Archive for January, 2018

Splitsville at Downtown Disney District to Open This Month

by on January 23, 2018

Those of us who frequent the East Coast parks know how fun Splitsville is, and soon, those who visit Disneyland more frequently will be able to experience the bowling and dining complex themselves! Splitsville will be opening at the Downtown Disney District on January 29!


Splitsville gives a whole new meaning with bowling, live entertainment and fabulous food. The complex is a spectacular 40,000-square-foot, two-story venue that invites people with its lively, yet comfortable atmosphere for guests of all ages to enjoy. The environment will fuse modern elements with a mid-century vibe. It will featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, an expansive outdoor patio, two state-of-the-art kitchens and 20 bowling lanes interspersed throughout!

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Where to Meet Characters Outside of the Walt Disney World Parks

by on January 23, 2018

Many things separate the Disney Parks from other theme parks, but one in particular is its characters. Guests don’t come to Walt Disney World just for Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain, but also for a chance to meet Mickey Mouse, a Disney Princess, or even their favorite villain! These days, characters meets are more popular than ever; and the good news is a park ticket isn’t always required for a magical encounter with a character. Here’s a look at my recommendations for where to meet characters outside of the Disney Parks.

Disney Resort Character Meals

Character meals are one of the most popular activities at Disney World. Instead of waiting in line for one character, guests have the ability to enjoy a meal in a special setting while a variety of characters come to them! While the parks are home to a number of character meals, the Disney World resorts feature a variety of meals that anyone can enjoy and without a park ticket.

1900 Park Fare

This Grand Floridian Resort restaurant is a buffet offering two different character meals with two different casts of characters. Personally, I don’t think the buffet is worth the price, but the characters make it up for it. The Supercalifragilistic Breakfast features a charming assortment of characters, such as Alice, the Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner offers those fairytale moments due to the presence of Cinderella and Prince Charming. But hilarious antics and interactions are in abundance as well, courtesy of Lady Tremaine, Drizella, and Anastasia. It may sound cliché, but 1900 Park Fare truly offers something for everyone.

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MaxPass Support Added to Disneyland Touring Plans

by on January 23, 2018

In Summer 2017, Disneyland Resort in California made its FASTPASS virtual queuing system accessible on mobile phones via a new paid service called MaxPass. The service is fairly straightforward: for the most part, you can obtain FASTPASS return times just like in the past without a need to visit a FASTPASS kiosk located near the attraction. That saves on walking and can speed up your touring.

Now when you look at a Disneyland Personalized Touring Plan, you have the option to specify that you’ll be using MaxPass.

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Hear the History of Disney’s Theme Parks on This Podcast

by on January 22, 2018

Sprinkled throughout The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World are little stories about how Disney goes about building its beloved theme park rides. Here’s one about the Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After fireworks show:

Jim Hill gives a peek behind Disney’s theme parks.

Tink’s First Flight One of the most dramatic parts of the Happily Ever After show is seeing Tinker Bell fly over the Central Plaza. The first time this idea was tried was back in the summer of 1961, at Disneyland. Circus veteran Tiny Kline, then 70 years old, ziplined down from the Matterhorn into a giant “catcher’s mitt” made of two bed mattresses. Walt Disney World got its own version of this on July 3, 1985.

These are written by Disney historian Jim Hill, and reviewing them is one of the things I look forward to every year with The Unofficial Guide.

A few years ago, Jim and I started doing a podcast with longer, more detailed versions of these stories. That show is called The Disney Dish with Jim Hill. It’s available on iTunes, Google Play,, and other places where podcasts are purveyed. Regular listeners of the show have — somehow, in their infinite generosity — given the show an average rating of 5 stars on iTunes.

The latest show wraps up the history of Disney’s SpectroMagic Parade, along with recent news from the parks. Give it a listen if you have a chance, and we promise to put in a good word with your parole officer. 

Star Wars Secrets of the Empire: A Virtual Reality Experience at Disney Springs

by on January 22, 2018

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … No, wait, it was last weekend in a storefront at Disney Springs, but it most certainly felt like Star Wars. Yes, really.

There’s a new experience at Disney Springs called Star Wars Secrets of the Empire, located in the Marketplace section, between the entrance to Once Upon a Toy and the new location of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. The storefront is unassuming, you might pass by if you weren’t looking for it. There’s not any overt Star Wars theming on the building exterior, just stylized sign reading “The Void” (the experience parent company). I arrived during the late afternoon with my 18-year-old twin daughters Josie and Louisa and their friend Emily. We didn’t know much about what to expect, other than it was something different to do at Walt Disney World.

