The Magic Kingdom “Can’t Miss” List

Sometimes, when we are in the car, Hubs and I play a game where we propose hypothetical scenarios and we ask the other to respond. Usually it goes something like this:

Husband: “We’ve just arrived at Disney World! Where are we going first?”
Me: “Hmmmm… I’m feeling Epcot today.”
Husband: “Excellent selection. What is the first thing we are going to do?”
Me: “Straight up classic – Spaceship Earth.”

The answers vary depending on our mood. Often the answers involve Epcot or Magic Kingdom. Probably 95% of the time often.

Epcot DayIn my last post I discussed finding a perfect WDW vacation balance. For me, that involves my favorites mixed with unfamiliar delights and some relaxation. It’s hard to fit in all of the attractions, in every park during one vacation. So how do you choose? What you decided to do will depend on your time, interests, if you’re traveling with kids, weather, FastPasses, etc.

I started my “can’t miss” Walt Disney World attraction list. It’s kinda long… What can I say? I have a lot of favorites. So I’ve broken it down by park starting with Magic Kingdom. The list includes attractions, snacks and quick service food. (Table Service dining is excluded because they can act as whole blog posts.) I’ve given a brief note about why each has made the list. Attractions with an asterisks are super favorites. Since I totally made that up, I’ll qualify it with a definition:

Super favorite, noun, a Walt Disney World attraction/food that can not be missed on a park visit and will mostly likely be visited multiple times during a trip.

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The Walt Disney World Blog 2015 “Can’t Miss” Attraction List:

Magic Kingdom

(By land) Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, New Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Main Street USA

  • Pirates of the Caribbean * – Set sail with the pirates? Yes, please. This is usually our first Magic Kingdom stop. And that brings us too….
  • Aloha Isle – Dole whip? Yes, yes, and yes again. I like my pineapple, in a cup, no juice please. Whip is perfect on its own.
  • Jungle Cruise – It’s corny and classic. There is nothing fast or feverish about this attraction, but it makes us chuckle. 
  • Enchanted Tiki Room – The audio-animatroics for the Disneyland version of this attraction were among the first that Disney designed. There is a simulated thunderstorm in the middle of this attraction and when I was a little girl I was never quite sure if it was real or not. Once we exited the theater and I saw the hot, dry pavement I knew it wasn’t real.
  • Tortuga Tavern Code of ConductTortuga Tavern – Tasty Mexican food such as taco salads and burritos with a pirate theme. There is even a code of conduct written in pirate speak. Arr!
  • Splash Mountain * – Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear, and Br’er Fox make this log ride full of charm. This ride is over 10 minutes long, making it one of the longest in Magic Kingdom.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad * – The wildest ride in the wilderness is a family favorite. We like to ride it during the day and then again at night where it takes on a new feel.
  • Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe – Awesome taco salads and burgers,
  • Haunted Mansion * Delightfully creepy any time of the year. Hubs and I always find this a fun one to day late on Extra Magic Hour nights at MK.
  • it’s a small world – I won’t lie, this one does not make my husband’s “can’t miss” list. In fact, it’s more on his “I really don’t like it, but I’ll go once to make my wife happy.” But I like it. I love the costumes and I do not find the song irritating in the least.
  • Peter Pan’s Flight – A brand new interactive queue was just introduced to this attraction. The standby time is often long for this ride so it’s a good one to FastPass. Peter Pan is one of my favorite Disney movies and this is like flying through the film.
  • Mickey’s Philarmagic * – I love everything about Mickey’s Philarmagic. It blends Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy seamlessly with scenes from Disney films like The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Alladin, and Beauty and the Beast.
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – I think this ride is adorable. Everything from the queue of Whinnie the Pooh book pages to the little hunny pot you ride in to the part where your hunny pot bounces like Tigger. This is a must for little ones.
  • Mad Tea Party * – I love to spin, so this is a winner for me. Bring on the twirling! My mom does NOT feel that way. She won’t go anywhere near this ride. Ever. I’m sure she’s not alone. If spinning of whirling motion is not your thing, watch and wave while other go ’round.
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – I have only been on this new attraction once. On our last trip this ride had just opened and they were clearly still working out issues. On two different days during our trip the ride was closed for hours. We were pretty annoyed. Our first impressions of the ride itself were positive, though the ride seemed as though it was over in a flash. I hope we get a chance to experience it a couple of times this summer so we can really get a sense of it.
  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid – The queue for this ride is gorgeous. Actually, the castle and everything from the exterior is stunning as well. We only had the chance to ride this once on our last trip, and that was our first time. Overall, I found this ride disappointing. I think it was the style of the audio-animatronics. I do remember being distinctly impressed by the Ursala portion of the ride. I told my husband that it would’ve spooked the pants off of me as a little girl. But I love the queue, and I love the little mermaid. So this gets a second chance this June.
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant – The re-imagining of this attraction was brilliant. I love the entire set up and all of the themeing and detailing that Disney does so well. And the splash zone they set up? Love at first sight.
  • Space Mountain * – This was one of my first roller coaster experiences. I loved it then and I love it now. This coaster rattles and it’s a little rough compared to so many coasters now, but I think that’s fun. Add space sound effects and subtract the light to imitate space and you’ve got a great ride.
  • Carousel of Progress This was one of Walt Disney’s original attractions. It’s vintage but a classic for me. 
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover * – Just kick back and relax for a few on this one. There is nothing crazy about this ride. But, it’s just a opportunity to unwind and take in some great Magic Kingdom views from an elevated perspective.
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – Buzz Lightyear has enlisted your help! Climb aboard and aid him in defeating the evil Emperor Zurg with your marksman skills.
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor  – If you like a good chuckle don’t miss this one with the Monsters, Inc. gang. This attraction is audience interactive, which gives it a new twist every time you visit. If you have a favorite joke you can even text it in and it may appear in the show.
  • Walt Disney World Railroad  This is great for traveling from Frontierland to Main Street or to get to Fantasyland from either of those two. We like to just get on and ride the full loop. It’s fun and a good way to relax.
  • Casey’s Corner – So this is a little funny. In my day to day life I don’t eat much meat. Irregardless, I LOVE hot dogs. Piping hot with ketchup only please. (And maybe a small sprinkling of raw onions.) Casey’s Corner brings you some awesome hot dogs with a baseball theme. Yum. Oh, and often there is a ragtime piano player on the porch. Need I say more?

