Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hollywood Dining

One of the best parts of the Disney Dining Plan is having the opportunity to eat at a different table service restaurant each day.  Since we’ve used the dining plan on a few of our trips, we’ve eaten at places where we probably wouldn’t have if we were paying out of pocket.  We’ve had the opportunity to dine at 3 of the 5 table service restaurants in Hollywood Studios (we haven’t made it to the Brown Derby yet and I don’t plan on making it to the 50’s Prime Time Café!)

Here are the pros and cons of each restaurant:

Mama Melrose

Pros: I think this is the best of the 3 restaurants.  The food is good Italian, probably similar to what you’d get at an Italian chain restaurant outside the bubble, but no complaints – even better with a nice glass of wine.  My daughter’s favorite was the dessert spaghetti with meatball.

Dessert Meatball

Dessert Meatball

Another perk of dining at Mama Melrose is the Fantasmic Dinner Package that is available on days when the nighttime Fantasmic show is scheduled.  If you purchase the package you get dinner plus a VIP voucher to get into the show through a side entrance and you don’t have to fight the crowds going through the main entrance to the amphitheater.  You still sit on stadium bench seating, but when we did this it was less crowded than the regular seating area with a bird’s eye view of the show.

Cons: None – there’s nothing I dislike about this restaurant!

Sci-Fi Dine In

Pros: Every restaurant in Disneyworld has a theme, but one of the best for really feeling like you’re somewhere else is the Sci-Fi Dine In Theatre restaurant.  As soon as you walk into the dining area it’s like you’re transported to a summer night at the drive in.  Classic car-shaped tables fill the room, all pointed at the giant movie screen in the front.  Even the stars shine from above so you get the feel of being outside (without the mosquitos, of course!)  The old black and white movies that are played are pretty funny – Devil Girl from Mars, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman – too ridiculous to actually be scary, even for kids.

IMG_0604100_1385

Cons: The same qualities that make the restaurant fun are what I would consider cons – it’s dark, everyone is facing forward in the ‘car’ so you can’t really have a conversation, and the food is just okay.  But I would recommend everyone dine here at least once.

Hollywood & Vine

Pros: None that I can remember.  Not a fan of this restaurant (see Cons.)

Cons: It’s a buffet, which in itself is not a con, but for the price you’re paying the buffet food is what you’d get at the local $9.99 all you can eat joint.  Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but I wasn’t impressed.  This restaurant’s layout is not conducive to people getting up and walking back and forth to the buffet – space is pretty tight, not to mention the yucky décor.  But since we ate here on the dining plan I couldn’t be too upset, I just chalked it up to another experience accomplished in the bubble.

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Celebrity Sighting in Norway

As I’ve mentioned before my favorite country in Epcot’s World Showcase is Norway.  As you get close there’s a smell – what I imagine all of Norway to smell like – that floats out of the Puffin’s Roost shop that I absolutely love.
There are certain smells that always bring back memories of good times past – the savory smell of grandma’s Thanksgiving feast, the piney smell of Christmas trees, the salty smell of the ocean on summer vacation – for me, the sweet smell of a certain perfume brings me right back to Disneyworld.

Puffin's Roost

Puffin’s Roost

Upon exiting Norway’s ride the Maelstrom, as with many Disney rides, the path leads through the gift shop.  There are 3 distinctly different sections of Norway’s gift shop – the first has parkas, boots and everything you need to get through a cold winter, much of the merchandise by Scandinavian brand Helly Hansen.

Section 2 has some of the less practical but more entertaining items for purchase – Viking hats with horns, mugs, hats, and all other souvenirs a Viking-lover would need. I love my sequined I <> Norge hat!!

Norge hat151

The last section is the source of that smell I love so much – a perfume shop.  I never miss a chance to douse myself in ‘Laila: The Essence of Norway,’ the women’s perfume – – but I’ve never pulled the trigger on buying because I just didn’t want to spend the money.

However, I got just the nudge I needed to make the purchase when I was there in August 2012.  We rode the Maelstrom as usual and I made my way to the store for my free spritz of perfume.  To my surprise we walked through and the creator of my favorite perfume was right there in the shop!

049 (2)Me and Gier

Gier Ness was on site to promote his perfume on his way to Hollywood for an awards show.  I was pretty impressed that he stopped to talk to us for about 10 minutes, and after he gave me a hand massage with the Laila hand lotion and told us the story behind the perfume (it’s named after his mom) how could I not buy it?!  (He even autographed the bottle!)

geir ness autograph

It was one of those unexpected ‘magical’ moments that can only happen in the bubble!

The best laid plans

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”   This famous quote from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men is very relatable to a Disney World vacation.  No matter how much you plan there’s always room for something to go wrong.  I came across this picture and thought back to the time that we decided to bring our own supply of water and food for the week.  We weren’t going to have a rental car to venture off the property and this was before the time of high baggage fees (I‘m pretty sure this bag would not have made weight!)

Water suitcase

Since then we’ve realized there are grocery delivery services that can make getting your in-room snacks there much easier!  Also, if you rent a car it’s ideal to stop off at Publix or Winn Dixie and grab some snacks for your room.

