Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

Dani’s Best Week Ever July 7, 2016: Celebration, FL and Epcot

by on July 7, 2016

Best Week Ever is a series that began as a way to take you along for a jam packed journey through Orlando’s theme parks and other attractions. Along the way our contributors have changed, but our approach remains: to make the most of every visit. This past week I have been fortunate enough to have one of my absolute best weeks ever, and I am excited to share some of the highlights with you.

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Independence Day Weekend is a cause for celebration throughout the entire country. In recent years it has meant traveling to my parents’ home and spending time with my brother, sister in law, and my five nieces and nephews. Such was the case this year. Cedar Key, FL feels worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Orlando. It is about a two and a half hour drive to this island that sits in the Northwest corner of Florida. This little island has a small town feel; there are no chain restaurants, one school, one gas station, time moves slower here. If you have enough time in your Central Florida vacation for a side trip somewhere in Florida, consider Cedar Key for a dramatic change of pace.

Cedar Key, FL

Cedar Key, FL

The drive to and from is actually one of my favorite parts of a visit to Cedar Key. There a few routes from which to choose, each having at least one portion that consists of driving through backroads, past horse farms, goat farms, and country landscape. Driving through this scenery made for a beautiful way to start Independence Day 2016.

Country road in Marion County, FL

Country road in Marion County, FL

Celebration, FL

I arrived back in the metropolitan sprawl of the Orlando area close to lunch time. I made the journey from one small town and was about to head to another. Later that afternoon a friend and I arrived at Celebration, FL. This is the town that Disney built. It is perfectly manicured and was the catalyst for the birth of many other planned communities throughout the country. Although Disney no longer owns the community, if you are a Disney fan a visit to Celebration will prove entertaining and enjoyable.

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Visitors enjoy the lake at Celebration, FL while waiting for the July 4th concert and fireworks

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First impressions of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Fireworks

by on June 20, 2016

There has been an awakening, and if you’ve been anywhere in vicinity of Walt Disney World you have likely heard it even if you haven’t felt it. On Friday June 17, 2016 the new “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” night time show debuted. I hesitate to simply call it a fireworks show, because it is so much more. In a park that already has a great night time spectacular: Fantasmic! it seems almost unnecessary to have a second night time show. However, this Star Wars spectacular is absolutely breathtaking for anyone who is a Star Wars fan. I’ll include a brief, spoiler-free review below and also give a more detailed review at the end for those who want all the details.

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Spoiler-free review

Here I will provide a brief overview of “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” without going into too much detail, in hopes of avoiding spoilers. If you’d like more details about the show and the effects and elements more details are provided further down this post.

This night time show is often simply dubbed the “Star Wars fireworks.” While the show does contain lots and lots of fireworks, there are many more elements to it. Think of it as a symphony. The fireworks are just one section, let’s think of them as the brass section. In a symphony there are many other sections like strings, woodwinds, and percussion. This show has multiple elements the way a symphony has multiple sections.

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It is best to secure a spot 30 – 45 minutes in advance. However, it should be noted that when I went on opening night our group arrived to Hollywood Blvd about an hour beforehand and there were about 300-400 people already in front of us. The main focus of the show are stunning projections. There are projections on the Chinese Theater, but also the two neighboring facades, making a for a wide view. There are multiple launch points for the fireworks, the main of which is off centered to the right.

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Tiffins Dining Review

by on June 3, 2016

We’ve spent many months anxiously awaiting all of the new offerings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and while many of my friends couldn’t wait to try out the new nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris or see the Jungle Book: Alive With Magic show, I’ve been counting down the days to the opening of Tiffins (and neighboring Nomad Lounge). I dropped in for a dinner reservation this past weekend with several friends to see if Tiffins could meet the high standard set by other signature dining locations around Walt Disney World. You’ll find my thoughts on this epic meal below, along with those from a revisit a few days later (to see if the high-quality service and food was consistent).

