Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Dining Room Proudly Presents. . .Your Dinner!

We were fortunate on our last Walt Disney World vacation to find a dinner reservation at Be Our Guest Restaurant in Magic Kingdom.  This is one of the toughest reservations to get on Disney property, and for good reason.  Between the ambiance of the castle, the quality of the food, and a meet and greet with the Beast himself, this dinner is one that you will want to experience!


We had previously dined at Be Our Guest for breakfast and lunch so we were familiar with the inside of the castle.  One difference that you will immediately notice is that dinner is table service as opposed to the quick service meals at breakfast and lunch.  As such, you are greeted by a cast member when you enter the castle who seats you at a reserved table inside the castle.  The Grand Ballroom and West Wing are set up just like they are for breakfast and lunch, but a third room, the Castle Gallery, is also opened for dinner.  This room features paintings of Belle and the Beast as well as a dancing replica of the couple in the center of the room.  The lights are dim in the evening and candlelight illuminates the rooms.  In true Disney fashion, there are little details everywhere including rose shaped napkins on the tables!



The meal features a variety of French cuisine.  At the recommendation of our server, I had the French Onion Soup and the Sautéed Shrimp and Scallops.  The puff pastry that the shrimp and scallops were served in was delicious!  My husband opted for Grilled Strip Steak.  Choosing our entrees was a difficult task because the entire menu was full of amazing options.  And, of course, it wouldn't be a visit to Be Our Guest without trying "The Grey Stuff."  I had heard from the dishes that it was delicious - and they didn't lie!





At the end of the meal, you exit through the library where you are greeted by your host, the Beast!  This is the only meal of the day in the castle where the Beast is present and a wonderful opportunity to meet a rare character.


The food and atmosphere combine to make this a perfect place to enjoy dinner while visiting Magic Kingdom.  If you're lucky enough to find a reservation available during your next trip, join the Beast in his castle for a delightful evening!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making Memories with Disney's Memory Maker

Walt Disney World's PhotoPass has been around for years now, but Memory Maker came on the scene recently and changed the landscape of vacation photo packages.  So, what do you need to know about Memory Maker?  Here are a few answers to some FAQs.

What is PhotoPass?
Walt Disney World's PhotoPass provides a great opportunity to capture your memories with everyone in the picture.  Located throughout the parks are Disney photographers happy to take pictures of your family enjoying their vacation.  You can find photographers in front of iconic locations like Cinderella's Castle or the entrance to Epcot in addition to snapping those hugs and smiles at your favorite character meet and greets.  Guests can have their MagicBands or a PhotoPass card scanned by the cast member taking their pictures and then view and order from the PhotoPass website later.  

Memory Maker features "magic shots" where characters magically appear in your photo - like Tink in this family picture!

How is Memory Maker different?
Actually, it's more the same then different.  What Memory Maker allows you to do is purchase digital rights to ALL of your pictures from your Walt Disney World vacation at a one-time price.  These pictures include the ones taken by photographers as well as select ride photos and photos from some character dining locations.  You will also receive download rights for some "stock" photos from Walt Disney World to enhance your own collection.  Currently, the price is $169 if you purchase prior to your vacation and $199 if you purchase during or after your vacation.  If you plan to get the discounted price, be sure to order at least 3 days prior to your trip as that is Walt Disney World's deadline for the reduced pricing.

Disney photographers can capture that perfect excited smile that you would miss with your own camera.

Is Memory Maker worth it?
The answer depends on your family and your trip.  The price is the price regardless of whether you are on a three day trip or a ten day trip.  Obviously the longer your vacation, the more cost effective Memory Maker becomes.  In addition, the more characters you meet and rides you ride the more great shots you're going to get to capture your family's memories.  We have only used Memory Maker on one trip so far because that's the only one that made sense for us.  It was our first trip traveling with the baby and we were staying for 8 days.  Memory Maker was a big help so that I didn't have to fumble with diaper bags and baby to find my phone for pictures.  We came home with several hundred photos that did a great job capturing our trip.

Yeah, I'm raising a little ladies man!
What can you do on the Memory Maker / PhotoPass website?
Besides ordering downloads and prints, you can also add embellishments to your pictures such as signatures, borders, and stickers.  These are great ways to enhance your photos!  You can also crop pictures and do some basic editing.  The website offers additional items for purchase too including photo books, mugs, and Christmas cards.  If you're interested in some of the items they sell, you can even upload your own images to add to your collection.

