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On the Pulse Tragedy and How You Can Help

by on June 13, 2016 18 Comments

Hi everyone. I know this is a break from our usual policy of sticking to theme parks and other travel destinations. However, the tragedy that occurred in Orlando over the weekend hit us all very hard–we have employees, researchers, and many friends that live in the Orlando area. Beyond that, I feel that it is all our duty as Americans, as people, to do whatever we can in the face of these acts of hatred.

Our community of readers, fans, and subscribers has always been friendly, inclusive, and helpful. This is the time for that to continue and strengthen. Both of our current authors of Best Week Ever–Julia and Dani–are Orlando locals and both contributed to this post.

After this, we will mostly be returning to our regularly scheduled theme park and travel items. We have always treated travel as an adventure and escape, and continuing to discuss it is one way we can help, however slight that help may be. Be excellent to each other.

– Brian McNichols, Blog Manager 

 

For my Best Week Ever article that would have run later this week, I spent the past couple days enjoying the amenities of a Grand Villa at Saratoga Springs, exploring Disney Springs, and living the laid back Florida life that so many of us know and love. With my in-laws on the way to the airport, I opened my laptop to start writing up that Best Week Ever, only to be stopped short by the headlines, tweets, Facebook notifications, and more all jumping to the forefront on my Sunday morning computer screen.

By this time, there will be so much said about the dozens upon dozens of vibrant lives cut short or altered forever due to the act of a hateful murderer at the Pulse, and yet no amount of words can ever truly be enough to ease the pain of those who are grieving and hurting. We say (and we do so with deep conviction) that our thoughts and prayers are with those families because we wish we could make it better, and because we don’t know what else to say, knowing we can’t make it right.

Some of the lives lost were tourists, seeking to enjoy a night of fun in The City Beautiful. Some were our friends, family, loved ones, co-workers, and more, relaxing from another week of Florida life. Every single one has loved ones. Every single one has a story. It is my hope that those stories can be shared as a celebration of life far more powerful than the tragedy of their deaths.

For those who will not live to see another sunrise, their best week ever is one in the past, shared and talked about and remembered by those who love them.

For the rest of us, once we have been able to grieve in our own way and in our own time, we honor the memory of those lost by bringing joy and magic back to the World and our world.

This week was not the best week ever for many people in the Orlando area, because it is impossible to say “mass shooting” and “best week” in the same breath. And yet, even in the midst of the tragedy, we saw people in all walks of life coming together to show that Orlando has some of the best people ever. First responders, medical professionals, and regular citizens on the street providing immediate care for those in need. A reporter holding a mother desperate to find news about her child. Social media filled with phone/Twitter/Facebook trees and prayer trees to help people find out about their loved ones. Lines at blood banks that stretched hundreds deep—so many that most were filled to capacity and had to turn away donors for that day. People who came out to those blood drives to provide sunscreen and water and other supplies for those waiting in line. Local businesses rallying support for everyone from the affected families to the first responders and beyond.

Cast Members are often reminded that they make the magic for the guests. In this town, where the Cast Member spirit extends far beyond those who work at Walt Disney World or in the tourism industry, we know that we all have an interest in making the magic for each other.

The Best Week Ever series will return next week, as we continue to find ways to make and share magic with readers far and wide. In the meantime, wherever you are, take some time to make magic for each other.

For more information about how to provide tangible help to those affected by the Pulse nightclub shooting tragedy, here are some resources.

For locations to donate blood in the Orlando area, visit www.oneblood.org or www.redcrossblood.org

Financial donations for the victims and their families can be made to the GoFundMe accounts created by Equality Florida at www.gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund or The Center at www.gofundme.com/29bubytq

 Counseling resources are available by dialing 211 or through the Orlando LGBT community center at 407-228-1446

And to report suspicious activity, call Florida’s See Something/Say Something hotline at 855-FLA-SAFE (855-352-7233)

 

SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel

by on June 11, 2016 12 Comments

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Portofino Bay HotelCurrently, the Universal Orlando Resort has four on-site hotels, with a fifth (Sapphire Falls) opening later this summer. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Port Orleans Riverside), and Deluxe (Contemporary). Universal also has three levels: Preferred (including Royal Pacific Resort), Prime Value (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), and Premier, which is where the Portofino Bay Hotel resides.

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Portofino Bay Punch – Bacardi superior, Bacardi ‘O’, banana liqueur, blackberry brandy, orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and a splash of Bacardi 151.

First, a little backstory. Steven Spielberg can be considered one of the main “architects” of the entire Universal Orlando Resort. Universal Studios Florida, the park which started it all, was built on the back of films that Spielberg either directed (Jaws, E.T.) or was a producer on (Back to the Future, An American TaleTwister, Transformers). While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the current draw to Islands of Adventure, it’s Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that sits directly in the middle, and the iconic Jurassic Park visitor center is the first thing you see in the park when coming out of the Port of Entry. It’s only natural that when Universal was putting together Islands of Adventure back in the 1990s that they would pick Spielberg’s brain about ideas for the new onsite hotel they would also be developing.

