Posts Tagged ‘walt disney world’

Best (and Worst) Attractions to Get Stuck On

by on April 6, 2016

Thankfully, I had the good sense to bring some reading material along just in case I got stuck

Thankfully, I had the good sense to bring some reading material along just in case I got stuck

It happens. You’re right in the middle of an attraction, and everything just grinds to a halt.  Sometimes you’re down for a few seconds, sometimes it’s several minutes, and sometimes you actually have to be evacuated from the ride.  I was talking with someone in line on a recent trip, and he relayed a story where he spent an hour at the crest of the big drop on Splash Mountain before eventually having to walk off of the attraction without experiencing its climax.  To me, that seems like a pretty awful way to spend an afternoon, and it got me to thinking — what are the best and worst attractions at Walt Disney World to find yourself so stuck that you actually have to exit the ride using your feet? This article attempts to answer this pressing quandary that I suspect most of you had never bothered to contemplate before.

Here are the parameters of the challenge: you’ll be in the midst of the ride, and then at either the most or least optimal moment, the ride will stop moving, although the effects and show elements other than motion will continue to work. You’ll thereafter spend 30 minutes plus whatever time it take to get you rescued in that spot, and then you’ll either be ushered out by Cast Members, or extracted from the ride if necessary. Shows that you could just stand up and leave do not count (i.e., you cannot get “stuck” at Hall of Presidents). Also, you should assume that any momentum-based ride (e.g. roller coasters) is going to come to a natural resting place, such that you won’t be stuck upside down or in the middle of a steep hill.

So, without further ado, let’s go!

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The Basics: Selecting the right Walt Disney World Moderate hotel

by on April 4, 2016

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

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:

  • Room features
  • Resort layout
  • Food and beverage
  • Transportation
  • Pool
  • Recreation / Activities
  • Additional information

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.

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Dining Review: Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe

by on March 25, 2016

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the Walt Disney World landscape in recent months has been Disney Springs – new shops and restaurants galore, with many more still on the way. Recently, I dropped in for a meal at one of the mainstays of the West Side portion of Disney Springs, Wolfgang Puck Grand Café (located just across from the AMC theater and next to Bongo’s Cuban Cafe) to see if it was still worth a visit with all the new competition. This restaurant is divided into three portions – an outdoor Express location with a limited menu, the main downstairs area (the Grand Café itself), and the Dining Room upstairs. An easy way to think of these three portions: Express is like the quick service-y option, Grand Café is the standard table service (think of The Wave at Contemporary Resort), and Dining Room is a little like the signature table service – this should help understand the offerings (and prices) available at each. Conveniently, they place menus for each of the three outside the restaurant, so you can sneak a peek before committing to your chosen location.

Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe’s exterior draws in guests with a facade reminiscent of the 90s.

The Grand Café is 90s décor heavy, and looks much like the gaudy exterior on the inside – you’re definitely not here for the ambiance, though there are nice views of the water through the large window walls on the back side of the restaurant. My first impression of the restaurant upon being seated for my early dinner reservation was one of utility – based on the worn carpet and tables, it’s pretty clear this restaurant sees a lot of people every night. That made me pretty hopeful for great food. I was a little worried I’d never find out, though, as it took about ten minutes for a server to greet my table (odd, considering there was only one other table seated in the entire dining area – clearly not very busy at that time). Eventually, a very nice server came over to take my drink order and offer a few recommendations. I was pretty excited that she was clearly not just trying to sell the most expensive thing on the menu to me by suggesting it as her favorite dish, like you often see at other restaurants. I was selecting my meal from the dinner menu, which features moderately-priced, simplified American and Italian classics and sushi. I chose the Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, crispy onion strings, & port wine sauce and one of their famous pizzas, Pepperoni Pomodoro with caramelized onions, basil, & parmesan. Pizzas are available all day (as well as at the Express portion of the restaurant), and the meatloaf dish makes an appearance on the lunch menu as a sandwich (and was recommended by my server), so these seemed to be pretty representative of the food most diners would get from this location.

