by Seth Kubersky
on June 13, 2013
by Seth Kubersky
on May 11, 2013
Photo copyright Disney
As we shared back in March, Disneyland Resort is planning to celebrate Greek culture with an Opa! festival later this month. The event be held at both Disneyland Resort parks over the weekend of May 25 to 27.
This week Disneyland released details on the food and entertainment that will feature at this event. Activities will take place daily from 10am to 6pm in the small world mall area of Disneyland Park and Paradise Gardens at Disney California Adventure. You’ll find line dancing, wine seminars, and food tastings at Disney California Adventure; Hercules will conduct “Olympic training” games at Disneyland Park.
The above events (excluding food and drinks) are included in regular park admission. In addition, Executive Chef Christine Weissman, Greek celebrity Chef Argiro Barbarigou, and Greek winemaker Christina Boutari will present “Celebrate Greece: A Culinary Experience,” a 4-course dinner at DCA’s Golden Valley Winery on May 26 at 8pm. Tickets are $150, including tax, gratuity, and reserved World of Color viewing (park admission separate); click here for reservations and tickets.
by Seth Kubersky
on March 20, 2013
Image copyright Disney
Between the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and its newly expanded Flower & Garden Festival, it seems like Walt Disney World gets to have all the fun where cultural celebrations are concerned. But last week the Disneyland Resort announced that it would soon be getting some international excitement of its own.
For the weekend of May 25-27 (10am to 6pm daily), Opa! A Celebration of Greece will bring authentic Greek music, dance, art, food, history, and more to both parks at the Disneyland Resort. Activities will take place in both “it’s a small world” Mall in Disneyland park and Paradise Gardens in Disney California Adventure park.
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by Seth Kubersky
on December 10, 2012
All photos copyright Disney
Walt Disney World was on the receiving end of the theme park world's attention last week, thanks to the opening of New Fantasyland. But that doesn't mean WDW's West Coast older brother took the week off. Candlelight ceremonies and the return of a long-absent archeologist were highlights of one of the final moderately-attended periods before the Christmas crowds come.
Quietest Day: Monday 12/3 was a 2 out of 10 at the resort, with 2.1 at Disneyland, and 1.9 at DCA.
Busiest Day: Friday 12/7 was a 7 out of 10 at the resort, with a 6.2 at Disneyland, and 6.9 at DCA.
Subscribe to the Touring Plans Disneyland Crowd Calendar for full details on predicted attendance for the next 30 days.
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by Seth Kubersky
on November 22, 2012
Disneyland's Big Thunder Ranch may not draw as much demand as the similarly-named roller-coaster next door, but it's always been one of my favorite places in the resort for catching a quiet moment.
Best known as home to the Happiest Petting Zoo on Earth (featuring a herd of friendly pigmy goats) the Ranch is currently in the clutches of Santa Claus and his elf-managing Mrs.
This year's Jingle Jangle Jamboree features photo-ops, DIY craft stations, and seasonal performance by Billy Hill and the Holiday Hillbillies on the arena stage. But this year, you may notice certain long-running VIP guests are absent.
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by Seth Kubersky
on July 26, 2012
As we’ve said in the past, the new food offerings at Disney California Adventure have been almost as essential to that park’s popular relaunch as the rides. Nowhere is that more evident than inside Cars Land, the signature centerpiece of DCA’s expansion.
To start this series, I shared some thoughts on my favorite edible attraction in Cars Land, the citrus turkey salad prepared by Flo’s V8 Cafe. That appealing plate took first position in this taste trilogy. Sadly, my second contender isn’t nearly as savory. Grab your antacids and greet the Lee Van Cleef to the salad’s Clint Eastwood.
On weekdays, I rarely ingest more than a cup of coffee before noon. But on weekends, I’m a strong advocate for a scrambled eggs with cheese and salsa for brunch. So on my first morning inside Cars Land, I was almost as excited to visit the Cozy Cone Motel as I was to ride Radiator Springs Racers. As one of the first customers of the day, I stepped up to cone #3 order a Verde Scramble Cone, billed as “Scrambled Eggs, Salsa Verde and Queso Fresco served in a Bread Cone.”