Spielberg’s suggestion was for the new hotel to be inspired by the classic feel of Portofino, Italy. Loews took that idea and ran with it, faithfully recreating a classic Mediterranean fishing village by the lagoon, as well as representing the luxury of many high end Italian hotels on the inside of the resort. Portofino Bay and its 750 rooms can be considered the flagship resort of Loews at Universal. Today we are going to look at several of the reasons we absolutely love Portofino, including what may be the best themed room in all of Orlando. So sit back, put on The Three Tenors as background music, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – The Pools

A little while back we took a trip to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and fell in love with their Fuentes del Morro Pool. The Beach Pool at Portofino blows away the one at Caribbean Beach and joins the elite of Orlando pools including  Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club, and the Nanea Volcano Pool at the Poly. There are a lot of activities surrounding the main pool, including a children’s water play area (complete with pirate ship), pool tables, ping pong, a giant checker board, a fantastic pool bar (with tons of seating and a great menu), two hot tubs, a sandy beach and more, The pool itself is an impressive fort-like structure you can walk around in, a grotto you can swim through, and a great slide. 

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The Beach Pool at Portofino Bay.

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The grotto.

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Lounge chairs are everywhere.

There are two other pools at Portofino, including the impressive Villa Pool. Located near the Beach Pool, this area includes even more lounge chairs, 16 cabanas, a hot tub and a plunge pool. Just a gorgeous area with maybe the best pool bathroom area in the entire state of Florida. The third pool is a true quiet pool and located on the other side of the resort.

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The Villa Pool, straight out of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous magazine.

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Hot tub and plunge pool

Read the rest of this entry »

The Plaza Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom to Offer More Walk-Up Availability

by on June 10, 2016 8 Comments

©Disney

©Disney

Guests will soon be able to have an easier time getting a walk-up at The Plaza Restaurant located on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom.

Starting on July 17, Advance Dining Reservations will only be offered for one hour, from 11:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. For those wishing to dine at any other time throughout the day, they will need to visit the restaurant’s podium to inquire if there is any availability for walk-ups. This will allow for more Guests without reservations to have more opportunities to enjoy dining at a table service location on the fly.

For those who have already pre-booked their reservations, those will continue to be honored, however new reservations not within that one hour window will not be able to be made.

The Plaza Restaurant is a casual table service dining establishment that specializes in sandwiches, soups, salads, and ice cream treats.

This news comes on the heels that Jungle Skipper Canteen, which previously was offering walk-ups and day of reservations only, has now been added to the regular 180- day Advance Dining Reservations system.

 

In Case You Missed It: Disney News and Rumors – Week of June 10, 2016

by on June 10, 2016 4 Comments

ICYMIDid you pick up your copy of Zootopia yet? I can’t wait to see it again from the comfort of my couch!

This week, catch a glimpse of Shanghai Disneyland, learn things you didn’t know about some of your favorite Disney movies, we learn about the #ChanceofReign and the #ReignofChance, and more.

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

 

Is Disneyland looking to build a new luxury resort? Looks like it. What are your thoughts?

Is a new droid being tested for Star Wars land at Disneyland? Seems like it could be!

Typhoon Lagoon appears to be getting a new family attraction. This is exciting, as it’s been a while since either theme park has seen any love. Read the rest of this entry »

New Entertainment Group for Canada Pavilion at Epcot

by on June 10, 2016 3 Comments

©Disney

©Disney

We’ve been seeing a revolving door of new entertainment acts in the Canada Pavilion lately and now we have a brand new one that’s taking the Mill Stage.

Les Parfaits Inconnus will combine music, circus art and comedy to create an unforgettable show. The group who hails from Québec, consist of talented artists and athletes. Les Parfaits Inconnus will demonstrate a mastery of several circus disciplines as well as proficiency with musical instruments. These off-the-wall characters will showcase a stunning performance that will take place multiple times a day.

As part of this entertainment change, the former band Alberta Bound gave their final performance recently.

No word on how long Les Parfaits Inconnus will be performing at Epcot, but one would assume that this group will also be on stage for a limited engagement, as that seems to be customary as of late with World Showcase performers. (Particularly those who perform in the Canada Pavilion.)

Disney Hacks #4: Magic Kingdom Shortcuts

by on June 10, 2016 7 Comments

disney-hacksDid you know that when you first walk into the Magic Kingdom, you’re actually closer to parts of the Jungle Cruise than you are to Casey’s Corner at the end of Main Street U.S.A.? Seems crazy, because from that point in the park, it would take you several minutes to walk to the queue of that attraction. The reality, however, is that if you were to walk through the large doors by the Harmony Barber Shop where the parades enter and exit and walk to the west, you’d find yourself at the backside of the Jungle Cruise (which also houses the backside of water!) within a few steps; as the crow flies, you are very, very close to the Jungle Cruise the moment you walk into the park.  

 

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a shortcut that would zip you backstage and directly where you wanted to go?  Heck yeah, it would!  Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to save the general public the trouble of walking all the way around to the Jungle Cruise, but there ARE several shortcuts or alternative routes within the park that will help those in the know move around much more quickly — sometimes because they are less congested, and sometimes because they are just more direct. Read on to learn more about Magic Kingdom shortcuts! Read the rest of this entry »

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Now Open in New Location at Disney Springs

by on June 9, 2016 1 Comment

©Disney

©Disney

If you have a little one who is looking to have a princess or knight makeover, you’ll be able to do so in a brand new location at Disney Springs.

