The List… My WDW Vacation Prep Struggle

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Guys, I have a confession. I’m struggling! Normally I am so organized, excited, and filled with the planning spirit when I have an upcoming Walt Disney World trip. For me, the preparation is half of the fun. But I’m having a hard time with this upcoming trip.

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We are so busy. Life is good, but life is full. And this fullness is overwhelming my ability to think about this trip, let a lone plan. I’m particularly frustrated by this because it’s been a long time since we’ve visited and I’m clamoring to make the most of this trip – including the planning! Probably a foolish feeling, but since when are feelings always sensible?

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I’ve taken care of the essentials: making sure we have Fastpass+ and dining reservations. But beyond that? Oy.

I’ve hardly thought about it. My countdown calendar lacks daily attention. In fact, I’ve been lucky to get to it once a week.

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And honestly, I feel daunted by visiting with my toddler. How much will she be able to do? Will she enjoy herself? Will be she be tired and fearful? How do I prepare for taking her? Am I going to feel like a backpacker lugging around everything to meet her needs? Are we going to be able to enjoy it as a family? I know in my heart we will. But I’m definitely in unknown territory.

To combat my sort of nagging, back-of-the-mind wanderings I’ve taken to constructing lists. When my hubby reads this he’s going to say this is just an outlet for my OCD, control-centric personality tendencies. He’s probably right. But, it’s also a great way to start preparing and ensure I take everything I need – particularly related to my toddler. I’ve also found it to be a fun way to jot things down that I’m looking forward to, to help foster anticipation and excitement.

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So what’s on my random post-it list?

  • Sunscreen – Clearly needed in FL summer, but I gotta make sure to have toddler safe and convenient!
  • Ziploc bags – These are so handy. I always have a few in different sizes with me when I go to WDW.
  • Laundry bag – Much better than stuffing dirty clothes in a trash bag or tripping over them laying around the room.
  • Shoes – lol really? Of course we need shoes. Prime example of how my mind works. But my point was making sure to have enough appropriate footwear, and order more Olukai sandals if needed. And figure out little one’s shoes. I swear her feet grow every day. Actually, I think I’ll make my next post just about SHOES at Disney World! *Cue geeking out.*
  • Ponchos – It is very likely to thunderstorm/rain shower on our trip. I find it miserable to get wet and try to dry out in the FL humidity. I don’t like the way my clothes stick and feel heavy when wet.  While ponchos are widely available in WDW, they’re much cheaper to purchase from somewhere like Amazon.com, and pack.
  • Thermometer – This is something I don’t normally take, but having a toddler it’s probably good to have on hand.
  • Motrin – Both adult and children’s version. For adults, it’s great for the headache or just aches that may find you from walking MILES every day. For my little one, I’ll be comforted knowing I have something to help if a fever should happen to strike
  • Juice pouchesHonest Kids Juice Pouches are something I always take on vacation. They’re the perfect liquid treat for a road trip/WDW vacation without being loaded with sugar. The lemonade and fruit punch are my favorites.
  • Snack singles – I am not big on taking food/beverage into the parks, outside of a refillable water bottle. I know it’s a great way to save money. But I’m OK with paying a little extra for Disney yummies. Especially when that means I don’t have to tote it around. I do not like to lug things around the parks. I’m sort of a “bare essentials” gal. However, I’m aware I’m probably in for a change in that tide with a 2 year old. I’ve seen her hangry meltdowns. I don’t think a couple of goldfish cracker packs will take up too much room, and I will probably be grateful for them at some point.
  • Diapers  – I certainly don’t want to get stuck with a need for these.
  • Baby Wipes  – See above, but also perfect for wiping off Mickey Premium Bars from little hands.
  • Diaper Rash Cream – I don’t normally have a need for this, but I’m leaving nothing to chance with the heat and humidity of Florida.
  • Hand Sanitizer – I’m not sure I’ve ever taken this into the parks before. I’m not sure why not. I know the numbers of people moving through the park each day. And since I’ve turned mom, especially after this last terrible flu season, I’m a bit of a germaphobe. I will have plenty of this on hand.
  • Clorox Wipes – Not an item I’ll be taking into the parks, but certainly something that comes in handy around the hotel and in the car.
  • Lysol Sanitizing Spray – Again, for the hotel. I think generally Mousekeeping does a great job preparing Disney hotel rooms. But I don’t see any harm in spraying down surfaces to keep germs at bay. No one wants to be sick on vacation.

This is by no means a comprehensive packing list. (That is upcoming!) Just a few things that I stuck on a post-it note.