When my party arrived, we were promptly greeted at the host stand and checked in, but also warned that they were running about ten to fifteen minutes behind in seating tables; we were told we could wait in the lobby, or next door in Nomad Lounge, and that we’d receive a text message once our table was ready. We didn’t much mind the wait, and a few of us took a chance to wander the indoor and outdoor seating areas of Nomad in the meantime (what an incredibly gorgeous space – this really set the tone for what to expect inside the restaurant). About ten minutes later, we were summoned to be seated, and led to our table – not a bad wait at all! Our server, Deandra, was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly – she gave us a quick introduction to the restaurant and then went through the menu with recommendations and commonly asked questions.

I was happy to hear her make solid suggestions, rather than just dance around which dishes were her personal favorites compared to what the house suggests. As we were a larger party, we chose to sample several appetizers and then each ordered an entrée for ourselves, both orders taken at once by Deandra. I have to admit – sometimes this approach by servers scares me; it definitely speeds up the meal by not waiting around to order after appetizers arrive, but it can sometimes throw off the pacing of a meal (like the dreaded “ending up with appetizer and entrée plates on the table at the same time” debacle that can put a halt to a good meal). As we discovered later, and you’ll see below, though, this fear was absolutely unfounded.

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7 new things we didn’t expect at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on June 1, 2016

Night has awakened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Thousands of guests descended upon Walt Disney World’s youngest park this past week to check out all the new night time entertainment, as well as the new signature restaurant and lounge, Tiffins and Nomad Lounge respectively. I was one of those guests and encountered a view surprises during my adventures in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Overall, the night time offerings are great additions, as are Tiffins and Nomad Lounge. But there are some aspects that might be a little unexpected to some guests, including myself.

Souvenir cups (that strongly resemble Rivers of Light)

The most discussed component of night time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is “Rivers of Light” night time spectacular,… and sadly it’s not ready to debut. But of course, some of the merchandise that is not specifically labeled as such did make its debut this weekend. The most notable items are a pair of souvenir cups.

Photo by Julia Mascardo

Photo by Julia Mascardo

These little beauties light up and change color. One is a collapsible cup that resembles a paper lantern ($12.99). The other is more detailed, resembling an ornate oil lamp ($13.99). It is pretty clear that these were designed to match the style of the Rivers of Light show, however, they do match the Indian style of “Jungle Book: Alive with Magic“. While selling souvenir cups is nothing new at Disney, to say the least, I don’t think many of us were expecting these cups to debut with the temporary Jungle Book show.

Size and scope of Nomad Lounge

Tiffins restaurant and Nomad Lounge are two highly anticipated dining venues that debuted this weekend. Both bring a necessary sophisticated flair to the park; Tiffins especially is a signature experience. We’ll discuss the difference between Nomad Lounge and Tiffins momentarily, but I just have to point out how pleasantly surprised I am at the size and scope of Nomad Lounge.

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When I arrived I headed left and didn’t even bother going inside. The outdoor, wrap around seating area is the most posh outdoor seating area I’ve ever seen at one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks. Plush sectional couches flank the right side of the porch, while pairs of chairs line the outer rim and overlook the water.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever May 26, 2016: Exploring Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and construction update

by on May 26, 2016

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a wonder to behold. It is one of the few Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts that feels far removed from the theme parks and yet it is just a few moments away from the most attended theme park of them all: the Magic Kingdom. When I set out to enjoy this week’s “fun day”, a visit to Wilderness Lodge was not in the original plans. But the best laid plans sometimes fall apart when real life responsibilities pop up. Faced with less time than I’d hoped, I decided to give into the nagging need to visit Wilderness Lodge that had been pulling at me for quite some time. My visit rekindled my love and appreciation for this resort and allowed me to explore some of the construction taking place at this resort as it prepares to expand its Disney Vacation Club inventory.

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The transition into the world of the wilderness begins the moment you turn right onto Timberline Drive and pass under the archway leading to the Security shack. The tall pines tower above, flanking either side of the drive. Wildflowers add pops of color along the way.

The lodge stands proud and majestic. It is an impressive sight to behold. No matter how many times I’ve visited this resort that first sight of the lobby never fails to make me grow wide eyed and wide grinned. The towering totems, the tee-pee light fixtures, the view all the way to the top floor, it’s all so warm and inviting.

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Check out the hoof prints in the walkway!

Check out the hoof prints in the walkway!