And then my pain began.
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by Seth Kubersky
on May 29, 2012
After transportation, tickets, and accommodations, food takes the biggest bite out of the budget of most Disneyland visitors. It doesn’t help matters that the food sold on Disneyland property is unavoidable, plentiful, decently edible, and extremely overpriced. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose between going broke or going hungry on your next Anaheim adventure.
In the first episode of Inexpensive Eats Outside Disneyland, I highlighted two of my favorite inexpensive off-property restaurants that are within walking distance of the Disneyland Resort. Though there are a number of viable options accessible around Disneyland to anyone on foot, having a car exponentially increases the number of outlets available to you.
Here are two places within a short drive from Disneyland’s front door that I always take time to visit on nearly every trip to the Hungriest Place on Earth.
Viva Bargain Center
One of our top money-saving tips in the Unofficial Guide is to get a hotel room with a refrigerator (or a cooler with ice-filled water jugs) and stock it with store-bought snacks. This tip is even more applicable now that Disneyland has installed upgraded mini-fridges in its on-site hotel rooms, and most of the lodgings ringing the resort (regardless of price range) at least offer one for a modest extra charge.
If the place you are staying doesn’t offer a free breakfast, a cooler of comestibles is essential to following an efficient morning touring plan. It’s infinitely easier to make it to the park before opening when you can breakfast bedside in your boxers. In-room food can also come handy around your early-afternoon break time (essential if you’re planning to stay in the park until closing) and for late-night snacks.
But where to stock up? Obviously, convenience stores (such as the 7-11 at the corner of Harbor and Katella) are most convenient, but also overpriced. The nearest full-service grocery stores are Vons (12961 Chapman Avenue) and Food 4 Less (1616 West Katella Avenue), each about 2 miles from the resort.
Instead, I usually head to the shopping center at 12000 Harbor Boulevard, just south of Chapman Avenue. There is a Target for groceries and supplies, and Walgreens pharmacy that sells liquor. Most importantly, it is home to the Viva Bargain Center, the most wondrous dollar store I’ve ever found.
In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, every item sold in Viva costs exactly 99 cents or less. Unlike similar establishments I’ve encountered, Viva isn’t dank, depressing, or disorganized. While you’ll find some out-of-season and off-brand items on the shelves, the majority of the merchandise is name-brand and not yet expired. I frequently make Viva my first stop after unpacking to pick up some ramen noodles (my usual post-park midnight snack), drinks, and cookies. And along with a wide sampling of salty, sweet, and spicy (including large Latin food selections), you can also pick up some dirt-cheap Disney branded souvenirs to distract the kids from the pricier in-park items. If you want a one-stop shop to shave some dollars off your Disneyland dining expenditures, this is it.
Mexican food isn’t really “foreign,” in Southern California; it’s practically the local cuisine, and should certainly be sampled by any out-of-town visitor who is only familiar with the terror of Taco Bell. While the enchiladas at Disneyland Park’s Rancho del Zocalo are at least edible, and Del Taco (2330 South Harbor Boulevard) is a great guilty pleasure of mine, neither can be considered anywhere near authentic. If you want a genuine taste of great Sonora-style Mexican food that makes the locals line up, drive three miles south of Mickey to Los Sanchez (11906 West Garden Grove Boulevard).
This perpetually-packed counter-service establishment may have fast-food style service, but the quality is first class. The menu features chicken, the best chocolate mole sauce I’ve ever had, fresh-caught fish ceviche, and tender lengua (tongue) tacos, along with more conventional dishes American will find familiar. Most of the platters on the menu are around $8 or under (through you can spend up to $18 on a feast of lobster or oysters), and all come in enormous portions you’ll want to share. All guests get a complimentary appetizer of freshly made tortilla chips with cheese and guacamole (something any other place would charge at least $5 for), and there’s and unlimited toppings bar of salsas and raw radishes (try one as an antidote for the spices).
