Showing posts with label Contemporary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Contemporary. Show all posts

Pirate Adventures on the Seven Seas Lagoon

During our Halloween week visit to Walt Disney World, we knew we wanted to do something special to celebrate the festive holiday week with our 4 year old.  Once we had sticker shock at ticket prices soaring over $100 each for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, we opted to get creative and have just as much with a smaller price tag.  With that in mind, we decided to have a pirate themed adventure day with a visit to The Pirates League in Magic Kingdom and topped off with a sailing on the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage that evening.  I've read a lot about fireworks cruises at Walt Disney World before, but had not experienced one myself.  I was excited to try a new experience and am equally excited to share that it was a great one!

The Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage departs most nights from The Contemporary Resort.  Sailors of all ages arrive at The Contemporary and are directed to a check-in desk where you get a special bandana to let cast members know that you are cleared for embarkation.  While you wait to enter the party, cast members keep the family entertained with coloring stations and a scavenger hunt around the hotel.  Our festivities were set to begin at 7:45 and right on schedule our pirate host, Patch greeted guests and invited us into a party room.  Brody was literally like a kid in a candy store as the desserts were unlimited and the sugar rush was intense.  I think his favorite out of the cakes, candy, popcorn, drinks had to be the blue cotton candy - he tried to eat two bags, but we convinced him to save one for later.  Which by the way is a fun tip.  The food is free and cast members encourage you stock up for the boat ride.  While you're busy enjoying the treats, you'll also notice a line forming to meet two of your favorite pirates - Captain Hook and Mr. Smee.  The line moves quick and both characters are happy to play and sign autographs.  After they are done greeting each party, the characters mingle around with guests (a rare treat anymore in Disney!) and enjoy some time dancing and playing.  Mr. Smee even engaged in a sword fight with Brody while they danced to Jake and the Neverland Pirate music.

Throughout the party, guests are frequently reminded about the 8:15 departure time to head to the boats and to please use the bathrooms before getting on the boats as there are none on board.  Despite these warnings, our son decided he needed to use the bathroom at the absolute last possible minute and we almost missed the boat.  Anyway, at 8:15 our pirate host, Patch, and his friend, also named Patch, came back in the room to get us organized.  There were two boats that night - the Hook and the Smee.  Captain Hook led his boat down to the dock and Mr. Smee did the same.  The two waved goodbye as we sailed off in the waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon to get in position for the 9:00 fireworks.

During the sailing, Patch led our boat in some getting to know you activities as he greeted each family on board.  We were in position right on schedule and the view of Wishes was breathtaking!  It may be my new favorite spot to watch the show from as you truly get a sense of how grand the spectacle is from this distance.  After the show, the pontoon boat quickly departs to head back to The Contemporary.  Patch again leads our crew in a sing-a-long and some pirate games on the way back.  Each child leaves the cruise with a small token from the sailing.  When arriving back at the dock, Peter Pan is there to greet us.  Each guest gets a chance to have a picture with Peter Pan and sign autographs as the night draws to a close.  I was disappointed that our pictures with Peter Pan didn't link to our Memory Maker and we couldn't track them down, but we at least have our autograph and memories from the night as well as the other awesome Memory Maker photos too.

I loved our night out on the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage.  The cost when we went in October was $69 for adults and $41 for children 3-9.  Since then, there has been a ticket price increase to $73 for adults and $43 for children.  I had no problem at all paying what we did for the cruise and thought the evening was full of fun!


Magic Kingdom Fireworks - Without a Park Ticket!

One of my favorite attractions on any Walt Disney World trip is taking in the fireworks at Magic Kingdom.  Whether it's Wishes or one of the seasonal shows, there is nothing quite like watching this nighttime spectacular over Cinderella Castle.  The music and fireworks quite literally brings tears to my eyes each visit.  Of course, the best place to watch the fireworks is right in front of the castle inside the park, but many don't realize that there are other great options to experience fireworks that don't require you to have a park ticket.

Restaurants - Who doesn't love dinner and a show?  California Grill (Disney's Contemporary Resort),  'Ohana (Disney's Polynesian Resort), and Narcoossees's (Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) all have views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks and dim the lights while piping in music to provide guests with a great experience.  Reservations around fireworks times are difficult to get so make sure that you are ready to book 180 days in advance.  Time your reservation about 90 minutes before fireworks are planned to start and you should be ready to enjoy your dessert while the fireworks display takes place.

