Your subscriptions support new blog articles and research. Please consider



Celebration of Harry Potter 2017

by on August 19, 2016 2 Comments

Universal Orlando's A Celebration of Harry Potter returns for 2017. Image ©Universal

Universal Orlando’s A Celebration of Harry Potter returns for 2017. Image ©Universal

Hello, Muggles! Universal Orlando has announced its dates and vacation package prices for a Celebration of Harry Potter 2017. This very popular event happens January 27-29, 2017, at Universal Orlando resort. Folks who purchase a vacation package will have access to ticketed events other attendees will not.

There are many ways to experience this event from buying the whole vacation package, to including it in your already scheduled Universal vacation, to experiencing it as a day guest. For the most part, the Harry Potter activities are concentrated in Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

Here is some of our previous coverage of a Celebration of Harry Potter: Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri Working on Menu for Planet Hollywood Observatory

by on August 19, 2016 7 Comments



We’re starting to get some information about the updates planned for Planet Hollywood Observatory at Disney Springs. The restaurant, which was supposed to open this summer has now been pushed back to a Fall reopening and today, they announced that celebrity chef Guy Fieri is developing some of the menu items. This mostly includes several flavorful burgers and sandwiches.

Sandwiches will include the Prime Time American Kobe-Inspired Burger, Turkey Pic-a-nic Sandwich, and a lobster roll. The menu will also feature some of Planet Hollywood’s classic favorites such as the return of a few favorites including Chicken Crunch. (Which are chicken fingers with a Cap’n Crunch cereal coating.) The rest of the menu will range from from salads to steaks and ribs. Read the rest of this entry »

The 5 W’s of Pre-Park-Open Dining at Disney World

by on August 19, 2016 17 Comments

Did you know that it’s possible to enter the parks at Walt Disney World before they officially open for the day? A valid park ticket and dining reservation for one of seven restaurants is all you need to get into the park before regular guests. Read on to learn about the who, what, where, when, and why of these reservations.


Regardless of whether you’re staying on or off site, guests with valid theme park admission are eligible to enter the park early if they have an Advanced Dining Reservation scheduled for before the park’s official opening time. Since these are some of the hardest reservations to score, guests staying at a Disney resort have an advantage due to the extended 180 day + length of stay window for dining reservations for on-site guests. Our dining Reservation Finder can also help you snag those hard to get reservations.

Walking through World Showcase before Epcot's official open

A perk of early reservations – walking through a nearly empty Epcot

Read the rest of this entry »

Julia’s Best Week Ever, August 18, 2016: Kidani Staycation

by on August 18, 2016 3 Comments

When we lived in Maryland, my husband and I bought ownership in DVC as a wedding present to ourselves. Now that we live right around the corner from Walt Disney World, people have asked if we are thinking of selling. Originally, we went with enough points for us to do a two-bedroom unit for one week out of the year (more or less). We’ve added on since then, but our needs have changed. Gone are week-long stays at Walt Disney World. Instead, we do DVC stays for a single night here and there, allowing us to use resort amenities on our check in and check out day. It provides a nice change of pace, especially with company in town. With my mother-in-law in town for the week, we booked a one-night stay at Animal Kingdom Villas: Kidani Village, just as a way to take it easy somewhere other than home.

My husband had checked us in on his way to work, and had an option of taking a room right away that was at the far end of Kidani or wait for a room that was right off the lobby. As the rest of us hadn’t planned on arriving until mid-afternoon, we decided to wait. At 2:00 PM, we arrived, and since our room wasn’t ready, we headed for Kidani’s Community Hall.

2016-08-10 14.25.17

Even if you’re not a DVC member, you can still make use of some of the facilities in the Community Hall. At Kidani, there is a pool table, board games, video games, and more. There’s also a selection of arts and crafts that you can do for a small fee. Read the rest of this entry »

Disney is Celebrating Disney PhotoPass Day on August 19

by on August 17, 2016 5 Comments



If you’ll be in Walt Disney World this Friday, August 19, you’ll be able to take part in an event promoting Disney PhotoPass. Disney PhotoPass Day will promote making memories. (Making memories. Taking pictures is making memories.)

Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland will be taking part in this event which will feature exciting offerings and experiences for Guests to enjoy.

At both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, you’ll be able to take part in special character meet and greet experiences. Meet Pinocchio, Gideon, and Foulfellow in Storybook Circus in New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. At Epcot, you’ll find the Queen of Hearts who will join Alice in the United Kingdom Pavilion, Dopey will join Snow White in the Germany Pavilion, and Mushu will meet with Mulan at the China Pavilion.

In addition, at one select location throughout each of the four theme parks and at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort, Guests will be able to receive a complimentary photo that will be available to download at no charge as part of the #DisneyPhotoPassDay celebration. Guests will find these photos in their My Disney Experience app at the Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland app at the Disneyland Resort. Participating locations include:

Read the rest of this entry »

What you need to know about security procedures at Orlando’s theme parks

by on August 17, 2016 22 Comments

Orlando’s theme parks have enjoyed a decades long reputation for providing a clean and safe environment for all guests. Over the years the theme parks’ security procedures have evolved, adding layers and new processes. In the past few months we’ve seen a significant change to all the major theme parks’ procedures. In hopes of helping you prepare for your visit, I’ve laid out some of the security measures you can expect to encounter.

