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.
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.
Check out the hoof prints in the walkway!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
We’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.
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.
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.
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.
I have a confession: Magic Kingdom is my least favorite Walt Disney World theme park. Well…it was, but things have changed…maybe. Once upon a time Magic Kingdom was my favorite, then about ten years ago I went to Disneyland for the first time. I returned to the Magic Kingdom disappointed and longing for the charm and beauty found inside the park that started it all.
Unfortunately, a major change in my life will now make it difficult for me to return to Disneyland, so I returned to Magic Kingdom for the first time in a while with open eyes and a renewed sense of rediscovery. Despite some frustrating turn of events later in the day, I earned a new appreciation for Walt Disney World’s original theme park.
The original plan for the day was to start off in the Most Magical Place on Earth then journey to the land of rolling hills and new residential developments, Clermont, to pick up a friend and cap off the night with Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando. What a day to wake up to!
Since I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to make it to Magic Kingdom initially, I had not made any FastPass+ reservations in advance. So, while I sipped my morning coffee I pulled up the MyDisneyExperience app to see what I could get. Not surprisingly, the most desirable FastPass+ options were limited at best.
I arrived to the parking plaza at about 10:00 AM. During my time as a Cast Member the lanes to the right were used to get to the Cast parking lots, and these lanes still usually move very quickly. To make sure I kept the pace going I had my ID and passholder card out and ready for the Cast Member to see. As I drove through the parking area it took a moment to get used to the grassy knoll that is in place of the Walt Disney World Raceway. I also observed a few cars head to the preferred parking area ($35).
In need of a Disney fix? Homesick for the Disney Parks? Looking to learn more about the Walt Disney World Resort? My remedy, along with Disney Movie Marathons and sites such as TouringPlans, is YouTube! To be more specific, Disney YouTube Channels.
There are quite a few out there these days; and while I try to visit the Walt Disney World Resort as often as I can, a number of YouTubers have helped to expand my knowledge of the parks and resorts, granted me a glimpse or two of special park events, and just allowed me to come along for the ride with those who know Walt Disney World best! Again, there are A LOT of YouTubers out there spreading the pixie dust; but for today, I’m listing a few that you may or may not have seen but who I think are well worth your time. So get ready because here’s my list of Disney YouTube Channels You Should Be Watching!
This YouTube Channel is one of my favorites because it’s so unique! David Erickson, the creator and host of Fresh Baked Disney, visits the Disneyland Resort every single weekend and then uploads a video of his weekly visit each day. That’s why the channel is called Fresh Baked Disney, because you’re getting a little bit of Disney baked fresh daily!
David, along with co-hosts Sara and Mike, are the main cast but other friends and even fans of the show join them during their visits to Disneyland. In fact, the different relationships, personalities, and antics are part of what makes the show so fun and entertaining and you feel like you’re right there with them! When watching the show, you will notice that they are often stopped by their fans, known as Fresh Baked Muffins, for a photo and a chat. They are getting pretty well known by Disneyland Fans so be sure to keep an eye out for them if you’re out and about the resort on the weekends.
In addition to their trip reports to the Disneyland Resort, Fresh Baked Disney also produces other videos for their viewers, such as Disneyland Secrets and History, Top Tens, Mailing and Unboxings, David’s “I’ve Got Something to Say,” and even a new series called The Knothole Gang where, each week, he gives Star Wars Land construction updates from various locations throughout Disneyland.
So yeah, you should definitely be watching Fresh Baked Disney if you aren’t already. Even as a Disney World Regular, I love Fresh Baked Disney because it gives me an insider glimpse into Disneyland from someone who has visited each week for years and brings me along on a Disneyland adventures with friends.
As we continue to wait patiently for all of the new nighttime offerings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we also carry on in our look at dining options at the park. I recently reviewed many of the park’s popular quick service options, and today, we continue our dining adventure at Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s popular character meal at Tusker House Restaurant. I dropped in for late solo dinner a few days ago to see how the food compares to other dining options around the park and Walt Disney World, and was pleasantly surprised with the meal from start to finish.
First step: getting to the restaurant. If you’ve never been to Tusker House, it’s not super intuitive – the check-in desk is hidden just behind the covered seating area next to Dawa Bar, adjacent to the walkway to Festival of the Lion King, and just across from Tamu Tamu Refreshments in the Africa section of the park. Luckily, Disney has placed a few signs along the path to help guide you to the desk, where a cast member will greet and check you in, then give you a buzzer or take your phone number to text you once your table is ready. At that point, I was led to the outdoor waiting area just behind the desk, full of chairs and benches (and complimentary water to help cool you off on a hot day!). After a short wait, my phone alerted me that my table was ready, and I was led from the second check-in desk to the inside of the restaurant, where the seater acquainted me with the sprawling (and gorgeous) buffet area and led me to my table in a neighboring room. Both the Cast Member who seated me and my server helpfully explained from which direction the characters (Mickey, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy) would come and how they’d move around the room to reach my table, which was really great to know – I could better plan when it was safe to leave the table to grab a plate of food without missing anything.
This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.
As we continue our Back to Basics series, it’s time to take a look at one of the most beloved Walt Disney World hotel categories: the Moderates. In previous Basics posts we first discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World category, and later dug into how to select the right Walt Disney World Value hotel. The Moderate category hotels are a great blend of quality theming, beautiful atmosphere, a strong selection of amenities and features, all without the higher price tag found at the Deluxe resorts. They are some elements at the Moderate resorts that are also found at the Value resorts, but you can definitely see these are a step up from the Value category.
Caribbean Beach grounds – photo by Brian McNichols
It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best. There are four hotels in the Moderate level. For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:
Food and beverage
Recreation / Activities
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
First came the Deluxe resorts. Then in the 90’s, the Disney Decade, the first Moderate resort came unto the scene: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, which was a prototype of sorts. Disney had never built a resort that was scaled back in order to provide a more affordable price tag, yet it couldn’t just be a hotel, it needed to be a resort. Caribbean Beach ushered in a new resort experience for Walt Disney World, and while it does have its flaws, there is lots of beautiful scenery and enjoyable amenities.