June 2015: Day 3 Magic Kingdon & Epcot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

June 2015 Trip Report Day 2, Animal Kingdom

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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June 2015 Trip Report, Day 1, Part 2

Schedule “Unplanned” Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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Night view including MK and the Electrical Light Pageant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Can’t Miss List

Animal Kingdom signMany years ago when Disney’s Animal Kingdom (or DAK for efficiency’s sake) first opened, I didn’t love it. I adore animals and you’d think my outlook would’ve better. But it wasn’t. However, as often with first impressions – my opinion has altered since my first look. I found my liking of DAK increased with each visit. It’s such a beautiful park; the landscaping is exotic. When I was working on the Disney College Program, I used to roam around the park on my days off to check out the plants and animals.

I  certainly no longer find the park dull, as evidenced by my hearty “Can’t Miss” list. There are shows, attractions, stunning animals, and tasty treats everywhere. What’s not to like about that?

Below is the Walt Disney World Blog 2015 Disney’s Animal Kingdom Can’t Miss List. As always, there will be an asterisk next to “super favorites,” or things we often do more than once.

Tree of Life(by area) Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia, Dinoland USA

  • The Oasis Exhibits *These are just pathways around the front of the park, but they have some really beautiful plants, awesome birds and animals. Take time to enjoy these instead of power-walking past as you hurry to squeeze in one more attraction. (I might be speaking from experience…)
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug * – This 3D show will have you feeling bug sized. The queue usually isn’t too long either so it makes a great midday attraction.
  • Discovery Island Trails  – Like the Oasis Exhibits.
  • Flame Tree BBQ *  – Many kinds of BBQ are available here. YUM, YUM, YUM. The food is delicious and there’s a great seating area off to the side making this is one of our favorite lunch (or dinner!) Quick Service options. Bonus – try the Safari Amber beer, specially brewed for Disney World.
  • Festival of the Lion King This charming 30 minute show brings The Lion King story to life with singing, dancing, and exciting acrobatics. Kiddos will love the interactive elements. The monkeys are our favorite park!IMG_3670
  • Kilimajaro Safaris ** This unique attraction takes you onto Disney Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Wildlife Preserve. As you bump along in an open-air vehicle you’ll see a variety of African wildlife. The animals are free roaming so what you see varies with each safari. There are over 34 species roaming the savannah such as lions, hippos, elephants, zebra, rhino, giraffe, okapi, ostrich, etc. **SPECIAL TIP** Visit the safari early in the morning or late in the evening for cooler temps and potentially more animal sightings.
  • Pangani Forest Exploration Trail A beautiful walking trail where you’ll encounter flora and fauna. You can get an amazing, close up view of gorillas here.
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek * This trail exposes guests to Asian wildlife. Get a close up view of a variety of animals that includes many species of birds, tigers, and fruit bats!
  • Kali River RapidsTo be honest I haven’t ridden this ride in several years. This raft ride is full of twists, turns, dips, and of course – water. I remember it being a lot of fun. So why haven’t I been in a while? You can get very wet. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll get soaked. I don’t liked to be soaked and left to dry out with my clothes sticking to me as I roam the park. Perhaps this makes me a party pooper. I do think husband and I are going to give it a go on our next trip. Soaking wet or not – I bet we’ll have fun.
  • Expedition Everest ** Oh dear readers, how do I express in words how I love this coaster? I adore every detail from the museum style queue, to the trainlike coaster, to the Yeti himself. This ride is a thrill and I tackle it as many times as I can.
  • Finding NemoThis Broadway style show tells the Finding Nemo story. It’s fun and gorgeous. The sets and costumes are really striking. The show lasts 40 minutes and it’s a nice opportunity to cool off, rest, and be entertained while you do so!IMG_3702
  • Primeval Whirl * This colorful ride is a mild roller coaster with round cars that spin. It will leave you giggling – I guarantee it.
  • DINOSAUR  – Hop into a time rover and travel back in time to hang out with dinosaurs during an impending meteor strike. Yikes! This ride is dark with some really cool animatronic dinosaurs. Could be scarey for young kiddos. IMG_3712

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.

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  • 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

The Magic Kingdom “Can’t Miss” List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Kingdom

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

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

Cinderella Castle Close up

Finding the Perfect Disney World Vacation Balance

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

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

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

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

IMG_3849

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

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

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

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

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

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Caribbean Beach Review

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

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

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

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

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

Shower Curtain

Shower Curtain Detail

View from our room.

View from our room.

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

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

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