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.

 

 

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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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

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

 

WTDW – Splash Mountain

Splash MountainDear friends, today I would like to tell you a about a girl, rapidly approaching 30, who loves Walt Disney World. She also simply adores Florida, with its plentiful year-round sunshine, palm trees, citrus fruits, and soft, sandy beaches that reach out to turquoise waters. Most of all, she loves Florida’s warm climate. This particular girl HATES the cold. It makes her nose run, and it traps her inside for long periods of time, interfering with her running schedule. And generally, the short freezing days that lack sunshine make her grumpy.

This particular winter is being very tough on said girl. The temperatures have been exceptionally low, with plenty of snow to go around. This morning the girl awoke to a fresh 5 inches of powder – that while beautiful, left her toes numb and mood as gray as the sky.

IMG_2739Retreating to her cozy office, the girl turned her thoughts to Disney World in an effort to cheer her winter gloom. Before long she was imagining herself strolling down Main Street, U.S.A. deciding which attraction to visit first. Determined to be in a better mood, the girl decides to take her imaginary self to Splash Mountain in Frontierland. A great choice! Before long she is singing a snippet of the ride music to herself:

“Everybody’s got a laughing place, A laughing place to go-oh-oh! Take a frown, turn it upside down, And you’ll find yours we know -oh-oh!”

DSCF0370Sage advice, no? This log-flume style attraction follows the tale of Br’er Rabbit who ventures from home and meets Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, who have grand ideas of roasting Br’er Rabbit. With a bit of cunning, Br’er Rabbit tricks Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear into letting him loose and throwing him into the briar patch. As the story goes, Br’er Rabbit is able to maneuver through the briar patch, while the larger Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear are entangled in the painful thorns, barely escaping the briar patch’s Br’er Gator. As the ride wraps up, Br’er Rabbit is happily back at home and  it’s a “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Day.”

DSC05287The Splash Mountain storyline and music is derived from Disney’s 1946 film Song of the South, where Disney first interpreted the famous Uncle Reemus stories of Br’er Rabbit.

One of the great things about Splash Mountain is that the ride is nearly 11 minutes long. Through those 11 minutes is wonderful balance of story, scenery, music, and ride that includes 3 dips and one large 5 story drop where you appear as though you are plunging into the briar patch.DSCF0371The view from atop before you slide down into the briar patch is lovely. It’s always fun to get a bit of a high vantage point at WDW.

DSCF0363Being a log flume style attraction you may certainly get a little wet – which on many days at Magic Kingdom is a welcome thing. Riders in the front of the log are at higher risk of taking on more water than riders in the back. I have never been completely, totally soaked to a point of unpleasantness on this ride.

Riders must be 40″ tall to board, and generally I find Splash Mountain to be quite kid friendly. But as always, use your own judgement if you have a kiddo who is height/drop nervous.

TIP*  This attraction is popular and the queue can get very lengthy in the afternoon. My advice is to use a FASTPASS+ for this attraction or visit in the morning to avoid a long line. If you do find yourself in a situation where the standby entrance is lengthy and you’re out of FASTPASS+ don’t worry too much about it. The queue line is pretty well shaded and pleasantly scenic – a great way to spend time with family or friends.

Splash Mountain is the perfect spot to cool off a bit on a warm, sunny Florida day and lift your mood if you’re in the need of a pick-me-up like this girl today. But if you’re in Disney World, chances are your mood is more than fine, and you’ll simply just join in the merriment.

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay. My, oh my, what a wonderful day…

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.

My Favorite Part of My Trip…

RichholdSpaceshipEarthI recently reconnected with a friend of mine from college. Meet Rich – pictured above. Rich is a goofball, caring, and he has a zest for life. He’s a people person. I recently noticed on Facebook that Rich had just taken a family vacation to WDW. For about a week, whenever I checked into Facebook, I’d check in on Rich. Loosely I followed his family’s travels throughout the four main parks at Disney World, enjoying new pictures as they were posted showing what a great time they were having. I decided to reach out to Rich and see if he’d let me share some of their pictures here on the blog. Now, most people don’t try to get in touch with old college friends to obtain rights to share their photos with the world. But that’s what I did. Fortunately for me Rich is a nice guy and trusting. I’m so glad that I did reach out to him. It’s always such a pleasure to resume a friendship that has been muted, paused, or accidentally discontinued as life journeys on. I smile that Walt Disney World was responsible for that in this case. Anyway, Rich was kind enough to let me share these and some of his vacation with you.

After we filled each other in about what life has given us the last couple of years, I asked Rich what he most enjoyed about his trip. This is the story he shared with me:

“My favorite part of the trip… I totally danced with Tiana! She is outside by the Christmas store and a performace by the castle started and it had a bit of a waltz feel. There were two kids ahead of me and she kinda danced with them. So I looked over at my dad told him that if the music is still playing, I am legit dancing with Tiana. And as fate would have it, the music still played and I swept her off her feet.”