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Dates Released for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for 2016

by on March 23, 2016

©Disney

©Disney

Earlier today, we got information about the dates for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and now, we know the dates for this year’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party! Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a very popular hard-ticketed holiday event and a fan favorite experience.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held on select nights in November and December and for 2016, is currently scheduled to take place on the following dates:

  • November 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 18, 27 and 29
  • December 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 22

This year’s event will include Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, Holiday Wishes fireworks spectacular, cookies and hot cocoa, the Castle Dream Lights, and the Celebrate the Season castle stage show.

We do not yet know when tickets will go on sale, nor do we know what this year’s ticket pricing will look like. Stay posted to the blog, as I’ll make sure to post these details as soon as I have them!

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Disney After Hours Event Coming to Magic Kingdom

by on March 22, 2016

©Disney

©Disney

Guests will soon be able to experience an after-hours, ticketed event at the Magic Kingdom called Disney After Hours. During the event, Guests will enjoy the Magic Kingdom in the dark at an after-hours special event featuring shorter waits at many of your favorite attractions and Character meet and greets. Guests will also receive ice cream treats and bottled beverages during the event. This special evening will occur on select nights throughout the months of April and May.

The Disney After Hours event will occur on the following dates:

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Not-So-Fancy Dining: A Review of Diamond Horseshoe

by on March 22, 2016

For the next few months (March 13-May 30), Magic Kingdom guests have a chance to dine once again inside the beautiful Diamond Horseshoe restaurant located in Liberty Square, just adjacent to Liberty Tree Tavern. This restaurant has operated seasonally over the last few years as a quick service dining location, but has added a new table service menu available for lunch and dinner for late spring this year. Signage outside indicated I was in for all-you-care-to-enjoy “fancy dining”, and while I certainly didn’t leave hungry, I’m not sure the experience could be described as all that “fancy”. I was greeted by a gaggle of friendly Cast Members in a fairly empty restaurant (not terribly surprising, given it’s a new offering), and promptly taken to a table where I got a gander at the menu for this “fancy” feast. Prices are exactly the same as Liberty Tree Tavern’s next door ($33 for adults, $19 for children; Disney Dining Plan and Tables in Wonderland discounts accepted), but here you’ll receive salad, choice of an entrée (more on that in a second), and choice of a dessert, along with a non-alcoholic beverage.

In reading the menu through before arriving at Magic Kingdom, I expected family-style entrees, like Liberty Tree’s dinner service, but every entrée actually comes in individual portions – I was, however, allowed and encouraged by my server to order seconds or a new entrée at any point. First up, though, came Frontier Salad – tossed greens, tomatoes, onions, roasted corn, and corn bread croutons with house-made chipotle ranch dressing, served alongside a few pieces of corn bread and honey butter. The salad was exactly as explained on the menu – typical salad greens and fixings tossed in a slightly spicy, creamy dressing. Most diners will find this salad just fine – not too spicy, hits all the bases to make you feel like you’re checking off the “vegetable” box in the meal, and it’s not overly heavy, either. The cornbread on the side was very similar to what you’ll find at Trail’s End or Boatwright’s – sweet, dense, and very cakey, served with an even-sweeter honey butter. Overall, I found the side of bread a nice compliment to the spice in the salad dressing, but a little too sweet for my taste at the beginning of the meal.

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What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to the Magic Kingdom

by on March 18, 2016

Adventure is out there

A fine day for a drive to the Magic Kingdom.

As Spring and Summer are just around the corner, that means Spring Break and Summer Vacation and many guests making pilgrimages to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Actually, many will be visiting for the first time ever! If you are planning your very first visit to the park, and you’re like me, you’ve probably been doing your Disney World homework to avoid those rookie mistakes and hopefully maximize that precious vacation time. Still, oftentimes, they are a few things that aren’t mention in guidebooks which could’ve made your park time run more smoothly. So please glean from my first-hand experience Disney World Rookies and discover what I wish I knew before my trip to the Magic Kingdom.

Character Line

Meeting Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall

Characters Can Be Found at the End of a Line

While I love Disney commercials, they aren’t exactly a realistic representation of what it’s like in the parks. First of all, there are almost always people pretty much everywhere. Those shots in the commercial where the happy people seem to have the parks all to themselves? Not real. This is also true of how you meet Disney Characters. Very rarely does a character suddenly appear and surprise you with a hug. You see, at Walt Disney World, characters are escorted by a Cast Member to a designed spot and then guests wait in line for a little conversation, an autograph, and a picture or two. Now that doesn’t mean that meeting characters isn’t fun or memorable. It absolutely is! But it’s just not as spontaneous as it appears on those promos.

