Walt Disney World (FL)

Epcot After Hours Wind Down – Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar Review

by on April 23, 2014

On just the third night of the new Epcot After Hours Wind Down event I was lucky enough to grab a table at Tutto Gusto.  Since this event is still so new and I wasn’t able to find any information before we arrived for our reservation so I’m exited to share our experience with you!  If you haven’t heard about it yet, the Epcot After Hours Wind Down is a new experience where guests are invited to stay in the park two hours after closing to enjoy a snack and drink at one of four restaurants.  The cost is $35 per person and while advance reservations are highly recommended, the crowds were minimal the night we went.  I’d heard rumors about rides staying open late but this turned out to be 100% false.  For the premium price you get to see a completely empty Epcot and enjoy a quiet walk out of the park.

Of course, before I whisk you away to Tutto Gusto I should give you a quick look at Illuminations!  One of the main benefits of this after hours party is that you don’t have to worry about positioning yourself to get out of the park post fireworks.  We settled into a spot in Germany that we likely wouldn’t have chosen if we knew we’d be fighting the crowds on our way out to the parking lot.

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Immediately following the fireworks we headed for Tutto Gusto and were greeted at the podium.  When we checked in we were given wristbands and immediately shown to our table.  We only counted ten other patrons in the restaurant besides our party!  In talking to other guests in the park during the day it seemed like nobody had heard about it yet.  Spoiler alert: get your reservations now!  This event is fabulous and I can see the day coming where it sells out nightly.      

As we were seated we were given a special event menu listing six different options.  They included: All Bubbles Flight, Elegant Reds Flight, Piemonte Hills Flight, Seafood Flight, Vegetarian Flight, and Sweet Dreams Flight.  I’m working on getting the menus uploaded for you but in the meantime I’ll detail the three flights that we tried.  Also, unlike other locations for the Wind Down, in Italy you are able to get other food items from their cold foods case.  The kitchens do close during these events so if you’re looking for a full meal you’ll likely be disappointed.

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And now what you’ve all been waiting for – let’s talk about the food!  I’ll start with the course I ordered which was the All Bubbles.  Now, while the menu is very clear and even has pictures I just saw the name and immediately decided I wanted this course.  The wine was delicious and the snack was.. interesting.  The food included: parmigiano reggiano cheese, la tur, and olive di cerignola.  So basically I had big hunks of cheese with bread and olives.  I would have been delighted with this at lunch time but it was a bit much at 10pm at night and I ended up boxing up most of it to bring home.  The quality and taste were excellent, though!  One warning, the olives do have pits so it’s tough to eat them and look terribly ladylike.  While we noshed on our snacks our server was very attentive and offered us several other items to go with our meal.  I’m not sure if they have the same capabilities in the other Wind Down locations but adding a cappuccino was lovely!  We didn’t feel rushed at all as we talked and enjoyed our time.

IMG_2125Next up is the Seafood course which we all agreed looked the best of the items we ordered.  This was a mix of shrimp, squid, octopus, potato, celery, red onion, capers, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil all over a bed of lettuce.  Of everything that we had at the table this was the only one that could be considered a late night, light dinner.  I had a bite and if I went back this is the course I would order.  If you’re torn between this and dessert we saw several people celebrating birthdays that received a free dessert during this after hours event.  Ironically, there were only about five tables seated and two had cake delivered.  I’m not suggesting that you fake a birthday to satisfy your sweet tooth but if those are available I would assume other desserts are available for order.  We didn’t find out because our third flight took care of that for us!

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Our third and final flight was the Sweet Dreams.  It was divine but quite a sugar rush between the desserts and sweet wine.  I would recommend that it should be shared.  What you’re looking at is a mocha, chocolate, and a strawberry dessert.  Between the three I couldn’t pick a favorite.  This was the perfect end to a day at Epcot especially if you’ve already had a larger meal in World Showcase.  Somewhere between this dessert and a few of the wine samples I lost my gumption to go take long exposure night photos of the World Showcase.  Originally, my plan had been to scarf down my snack and then go take photos.  But as the name indicates, when we left Tuttu Gusto I was completely relaxed and ready for a quiet stroll out to the car.  I’ve been in Epcot hundreds of times but this was the most empty I’ve ever seen it… and the most magical.  Sounds like a pretty good deal for $35, huh?  My answer to that question is pretty obvious.  We already have Spice Road Table booked for next weekend! :)

So what do you think?  Will you be trying the Epcot Wind Down Event?  Do you have any questions about our experience?  Let me know in the comments below.  I’m always happy to hear from you!  As always thanks so much for reading.