I began writing this post a couple of days ago. Since then, I’ve been feeling excited! I’ve made many more post-it lists and doodles. My mood has shifted. I’ve been able to imagine being there with my little one and seeing her wonder. I’ve had a blast compiling my lists and daydreaming about the trip. I think I’ll even catch up on the countdown calendar tonight…

See ya real soon!

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The Delicate Art of Disney Dining Decisions

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Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Snacks, snacks, snacks!!! Oh the plethora of culinary options. While there are definitely snacks I think you should make a point to hunt down at WDW, and quick service options I recommend over others, only your table service meals really need planing. We usually have 1 table service a day, and typically it’s dinner. This is for a couple of reasons:

  1. Mornings are the best time to be in the parks. If you arrive at rope drop you can enjoy 2-3 hours of reduced crowds before the late sleepers start arriving.  It’s also cooler in the morning. I don’t like to waste that time eating breakfast. An apple & trail mix on the go, or a cinnamon roll and coffee from Joffrey’s works for me.
  2. Table service meals tend to be more filling. It’s harder to run around enjoying attractions in the hot sunshine with a full belly.

Andy and I love food. Maybe we’re even “foodies.” Trying new flavors and textures of cuisine/wine/beer/cocktails/coffee excites us and we love sharing these experiences together, as well as with our family and friends. Our passion for food and my desire to plan a fluid vacation mean I spend a lot of energy considering our table service reservations during our trip. (Andy would probably claim I obsess, but isn’t planning half of the fun!?)

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Confession: I have trouble committing to my dining plans at Disney World. There are so many choices! I make initial reservations as soon as I can.  (180 days out if you’re staying at a WDW resort hotel.) Planning is essential and you’ll hear me say that one million times over. But, I often end up tweaking and changing what I have – chasing the dream of the perfect dining reservations combo. (Is this zeal or obsession?)

It’s a game of strategy. Sort of an algebraic equation:

cuisine type preferences + dining time + restaurant performance + location ÷ favorite must haves + new experiences   = PERFECT DINING PLAN!!

Eureka!

You must balance the type of cuisine you enjoy with the reservation time making sure it’s in the park you’re visiting (or not visiting) that day. I’m constantly combing my favorite Disney sources like Disney Food Blog, for their latest opinions which influence my decisions. Which restaurants are performing consistently high? Which offer amazing service? Finally there’s the pull of old favorites, or forgoing somewhere I had a positive experience a couple of years ago to try something new.

I realize that for some people table service restaurants aren’t that important. Plenty of people are happy to grab quick service for their entire trip. I’m not judging! There are plenty of delicious quick service options. Flame Tree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom, for example. Or, Earl of Sandwich in Disney Springs. Yummy. (And many more!)

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But if you’re going to make dining reservations, and you’re like me, you want to make sure your choices are optimal. So how do you apply that magic formula to your planning? I let the Extra Magic Hours guide when I visit what parks. Depending on the park and its proximate locations (i.e. The Contemporary is just outside Magic Kingdom), I decide the best cuisine location in that area. It’s hard to curtail Epcot and Disney Springs restaurants because of their numerous choices. That’s when I turn to sources like Disney Food Blog, who are eating in the parks frequently, to assist in my decision.

Sometimes I still end up changing my mind. For example, we were planning to dine at Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom on our upcoming trip where dinner is sort of Thanksgiving traditional. Liberty Tree has a fantastic reputation for consistently delicious food. Though it has great ratings, there’s something about the pot roast, turkey and stuffing vibe in June we couldn’t get past. So we opted to try out the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen instead, Magic Kingdom’s newest table service spot. The Jungle Cruise theme has high appeal and the food is reportedly pretty good.

And don’t get me wrong – most table service spots are going to provide you with some tasty chow.  I can’t recall a truly lousy meal on any of my trips. But each trip some spots stand out above the rest.

So my advice? You do you! If you want to go crazy and research – go for it! Or perhaps you want to just roll the dice and choose a spot. Either way, here are the ESSENTIAL THINGS you should do:

1.) Make reservations!! I really can’t say that enough. And make them as early as you possibly can. Trust me.

2.) Ensure your location is convenient. Due to the size of Disney World it can take a couple of hours to get from one point to another. Don’t pick a restaurant in Animal Kingdom if you plan to spend the day in Magic Kingdom.

3.) Make reservations a time that works for your schedule. If a big lunch makes you uncomfortable, skip table service then. Don’t schedule dinner at 5:00 if you normally eat late. Do what makes sense for you and your family.

4.) Have an open mind. Remember you’re on vacation. Wherever you end up dining, relax, enjoy, and savor the experience!

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See ya real soon!

I just need a minute…

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… to get up on my soapbox. And speak about Disney’s latest announcement regarding parking.

I get these impulses with Disney.

