Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

Highway In The Sky Dine-Around: A Memorable Monorail Meal

by on December 6, 2016

Private fireworks viewing overlooking Magic Kingdom ends the Highway In The Sky dinner.

Private fireworks viewing overlooking Magic Kingdom ends the Highway In The Sky dinner.

Last week, Disney announced a new upscale special dining event modeled after the popular “monorail crawl” many Disney fans love, called the Highway In The Sky Dine-Around progressive dinner. Offered Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (with a short break for the holiday season), this event highlights dining offerings at Disney’s Contemporary, Polynesian Village, and Grand Floridian Resorts in a four hour experience priced at $150 plus tax per person (gratuity included, no discounts of any kind offered).

I was lucky enough to book a spot for the first night of this event last Friday on a whim. As it turns out, there really was a bit of luck involved here, as the event is already nearly sold out through the initial booking period currently running through March 2017 (sporadic parties of 1 and 2 are available on select dates as of the date of this article)! Here, I’ll walk you through the logistics and food/beverage I enjoyed during the event, which I’m sure will change over time as this event settles into permanent status, but it will give you a good idea of how it all works and whether it would fit your dining preferences.

Booking and Arrival

First, a few notes about booking: Many guests attending Friday’s dinner noted that some Cast Members assisting in booking by phone had no clue what the event was (which can sometimes happen with new events). I was able to book online directly through the Disney site without hassle (by searching for the Highway in the Sky event page). On Thursday, I received a call from a Cast Member confirming my attendance and checking if I had any food allergies or accessibility concerns, as the event includes a set menu and several sets of stairs and standing throughout. I was also reminded that valet parking was included at the Contemporary Resort. All of these items were touches I’d expect of any upscale dining experience, so I was happy to see they hadn’t been lost in the shuffle of it being a new event.

I was told to check in to the podium at The Wave… restaurant around 6:30 PM (event start times will vary based on the time of Magic Kingdom’s fireworks on any given night). Several Cast Members were around to welcome me, and once all the business was settled, I was led into the lounge area in The Wave’s lobby, where one of the blue alien-spaceshippy trippy rooms had been reserved for our group. If you’re acquainted with these lounge areas, you’ll know they aren’t particularly huge, so I was curious to see how big our dining party would actually be. As everyone filtered in, the group grew to about 25 guests – a reasonable size that seemed intimate but not so small that you couldn’t socialize with lots of different people.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever November 17, 2016: It’s Christmastime in the Disney World

by on November 17, 2016

The most merriest of seasons has started to arrive at Walt Disney World. Like hanging ornaments on a tree, it takes a little time for the vacation kingdom to become full dressed in holiday regalia. The first shiny ornament that Walt Disney World unwraps each year is the Magic Kingdom. For well over a week, Christmas decorations, music, and a few festive shows have ushered in the holiday season at the most attended theme park in the country.

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In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you hear

Silver bells, silver bells
It’s Christmastime in the Disney

I awoke one weekend morning with as much zeal and excitement as my younger self did on Christmas. It is rare that I head to the theme parks in the morning. When I was a kid I couldn’t have any fun until my chores and homework were done; as an adult I still often impose such rules on myself.

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img_5506Arriving around 9:30 AM on a weekend resulted in a little bit of a back up at the parking toll and throughout the parking lot, but seeing the wreaths on the parking plaza kept my impatience at bay. Once on board the tram I quickly became covered in goosebumps because the t-shirt and shorts I was wearing did not combat the slightly chilling morning air. I’m a Florida girl so anything below 72 degrees Fahrenheit is chilly to me.

The holiday spirit continues at the Ticket and Transportation Center with decorations, festive music, and red scarves adorning the Mickey and Minnie topiaries. Apparently not having learned my lesson from the chilly parking tram ride, I headed for the ferry boat. The views along the Seven Seas Lagoon made it worth it, though.

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First Impressions of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM

by on November 15, 2016

Ok so the name is awful. We can all agree on that. But, if you are a fan of the Disney animated shorts centered around Prep and Landing, then perhaps you get it. Last night Disney’s Hollywood Studios rang in the holiday season without the beloved Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and instead ushered in Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM. Is it a worthy replacement? Read on…

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Ok so I am not one for teasers. No, it is not a worthy replacement of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. But, there is no way that spectacle is coming back. The land in which it formerly resided is barren and blank. It is Tatooine and all us Star Wars nerds await its harvest.