As it turns out, walking up to the storefront at 4:30 p.m. was not the way to go; we were immediately turned away because the experience was fully booked. If there is availability, walkups are accepted, but this primarily happens in the morning on weekdays. The friendly staff on site recommended that we make a reservation for a time to come back during an open slot. We did this via the website and found an opening a few hours later. I did this on my phone and a couple of clicks later we had a reservation. After some shopping and a yummy Art Smith’s Homecomin’ chicken dinner, we were back and ready to represent the rebellion.

Check-in at touch screens.

Arriving again, we were asked for the QR code on our reservation confirmation email. I pulled this up on my phone and was directed to hold it near a scanner at the back of an iPad-like touchscreen device in the lobby. A few seconds later, each member of our party had to use the touchscreen to input basic info (name, age, email address) and “sign” a waiver. When this was all completed, an attached printer spit out custom QR code wristbands for each member of our group.

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Reasons We LOVE Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts

by on January 20, 2018

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century and Art of Animation), Moderate (Port Orleans Riverside and Fort Wildnerness), and Deluxe (Wilderness Lodge and BoardWalk). Today we are going to look at two of the Deluxe offerings with Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts.

Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.

# 6 – Beaches & Cream

Everyone who has tried to make an ADR for a Disney World restaurant knows there are several venues that can be extremely challenging to get, especially if you want a specific time or have a large group. Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Le Cellier are among Disney guests’ hardest to get reservations, but generally provide an experience that makes the effort to make the reservation worthwhile. Beach Club’s Beaches & Cream Soda Shop – thanks to its relatively small amount of seating inside – can also make one pull out hair in frustration when trying to get an ADR, but it’s worth it.

While Beaches & Cream offers a menu with burgers, hotdogs, and fries along with a ton of great ice cream sundaes (the peanut butter loaded No Way Jose is one to die for,) the big draw here is the signature Kitchen Sink. What separates the Kitchen Sink sundae from other outrageous desserts on property is the presentation. Not only is the dessert itself served in a mock kitchen sink – which unfortunately, you can’t keep – (we’ve asked, repeatedly) but the entire Beaches & Cream staff gets in on the action when one is delivered to a table. The overhead lights dim, an alarm light goes off, and your server reads off the list of Kitchen Sink ingredients, with the whole staff joining in with “and a whole can of whipped cream!” Trying the Kitchen Sink is a true Disney experience, and one that should be on every fan’s bucket list.

Beachs & Cream Soda Shop. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The Kitchen Sink.

Kids will LOVE the Kitchen Sink.

Chocolate Lover’s Kitchen Sink. While it doesn’t have the visual flair of the regular Kitchen Sink, for us here at the SATURDAY SIX it is a much more tasty dessert.

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Disneyland After Dark: Throwback Nite Review

by on January 19, 2018

This is a review of Disneyland After Dark: Throwback Nite, which is a special extra-ticket event that was held at Disneyland on January 18, 2018. Disney says it is the first of a series of Disneyland After Dark events that will take place throughout 2018. In this review I’ll go over some of the special offerings that were a part of the party (such as the swing band that played in front of ‘it’s a small world’), share my thoughts, and answer the biggest question: Was it worth the $95 price tag?

What Did Disneyland After Dark Offer?

I’ll go through each of the highlights that Disney promised on their website:

After-Hours Attractions – Ride iconic mainstays like Peter Pan’s FlightMatterhorn BobsledsPirates of the CaribbeanJungle Cruise and more.”

Most rides were operating during the party so it’s easier to list the rides that were not open. All of Toon Town and Critter Country (including Splash Mountain, which was closed for refurbishment) were closed. Most rides had little to no wait, with the exception of Peter Pan’s Flight, and Space Mountain, which were posting 20 to 30 minute waits throughout the night.

Character Greetings – Cross paths with some classic personalities.”

Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were seen wearing cute throwback 1950s outfits. Rare characters such as, The Blue Fairy, Merlin (from The Sword in the Stone), Flora, Fauna, Merryweather, Pinocchio and Geppetto were all meeting as well. Most characters did not have a structured line to meet them. Instead they were “roaming” and kept moving thanks to their handlers. This made it hard to get a picture of, or with, most of them.

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Disney Cruise Line Preview — Week of January 20

by on January 19, 2018

The Disney Cruise Line Preview is brought to you by Storybook Destinations. Storybook Destinations specializes in Disney travel, is consistently highly rated by our readers, and is owned by our own blogger extraordinaire, Tammy Whiting. Storybook also offers free subscriptions to TouringPlans to clients with qualified bookings.

Ahoy, mateys! I’m Heather, and I’ll be bringing you the up and coming on all things Disney Cruise Line. Welcome back again this week. Let’s see what’s new in the DCL world.