Keep in mind, there are multiple layers of security at all the parks. There are efforts that go unseen and procedures we don’t know about. Additionally, out of respect for the theme parks, their staff members, and their security, I won’t go beyond what is already shared with the public and easily seen when visiting the parks.


Walt Disney World – Four Main Theme Parks

The Most Magical Place on Earth can’t hold such a title without having some solid security procedures in place. At the beginning of the year it was standard that all of Orlando’s theme parks conduct a bag check on any guest who had any bag of any kind, including strollers. Then a few months ago all three of Orlando’s major theme park destinations installed metal detectors at the security checkpoint. The rollout process and ramp up period varied for each destination.

Walt Disney World has proceeded with using their metal detectors for random checks. Although every single guest will go through a more-thorough-than-ever bag screening process, not every guest is asked to go through a metal detector. After the bag screening guests are selected at random to go through the detectors.


The metal detectors are off to the side and are manned by a group of Security Cast Members. I have been selected multiple times. Each time the Cast Members have been very courteous and it has only added a minute or two to my ability to get to the park entrance. You may also notice law enforcement personnel at a few posts throughout the front entrance area, as well.


Disney’s official park rules can be found here. Some of the highlights include statements that all persons, bags, parcels, and clothing are subject to screening, as well as stating that they reserve the right to not allow any item they deem inappropriate into the premises.

Guest that do not have bags have a separate area they can go through to bypass the bag screening area, but they are still subject to random metal detector screenings.

Of all the theme parks, you will most likely find that Walt Disney World’s screen process takes the least amount of time. Still if you arrive to the parks right around their opening time, be prepared for an extensive line at the checkpoints. It’s one of the reasons that we recommend arriving 30-60 minutes before any park’s opening time.

Disney Water Parks and Disney Springs

Currently, there are no metal detectors at Disney’s two water parks nor Disney Springs. At the water parks there is a bag screening, though not very extensive. There is no screening at Disney Springs, though there is a strong security and law enforcement presence.

Universal Orlando

Here you will find the most extensive screening process–and perhaps the most talked about process. Every guest will go through metal detector and all bags go through an x-ray machine. When you first approach the security checkpoint it really does resemble being at the airport. This security checkpoint is for all guests regardless of if you are visiting the theme parks or just CityWalk.

I have a slight concern with the location of this checkpoint, though it is difficult to think of an alternative location. During peak time, especially first thing in the morning, this domed area is extremely crowded. It can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience and when that feels like a bad bottle neck situation.



Universal Team Members who park in the main parking structure must also go through the same screening area, though they have a dedicated separate lane. A few friends of mine that go through this process on a daily basis have expressed concerns with some of the interactions they’ve encountered with Security personnel, as well as encounters they’ve observed with guests.  I have had mostly good experiences, though there have been some rare occasion to the contrary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comparing the Adventures by Disney River Cruise to Other Adventures by Disney Travel

by on August 17, 2016 2 Comments

I’ve made scores of visits to Walt Disney World, am a platinum level guest on Disney Cruise Line (DCL), and have visited Aulani, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland, but if I had to choose my favorite Disney vacation experiences, I’d choose those related to Adventures by Disney (AbD).

I recently returned from Adventures by Disney’s newest offering, a seven-night trip on the Danube River on the AmaWaterways AmaViola river cruise ship. Last week I discussed the differences between the AbD river cruise and sailing on Disney Cruise Line. I’m now covering the differences and similarities between the Adventures by Disney river cruise product and a traditional AbD vacation. As point of reference, I have previously been on the AbD Costa Rica, Germany, Peru, China, and Wyoming standard trips, as well as the AbD add-ons to DCL cruises in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, and the Barcelona 3-day pre-cruise escape, making the recent river cruise my 9th AbD vacation.

The AbD group is four times as large on the river cruise as it is on a standard AbD trip.

The AbD group is four times as large on the river cruise as it is on a standard AbD trip.

Do AbD river cruises have the same number of guests as a regular AbD trip?

No. Other AbD trips have their advertised maximum number of guests at 40. In practice, my traditional AbD trips have ranged from 28 to 42 guests. The maximum number of guests on the AbD river cruise is 158, with a likely real load of 130-140, as not every stateroom will be filled to maximum capacity.

So what do they do about guides?

There are two guides on a traditional AbD trip, giving you a guide to guest ratio of about 1 to 20 or better. There are eight guides on the AdB river cruises, giving you the same guide to guest ratio of about 1 to 20 or better.

When there are AbD trips on the Disney Cruise Line ships, the AbD guests are just a small portion of the ship’s guests. How does this work on the river cruise?