Anyway, the new nighttime spectacular, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM is an energetic night time show incorporating the new trifecta du jour: fireworks, amazing lasers, and precise projections. This combination was made into a fan favorite with a recent Star Wars themed night spectacular and it got my hopes up for a groundbreaking holiday night time show. Sadly, as much as I am obsessed with Christmas and as much as I love Prep and Landing, I am left wanting something just a little more.

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10 Steps to Conserve Wi-Fi Onboard Your Disney Cruise

by on October 20, 2016

I don’t want to brag, buuuut – on the last three cruises I’ve been on, I’ve actually gotten off the cruise and still had free data left. Lots of free data! And I’ve sent pictures and emails! How crazy is that? So it’s possible I’ve cracked the code on keeping usage down. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but it’s possible. So let me share what I’ve learned and what is working for me. Some of these steps may not be necessary, but better safe than sorry, right? Wi-Fi onboard is expensive, people. You start with 50 megabytes free (150 megabytes in concierge), then the price goes up fast. 100 MB is $19, 300 MB is $39, and 1000 MB is $89. We want those megabytes to stretch as far as they can! My disclaimer is that I am an iPhone user. So some of my directions are iPhone specific. The broad principles should still apply though!

img_02401. Use Airplane Mode – Once you leave Port Canaveral, you will definitely want to be in airplane mode. Not being in airplane mode means you are risking using unwanted cell service—like Cellular at Sea. If you have an international plan and want to turn off airplane mode in ports, then go for it. But while you are at sea, I highly recommend airplane mode to avoid any unwanted charges. Once in airplane mode, you can still turn on Wi-Fi and use the Disney Cruise Line app and data as desired.

2. Get Disney’s Helpful Internet Sheet – Sometime during the first afternoon, stop by the internet help desk and pick up their sheet describing how to minimize data usage. They have a sheet for iPhones, Galaxy, Droid, etc. There may not be anyone at the desk the first day, but that’s okay. There’s usually a brochure holder on the desk full of them. Look towards the back of the pile if you don’t see them. Follow the steps. Some are listed below.

3. Turn off Location Services – Location services are a data sucker! Turn that baby off! No one needs to find you while you’re sailing! Not apps, not friends that are stalking your phone, no one! Turn it off. On iPhones, you turn it off in “Settings” and then “Privacy”.

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As Annual Pass Prices Increase, Theme Parks Add Perks

by on September 18, 2016

Not too long ago we saw Walt Disney World drastically change their annual pass structure adding new features and a wide variety of blackout dates. Universal Orlando has followed suit. They also recently announced new annual pass features like early park admission. Universal has also rolled out a new seasonal annual pass which is the most budget friendly but also has the most blackout dates, and the least amount of perks.

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Universal Orlando loves their AP Holders – photo from Universal Orlando

It’s not all bad news, however, Besides adding features to the annual passes themselves, all of the major theme parks offer various perks and benefits throughout the year. It seems as though this year there are more perks than ever before–perhaps this is because the prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Some guests who are on vacation are purchasing an annual pass rather than a multi-day ticket, even if they’re only going to visit once in a given year. For locals like me it is often seen as a mandatory purchase in order to do Orlando living right.

Let’s take a look at some of the really fun benefits and perks that are being offered to annual pass holders at each of the major theme parks. It is important to note that for the purposes of this blog post I will not be discussing the features that are already included in your annual pass such as free parking, but rather I will focus on different, added-on perks that are offered throughout the year.

Walt Disney World

Perhaps the Walt Disney World Resort faces the greatest of expectations. Because of their four theme parks vs. two at Universal Orlando and one theme park plus water park at SeaWorld Orlando, the Walt Disney World annual passes are the most expensive. This typically raises the expectations of consumers, creating stronger desires for more bang for their buck.

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

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Finding The Sherman Brothers in Disney Parks – Part Two

by on September 15, 2016

Welcome back to our musical adventure, highlighting the works of Robert and Richard Sherman! If you haven’t already read Finding the Sherman Brothers in Disney Parks – Part One, go read that now. Today, we wrap up our look at the dynamic song writing duo known for so many Disney classics.

Photo - Disney

Photo – Disney

Before they skyrocketed to fame with “It’s a Small World” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” they wrote a little song for Walt’s first Audio-Animatronic attraction. Let’s fly over to the original tropical hideaway!

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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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