Like in 2013 when Disney turned the Main Street Bakery into a Starbucks. Sigh. While I love having coffee readily available on Main Street U.S.A., I would much rather they had chosen Joffrey’s – with whom they already have a working relationship. We ❤ Joffrey’s and their tasty coffee and oversized, HUGE donuts.

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Or last summer, when Disney announced they are changing the auction scene in Pirates of the Caribbean to be more appropriate and move aware from the idea of selling women. Hello, they’re pirates. It’s a story, and one with roots in art and history, and it is part of Walt Disney’s original concepts. I don’t believe anyone is under the impression Disney is promoting the auctioning of wenches. (Sorry if you disagree here.) WE WANTS THE REDHEAD!! I am not the only one miffed about this. With a quick Google search you can easily discover it’s been a significant controversy among Disney fans, spurring petitions and protest. Disney has been fairly “mum’s the word” about it all since the initial announcement. Pirates of the Caribbean is currently closed for refurbishment and scheduled to re-open next week. Time will tell what roll the iconic Redhead will be playing when it does. Show us your larboard side, dearie.

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Now for my current rant, Disney’s latest announcement. NO MORE FREE OVERNIGHT PARKING FOR DISNEY WORLD RESORT GUESTS. First the facts, for reservations made after March 21, 2018, guests at Disney World hotels will be charged a self parking fee, per night, of their stay. The fee, along with its tax, will be added into the guest’s folio at the end of their stay. Valet parking is on the rise also, going up to $33 a night at select Disney Deluxe Resorts and Villas. Here is the breakdown of the overnight fees:

  • Disney Value Resorts: $13 per night
  • Disney Moderate Resorts: $19 per night
  • Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts: $24 per night

Complimentary standard parking is available to Guests staying at the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Each campsite provides parking space for one vehicle.

A few exceptions: Disney Vacation Club members will not be charged when staying at a DVC Deluxe Villa (whether they use points or pay out of pocket) or if they use points to stay at any other Disney World Resort Hotel.

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For right now this fee is only for overnight parking. Day guests, guests who are hoping to shop, dine, or enjoy entertainment at a Disney World resort hotel, will still enjoy complimentary parking.

That seems slightly backwards to me. Guests already paying a premium to enjoy the hotels should not have to pay to park their car there while their head rests on a Disney resort pillow. I could see where if you were just visiting the hotel to dine or shop, and taking up parking from PAYING overnight guests, you could be charged a moderate fee.

Either way, it’s a big change. Parking at hotels has always been free and included as a perk for the Disney World resort hotels. It’s part of that “Disney difference.” How long before they start charging a fee for the Magical Express service to/from Orlando International Airport?

I am annoyed and saddened by this change. I have always been a champion for Disney World Resort Hotels. I think they’re amazing. I am not saying this fee is a deal-breaker on my recommendation of them. I am simply disheartened by this adjustment, because I predict it will not stop here.

With the coming of Star Wars: Galexy’s Edge – the new Start Wars land (as well as the many other new changes we cited in our last post) Disney World will be more in demand than ever. This is a case of simple economics: the higher demand will yield higher prices as more people are wanting to stay and experience a Disney World hotel while at Disney World.

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It should also be noted that paying for parking at a hotel is not an unheard of practice. I’ve paid a premium for parking many times when staying at a Philadelphia or Wilmington hotel. It’s just not something I’ve expected from Disney World.

If you were considering a visit to Disney World, go ahead and book that trip before March 21 to avoid the parking fee.

What are your thoughts? Are you frustrated? Does this change your consideration of staying on property?

I am stepping down from my soapbox… for today.

See ya real soon!

A New Chapter

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Disney World is a part of my life. It holds a lot of real estate in my core memory. As a child I was fortunate to have my family take us every couple of years. We bonded through imagination and adventure. In my college sophomore year I joined the Disney College Program for 8 months. Working at Walt Disney World I fortified friendships with people across the country and around the world. When I met Andy he knew me well enough to insist we join our hearts together in the place I love so dearly. We married at Sea Breeze Point on Disney’s Boardwalk and shared our first dance at The Living Seas.  We’ve since visited together to celebrate anniversaries and make memories as a married couple. Since our last trip in June 2015 we have been blessed to have had a little girl, who is now nearing her second birthday. (Hence my hiatus.) This June it is her turn to have her first trip, and I will have a new beginning visiting Disney World as a mommy. Navigating Magic Kingdom with her unique toddler pace and needs is uncharted territory.

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We got this.