Beaches - The beaches at Disney's Polynesian Resort and Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa both have beautiful views of the fireworks.  Recently, a new FREE (yes, you read that right, FREE) viewing party has been opened at the Grand Floridian.  The party features decorations and food and beverages for sale while you watch.  The best part - this isn't open to just guests of this resort!

Boats - There are two cruises on the Seven Seas Lagoon that also offer fireworks viewing.  The Ferrytale Wishes Dessert Party features sweets and beverages included in the price tag while you watch the fireworks and enjoy the music just like you were in the park.  For a more daring adventure on the high seas, there is also a Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise where you enjoy snacks and drinks at the Contemporary with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee before setting sail with some pirate friends around the lagoon to see the fireworks.  When you return back to land, Peter Pan is there to greet your party.  Each of these options do have a price tag attached, but feature more than just the viewing when you factor in the food and experience.

These non-park options are great if you don't have a park hopper option on your tickets and want to take in the fireworks on a night you were not in Magic Kingdom.  Or, those of you who are lucky enough to be locals might like to check out the fireworks without braving the Magic Kingdom evening crowds.  I'm excited to use some of these options on my upcoming trip for Princess Half Marathon weekend when my friend and I have opted to save some money and skip park tickets.  Whatever your reason, all of these viewing locations provide a wonderful alternative to watching the fireworks from inside the park.

Why We Won't Be Going to MNSSHP

A few disclaimers before I begin tonight's post.  I love Disney - always have and probably always will.  I recognize that Disney is a business and, while they excel in providing magical vacation memories, they are ultimately trying to make a lot of money as a successful company.  I don't begrudge this at all - but even I have to admit that some things are getting a little crazy.

When my husband told me about the Walt Disney World trip that we could plan for the fall, I was even more excited than normal.  I had never been to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and couldn't wait to experience it - on Halloween night none-the-less!  I did my research about the event and knew that I was going to pay a premium for tickets on Halloween night.  In 2015, the tickets cost $87 for adults and $82 for kids 3-9.  While these are steep ticket prices, I felt that between the 4pm admission to Magic Kingdom, the parade, the fireworks, the candy, and the entertainment I could justify it.  Then, the prices for 2016 were released.  Seriously?!?  At $105 for adults and $100 for kids, I about fainted.  Do you know how much I could do in Disney for that money vs. one evening in the Magic Kingdom???

My favorite pirates!
So in an act that probably astonished my husband, I said "no" to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  I could come up with an experience that would still be new and just as memorable for the kids for a lot less money - I was sure of it.  I went back to the drawing board and remembered something that I had been interested in taking the kids to before, but we never had the extra funds.  I got on the phone with Disney Recreation and booked the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage for Halloween night.  If you're not familiar with this, it begins in the Contemporary with snacks and sweets.  There is a special meet and greet with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee before you take off on your voyage.  You get a prime view of the nighttime fireworks show with the music piped into your boat.  The evening ends with a special goodnight send off back on land from Peter Pan.  I think my 4 year old will be more than thrilled to say "Yo Ho, Let's Go!" to this adventure.

And as for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, I'm missing out on treats, a special parade, unique characters, and HalloWishes to enjoy salty and sweet snacks, an up close view of the Electrical Water Pageant, meet rare Peter Pan characters, and watch HalloWishes - for a lot less money.  The cost of the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage is $69 for adults and $41 for kids.  I'm excited to "sea" what this new-to-me experience has to offer and I'll save some of my gold doubloons in the process.  Ahoy mateys!

No Fooling - Disney Magic for Boys

When I was a little girl, Disney meant princesses.  As I grew older, I one day hoped to share all of those princess memories with my own little girl.  And then I was blessed with two little boys.  But that doesn't mean that Disney doesn't have just as much for the young princes and pirates in your life - and that's no April Fool's joke!  Here are some "don't miss" attractions for boys in Walt Disney World.

Young pirate fans will find plenty to smile about in Walt Disney World!
The Pirates League - Think of this as the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for boys.  Instead of being transformed into a pretty princess, young boys (and girls too) have the chance to become fearsome pirates.  Like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, reservations are recommended for The Pirates League and there is an extra charge.  Your young buccaneer will have a magical experience with this in the Magic Kingdom.

Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage - Sticking with the pirate theme, this journey out on the Seven Seas Lagoon departs from the Contemporary Resort.  The experience features some familiar pirate friends and some new ones along the way!  The boat takes you out to watch the Wishes Fireworks show from the lagoon while enjoying some buccaneer fun.  After the fireworks, you'll return back to the Contemporary where one final surprise is waiting!  Again, reservations are needed and you can make them by calling Disney prior to your arrival.

Star Wars Jedi Training Academy - Do you have a little Star Wars rebel on your hands?  Check out the Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios.  Young Star Wars fans will be trained by some of their favorite characters in the ways of the Jedi.  This is a 20 minute experience and reservations are not accepted in the weeks and months leading up to your trip.  However, you do need to sign up once you arrive at Hollywood Studios for a time that day.  There are multiple opportunities each day to participate but sign up when you arrive to the park as space does fill up!

And of course there are plenty of other opportunities for young princesses and pirates alike to enjoy the parks.  Favorite rides, shows, and attractions will appeal to everyone.  So when traveling to Disney with boys, remember that there's much more then just princesses to enjoy!


Understanding Disney Resort Categories

Recently, I've been chatting with my cousin about an upcoming trip that he is planning with his family to Walt Disney World.  In our conversations, I was reminded how overwhelming the seemingly simple task of choosing a hotel for your Disney vacation can be for those who aren't familiar with all of the options and categories.

(Note: I've updated this post as of April 2019 to reflect my most recent stays! Enjoy!!)

The pool at Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
Value Resorts - All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, All-Star Sports, Pop Century, and Art of Animation - These provide the most basic accommodations on Disney property.  Rooms will vary a bit from resort to resort as the All Stars provide relatively small rooms while the Art of Animation resort offers family suites with multiple sleeping areas and 2 bathrooms.  Dining options are limited here as well with typically only a quick service restaurant.  Theming and pool areas are generally well done and kids will be impressed with the larger than life Disney characters at each of these resorts.  Out of this category, I've stayed at the All-Star Music Resort (back in 2003) as well as All-Star Movies Resort.  I'm excited to check out Art of Animation and hope to stay there on our next vacation with the kids.  I think the over-the-top theming and the inclusion of some recent Disney/Pixar films make this a perfect place for families with young kids.

Moderate Resort - Port Orleans Riverside
Stately mansions and a fun pool (where I enjoyed being a big kid!) 

Moderate Resorts - Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans Riverside, and Port Orleans French Quarter - These resorts feature more "subtle" Disney theming while transporting you to another place.  The grounds of each of these are beautiful and spread out over the greatest distance - something that may sound wonderfully relaxing to some of you or incredible inconvenient to others.  Recently, Disney has updated some rooms in these resorts to make a more magical and themed experience including Pirate themed rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort.  I've stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort back in 1994 and Port Orleans Riverside in 2008. More recently, I visit Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in 2017 for Princess Half Marathon Weekend. Dan and I really enjoyed our time at Port Orleans Riverside and I would say it's my recommendation out of this category.  It seems to be universally well liked on all of the Disney Social Media groups that I follow and the laid back theming of an old Mississippi River plantation allows you to truly feel relaxed on your vacation.

Beautiful, modern, and close to the Magic Kingdom!
Deluxe Resort - The Contemporary
Deluxe Resorts - Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Animal Kingdom Lodge - The deluxe resort category offers convenient access  to the parks, spacious rooms, luxurious accommodations, exceptional theming, and fantastic dining. . .all for a pretty high price.  There isn't a deluxe resort that you'd be disappointed in - they are fabulous.  If you will be staying at a deluxe resort, the biggest thing to consider is which park you would like easiest access to or if there is a particular theme that you love.  My personal favorite in this category is the Contemporary because with two young kids, you can walk to Magic Kingdom and are just a monorail ride away from Epcot.  You are also int the same resort as Chef Mickey's and again just a monorail ride away from great dining at the Polynesian and Grand Floridan too.