Don’t forget to order a super-sized bottle of Mexican-made Coca-Cola with your meal; unlike modern domestic Coke, it contains old-fashioned sugar instead of corn syrup, and tastes like Coke used to before the 1980′s New Coke/Coke Classic debacle.
by Seth Kubersky
on May 24, 2012
From the fine dining of the Blue Bayou and Napa Rose down to the ubiquitous churro cart, the Disneyland Resort has more food options than any visitor could possibly sample in several visits (trust me, I’ve tried). The parks feature almost every variety of American cuisine, and an increasing number of ethnic choices, in both counter-service and sit-down venues. Add in Downtown Disney’s restaurants, and you have more than enough to occupy your appetite for weeks on end.
But one thing that the Disneyland Resort’s vast array of comestibles have in common is their higher-than-average cost. Sure, there are good values to be found on the Mouse’s menus, and you’ll be gouged even worse for snacks at most sports stadiums and airports. Still, when eating on Disney property you have to expect to spend nearly twice what you’d pay for a similar meal elsewhere.
Most of the time when touring the parks, atmosphere and convenience outweighs containing costs, keeping hungry guests inside the grounds. However, sometimes both you and your wallet can use a break from Disney dining. At Walt Disney World, going off the ranch to wrangle some grub is generally a headache. Luckly, the layout in Anaheim is more conductive to leaving for leisurely lunch. There are a couple prime eating options within walking distance of Disneyland that will help you fill your belly without going broke. And with a car, you have access to nirvana for hungry cheapskates (like myself).
While I’d never recommend refusing to dine at Disney’s table, consider some of my favorite off-property penny-pinchers before budgeting your next vacation. By taking advantage of them for a meal or three, you just may save enough dough to let you justify splurging on soup and salad at that new Carthay Circle Theatre restaurant.
McCormick & Schmick’s Happy Hour
The Anaheim GardenWalk has hit hard times recently (the bankrupt owners were recently foreclosed on) but that shouldn’t stop you from hitting up their bargain bites. The Downtown Disney-like strip of shops and restaurants sits only a couple blocks east of Disneyland, so taking a short sidetrip is viable without a vehicle. The complex contains several notable places to nosh, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and P.F. Chang’s, that offer daily happy hour discounts.
My pick of the litter is McCormick and Schmick’s, a high-end seafood chain normally known as place to stretch your expense account, not save a sawbuck. But the bar area offers a cut-price mid-afternoon menu on Mondays through Fridays from 3pm to 6pm that eases the pain considerably. A minimum drink purchase is required to dine at the bar, which will be easily fulfilled by a well drink or draft beer ($5 or under).
The star of the happy hour menu is a half-pound hamburger for under $4; throw on some bacon or blue cheese for another buck. Even less expensive items like fish tacos and tater tots are available, or for a dollar or two more you can order steamed mussels, sushi rolls, or spicy wings. Big spenders can buy a trio of sliders made from ultra-premium Kobe beef for $10. The selections rotate from time to time, but everything I’ve tried on the discount menu has been at least acceptable, and usually excellent. If you like what you taste, there’s a frequent diner club you can join; the bartender will happily provide details.
The strip mall at the corner of South Harbor Boulevard and West Katella Ave is Just a short walk from the GardenWalk’s McCormick & Schmick’s, but several steep steps down the retail food change. This is the kind of unlovely arrangement of discount storefronts that you’ll find in any second-rate suburban shopping center. And the selection of quick-service eateries operating here (a pizza parlor, an off-brand burger joint, a 24-hour Subway sandwich shop) are certainly nothing to Yelp about.
But if you are staying in a hotel near this corner (I frequently flop at the Super 8 down the block) this location can be a godsend when hungrily trudging to your room after an exhausting adventure in the parks. My go-to option at the end of a long Disneyland day is Panda Kitchen, which is conveniently open late (usually until after the park closes) seven days a week, servicing dirt-cheap Asian edibles to tired tourists.
Make no mistake, this is no gourmet palace of classic Cantonese cookery; we’re talking Americanized pseudo-Chinese fast food, served quick and and cheap with a healthy helping of grease and sodium. This isn’t the place to go if you’ve been studying haute cuisine in Shanghai for the past decade, but as a guiltly-pleasure devotee of “New York Style” stir-fry I’ve always been perfectly satisfied with my $7 combo meals.