Cinderella Castle Close up

Finding the Perfect Disney World Vacation Balance

IMG_3152I am a creature of habit. I like a routine and if I find something that works I tend to stick to it. This is also true of my Walt Disney World vacations. I have resort hotels I really love, and attractions I can’t miss, and treats I must eat. (Ahem, Dole whip!!) And when in WDW I will go to any length to fit it all in. (My husband was entirely unprepared for this on our first trip together.)

As I mentioned yesterday in my Pack Like A Pro post, my cousin just honeymooned in WDW and I made this list of my “must see” attractions for her. It occurred me as we were talking about attractions and dining, that in my two recent trips I have focused on the things that I love to do and sort of dismissed things that didn’t fall into that category. Several times I said, “Well, I haven’t done that in a few trips, but I remember enjoying it.”

I am certain I can’t be the only person in this boat. Disney World is so massive, and offers so much to to do. You only have so much time when you’re there, and you feel this pressure to do the things you know you love because once you leave it’ll likely be a while before you go back. Sound familiar to anyone?

This repetition pattern is especially true for dining. Typically we only have one table service meal per day. We have spots that we really love to dine and so we repeat locations. Do we enjoy our meals? Absolutely. But trying a new restaurant is fun – and at Disney World it will probably be delicious.

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Peter Pan’s Flight was a 1st time experience for Hubs last June.

On our last trip, we did a better job of having a more balanced vacation. We enjoyed a little relaxation and did lots of swimming. We fit in attractions that we missed the trip before and all of our favorites. In our upcoming trip in June, Hubs and I have a new motto: balance what we love with “new” experiences. Let’s qualify “new.” New will be something neither of us has experienced, something one of us hasn’t experienced, or something we didn’t do in our last two trips.

IMG_3775For us, barring favored Les Chefs de France, all of our table service restaurants will be “new.” We are staying at Bay Lake Tower, which will be a brand new experience for both of us. We have a short list of attractions that we have not done together that we are going to try to hit. Additionally, to my husbands fervent delight, we have scheduled a day where we will not be going into a park. If you can manage it, a day away from the parks to rest and relax by the pool or whatnot is a great choice. You’ll be better refreshed and able to enjoy your vacation.

In the next few days I will be sharing my list of “can’t miss” favorite attractions, and I can assure you we will try to squeeze all of those in. (Our favorites list is plentiful.) But I think we are on our way to a more balanced Walt Disney World vacation that will leave both us feeling very joyful.

Ultimately everyone will have their own idea of a perfectly balanced Walt Disney World vacation. But for us, the perfect balance looks like this: our “must see” favorites mingled with new experiences and a little relaxation.

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Packing Like A Pro For Walt Disney World

IMG_5470Today my friends, is a gift. I mean, all days we have on this earth are gifts, but today is a snow day! As a teacher, a day where school is cancelled and you get a few precious hours at home to catch up on life, is wonderful. So here I am with my little diet coke and my happy place Mickey straw.

I always find myself looking at a huge gap in my posts wondering how it got to be so long since my last check in. The school year certainly proves to be the biggest time thief, but recently I have had another task at hand. My brother is getting married in April and I’ve been working on making invitations for their wedding. Those got sent out over the weekend and so now I have a rare extra bit of free time. Speaking of weddings, my gorgeous cousin got married over the weekend too. Yay! Her new husband booked their honeymoon at Disney World as a surprise, and that’s where they currently are. Eek! And I’m so happy for them! I know that right now as I’m typing up this post with frozen sidewalks outside my window, I know that they are having a blast in the pleasant 65 degree WDW weather. (I might also be a teensy bit jealous.)

IMG_2932Knowing we are Disney World fiends, my cousin called for some tips on her upcoming honeymoon. She only found out about the trip a couple weeks before their big day and she wanted to plan to get the most of her time. She raised some great questions, mostly about dining. But I ended up writing her an email about a few things she might want to pack and what attractions are on our “can’t miss” list. Dining and attractions are big topics, so let’s tuck them away for another day. But, what to pack? That’s doable.

Packing smartly for Walt Disney World can make a significant difference in the quality of your trip. If you’ve never been before, or like my cousin you haven’t been since you were little and mom did your packing, you may not realize everything you may need.