Is Memory Maker a one of the "bare necessities" on your Walt Disney World vacation?
Ultimately, Memory Maker is an expensive addition to your package, but when you consider that Disney sells individual photo downloads for $14.95 each it can quickly add up to only download the photos you want.  Memory Maker may not be the best option for your family on each trip, but it is definitely one to consider when planning your next Walt Disney World vacation.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

See your Disney Favorites at Mickey's PhilharMagic

Tucked inside Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is an attraction that can be easily overlooked, but is certainly not be missed!  Mickey's PhilharMagic is a perfect family friendly attraction that delights both young and old with an array of music and favorite characters from some of Disney's most popular movies.

Guests enter the attraction and wait for the doors to open to the performance.  While you are waiting to enter, don't forget to grab you "opera glasses" - this is a 3D show after all!  However, don't worry if you have little travelers that won't wear the 3D glasses, they can still enjoy the music and movie.  Our son has yet to wear the glasses and this is still one of his favorite things to do.

Trying on our "opera glasses" before the start of Mickey's PhilharMagic.
The movie begins with Donald Duck finding Mickey's sorcerer's hat on the orchestra stage.  When Donald places the hat on his head, he is transported into a number of Disney movies where he stars alongside some familiar favorites.  Along the way, Lumiere invites him to "Be Our Guest," he finds out why Simba "Just Can't Wait to Be King," and experiences "A Whole New World" with Aladdin and Jasmine - just to name a few!  At the end, Donald finds his way back to the orchestra and Mickey resumes his place as the rightful conductor.  Of course, in true Disney spirit, there is one final surprise at the end!

As a child who was raised on the golden age of early 1990s Disney movie musicals, this is a journey back to my childhood and a chance to share some oldies but goodies with my own kids.  Besides the fact that this is a wonderful musical experience, it's also a great place to get inside and cool off on hot Florida days.  FastPass+ is available for this show, but don't waste one it.  A great perk of this show is that it runs continuously and you rarely ever wait more than one show for your chance to enter. 

Now, on with the show!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Yak & Yeti Restaruant


Sitting in the shadows of Expedition Everest you will find Yak and Yeti - a great choice for dinner in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Yak and Yeti features Pan-Asian flavors from Japan, Nepal, and Thailand to name a few.  The dishes are unique and tasty, but not too adventurous if you have young travelers or picky eaters.  As with any Disney dining experience, first class service is the norm here.  We were lucky to have a wonderful waiter named Mark who has been working on Disney property for over 20 years.  He took fantastic care of our family and added to a memorable experience.  And don't forget when you are visiting the restaurant to explore some of the beautiful details and artwork!




Now onto the really good stuff - dinner!  For starters, Dan and I shared an order of pot stickers.  These were cooked perfectly and the soy lime dipping sauce that came with them was one of the best I've experienced.


For our entrees, I tried a Kobe beef burger.  The burger was HUGE - way too much to finish!  On top of the 10 oz. of meat was a sesame soy mayonnaise and asian slaw.  It was accompanied by a side of fries.  The flavors blended together perfectly and the fries were wonderfully crispy.


Dan opted for the baby back ribs.  During our whole trip, he had a craving for ribs and was thrilled to find them here.  The BBQ sauce that they were cooked in featured an asian flair and they were served with rice and slaw.  Dan thought that this was the best meal he had during our trip and hopes to enjoy these ribs again on our next trip.


For dessert, we shared the a piece of mango pie.  This pie is the consistency of key lime pie, just with mango instead.  The sweetness of the mango was a perfect finish to the spice and tanginess of our entrees.


It had been several years since I last visited Yak & Yeti, but I won't make that mistake again!  We'll be back real soon to enjoy all of the flavors, ambiance, and service.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What is the Disney Parks Moms Panel?

Confession - Even those of us who eat, breathe, and sleep all things Disney sometimes have questions.

I consider myself to be well versed in the world of Walt Disney World travel, but new experiences like the first time I took a Disney Cruise Line vacation or getting ready for my first runDisney race sometimes leave me scratching my head.  How does transportation work?  What should I pack?  What can I find at the expo?

So where do I turn when I have a question - the Disney Parks Moms Panel!  These ladies (and a few gentlemen) can answer any Disney vacation question you throw their way.  And they do it all with a smile and a splash of pixie dust!  The Disney Parks Moms Panel features specialists in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, and runDisney to name a few and also features panelists from a variety of countries.  Whether you are planning your first vacation or your twentieth, if questions come up, this is the perfect place to turn.  Previous questions are posted on the website and categorized so you can easily search questions and answers if you don't even know where to begin.