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Disney Tourist Manners, How Bad Is It? Part 2

by on April 22, 2014

A while back, I wrote a post about the relative offense of various theme park etiquette infractions. How bad is it to stop in a walkway, skip the tip, or decorate your door? Since that post, I’ve been back to Walt Disney World a few times and have noticed more things that might, or might not be breaches of civilized behavior.

The wildlife in the parks are living things, not themed attractions. Let them be.

The wildlife in the parks are living things, not themed attractions. Let them be.

As before, my caveats apply: With any opinion-based topic, there is bound to be a substantial gray area. What slightly miffs one person might absolutely horrify another. In the interest of promoting discussion, here are some possible theme park infractions and my personal assessment of their level of severity.

I’m going to rank items on a scale of 1-5.

1 = Perfectly fine. No bother at all.
2 = Mildly annoying.
3 = Pretty yucky.
4 = Bad. This is really no way to behave.
5 = Really super bad. Just stop now, you’re embarrassing yourself and those around you.

Wearing Pajamas to the food court

What’s the issue?: You just woke up and need your coffee. I roll out of bed at home to get my brew, why not do it on vacation?

My rating?: 1 if you’re under the age of 8. 3 if you’re under the age of 18. 4-5 if you’re an adult.

My rationale?: I’ve got no problem with little kids in their PJs in the food court for an evening snack. I’m somewhat less tolerant of the packs of teenage girls that head to breakfast wearing PJ bottoms and a tank top during cheerleading competition season. While Disney may feel like home, it is not actually your house. It takes about a second to throw on some jeans, but I give teens a moderate pass because they’re still learning the ropes. However, on several occasions, I’ve encountered adult men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s in the resort food courts wearing pajamas. Be a grown-up and put on some actual clothes.

Saving seats at the pool

What’s the issue?: You’re going to want a prime pool-side chaise later. Better mark our territory by leaving some towels and personal items on the chairs we want.

My rating?: 2-4 depending on the time of year and the duration of the hold.

My rationale?: It’s not really a big deal if one member of your party heads down to stake out a spot and the others follow down within half an hour or so, particularly if it’s not during peak swim season. However, leaving personal items on chairs and then heading out to the parks for several hours is just plain rude.

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History of the Walt Disney World Marathon

by on April 22, 2014

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The medals have changed…a bit (1994 vs. 2013) Image credit: Disney Parks Blog.

January 2015 will mark the 22nd running of the Walt Disney World Marathon, the flagship event of the runDisney endurance event series, which includes eight race weekends spread across both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Since its inception in 1994, the race has grown tremendously, both in participants (from 5,588 to a total of 24,000*) and duration, with 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon distance races offered on consecutive days – along with a variety of additional endurance challenges.

Although next year’s event is sure to sell out quickly (regular registration opens today, April 22, at noon Eastern, visit this page to sign up), you may be surprised to hear that these events were not always as popular as they are today. In fact, in 2011, registrations were at such a low number (under 50 percent by the summer of 2010) that Disney announced a special “Marathon Monday” incentive, which would give all 26.2 finishers free admission to the Disney parks – a perk that has not resurfaced since, much to the chagrin of many runDisney participants!