  • Clothes – OK, obviously you need clothes. Check the weather before you go to determine what kind of temps you’ll be facing. Pack enough clothes to be able to change once a day. This is especially true if you’re going in the summer. It’s hot and you will sweat. There is nothing better than going back to your hotel to shower and get fresh clothes on after a particularly hot day in the parks before dinner. Or in the afternoon after a swim at your hotel pool. Or whatever it may be. If you’re not going in the summer, pack clothes you can layer. The temperatures can fluctuate day by day, and mornings can be cool while afternoons heat up. Don’t forget your favorite Disney gear while you’re choosing your clothes!
  • Shoes – Now, you may be tempted to save suitcase room and minimize your shoe count, especially if you’re flying. Luggage rates don’t seem to be dropping. BUT MAKE ROOM because shoes are key. Walt Disney World is huge, and you will walk miles, most likely daily, when there. And you will stand, and stand some more. I like to pack a pair or two of nice flip flops that have support (like Rainbows, Merrills, or Oluai Ohanas), and a of pair of sneakers. Three pairs of shoes may sound excessive, but I’ve found that switching shoes every day or two will save your feet from aching as much.
  • Swimsuit – Disney has awesome pools and water parks. Hubs and I tend to swim almost every day so I bring two suits for both of us so we can alternate.
  • Sunglasses/Hat – Protect your eyes and face from the sun. I don’t tend to wear a hat, but both Hubs and my Dad do.
  • Ziplock Bags – Bring a few sandwich, quart, and gallon ziplock bags. They just come in handy. They’re great for your toiletries, or to make an ice pack, or to keep a wet swimsuit isolated. (Many a time on our last day I’ve just had to squeeze in one more dip in the pool. Then I’m faced with a wet swimsuit to put in my suitcase. Gallon bag to the rescue!) Our family also tends to pack a garbage bag or two for dirty clothes. A pop-up hamper like the ones for college dorms are also great for that task.
  • First Aid Kit – Make your own or grab a pre-made version. I suggest including band-aids, neosporin, benadryl, Ib preufin (or other favorite headache medicine), your choice remedy for upset stomach, and rubbing alcohol.
  • Gold Bond Powder – As we’ve established, Disney World includes lots of walking and sweating. This helps keep chafing down. I’ve also heard Body Glide is great.
  • Sunscreen – This may seem like a no brainer, Florida sun = need for sunscreen. But it’s easy to get distracted at Disney World as you go in and out of attractions and forget about it. Trust us, it’s needed. In fact, I got lightly burnt in Magic Kingdom a couple of days before my wedding. Thanks be for aloe. That’s not a bad item to toss into your bag either.
  • Ponchos – Rain is a very likely happening on your trip to WDW. January – April tends to have 2-3 inches per month. May – just shy of 4 inches. June is typically the rainiest month with over 7 inches on average. July – September average about 6 inches per month. During October – December the average drops back down to 2-3 inches a month. Rain, especially in the summer is brief. It clouds up, pours, then steams away. Having a poncho to whip out will keep you dry and let you move on with your day mostly uninterrupted. I hate getting wet and then drying out slowly as I walk around the park. You will find very cute Mickey ponchos in many, many shops in Walt Disney World. We have ones that we bought years ago and that go with us on our trips. If you don’t own any, you can pick them up before your trip at Target, or somewhere similar for a better price.
  • H2O – Water can be life saving at WDW, especially in summertime. Are there water fountains all over Disney World? Yup. But I’m not going to lie, the water is gross. It does not taste good – at all. A bottle of water in the parks can cost $3-4. Buying a case of bottled water before you go will allow you to save substantially. We usually take two large bottles into the park with us every time we go to a park. I have not tried these, but I have read that the Brita Sport Water Filter Bottles are great. Many people have used them in the parks and claim they nip the nasty taste of the WDW water. I think we may try these on our June trip.
  • Snacks – As with water, bringing your own snacks into the parks can save you lots of cash. Disney allows you to bring food and drink into the park. They do not allow glass, alcoholic beverages, or coolers however. Remember is hot so you don’t want to bring something that can spoil or melt.
  • Adult Beverages –  A cold beer in the afternoon before a dip in the pool is mighty refreshing. Bringing your own alcohol can be another money-saver.
  • Cameras and Tech Gadgets – I am usually manning my video camera in the parks while Hubs usually has a camera for pics. We both also tend to use our cell phones for photos. Make sure you’ve got all of the corresponding cords and chargers!
  • Magic Bands – Once customized on My Disney Experience these are usually shipped to you about a month before your trip. Don’t forget ’em!
  • Park Bag – Make sure to bring along a small backpack or your other favorite bag to take into the parks. In our park bag we always have our camera gear for the day, water, sunscreen, a snack or two, ponchos, and a mini first aid kit.
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Hubs is ready with Shades and a Camera.

 

OK, now I’m really ready to go! Obviously I didn’t include things for kids in here as we don’t have any of those yet. However, I have heard that Tide Pens/wipes, sippy cups, change for the penny press machines, and glow bracelets/necklaces are great additions for little dudes.

Caribbean Beach Review

I’ve said it before and I’ll stick to it. Deciding which Walt Disney World Resort Hotel to call home on your vacation is half the fun of planning. But with over 25 options covering three financial tiers (Deluxe, Moderate, and Value) each with its own theme, choosing can also be overwhelming. Fortunately any choice on property is a great choice.

When we booked our last trip to WDW it was late in the game and so we had few hotel options available to us. As it worked out Caribbean Beach was our luck. Already being a family favorite, no one was disappointed and our return visit only solidified the special place it has in our hearts.