It’s an interesting time to embark on a fresh start, as Disney World itself is rapidly evolving and growing. Simultaneously we have reached a new chapter. Changes at WDW that have occurred over the last two years and that will continue well into the next  two years are almost too numerous to name.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has finally opened Pandora and the night time spectacular Rivers of Light. The construction at Disney Springs is nearing completion. It seems as though I’ve been hearing continuously about a new restaurant opening there. And with a current 56 dining options, it’s no wonder…

Who will recognize Disney’s Hollywood Studios once Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars-themed (mega)land are open? A nice pairing to the innovative, fully immersive Star Wars themed hotel that’s being cooked up. Details are being released slowly, and it promises to change your idea what a hotel experience can be. I almost forgot to mention that The Great Movie Ride has closed and will be replaced by Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

New Fantasyland wasn’t the end-line for Magic Kingdom, there’s the new Tron coaster coming next to Space Mountain, as well as a live entertainment theater coming to Main Street, U.S.A. (I’m still not sure how I feel about that one.)

Oh yeah, and of course the complete re-imagining of Future World in Epcot. Goodbye Universe of Energy, Hello Guardians of the Galaxy.  Mission Space will get an update similar to Soarin’ and there will be a space-themed restaurant. World Showcase will not be left out. France is welcoming a Ratatouille attraction and China will receive a new film.

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What about the major reboot of Caribbean Beach that includes the Skyliner transporting guests to Epcot’s International Gateway and Hollywood Studios? The Skyliner will also be connected to Pop Century and Art of Animation. It over-shadows the Uber/Lyft style Minnie Vans that will take you anywhere on property for a flat $25 rate, if you’re not inclined to wait for the bus/boat/monorail.

Hungry? Did you know that mobile ordering is sweeping through counter service locations? Order on your phone and the food will be hot and fresh for you when you arrive at your dining location.

And the ever growing Disney Vacation Club is building a new property –  Disney Riviera Resort. This will be the 15th DVC property, and it’s said it will be connected to the aforementioned Sykliner. Outside of that not many details have been released, and I thought the concept art looked a little bland. What do you think?

Is your head spinning? Mine is. While I’m eager and excited for new experiences to pair with old favorites, it does make me apprehensive. Disney is good, but there’s a lot of quality control needing to happen. Can they support this rate of growth and maintain the Disney Difference? And the GREAT white elephant in the room: cost. Walt Disney imagined his parks to be a place available to everyone. It’s not a secret Disney World’s prices have been climbing. When does it become a place for only the exceedingly privileged? Some may argue we’re already there. Is this all change for the positive? Only time will tell. I hope I’m wowed.

In the meantime, I need to up my game and start thinking about park-friendly toddler snacks.

See ya real soon!

June 2015: Day 3 Magic Kingdom & Epcot

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For me and hubs, Magic Kingdom and Epcot are like peanut butter and jelly. Both awesome on their own, but put ’em together and BOOM! – a perfect pairing.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, Epcot is my husbands favorite park. I love Magic Kingdom and Epcot pretty equally, but for separate reasons. Magic Kingdom is nostalgic, full of wonderful aromas and attractions. Epcot offers adventure and excellent and abundant dining. Conveniently linked by the monorail, getting from one park to the other is easy and enjoyable. Going to both parks in one day also saves us the “argument” of which park to visit first on our trip.

So on our third day, the alarm buzzed at 6:30, we each grabbed a quick shower, enjoyed apple with almond butter and granola on the balcony, and were on our way to Contemporary Grounds for depth chargers by 7:00ish. We walked over to MK and passed through security and the turnstiles just as the opening show was wrapping up.

We walked straight back to Fantasyland and walked on to the virtually empty “Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid.” Our luck continued when we were able to walk onto “its a small world.” Next we went across to Peter Pan’s Flight. The standby queue was 35 minutes, which for Peter Pan, isn’t bad. Disney recently redid the standby queue to feel like you walk through the Darlings’ house. I CAN NOT rave about this enough! It is so awesome! If you spot Peter Pan’s Flight with a 30ish minute standby – go! You’ll enjoy your time in the queue as much – if not more – than the attraction itself. Post Peter Pan our streak continued with no wait into Mickey’s PhilarMagic and finding a 15 minute wait at The Haunted Mansion. (This kind of morning is why I think waking up early and taking advantage of early hours is the way to go.)

Leaving Haunted Mansion we stopped off at Sleepy Hollow and split a waffle filled with Nutella and fruit. So good. With our bellies full we headed back to Adventureland and walked right into the Enchanted Tiki Room.

At this point, though we were clearly on a roll, we decided to walk back to Bay Lake Tower for a break. We didn’t have any Fastpass+ reservations until later and our dinner reservations were fairly late at Epcot, so we thought breaking earlier in the day made sense. After returning to Bay Lake Tower, we both worked out (the Contemporary has a small, but awesome gym), we showered and went to the Contemporary’s Contempo Cafe for lunch. We got on the Monorail and were on our way back to MK to use our FastPass+ reservations for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain. Next we spun ourselves silly in a teacup at Mad Tea Party and then cooled off with this delicious raspberry lemonade slush from the neighboring Cheshire Cafe. We did a little people watching at the Casey Jr. Splash n’ Soak Station outside of Dumbo while we waited for our final FastPass+ reservation at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We’ve only experienced this attraction a couple of times, but it really is fun and adorable. I will say this about it: I spotted a lot of hats and a couple cell phones lost from the ride. Stash ’em away people. Think of how silly (furious) you’re going to feel to be out your iphone because you wanted a selfie.

At this point we felt like we’d had a really great first day at MK and so we hopped the Monorail over to Epcot to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

After passing through the gates, we had planned to head directly to the World Showcase to spend the evening, but Spaceship Earth had very small standby time that we couldn’t resist. After a glimpse at our future we ambled to the World Showcase to roam and kicked off with a beer in Germany. Prost!

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We had dinner reservations at Via Napoli in Italy. This was our first visit to Via Napoli and we loved it! Everything was delicious and the ambience is light and airy. It was simultaneously a cozy spot for a romantic dinner and a relaxed family environment. We would definitely dine there again, and I don’t hesitate in recommending it.

Post dinner we felt full and content, and decided to head home to Bay Lake Tower for a little swim and balcony relaxing. We caught a beautiful sunset on the way back that was the beautiful cap on a beautiful day.

 

 

June 2015 Trip Report Day 2, Animal Kingdom

On our June 2015 trip our first park day was Animal Kingdom. We have no traditions about beginning with one park over the other. Generally, we follow the Extra Magic Hours calendar when planning our days. It happened that Animal Kingdom opened early that day, so that’s where we went.

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I can tell you our alarm went off at 6:20, aka early o’clock. By 7:00 we were on our way to Contemporary Grounds for Depth Chargers. Armed with caffeine we headed to the bus stop, where we didn’t wait long. We got to Animal Kingdom and through security before 8:00 am. I say this practically every time I blog, getting up early may be a pain, but the payoff is worth it when you’re through the ticket line and onto your favorite attraction right at the start of the day.

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At 8:00 we were in queue for Expedition Everest. We waited a few short minutes before we climbed aboard. I love to start a day with a roller coaster. Hubby does not feel this way, but he’s a trooper who mostly indulges my fancies.

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After Expedition Everest we made our way to Kilimanjaro Safaris. The park was cool and uncrowded in the morning – really pleasant. We took our time walking, stopping to snap pictures. I think Animal Kingdom has an incredible amount of atmosphere and I love to just take in all of the scenery detail. We didn’t have much of a wait for Kilimanjaro Safaris, and we had a good ride. We spotted lots of animals, but my favorite of that trek was a baby rhino. The exit of Kilimanjaro Safaris spits you out right at the entrance for the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is a great place to scope gorillas. The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail also features a really awesome bat display that was closed for refurbishment when we were there. Upon leaving the Pangani Trail we headed to the new Harambe Market to check it out. We also poked our head into the new Zuri’s Sweets Shop. Zuri’s had nut mixes and plenty to satisfy sugar cravings, including adorable animal sugar cookies and fun animal themed candy apples.

 

After that fairly leisurely morning we decided to hunt down the Dawa Bar. This is a really sweet spot to grab a drink, cool off, and take in the atmosphere. If you’re into bloody marys, Dawa Bar has you covered with a killer bloody mary menu. Though they looked awesome, neither hubby or I are big bloody mary people, so he had a St. George beer and I had a class of Fair Valley Chenin Blanc. The bar was uncrowded, our bartender was awesome, and we could see and hear the African Drummers street performance from our perch. Though we wanted to linger here we had Fastpasses for Expedition Everest at 11:35, so we headed back to Asia for our second pass at the Yeti, and scored front car seats. Did I mention I love roller coasters? We followed up by walking the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Tigers are one of the main attractions on the Trek, but we didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of them. Though we didn’t see tigers, we did see an incredible array of exotic birds in the aviary. One bird in particular must have been very fond of hubby because he deposited a load of poo on hubby’s brand-new fedora. Fortunately I had some wipes in our backpack and we had a good laugh about it as we cleaned up the, um, gift. Everyone loves souvenirs, right??

At this point we were both in the mood for some chow. Normally Flame Tree BBQ is our go-to Animal Kingdom lunch spot. It’s so tasty. However, it was being refurbished, so we decided to go back to Harambe Market. It was kind of a zoo, no pun intended. Lines were long and slow moving. Table seating was at a super premium. Hubby and I split up the task. I ordered food and he scouted for a table. We both ordered a chicken skewer that came with a broccoli, tomato, red onion salad. We both had a milk tart for dessert. The chicken was delicious, especially the bbq sauce that was on the side. We both enjoyed having a healthy lunch that day. It was worth the wait.