Ports of Call


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Maria & Enzo’s Takes Flight with Fine Fare

by on January 19, 2018

Maria & Enzo's RistoranteWithin the last few weeks, several new Italian eateries have opened their doors at Disney Springs; among them, Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, a table service location situated in The Landing, just adjacent to The Edison and Aerophile (formerly Characters in Flight). The restaurant’s story claims that it’s run by Maria and Enzo, and occupies an abandoned airport terminal from the 1930s, lending theme to the various retro travel posters adorning the walls of the massive main dining room. Every guest gets a dramatic entrance here, with a large sweeping staircase leading down from the lobby and check-in area of the restaurant to the central dining area (and adjacent “private” dining room, with a few tables tucked away in a quiet corner).


The main dining room of Maria & Enzo'sVisually, the restaurant is colorful and striking – almost too much so, reminiscent at times of the old Wolfgang Puck dining room. The atmosphere is loud, with the open ceilings echoing the comings and goings of the many diners all around. Daylight floods the back of the dining room, full of windows, which offers guests a great view of the Aerophile balloon rising and falling periodically. Overall, it’s a welcoming space for families, but not terribly intimate.

The menu is enormous (both literally and figuratively), populated largely with an extensive wine and cocktail list highlighting Italian specialties like various red wine varietals, sangrias, and an entire section of negronis (a step up from most Disney cocktail offerings). For food, expect to find moderate to upscale Italian staples, not dissimilar from the pasta and entrée menus at Via Napoli or Tutto Italia, priced similarly to Tutto Italia (read: on the higher end of the “acceptable” price range for Italian food).


Bread serviceTo start off our meal, our server brought over the obligatory bread and olive oil service, which was fine, but nothing you wouldn’t find at your local Italian chain eatery. We settled on two appetizers, both recommended by our server, the Arancini di Carne (meat ragu stuffed risotto balls, $14) and the Caciocavallo Fritto (fried Sicilian cheese with spicy Pomodoro sauce, $13). Both arrived in short order, and we were off to the races.

I’m a big fan of the arancini available at Via Napoli, so I had high hopes for these, but ultimately, they disappointed a tad bit. For $14, you receive two golf-ball sized arancini (a small portion, in my opinion, for the price), and while the fry on the exterior was perfectly crisp, the interior was a bit too gummy for my taste, and completely lacking in the promised meat ragu filling. There couldn’t have been more than one piece of ground meat in each arancini, unfortunately. Flavor-wise, they felt a little one note, but the spicy Pomodoro sauce really Caciocavallo Fritta and Arancini di Carnemade for a great accompaniment, lending an acidic and spicy punch to the party without overwhelming the rich and cheesy risotto.

The Caciocavallo Fritto sounds a lot like fried mozzarella on paper, but fair warning, this Sicilian cheese has a completely different flavor and texture than what you would expect. Six small balls, each also perfectly fried, come in one order (again, a bit small for $13, based on my expectations). The cheese inside is tangy and sharp, akin almost to an aged provolone in flavor, but the texture is less stretchy than you’d expect, and more custard-like. The flavor was a surprise, intriguing and new for me, and I enjoyed the few bites I had, but I really did wish for a few more balls to complete the plate.

Pugliese saladSeveral fresh salads also feature on the menu, so I wanted to give one a try to see whether their $12-14 price tags were justified. Ultimately, I decided on the Pugliese, composed of a handful of frisee, tiny bits of crisp pancetta, caciotta cheese, a soft poached egg, and dressed in mustard-white balsamic dressing. This salad is relatively decently sized, slightly larger than a typical side salad, but a bit smaller than what I’d expect from an appetizer (a trend, it seems). Well-dressed and seasoned, the caciotta cheese was really the star of the plate (aside from the oozing poached egg, of course), flavored similarly to the caciocavallo and punchy enough to stand on its own against the zippy dressing. Overall, I’d order this salad again, with only a bit of hesitation because of the price.

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Disneyland Preview — Week of January 20, 2018

by on January 19, 2018

A week of very low crowds, pleasant weather, and the kickoff to Disneyland’s Lunar New Year celebration!  Read on to find out more in this week’s Disneyland preview.

Special Events and Notes

While much of the week will be business as usual at Disneyland Resort, Friday the 26th kicks off the Lunar New Year celebration, as California Adventure welcomes the Year of the Dog. In addition to special food and drinks, and traditional ornamental lanterns and banners to set the celebratory mood, there will be several special events and opportunities to experience, including:

  • Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession, a parade that will run several times a day in the Paradise Pier area;
  • Hurry Home nighttime water show at Paradise Bay featuring Mulan and Mushu (temporarily taking the place of World of Color);
  • Disney characters in special Lunar New Year attire;
  • Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese foods at Paradise Garden Grill; and,
  • The Lucky Wishing Well.

For more information about the Lunar New Year celebration, check out Rikki’s preview, or Disney’s event page for daily event schedules.



Crowds will be very manageable this week, making it a fantastic time for a visit.  The highest crowds will be on Saturday when they are at a level 5, but most days this week you will see level 2 crowds.

Full details, including park-by-park crowd levels, are available on our Crowd Calendar.

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