IMG_2936You know the Jerry Maguire quote, “You had me at hello?” That’s Caribbean Beach for us. After exiting the Magical Express and approaching the Custom House where guest check-in is located, we were peppered with warm salutations and friendly smiles. The Custom House is enchanting with tile floors, high ceilings, fans swishing, and shuttered windows. Check-in was a breeze. We arrived early in the day and our room was not yet ready. Caribbean Beach graciously held our luggage and we made our way over to the Boardwalk for lunch. But that’s another story. Upon our return our room was ready, our luggage was delivered, and we took a stroll to survey the scene. IMG_2998What awaited us were bananas perfectly, inconspicuously hanging in the landscape. *Sigh* If only I could be looking at those beautiful bananas right now. And I hate bananas – I will not eat them. I think they’re revolting. My husband disagrees.

Vibrant colors are everywhere. The landscape is lush and tropical and the entire property hugs a lake named Barefoot Bay. Tell me that’s not inviting. Guest rooms are located in the six “villages” – Martinique, Barbados, Aruba, Jamaica, Trinidad North and Trinidad South that all sit around the lake. Caribbean Beach Lake ViewCaribbean BeachThere are seven white sand beaches with palm trees and hammocks and each village has its own pool.

Old Port Royale FountainAt the heart of everything is Old Port Royale Centertown. Here you can grab a bite to eat at the food court or at the restaurant Shutters. Or perhaps take a dip in the Fuentes del Morro pool, complete with cannons dripping water and two waterslides. One slide is 102 feet long, and I promise you’ll go back for seconds and thirds. Next to the pool is a magnificent splash area for little ones in the form of a wrecked pirate ship. Mini-slides and a giant barrel atop the mast that periodically dumps its water contents will delight toddlers. We paid a couple of visits to the Banana Cabana Pool Bar where you’ll find beer, wine, and plenty of tropical cocktails. At night they show a movie next to the bar on a giant screen. One of the best memories my husband and I had from our last trip was watching Wall-E with a cocktail after dinner at Shutters and a dip in the pool. (Our swim may or may not have included several trips down the large waterslide.) Fuentes del MorroRooms are comfortable with soft, fluffy beds and extra touches you expect from Disney. There is a Finding Nemo motif to each room, and it meshes perfectly with the Caribbean themeing. IMG_3001Bed Detail

Shower Curtain

Shower Curtain Detail

View from our room.

View from our room.

The temperatures have dropped into the 40s and 30s this last week and right now the rain is gushing down. As it is true that a picture is worth more than words I will cease my rambling and display some of the images from our stay at Caribbean Beach. I hope they bring you the smile and thoughts of warm days that they bring me.

Caribbean Beach MapGrab N Go Windows Gran N Go Cups Menu ShuttersCaribbean Beach Sidewalk Detail  Fuente Del Morrow Morning Aruba HibiscusAruba SidewalkAruba Pool 2 Aruba PoolPlayground Aruba Sunrise

June 2014 Video Montage

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, my family took vacations to Walt Disney World. We always drove and the trip would take 18 hours of drive time on average. Good ol’ dad always documented these trips. (Mum usually did/does most of the driving.) The old school version of good ol’ dad’s documentations included a very large, black video camera that rested on one shoulder while filming and video casette tapes. Yikes! Talk about the Carousel of Progress…

While filming, part of good ol’ dad’s routine was acting as if he was reporting in for a news station – “WDW T.R.I.P.” This little routine has stuck around in my family for a lot of years. When my husband and I got married in Disney World in 2012, my parents gave us a video camera and passed the baton to me. As a point of interest, this camera fits in the palm of my hand. So when you hear me checking in with WDW T.R.I.P. know that it’s a time honored tradition.

And so without further ado, I present the Walt Disney World Blog June 2014 Video Montage! I hope you enjoy.

June 2014 Trip Report Overview

_DSC2334I know what you’re thinking. “Today is the last day of September and you took your trip in June, right?” Yup.

I’m pretty sure July got sucked into a black hole. And August? Well, that was consumed by another trip to visit family and a completely unexpected job offer to teach middle and high school art. (Yay!) The tidings of good employment news brought to my table an abundance of work and dashed away the splurges of time to which I am normally accustomed. So this crazy ride of life goes.

Yesterday I finally sat down at my computer, plugged in my video camera, and began to watch footage I took on our vacation. It made my heart so happy and I woke up this morning thinking about the blog. Today, after school, I started to sift though photos my husband and I took on the trip. Full disclosure: I have yet to even obtain the oodles of photos my parents took. (Ahem, Mum & Padre – fork ’em over!!) I am filled with an overwhelming and compelling urge to relive all of the memories of our trip, and share with you what we learned.

Backlot CrewI’m sure I’m also partly fueled by nostalgia. As you may know, I interned at Walt Disney World when I was in college. I spent some of my time working in Entertainment and some in Operations. While in operations I worked in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at The Backlot Tour. Much has changed on that attraction over the years, and a couple of days ago Disney closed the ride permanently. Because of this there has been a small flood of pictures from my Backlot friends that have taken me away in a time machine. My time as a WDW intern changed my life and formed much of who I am.

While I am saddened by the closing of the attraction, I think Disney made the right decision. New and better things will come in its place. As Walt Disney said:

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

So the time I spent reminiscing on my time working at WDW and our wonderful June vacation has led me to writing to you all. I will soon be posting on our trip and I have lots to share: Caribbean Beach details galore, the new Magic Bands system report, food reviews, and attraction and parks tidbits. There are plenty more “What To Do Wednesdays” comin’ your way folks!

