Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

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

by on August 17, 2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever August 11, 2016: Creating Your Own Epcot Food and Wine Festival Experience

by on August 11, 2016

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival kicks off in just about a month, September 14, 2016. But you don’t have to wait until it’s festival time to taste your way around the world. Personally, I feel it is a better experience and a better value to make your own food and wine festival type experience at Epcot. That’s exactly what I did on my recent visit, and it turned out to be one of the best visits ever!

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Though there was rain in the forecast, blue skies provided a lovely backdrop to the iconic view of Spaceship Earth as I arrived. I made a bee line through Future World; my stomach growled and would wait no more. World Showcase holds so many culinary treasures, even when it is not Food and Wine Festival time. Beverages and snacks at Epcot are very easy to come by. Practically every pavilion has at least one full service restaurant, one counter service restaurant, and at least one cart or stand along the promenade offering snacks or drinks, or both.

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When it comes to exploring World Showcase from a culinary perspective, there is some debate as to which direction to start, either Mexico or Canada. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. On this visit I headed toward the Canada pavilion because I had a 2:00 PM FastPass+ selected for Frozen Ever After and planned to my Epcot trip there.

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United Kingdom and Canada Pavilions

Starting off with the Canada Pavilion is a bit rough if you arrive before 12:00 noon. The outside snack and beverage cart does not open until about 12:00 noon and the relatively new Trading Post Refreshments is currently unavailable – slated to reopen by the end of August. So really, there aren’t any snacks or beverages to enjoy here until later in the day.

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Homecoming Kitchen Review: Delectable Southern Fare at a Fair Price

by on July 13, 2016

Chef Art Smith's Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern ShineProbably one of the most eagerly-anticipated of all the new Disney Springs dining locations, Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming: Florida Kitchen & Southern Shine sits in a prime location in the springs: just behind STK, across from Morimoto Asia, right across the springs from D-Luxe Burger.

Open as of Tuesday, July 12 to all guests, the restaurant is taking walk-ups only for lunch and dinner (Sunday-Thursday 11:00 AM-midnight, Friday & Saturday 11:00 AM-1:00 AM); guests will be able to make reservations beginning July 15 for meals on or after August 15 through My Disney Experience. Sadly, no discounts are offered just yet, but the Disney Dining Plan is accepted. I was lucky enough to dine at Homecoming Kitchen on opening day to taste their take on upscale Southern comfort food.

A Southern Welcome

The view of Homecoming Kitchen from across Disney SpringsFarm-to-table Southern classics are are the focal point of the menu, highlighting the flavors of Chef Art Smith’s native Florida. Even the décor in the restaurant is Florida-centric: 51% of everything inside was sourced locally, and the beautiful murals of Florida’s natural wonders on the interior and exterior were painted by a local Florida artist.

Natural light floods the main dining room, with a large bar in the center, burlap-sack lighting fixtures accenting the custom-crafted wood tables and Homecoming Kitchen-logo-adorned chairs. A screened-in porch wraps around the back side of the restaurant, perfect for enjoying an outdoor meal right on the springs. The amount of home-state pride really shines through in every facet of the restaurant as soon as you first walk in, setting the expectation that this is probably going to be a great meal for Southern comfort food fans.

The menu has a pretty wide spread of options, depending on your budget and hunger level: easy-to-share starters and desserts book-end reasonably-priced sandwiches/salads and more-filling main plates, along with a wide variety of shareable side dishes. Like we saw with Frontera Cocina’s all-day menu, I was happy to see that Homecoming Kitchen does a really great job including options appropriate for both lunch and dinner.

My server, incredibly excited to greet and seat me in the bustling restaurant, recommended a few of her personal favorites right off the bat: the Palmetto Punch or Fig & Berries to drink, shrimp jubilee to start my meal, and shrimp & grits or any of the fried chicken dishes as my main dish. I also learned that many of the favorites from the main menu are available to-go – takeout menus featuring many of the restaurant’s favorites are available at the hostess stand and you simply place your order at the bar, or order from the shorter “grab and go” menu of sandwiches and sides from the outdoor bar – a great option for those on the go!

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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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