RichandTiana2Rich also claims Tiana told him that she likes it when a man takes the lead. I can’t say that I blame Tiana for that comment in that case. What girl doesn’t want a man coming along sweeping her into a waltz at Walt Disney World? (I’m sure somebody out there would mind such a thing. But I certainly would not.)

I loved Rich’s story. Who would guess that a straight man in his mid-20s would give that story as his most memorable moment? It wasn’t a thrill ride, nor drinking beer, or fireworks. It was a moment with a princess where he could just be himself: funny, charming, youthful, uninhibited, and he could share that with his family.

Being so in love with WDW, I very often wonder what makes Walt Disney World so wonderful for me and millions of people around the world. Everyone’s reasons are different, but I think ultimately it’s a combination of youth, wonder, and happiness. It’s a place we are completely safe and free to be ourselves. Adults can let go of adulthood for a bit. Special things happen at WDW, and most of the time we get to share those special times with our family and friends. After all, what is better than being with those you love and watching them feel carefree and joyful? Life is full of special moments everywhere, don’t get me wrong. But at WDW you truly get to stop, step away from all else in life, and embrace the moment.

Since I’m feeling philosophical today, I’ll tell you I really do often think about the question of why I love Disney World. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to completely spell it out – the formula is too complex. Anyone else have the answer?

RichandTiana

DIY Jingle Cruise Christmas

Jingle Cruise SceneJingle all the way….

Jingle CruiseAwhile back Disney announced that for the first time they were turning the Jungle Cruise into the Jingle Cruise for the holiday season! This is the first time that Disney converted an attraction (temporarily) at Walt Disney World for a holiday season. I absolutely fell in love with the poster they created to announce and promote the Jingle Cruise transformation. How cute are the hippo and the elephant with their little Santa hats?? As it so happened, later that day I was in my local craft store to pick up some oil paints. I love to just mill around, exploring all of the zillions of possibilities for creation. I got to the value section/aisle of the store where stacked bins are piled high with items that range from $1 – $3. And what do my wandering eyes find? Plastic farm and jungle animals! In the $1 bin! Get out! And they’re fairly cool looking – not scary and creepy. So the wheels quickly start turning… I should make my own Jingle Cruise scene!!

IMG_2592IMG_2593There were more farm animals than jungle animals in the bin, but I ended up with a trio of a zebra, a hippo, and an elephant. There was also a lion available – but he was pretty odd looking so I left him behind. I grabbed a 33¢ piece of red felt, and knowing I had some cotton balls and cotton swabs at home, headed to the register to make my purchase.

Once home I started to plan. I wanted to make little Santa hats like the hippo and elephant are wearing in the poster, but I also wanted some variety. I decided to give Zebra a scarf around his long neck for the sake of variation. That also worked out nicely since his head is a lot smaller, and his ears are cute. So with supplies at hand, I was ready to work.

IMG_2594I decided to make the Santa hats first.

Step 1: I cut a corner off of the red felt piece and rolled it into a cone, trying its size on my elephant first. Once I had decided the size right, I started to glue. As you can see in the picture above, I got out my tacky glue hoping that would be perfect for the job. It wasn’t. All it gave me was a glue-felt mess that wouldn’t stay together. Ugh. But that’s OK. I have plenty of tools in my arsenal. Out comes the hot glue gun. I cut another corner and refitted while my trusty hot glue gun heated up. Attempt two – SUCCESS! Hot glue was the way to go. Should’ve know.

Step 2: I pulled the tip of a cotton swab off and glued it to the top.

IMG_2595IMG_2596Step 3: I pulled a small piece off of a cotton ball. To my surprise, the segment came off as shown to the left. I simply widened the hole a bit, gently, with my fingers and then fitted it onto the bottom of my little felt hat and hot-glued it into place.

This hat was tall, which was fine. I wanted it to flop over, they way Santa’s hat does when he wears it, so I folded it and put some hot glue in the crease to help it stay how I liked it.

Step 4: Repeat. I made a second hat for my hippo, but this time I made the hat shorter, so it would stand upright without being too tall. This gave me a bit more variety and gave the hippo some quirkiness. Hippo strikes me as a quirky kinda guy.

IMG_2597

 

Step 5: Make the zebra scarf. This was ridiculously easy. I cut a long, thin strip of felt and tied it around the zebra’s neck to check the length. Perfect. Taking it off again I cut fringe on both ends of the felt piece. I retied it around Zebra’s neck and gave the knot a quick dot of glue so everything would stay in place.

And that’s it! I glued the hats onto Hippo and Elephant, so the jungle breeze won’t blow them away. I spent $3.33 on the animals and the felt all together. And it probably took me about an hour to make everything. Not bad at all for a little fun, quirky Disney World inspired Christmas decorating.

Step 6: Stage and enjoy!

Jingle Animals on White

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.