights (back near the beginning of September), it is a pretty hefty price tag to attend the evening event. This year, we expanded our Halloween celebrations by taking a trip down to LEGOLAND for their “Brick or Treat” event.
Brick or Treat is included with your regular admission, and is a daytime event held on weekends in October and on Halloween day. The park is open from 10 AM to 8 PM. There are events throughout the day, but many of the events occur in the afternoon. Here’s some of the highlights.
Oversized LEGO Sculptures
It wouldn’t be a LEGO park without impressive displays of those signature bricks. From a gigantic Jack-o-Lantern to a 13-foot model of the Monster Fighters set No. 9464 (the Vampyre Hearse), there are some great photo ops that are only available this time of year.
Beginning at 4 PM, there are costume parades (4 PM for ages 4 and under, 5 PM for ages 5-7, and 6 PM for ages 8-12). It may not be the Boo to You parade, but every child who participates receives a small gift.