Last year I made it to Round Two of the search.  Will this be my year to go all the way?
And if you think you know Disney, why not try applying for the panel?  Each year, there is an application process to find new panelists.  The first round begins in September with the excited new members being announced around Thanksgiving.  I've applied each of the past two years and made it to round two last year.  In the past, applicants have answered questions similar to what may be posed to the Moms Panel, submit videos, and complete an interview. While every year there are thousands of applicants, only a small handful can be selected.  What's the secret to getting selected?  If you figure it out, tell me!  I'm sure though from what I've read that knowing your Disney nomenclature, practicing near perfect spelling and grammar, and letting your unique personality shine through are some of the most important criteria.  I can't wait for the applications to open up again this year on September 8th and keep wishing upon a star that this year will be my year to be a Walt Disney World specialist!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

And Speaking of Fantasmic. . .

This nighttime spectacular is so fantastic that it deserves it's own post!  Fantasmic is part fireworks, part water spectacular, and part stage show which tells the journey of good vs. villains as Mickey Mouse's dreams take shape. In this show, you will see some of Disney's most famous villains and also some of the most celebrated heroes.  The music is a mix of some of the best from Disney soundtracks.  A word of warning - this show can be somewhat scary for little ones so keep that in mind if you're traveling with young children.  Below is a "mashup" of some video I took from the show on our most recent trip.  There are so many live characters that are a part of the show - it's hard to keep track!



The show takes place off of Sunset Boulevard in an amphitheater setting.  You can get your seat in one of three ways:

  • Stand in line and wait - Not recommended - Standby seating for Fantasmic is limited and in high demand.  For this reason, lines for entrance start forming 2 hrs before the show.  I don't know about you, but there are too many other awesome attractions to see in Hollywood Studios to wait in line that long for Fantasmic.
  • Use one of your FP+ reservations - Not a terrible choice - FP+ seating will guarantee you a seat, and a pretty good one, for the show.  The problem is that Fantasmic is a Tier 1 FastPass which means if you reserve this in advance, you have to miss out on the chance to grab a FastPass+ reservation for Toy Story Midway Mania or Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.  In my opinion, those other rides are a better use of your FP+ then Fantasmic.
  • Book the Fantasmic Dining Package - Best option - Think of this as the ultimate dinner and show.  For a fixed price, you get lunch or dinner at Hollywood & Vine, The Hollywood Brown Derby, or Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano.  Upon the completion of your meal, you get your voucher for your reserved seating to Fantasmic.  These also happen to be the best seats in the amphitheater - front and center.  Best value on the dining package?  Check out Hollywood & Vine for lunch (it's also a character meal!) or Mama Melrose's for dinner ($37.99 for appetizer, entree, dessert, and Fantasmic voucher!)
There have also been very recent stories about Walt Disney World exploring with some reserved seating options to improve the Fantasmic experience.  Keep an eye out for any changing information about seating in the future.

If you haven't yet had a chance to experience Fantasmic, don't miss it on your next trip!  The show runs most nights and they will sometimes offer two shows during the summer months and busy holiday seasons.  Come enjoy this magical gathering of dreams!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Food, Fun, and Fantasmic!

If you're looking for a nice place to take a break while enjoying Disney's Hollywood Studios, look no further than Mama Melrose's.  I've travelled to Walt Disney World a good number of times in my life, and wish I would have discovered this gem of an Italian restaurant sooner.


We visited Mama Melrose's as part of the Fantasmic Dinner Package.  This package is a fixed price meal which also includes premium reserved viewing for the first Fantastic show.  Hollywood & Vine and The Hollywood Brown Derby also participate in this package deal.  In addition to dinner, these packages are also offered for lunch.  One word of warning - they are extremely popular and reservations typically book quickly.  Also, dining reservations for this package are typically offered at "odd" times; think lunch at 2:45 or dinner at 4:15.  At Mama Melrose's, the package costs $37.99.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that we could select one appetizer and one entree off of the menu, without any limitations!



For my appetizer, I chose the calamari.  Calamari is one of those dishes that can be difficult to cook correctly, but the chefs here nailed it!  It was crispy and included three delicious dipping sauces.  For my entree, I selected the Charred Strip Steak.  The seasonings and reduction brought out a myriad of flavors and the five-cheese macaroni that came with it was decadent!  The dinner ended with a nice dessert sampler.  For the price, it was a great value and a yummy dinner.




After dinner and some more time enjoying Hollywood Studios, we were able to go to our special "Fantasmic Dinner Package" entrance to the show.  The seats for the dining package are the best in the theatre - perfectly center and no worries about arriving 90 minutes before the show to get them.  As a family with young kids, this perk of not spending over an hour in line waiting to enter the show is a HUGE perk and would make the dinner package worth it regardless of cost or experience.  However, the great dinner at Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano combined with a very reasonable price make this an opportunity not to be missed!

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