Always Ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight First

The Magic Kingdom has the most attractions of any other Disney World Park and many of them are extremely popular and absolute must-dos for first timers. However, something you definitely will wish you knew is that two Magic Kingdom attractions in particular are notorious for ridiculously long lines and they are the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight. Of course, the solution for anyone who has done their Disney World homework is to book a FastPass+ reservation for these attractions. But if none are available, or you just want to experience them again, you should definitely ride them first. Now I don’t mean you should ride them first whenever you happen to arrive at the park. No, I’m saying you need to ride them as soon as the park opens.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the park’s newest attraction and a hybrid between a tame coaster and a dark ride. The ride vehicles also sway slightly when going around corners, just like an actual mine car. All of the detail, technology, and just the fact that it’s a large, new attraction mean that the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train queue is filled from the first half hour of the day until fireworks at night; and so, I strongly encourage first timers to head here first thing when the park opens.

After Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, guests should most definitely make tracks to the other side of Fantasyland to experience Peter Pan’s Flight. This attraction was an opening day attraction back in 1971, and was inspired by Disneyland’s version which was also an opening day attraction there in 1955. Basically, Peter Pan’s Flight is timeless and will fill up the lines until the end of time. Personally, I don’t even think of getting in line for Peter Pan’s Flight once the park has been open for more than an hour, so definitely plan to ride it when the park opens.

Ft. Wilderness Boat Launch

Taking a boat to the Magic Kingdom

You Can’t Drive There

It’s true. You can’t exactly drive to the Magic Kingdom. There’s no way you can drop off your family near the gate and go find a parking spot and there’s no tram. Actually, if you’re planning on driving around Walt Disney World and want to go to the Magic Kingdom, you will have to park your vehicle at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). It’s located next door to the Polynesian Village Resort and is all the way across the lake from the Magic Kingdom. It’s basically the transportation hub of the Walt Disney World Resort. Here, guests have the choice to take a boat or Monorail to the Magic Kingdom entrance. Tip: If you are planning on taking a Monorail, choose the Express Monorail to the Magic Kingdom to bypass stops at the resorts.

The only exception to the no-traffic access in front of the Magic Kingdom is Disney Buses. Disney Buses are the only form of Disney Transportation that can drive Disney World Resort guests to the Magic Kingdom and drop them off near the entrance at designated bus stops. This is why many Disney World Resort guests who have a car or rental car choose to use the Disney Buses or Resort Monorails when heading to the Magic Kingdom for the day. So yeah, this is something you will want to know before your first trip to the Magic Kingdom.

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Key to Vacation Happiness: Realistic Expectations

by on March 17, 2016

Take a vacation to Walt Disney World and you’ll inevitably see a family having an experience that doesn’t quite live up to “the happiest place on Earth.”

Kids crying, parents grumbling through gritted teeth, “do you know how much I paid for this vacation?” It’s a far cry from the image of kids embracing a character in front of Cinderella’s Castle in a virtually empty Magic Kingdom that is portrayed in the commercials for Walt Disney World. But crowds, confusion and chaos can diminish a Disney vacation that a family has built up as the trip of a lifetime.

What's missing from this picture? Oh yeah, people. (Disney photo)

What’s missing from this picture? Oh yeah, people. (Disney photo)

So how do you make sure that your trip to the happiest place on Earth is just that? A recent study posits that the key to happiness is low expectations. Dr. Robb Rutledge, the senior research associate at University College London (UCL) who led the study, stated, “Lower expectations make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness.”

It makes some sense, except that no one visiting the Disney parks, should have low expectations. A better way to look at it is that someone planning their first Disney vacation should have realistic expectations. If you know exactly what you’re getting into, you’re much more likely to see your trip meet or exceed expectations. And if you’re reading a blog like this, you’re probably way ahead of most visitors.