 

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Many guests compare Wilderness Lodge to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and / or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. I have a hard time accept the comparison to the Grand Californian because the theme and style is actually very different than Wilderness Lodge. Grand Californian represents the Arts and Crafts movement of California with a tinge of Art Nouveau. Some of the rich colors such as deep wood tones and rich evergreen are repeated at both resorts, but if you are attuned to details you can clearly see the difference in the two themes.

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First Impressions of Disney Springs Town Center

by on May 18, 2016

When I first heard the concept of Disney Springs, three years ago, I had a hard time adjusting to it. Downtown Disney has had its share of evolutionary challenges, but it seems to have finally come together and transform into a place people thoroughly enjoy visiting. There are still some more stores and restaurants that have not yet opened, but with this weekend’s official opening of the Town Center, Disney Springs is practically complete.

The Town Center brings something that we’ve not really seen in a world class theme park based vacation destination: a shopping mall. It is beautiful and lovely, but there is no denying that Town Center is a mall. And that’s ok. There seems to be enough demand for such a shopping experience on Disney property, and if shopping isn’t your forte, the atmosphere and design of Town Center are enough to enjoy, and then there’s the long list of dining options.

Let’s take a look at the first impressions of Disney Springs Town Center. We’ll also take a look at a few new dining and shopping locations that opened on the edge of the Marketplace and The Landing sections.

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The Springs

Besides the large amount of brand name stores, the springs themselves seem to be getting the most attention. The crystal clear water of the Disney created springs winds through most of the Town Center area. It is incredibly picturesque. The atmosphere of Town Center revolves around these springs.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever May 12, 2016: In Defense of Disney’s Hollywood Studios

by on May 12, 2016

It’s the park that everyone loves to hate on right now. Piece by piece we’ve seen change after change come to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Earffel Tower? Gone. Backlot Studio Tour? Long gone. Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Show? Outta here! In fact, the whole Streets of America area is a thing of the past. All these closures, without timely replacements, have made Disney’s Hollywood Studios an easy target for criticism. Admittedly, it has been my least favorite Walt Disney World theme park for quite some time.

There is no question that Hollywood Studios is in a transition period. It is reminiscent of puberty. Or perhaps more poetically, like a caterpillar in a cocoon waiting to emerge as a butterfly. Nope, I’m sticking with puberty because Hollywood Studios is not wrapped up and in hiding waiting to emerge. It is still here, in its awkward phase, just trying to make it through and show the world that they were wrong to pick on it.

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I recently visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios with the purpose of enjoying as much of the park as possible, and to take a big step in my journey to overcome my fear of any and all thrill rides. I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed my time in the park. Granted, I am a big time Star Wars fan and there’s lots and lots of Star Wars stuff now added to the park. Still, there’s enough to enjoy even though the park’s best days seem to be on the horizon.

Arriving at 12:00 PM I knew the park would be in full swing, but the action would have to wait a moment. Driving into the parks means the added process of parking your car and either boarding the parking tram or walking to the park entrance. With the added safety measures of the doors and the recorded departure spiel, it can take ten minutes or so just for the tram to depart once you’ve boarded it. This was the case on my visit, and I regretted not walking to the entrance.

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The glitz and glamour of the Mann’s Chinese Theater standing proud as the park’s main entrance “weenie” is still a sight I am getting reacquainted with, happily so. I feel as though I can enjoy Hollywood Blvd more, that it feels more of an actual place meant to be enjoyed and explored now that the big blue hat has been removed.

One of the main reasons for my visit was to finally ride Star Tours… for the first time ever! I had never gone on Star Tours before, including the original version. I get motion sick just from being in the car when someone else is driving. It’s rough. That discomfort then leads to a fear of any ride that isn’t considered a “kiddie ride.” However, I am slowly trying out rides I previously ruled out, seeing if I can face my fears and become some sort of ride junkie. To celebrate the occasion I stopped inside one of the merchandise shops and asked for an “I’m Celebrating” button. I proceeded to unabashedly write “1st time on Star Tours” on my shiny new button.