Deluxe Villa Resort - Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village
Studio properties offer a larger room size and kitchenette matched with the luxury of a Deluxe Resort
Deluxe Villa Resorts (aka Disney Vacation Club properties) - Bay Lake Towers @ The Contemporary, Villas at Grand Floridian, Villas at Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Villas, Polynesian Villas and Bungalows, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, Old Key West Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas, and Beach Club Villas - Most of these resorts are paired up with a deluxe resort so the perks of staying at a deluxe resort are the same, but the room quality is enhanced in this category.  Depending on the property you can find studios, one bedroom villas, two bedroom villas, or grand villas.  These rooms are great for traveling with larger parties or if you want more of a "condo" experience as opposed to a "hotel" experience on your trip.  This is the most expensive category to reserve directly through Disney.  Since these are also DVC properties, you can find third party websites and brokers that you can rent points from online.  We've used David's Vacation Rentals before for a stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas - Kidani Village.

Other Disney Options - Campsites and Cabins at Fort Wilderness - If you are looking for a "rustic" experience while visiting Disney, these are two options you may want to consider.  The campsites are available to rent if you are visiting with your camper while the cabins offer a woodland setting and accommodations for 6.  These are both over by Wilderness Lodge and offer boat transportation to Magic Kingdom (busses everywhere else), campfires in the evening, and easy access to the Hoop-Dee-Do Revue.  I can't give an honest review or recommendation here because I haven't experienced either of these.  Those who know me, know I'm not a big "camper."

Yeah.  This is me.
So that's it - a quick summary of Disney resort categories.  The magic of Disney is alive and well in each of them and the Disney service that is well known can be found everywhere.  The choice really comes down to your budget and family preferences.  You can visit the Walt Disney World website for a more detailed look at each of these categories and the resorts in each.

California Grill

Tonight I'm going to tell you about one of my favorite dinners of all time - on or off Disney property. I'll start by saying that this review is from our trip in April 2011 so it is several years old at this point. Since we visited in 2011, California Grill has also gone through a refurbishment.  As you will quickly see in my review, I loved every minute of our night there and feel confident that you would have just as great of an experience today.

Location - California Grill is located on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort.  The Contemporary is located on the monorail just outside of Magic Kingdom.  One of the biggest perks of this location is the viewing of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  Each night as Wishes begins, the lights are dimmed, music is piped in to match the show as it would be seen in the park, and the magic begins.  There are windows all around the restaurant providing a spectacular view of the fireworks.

The view of Cinderella's Castle from our table.

Food - This is top-notch, gourmet dining at it's best in Disney World.  We happened to be traveling to Disney with our good friends Craig and Ali who we have shared many delicious meals with over the years.  The four of us went into the evening knowing that we wanted to experience everything the chef had to offer at California Grill.  For this reason, we enjoyed several rounds of cocktails, an appetizer course, a sushi course, a soup and salad course, an entree course, and a dessert - yeah, you're right for thinking it. . .it's A LOT of food.  Everything was wonderfully amazing and we felt like we should be rolled out of the restaurant.  Two of my favorites from the night were the goat cheese ravioli and the California Roll (the first time I ever tried sushi!).  I was excited to see both of these are still on the menu years later.

Overall Experience - A+++
This was the best dinner I ever had at WDW.  We spent over 4 hours in the restaurant and over $500 between the 4 of us - certainly not fast or cheap.  I'm someone who is willing to pay for great food and a great experience and you'll find both here at California Grill.  While kids are welcome in the restaurant, I wouldn't see myself taking little ones until they were about 10 or so and could easily sit through the meal and enjoy the experience too.  If you haven't yet checked out California Grill, make sure to visit on your next trip to Disney!

Walt Disney World Resort Hotel - Contemporary Review

My first Disney property review that I'm going to write is of my favorite place so far.  Disney's Contemporary Resort has just about everything that guests would look for in a pixie-dusted vacation. Keep reading to check out the pros and cons of my experience in this resort.

Location - You can't beat the location of the Contemporary.  I think that many people who book here do so for that reason.  You can walk to Magic Kingdom (a big plus when the park is emptying after the fireworks), take the monorail to Epcot, and only require busses when traveling to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.  Room views vary a great deal.  If you're willing to pay the really big bucks, you can get a room with a view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks!  We had a room on the ground level in the Garden Wing and had a perfect view of the Electric Water Pageant as we were lying in bed.

Dining - Another can't beat in my experience so far.  Contempo Cafe offers Quick Service options while The Wave is a nice, quiet option for a sit down dinner.  Chef Mickey's is an almost must do for anyone with little kids and it's great to have a character breakfast without worrying about the hectic morning travel around Disney properties.  Last, but certainly not least, adults can't miss eating at California Grill.  I'll review this fabulous restaurant in a future entry, but trust me when I tell you that it is not to be missed on a Disney trip.

