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6 acts to see at the 2016 Eat to the Beat series

by on August 9, 2016 6 Comments

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

One of the great bonuses of visiting Epcot during the International Food & Wine Festival is the opportunity to see live music during the Eat to the Beat series. In the past, the concert series may have been dismissed for its reliance on one-song wonders or nostalgia acts well past their prime. But I think the people who book this festival have stepped up their game, and the 2016 lineup has some pretty amazing musicians, including many playing Epcot for the first time.

Here are my picks for the artists who would be well worth a special trip to see this fall. They’re not necessarily the most popular, but rather the most interesting for music fans.

Los Lobos, Sept. 29-30

Hands down, the finest group that will be playing the festival, and the one that probably best captures the international flavor of World Showcase. It surely will be magical to listen to these consummate musicians playing their mix of rock and blues interpreted through traditional Mexican music, as the pyramid of Epcot’s Mexico pavilion sits in the distance.

The great thing about Los Lobos is that in the four decades they’ve been together, with a lineup that has been mostly unchanged, they’ve become one of the most dynamic and interesting live bands touring today. In 2015, they were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If there’s any justice, they won’t have a long wait to be inducted.

After years of honing their craft at weddings and dances around their East Los Angeles home, they broke through with 1984’s “How Will The Wolf Survive?” Never a band to stand still, they followed their biggest hit, the title track to the soundtrack of “La Bamba,” with an album of traditional Mexican folk songs. In 1992, they released their experimental masterpiece, “Kiko.” Their music continues to evolve with their most recent record, “Gates of Gold,” one of my favorites of 2015. If you want a good flavor of what Los Lobos is about, here’s a performance of the “Gates of Gold” track “Poquito para aqui.” Read the rest of this entry »

New Restaurants Added to Tables in Wonderland Program

by on August 8, 2016 2 Comments

©Disney

©Disney

Do you have a Tables in Wonderland card? Then I bring good news! Four new dining establishments have been added to the special dining program. Those restaurants are:

  • Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom
  • Tiffins and the Nomad Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar at Disney Springs

So, what is the Tables in Wonderland program?  It is an exclusive for Disney Vacation Members, Florida Residents and Annual Passholders. Membership in Tables in Wonderland includes a 20 percent discount on all food and beverage at participating Walt Disney World table-service restaurants and lounges. Guests also receive complimentary valet parking for dining purposes.

Tables in Wonderland does come at an extra cost. It costs $175 for Florida Residents and $150 for Walt Disney World Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members. To purchase a membership, you should visit any Guest Relations kiosk located one of the four Theme Parks or at Disney Springs.

For more information about Tables in Wonderland, make sure to check out their website.

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Better DHS FastPass+ Choice: Toy Story Mania or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster?

by on August 8, 2016 7 Comments

Toy Story Mania wait times have dropped around 40% since its third ride track opened in late May – from around 83 minutes to around 51 minutes so far this summer. That drop means that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster has the longest average wait of any ride in the park, at around 68 minutes.

That leads to an interesting question: Is Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a better Tier 1 FastPass+ choice than Toy Story Mania?

The answer is “probably not.” But the difference  is so small that you’re unlikely to notice the difference. So assuming your family can ride them, either Toy Story or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a good choice for your Tier 1 FastPass+ at Hollywood Studios.

Read on for the details of how we got to this result. Read the rest of this entry »

Three Walt Disney World Discounts Announced for Fall and Holiday Season Today

by on August 8, 2016 6 Comments

Save on your next Walt Disney World vacation

Save on your next Disney vacation ©Disney

Thanks to Sue Pisaturo at Small World Vacations for the heads up on these new Disney discounts.

Today, Disney announced three new specials that are available for travel to Walt Disney World for those traveling this fall and the holiday season!  If you were planning to enjoy the great holiday events that Walt Disney World offers each year, such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom or Holidays Around the World at Epcot, these discounts may help you!

Room Only Discount

First, is the room only discount where Guests can save up to 20% on select Walt Disney World Resort hotels for most nights from November 6-10, November 13-22, and November 26-December 23, 2016 with the “Holiday Season Savings” offer. For example, when you book a 5 night stay at a select Disney Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resort hotel that has a 20% discount, it will be like getting one of the nights free! Read the rest of this entry »

Selecting an Epcot Resort

by on August 8, 2016 14 Comments

View of the Epcot Resort Area

View of the Epcot Resort Area

With the recent release of the 2016 Epcot Food and Wine Festival menus, I can’t help but think about my upcoming trip. The 60 day FastPass+ window is approaching quickly, and as an avid proponent of planning ahead, I’m ashamed to admit that I still haven’t fully decided on a hotel!

It’s one of the biggest dilemmas I face when planning any trip to Walt Disney World. It’s especially hard for me during the fall when visiting Epcot’s World Showcase is top priority thanks to the mouthwatering samplings at Food and Wine Festival. I’ve narrowed it down to the Epcot resort area to make walking to Epcot a breeze, but that still leaves me with five wonderful choices – Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, Dolphin, Swan, and Yacht Club.

Not one to take the resort decision lightly, I’ve carefully mapped out a comparison to help me (and hopefully some of you) pick the right Epcot resort for any Walt Disney World vacation.

