Showing posts with label Epcot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Epcot. Show all posts

Don't Miss Disney - Holiday Edition!

We all know that there are several things that are "don't miss" items on any Walt Disney World Resort vacation and the holiday season brings it's own list of must-see attractions, events, and entertainment.  In fact, I talked about what makes the holidays a bit more magical during my Disney Parks Moms Panel Application video when I applied for the 2019 panel.  Even though I didn't make the panel, I think my video sums up a bit of what makes the holiday season extra special when vacationing in Walt Disney World.  Take a look at my video here:



Excited to learn more?  Check out my top 5 things you won't want to miss to put a little extra jingle in your bells this holiday season!

2014 Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party - This is a special ticketed event on select nights at Magic Kingdom Park.  Similar to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, you'll find all the magic of the season at this party!  From top notch decorations to put the jingle in any bells to free hot chocolate and cookies throughout the park, you'll feel holly jolly as soon as you enter the park.  Don't miss the parade during this event which features a very special guest at the end!  The holiday fireworks are also an amazing end to the evening.  You will need to purchase a separate ticket for this, but that ticket gets you entrance at 4PM even though the party doesn't begin until 7PM.

Epcot's Candlelight Processional - Included with your ticket to Epcot is the chance to take part in this spiritually mesmerizing event.  Join celebrity narrators, an orchestra, and a enormous choir to hear the Biblical tale of Christmas as never before.  There are several performances each evening of this show and it is incredibly popular.  If you want to guarantee your seat, you can book a dining package at one of Epcot's restaurants with a special reservation on My Disney Experience.  For those of you choosing to attend without that dining reservation, plan to arrive early and wait in line in order to secure your spot!

Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail - We all know Disney Springs is a premiere shopping, dining, and entertainment destination, but it gets even more spirited during the holidays.  With themed Christmas trees from Star Wars to Pixar to Disney classics, you'll quickly find yourself lost in a maze of color and merriment.  One extra perk of this particular holiday attraction?  It's located outside of theme park so if you're in the Orlando area for work, fun, or as a resident - you don't have to pay park admission to enjoy with your family!

Hotel Decor and Experiences - The holiday festivities and decor aren't just limited to the parks around the Walt Disney World Resort, but can also be found in hotels on property as well.  A great way to spend a low-key afternoon or evening is by taking some time to visit different resort properties and enjoy all they have to offer.  For example, the giant gingerbread house display at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is not to be missed.  Feeling a bit more rustic?  Make a visit to Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground where you can find special horse-drawn holiday sleigh rides around the property.
2017 Dinner at Minnie's Holiday Dine

Minnie's Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine - Looking for a festive dining experience with some of your favorite characters?  Look no further than Minnie's Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine in Disney's Hollywood Studios!  This dining option is available for lunch and dinner and provides guests with a wide buffet selection and memorable character interactions.  You can find something for everyone at this restaurant and can even grab a special dining package to get reserved seating for Fantasmic later on in the evening!

This is just a sampling of some of my favorite ways to celebrate the holidays at the Walt Disney World Resort!  You'll find holiday magic around every corner and the decorations, costumes, and special events around the resort will help you create memories that will last much longer than those gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate on Main Street, U.S.A!

Find Your Way to Ale & Compass Restaurant!

Welcome to Ale & Compass Restaurant
Ahoy fellow Walt DisneyWorld Resort lovers! Recently I visited Ale & Compass Restaurant located inside Disney's Yacht Club Resort and there is so much love about this nautical inspired restaurant.  Let's break down the location, atmosphere, and menu to get an overview of all you can expect to find here.

Location - Disney's Yacht Club Resort is located on Disney's Boardwalk and Ale & Compass Restaurant is easily found right off the resort's main lobby.  Dining at resort properties can sometimes be tricky from a transportation standpoint, but guests wanting to check out Ale & Compass Restaurant will find easy access from both Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.  This is also easily accessible to guests enjoying stays at Disney's Boardwalk Resort, Disney's Beach Club Resort, or the Swan and Dolphin.  Both of the theme parks and all of the hotels mentioned are within easy walking distance of this dining location.  If you haven't taken time to stroll the Boardwalk area located between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, it is absolutely beautiful and has many dining, shopping, and entertainment options.
View of Disney's Boardwalk

Atmosphere - Once inside the restaurant, you will fall in love with the calm, quiet atmosphere.  I love Disney and even get excited about people watching, but even I need a break from the busy theme parks.  I went at lunch time on a Wednesday and the entire time I was in the restaurant, there were no more than 5 tables seated.  The color scheme is also warm and relaxing with rich blues and wood finishes.  There is certainly nothing here that would overly appeal to parties traveling with kids, but it's not a restaurant that is off-limits because it's "too fancy" for little ones.  The waitstaff could not have been more friendly and I was impressed by their willingness to accommodate food allergies with such care and precaution.  While no one in my family has a food allergy, one of the ladies traveling in the group next to my table did and the waiter talked extensively with her about the allergy and then had the chef come out to review the menu with her and offer options for preparing the meals.  Great customer service!

Lunch menu
Menu - So one of the pitfalls to writing a restaurant review when you travel by yourself is that you only get to try what you eat off the menu.  With that being said, I can tell you that my meal was one of the best salads I've had on Disney property.  I had a hard time choosing with so many delicious options on the menu, but opted for the salad to try and eat a little healthier before heading into Disney's Hollywood Studios where I would most certainly being enjoying less-healthy options throughout the afternoon.  On my waiter's recommendation I chose the Roast Chicken Kale Salad.  The dried cranberries and spiced walnuts added a sweet and salty kick to the superfood mix of kale, swiss chard, and quinoa.  I felt ready to take on the day when I was finished and no so full that I couldn't blast of on Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in just a bit!  I decided to save my dessert for the park later on and wrapped up my visit.  As you can see, prices are pretty reasonable when compared to other Walt Disney World Table Service restaurants.  If using the Disney Dining Plan, you'll probably get more "bang for your buck" elsewhere as that one table service credit can buy you character dining experiences as well.  Don't forget that this is one of the restaurant locations on property that offers 10% off to Disney Visa Rewards Cardholders.  Don't have a Disney Chase Visa yet?  Check out my referral link here to learn how you can save money and earn rewards with your Disney Parks vacations!  

Roast Chicken Kale Salad at Ale & Compass Restaurant
While I can't speak to the quality of the menu entirely, if the salad is any indication the rest of the menu should be delicious - and I'd love to come back and try more on a future trip.  It's a quiet respite from the rush of Epcot or Disney's Hollywood Studios and can easily be fit into your day at either of these parks.  This is also an easy reservation to grab if you're planning a last minute trip to the Walt Disney World Resort.  Bon Appetite at Ale & Compass Restaurant!  

Top Tips for Visiting Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

Chef Remy said "If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff." With that in mind, there is plenty of good stuff to be found at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival - an annual hit at the Walt Disney World Resort.  With so much to see and do, it's easy to get overwhelmed at an event of these delicious proportions.  After a recent visit, I've compiled a list of my "top tips" to make the most of your experience tasting around the world.

Visit on a Weekday - Unlike special ticketed events, the festival runs during Epcot's normal operating hours.  Friday nights and weekends tend to be more crowded since these are times locals will  most likely be able to visit.  You can also visit throughout the day and may find midday and early afternoon park times to be less popular.

Buy a Gift Card - It's easy to get carried away with food and beverage purchases as you bounce booth to booth.  Buying a gift card ahead of time with the budget you are comfortable spending will make sure you don't wake up to sticker shock on your room charges in the morning! Epcot has special gift cards on a bracelet that you can purchase on site, but I like buying my gift cards at home before traveling.  You can save 5% buying your gift cards at Target when you use your Red Card.  You know what that means - more money to taste the world!

Hydrate with Free Water - Yes, that's right - something is free in Disney!  You can get free cups of ice water at any quick service dining location.  It's a great way to stay hydrated and save money, both of which are important when you consider the array of drinks available during your international journey.  Cast members at these locations are happy to provide you with the cup of water and often asked me if I would like more than one with each visit.

Make a Plan - Before you begin your culinary cabaret, plan to visit the Festival Center first to get oriented to the festival and the booths.  There is too much to taste it all, so pick out your favorites.  Better yet, the Food & Wine Festival is my favorite time to recommend using a Park Hopper ticket.  Skip planning a meal and hop over to Epcot for lunch or dinner to check several items off of your festival passport, then visit again the next day to try even more!

Have Fun - The spirit of the Food & Wine Festival is to try new things, so dive in with both feet and enjoy!  Visiting with friends and family will allow you to taste even more goodies if you split the items you order.  Whether you are enjoying the flavors of Hawaii, New Zealand, Mexico, or Italy - just to name a few - your taste buds will enjoy their journey around the world just as much as you will!

So that's it, five quick tips to make the most of your visit to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  I hope you have fun planning a delicious visit!  Bon Appetite!

Collecting Character Autographs in Walt Disney World

Meeting characters is a highlight of any Walt Disney World vacation - for both the young and the young at heart!  Photos are a great way to capture those memories and many people enjoy collecting autographs from their favorite characters to also bring home a piece of the magic.  Below are a few different options for recording those signatures.

Disney Autograph Books - On site and online, Disney sells autograph books for visitors to use.  The books range from a simple book of blank pages for characters to sign to larger books that hold pictures from your trip alongside the autographs you collect.  On a plus side, these books are readily available and easy to carry being small on size.  Brody keeps his old autograph books in his closet and occasionally will go back to look at them.  Books start at just $7.95 so if you are in a pinch in the parks, it's not an overly expensive option.

Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters (or another character book) - This is my new favorite option!  We bought this book from Amazon for less than $10 prior to our trip.  It's a nice hardcover book that features some of Disney's most beloved animated characters.  Each page has a picture and a brief description of each character.  The idea is that when you meet each one, they sign their page.  This is a nice book to keep on a shelf and revisit time and time again when you return from your trip.  I also enjoy that we can bring it back on each vacation and try to collect more and more signatures.  On the downside, it is larger than the Disney Autograph books in the parks and not every character is in the book.  We were easily able though to work around both of these minor concerns.  With our little ones, we still carry a backpack in the park so carrying the book wasn't a problem and we just had characters without a page sign on the front or back cover.

Wall Displays / Pillowcases / Etc. - I have seen people post about bringing various household items for characters to sign too.  While I have never done this personally, it may be something that we do in the future.  One example may be a photo mat that would hold one of your family photos from the parks or maybe a wooden letter.  I've also seen people hand characters pillowcases or t-shirts to sign too.  Perhaps the most creative I've found were the people who brought a frying pan to have Rapunzel sign!  While these appear to be great, creative ways to display character signatures when you return, I have always worried about carrying some of these items as they can be a bit awkward in the park.

At the end of the day, what you carry in the park is all about what makes you and your family happy! There are so many creative ways to collect character signatures and a quick Pinterest search will show you endless possibilities.  What are some of your favorite ways to gather signatures while on vacation in Walt Disney World?

Can You Handle The Kitchen Sink??

There are several things that any Disney fanatic will tell you should be on your "must conquer" list at some point during your Walt Disney World vacations.  In November, we tackled one of my bucket list items - the Kitchen Sink Sundae at Beaches and Cream.  Beaches and Cream is located poolside at Disney's Beach Club Resort just outside of Epcot.  It's a great place to visit on your Epcot park day as you can easily exit Epcot through International Gateway, turn to your right, and you're just a short 5 minute walk away.

While Beaches and Cream serves a full menu of lunch and dinner items, they are best known for their ice cream.  The decor is reminiscent of a 1950s soda shop and features diner favorites, such as grilled sandwiches and fries.  We had dinner in Epcot and then made a 7:30 reservation for Beaches and Cream to grab dessert prior to going back for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  Reservations are tough to grab for this restaurant as the inside seating area is extremely small.  There is a "carry-out" side of Beaches and Cream if you can't get a reservation inside.  They feature a smaller version of the kitchen sink sundae then what you'll find inside, but they host a full compliment of ice cream flavors.
Upon being seated, our server quickly greeted us and we shared that we were here with one thing on our mind - the Kitchen Sink.  He was happy to fill us in on all of the delicious details.  We have a picky eater in our family and our server even offered to "deconstruct" the sundae a bit and put some of the ice cream in a separate dish so that Brody could enjoy a plain treat if all of the sundae toppings were too much.  After placing our order, it was just a short wait for the arrival of our dessert.  And it arrived in grand fashion.  The lights in the restaurant dimmed and sirens went off to signal that a brave table was attempting to conquer The Kitchen Sink.

So what's in this sundae you ask?  It features ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge, cake, brownies, sprinkles, candy, and so much more.  The full list of what's included can be found on the Disney Parks Blog.  It was heaven in a bowl. We didn't quite finish the masterpiece - actually we didn't even come close, but it was enjoyable down to the last bite that we could manage.  At $32.00, the Kitchen Sink is a heavy hit to the budget, but when you think that it can easily serve a family of 4+ as opposed to paying for four individual desserts and that it's probably a splurge for a special occasion, it really isn't too terrible of a price for you get.

What do you think?  Can your family conquer the Kitchen Sink?  Don't forget one of my favorite sayings for all of your runners out there. . ."I run Disney so I can eat Disney!"

My Top 5 Posts of 2016

In what has now become an annual tradition on the blog (I think I can call it that if I've done it two years in a row, right?), here is a countdown of my top 5 posts from the past year.  Thanks to everyone who stops by to check out my posts and I can't wait to share more memories and magic in 2017!

5. Why We Won't Be Going to MNSSHP - Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party has been on my Disney bucket list for a long time now and we were finally taking a Fall trip that would put us there not only during some of the party dates, but actually on Halloween.  So why did we decide not to go? Find out here!

4. runDisney Inaugural Wine & Dine 10K - The inaugural runDisney Wine & Dine 10K was an amazing race.  Hosted by Chef Remy, the race featured a familiar course through Epcot and around the Boardwalk with some great characters and all the runDisney fun that you expect from their events.

3.  A Beginner's Guide to Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival - One of the most popular events in Walt Disney World can be overwhelming when you don't know what to expect.  We attended for the first time in 2015 and I used my experiences to write some tips that I learned which might benefit other first timers.

2.  Best Bets for Preschoolers in Epcot - Traveling with the little guys to Walt Disney World has meant seeing the parks through the eyes of my kids.  Epcot gets a bad reputation sometimes as not being a kid-friendly park.  This post highlights some of our favorite things to do around Future World and World Showcase!

1.  Things that May Terrify Your Kids in Walt Disney World - My husband will probably laugh out loud that this is my top post of the year.  His biggest complaint about Disney is that our kids are scared of some of the things there.  It's a true statement.  I don't think that ruins a family vacation - just review some of these experiences that might terrify your kids.  Moral of the story, there is so much to see and do in Disney; do what makes your family happy rather than trying to push through things that scare them.

Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Even though I've been blessed with two boys, I still need to get a little Princess fix on my Walt Disney World vacations.  Luckily, with my boys both still being young, they enjoy seeing the "pretty princesses" too and we were able to grab pre-park opening reservations for breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall on our most recent visit to Epcot.  This was probably the most controversial of the dining reservations we had on the trip from a review standpoint so I've decided to summarize the experience into two categories:

What You'll Love - There are several things to enjoy about breakfast at Akershus.  Most notably is the princess interaction.  Everyone knows that a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table is next to impossible to secure, but reservations at Akershus are a bit easier to come by.  Here you'll get to meet five princesses.  While they say that princesses may vary from visit to visit, we were able to meet Belle, Aurora, Ariel, Snow White, and Cinderella.  All of the princesses were delightful to interact with during our meal.  I decided to "Disneybound" as Snow White that day, and she was so excited to see my outfit.  During the meal, there is a princess parade every 15 minutes or so where the princesses get the kids up from their chairs and walk around the restaurant.  The restaurant itself is also pretty featuring some classic Norwegian architecture and decor. 


What You Won't Love - The price for the food that you get.  I'm not going to say the food was bad, because it wasn't.  The meal comes in two parts - a buffet that you can start on as soon as you arrive and then a family style plated selection of hot breakfast items.  The eggs were fine, the potato casserole was delicious, and the selection of pastries and Norwegian specialities on the buffet were good - but when you're paying over $40 per adult for the buffet, you would expect more variety and not just "good," but "great" dining in my opinion.  What you are paying for here is the opportunity to meet and mingle with the princesses.  If that's not high on your priority list, you would be better served to dine somewhere else.  Epcot is full of fabulous dining choices around World Showcase which will be both cheaper and offer a better selection of food.

Overall, I would not go back to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.  The boys enjoyed meeting the princesses and I'm always glad to try something new in Walt Disney World, but with so many great choices around the resort, this would not be one for me to experience again.

Favorite Mickey Meet and Greets in Walt Disney World

A trip to Walt Disney World isn't complete without a visit to the mouse himself, Mickey!  If Mickey Mouse is on your "must-do" list (and we all know he is!) there are plenty of opportunities to meet him around the theme parks and in resort dining.  With all of those chances to say hi to Mickey, where does one begin?  Here are my favorite places to meet Mickey Mouse around the Walt Disney World Resort!

Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater - I'm starting off my list with one of my all time favorites.  This meet with Mickey is located just inside Magic Kingdom.  Mickey Mouse is dressed as a magician and greets guests before he is set to go onstage at the theater.  What sets this meet apart?  The fact that Mickey talks!  Kids (and adults) have the chance to interact with Mickey in a way that is totally unique to this location.  We can't make a visit to Magic Kingdom without visiting "talking Mickey." FastPass+ is available for this meet, but may not be necessary as I've rarely seen lines longer than 30 minutes and often have spotted wait times of 15 minutes or less.


Garden Grill - Inside of Epcot's The Land Pavilion is a semi-hidden character dining gem, Garden Grill.  This restaurant features Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip, and Dale in their best farming gear as they serve up homestyle food, family style.  We had breakfast here and delighted in the character interaction and the delicious food.  As someone who travels a lot with small kids, the fact that breakfast is served family style is a nice touch so I don't have to juggle kids at the buffet.  Another unique aspect of this restaurant is the fact that it is circular and rotates through the Living with the Land ride.  This dining experience is not as crowded as others which meant that the characters really took their time at each table - and farmer Mickey Mouse is adorable!  A great tip is to book a character breakfast here before the park opens and you can be among the first in line for popular attractions like Soarin' when you have finished eating.  For more information on Garden Grill, check out my review here.


Chef Mickey's - If you'd like to meet Mickey Mouse without visiting one of theme parks, you can have a meal at Chef Mickey's inside of Disney's Contemporary Resort.  This character meal is energetic and upbeat.  The open air concept of the restaurant with the monorail zooming through the hotel above adds to the fun.  Here you can meet the "Fab Five" in one spot - Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald.  The price of this character meal is steep and reservations are hard to come by, but it's a great way to meet your favorite Disney friends without the lines and while enjoying a buffet breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It's also easy to access this restaurant as you can take any transportation to Magic Kingdom and then either take the short walkway or hop the monorail to the Contemporary.  If you're interested in learning more about Chef Mickey's, check out my review here.

At a runDisney race - I love meeting characters out on the course of my runDisney races and coming across Mickey is one of my favorite stops!  Mickey Mouse can typically be found as runners are waiting to move into corrals and once the race ends to pose for pictures (and Minnie is usually by his side).  We all know that when you runDisney, "every mile is magic" so what better way to capture the fun and memories of the race then with a photo op with Mickey!

There are so many places to meet Mickey on your vacation, that it's easy to follow Walt's advice and never forget "that it was all started by a mouse."  Happy 88th Birthday Mickey Mouse!  See ya real soon, pal!

Quick Trip Recap

We're fresh off our latest trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and I have so much to share about our vacation!  We traveled with my parents and stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.  This was the first time we've stayed off property with kids and I have to say that the Hilton was a perfect choice.  I'm going to update my review of the property with everything that we enjoyed with the kids, but in short, the pool, breakfast, and transportation made it easy to enjoy all the parks had to offer as well as relax around the resort during our "down time."

Daddy and Caleb enjoying the pool at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Our week long trip included a 6 day Magic Your Way base ticket where we visited one park per day.  We opted to spend 2 days each at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom with 1 day each at Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  Inside the parks, we tried a few new experiences including The Pirates League at Magic Kingdom and the Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple at Hollywood Studios.  Brody, our 4 year old, loved all of the Star Wars activities at Hollywood Studios in particular.  While Hollywood Studios is getting a bad rap lately due to so much of the park being closed for the addition of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land, I think this might have been one of Brody's favorite days.

My handsome Captain Hook!


Brody was an extremely brave Jedi as he battled Darth Vader and Kylo Ren!
We also tried a few new dining and evening experiences.  The Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage was a memorable evening and one that I would highly recommend to anyone with young kids.  We also enjoyed a fabulous date night out at Jiko with it's delicious South African cuisine and tried out the breakfast at Akershus inside of Epcot.  I was also thrilled to run in the inaugural runDisney Wine and Dine 10K my last day in Walt Disney World.

Meeting my doppelgänger, Snow White, at breakfast!
Just a few quick pictures from the inaugural runDisney Wine and Dine 10K
I'll admit that the week long vacation with a 1 year old and 4 year old had its trying moments, I still think that the boys enjoyed their time in the most magical place on Earth.  I can't wait to share all of the experiences with you from my trip over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned for some new and exciting posts!

My Top 5 Must-Do Rides in Walt Disney World

As we continue to count down the days to our next Walt Disney World trip, I'm busy finalizing FastPass+ reservations for our favorite rides and attractions using the My Disney Experience website and app.  I don't know about you and your family, but we have some favorite rides that are "can't miss" experiences for us on each of our family vacations.  Here are my top 5 must-do rides in Walt Disney World.

5. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - Magic Kingdom - One of the newer rides in Walt Disney World, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train boasts mild thrills while also showcasing some amazing creativity.  The dwarfs inside the mine take you right back to the famous scenes from the movie.  This is probably the most popular ride in Magic Kingdom these days and FastPass+ reservations go quickly.  Without a FastPass+ time, you can expect to spend well over an hour in line for your turn.

4. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - Hollywood Studios - I have a closet obsession with The Twilight Zone.  Each year, when the Sci-Fi Channel runs marathons of the show on fourth of July and New Year's Eve, I find myself drawn into the show.  This ride puts you right in the middle of your own Twilight Zone story as you go plummeting down an elevator shaft in The Hollywood Hotel.  This is a definite FastPass+ reservation for us.  At Disney's Hollywood Studios, this is a tier 2 FastPass+ selection which makes it a no-brainer for us!

3. Toy Story Mania! - Hollywood Studios - This is Brody's favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World!  Here you enter the world of Andy's toys while playing a carnival-style selection of computer games.  The ride is interactive, fast-paced, and entertaining.  This is another ride where wait times can easily top an hour, so a FastPass+ reservation is highly recommended.  As a tier 1 attraction, you'll have to make some tough choices in Disney's Hollywood Studios, but for our family there is no question on securing a FastPass+ for this favorite attraction.

2. Soarin' - Epcot - We have yet to experience the new video in Epcot's Soarin', but if it's even half as good as the previous version of the ride (and I've heard it's even better), we're going to be thrilled with the experience.  This has always been one of my husband's favorite rides in Walt Disney World and I'm excited that my oldest son will get to enjoy it for the first time on our upcoming visit!  We always like to hit this early in the day while also checking out other fun features in the Land Pavilion before heading over to Epcot's World Showcase.

1. Dumbo the Flying Elephant - Magic Kingdom - This ride is a Walt Disney World classic and holds a special place in my heart.  One of my favorite Disney memories is from my very first trip.  I was just 5 years old and my grandmother and I rode Dumbo together.  It's still one of my favorite pictures from Magic Kingdom!  Now I get to make memories with my own children nearly 30 years later.  That's the magic of Walt Disney World - family memories to enjoy year after year!

What makes Walt Disney World Resort #WonderFALLDisney?

A few weeks ago, I turned into the Disney Parks Live Stream from the Walt Disney World Resort to catch a glimpse of the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular Show that is part of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  During the broadcast, Disney Parks commentators shared some of the reasons that Fall is one of the best seasons to visit.  I've had the pleasure of taking part of some of these events before, and others I'm excited to experience for the first time when our next trip begins in just about a month!

Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival - This classic festival that has been a part of Epcot for over 2 decades showcases food and drinks from around the world as well as some of the best celebrity chefs one can imagine.  Last year, we had a wonderful time eating our way around Epcot.  One of my best tips for beginners to the festival - don't bother making lunch and dinner reservations.  You'll be so full from snacking at the delicious kiosks, you won't need to stop and sit down for a full meal!  And don't forget to check out the Chase Lounge if you have a Chase Visa credit card.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party - I have to confess that I am a little bummed were going to be missing this.  In case you missed my previous post, we opted out of attending this annual event due to the late night with young kids and ridiculous Halloween weekend pricing.  However, when I was watching the Live Stream from the party in September, I have to admit that the whole event looks fantastic.  I'm sure we'll end up going at some point when the kids are older.  Here's wishing all of you attending a spooktacular time!

runDisney - The first weekend in November means that runDisney has once again returned to the Walt Disney World Resort.  As the only fall race in Florida, this is a very popular ticket.  I ran Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K and the Wine and Dine Half-Marathon in 2015 and can't wait to see the changes for 2016.  With a new Wine and Dine 10K and Lumiere's 2-Course Challenge added to the menu, as well as the time change for the half-marathon to a morning start, there is sure to be lots of excitement and opinions surrounding this event.

Good Weather, Lower Crowds, and Great Deals - Long gone are the high temperatures and paralyzing humidity of the summer.  Instead, you'll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds with school back in session.  Fall can also feature several great travel deals.  This year, free dining once again made a return to the Walt Disney World Resort as did percentage off offers for room only reservations.  While the booking window has passed for most of these great offers, deals are still available for the popular holiday season and Disney Visa cardholders have their preview this week of special offers for the beginning of 2017.

We're counting down the days to our #WonderFALLDisney vacation.  What are your favorite events of this season?


3 Reasons to Visit the Chase Lounge at Epcot International Food & WineFestival

If you're planning to visit Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and have a Chase credit card, I'm here to let you in on one of the best kept secrets during the festival.  Touring the festival can be exhausting, but the Chase Lounge is the perfect place to relax while in Epcot.  The Chase Lounge is located inside the American Adventure.  To gain entry, you need to show your Chase Visa at the door and then you can proceed up the stairs to enjoy some great perks!  If you have a Disney Rewards Visa Card, you already have the connection you need with Chase to access the lounge.  Here are my top 3 reasons to check out the Chase Lounge.

Free Non-Alcholoic Beverages - That's right, something free!  Cardmembers can grab a free soda or drink of water while relaxing inside.  Wine and beer are also available for sale with reduced lines inside of the lounge.

An Air Conditioned Break - When spending a day enjoying all that Epcot has to offer, you are probably going to want to take a break at some point to escape the balmy temperatures that can still creep into Florida during the fall season.  The Chase Lounge offers comfy chairs, plenty of seating, and even some charging stations for all of your mobile devices!

Premium Seating for Epcot Favorites - This was one of the most surprising and best finds inside the Chase Lounge.  I happened to notice a cast member sitting off to the side with a box.  When I went over to check out what was inside, she had special wrist bands for reserved seats to that night's Illuminations: Reflections of Earth show and the Eat to the Beat Concerts that day.  The bands were only available for same day shows and were very limited quantities so if you want to try and score one, be sure to swing by early in the day!

The Chase Lounge is the perfect place to rest and relax during a busy day at Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.  Be sure to check it out this fall!

FAQ - Should you use Disney FastPass+ on parades, fireworks, and shows?

Walt Disney World Resort
Magic Kingdom's Happily Ever After Fireworks
I hear this question asked often among friends and in several of the Walt Disney World groups that I'm in on Facebook.  We have chosen on some trips to use Disney's FastPass+ for viewing parades, fireworks, and shows and skipped it other times, so I can speak about the pros and cons here pretty honestly.  And like most answers related to planning a Walt Disney World vacation, the answer about how to use your FastPass+ reservations truly depends on your family and vacation priorities.

For our family, using Disney's FastPass+ to catch great viewing spots for fireworks and parades has been a good choice - especially if we're spending more than one day in that particular park.  As a family with two young children, we find it difficult to get to a prime spot to watch nighttime entertainment up to an hour before it starts.  When we visited the parks with babies and toddlers, we were traveling with a double BOB stroller - basically a minivan for kids - so even having one adult go to hold a spot while the rest of the family continues to run around the park can be a challenge.  For this reason, knowing that we can grab a perfect spot to see fireworks and parades while arriving just 10-15 minutes before they start is a great luxury.  If you have young kids in Walt Disney World too, the cost/benefit may be easy for your family to figure out.  Many of the rides and attractions for babies and toddlers don't really *need* FastPass+ because the wait times are rarely longer than 15 minutes or so.

So what are the big questions to ask yourself when determining whether or not to book Disney's FastPass+ viewing areas for parades and fireworks?

  • How many days are your going to spend in that park?  If you're spending more than one day you may have some FastPass+ allotments that you don't need to do your favorite attractions.
  • How old are your kids?  If you're traveling with older children or adults, it might be easier to arrive early and hold a spot as opposed to keeping young kids entertained while waiting for the show to start.
  • Are there any other options to get preferred seating for the show?  For example, we always book a Fantasmic Dining Package in Hollywood Studios.  We figure that we have to eat anyways, why not book at one of these locations and get the perk of prime seating for Fantasmic so we can save our Tier 1 FastPass+ reservation for another popular attraction? Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom have also offered dining packages paired with nighttime parades and shows as well.  

Check out my review of the Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom here!


If you do choose to use your FastPass+ options for entertainment, you won't be disappointed in the location.  All of them offer a great spot that's not as crowded as some other areas may be without the stress or worry about saving your spot.  

Celebrate the 4th in Walt Disney World

4th of July is a busy travel time as families are in the middle of summer and many parents are enjoying a long weekend home from work.  If you're lucky enough to be in Walt Disney World for the holiday, there are several ways to celebrate the birth of America on vacation.

All-American Eats - Nothing says American food more than hot dogs, corn dogs, and ice cream.  Lucky for Disney guests, you'll be able to find all of the above together on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disney's Magic Kingdom.  Casey's Corner is a quick service eatery located at the end of Main Street closest to the castle and has hot dogs and corn dogs with baseball themed decor.  Right across the street, you'll find The Plaza.  While the restaurant is table service, there is also a counter service ice cream shop attached where you can pick up a cone or a sundae.  These treats are the perfect food and the perfect location for the Festival of Fantasy Parade that runs everyday in Magic Kingdom at 3PM.

All-American Attractions - Inside Magic Kingdom, guests can have an experience fit for a president at the Hall of Presidents.  This indoor show features each of the U.S. presidents talking about their time in office using audio-animatronic technology.  If your day in the parks takes you to Epcot, you can also brush up on your U.S. History by visiting the American Adventure.  Join Mark Twain and Ben Franklin as they take you on a journey through U.S. History using music and some familiar faces.  As a former U.S. History teacher I love any chance to highlight history lessons to my kids, but one added perk with both of these shows - they are in air-conditioned theaters!  

All-American Fireworks - On the 4th of July and the days surrounding the holiday, Wishes gets an overhaul and the nightly fireworks show in Magic Kingdom pays tribute to the United States with patriotic songs.  We also were lucky enough to see the Celebrate the Magic projection show with an American twist as red, white, and blue stars and stripes lit up the castle.  No need to miss out on your holiday fireworks while on vacation in Walt Disney World.

Happy 4th of July everyone!!




5 Ways to the Beat the Heat in Walt Disney World

Crusing Main Street, U.S.A.
July 2013
Walt Disney World in the summertime often gets a bad reputation for being full of heat, humidity, and the frequent afternoon thunderstorms.  Well. . .this is kind of true.  While your Disney trip in the summer does feature some intense weather from time to time, there are plenty of ways to beat the heat and humidity to have fun with your family.  Here are some of my favorite tips:

1.  Order a case (or cases) of water from an online grocer and have them delivered to your hotel.  You can get a case of water for a few dollars instead of paying $2.50 a bottle or using one snack credit in the parks.  Disney lets you bring in soft side coolers, food, and drink.  This is a great way to make sure you have plenty of water to stay hydrated and cool while also not breaking the bank.  Remember that the online grocers have order minimums, but if you're traveling with kids for at least a few day trip, you can certainly fill up on snacks, fresh fruit, and other drinks to keep everyone happy.  I've used Garden Grocer in the past and have been really happy!

Enjoying the water slide at
Port Orleans Riverside
2.  Avoid the parks in the middle of the day by taking a break back at your hotel.  Whether you decide to take a nap in your air conditioned room or cool off in one of the amazing pools, the break will be sure to refresh you so you can stay up for the nighttime activities in the park without tiring out.  I recommend getting to the park at rope drop, head back to your resort after lunch and then return to the parks around dinner.

3.  Indoor rides and shows can be a great way to quickly cool off in the parks when you need a break and don't want to head all the way back to your room.  If you're in Epcot, check out Ellen's Energy Adventure - the total ride takes about 45 minutes where you are seated watching a video and riding through time.  Over in Hollywood Studios, The Great Movie Ride is one where you have a fun ride queue that is inside featuring scenes from some Turner Classic Movie favorites.  And in the Magic Kingdom, shows like Mickey's PhilarMagic and The Country Bears provide both music and a respite from the heat.

Taking a break with Mickey
Ice Cream at Hollywood Studios
4.  What would a trip to any amusement park be without ice cream?  And in Walt Disney World, you can find lots of cool, frozen treats.  If the classic ice cream sandwich or ice cream bar are your favorites, you can find Mickey shaped ice cream throughout the parks.  But perhaps the most famous cool treat in Walt Disney World is the Dole Whip.  If you haven't tried one, you're missing out!  This is a soft serve pineapple creation that can be served simply in a cup or as a float.  Dole Whips are more elusive in the parks than the typical ice cream.  My favorite spot to pick one up is in Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom.