After lunch we made our way to DinoLand U.S.A. to use our 1:05 Fastpasses for Primeval Whirl, followed by 2:15 Fastpasses for Dinosaur. We left DinoLand in pursuit of the 3:00 Finding Nemo the Musical show. I love this show. It runs about 40 minutes and outside of its great music and beautiful costumes, it’s an excellent way to cool off and get out of the sun.

After Finding Nemo the Musical we decided to forgo It’s Tough to Be a Bug, which was the only attraction we had left on our list. We elected instead to head back to the Dawa Bar to wait out the interval before our Tusker House reservation with a refreshment. (Tusker House is located right behind Dawa Bar.) The bar had really picked up traffic since our late morning visit. We met some really cool people while perched on a bar stool. I find that Disney World is an awesome place to converse with people, whether at the bar, or just in a queue.

When our time came for Tusker House, we got right in and ushered to a table. Tusker House is a buffet character dining experience. Neither of us had dined there before and we enjoyed having a new experience. The buffet was varied, including familiar and more exotic flavors that had Indian and Asian influence. We managed to see Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy who were all dressed for safari.

 

Both hubby and I agreed on an early night for our first day in the park. So with our bellies full of grub we left Animal Kingdom to head back to Bay Lake Tower. We managed to get in a  good swim with a few water slide runs before returning to our balcony for another evening of fireworks. All in all, a pretty perfect 1st park day.

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WDW Coffee Talk

All Hail the Depth Charger…

(and just coffee in general)

Once upon a time coffee was not something easily acquired at Walt Disney World. Primarily what you could find, unless you went on a specified hunt, was Nescafe instant coffee. Nescafe instant coffee? –  I don’t consider that coffee. Coffee must be from roasted beans, ground, and freshly brewed into wonderful, hot, dark liquid nectar of the gods.

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Kermit has coffee with dessert at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom

Fortunately, those dark and dreary days of the Nescafe Instant Coffee monarchy are over and long gone. For better or worse, each park and Disney Springs now hosts a Starbucks. Say what you will about it, there is now coffee in every park. Starbucks is not the only game in town either. In fact, they are just the minor leagues. Most WDW coffee is from Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co. (based in Tampa). They provide 100% Specialty Arabica Bean Coffee to Disney Parks and Disney Hotels. I am happy to say that this is the coffee you find in your hotel room, in WDW restuarants, and many stand locations throughout the parks. Actually, most restaurants have a Joffrey’s blend custom-made especially for them. (On Joffrey’s website you can view and purchase some for the comfort of your home!) Some hotels, such as the Contemporary, also have a Joffrey’s Coffee bar.

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Hubby and I are both coffee addicts enthusiasts. We never start a day without it. And despite heat, we do not forgo the coffee ritual in WDW or hubby (and occasionally myself) are less pleasant and tolerable. On our June 2015 trip, every morning, before boarding the bus/monorail, we walked next door to the Contemporary’s lobby to hit Contemporary Grounds, a Joffrey’s Coffee bar. There we met and fell in love with the Depth Charger. What is a Depth Charger? A a cup of holy goodness going by the recipe of one shot of espresso drowning in a cup of coffee. I believe Starbucks calls these “red eyes.” I am sure there are many other names for it.

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Contemporary Grounds offers freshly brewed coffee, cappuccino and espresso drinks, and a few pastries. Pastry selections include giant donuts that boast bright pink or chocolate frosting topped with sprinkles. We never purchased any baked goods to go with our coffee, but they looked delicious. Depth Chargers were not on the coffee menu, but the very charming barista kindly obliged my husband when he asked our first day if she could make it. After that, each morning we simply said “2 Depth Chargers please,” and they were delivered with a smile.

Because coffee is now so widely available in the parks you don’t have to feel pressed to grab it at the hotel before you leave. If Starbucks is your jam, head to Main Street Bakery at Magic Kingdom, Fountain View at Epcot, Trolley Car Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Creature Comforst at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Joffrey’s coffee stands are sprinkled throughout the parks, which is particularly nice in Epcot and Animal Kingdom that cover so much area.