The menu is short and straightforward, with a dozen-odd standards like orange chicken and sweet & sour pork. A few dishes have amusing variations on their usual names (“eggflower soup” instead of “egg drop”) but they still taste as expected. Be aware that (at last check) credit cards are not accepted, and they don’t deliver.
Again, the quality here doesn’t compare with the high-end dining described above. But when it’s almost midnight, and you’ve spent the last 12 hours riding seashells, spaceships, and submarines, the last thing you want is white table cloths. With fast, friendly service, serviceable restrooms, and ridiculously reasonable prices, this is a perfect oasis to pause in for takeout while walking back from the resort. And after a tiring day, there are few things sweeter than watching the late show in your hotel room with a bowl of wonton soup and some steamed veggies.
What’s your favorite place for cheap eats in the Anaheim attraction area? Leave your picks in the comments below, and tune in soon for the rest of my selections.
(Photo copyright McCormick & Schmick’s, Panda Kitchen)
by Erin Foster
on December 22, 2011
The Walt Disney World parties are wrapped up for this year, but in the spirit of “always planning for the next trip,” here are some observations from my 2011 visit to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that may be helpful when 2012 trip planning time rolls around.
- It’s all about the dwarves. I showed up at the meet and greet area for the seven dwarves at 6:58 p.m. The cast member attending the queue told me that my wait at that time would be, “Well over an hour, probably an hour and a half.” As much as I’ve been wanting that me-with-the-dwarves photo for years, I decided to skip it. I just couldn’t rationalize spending more than 20% of my party time waiting in a line. Next time, I’ll show up at the queue at 5:30 or 6:00 and plan to eat dinner and clean out my email in-box while on line. Santa also had a sizable line, but most other characters could be seen in half an hour or less. Plus, there was no-lines-no-waiting character access at the dance party locations.
Snow fall in Florida.
- The snow makers have upped their game. I’ve been to MVMCP during each of the past five winters. In my previous experience, the “snow” that fell on Main Street was more like a suggestion of snow – a few odd flakes to remind you that there’s a winter wonderland somewhere out there in the universe. This year, the winter wonderland had really and truly taken residence in the Magic Kingdom. Fluffy white stuff was actually accumulating on the sidewalk. I was wondering when they were going to break out the shovels. Well done, magic makers.
- Disney is making a solid effort to include everyone with their holiday snack options. In addition to the endless supply of snickerdoodles, apples, cocoa and cider, there are gluten-free, sugar-free, and nut-free cookies available, as well as sugar-free cocoa. Just ask at any of the food stations for these alternative items. They’re included with the cost of your ticket.
Snickerdoodles and cocoa are yum, but there are plenty of alternatives for those who need them.
- They’re still making one misstep in the food area. While it’s lovely that guests get a free candy cane after visiting Santa, cast members are offering those candy canes directly to children, without first asking the parents. There are enough kids out there with food issues that I’m sure this poses an occasional problem.
- Christmas fireworks viewing is no good from the train station. One of my favorite evening spots at the Magic Kingdom is at the raised train station loading area just above the entrance to the park. From here you get a bird’s eye view of the Castle and the entire length of the parade coming down Main Street. This is perfect on a summer evening, or for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, but in November and December the view of the castle is almost entirely blocked by the very beautiful, but nonetheless completely annoying in this context, Christmas tree.
- Disney is experimenting with their special event merchandising. In the past, hard-ticket party merchandise had only been available at the party. You had to go there to get it – that was part of the allure. This year the special limited edition collectible Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party vinylmation figure was sold via disneystore.com. I’m curious to see whether this is a trend that will continue
A personal touch in Tomorrowland.
- Keep an eye out for personal touches. During my party tour, I encountered several cast member initiated activities that made the Magic Kingdom feel like a small home town, in the very best sense. Of these, my favorite was at Mickey’s Star Traders. Cast members we walking around with narrow strips of paper, asking children what they wished for the holidays. The wish paper is made into a chain encircling the backstage area of Tomorrowland to help cast members in that area personalize their guest interaction. Very sweet.