Oh! And my family can now call themselves Disney Vacation Club members. This means my favorite, most loved place will be part of my life for years to come. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the time I know will spend there with my family, especially my husband. Looking forward to the infamous “Welcome home!” on our next trip.

See ya real soon! (With video, pictures, and lots to say.)

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How To Plan Your Dining Reservations at Walt Disney World

HOW TO PLAN YOUR DINING RESERVATIONS AT WALT DISNEY WORLDHello friends! As promised from my post earlier this week, I am sharing my dining reservation strategy with you. I’ve been using this method for many years now, and I find it to be the best, most efficient way to plan my time at WDW.

Here are the two firm truths about planning a WDW vacation – short or long. 1.) Walt Disney World is expensive. 2.) Walt Disney World is gigantic, with hundreds of options for things to do. If you don’t at least spend a little time planning your trip before you go – you will end up wasting precious time. Using the WDW Blog Disney Vacationing Theorem we know that Truth 1 + Truth 2 = THE ULTIMATE TRUTH. See below:

WDW is Expensive + Nearly Infinite Ways to Spend Your Time =
TIME IS MONEY!!

Like my lesson for the day? It’s true. I promise. But here’s the deal – I’m not saying you have to pre-plan every minute of your trip. In fact, I frown upon that. Over-planning is a great way to be miserable during your vacation. You can’t control everything at Disney World. Buses run on loops. Attraction queue line times fluctuate. It’s all about balance. Your planning should have structure – but not be overly full. And your plans should be FLEXIBLE.

When I start to plan my WDW vacation I start with my Table Service dining reservations. Why? Disney World restaurants are not like regular restaurants. Availability is limited, reservations do fill up and a stand-by wait time can be hours. MAKE RESERVATIONS. And make them early. You had better believe I am online or on the phone 180 days out from my vacation to make dining reservations. If you do that, you can usually have any restaurant you want at any time you want.

As you know from my last post, my upcoming trip was short notice. As soon as we had booked our room we got working on planning and making said dining reservations. Here’s how I go about it.

First, I make a chart for the number of days I am going to be on vacation, and I include a bisection for each of the four main theme parks: chart 1Below the WDW Vacation 2014 block I have 7 spaces down the left side of the paper, one block for each of the days on my vacation. Across, to the right of the WDW Vacation 2014 block I have 4 large blocks for the 4 main theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Once I have the grid in, I start to fill in the blocks across for the 4 parks and the blocks down with the specific dates of my trip.chart 2Once all the dates are filled in, I visit Disney’s official website to find out what hours each of the 4 parks are open every day. AND most importantly, what the Extra Magic Hours are for the days of my vacation. Extra Magic Hours are extra times, either before a park opens or after it closes that are available ONLY to guests staying at a Disney Resort Hotel. EMHs (Extra Magic Hours) are a great way to visit your favorite attractions with lightened wait times. I place morning EMHs above the parks regular hours, and night EMHs below. I also highlight the EMHs so I can see them apart from the regular park hours. I do this because I almost always take advantage of the EMHs when they are offered. You’ll also notice Epcot is divided into two. That’s because Future World (FW) and World Showcase (WS) have different hours. time chart completeOnce everything is filled in, I take a look at the chart with a PENCIL (so you can make changes) and circle what park I think I’ll visit on what day. This is almost always dictated by the EMHs. Above you can see that on Friday, May 9 the park hours aren’t filled in. This is the theoretical day I arrive at WDW. I won’t go into the parks that day. Instead I’ll hang by the pool, go shopping at Downtown Disney, visit Disney’s Boardwalk, or buy tickets to Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach.day planning chartFor me, this all comes down to what parks I love and the EMHs. On Saturday, May 10 I circled Disney’s Hollywood Studios because it has morning EMHs. I then drew an arrow over to Epcot because I’ll probably finish my day there. Same thing happened on Wednesday, May 14. I chose to take advantage of the morning EMHs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but have myself jumping to Animal Kingdom that afternoon.

Once I have this tentative plan sketched out in pencil I consider my dining reservations. Typically my family will eat at one Table Service Restaurant a day, and eat at Quick Service spots for the rest of the day. Usually our Table Service picks are for dinner, but now and again we’ll go for breakfast or lunch. This is where the WDW Blog Vacationing Theorem comes into effect. To make the most out of your time you want plan your Table Service dining reservations to be in the park you’re visiting that day. If you’re in Animal Kingdom for the entire day, but you have dining reservations at Epcot, you will lose time traveling to Epcot, which could take up to an hour. If you had dinner at Animal Kingdom you could spend that hour visiting an attraction or two.

So for example, on Sunday, May 11, I circled Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom has evening EMHs, so I would plan to be at MK all day and night. So logically I want to make dining reservations for a Magic Kingdom restaurant. On Wednesday May 14th, I have morning EMHs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then plan to hop over to Animal Kingdom to finish the evening. I should plan to make Table Service reservations for breakfast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or dinner at Animal Kingdom. Lunch reservations could be made at either park, depending on when I want to hop from one to the other. Since Animal Kingdom closes early (6 PM), another choice would be to have dinnerat my Resort Hotel after Animal Kingdom is closed.