Here are a few of the places you can locate Joffrey’s Coffee in the parks:

  • Walt Disney World Transportation and Ticket Center
  • Epcot World Showcase between UK and Canada
  • Epcot Monorail Station
  • Epcot Outside of Test Track
  • Epcot World Showcase America
  • Epcot World Showcase Entrance near Disney Traders
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios Pixar Place Entrance
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror Exit
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Entrace
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Asia, near Kali River Rapids
  • Blizzard Beach, near Polar Park
  • Blizzard beach, near Lottawatta Lodge
  • Typhoon Lagoon, near Let’s Go Slurpin’
  • Typhoon Lagoon Donut Cart
  • Disney Springs, Marketplace across from World of Disney
  • Disney Springs, 40 Thirst Street

Cheers!

 

June 2015 Trip Report, Day 1, Part 2

Schedule “Unplanned” Time!

I believe in planning for your WDW vacation. I believe in making dining reservations 180 days out and I believe in making your FastPass+ reservations 60 days out. I believe in changing your mind and changing your plans as your trip gets closer and during your trip if necessary. I like to make the most of my time, and personally I think you need to plan a little to make that happen. Walt Disney World is too large, and often, too crowded to leave everything to whim.  BUT, I don’t believe in micromanaging EVERY HOUR of your trip! You can’t plan everything – things pop up. This is especially true when traveling with kids. While I think certain planning makes for the best WDW vacation, I believe in the joy of just enjoying the moments that present themselves. It may sound funny, but I always allow for some time to just go with whatever is happening. If you can, allow for a day or an evening without a plan. Or, perhaps leave a couple hours every day to just embrace the moment. You won’t regret it.

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Hubby and I both agreed that for our first day (arrival day) we would have no firm plans. No dining reservations, nothing. You know from my last post, we arrived, checked in, wandered Disney Springs and left when we felt like it.  After returning to BLT, we got in a good swim. For dinner we decided to order a room service pepperoni pizza we could eat al fresco on the balcony. We’ve had Disney pizza room service a couple of times in different spots and it’s always been delicious. We paired ours with a bottle of wine we brought from home. If you bring wine/beer from home – which I suggest – don’t forget your corkscrew (like we kinda-sorta did). If you do, worry not, your resort hotel’s gift shop will most likely have one.

We had no idea what an excellent choice our in-room pizza dinner would end up being. Early on we had toyed with the idea of taking the Monorail to the Polynesian to have sushi at the Kona Island Sushi Bar. We really love sushi and we haven’t yet tried Kona Island. But, after traveling half the day, venturing to Disney springs, and swimming, we just didn’t feel like getting dressed and making the trek over there. So we didn’t. Next time perhaps, cause I really want to have a crack at their sushi.

But as I was saying, staying put and hanging out on our balcony ended up being one of our best memories from the trip. We observed an array of amazing things we would’ve otherwise missed. As we munched on our pizza we discovered we could see all of Epcot’s Illumination’s fireworks from our balcony. It was awesome! Below us, the poolside movie, Finding Nemo was playing. (Most WDW resort hotels do a poolside movie every night. Each night is a different flick. It rocks.) We could only see little bits from our balcony but we could hear most of it, and it was really pleasant to have that just hanging out in the background. This is all in addition to the fun of watching the Monorail and boats come and go.

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As Illumination’s fireworks were winding down the Electrical Water Pageant started up in front of Magic Kingdom. This is a short, simple parade of lights that runs on the water. It’s really charming! (Especially when viewed from the comforts of “home.”)

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Night view including MK and the Electrical Light Pageant

Just when hubby and I thought the balcony spectacles couldn’t improve, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee burst out of the back of the Contemporary. They were marching a bunch of buckaroos (aka, kiddos) from the back entrance down to the Contemporary’s dock. The mini pirates followed both Captain Hook and Mr. Smee onto a boat and set sail on some great adventure. We had no clue what the pirate parade was, but it was magical and insanely cute to witness.

As it turns out, what we witnessed was the Pirates and Pal’s Fireworks Voyage. This is a special, ticketed event. Popcorn and ice cream are served at the Contemporary before a boat adventure to view Magic Kingdom’s Wishes fireworks and the Electric Water Pageant. Pirates then return to the Contemporary for a bit more adventure.

After the pirates set sail our BLT adventures continued when Magic Kingdom’s Wishes begin. The music for Wishes is piped in, so we could hear, but we had no view of MK and the fireworks from our balcony. That didn’t stop us! We grabbed our glasses of wine, left our room and headed to the elevator. The over-sized windows gave us the perfect view of Magic Kingdom and the fireworks.

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Night view of the Contemporary from our balcony (minus Capt. Hook and the pirates).

Once Wishes was over we headed back to our balcony paradise to wind down the night. As it turned out we saw the Electrical Light Pageant a total of 4 times. Twice, on the Magic Kingdom side before it crossed over and performed twice more on the backside of BLT and the Contemporary.