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Walt Disney World Newsworthy Notes – 4/21/14

by on April 21, 2014

A few minor new Walt Disney World newsworthy mentions, as well as a few in-park tests have cropped up over the past few days that I wanted you all to be aware of. Here’s the dirt:

  • For those who are fans of Anna and Elsa from Frozen and want to meet the sisters, you now must do so at the Magic Kingdom’s Princess Fairytale Hall in Fantasyland. The duo arrived to the new meet and greet area on Sunday. If you can snag one, you can FastPass+ this attraction. (Make sure to choose the Anna and Elsa meet, not the Cinderella and Rapunzel meet. If you want to meet Cinderella and Rapunzel, you will need to use a separate FastPass+ reservation.) Also, as a note, the Frozen meet and greet opportunity at Epcot’s Norway Pavilion has now closed. Do not head there to meet the two princesses. (Well, queen and princess.)
  • If you will be in Disney’s Animal Kingdom over the next couple of weeks, you may be able to run into Professor Parker Woodson from the Dino Institute and her pet velociraptor, V. This experience has guests coming into contact with the raptor in a show as the two roam the streets. V, being a dinosaur, does not meet with guests, but you can enjoy the show. Showtimes are expected to take place every half hour at 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. in Dinoland U.S.A. The test is rumored to run until May 3. To see a video of a bit of the show, check it out here.

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Walt Disney World Crowd Report – April 13 to 19, 2014

by on April 21, 2014

We received a lot of questions about this year’s Easter crowd level predictions, most of them doubting the crowds could be that low on Easter weekend. We stuck by our estimates however knowing that Easter crowds are lighter when it occurs in late April, and it turns out that we were right. In fact, thanks to a storm on Friday the crowds were actually lower that expected heading into the Easter weekend. We correctly predicted that the peak crowds around Easter would occur mid-week, not on the Holiday weekend itself. Easter will not occur late in April again until 2019.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week.

The Crowd Report

Crowd Report, April 13-19. 2014

The Walt Disney World Crowd Report
April 13 to April 19, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday’s crowds were the lowest we would see between Sunday and Friday last week. Magic Kingdom was a ’7′ as predicted even though it hosted Extra Magic Hour morning, Extra Magic Hour evening (until 3:00am), two daytime parades, two evening parades and Wishes. No other park was more crowded than Magic Kingdom on Sunday with Epcot and Animal Kingdom reaching a level ’6′ on our scale (predicted ’8′s at both parks). The Studios was also less crowded than expected with average wait times only reaching a level ’3′ (we predicted ’5′).

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In the Parks with Morgan – Respite at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch

by on April 21, 2014

DSC_0107While I will always be a huge fan of the parks, there are times that even I need a break from the crowds and the noise (the 5th of July and January 2 come to mind). There are several places on property that I’ve found that get me back to zen, and I thought I’d share one of my favorites. Just past Pioneer Hall (that place where they do the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue) at Fort Wilderness (not the Wilderness Lodge) there’s a series of barns and paddocks that make up the Tri-Circle-D Ranch. The ranch is home to the horses of Walt Disney World including the Main Street Trolley horses, all the horses that pull the various carriages and wagons around property, and even the Cinderella Carriage ponies. And, in a happy turn of events, you can visit these gorgeous animals free of charge daily from 8 a.m. to around dusk. The ranch officially closes at 3:30 p.m., but there are often ranch hands in the open barns until well after that caring for the animals.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Outrageous Food Items at Walt Disney World

by on April 19, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Top Six Outrageous Food Items at Walt Disney World. Regular readers of this column know that we like our theme park food, and the more outrageous it is, the better. While Disney has its fair share of fine dining (Victoria & Albert’s, California Grill, and Jiko among others), it also has many food items that would make your cholesterol and blood sugar rise just by looking at them. Today we are going to look at six of our favorites…

# 6 – The Doh-Bar (Cookes of Dublin)

Downtown Disney is our first stop, and while Raglan Road is the critics’ darling, Cookes of Dublin next door has one of our favorite snacks on property, the ‘Doh bar.’ Picture this: a Snickers bar is dipped into donut batter, deep fried, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Basically, a work of art that ranks somewhere in between Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michaelangelo’s David.