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique has moved to a new location near Once Upon a Toy at the Marketplace section of the Disney Springs shopping and dining district. This new location is themed after a country parlor. It features an expanded salon area, as well as a brand new room for photo sessions. In addition, there will be great new interactive elements found throughout the shop for Guests to experience.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers their makeovers for ages 3-12 and packages range from $59.95 to $199.95 for princesses and cost $19.95 for knights.

It is recommended that you make reservations, and they can be made by calling (407)WDW-STYLE. Appointments can be made up to 180 days in advance. What’s great about this location is that because it is located at Disney Springs, you do not need any theme park admission to take part in the makeover sessions.

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique has been delighting Guests for 10 years now and is a fun way to have a very special time with the princess or knight in your family!

Dani’s Best Week Ever June 9, 2016: Live Entertainment at Universal Studios Florida

by on June 9, 2016 2 Comments

Many fans of Universal Orlando have been focusing on rides lately, with good reason. Skull Island: Reign of Kong has done Team Member previews and it appears soft openings could happen any day now. The Incredible Hulk roller coaster has been testing for a few weeks and should reopen very soon. And two more rides are under construction: Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon and Fast and Furious Supercharged. However, Universal Orlando has debuted new entertainment at both its parks, especially at Universal Studios, throughout the past year.

These shows take place out along the streets and aren’t meant to be main attractions. However they add atmosphere and entertainment in easily accessible ways. I enjoy these additions because they don’t require much advance planning, you can easily walk up at show time and have a great vantage point.

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I ventured out to Universal Studios Florida to enjoy as many live performances as possible. Turns out you can pack a whole lot of fun into just a few hours when your focus is on live entertainment. For someone like me who is apprehensive toward thrill rides, this is a refreshing reminder that there is still lots to enjoy at Universal Orlando even if you’re not that into rides.

As seems to be typical for my weekend theme park visits, I arrived later than I hoped. I decided to take my doggy (#DodgertheDog) to try out Universal Orlando’s Kennel Services. Getting to the parking for the kennel is very easy. It is in the lower back corner of the parking structure, part of the Jaws section.

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Checking in took about ten minutes, as is standard for any kennel service I needed to provide proof that Dodger’s vaccinations were up to date. The form is themed to Hollywood, the pets are called actors and the pet owners are agents. The cost is $15.00 for the day (no discounts available) and the great thing is the kennel is open two hours after park closing, giving agents plenty of time to enjoy the parks.

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2017 Walt Disney World Vacation Packages Available Soon

by on June 8, 2016 2 Comments

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

We know you all have been anxiously booking your 2017 Walt Disney World vacation and now I am able to bring great news.

The 2017 Walt Disney World Vacation Packages will be available to book beginning on June 21. These vacation packages will be available for Guests who are looking to arrive at the Walt Disney World Resort beginning January 1, 2017 and after. One thing that you do need to keep in mind is that the last date of your vacation cannot be booked more than 499 days into the future.

So contact your favorite travel planner and get ready to officially start the planning process for your 2017 vacations now!

Seven Things to Skip on a Repeat Disney Cruise

by on June 8, 2016 11 Comments

If you are preparing for your first, second, or even third cruise, I highly advise NOT following the suggestions listed here. (Instead, check out my Seven Must-Dos on Your First Disney Cruise here.) Everything that I list in this article is worth doing, especially if you are new to Disney Cruise Line. I recently sailed on my fifth Disney Cruise (three on the Dream, two on the Fantasy), and decided I wanted to mix things up a bit. Although there are several activities, foods, and so on during a Disney Cruise that are “must do” items on my list, I skipped some of those items to change things up a bit. In the end, I found that there are benefits to skipping even very popular activities on board. On upcoming cruises, I won’t likely skip everything that I skipped on this cruise, but there may be some activities that I won’t do every cruise. Here are some suggestions for repeat cruisers on what to skip on a Disney Cruise.

 

1. Skip the Sailaway Party

An air-conditioned window view at Vista Café or a deck chair are far more relaxing (and cooler) than the sailaway party.

A window view at Vista Café or a deck chair are far less crowded than the sailaway party.

I’ve watched many other ships leave port, but the level of excitement on a Disney Cruise is much more tangible than on other cruise lines. I think the reason behind that is the infectious energy of the Sailaway Party. But to mix things up a bit, or if you want to avoid the blistering heat that can happen on some cruise itineraries, grab a drink, and sail away from a more comfortable and quiet location. On our most recent cruise, we sat for a while in the air conditioned comfort of Vista Café on the Dream, and then headed outside to play some shuffleboard so that we could hear the ship horn. On the walking track, there are several places with loungers, if that’s more your speed. And, of course, if you have a verandah room, you can enjoy sailing away from the comfort of your stateroom.

2. Skip Heavy Entrees

Read the rest of this entry »