5.  Don't forget to pack up some ways to keep cool and stay safe in the sun from home.  Sunscreen is available throughout all of the Disney parks, but you're going to pay a premium for buying it on vacation compared to what you'll pay at home.  Also, remember to pack spray bottles or personal fans - or better yet the spray bottle with a fan on it!  Again, you can buy one with a picture of Mickey and friends in the parks, but you'll save significantly by buying a generic one at Wal-Mart or Target before heading out on your vacation.  If you have kids using strollers, I also recommend purchasing a stroller fan to help them stay cool.  We bought one on Amazon for less than $15 before our trip with a 5 month old and it was some of the best money I ever spent.  Remember that a cool baby is less likely to be a cranky baby!

And as a bonus tip - if you are traveling with infants or toddlers, don't forget to make use of the baby care centers in each park.  They are perfect for a little rest and relaxation in the middle of the park day and can be a mom and dad's best friend!

Just remember that with a good strategy and some advanced planning, you can make Disney in July not only bearable, but an all around magical vacation!  

Quick Service Favorites in Walt Disney World

I love the shirts that say "I runDisney to eat Disney" because it is such a true statement!  Eating my way around Walt Disney World is one of my favorite things to do - and with so many great choices it's easy to see why!  Typically, it's easier to review table service restaurants in the various parks and hotels, but tonight we're going to take a look at some of my favorite quick service locations.  There really are a lot of great choices, but a few stand out when I think of my Disney vacations.


Whether it's a Mickey Bar or a Dole Whip, there's a lot of great treats to be found in Walt Disney World!

Aloha Isle - Magic Kingdom - The Dole Whip is one of the most iconic Disney treats and you can find it in Adventureland near The Enchanted Tiki Room.  If you haven't tried a Dole Whip yet, you absolutely must!  It's a frozen pineapple treat that will definitely cool you off on a hot Florida day!

Columbia Harbor House - Magic Kingdom - In my opinion, this is one of the best and most unique quick service locations on property.  Located in Liberty Square, you'll find New England favorites here such as a Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder.  It's a nice change of pace from some of the other quick service restaurants that serve more traditional burgers and chicken nuggets.  No need to fear though if you have picky children, as the kids menu features all of the favorites for your young ones.

Gaston's Tavern - Magic Kingdom - This is a relatively new spot that was added with the Fantasyland additions a few years ago.  While there is a relatively limited menu, you have to check out the warm cinnamon roll as a dessert item or a midday pick-me-up.  And the ultimate item on the menu, is LeFou's Brew.  This frosted apple juice concoction is heaven in a mug!  The theming of this stop is also with checking out as it looks exactly like the tavern from Beauty and the Beast.

Pizzafari - Animal Kingdom - As you might imagine, pizza is the name of the game in this restaurant.  Selections here go beyond cheese and pepperoni to include Mediterranean pizza and even a shrimp flatbread.  But you can find much more than pizza on the menu here, with other Italian favorites like baked pasta, there is definitely something for everyone.

Sunshine Seasons - Epcot - Located inside The Land pavilion, this location is set apart by it's focus on using ingredients produced in the sustainable environments of this pavilion.  You can count on fresh flavors here and a lot of Asian twists to the menu.  Even the menu items for kids are unique featuring salmon and salads.  

These are just a few of my favorites around Walt Disney World and there are so many others to choose from!  Which are your favorite quick service places to check out when in the parks? 

Epcot on a Rainy Day

Springtime in Epcot means the return of the annual Flower and Garden Festival.  With those flowers, also comes spring rain showers.  Regardless of what time of year you travel to Walt Disney World, the Florida climate might throw a rainy day your way.  No need to despair though!  There is still a lot of fun to have in the parks despite the rain clouds.  On a rainy day, I recommend heading to Epcot to find plenty of activities - many of which take place inside!

Unlike the other parks, a good number of Epcot attractions are actually located inside large pavilions. You can easily spend over an hour in several of the pavilions in Future World.  The Land pavilion is home to Soarin' and the Living with the Land ride.  Meanwhile, you can easily spend upwards of 90 minutes inside The Seas with Nemo and Friends riding the ride, talking with Crush, and viewing the various types of sea life inside the aquariums.  Journey into Your Imagination with Figment and Ellen's Energy Adventure are other great choices in Future World.

World Showcase requires a bit more walking, but still offers many indoor shows and attractions.  Many countries including Canada, China, and America to name a few offer shows that highlight their culture, all of which are inside theaters.  Many of the shops and restaurants in each country are connected or are located right next to each other so you won't need to worry with umbrellas or ponchos to stay dry.  Even the rides in World Showcase are inside including the Gran Fiesta Tour and the new Frozen attraction.

And when all else fails, you can always hide from the rain in one of the many restaurants located around World Showcase.  Some of the best restaurants featuring unique cuisines from around the world can be found in Epcot.  One of my favorites is to visit the Rose and Crown Pub in England.  Traditional UK favorites mix with comfy decor and a beautiful view of World Showcase Lagoon.

So don't let the rain dampen your Walt Disney World plans!  Each park has things to see and do when the weather is less than perfect, but Epcot can turn any day into a "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" day!


Best Bets for Preschoolers in Epcot

Continuing in my recent trend of debunking Disney myths, today I'll share what I think the best bets are for preschoolers in Epcot.  Epcot often gets a reputation as not being a "kid-friendly" park, but there are plenty of fun experiences to keep your kids entertained throughout the day.

Join Mickey and Friends at Garden Grill
1. Begin your day with breakfast at Garden Grill - Garden Grill is located inside The Land at Epcot and features character dining with Disney favorites Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale.  This is a great choice for a character meal with little ones because you not only get to see some familiar characters, but the meal is served family style which means you get the benefit of all-you-care-to-eat without the hassle of running kids up and down to the buffet several times.  The food here is delicious too!