We made the mistake of planning a little too much – but we did save on buying drinks once we were there!  In the Disney bubble, you can always get what you need or forgot at home, but you could be paying prices that you would most certainly scoff at outside the bubble – but what’s a vacation without a little splurging?

Here’s a quick comparison of just a few things that you’ll probably need on vacation but will regret not bringing once you start shelling out the premium prices inside the parks.

Bring vs Buy Disney World

Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to bring because the foods are fairly compact and you can pack a variety of options for cheap.  We usually bring granola bars, pop tarts, bagels & peanut butter – and all of these can also double as a between-meal or late-night snack.  Just watch out for chocolate chip granola bars – they’ll melt pretty fast in the summer heat!

Even if you stop at a grocery store to get bottles of water, you’re stuck carrying around 6-8 bottles during the day.  My husband, who bears the brunt of carrying the backpack, prefers bringing 2 refillable bottles to save his back some aches and pains.  The other perk of the refillable bottle is that you’re never stuck drinking warm bottled water that’s been in the backpack all day.

One of the cutest sights in the park is all the little girls dressed as princesses.  What’s a little less cute are the price tags on the Cinderella and Co. dresses in the parks!  They can range anywhere from $60 – $150 depending on what comes with it (shoes, wig, gloves, purse, etc.)  I picked up a Cinderella costume at Target before our trip for $20 – it was just as adorable as the dresses in the parks.

An essential item if you go during rainy season is a rain poncho or jacket.  We used to buy the super cheap plastic ponchos but even that turned out to be a good idea gone bad.  They rip very easily and if they’re wet and you don’t dry them thoroughly they can get musty in a hurry.  A smelly, ripped, shred of plastic is not something you look forward to throwing on when you’re caught in the middle of a humid summer downpour in Orlando!

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Now we have our ‘vacation jackets’ which are combination light jacket/rain jacket/windbreaker.  They were around $25 each at a local store, but well worth it to avoid getting caught up in what looks like a glorified trash bag (which I have seen people wearing in the rain!)

As another famous author – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – once said, – “Into each life, some rain must fall…” even in the bubble!

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May the force be with you

One of the major events that Disney World hosts each year is Star Wars weekends. It’s usually in the spring but this year it’s from May 17th – June 9th. We didn’t plan our Disney trip around this event, but it was one of those unexpected ‘magical’ experiences that happen so often in the bubble.  We happened to be at Disney World during Star Wars weekends a few years ago when it fell during the same time as spring break and I’m glad we got to experience it. This event takes place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and requires admission to the park.

Star Wars Weekend

Star Wars Weekend

Hollywood Studios has a few Star Wars-related attractions year round, but the atmosphere just feels different when you see Storm Troopers patrolling the streets and hear the menacing voice of Darth Vader.  What’s more eye catching are some of the lesser known life forms that seemingly appear out of nowhere and make you wish you had your light saber! Continue reading

Feelin’ hot, hot, hot!

I love hot weather.  I mean REALLY hot weather.  So today when the temperature hit a balmy 80 degrees in Cleveland, it made me think of my favorite month of the year to go to Disney – August.  Most people think this is crazy but I guess I’m just a cold blooded person. The only time I really feel warm-to-the-core is August in Orlando.   Luckily, with a little preparation you don’t have to melt if you’re not as enamored with the thought of spending 8 hours in stifling humidity and scorching temperatures characteristic of Florida summers.

August in Orlando

August in Orlando

Tip 1: Bring a refillable bottle.  We use the Brita water bottles that have a filter in the lid so you can re-fill at water fountains throughout the parks.  It’s way cheaper than buying water every time you’re thirsty, which is all the time!

Tip 2: Personal fans help in two ways when you’re waiting in lines – blowing air to cool you off and re-directing any sweaty fumes that may be lingering in the area.  Standing in close quarters with a hundred other guests at the end of a 95 degree day can become quite unpleasant, if you know what I mean!

Fan 1Fan 2

Tip 3: Find a spray ground. Every park has water misters in various locations so you can cool off as you’re walking between attractions.

Hot weather spray

Hot weather spray

Tip 4: Alternate indoor and outdoor activities to stay cool.  This can mean walking through the shops, seeing a show, or even going in the bathroom!  That cool blast of air from indoors is a welcome reprieve from the burning summer sun.

  • In the Magic Kingdom, there are several indoor rides like the Haunted Mansion and “it’s a small world” but my top recommendation for a super-hot day is Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.  I have to admit, this is my least favorite attraction in all of Disneyworld.  It’s pretty cheesy with a repeating song that will be stuck in your head for days – but there’s hardly ever a wait and I’ll make the sacrifice to sit in an air-conditioned seat in the shade for 20 minutes!
  • At Epcot, Ellen’s Energy Adventure is similar – slow moving and moderately interesting – but a cool place to relax for about ½ hour.
  • Hollywood Studios & the Animal Kingdom both have really good shows to enjoy while you cool off – The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo, respectively.