Once I have planned what meal I want to eat in what park, I start looking for reservations. If you’re calling 180 days in advance, you shouldn’t have any problems snagging what you want. If you’re like us this year, planning a short notice trip, you just need to be a little flexible with your times and restaurants. We had no trouble making satisfactory reservations for our upcoming trip in June. IMG_2739Once I have my dining reservations made, I like to highlight the block where they occur, and write the place and time off to the side (PINK). I also marked my park visiting plan in purple. This paper becomes my go-to physical reference for what’s going on, before I leave for my vacation. The My Disney Experience Application on my phone (or on Disney’s website) is my digital copy. The My Disney Experience App really makes it easy to see what you have going on each day. Love it.

Here’s a recap of my Table Service Dining Tips:

  • Reserve Early! You should be prepared to make your reservations 180 days out from your vacation, or as soon as you can if you’re planning a last minute trip. This will grant you the most choices.
  • Plan to eat where you’re playing! This is where my chart is useful. If you’re going to be in Epcot – eat in Epcot. This will save you the most time. (Again referencing the WDW Blog Vacationing Theorem stated above.)
  • Keep your times consistent! If you make reservations for dinner every night, make them for about the same time. This will keep your body from going haywire.

One last word: the strategy listed today is really all about time and making the most of it. It doesn’t factor in other dining considerations such as character dining. If you have kids who would love Mickey & Friends character dining – find a place that does that! But be logical about it. If you’re at Magic Kingdom, make a reservation for Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary. Yes,The Contemporary is outside of Magic Kingdom, but it’s right next door just a short walk or Monorail ride away. You won’t waste much time in transit.

ABOVE ALL, be prepared AND be flexible. Have a game plan going in, but be prepared to change. On my last trip to WDW I probably changed or canceled at least 2 of our dining reservations. Maybe you wind up wanting to spend more time at one park over the other, or you decide you want to just cut your day short and go back to the hotel for a pizza and a swim. Go with it!

P. S. Just so you know, the chart I made up for this post was just an example chart. It was much prettier than my charts usually end up looking when in process. See below for my working draft of our upcoming trip… Needless to say, I made a nicer draft in the end.

my real chart

 

Disney World Here We Come!! Planning a great vacation on short notice.

Hello to you all again! Hopefully you all remember me, I don’t blame you if you don’t. It has been a long, dark hole of absence from me. All I can say is that spring finally sprung and gardens needed to be planted, yard needed to be tended, and work was a MEAN, time consuming, and selfish monster for awhile.

But I come to you all with great news. The greatest news a Disney blog author can have… We are going to Walt Disney World!!!!!!!!

DSC_0135This upcoming trip is rapidly approaching – next month in fact! It is nearly a complete surprise to be telling you all that I am going. This trip is the best kind – unexpected. And full disclosure here, while the short notice, unexpected kind of trip is awesome, it is also the most difficult to plan when you’re approaching WDW peak season. So should you find yourself in our shoes, let me share with you how we are conquering this challenge.

Mum & PadreAbout a week or so ago I got a call from my Mumsy. She and my Padre are celebrating 35 years of marriage this year. Whoa. To celebrate they decided to take a lengthy Florida vacation and of course Disney World was among their stops. While on the phone chatting about this anniversary excursion she asked if hubs and I would like to join them for the WDW portion of their trip. I don’t think I need to tell you how enthusiastically I agreed. That was the easy part. Next, came the hard work.

As you know from my many rants, staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel is absolutely essential to having the best possible Walt Disney World vacation. For us, there is no other option. So we were terribly frustrated to learn that the original dates my Mum had selected proved to be overly popular at WDW. There were no moderate resorts available. None. Additionally, availability was incredibly limited at the Deluxe resort hotels as well as the Value resorts. Disheartened, Mumsy called to fill me in on how booked up everything was. She spent 2 days on the phone trying to get in to any of Disney’s moderate resorts with no luck. We now faced three choices:

  1. Keep on trying for our originally chosen dates. Things happen – people cancel vacations, guests over-book and cancel certain dates, wedding room blocks are being held that won’t all be used, and so on. If you keep calling morning and night, it is very probable you will eventually land some sort of reservation with which you’ll be satisfied. Persistence does pay. BUT, there are several drawbacks. Firstly, there is no guarantee – something may not open up and you’d be forced to be in a hotel outside of your budget or without all of the amenities you want. Secondly, it is time consuming. Not everyone has time to spend constantly checking Disney’s website or calling to check availability. Thirdly, without booking you can not move forward with making FastPass+ reservations, etc.
  2. Change our dates. This option is the most logical. Adjusting your dates means that you get more choice of where you’ll be staying. More availability means slightly lower crowds – which means better pickings of dining and what not as well. But in our situation this was difficult because my parents had reservations at other places in Florida since they plan to travel throughout the state. There were also forced to factor in our work availability.
  3. Cancel the trip. Fortunately this was a completely last resort option that wasn’t really an option. We are just not quitters. We will triumph! We would rather compromise than not go.

In the end, with an egregious amount of juggling, phone calls, and trial and error my amazing Mum was able to tweak the dates and find reservations for us at Disney’s Caribbean Beach. She wins the newly founded Walt Disney World Blog award for Successful Vacations Reservation via Patience and Flexibility. Congrats Mum.

Over the next few days I’ll share with you my planning strategies for scheduling dining and FastPass+ reservations. I’ll also give you a peak at my WDW vacation countdown calendar. So much to look forward to!

 

 

Epoct International Flower and Garden Festival is Back!

Epcot Flower & Garden BedWith the cold weather monotonously raging on here in the northeast, it’s almost impossible to imagine spring being right around the corner. (15 days and counting!) And while my iPhone weather app is telling me it’s a balmy 30º outside my window, temperatures appear to be averaging mid-70s this week in WDW. It’s a quirky habit I have – every morning before leaving bed I check our weather, and then I torture myself with checking the weather at Walt Disney World. *Sigh.