2. Check out all of the kid favorites inside The Seas with Nemo and Friends - After the Disney / Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo hit the big screen with such success, Walt Disney World redesigned attractions inside The Seas to incorporate Nemo, Dory, Marlin, Crush, and others.  The aquariums, ride, and play area would be enough to entertain the littlest fishes in the sea, but there is one more attraction that stands out here, Turtle Talk with Crush.  Disney once again outdid themselves here by creating an interactive experience where kids get to talk to Crush and ask the famous sea turtle all about life under the sea.  In return, Crush will ask kids about their life in the "human tank."

Big smiles with Minnie Mouse!
3. See your friends at Epcot Character Spot - Don't leave Future World without visiting Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy inside the Epcot Character Spot.  This is a great attraction to FastPass since the line can often exceed 40 minutes and you get to visit three "must-see" characters in one place.  Don't forget your autograph books too!

4. Travel the World! - Where else besides Disney can you visit 11 countries in one day?  The many worlds at Epcot allow you to expose your child to some great cultural information, unique foods, and brief history lessons all in one day.  While all of this may be a bit much for your preschooler, he or she is sure to walk away with those bright little eyes wide open to the fact that there is a big world out there.

5. Say Goodnight with Fireworks - The fireworks and light spectacular that takes place in the center of Epcot is sure to delight everyone in your family - including the tiniest of travelers!  Currently, Epcot Forever shares the history of Epcot with fireworks, lasers, kites, and more.  What kid doesn't love watching the sky light up with magic?

And this is just a start!  Princesses will delight in a meal at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and, with the addition of new attractions under construction, there is even more fun for little ones just around the corner.  With all of this and so much more in Epcot, don't skip this park when traveling with preschoolers in Walt Disney World.


A Beginner's Guide to Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

When we decided to plan our first visit to Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival in 2015, I was at a rare loss of Disney knowledge.  This was probably one of the few things that I previously had zero experience with when it comes to Walt Disney World and I found myself scouring the Internet for answers.  In an effort to help those of you that might also be planning your first visit to the Food & Wine Festival, I've assembled some of my biggest "ah-ha" lessons learned.

1.  Be prepared to drop serious money in Epcot - The Food & Wine Festival is held within Epcot's World Showcase and houses over 20 kiosks of food and beverage bliss.  On top of your admission to Epcot, be prepared to pay between $3.50 and roughly $8.50 per taste of food or drink with flights being even more expensive.  Tasting your way around the world won't be cheap, so be prepared if you want to enjoy a wide variety of selections from the festival.  There is some good news though.  If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, most selections at the kiosks can be redeemed through snack credits and since Disney usually offers free dining during the fall months when the festival is going on, this is a great idea.


2.  Minimize dining reservations on festival days - The portion sizes of both food and drink are decent considering the money you pay.  By the time that you taste filling beverages and taste a variety of food, you probably won't be hungry for much of a meal.  Definitely avoid buffet dining which will carry a heavy price tag.  If you want to reserve a table service meal to experience a particular restaurant or secure good viewing for an evening show, make sure it is one that you can order off the menu so you can stick to lighter fare if you're not overly hungry.  You would also be fine to minimize your total overall Disney budget by skipping meals on these days.

3.  Grab a Festival Passport and make a plan - The first stop on the first day your at the festival should be the Festival Center where you can pick up a passport which will have all of the food and drink options listed at each kiosk.  If you go out into the festival chaos without a plan, it would be like trying to plan a road trip without GPS or a map.  With so many options, resign yourself to the fact that you won't be able to do it all (unless you live close by and make trips throughout the festival and have hit the Mega Millions jackpot - in either case, I'd be jealous!).  Pick your priorities to taste first and then you can always sample more if you get the chance.

4.  Buy a Park Hopper ticket - I'm not always a fan of the Park Hopper on my Disney vacations because we tend to be fine picking one park and staying there for a day which saves us money.  However, during the Food & Wine Festival, I think a Park Hopper ticket is a good option.  Spending a whole day at Epcot tasting is exhausting and filling.  The Food & Wine festival is the perfect venue to visit for half of a day and come back to several times during your trip.


5.  Bring your Chase card - Chase is (or at least has been) the official sponsor of the Food & Wine Festival and brings proud fanatics the Disney Rewards Credit Card.  If you have a Chase card, whether it is Disney themed or not, there is a Chase lounge located inside the American Adventure pavilion with free sodas and water, air conditioned seating, and some limited amounts of wrist bands for reserved seating for the Eat to the Beat Concerts and Illuminations viewing.  We visited the Food & Wine Festival twice.  Our Thursday afternoon visit found the Chase lounge to be relaxing and slow paced, but on our Sunday visit to Epcot, we didn't even attempt to enter the Chase lounge as a long line had gathered waiting to get in.  Since crowds vary day to day, this may or may not be a good place to "relax" during the festival, but it's worthwhile to carry your Chase card with you just in case!
Inside the Chase Lounge

6.  This isn't your typical Wine Fest - My husband is a true fan of wine who likes to learn about the wine that he tastes.  If you're like him, be prepared that when you taste at the kiosks, your wine is simply being poured by Disney cast members who really have no knowledge about the wine, grapes, region, winery, etc.  I'll admit - he was disappointed to be tasting some fabulous wines without being able to learn anything about them.  If you are looking for a more "educational" experience, similar to what you get a local or regional wine festivals where people can talk to you about the wine you are tasting, book a seminar.  They typically only run about $15 in cost and several are held each day.  However, they are very popular and almost always sell out well in advance of the festival itself.  Keep track of when the seminar schedule is released on Walt Disney World's website to book early.  And, if you have a Disney Rewards Credit Card from Chase, you get a few days advanced booking before it opens to the general public.

A picture perfect day at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival
Hopefully, these tips will be helpful to those of you visiting Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival!  I hope to be back sometime again within the next few years and would love hearing some of your favorite tips as well.  Bon appetite!