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Universal Dining: Emeril’s New Cocktail Menu

by on June 29, 2015 1 Comment

A longtime favorite of TouringPlans readers, Emeril’s Orlando is the Florida outpost of Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans restaurant and has probably the best food and wine list within all of CityWalk, and considering the new competition including Vivo Italian Kitchen, Antojitos Authentic Mexican and The Cowfish, that is quite the accomplishment. The restaurant itself sits in prime real estate at Universal, overlooking the park’s lagoon as you make your way to Islands of Adventure. The food is Louisiana-style with Lagasse’s signature creative flair, with a menu that is routinely being updated with new dishes.

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Emeril’s in Universal CityWalk. (photo by Brandon Glover)

We were recently asked to try out Emeril’s new cocktail menu, and we felt we needed to bring along an expert in the field of theme park drinking to fully gauge the quality of this menu. A call was placed to the agents of Drunk@Disney, and after tough negotiations he agreed to join crack photographer Brandon Glover on this journey. The theme of the new menu  is simple: Classic New Orleans both pre-prohibition and modern. Emeril’s wanted to focus on providing an authentic new Orleans experience. Did they pull it off? Let’s check it out…

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Monk’s Revolt, The New G&T, Smoking Gun, and Passion Fruit Hurricane

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Update: 10 Things to Know About Disney’s Armed Forces Salute

by on June 29, 2015 10 Comments

If you didn’t hear the good news, Disney has extended the Armed Forces Salute to cover the rest of 2015! Yay, Disney! Again! I have covered the Armed Forces Salute in a previous blog post, and this is an update of that post with the latest changes. Let me once again begin this blog post with a heartfelt thank you from me to Disney on behalf of our military personnel and their families. I’ve been a military spouse for 26 years now (and a military brat before that), and I understand the personal sacrifices that are made each and every day by Service members and their families. It’s awesome that Disney recognizes it in some way as well.

Disney has sold slightly discounted (in the neighborhood of 5% off) tickets for the Armed Forces at military bases for many years. The last several years there has been a substantial additional discount on certain tickets for military, but with more restrictions (and much bigger savings). Once called the Armed Forces Salute, the last couple of years Disney hasn’t really made a point of calling it anything other than a military discount. To distinguish between the ever present slightly discounted tickets and the steeply discounted tickets I’ll refer to it as the Armed Forces Salute.

The Armed Forces Salute can be a bit confusing. To be fair, the military has lots of categories of military personnel (active duty, Reserve, National Guard, retired, separated, Allied military assigned to the US, etc…), so it’s no surprise there are lots of nuances to Disney’s Armed Forces Salute.

Fantasyland Wide 2 009 1. Eligibility – Eligibility has changed over the years and actually seems clearer now.  Any active duty or retired Service member, National Guardsman, Reservist, or Coast Guard is eligible. Foreign military assigned to US military bases (with a US ID card) in the United States are eligible, as are 100% disabled veterans with an ID card that says “DAV/PRIM” and Medal of Honor recipients. If the eligible member is not present, their spouse is eligible. That’s it, though. No matter how deserving some other groups are (and there are many deserving groups), Disney did not choose to include those groups within this specific promotion. But, even within these rules there are complicated situations, so call Disney (or ask in the comments section below) if you still have questions.

2. Promotion Dates – The current Armed Forces Salute was scheduled to end on October 3, 2015 but Disney has now extended this promotion to end in December of 2015. The room discount will end December 23, 2015 and the tickets must be used by December 20, 2015. The Disney World tickets must be purchased by December 17, 2015 and Disneyland tickets by December 18, 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

The Amazing Race Around World Showcase

by on June 29, 2015 4 Comments

Amazing Race Around World ShowcaseA few weeks ago I shared one my family’s favorite Walt Disney World vacation traditions — “The Amazing Race Around Disney World”. If you happened to miss the other article, I’ll catch you up. My family loves competition, Disney World, and reality TV; specifically the popular series “The Amazing Race“.

Each year during our summer Disney World vacation, we create our own version of the “Amazing Race” where we compete in challenges while racing around Walt Disney World. In the last article, I included a complete version of a race that my family had used in the past and mentioned that I was working on another one. We received an overwhelming response to the post and many requests that I share my newest race. So for all of you fellow Disney World and “Amazing Race” fans, please read on for my latest and greatest “Amazing Race Around World Showcase”!

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

by on June 27, 2015 13 Comments

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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In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of June 26, 2015

by on June 26, 2015

In Case You Missed It!

In Case You Missed It!

Summer is here, the heat is on, and I’m enjoying every second of it! But when visiting Disney, make sure you bring the sunscreen! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten burnt while visiting. That is my PSA of the day.