Theming

All five resorts fall into the deluxe category at Disney, and with that designation comes elaborate theming. However, because Swan and Dolphin are the only two that are not owned by Disney, some may find them to be lacking that special Disney touch.

  • Beach Club – It’s a New England-style resort hotel that is painted blue with white trim and adorned with typical beach décor. Think seashells and sand dollars.
  • Boardwalk Inn – Modeled after a turn-of-the-century Atlantic coast boardwalk, the rooms actually sit behind a façade of neon lighted shops and restaurants along a wooden boardwalk.
  • Dolphin – Words escape me when it comes to the theming of both the Swan and Dolphin, and if you’ve ever seen it for yourself, you can probably understand. Disney describes it as “deluxe accommodations inspired by Florida itself, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel juxtaposes modern architectural silhouettes alongside Renaissance flourishes—most notably, the twin stylized dolphin statues gracing its rooftop.” Now, I’m not sure what they think a dolphin is, but based on their designs, I would say that a dolphin is some combination between a goldfish and carp.
  • Swan – Though very similar the Dolphin in theme and design, the Swan is outfitted with two Swans atop the building instead. At least these two actually resemble swans.

Read the rest of this entry »

Universal Crowd Calendar Report – July 24 to 30, 2016

by on August 8, 2016

Universal Crowd Calendar Report

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Resort Last Week?

Last week, Islands of Adventure continued to lag behind its sister park which pulled down the resort wide crowd level a few points lower than history would suggest for the last week of July. The Universal Crowd Calendar did a great job predicting the crowd level at Universal Studios missing by more than one level only once.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Touringplans.com Universal Crowd Calendar Report:

Read the rest of this entry »

Disneyland Crowd Calendar Report – July 24 to 30, 2016

by on August 8, 2016

Disneyland Crowd Calendar Report

How Crowded Was Disneyland Resort Last Week?

Other than slightly lower crowds than expected at Disney California Adventure on Sunday and Monday, crowds at Disneyland Resort were within one index level of what the Disneyland Crowd Calendar predicted each day last week. Monday and Tuesday were the busiest days of the week with crowds slightly lower as the week went on.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Touringplans.com Disneyland Crowd Calendar Report:

Read the rest of this entry »

Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar Report – July 24 to 30, 2016

by on August 7, 2016

Disney World Crowd Calendar

How Crowded Was Walt Disney World Last Week?

Sunday through Tuesday last week, crowds we observed were within one index level of what the Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar predicted while later in the week crowds drifted a little further away from what we expected. Crowds were at least a point busier last year during the equivalent week.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Touringplans.com Disney World Crowd Calendar Report:

Read the rest of this entry »

SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

by on August 6, 2016 9 Comments

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Currently, the Universal Orlando Resort has five on-site hotels. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Caribbean Beach), and Deluxe (The Poly). Universal also has three levels: Preferred (including Royal Pacific Resort), Premier (Portofino Bay Hotel), and Prime Value, which is where Cabana Bay Beach Resort resides.

CABANA_sperduto

Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Cabana Bay is Universal’s first attempt at a lower priced “value” resort, and  is also the first time they have gone after the increasingly popular Family Suite market (led by Disney’s incredible Art of Animation Resort). Unlike Disney’s lower tier hotels (such as the All Stars) Cabana Bay is loaded with amenities. In fact there are so many “extras” at Cabana Bay that many Universal fans consider it their favorite on-site hotel despite it not offering Unlimited Express Pass. Today we’re going to look at some of our favorite features of this fantastic resort. So sit back, put on the soundtrack to Mad Men as background music, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – Lazy River

Now, Cabana Bay has two huge pools, a giant slide, several jacuzzis, and a water play area, but what separates it from the pack is everyone’s favorite water feature: a lazy river. The E-Ticket of pools, a relaxing float along the lazy river – with its waterfalls and lush theming – can be just what the doctor ordered. Unlike many lazy rivers, Cabana Bay does not supply tubes to guests (they have no cleaning facility to disinfect them) but they do offer a wide assortment of tubes for pretty much the same price you would pay at WalMart or a pool store. Several of the tubes they offer are Cabana Bay branded and are relatively inexpensive souvenirs. One of the more popular tubes for kids is one that is themed to a car’s tire. There are also several water cannons around the river which kids love to play with.

CABANA_lazyriverlogo

Lazy river at Cabana Bay.

Cabana_lazyriver2

Lazy River at Cabana Bay.

cabana_lazy4

Water cannons at the Lazy River. There is actually very little water pressure in these, so guests who don’t want to get wet can easily avoid them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Night of Joy Schedule of Events for 2016

by on August 5, 2016 6 Comments

©Disney

©Disney

It is almost time for Night of Joy, the Christian music festival that occurs at Walt Disney World each September. This year, the popular event will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex for the first time ever on Friday, September 9 and Saturday, September 10.

Due to the new location, the event will be expanded for 2016. Guests will have more options than ever with two nights of music, ample seating at indoor and outdoor venues, amazing performances on multiple stages, including Champion Stadium, and opportunities for fellowship and fun.

This year’s Christian artist lineup features 18 great artists. The lineup for each evening is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »