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.

 

 

The Epcot “Can’t Miss” List

DSC_0311This blog post is brought to you by… yet another snow day. March has settled in and I think everyone is longing for spring. Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival started up yesterday. If I close my eyes and wish really hard, do you think I could transport myself there among the topiaries, special outdoor kitchens, and illuminated nighttime gardens?

Nope, I don’t think so either.

At least I have some beautiful pictures to brighten the gray sky.

Epcot Flower & Garden BedEpcot is Hubby’s favorite park. He likes the mix of culture from the World Showcase with the action of Future World. Epcot also has wide open spaces that he finds appealing. For us, Epcot means a blended day of attractions and culinary samplings.

The Epcot list includes attractions, snacks and quick service food. Table Service restaurants are so numerous at Epcot that I won’t address them on the list. Items with an asterisk are “super favorites,” or things we tend to do multiple times.

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

Epcot

(By area) Future World East, Future World West, World Showcase

  • Spaceship Earth * – This attraction mixes history with the technological future. Interactive touch screens in the vehicles give you a personalized experience on the ride. You can have a different touchscreen experience every time, which is one of the reasons this is a super favorite.
  • Ellen’s Energy Adventure – What do Ellen Degeneres, Bill Nye the science guy, and Alex Trebek all have in common? They are all stars of this attraction, along with some dino animatronics. This ride lasts about 45 minutes and you will most likely exit knowing a sciency thing or two you didn’t know before.
  • Test Track * – True confession: When this attraction first premiered, it didn’t really thrill me all that much. I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t going on my “can’t miss” list. However, in 2012 it was remodeled with a few fresh ideas that not only bumped it onto the “can’t miss” list, but also into super favorite status. Sponsored by Chevrolet, you will travel through an interactive queue, build a custom vehicle on touch screens, and then have those specifications applied to your ride to see how your design performs. It’s really fun.
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends * – This ride is adorable and clever. Climb into a clam shell and travel through the Finding Nemo story. As you exit the ride you will have a chance to roam the aquarium and view a variety of salt water dwellers. An added bonus: the queue is rarely very long and it moves swiftly.
  • Turtle Talk with Crush – If you have little ones, this is a must. Using technology developed by Steven Spielberg, Crush appears and chats with the humans who have dropped in to visit him.
  • Living with the Land * – This boat ride is all about growing and raising food. That may not sound all that exciting, but it’s really neat to glimpse the direction agriculture is taking. You’ll see plants growing in unusual configurations and in super sizes. Fun Fact: The Land produces substantial amounts of produce and much of it is used in kitchens at Epcot.
  • Soarin’ * – Oh how I love this attraction. Love it. This hang-gliding simulation transports you to California. You’ll experience stunning views, scents, and music. I recommend getting a FastPass+ for this ride  The stand-by queue time quickly climbs and stays lengthy.
  • Sunshine Seasons – This quick service spot is located in The Land. It offers a variety of fresh, tasty delights that will suit anyone’s palette. This is one of our favorite Epcot lunch spots.
  • Gran Fiesta Tour – Head inside the Mexico pavilion to hang out with Donald and his amigos on this charming boat ride.
  • Journey Into Imagination with Figment – It’s hard not to love Figment. This whimsical ride celebrates your senses and imagination.
  • Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar – We love wine. If you do too you should head to the Italy Pavilion in the World Showcase. This cozy little corner offers a substantial selection of Italian wines. We’ve had some great wine flights here. If wine isn’t your speed there is also beer. If you feel peckish, check our their small plate menu.

Wine Cellar Wine Flights 962_PH307460812-0962

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • La Cava del Tequila – Located inside the Mexico pavilion of the World Showcase this bar offers a wide variety of tequilas, tequila based cocktails, and my personal favorite – margaritas!
  • Yorkshire County Fish Shop – If you like fish n’ chips, this is your place. We love to grab a cold beer here on a hot afternoon. Cheers!

Welcome to Epcot Epcot Day

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

 

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

W.T.D.W. – Character Meet and Greets

DSC00269Most Disney lovers have a favorite character or two. I have favorite characters like I have favorite attractions. In other words, I have a lot of them. I’ve always loved the all of the VIP characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale), but of those I particularly enjoy Pluto and Donald. I love Donald’s cranky nature. Then of course there’s the Toy Story gang. Who doesn’t love Buzz Lightyear? And the princesses… Seeing Cinderella in Magic Kingdom is sure to make anyone’s day. A chance happening with the Peter Pan gang? Yes, please. Alice and The Mad Hatter? The Mad Hatter’s funny accent and off-center comments always makes me laugh. What about Whinnie the Pooh and friends? Eeyore tugs at your heart while Tigger brings out the bounce in everyone.

DSC_0977Characters can be found all over Walt Disney World. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all have multiple locations for character meet and greets. And there are parades and shows where you can catch characters in action dancing and waving to guests. Catching a character’s eye as a child, and seeing them wave to you, or blow you a kiss can mean the world.

As we’ve discussed before, everyone has different priorities when visiting the parks. I tend to be an attraction junkie. Bring on the rides! My favorite attractions take priority in my time when visiting a park and I love planning and scheming so I can get in as many as possible on a given day. Bonus points are granted if I manage to visit my favorites multiple times in a day. Other people tend to enjoy the shows and entertainment – they never miss a 3:00 parade. Yet still are the people who love to go character hopping. They begin their day with a Guidemap and Times Guide with the listing of character appearances and times and they plan out who they want to see and when they want to visit them.

DSC_0173 DSC_0161DSC_0157You are never too old or too small to make friends with a Disney Character or two. Above, my mom grins with Chip and Dale – who have always been favorites of hers. My cousin, though just a little one, is just as thrilled to meet them. He loved to rub noses with the characters he met, which you can see him doing with Chip on the left. For anyone who can’t keep Chip and Dale straight I will tell you how I remember: Dale has the red nose while Chip has the black nose – like a chocolate chip.

RichandRafiki3RichandRafikiOn our last trip to WDW my hubby and I didn’t take any time to visit with characters. We were there in August, it was hot, we were far from well rested, and waiting to see characters just didn’t seem important to us at the time. I confess now it’s something I regret not making time for on our trip. Character visits make great photo opportunities, which are wonderful for sharing with family and friends. But it’s more than that – visiting a character is an experience. Characters are just that, characters – full of fun and personality. They grant you an experience to interact with them and have a moment of charm or silliness. Most characters like to clown around with guests and you’re sure to find a smile and a great memory in taking the time to say hello to them.

In my last post we met my buddy Rich, who told us the story about dancing with Princess Tiana. Rich’s character antics also included meditating with Rafiki (above) and goofing around with Chip and Dale with his brother. Rich give Chip quite the pick up/spin around hug (below).

So my advice is to take some time to meet a character or two and create a memory.

Rich Miller ExperienceCharacter Meet and Greet Tips:

  • Consult your Guidemap and Times Guide. To make sure you don’t miss out check your guides to get the times and places you can find characters, especially if you are looking to meet someone specifically.
  • Leave enough time in your schedule. Don’t get in line to meet Mickey Mouse on Main Street U.S.A. at 11:00 AM when you have a Fastpass for Splash Mountain in Frontierland on the opposite side of the park at 11:30. Know that you may have to wait in line to visit characters, especially the popular ones such as good ol’ Mickey. Just leave enough room in your schedule to not feel rushed.
  • Have your camera and autograph book ready. Being ready for pictures and autographs will make your visit run smoother.
  • Keep and eye out.  While most of the time characters are in predesignated locations at specific times, you never know when a character will pop up. I’ve seen Goofy water-skiing outside of Magic Kingdom and Peter Pan skipping through Fantasyland. Surprises are everywhere at WDW.

Christmas time is here!

MK Tables Christmas DecorChristmas day is only TWO WEEKS AWAY! Our tree is up and decorated, the stockings are hung, our front door boasts a wreath, and lights trim the house, inside and out, giving a delightful, warming glow to the night. Now, if only the last of our gifts were purchased and wrapped… There’s still time though!

chocolate carousel 2white horsechocolate carouselLast week we talked about how elaborately Disney decorates for Christmas, from 65 foot tall trees to constructing carousels of gingerbread and chocolate. Yum. While you can spend many hours just enjoying the decorations in the resort hotels as well as the parks, Disney offers special events that give that extra touch of holiday magic. We delved into a couple of those already last week, including The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Jingle Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom. But perhaps the two largest special Christmas events are Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom and the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party happens at the Magic Kingdom on select nights, beginning at 7:00 PM, running until midnight. This is a special ticketed event, so there is an additional cost to attend this event. The tickets averages about $65 a piece, which is certainly not by any means cheap. But a lot happens during the party, and I think it’s a great special occasion treat. For those of you who followed along with Mickey’s Not So Scarey Halloween Party back in the fall, you’ll find the set-up of Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party familiar. So what goes on during the pricey, festive 5 hours? Lots of special entertainment and tasty treats. Here’s a Mickey’s Very Merry rundown:

  • Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Parade: The parade features all of your favorite Disney characters, joined by elves, gingerbread men, and the like with plenty of festive music and lights. Santa even joins in! The parade runs twice during the party, usually at 8:15 and 10:30. Tip** The second showing of the parade is often less crowded.
  • Holiday Wishes: Wishes is Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks spectacular over Cinderella Castle. During Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party the fireworks take on a holiday flare with holiday music and colors with amazing fireworks.
  • Celebrate the Magic: Cinderella Castle is lit, bringing well loved Disney stories to life with a holiday touch.
  • Totally Tomorrowland Christmas: This fun show takes place in Tomorrowland featuring Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wizowski, and Stitch with plenty of music and dancing.
  • Celebrate the Season Show: Mickey and his pals gather to give gifts, and present their own special version of The Nutcracker.
  • Character Dance Party
  • Holiday Treats: There is plenty of complimentary hot chocolate and cookies to be had around Magic Kingdom Your taste buds will dance with these sweet delights. Also, Sleepy Hollow offers seasonally flavored waffles, Main Street Bakery has Mocha cocoa cupcakes, and Westward Ho tempts you with a peppermint brownies.

Christmas Cinderella CastleIn addition to the list above, there is a magical snowfall on Main Street U.S.A. and opportunities for character meet and greets all throughout Magic Kingdom. You can also visit your favorite attractions. Be sure not to miss the seasonal Jingle Cruise that has taken over the Jungle Cruise for the first time this holiday season.

Epcot celebrates the season with the Candlelight Processional. This music filled event happens nightly at the American Gardens Theater in the World Showcase. Each night the story of Christmas is read by a celebrity narrator, interspersed with music from a full orchestra and choir. In addition to the candle-bearing sizable choir, is a 50 piece orchestra, trumpeters, and a small caroling group. The celebrity narrators are exceptional. The list this year includes Neil Patrick Harris, Ashley Judd, Whoppi Goldberg, and Amy Grant to name a few. The full show runs just under an hour. The Candlelight Processional is not a special ticketed event, so there is no additional cost to attend beyond your park admission. Seating is limited though, and is available at a first come, first served basis. However, Disney does offer a Candlelight Dinner Package. In the package you get a 3-course meal or full buffet (depending on location) at a participating Epcot restaurant, guaranteed seating at the Candlelight Processional, as well as access to a special viewing location for IllumiNations, Epcot’s nightly fireworks and laser show spectacular. In my opinion, this is the way to go – you get a full tummy and a stress free experience for attending the Candlelight Processional. The list of participating restaurants is extensive, with plenty of flavor choices. And with your seating guaranteed, you are free to enjoy the park instead of get in line early for a seat. The event is extremely popular (deservedly so), and the American Gardens Theater is not huge. The Illuminations viewing area is an added bonus too!

Well telling you all about these festive happenings this morning has certainly put me in the holiday spirit! I hope it has brought you a bit as well. See ya real soon!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Thanksgiving has come and gone and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. It’s been so busy here lately and I’ve been so separated from the blog! But life always seems to kick into overdrive once the holidays draw near. I have no doubt that the time before Christmas Eve will pass by in a Buzz Lightyear-like hyper-speed.

Mickey Ears SnowmanStudios ChristmasDisney does the holidays like no one else – in true Disney style. All of Walt Disney World is transformed with a bounty of decorations. The statistics are mind-boggling. 1,300 Christmas trees, just as many wreaths, and well over 8,500,000 lights. Yes, over eight MILLION lights. And then there are all of the ornaments, stockings, candles, ribbon, chocolate, gingerbread, candy cane, and garland (to name a few). Considering I haven’t even started my Christmas decorating yet, Disney clearly puts me to shame. And pretty much any one else, for that matter. Christmas trees can reach up to 65 feet tall, and each is uniquely decorated to look perfectly in place, wherever it may call home. Ornaments are all custom made and some are delightfully large to look just right one the Christmas trees of epic proportions.

Not to be outdone, the horticulture team at Walt Disney World plays an expert and essential part in the decorating. Landscapes transform with poinsettias, ivy, and topiaries. Especially the poinsettias. Magic Kingdom alone can have 25,000 poinsettias for holiday decor.

MK Tables Christmas DecorChristmas Cinderella Castle 2Truth is, holiday planning and decorations are worked on year-round. No corner is left unturned. Cinderella Castle gets draped in over 200,000 LED lights, making it glisten like a beautiful ice sculpture at night. At Animal Kingdom, Mickey’s Jamin’ Jungle Parade becomes the Jingle Jungle Parade. Epcot’s World Showcase gets a multicultural holiday make-over where the 11 world showcases display holiday traditions from around the world. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is home to The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The Streets of America are completely draped in lights, and then brought to life with music. Amazing.

Christmas Lights Studios StreetContemporary ChristmasOf course, decorating isn’t just reserved for the theme parks. All of the resort hotels get an astounding dash of decorating as well. Christmas trees and completely edible, over-sized gingerbread houses can be found in resort hotels as well. The Contemporary has a Mary Blair gingerbread piece, while The Grand Floridian has a life sized Victorian gingerbread house. Head inside the gingerbread house to purchase your own gingerbread nibbles and sweet snacks. The Beach Club Resort has a life sized carousel with chocolate horses, The Boardwalk has a gingerbread gazebo, and the Yacht Club has it’s own miniature gingerbread village, complete with a train set. You could have a wonderful, holiday outing just visiting different resorts to see their holiday decor.

Wilderness Lodge Christmas

Wilderness Lodge Bridge Decoration

Wilderness Lodge Christmas Tree

Wilderness Lodge Christmas Tree

AK Lodge Christmas

Animal Kingdom Lodge Christmas Tree

Grand Flo Gingerbread House

Grand Floridian Gingerbread House

Grand Flo Christmas Up

Grand Floridian Christmas

Grand Flo Christmas Tree 2

Grand Floridian Christmas Tree

*Whew* That is just a touch of the holiday festivities at WDW, and I’m exhausted just thinking about it all. How special it would be to see it all! Next post I will tell you more about the holiday going-ons at Walt Disney World, such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Epcot’s Candlelight Processional.

M.M. – Epoct International Food & Wine Festival Picks

After taking two days to bring you two (very) long posts about the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, I just couldn’t seem to let it go. Food, food, food, was all hubby and I could talk about. So I made the decision last Friday that we would take the weekend to consider the Food Marketplace menus I divulged in Part 1, and pick our must-tastes. We worked separately on our lists, so we could compare. There was no set number of items – just a food & drink choosing free-for-all.

Hubby sat down and chose his list within about 10 minutes. “How?!?” you ask. I don’t know. It took me forever. (Forever looking more like 30 minutes.) At any rate, here are the lists: His, Hers, and Ours (common items among our lists).

IMG_0645

HIS EATS:

  • Grilled beef skewer with chimichurri sauce & boniato purée – Argentina
  • Seared mahi mahi with jasmine rice and “singa” sauce – Singapore
  • Almond crusted blue cheese soufflé with fig jam- Cheese
  • Artisan cheese selection – Cheese
  • New England Clam Chowder – Hops & Barley
  • California roll – Japan
  • Dole pineapple fritters – Refreshment Port
  • Fried shrimp with Dole pineapple sweet & sour sauce – Refreshment Port

HIS DRINKS: 

  • Tequila flightMexico
  • Rogue Chocolate Stout – Hops & Barley
  • Orlando Brewing Company Sun Shade Organic Pale AleFlorida Local
  • Glenfiddich Scotch FlightScotland
  • Beer Flights 1 & 2 (essentially, all of them) – Craft Beers

BeccaHER EATS:

  • Black Pepper shrimp with suchuan noodles – China
  • Schniken nudel (pasta gratin with ham and cheese) – Germany
  • Roast bratwurst in a pretzel roll – Germany
  • Ravioli de formaggio all’emiliana (baked cheese ravioli with creamy beef bolognese sauce) – Italy
  • Florida shrimp cerviche with fire-roasted vegetables and micro cilantro – Florida Local
  • Steamed Green Lip Mussels with garlic butter and toasted bread – New Zealand
  • Boeuf bourguignon (braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes) – France
  • Canadian cheddar cheese soup – Canada
  • Seared Scottish salmon with cauliflower purée, watercress and malt vinaigarette – Scotland
  • Berbere-style beef with onions, jelapeños, tomato, okra, and pap – Africa

HER DRINKS:

  • Aulani SunriseHawai’i
  • Möet & Chandon Impérial –France
  • Orange Dole Whip with Crème de Cacao White – Refreshment Port (I’m not sure what the actual consistency of this would be – but Disney calls it a drink, so that’s where I put it. All the more reason to try – curiosity.)
  • La Face Neige Sparkling –Canada
  • Sparkling Pomegranate KirFrance
  • Kim Crawford Pinot Noir – New Zealand
  • Once Upon a Vine’s The Lost Slipper Sauvignon BlancCheese
  • SangriaMexico
  • Pascual Toso Sparkling BrutArgentina

UsOUR EATS:

  • Beef empanada – Argentina
  • Grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies – Australia
  • Spicy hand roll (tuna and salmon with chili pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil topped with Kazan Volcano sauce) – Japan
  • Teriyaki Chicken roll – Japan
  • Potato and leek waffle with braised beef – Belgium

OUR DRINKS:

  • Terrrazas Reserva MalbecArgentina
  • Singapore SlingSingapore
  • Beer Flights 1 & 2 – Brewer’s Collection

Clearly I had more items than hubby. I just had a harder time deciding! I don’t really think there are any items I wouldn’t be happy to at least try. My list was a mix of favorite flavors with a one or two out of my everyday comfort zone. The point is to have new adventures right?

Hubby is a big beer guy, so I wasn’t surprised to see so much of the brew on his list. I”m much more of a wines gal – with a fervent love for sparkling wines. There were plenty of those to tempt me. BUT here is my COMPLAINT for the Food & Wine Festival Food Marketplaces: There were several food marketplaces offering beer flights, and a couple (Mexico & Scotland) offering a liquor flight – but NO ONE offering a wine flight. How silly and disappointing is that? *Sigh.  Guess I’ll just have to head to the Wine Cellar in Italy to quench my wine flight thirst. For the record – hubby and I liked that spot so much we visited it twice on our last trip. I do think this is the last of my Epcot International Food and Wine Festival posts for this year. Feel free to weigh in and offer up your picks from the Food Marketplaces in the comments section. 🙂

Wine Cellar Wine Flights

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival – PART 2

Epcot DayOver the last couple of days, as I have been writing about this year’s International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, my mouth has just been constantly watering. I’ve just felt hungry, every time I think about the festival. So many delights!

Yesterday we reveled in all of the flavorful offerings of the Food Marketplaces. Today in Part 2, I’m going to fill you in on the Special Events portion of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. There is a ton to see and do this year aside from the Food Marketplaces, with the opportunity to learn quite a bit. Many of these events are located in the Festival Center, which you shouldn’t miss. The festival center is located in Future World in-between Ellen’s Universe of Energy and Mission to Mars. Other Special Events take place in the World Showcase – just make sure to check your Guidemap and Festival Guide to know where to go.

Special Experiences at the Food & Wine Festival fall into two categories: “Free” (included in your Epcot park admission) and Ticketed, meaning of course that there is an additional cost to participate.

I like free, so let’s start with that list:

  • Authentic Taste Seminars – Based on a single, whole food ingredient, these are 30 minute seminars that discuss the ingredients history and uses.
  • Book & Bottle Signings – Daily there is an opportunity to meet with a well known wine maker or chef, and get their autograph. The schedule changes daily, but here a few of the names for the signings this year: Buddy Valastro, Jamie Deen, Warren Brown, and Jill Ramsier & David Forrester from Quantum Leap Winery.
  • The Chocolate Experience: From Bean to the Bar – Calling all chocolate lovers! Hosted by the beloved Ghirardelli, you can sample chocolate and admire sculptures made only of chocolate designed by Walt Disney World Pastry chefs. You can also shop for chocolate gifts or try a cup of “drinking chocolate.”
  • “Seasons of the Vine” – Running continually though the day, this a great seven minute video about the making of wine.
  • Intermissions Café – Another spot to try a bite. Wines, cheeses, sandwiches and salads are on the list of available eats.
  • The Stock Pot Shop – This is the place to purchase a little Food & Wine Fez to take home with you. There is special festival merchandise, cookbooks, and cooking products. Calling this one “free” may be a stretch, but it’s free to look, right?
  • The Art of Food & Wine – A play on words, this is a gallery with prints and original artwork that you can purchase or simply admire.
  • Discover the Cranberry – Ocean Spray Cranberry has an awesome information set up this years festival. On your way from Future World into the World showcase you’ll find Ocean Spray has set up a cranberry bog (cool!!). Learn all about this amazing crop and sample some dried cranberries. Yum.
  • Eat to the Beat Concert Series – Daily, there are several concerts featuring a rotating group of musicians. Epcot does a great job of bringing in a variety of musicians, who all have had pretty well known careers. The concerts are shady, and a great opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy a bite to eat. Or just digest. Here are this years artists: STARSHIP starring Mickey Thomas, The Go-Go’s, Air Supply, Sister Hazel, Sugar Ray,Edwin McCain, The Manhattan Transfer, Wilson Phillips, The Pointer Sisters, Night Ranger, Boyz II Men, Survivor, 38 Special, Smash Mouth, Spin Doctors, Christopher Cross, Hanson, Dennis DeYoung, and Big Bad VooDoo Daddy,

Eat to the BeatThis is one of the best perks, in my opinion, of the Food & Wine Fez. Who doesn’t want to catch a bit of a concert?

Now the not free, but very awesome (I-want-to-TRY-THEM-ALL) available Special Events:

  • Wine/Beverage Seminars – Join together with a winery principal or beverage expert who will guide you through a selection of wines or beverages. Delight your palette and learn at one of these informative sessions for $14 a person. Count me in!
  • Culinary Demonstrations – A variety of chefs and beverage specialists will be sharing tips, while they prepare an item you will get to sample. With a cost of $14 per person, this is a great way to learn and taste without breaking the bank.
  • Kitchen Memories – Big names in the restaurant world, such as Art Smith and Robert Irvine, will demonstrate the preparation of an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Wines will be paired with each course. This is a great way to have a personal experience, taste a lot, and learn a little along the way.
  • Mixology Seminars – This is another great value, and an experience I would recommend if you want to try something extra at the Food and Wine Fez. For $15 a person, you will watch a drink specialist prepare a selection of 3 cocktails. And of course you will get to sample all of them as well. Cheers!
  • Cheese Seminars – Paired with wines and beers, this is a great opportunity to sample, taste, and learn about a variety of cheeses.
  • The Discovery of Chocolate – Now crazily enough, I am not really a chocolate person. But I know more people than not, who would love to give this experience a go. On select Sundays, Chocolatiers will teach guests about chocolate. And of course there is plenty of tasting, with accompanying wines.
  • Sweet Sundays – Here the day kicks off with a breakfast buffet, sparkling wines, and of course – dessert! The desserts preparations are all demonstrated by a prestigious pastry chef or baker. Breakfast, sparkling wines, and dessert!?! How did they know three of my favorite things?
  • Culinary Adventures in Signature Dining – Located at a variety of restaurants across the WDW property, these are specially designed feasts prepared by Disney’s signature chefs. Dine on a specialty multi-course menu with selected beverage pairings.
  • Food & Wine Pairings – Pull up a chair at either Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco or Tokyo Dining in Japan to indulge in three specially prepared dishes with a specifically chosen wine pairing.
  • Pavilion Dining Events – In this series, the Mexico, Italy, France, and Japan Pavilions of the World Showcase are hosting specialty events. Try the Mexican Tequila Lunch in Mexico. Italy is offering both a Food & Beer pairing as well as a Food & Wine pairing at the Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria. France has three options: Parisian Breafast, Regional Lunches – to get a tour of France’s wine regions, and a Mixology Series: Taste, Shake, and Indulge Like the French. Presented by Grand Marnier, guests will taste and prepare a range of French cocktails. Or perhaps you’ll want to head to Japan for The Hibachi Experience, which is new this year. This is Hibachi on the finest level, including specially selected sake for each course.

Once again, as you can see, there is a myriad of events and choices involved in the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Your experience is completely customizable. Spend just a little or go all out – it’s completely up to you. If I were going I would certainly take advantage of as many of the free events as possible. I also think that I would try a couple of the low cost seminars: Mixology Seminars, Culinary Demonstrations, and Wine/Beverage Seminars.

Now that I’ve gone through the entire festival I will also say this is a much more adult centered event, than family/kid centered. Some of the Food Marketplaces we discussed yesterday have things kids would love, and would make a great addition to your family’s exploration of the World Showcase. If Mom and Dad really want to get into the festival on the family vacation, I suggest utilizing one of the many fantastic Disney run childcare services. That way the kids are having a great time and Mom and Dad can really enjoy the festival offerings.

It’s been a very exciting couple of days bringing all of the Food & Wine Fez happenings to the blog. I decided that on MUNCHY MONDAY next week, I am going to give a sort of Part 3 of the festival, and share the things hubby and I decide we want to try from the Food Marketplaces. Until then, have a great, TASTY weekend!