A majority of this week’s articles seem to have a common thread…Pixar. We have a look at actors you didn’t know were in both Disney and Pixar films, a look at what Phillis Smith was the perfect choice for Sadness and more!

In Case You Missed It – Disney and Universal Orlando News and Rumors

 

It appears that Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is going to get the waterside cabin treatment, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Hello rumor mill. What do you think? Is Disneyland prepping Innoventions for a Marvel/Star Wars focused attraction? Read the rest of this entry »

Selfie Sticks Now Banned Across Walt Disney World Property

by on June 26, 2015 22 Comments

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©Seth Kubersky

Due to safety concerns, selfie sticks (the extendable poles where you can attach a phone or a camera to the end) are now banned property-wide across the Walt Disney World Resort. This means you cannot use them at the theme parks, the water parks or DisneyQuest Interactive Theme Park. This new rule will go into effect on June 30.

Guests who attempt to bring selfie sticks into the park will be stopped at bag check and they will be escorted to Guest Relations where the device will be tagged and the Guest will be given a claim ticket to retrieve it upon exit. For those who get caught using a selfie stick in a park, a Cast Member will escort the guest to a regional Guest Relations area where the device will be tagged and a claim ticket will be given to the guest. Again, the Guest will be able to claim their selfie stick as they exit.

All guests must relinquish their selfie sticks, they cannot simply put them away if a Cast Member approaches them about it.

Recently, Disney banned selfie sticks on attractions, however, it seems that more drastic measures needed to be taken regarding these devices.

What are your thoughts on the ban? Do you think it’s a good idea or were you a fan of the selfie stick?

Registration Steps for a RunDisney Event

by on June 26, 2015 7 Comments

I did it! I registered for a runDisney event. Due to my love of all things Star Wars and my sudden renewed interest in running, I registered on June 14 (the day it opened) for the Rebel Challenge (10K and Half Marathon) at the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend at the Disneyland Resort.

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This is my first ever runDisney event, so my only knowledge of the registration process going in was that these things sell out. With that in mind, I am going to give you a little more information about registering for a runDisney event. Hopefully these pieces of information will ease your mind about the whole process and just get you excited to run!

Note: This information applies to the Disneyland Resort races. Walt Disney World race registration will be slightly different. 

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Backstage Tales Tour Review

by on June 25, 2015

Earlier this year, Disney discontinued two of their behind-the-scenes tours at the Animal Kingdom (Backstage Safari and Wild by Design) and replaced them with a new tour called Backstage Tales. The new tour a mashup of the two, weighted heavily with Backstage Safari experiences. If you’ve previously been on Backstage Safari, consider yourself covered.

Bird food

Bird food

A key difference between the old tours and the new is a change of the participation age limit. Backstage Safari (which, not surprisingly, took place backstage) had an age requirement of 16. Wild By Design (which was an on-stage experience) had an age 14 requirement. The new Backstage Tales allows guests as young as 12 years old to participate. I took the tour with my 15 year old twin daughters.

Disney used standard-sounding boilerplate language when they described why the tour was changed — something along the lines of “due to guest feedback and demand.” While I’m sometimes suspicious of the real motivation behind comments like that, I can assure you that when answering questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, we did indeed get many questions from guests requesting behind-the-scenes educational experiences for their younger children. The reduced age requirement is terrific news for budding veterinarians and zoologists who want an early look at the inner workings of animal care at the park.

The tour consists of seven parts:

  • Introductions and Getting to Know You
  • Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)
  • Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats
  • Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist
  • Visit to the animal nutrition center
  • Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room
  • Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

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Introductions and Getting to Know You

This tour starts early, 7:30am. While younger teens will enjoy getting to see the backstage areas, they will almost certainly NOT like the early hour. Theoretically, you should be able to get an “early character meal” bus from your resort to the Animal Kingdom, but I wouldn’t risk it. If you’re going to take this tour, plan to get to the park with your own car or via a taxi or Uber. Also note that the food cart outside the park gates may not be open when you arrive. You should grab breakfast at your hotel prior to leaving for the tour.

Guest check-in takes place just outside the park gates, toward the left as you face the park. There’s a bit of housekeeping when you arrive. Adults must sign waivers for themselves and any children in their care. Also, IDs are checked for adults. All guests are issued name tags and audio headsets that make it easier to hear the guide’s narration.

Your guide will introduce him or her self, giving a brief synopsis of where they’re from and their history with Disney. They will then ask the guests to introduce themselves, giving their name where they’re from, and some other bit of information. On various tours, I’ve been asked to tell my favorite Disney character, my favorite ride, my favorite animal, or what I’m looking forward to about the tour.

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Once the business is out of the way, guests pass the park gate touchpoints using their admission media. (I was going to say swipe their tickets at the turnstile, but that’s so 2013.)

Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)

The first stop on the tour is at the Pangani Forest Trail aviary. Along the way, the guide will share stories about the history of the Animal Kingdom park. Some of these are the same as what I encountered when I took the Wild By Design tour in 2014. Photography is allowed on the AK park paths and in the aviary, which is a public space.

At the aviary, we were greeted by a bird care specialist. He discussed the nesting and feeding habits of many of the species housed at the Animal Kingdom. A highlight for several guests was an opportunity to feed the birds by tossing mealworms to them. Guests who chose to do this were offered gloves, if they wanted to use them. The mealworms made our group extremely popular with the birds, making this a terrific opportunity to get photos. The feeding also made it easier to see that all the birds at the aviary are banded with identification tags. We learned from the keepers that every bird is located and counted every day.

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Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats

After the aviary, we slipped behind the scenes and boarded a van to take us to the rhino and elephant barns. Before getting in the van, we were asked to put away our cameras. Most folks just slipped them into their bag or pocket. I was wearing a large DSLR and just put the lens cap on, which seemed to satisfy the guide that I wasn’t covertly snapping pictures.

At the rhino and elephant barns, we were met by a large mammal specialist who described some of the training the animals receive to facilitate their medical care. We were also welcome to ask as many questions as we wanted about life on the “savannah,” work at the Animal Kingdom, animal breeding, or anything else we could think of. The barns are spartan and much more zoo-like than the wooded areas that guests see inside the park. Backstage it’s mostly iron and concrete. The animals are given some “toys” and distractions, but the barns are primarily a business area. While at the barns, we did see elephants backstage getting cared for, but all the rhinos were out for viewing in public areas. This will vary daily depending on the needs of the animals and the facility.

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Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room

When you visit the public areas of Conservation Station (the building in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at the end of the Wildlife Express train ride), you may see animal care specialists performing procedures on creatures from behind a glass wall. On the Backstage Tales tour, you get to go into one of those rooms and see the medical equipment up close. We learned about the different types of tools used to examine different size species and got an overview of the areas of expertise of the cast members that work at the Animal Kingdom.

During our visit, we happened to see part of an examination of a sedated fennec fox. This is one of my daughter’s favorite animals, so she was in awe. You may or may not see a live animal procedure during your tour, depending on the needs of the facility.

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Visit to the animal nutrition center

After another brief van ride, we stopped at the stop animal nutrition center. This is almost like the kitchen for a large restaurant. There are delivery bays for fruits and vegetables — from the exact same vendors that provide human food for the parks. The produce must meet the same exacting specifications as the food for the guests. We also got to see storage areas for hay and specially prepared pellet-style nutritional supplements for some specials. Additionally, there were freezers for the meat fed to carnivores.

The main room of the nutrition center features several work stations where staff have “recipe books” with precise measurements of food to be delivered to each animal each day. These were “plated” into individual storage containers for transportation to the feeding stations throughout the park.

A particularly interesting area was a shelf full of enhancement items to make the food more interesting for the animals. This included things like jam, peanut butter, and ground spices, which are periodically added to some animal foods to keep them interesting.

Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist

Near the nutrition center, we visited a classroom area in the backstage education building. We were given an opportunity to use the restroom. Then we were provided with snacks (rice krispie treats) and given souvenir metal Animal Kingdom water bottles, which we could fill from a bottled water cooler.

While we snacked, we were visited by a conservation specialist. Our specialist spoke primarily about Disney’s efforts to support the wild sea turtles near the Disney Vacation Club resort in Vero Beach, Florida. We learned about turtle reproduction and migration patterns. This talk didn’t have much to do with the Animal Kingdom park itself, but it was a good opportunity to learn about Disney’s dedication to conservation issues, and to get out of the heat for a few minutes.

Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

Our final stop was the backstage habitat of the Animal Kingdom’s komodo dragons. We watched a dragon trained to be step onto a scale to be weighed. When the dragon performed the desired behavior, he was rewarded with a “fuzzy,” a frozen baby mouse. The behaviors of the dragons, and all the animals, is completely voluntary. They are rewarded for compliant behavior, but they are never punished for non-compliance.

At the dragon habitat, as at every stop, we were allowed to ask as many questions as we wanted about animal care and behavior, Animal Kingdom operations, or staff training. The Backstage Tales tour is particularly nice because it’s one of the few behind-the-scenes opportunities for guests under the age of 16. If you have a child interested in a possible career in animal care, this is a unique chance to see what their future might be like. In my opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of time and personal attention you get from the professional staff.