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The ‘Doh bar” – Donut Battered Snickers

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2014 Grand Floridian Easter Eggs

by on April 18, 2014

One of the things I love most about writing for Touring Plans is that it encourages me to go out and see things I would have skipped in the past. If you can believe it this is the third annual Easter Egg display at the Grand Floridian, but the first year I’ve stopped by for a visit. I have each and every one of you to thank, because the display is incredible! I couldn’t think of a better way to wish everyone a happy Easter and to share some photos! First the lovely Briar Rose:

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And on the reverse side of the princess is her Prince Phillip. Can you believe each of these eggs is between 16 – 20 inches tall and weighs over 9 pounds even though they are hollow? Also, in frame you can see a non-Disney themed egg. There are eighteen eggs on display this year so I couldn’t feature all of them. Though I focused on the Disney eggs there are others that are more traditional or themed after famous works of art. They are all exquisite!

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Magic Kingdom FastPass+ Parade and Fireworks Viewing Tips and Observations

by on April 17, 2014

FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing tips

Get a VIP view with FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing areas at the Magic Kingdom (photos by Seth Kubersky)

Welcome to the future of fireworks and parades at Walt Disney World! In recent weeks, as the final rollout of FastPass+ has concluded in the Disney World parks, I’ve been sharing my experiences using the system as an Annual Passholder at Epcot, as well as at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Since my last post, FastPass+ has been fully implemented for all Disney World guests, including day-guests not staying on Disney property, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to experience one of the most controversial aspects of the new system. Without further ado, here are my FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing tips, based on my personal observations at the Magic Kingdom.

 

Festival of Fantasy FastPass+ Parade Viewing

When the features of FastPass+ were first announced, the private reserved viewing areas for parades and other spectaculars were the aspect I was most skeptical (even cynical) about. Personally, such performances are usually very low on my priority list during a park visit for several reasons. Most of the parades had grown quite stale to me from years of over-exposure, I have an aversion to spending valuable touring time staking out a spot of asphalt just to get a good view, and I can’t abide being crammed like sardines in the crowd that accompanies the procession. So I would normally use that time to take advantage of marginally shorter queues at my favorite attractions. If I did want to see a parade, I’d typically walk up a minute or so before it started, and make do with a partial view blocked by the sea of shoulder-sitting small-fries in front of me. With a limit (soon to be lifted) of only 3 FastPass+ reservations per day, I couldn’t see myself “wasting” one on something like a parade when Space and Splash are beckoning.

This is currently the closest you can get to Anna and Elsa from Frozen without a mult-hour wait for their meet & greet.

 

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Tours of Epcot: Behind The Seeds

by on April 16, 2014

Do you love Living With The Land at Epcot? I don’t know what it is about this quiet, little boat ride that holds my attention. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s one of the few attractions that still feels like the Epcot from my childhood. The Behind The Seeds Tour at Epcot offers guests the chance to walk through the greenhouses seen on the boat ride and take a closer look. While just taking a stroll through this location is worth the price of admission, the tour offers some great “edutainment” about the future of gardening. 

To sign up you simply need to purchase tickets at the desk in the Soarin’ boarding area. We’ve done the first tour of the day in the past for fear they would sell out. However, this time we showed up just 30 minutes before the last tour of the day and were able to join with no issue. Then we just had to meet back by the desk five minutes before our tour time. The below information contains lots of spoilers about the tour. If you’d like to be surprised, you might want to scroll down to the bottom past the numbered sections.

The tour begins when your guide whisks you to a backstage location to explain the tour rules. First, guests are encouraged to ask as many questions as they can. Your tour guide is normally an intern here on the college program with a shocking amount of botany knowledge. I was very impressed with our guide and the frequent questions she was able to answer! Rule number two is that photography is not only allowed, it’s encouraged! I was excited about that one because I often get lectures on tours because they see my big camera coming. It was nice to be welcomed despite the fact that we were in backstage areas. The final rule is the most important: do not touch any plants. This one seemed obvious to me, but what I hadn’t thought of the reason they make this request. In the greenhouse they have exotic plants from all over the world that many people have never been exposed to, and likely will never be exposed to again. The Behind The Seeds Tour at Epcot is not a great time to find out you’re wildly allergic to some rare plant! So that no touching request is just as much to protect you as it is the plants.

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