We had no idea we would see and hear so much in one evening from our little balcony. We would have missed all of it if we had planned out our evening! So leave time to kick back, watch, and go with whatever your mood tells you.

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June 2015 Trip Report Day 1, Part 1

DSC00091There is nothing like the first day of your WDW vacation. You arrive, out of your mind excited delighted, and the entire trip stretches out in front of you. Everything is fresh, everything is there waiting for you to experience it.

DSC00094We drove into Walt Disney World from Savannah and landed on Walt Disney World property around 1 p.m. We had not yet gotten the text from WDW letting us know that our room was ready. Unfazed, we drove straight through the Magic Kingdom gate toward Bay Lake Tower. We figured even if our room wasn’t ready until 4 (normal check-in time) we could park the car and make our way to Disney Springs for some lunch and shopping. However, as if by magic, as we turned into the Bay Lake Tower (BLT) entrance, my phone buzzed and the text our room was ready flashed on my screen.

We parked the car and headed straight to our room. When you check in online you can bypass the desk and go straight to your room and your magic bands will grant you access. This is where we hit one of the only hangups of our trip. After taking the elevators up to our room, toting luggage behind us, we found our Magic Bands would not grant us room access. I left hubby with the bags outside the room and went back down to the front desk with both of our Magic Bands. A few minutes of computer coaxing from a cast member, I went back upstairs and we waltzed right into our room. You know from my last post how much we adored our room and Bay Lake Tower!

We brought all of our luggage up, ogled the room and our balcony view, briefly freshened up, and headed to the bus stop to catch the Downtown Disney bus. Our luck continued and the bus arrived after only a minute on the bench.

Upon arrival at Disney Springs we were starving, and food received top priority. We went straight to Earl of Sandwich. It completely hit the spot. Both of us had our eye on the Chipotle Chicken Avacado and Hawaiian BBQ chicken, so we ordered each and so we could go halfsies. We got a pager to let us know when our sandwiches were ready and sought out seating on the shaded patio. We had a great view of the splash zone outside of the World of Disney store. Our sandwiches were every bit as delicious as we’d hoped. With bellies no longer grumbling of hunger we went exploring.

As Downtown Disney was rapidly transitioning into Disney Springs, we found new signs, sidewalks, walkways, stores, and restaurants everywhere. There are plenty of old time favorites such as House of Blues, Bongos, Basin, Lego store, and World of Disney. But new delights were everywhere. Our favorite retail spot was Cherry Tree Lane, which housed many little shops with Disney merchandise for everyone. (Including Disney Dooney & Bourke for me! Though I didn’t buy any this trip…) I also love me some Basin, a store full of soapy delights. And you’d better believe I took my time sniffing and smelling all kinds of soaps, shampoos, scrubs, body butters, bath bombs … Ahhhhh.

After all of that shopping we were thirsty! I mean, it’s hot ya know? And nothing says “cool off” like a margarita. We spotted the new Dockside Margarita and headed that direction. This little spot has take out windows, a bar, and a side patio with some sweet lounge furniture. While we were there a musician with a guitar also kept us entertained. A very nice touch, especially paired with the stunning lake views.

After our margarita adventures we did a bit more shop meandering and soon decided we were ready to head back to Bay Lake Tower. Our prior luck with the bus had definitely run out at this point. The queue for our bus was a mess. And the bus took plenty of time to find its way to us. The longer we waited, the more people began to crowd. People start to get this look in their eye as they shifted their weight around nervously. Silent “we were here first, and we are getting on that bus and making our way to a seat” looks begin to go out. No words were exchanged or fights broke out, but it wasn’t a pretty, happy, or magical experience with all of that irritated energy. This is the kind of time where you chose to either be a grump or just go with the flow. It all worked out, everyone got on the bus.

After arriving back to Bay Lake Tower we continued to explore the hotel and of course, test out the pool. One of the cool things about Bay Lake Tower is its proximity to the Contemporary. After a swim at BLT’s pool and a run (or two, or five) down its waterslide we decided to test it against the Contemporary waterslide. So we grabbed our towels and took the short merry stroll over to the Contemporary and took a run or two down its waterslide. Both, as a matter of point, are excellent. The waterslide at the Contemporary seemed like it had a bit more speed, but the slide at BLT has a bit more curve action.

After our swim we were both pretty tired ready for a shower and dinner. We made a great choice to spend our arrival day just being mellow and enjoying the hotel. Traveling in had already zapped our energy levels and so hanging out was the way to go. We also were planning to hit the parks hard the following day, so resting up beforehand was wise. If you have the luxury of time, this is the way I recommend beginning your vacation.

Besides, our evening hanging out at BLT ended up being one of the best of our trip. But more on that next post… TTFN!