The Adventures by Disney DCL add-ons typically happen on the Disney Magic. The 40 or so AbD guests are a tiny portion of the 2,700 Magic passengers. When AbD runs river cruises, they charter the entire ship. All the guests on board will be participating in the AbD program. Read the rest of this entry »

Best Outdated Attractions for Beating the Heat at Disney World

by on August 16, 2016 12 Comments

When it comes time to make your touring plan, there is no doubt you will include well known attractions like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, or the NEW Frozen Ever After. But not every attraction is a headliner. For every Mountain, there is a Mad Tea Party or Voyage of the Little Mermaid. And we need them. Why? Because the steamy heat of central Florida can cause more than one kind of meltdown during your magical vacation. When that happens, you need a place of retreat. Somewhere without a 75 minute outdoor queue. A chance to sit, relax, and cool off. What you need are these 3 outdated attractions. We are here to celebrate 90s fashions, movies your children don’t care about, and some “interesting” thoughts on energy and climate change.

Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Let me be clear by stating that Ellen’s Energy Adventure rates just above Stitch’s Great Escape for my least favorite spot in Walt Disney World. However, when it’s 96 degrees outside with 96% humidity, the dated 1996 film inside this attraction gets a lot more appealing. With little to no wait, and the longest ride time in Walt Disney World, this attraction is worth considering.


Photo – Ben Crain

Inside the Universe of Energy, you can enjoy a 45 minute air conditioned respite from the summer heat. The attraction begins with Ellen DeGeneres appearing across several giant screens in the pre-show theater. There are only a few benches located at the back of this area. Be prepared to stand during the short 5-minute introduction to the ride.

Next, the audience is loaded up into 6 large ride vehicles, each holding up to 97 passengers. Due to the attraction’s age and lack of popularity, chances are good your ride vehicle will not be full. That means your party can usually choose a row and spread out. Now we come to the reason you will want to put up with a 20 year old script from Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy: you can sleep right through it! Kids, or shameless adults can stretch out in the long rows and take a nice nap. The vehicles crawl along the track through the primarily dark space of the attraction’s interior. If you can tune out the sound of dinosaurs and the beep, beep, beep of Jeopardy, you can sleep for the next 35 minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

Blaze Pizza: A Fast Favorite at Disney Springs

by on August 16, 2016 4 Comments

As I mentioned last week, Disney Springs has had so many new restaurants open in the past few months. Just last Friday, one of the final pieces of the dining puzzle opened its doors to welcome pizza lovers from near and far. Blaze Pizza, located in the Town Center area just across the springs from Homecoming Kitchen, is a fast casual chain that promises fast-fired pizzas and salads in just 3 minutes. The easiest way to think of Blaze is to look at it as Chipotle for pizza: pretty much everything is customizable, from the crust, to the sauce, toppings, and pizza finishes.

After my first glance at the menu board outside the restaurant, I was excited to try Blaze just based on the price – a plain cheese pizza, 11” personal size (as all pizzas are served here), is just $7.25; add one topping out of a huge selection, and the price is $8.45. For any and all toppings you want, or one of the specialty pizzas, the price is still less than $10, at $9.65! You can even have your pizza made half-and-half, if you’re indecisive or looking to split a pie with a friend, at no additional cost.

I visited Blaze not long after it opened a few days ago for an early lunch, so there wasn’t yet a long wait that particular day (though a queue was set up outside for later use during rushes). Once I was greeted inside, I was introduced to the huge variety of topping options and the four “simple salads” available. I decided to leave my first pie at Blaze Pizza up to the experts, so I ordered half-White Top (white cream sauce base, mozzarella, bacon, garlic, oregano, and arugula) and half-Art Lover (artichoke, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and dollops of red sauce on top). I also chose to add pepperoni on the Art Lover half, just to see what the portion size was like there, too.

I’m glad I took a chance adding a topping here, because my expert pizza makers made it clear that some who’ve passed through the doors of Blaze had already made a fatal pizza flaw: too many toppings. They really do know their stuff – too many toppings leads to soggy pizza, one that’s harder for them to cook and for you to eat.

Simple is better here, and while you don’t get a ton of each topping on your pizza, everything I tasted on my pie was fresh and flavorful to the point that I didn’t really miss the extra few bites. I chose the standard crust, which is thin, almost like a flatbread. The high-rise crust was explained to me as being a bit more like what most would think of as “normal pizza crust”, but at $2 more, I felt like the standard crust was just fine. Read the rest of this entry »

StormStruck and Sum of All Thrills Leaving Innoventions

by on August 15, 2016 18 Comments



Big changes have been happening at Epcot’s Innoventions lately with many attractions closing. Now, two more attractions are closing in Innoventions East – The Sum of All Thrills and StormStruck. The two attractions will be closed as of September 14 due to their sponsorship agreements ending.

The Sum of All Thrills which was sponsored by Raytheon was a simulator that allowed guests to utilize math skills to create a thrill ride. Guests would then be able to put their creation to the test courtesy of a Kuka arm.

Storm Struck, which was presented by FLASH, educates Guests on how to prevent storm damage around the home.

With these two closures, this means that the only attraction remaining open in Innoventions East will be the relatively new Colortopia by Glidden, which opened in November of last year.

Disney has said that plans for Innoventions are going to be shared at a later date.