When I first brought my family to Walt Disney World in 2009, I figured it would be our one and only Disney trip. So I wanted to do it right. That meant reading everything I could get my hands on – books, blogs and message boards; listening to the advice on Disney podcasts; and making smart use of a touring plan. Was the trip a success? The fact that I’ve returned five more times since then should make the answer clear.

Read on to learn more about how to keep your expectations realistic and your vacation happy.

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Where To Eat At Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on March 14, 2016

Disney's Animal KingdomIf you’re like me, you’re probably really excited about all of the new offerings on the way at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris? Rivers of Light? Count me in.). We’ll finally get the chance to see this park come to life after dark every night, spending a whole day exploring new and old attractions alike. Along with that extra exploring, though, comes a few practical considerations – mainly, where to eat. I’ve certainly enjoyed some great meals in Animal Kingdom over the years, but now I, like many of you, am faced with deciding where to eat multiple meals in one longer touring day at this park. To help tackle this problem, I recently dined with a few friends at the big three quick service locations in the park – Pizzafari, Flame Tree Barbecue, and Restaurantosaurus. Here, you’ll find a quick overview and dining review of all three locations (including some of the recent menu changes), and then a look at how the three compare to each other and the park’s various dining offerings to help you best decide where to head on your next trip.

First, I’ll address the elephant in the room – why only these three restaurants? It’s pretty simple: they’re the most popular, centrally-located, and accessible (menu- and price-wise) eateries in the park. I love the current table service offerings at Animal Kingdom, and really enjoy snacking my way around the park. More than likely, though, you’re going to find yourself looking to grab a quick and relatively cheap meal before taking in the park’s upcoming nighttime entertainment. Dining at these three restaurants doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning and they cover a pretty wide variety of cuisines suitable for palates of all levels of adventurousness. I’m skipping Harambe Market in this review, as it’s been pretty widely covered recently, and is located a bit further back in the park. Same for Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafe – it’s pretty remote, featuring Asian cuisine not unlike what you’d find at Lotus Blossom Cafe at Epcot. That’s not to say either of these aren’t great options for you to consider, but if you’re looking for food in a pinch (as you arrive to the park for the evening, or running between attractions on a longer touring day), the three restaurants outlined here are your most likely options.

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Hollywood Studios

by on March 14, 2016

Character meet

Hollywood Studios has a pretty solid line-up of Character Meet and Greets, including some great Character Meals.

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

We’re back again with another installment on Character Meet and Greets at Walt Disney World! We’ve already headed back to the basics with meeting characters at Epcot, and then we traipsed over to the Animal Kingdom. Today it is time for [insert dramatic pause] Hollywood Studios! (You’d never have guessed that from the title, right? And yes, I’m intentionally saving Magic Kingdom for the end.)

Character meet and greets can be magical for both adults and children alike, so even if you’re traveling without kiddos in tow, give some consideration to making time to meet the many characters who live in Hollywood Studios. (Expect maybe for the Disney Junior characters. That might be weird.)

Hollywood Studios offers some interesting characters, but it is worth noting that right now the park is under quite a bit of construction, which means that there could be more changes to character meet and greet offerings and locations than one might expect. For example, although you can meet Mike and Sulley from Monster’s Inc. at the moment, that character meet is scheduled to be closed on April 2, 2016. Just remember to double-check the character schedules right before your trip so you’re not taken unaware in the event any last-minute shuffling is done.

One of the major themes that seem to be occurring with my character meet and greet articles is that Disney has decided that right now is the best time to shuffle characters around! (I’m not kidding – the Epcot article was written and scheduled and the day before it was published Disney removed THREE of Epcot’s meets. Sigh.) Anyway, as I’m penning this particular article another announcement has come forth about adding new characters at Hollywood Studios. Check out this Touring Plans article for details about the new Olaf and Mickey and Minnie meets, which are coming soon.

Before I start with the details on who you can meet where in Hollywood Studios, I’m going to review the basic meet and greet tips I provided in the first two articles of the character meet series. Feel free to scroll past this section if you’ve already experienced it! (Or re-read it and see if you can spot the tiny adjustments I made to each version. And before you even ask, OF COURSE I’m providing new photos!)

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