So with my landscape still appearing gray and white, I will vicariously enjoy spring with today’s opening of the 21st Annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Flower & Garden Fez means Epcot is brimming with colorful additions until the festival wraps up on May 18th. And the best part? When you go to Epcot you get to participate in all the festival fun at no additional cost. (There are a couple of exceptions – special garden tours are available at an additional ticket price.)

VIP topiariesHere’s the rundown of the Flower and Garden Festival offerings this year:

Topiary and Garden Displays: This is by far one of my favorite parts of the festival. Epcot’s landscapes and gardens are always lush and beautiful, but they really take them to another level for the festival. Gardens are suddenly charged with extra color and intricate patterns of plants. The topiary sculptures are simply amazing. Some of them take almost a full year to come to life. Some topiary displays, such as the Panda topiary display in China, bring some of the International traditions of the World Showcase to life. But most of them display favorite Disney Characters. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Whinnie the Pooh & Friends, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Bambi, Mike & Sully, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast are among a few of them. Kermit and Miss Piggy are joining the fun this year as well. There are over 100 topiary displays in all, and many of them are illuminated gardens that take on a new life after dark.

Epcot Flower and Garden CrocHGTV and DIY Network Stars Presentations: Impressive personalities such as Vern Yip, John Gidding, Genevieve Gorder, and David Bromstad are making appearances to give presentations on how you can improve your home and gardens.

Flower Power Concert Series: On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 5:30, 6:45, and 8:00 PM you can head to the American Gardens Theater for a little musical entertainment. Rotating musical guests such as The Guess Who and STARSHIP starring Mickey Thomas,  will be appearing for 30 minute concerts.

Kid Sized Fun: Tinker Bell’s Butterfly House with delight kids with the many butterflies flitting around. Kids will also find special play areas and gardens just for them.

Festival Center: The Festival Center is host to food, special merchandise for the festival, and learning experiences. Here is where you’ll find the HGTV star presentations as well as other seminars and exhibits.

Special Happenings: While the Flower and Garden Festival is open daily from March 5 – May18, there are a few special events that are scheduled within that bracket:

  • Art in the Garden Weekend – March 28-30
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Specialists – April 4-5
  • Florida Fresh Weekend – April 25-27
  • Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc – May 9-11

Outdoor Kitchens: Ah, my other festival favorite. This is the second year Flower and Garden Festival will be offering Outdoor Kitchen’s with small plate offerings that focus of fresh food and spring flavors. Taking a nod from the Food & Wine Festival in the fall, you can taste your way through the festival sampling spring through the eyes of cultures of the world. All of the menu items are available for purchase à la carte.

  • Florida Fresh – Focusing on tasty offerings from the Sunshine State. You’ll find a watermelon salad, shrimp and grits, and a Florida Kumquat pie to tempt your taste buds. A plentiful offering Florida beer, wine, and juices can also be found.
  • Hanami – Located in Japan this outdoor kitchen honors spring with sushi, fruishi (fruit sushi), puffed rice cakes, Kirin draft beer, and two fruit slushis – Pineapple Paradise with Yuzu and Orange Mango.
  • Jardin De Fiestas – Located at the Mexican Pavilion in the World Showcase this outdoor kitchen has tapas to try. To eat you can try pork tacos with grilled pineapple, onions, and cilantro, a mushroom and cheese quesadilla, or Mexican chocolate custard. Beer, white sangria, raspberry margaritas, and tequila flights are available to sip.
  • Fleur de Lys – Decadent french cuisine includes Parisian-style dumplings with vegetables and mushrooms, pulled duck confit with garlic and parsley potatoes, and an orange blossom macaroon with white chocolate ganache. Beverages include La Vie en Rose slush – Vodka, Grey Goose Orange, St. Germain Liquor, and cranberry juice, Kir Imperial – Sparkling wine, Chamboard and black raspberry liquor, Rosé pamplemousse cocktail – Rosé wine mixed with natural grapefruit syrup, and Kronenbourg Blanc 1664 – a white beer.
  • Lotus House – This China Pavilion kitchen features Beijing-style candied strawberries, spring pancakes with grilled chicken and green apple, and vegetable spring rolls. Quench your thirst here with popping bubble tea, Kung Fu Punch – Vodka and triple sec with mango and orange juice, South Sea Storm – Guava juice with light and dark rum, Plum wine, Beer and Lychee aerated water.
  • Pineapple Promenade – Pineapple Dole Whip fans will be delighted to see the return of this outdoor kitchen which offers pineapple soft serve. Try the soft serve on its own, or try it infused with Myer’s dark rum or Parrot Bay coconut rum. You can also have it served on a sweet potato cinnamon waffle. Is your mouth watering as much as mine right now?!? Frozen desert violet lemonade, Tropical Mango Ale, St. John Brewers, and Once Upon a Vine’s The Lost Slipper Sauvignon Blanc are also available.
  • Primavera Kitchen – Italy’s offerings of spring include Caprese, three cheese manicotti, and a torta di ricotta – lemon cheesecakes with limoncello-marinated strawberries. Wines, white beach bellini, strawberry rossini, beer and a frozen Italian primavera – assorted fruit slushy with limoncello and vodka will also tempt you.
  • Taste of Marrakesh – Mint iced tea, white sangria and Moroccon beers and wines all make great pairings with this outdoor kitchens small plates that include lamb brewat, harissa chicken kebab, and baghrir – Moroccan pancake with honey, almonds, and argan oil.
  • Urban Farm Eats  – New this year this menu is all-natural. Eats include a pickled beet salad with goat cheese cream, mizuna, and pistachios, Land-grown eggplant “scallop” with romesco sauce and spaghetti squash, and a ghost pepper-dusted tilapia with crisp winter melon slaw and mint oil. Beverages include Cucumber lemon spa water, The Vegan Vine Chardonnay, The Vegan Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, and Redbridge Gluten-Free Sorghum Beer.
  • The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews – This is the place I would lose my husband and brother. Probably my dad too, come to think of it. BBQ includes a pulled pig slider, smoked beef brisket, smoked turkey “rib,” and “Piggylicious” a bacon cupcake with maple frosting and pretzel crunch. Beers include Magic Hat #9, Magic Hat Brewing, Maduro, Cigar City Brewing, Fat Tire, New Belgium Brewing Company, Billy’s Chilies, and Twisted Pine Brewing Company. If you can’t decide – don’t worry, you can try them all with a flight. And if you prefer grapes to hops, try The Original Shack Red Wine.
  • The Buttercup Cottage – Grab a taste of England with this menu that features a baked potato and cheddar biscuit with smoke salmon tartare, a pork and apple sausage roll, or a freshly baked lemon scones with berry preserves and crème fraÎche. If you want something lighter try field greens with Plant City strawberries, toasted almonds, and Farmstead stilton. Beverage offerings include chilled rose blush lemonade, Twinings cold brewed English Classic with lemon grass syrup, or the Berry tea cocktail – Twinings Cold Brewed Mixed Berry Tea with Florida Cane vodka and Plant City strawberry flavored with raspberry and açaí syrup. Wine drinkers may enjoy the Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee or the Deloach Pinot Noir.
  • Intermissions Cafe – Located in the Festival Center, this spot offers beers, wines and flavorful bites. Fruit and cheese plates, wraps, and Caprese Push-Pops are among the menu items.