- Technology is working its way into the guest party experience. Park maps and signage throughout the parks invited guests to receive party tips via text message on their mobile phones. The messages were mostly generic reminders along the lines of, “Don’t miss the fireworks show starting in 15 minutes.” I’m looking forward to seeing how this concept evolves in future years.
- The holiday version of “The Magic, the Memories, and You” is all kinds of awesome. I must admit that when this fireworks preshow was announced, I was one of the naysayers. Pictures on MY castle? Never! But when you see the castle dressed up as the world’s most perfect gingerbread house, all that bah-humbug nonsense just melts away. I can’t wait to see it again.
Alrighty peeps, what’s was your take on the 2011 MVMCP offerings? Anything you particularly liked, or anything that you wish they’d bring back from previous years? Let us know in the comments below.
by Erin Foster
on October 17, 2011
Let’s face it, a trip to Walt Disney World can be an expensive undertaking. The good news is that there are plenty ways to conserve funds and still have a magical vacation. I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a budget for your trip, and suggest some areas of potential savings. What you should know right off the bat is that planning an accurate and economical trip budget is going to involve some math, some research, and possibly some hard decisions. As a first step, download the TouringPlans Budget Planning Worksheet.
You’ll see that there are seven main areas in which you’ll spend money on your vacation:
- Theme Park Tickets
Let’s go through these one by one to see where you can find information on obvious costs and hidden costs, as well as where you can find information on ways to save money.
The main options here are flying vs. driving. In some cases, the choice will be clear; if you’re coming from Tampa then you’re driving, if you’re coming from the UK then chances are you’re going to fly (or get very wet ). However, for most of the rest of us, the decision may not be so easy.
Your ultimate choice must be based on real numbers – not only the cost of plane tickets vs. gas, but also factoring in all related expenses. For example, if you’re flying, you’ll need to get on the phone or search the airline website for hidden fees such as baggage or onboard snack charges (yep, AirTran recently charged me for crackers). Fliers should also consider the cost of parking or taking a taxi to the airport, tipping for baggage handlers, and other related expenses. Even if you are using frequent flier miles, many of these ancillary charges will apply. You may also want to consider the opportunity cost of using frequent flier miles. Would using your miles for this trip impede your ability to take a more expensive trip later on?
Drivers must consider not only the cost of gas, but also meals on the road, wear and tear on the car, and possibly more on-the-road entertainment. Longer drives may even include a night in a hotel along the way depending on the length of the drive and the number of drivers in your party. For a good rough estimate of gas cost on your trip, try consulting AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator.
Additionally, your fly/drive decision will impact transportation charges once you’re in Orlando. For example, if you’re flying and staying at a Disney resort hotel, you have the option to use Disney’s free Magical Express bus service to get you to your hotel. If you’re flying and staying off-site, you’ll need to pay for a car service or rent a car to get to your hotel. If you’re driving and staying off-site, you will need to pay for parking at the theme parks (unless you are a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder) and possibly also at your hotel. If you need to work while on vacation, or just want to upload your digital photos at night, budget for in-room internet charges if your resort does not include them (usually around $10/day when there’s a charge). Be sure to factor all of these stealth charges into your budget.
When looking at the cost of flying, there are now dozens of online tools and apps that can help you locate the most cost effective flight. Popular choices include Kayak, Google Flight (new), Trip Advisor, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These tools make it easy to experiment with your flights to find the best deal. Try playing with departure dates or number of connections. Sometimes a Saturday night stay or a brief stopover can save you hundreds of dollars.
If you decide to fly to Orlando, many of the sites above also offer discounted rental car opportunities. When renting a car, be sure to check your personal auto insurance policy and your credit card benefits. These often make the purchase of insurance on a rental car redundant. Declining insurance on the rental can also provide big savings.
As a starting point, log on to disneyworld.com and get a price for your preferred hotel during your travel dates. This will tell you the standard “rack rate” for the room. A little sleuthing can often uncover discounted prices on the exact same room. Twice this year I have saved about $20 per night at the Pop Century simply by booking through Expedia rather than through Disney directly. I had no loss of Disney benefits, I still got Magical Express service, Extra Magic Hours, and the like, I just paid less for them.