Theming - This is where Contemporary will probably lose some points in the opinions of various people.  Whereas places like Art of Animation and All Star Movies are over-the-top Disney (almost too much for my taste), and Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans transport you to another time and place, Contemporary is very modern.  Disney touches are subtle in the decor.  I really enjoyed it actually.  I felt like I was in Disney without having 15 different characters watch me while I sleep.  Likewise, the pool area is not very exciting.  Don't get me wrong.  The pool was nice and included a water slide and splash area.  However, I can see where kids would not be impressed with the look and feel of the Contemporary.

Rooms - You are definitely getting a higher quality room for your higher price tag at the Contemporary.  Having stayed at value, moderate, and deluxe resorts, I can honestly tell you that the quality of the bed lines, towels, mattress, etc are all much better at the deluxe resorts.  The Contemporary also boasts some of the largest non-DVC rooms on property.  We had two queen sized beds, a full sized crib (they brought us that rather than a pack n play for Brody), 2 dressers, desk, and a sofa in our "standard" room.  We had so much extra space in the hotel room that we left our very large jogging stroller (BOB Revolution for those of you in the stroller crowd) set up in the room and still had lots of extra space to walk around and lay out suitcases.  I think this was the largest "standard" hotel room I've ever stayed in.

Overall Grade - A

The only thing holding me back from giving this an A+ is the theming.  In my opinion, it's totally worth the extra money to stay up close to the magic when you're traveling with a little one that needs breaks / naps.  I would probably opt to stay on the monorail line in the future with a stroller aged child, but I can also see saving money and getting a little more Disney theming when traveling with a school-aged child.

Breakfast with Character

Today is one of those "perk" days of being a teacher - a snow day!  Snow days in my house find me in Minnie Mouse pajamas and Brody spending the day in his PJs too while we play, read, and watch Disney Junior.  This particular morning, I made blueberry muffins and fruit for us for breakfast.  After eating breakfast, we played with our new Mickey Mouse Clubhouse that Santa brought us a few days ago while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV.  Disney and breakfast on this snowy day makes me think of the character breakfast experiences at WDW.  Today I'm going to give my thoughts on one of the most popular - Chef Mickey's!

Location - Chef Mickey's is located in the Contemporary resort.  On our most recent trip, we stayed at the Contemporary so the location could not be beat for us!  I will warn you that if you are staying at another WDW resort that you want to allow plenty of time for a trip to a restaurant in another resort since Disney does not offer resort to resort direct transportation.  This means that if you are staying at Port Orleans for example, you need to take a bus to Magic Kingdom and then take the monorail over to the Contemporary.  Within the Contemporary, this is an open air restaurant in the hotel atrium.  You can hear lots of noise from within the hotel and the monorail so it's not a quiet place to eat, but that worked well for us with a toddler who is not always a quiet guy himself!

Food - I feel that all character breakfast buffets are about the same.  Food is good - not great.  You have your Mickey waffles, fruit, eggs, breakfast meat, yogurt, etc.  I don't think that anyone goes to a character breakfast looking for a gourmet meal, but the food is good enough that it won't keep you away.

Character Interaction - Chef Mickey's is THE place to see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald at a character dining experience.  While it is great to knock out all of the classic characters in one meal and this will save you lots of time in potentially long character meet lines in the parks, I felt the whole experience was rushed.  With the exception of Donald, the characters hurried past your table - signing the autograph book, posing for a quick picture, and then moving on.  While I'm sure some of this may have been the people working that day, I can't help but also think that some of it has to do with this being one of the busier character meals and that they were trying to hurry diners in and out.  I've heard repeated stories about being rushed so I don't feel like it was just us.

Overall Experience:
Despite not being thrilled with the rushed experience, we'll most likely end up back here again - especially with a toddler.  Brody knows these characters well and enjoyed meeting them which is exciting to see.  I feel it is overpriced at more than $30 per adult, but I don't know that anything in Disney is really a bargain.  The nice thing to remember with character buffets is that children under 3 eat free.  That's a nice chunk of savings if you're traveling with a toddler and makes the character meals an easier bill to handle.  There are other character breakfasts that will save you $5-$10 per person which I liked better (I'll talk about Crystal Palace in another post), but if the classic Disney characters are a must, then Chef Mickey's is for you!