Clearly the Flower and Garden Festival offers so much to see, do, learn, experience, and taste. You can do as much or as little as you like. If you’re really into it, make sure to pick up a festival guide so you don’t miss anything and give yourself some extra time at Epcot – you’ll need it!

Epcot Flower & Garden Fez Bed

Spaceship Earth – Epcot

Epcot DayHello once more from WHAT TO DO WEDNESDAY. I’m telling you again that this winter gloom is really getting to me. While I’m not buried in snow currently, it’s been raining all day and I find myself thinking of little else besides fresh air, sunshine, and sun ripened fruit and vegetables. Last week we found our Laughin’ Place at Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom, and today I decided to mentally hop the Monorail and head to Epcot.

Epcot is Walt Disney World’s second park, and the last project that Walt Disney had a hand in before his death. Do you know what Epcot stands for? Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Fancy, eh?

I love the concept of Epcot, it’s really quite profound. The parks two parts, Future World and the World Showcase unite to bring global, cultural perspective to its visitors. I’m continually amazed that a visit to Epcot grants us not only entertainment, but a glimpse of our world, our affect upon it, it’s potential, and who we are as many cultures of this one planet.

Upon entering the park, you are greeted by the HUGE park icon (180′ tall to be exact) Spaceship Earth, which of course looks like a gigantic golf ball. Taking over two years to build, the technical and mechanical specs for this structure are quite impressive, including a complex draining system that prevents water runoff from the ball during rain. The water instead is channeled into the World Showcase Lagoon. But beyond the engineering, Spaceship Earth is worth discussing today because of the attraction inside.

Spaceship Earth signSpaceship Earth is a ride that takes you on a journey through the evolution of people and the history of communication. Science-fiction author Ray Bradbury and a team of prestigious historians worked with Disney to compose the original storyline of this ride. (Ray Bradbury was also played a part in designing the Spaceship Earth structure.) After entering, you climb into a teal-colored car that will take you through history beginning with Cro-Magnon man, heading to Ancient Egypt, Greece, and passing through the Renaissance. Printed press, telephone operators, and the invention of computers are all part of the adventure.Spaceship Earth

DSC05211One of my favorite moments of the attraction occurs in the middle when your car rotates and you begin to go backwards. In the process you are greeted by a dark sky littered with stars and a view of Earth from space. While much of this attraction remains true to its original 1982 form, a few updates have been added. In 2008 the attraction gained a new musical score, a new narration by Judi Dench, and in the inclusion of touch screens in the ride vehicles.

Spaceship Earth Future AnimationimageThe touch screens bring the ride to life and give a unique, interactive experience to each guest. Cameras take your picture at the beginning of the ride and through answering a series of questions you can see what your life could be like in the future.

Upon exiting the ride you enter Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future. Here you can view your picture on a giant screen, and send it out through email. There are also interactive displays and games that highlight the latest accomplishments in medicine, travel, and energy.

Spaceship Earth is an attraction for all ages. As a whole, the ride moves quite slowly, with no fast-moving sections. During the nearly 15 minute run time there are plenty of dark sections – so take heed if you have little ones fearful of the dark.

At times the queue can look much longer than it is because of the way it wraps around the outside of the building. I have always found this is a queue that moves along quickly. I do suggest if the wait time is above 45 minutes, especially if it’s in the morning, that you simply try the ride at another point in the day. Chances are you’ll get lucky with a reduced standby wait.

Epcot closeup