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The Details

  • The price is $90.00 per person, plus tax. All ages pay the same price. Disney Vacation Club, Annual Pass Holder, or Disney Visa Holder discounts may be available. Inquire at time of booking.
  • Theme park admission is required and not included in the price of the tour.
  • There is a 48 hour cancellation policy. You will be charged the full price of the tour if you no-show or cancel less than 48 hours before your tour.
  • The tour takes place from 7:30am to about 11:15am daily. The tour may not be conducted during holidays and during special events.
  • The tour takes place substantially outdoors, rain or shine. Come prepared for the weather.
  • Open to guests ages 12 and up. Guests ages 16 and up will need to provide photo ID. Children under age 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
  • Reservations must be made in advance, over the phone. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
  • Photography is not allowed during backstage portions of the tour. You make take photos during the on-stage portions of the tour.
  • Meet outside the gates to the park 15 minutes prior to start time.
  • Guests are given audio headsets to better hear the guide while walking through the park.

Have you been on the Backstage Tales tour? Is this something you’re considering for you or your kids? Are there any questions you have? Let us know in the comments below.

Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever June 25, 2015: Rainy Day at Animal Kingdom

by on June 25, 2015 13 Comments

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Rain or shine, it’s another Best Week Ever at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (photos by Seth Kubersky)

The humidity percentage and heat index have both been hovering around one hundred in Orlando, so where better to spend an “Africa hot” Best Week Ever than in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Kidding aside, Animal Kingdom holds a special place in my heart, since it’s the first Disney park I ever got to attend before its official opening date, and it remains to this day the most beautifully landscaped of Mickey’s American parks.

Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom is probably also my least-often-visited WDW park, partly because there are only three rides there that I consider must-dos. While I love the Broadway-style shows at DAK, and the animal walkthroughs are truly world-class, it’s inevitable that thrill attractions are what I first focus on when picking a park to attend, and that’s one area in which Animal Kingdom lacks — at least until Avatar-land comes online in 2017.

Happily, there are a number of improvements coming to Animal Kingdom before then, so I headed out on an overcast Friday afternoon to explore the newest one.

My day started out on an awkward foot, as only one tram was servicing the parking lot when I arrived. By the time it finally arrived and transported me to the entry plaza, I practically had to sprint past the front ticket booths…

 

…Through the touchpoints…

 

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FAQ Dining with Kids on Disney Cruise Line

by on June 24, 2015 9 Comments

A common refrain on Disney cruises is, “If you see it, eat it.” It’s no secret that, for many guests, a key attraction of cruising is the food. This holds true for kids as well as adults. Just the thought of the unlimited ice cream available on the pool deck is enough to send some kids begging you to book another voyage. Here’s everything you need to know about dining with kids on Disney Cruise Line.

All the Mickey waffles you can eat on the Disney Fantasy

All the Mickey waffles you can eat on the Disney Fantasy

THE BASICS

What type of restaurants are on board the Disney ships?

Much like the Disney theme parks, there are five main classifications of dining venue on board the Disney ships.

  • Counter Service. This is the equivalent of the quick service venues in the parks. You walk up to a counter, ask for your food, a cast member hands it to you, and you take it yourself to a table. The counter service restaurants are primarily located in a cluster on the main pool deck of each ship. Typical offerings include pizza, small sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fresh fruit, chicken fingers, etc. You’ll also find fountain soda dispensers and soft serve ice cream dispensers nearby. All these items are included in the cost of your cruise. There are additional counter service windows located near the theaters on each ship. These counters offer packaged snacks like M&Ms, fresh popcorn, and canned sodas. These items are not included in the price of your cruise.
  • Rotational Dining. This is the equivalent of the standard table service restaurants in the parks. You are seated at a table and presented with a menu, a server takes your order, brings your food, and clears it when you’re done. With the exception of a few specialty beverages, the cost of these meals is included in the price of your cruise. There are three rotational dining venues on each ship. These are also known as the main dining rooms (MDRs).You will “rotate” through the three main dining rooms on different nights of your sailing. The longer your voyage, the more times you’ll experience each restaurant. But don’t worry about getting bored, the menus change nightly.
  • Buffet. While the buffet-style restaurants in the Disney theme parks hew closely to the table service model, the buffets on the ships are more like a cross between a food court and a school cafeteria during the breakfast and lunch hours. The buffet location will operate as a table service location for dinner service. With the exception of a few specialty beverages, the cost of these meals is included in the price of your cruise.
  • Cafe and Lounge. This is the equivalent of a Disney World hotel bar, or the in-park Starbucks (though they don’t serve Starbucks coffee). Each ship has several cafes, offering specialty coffees and teas, and lounges offering primarily adult beverages and soft drinks. None of the beverages here are included with your cruise, but there are snack-size food items at these venues which generally are included.
  • Adult Dining. This is the equivalent of the fancy signature dining restaurants at Walt Disney World. On the Disney Cruise Line ships, these restaurants are restricted to guests ages 18 and up. The adult dining venues are Palo on all four ships, plus Remy on the Dream and Fantasy.

Additionally, you’ll find that room service (in-room dining) is available for all staterooms on the Disney ships.

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