If you’re looking for room discounts, try asking a travel agent or using one of the online services listed in the transportation section. Additional discounts might be available for Disney annual pass holders or AAA members. You may even want to tinker with the timing of your reservation as a cost variable.
Another rule-of-thumb is that if cost is your primary concern, then staying at an off-site hotel can be a big money saver. While this often the case, be aware that some off-site hotels tack on additional fees not represented in the room rate. For example, the non-Disney-owned Swan and Dolphin hotels add resort fees and charge guests to park at the hotel. These add-ons can add up fast. Before you settle on an off-site stay, pick up the phone and ask what additional fees you might expect.
THEME PARK TICKETS
The best place to start for park ticket pricing is the TouringPlans.com Ticket Calculator. The Ticket Calculator makes it easy play around with variables and see the real price differences between several choices. For example, a few clicks will show you that once you’re visiting for several days, the price of adding another park day has minimal impact on your admission ticket price.
While you’re figuring out how much park tickets will cost, don’t forget to consider the price of the popular evening parties at the Magic Kingdom if you’ll be traveling during the fall or winter. You’ll also want to consider the price of admission to other nearby attractions if you’ll be venturing off campus to see the Wizarding World at Universal Studios.
Planning your food budget takes some serious number crunching. Some Disney guests swear by the Disney Dining Plan (available to guests staying at the Walt Disney World resort hotels), but by no means does the Dining Plan make sense for everyone. To see if the plan is right for you, take a few minutes to look at the detailed menus and pricing for Disney restaurants available at DisneyWorld.com or AllEars.net. Ask yourself some questions and map out a few days of sample eating for your family. Will we eat full breakfast or will a muffin and coffee do? Will we eat dessert with lunch and/or dinner? Can our children share a meal? Do we eat appetizers? … and so on. By really pricing out several days of eating, you can extrapolate your actual food budget needs.
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of snacks you bring from home or buy at a local grocery, as well as the price of tips and alcoholic beverages, which are not included on the Dining Plan. Be aware that many Disney restaurants tack on a surcharge during peak seasons such as the winter holidays.
On the cost savings side, many restaurants offer discounts to Disney Vacation Club members, Disney annual pass holders, Disney Visa holders, and other affiliations. I ALWAYS ask my server what discounts are available.
One cost savings measure might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I’m talking about “Free Dining,” a promotion that Disney has run each of the last several autumns. I’m going to leave it up to the extremely capable Tom Bricker, who explains the pros and cons of free dining HERE.
While there is certainly plenty to do at Walt Disney World with just your theme park tickets, there are also many ways to enhance your experience with activities and entertainment. And, no surprise, many of these items cost money. For example, strolling through Downtown Disney is free. But then your child sees the oh-so-enticing-and-not-so-free Characters in Flight balloon and begs for a ride. For my family of five with older children, that 10-minute ride is $90 proposition.
Of course the best way to economize on these activity extras is to simply say “no,” but you may want to indulge a bit with that balloon ride, a visit to the spa, or a round of golf. Pricing for these items is readily available online or with a call to 407-W-DISNEY. Factor them into your budget if you’re planning to partake.
The purchase of souvenirs is another area where saying “no” is your biggest budgeting tool. However, as I discussed in a previous post, coming home with absolutely no souvenirs is unrealistic. Use the advice in the post found HERE, to help create realistic souvenir expectations for your family.
While you’ll likely not get away without souvenirs for your kids, you can often skip souvenirs for friends at home. Does your dog walker really want a Mickey sweatshirt? Do you absolutely have to bring a mug back for your child’s teacher? You may be able to easily trim these items from your budget.
This is where everything else settles: stroller rentals, PhotoPass purchases, shipping fees, kennels, and so on. Not all of them will apply to all guests. As with nearly everything else in your budget, it pays to shop around for these miscellaneous items. For example, there are several ways to save money over renting a stroller from the Disney parks. You can save money on airline baggage fees by doing some laundry while on vacation, but then you’ll need to factor the cost of washing into you budget. Again, play around with numbers to see what works for you.
So what’s your budgeting process? Where have you found ways to cut corners? What do you spend money on that I forgot to include? Let us know in the comments below.