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Dining Review: Big River Grille

by on May 6, 2016

If you’ve ever spent any time strolling along Disney’s BoardWalk or Crescent Lake area, you’ve probably seen my next dining location along the way. Located on the Atlantic Dance Hall end of the BoardWalk, just adjacent to the resort’s merchandise locations, Big River Grille & Brewing Works offers standard family restaurant fare (think: burgers, steaks, salads) with a view of Crescent Lake and the surrounding resorts. I dropped in recently for a quick lunch and then returned a few days later for dinner to see if this restaurant was worth adding to my regular Disney dining rotation.

Big River Grille's Hickory Bacon Burger

Big River Grille’s Hickory Bacon Burger

Both of my visits to Big River Grille were on a whim – I didn’t make a reservation prior to arriving, either on OpenTable or the My Disney Experience app, but it didn’t matter. I was quick to be seated inside both times (choosing the comfort of air conditioning inside over the humidity on the outdoor patio), and my first impression of the restaurant was definitely that of substance over style – inside here, there’s very little theming or space, with tables pretty close together and almost no decoration. If the weather allows, I’d certainly request outdoor seating – far less cramped, less noisy at peak dining times, and with a really fantastic view for lake- and people-watching. Servers were all very prompt in greeting me and offering a few recommendations from the extensive beer and bar menu – one of their biggest draws for diners – and their food menu. It’s also worth noting here that Big River Grille itself is a chain restaurant popular outside of Walt Disney World, which servers said helps to draw in repeat visitors due to familiarity.

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Park Touring Plans Now Handle Ride Closures

by on May 2, 2016

Lines Showing Offline EventWe’ve updated our Lines mobile app to route you around unexpected ride breakdowns while you’re in the parks. If your Magic Kingdom touring plan calls for you to ride Space Mountain soon and Lines learns that Space Mountain is temporarily closed, upon optimization Lines will adjust your touring plan by moving Space Mountain to later in the day, after the time when Lines expects it to reopen.

This new feature keeps you one step ahead of the crowds by finding the best attractions to see now, and by knowing the best time to schedule a closed ride later in the day. It might also save you from walking across the park to find a closed ride.

The idea for this feature came from us testing our touring plan software. Three major ride breakdowns happened in the first few hours I was in the park. My work-around was to just skip those steps in the plan, but it would have been great if Lines detected the ride closures and re-did the plan for me automatically. Now Lines does that whenever I optimize my plan.

We’ve also added a new text field to Lines showing our estimate of when the ride might re-open.

Behind the Scenes

Once Lines learns that an attraction has gone offline, it has to estimate how long it’ll be until that ride re-opens. To help with this, we’ve been collecting data on temporary ride closures for the past few years.

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Trading Post Refreshments: The New Bar in Epcot – Sort Of

by on April 29, 2016

It’s not easy being Canada…in Epcot that is. You’re the first pavilion in World Showcase for anyone who chooses to go to the right. Your neighbor is the UK pavilion which is beloved by many thanks to its charming storefronts, popular pub, and excellent entertainment. Even your World Showcase equivalent–the first pavilion if you go left instead of right–Mexico, really brings on the heat with three dining options, a boat ride, an award winning mariachi band, and an amazing tequila bar that stands as THE ambassador of the heritage and tradition of tequila.

Sure, the Canada Pavilion is a beautiful spot. The lovely gardens found throughout the country are well represented here. There are lots of delightful spots, especially the waterfalls found at the back of the pavilion. Still, many people tend to bypass this pavilion, which is a shame. A new drinking establishment, however, may help to increase interest in this overlooked area.

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The new Trading Post Refreshments has been dubbed Epcot’s new bar. This terminology is a bit of a stretch since there is no seating inside, as you would find at a traditional bar. It is still a nice addition, however. There are three Canadian beers from which to choose plus two ice wines; each selection represents Canada fairly well.

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The prices are also relatively reasonable; two out of the three beers are $6.25 plus tax, with the Blanche de Chambly being $9.25. This beer hails from Quebec and is said to have a yeast and wheat flavor, but I opted to go with the Labatt Bourbon Barrel. I love the rise of beers aged in bourbon barrels, something I’m seeing more and more. I enjoyed the smokey flavor of this beer, though it left a long, lingering aftertaste.

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