Tip 5: Enjoy all the frozen treats Disney has to offer!  From Mickey-shaped ice cream bars to the infamous Dole Whip, nothing tastes better on a hot day than a cool treat.  And don’t worry about the calories – you’ll have no problem sweating them off!

Mickey ice cream

Mickey ice cream

Tip 6: During the hottest parts of the day it’s never a bad idea to head back to your resort and hit the pool for a few hours.  Then you’ll be refreshed and ready to head back to the parks for fireworks!

Re-pin this handy ‘beat the heat’ infographic on Pinterest here.

Beat the Heat at Disneyworld

Beat the Heat at Disneyworld – INFOGRAPHIC

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To hop or not to hop

To hop or not to hop

A big part of planning a vacation to Disneyworld is deciding what kind of ticket to purchase. There are several options which can be customized to your vacation style and budget.

As I mentioned in my last post, we learned the hard way that you can’t use a single day ticket to get into multiple parks (rookie mistake!) We thought if we had a 5 day park ticket that we could use 2 in one day, leaving 3 tickets left to get into the parks. That’s not how ticketing works, which we learned as our daughter threw a tearful fit in the turnstiles of Hollywood Studios.  Since we had a long planned dinner reservation, we caved and upgraded to a Park Hopper ticket on the spot. Lesson learned!

Here’s the lowdown on tickets just in case you aren’t planning on making a special memory of dropping an extra $250 on a ticket upgrade as you’re walking into the park!

Single Day ticket –  allows entry into one park per day. The longer you stay, the lower the ticket price per day.  As of today, a 1-day adult ticket is $89, 2 days are $88/day, but a 6 day ticket drops to $46.33/day. So after your first 2 days, you basically pay another $100 for 4 more days in the parks. Good deal!

  • Best for: First time visitors can definitely get away with single day tickets because there’s so much to do in each park that you can easily spend 8-10 hours there (or more if it’s extra magic hours!)

Single Ticket Prices

Park Hopper ticket – allows same-day entry into any of the 4 parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios.

  • Best for: Anyone who wants to go to 2+ parks in one day. Sometimes extra magic hours are available in one park, but your dinner reservation or special event is in another park – that’s when the Park Hopper is so convenient because you don’t have to plan to spend your entire day in a park just because you have a reservation.

Water Parks and More ticket – adds a ton of other options for entertainment outside the 4 main parks. The ticket includes entry to the 2 water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon,) ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, or Disney’s Fantasia Gardens/Winter Summerland mini golf courses.  One thing to note is that you can only pick one extra per day – you can’t go to 2 water parks or golf and a water park in a single day.

  • Best for: Visitors who will be staying a week or more, have been to the parks before and want other options to spend a few days outside of the parks while remaining in the Disney bubble!

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The best laid plans

4 Parks, 1 Day

DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to outline should NOT be attempted by anyone with the following:

  • A desire to sleep late and/or go to bed early
  • A young child (6 and under)
  • Uncomfortable shoes
  • An aversion to running – you can’t dilly dally and hope to get to all 4 parks
  • A park ticket without the ‘park hopper’ option – they’ll shut you down at park 2 (I’ve learned that lesson the hard way)

On one of our trips to Disneyworld our daughter, who was 7 at the time, asked if we could go to all four parks in one day – that’s Magic Kingdom – Animal Kingdom – Epcot – Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Any of these parks could take up an entire day itself so we had to make a strategic plan on when, where and what we would to do at each park in order to accomplish this lofty goal with minimal tears (and blisters.)  With our matching Mickey t-shirts on, we headed out on a mission.

Park 1: Magic Kingdom was our first stop – we were fresh and ready to go.  Our must-see attractions at MK are Big Thunder Mountain (my daughter’s favorite), Mickey’s PhilharMagic and “it’s a small world,” (my husband’s favorite) and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover (my favorite.)  It might be one of the slowest moving rides in the entire park, but I love cruising through the dark and relaxing on a hot day!

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Park 2: Epcot – Since the Magic Kingdom and Epcot are connected by the monorail, that was our next stop.  Our favorite ride is not Soarin’ or Test Track, which are the 2 most popular rides, but the Maelstrom in Norway.  Yes, another slow moving ride, but since my husband comes from a long line of Vikings we just have to ride it every time we’re in the park!

Stop 2: Epcot

Stop 2: Epcot

Park 3: Animal Kingdom – Time is usually a consideration when going to the Animal Kingdom because, like a zoo, the animals come out early and go back to their enclosures at dusk.  Most days the park closes around 7pm (earlier in the off season) so we got there just in time to ride our all-time favorite roller coaster – Expedition Everest.   The line going into the ride has so much to look at that you don’t even realize you’re waiting and before you know it you’re face to face with the Yeti!

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Park 4: Hollywood Studios – Last but not least we made it to Hollywood Studios.  The shows are really what makes this park great – Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show… but the ride we can’t miss is the Tower of Terror.  No matter how many times I go on this ride, my palms get sweaty as we wait in the basement to board the elevator and my legs shake after we get off the ride – so scary but yet so fun!

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios

That’s how we made it to 4 parks in 1 day.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but I’d highly recommend it to make one perfect day in the Disneyworld bubble!

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