June 2015: Day 3 Magic Kingdon & 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 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!

Bay Lake Tower Review

IMG_6708On our 2015 June trip we called Bay Lake Tower, or BLT, home. When first reading about Bay Lake Tower and seeing its acronym of BLT I put off. A BLT is my favorite summer sandwich of bacon, lettuce, and tomato. However, after a bit of soul searching I found there is room in my heart for BLT to stand for Bay Lake Tower AND bacon, lettuce and tomato. After all, both are wonderful.

BLT is a DVC resort, so it is a bit different from other WDW hotels. (More on that momentarily.) One of Bay Lake Tower’s major appeals is its proximity to the Magic Kingdom. MK is just a short, pleasant stroll away. Because of this BLT often has guests that are not DVC members. The price is high, and you have to be willing to pay, and some do shell out to be close to Magic Kingdom. In fact, Many of BLT’s rooms offer stunning views of Magic Kingdom. This is particularly charming at night as it offers you a view of Wishes, Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular, right from your room. Fireworks in pajamas with no crowds? Not bad, eh?

Being a DVC resort, rooms at BLT are either Deluxe Studios (sleeps 4 adults), One Bedroom Villas (sleeps 5 adults), or Two Bedroom Villas (sleeps 9 adults). Studios include a kitchenette and single bathroom. One Bedroom Villas offer a full kitchen, one bedroom and one bathroom. Two Bedroom Villas offer a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. Studios, One, and Two Bedroom Villas all come with a choice of theme park view, lake view, or standard view. Standard views are anything level 4 and below. Lake views offer bits of Bay Lake (which may also include the pool), and theme park views offer a view of Magic Kingdom.

We stayed in a Lake View Deluxe Studio. We were situated in a room that faced the Contemporary, where we could view its pool, and watch the Monorails come and go. We could watch the boats sweep across the lake in front of the Grand Floridian. And in the distance, we could see Epcot’s Spaceship Earth and Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror. We could see the hot air balloon rise up from Downtown Disney. At night we were able to watch the fireworks of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios from our balcony, as well as the Electric Light Parade. We could even see bits of Magic Kingdom if we leaned forward and peered to the right. (A move for adults only, obviously.) We loved our view. It was varied and wonderful. We spent as much time as possible just enjoying the scenery from our balcony. If we were to go back, we’d be more than happy to have the same room and view all over again.

One thing that is important to understand about staying at Bay Lake Tower is that it essentially functions as a branch of Disney’s Contemporary Resort Hotel. In fact, BLT is  connected to The Contemporary via a Sky Bridge on the 5th floor. Because Bay Lake Tower is a DVC resort it does not have the usual plethora of amenities Disney Hotels usually boast. Not to worry! The Sky Bridge connection to The Contemporary his allows you ready access to its restaurants, bars, shops, room service, and Monorail access.  BLT and the Contemporary also share a bus stop, which is located between the two hotels.

While you need to walk to the Contemporary for use of a gym, restaurants, or bars, Bay Lake Tower does have wonderful outdoor recreation. There is a pool with a winding water slide, a kid splash area, and a whirlpool. The pool bar, named Cove Bar, offers up beer, wine, tropical cocktails, and an assortment of snacks. In an outdoor area in front of the pool entrance there are games set up such as corn hole, shuffleboard, and ping pong tables.

If for some reason you are unsatisfied with BLT’s outdoor offerings, you also can take the very short stroll to use The Contemporary’s pool. (We did for a water slide showdown! And in case you’re wondering – both are great. BLT’s is more twisting, whereas the Contemporary’s is more dipping with speed.)

This was our first time to stay at Bay Lake Tower, though we have spent just one night at The Contemporary. Bay Lake Tower is less themed than most other WDW hotels. For us, that was fine. We liked the minimal, contemporary feel. I think it would be less exciting for kids, but then again, you’re right next to the Magic Kingdom and that has its appeal. In fact, one day when walking on the Sky Bridge I saw a dad carrying a little dude about 2. He spotted Cinderella Castle in the distance and started saying “Dad! Dad!! I see Disney World! I see Disney World!!” Little man was pumped. It was awfully cute.

So, do we recommend it? Should you stay here? This I can only answer with, “well, it depends.” As I may have mentioned before, my parents are Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members. Since my parents are also awesome, they shared their points with us for this last trip. Otherwise, because of the cost, Bay Lake Tower would not be anywhere within our reach. If you are a DVC member, I absolutely 100% recommend it. We would be thrilled to stay there again. If you’re not a DVC member, then my recommendation comes less readily. If being close to Magic Kingdom is worth the cost to you – BLT is a wonderful experience. If, however, the idea of shelling out that kind of cash for a hotel makes you squirm – stay somewhere else. (On Walt Disney World’s property, of course!) While Bay Lake Tower was an amazing experience, other deluxe or moderate resorts make for better ways to spend your hard earned cash in equal comfort.

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Our June 2015 Disney World Trip Preview… Or, Kermit’s Many Adventures

IMG_6550Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here! And there, and everywhere in Walt Disney World on our June 2015 vacation. We had a truly wonderful trip and I’ve been very anxious to tell you all about it!  After we got home I was feeling pretty good… for about a day. Then a serious case of the Post WDW Vacation Blues set in. You know, where ordinary life seems kinda dull and flavorless compared to life in “the happiest place on earth.” After a few days I was feeling more or less back to my regular self and turned my attention to blogging about our trip. I started by uploading all 40 GB worth of photos and the 13ish GB worth of video. A simultaneously daunting and diverting job. I’m still in process of sifting through and editing photos. And of course I will compile a video montage once I go through the video footage. (I’m very eager to make said montage!)

IMG_6458Because I have such a large amount of information and media to share with you I will break our trip down into days and cover one day at a time. Today is simply all about Kermit, who unknowingly became our trip mascot.

A couple weeks before our departure date I went to Walgreens for some birthday cards. While trolling the card aisle I noticed Kermit hanging on a small clearance display for a whopping $1.67. Naturally, I snatched him up. How could I resist??

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One night my husband gave him an impromptu setting. The idea just kinda took with us and every few days one of us would randomly create a little Kermit scene. (Some certainly had our dog’s interest piqued.)

I had no real plans for bringing Kermie along on our trip. But somehow it didn’t seem right to leave him behind and I grabbed him as we headed out the door. My very clever mum, who had been privy to our Kermit antics, suggested we tote him around the parks and create WDW-Kermit photo scenes.

Lo and behold, our trip became full of Kermit. Actually, it’s one of the more entertaining things we’ve done on a WDW trip. Adults and kids alike would exclaim “Oo! Kermit!” and many enjoyable conversations often followed such a comment.

As I report on each day of our trip I’ll share the many adventures of Kermit the Frog. He even made his own photo passport of sorts in the Epcot World Showcase.

But, let’s go back to the beginning. We traveled to Walt Disney World via car trip, and Kermit was a goofy passenger…

IMG_6474 DSC00076 DSC00096We all wore bracelets that I made during the car ride…IMG_6483He made himself at home at Bay Lake Tower…IMG_6492 IMG_6493 IMG_6551And traveled to the parks in style…

DSC00627 IMG_6499 DSC00216There was even a dance party on the Monorail…DSC00898 DSC00895 After all, it isn’t easy being green!

More is soon to come! See ya next time!

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