Showing posts with label Hollywood Studios. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hollywood Studios. Show all posts

Walt Disney World Totchos Copycat Recipe

Woody's Lunchbox Totchos

Food blogging isn't normally my jam, but when it comes to recreating the magic of a favorite copycat Walt Disney World recipe and it goes well, I feel the need to share it so others can get in on the fun.  If you're a regular at Walt Disney World, you know that totchos are a hot commodity.  And Disney fans can rejoice in the fact that totchos are super easy to recreate in your own kitchen to bring a little bit of Disney Parks magic to your day!  Added bonus, I've found a few ways to save some calories on my recipe and give you the breakdown of how this works into my Weight Watchers Blue plan.

What are totchos?


Totchos are essentially nachos but made with tater tots instead of tortilla chips.  You can top them with any number of goodies, just like you would with nachos - the sky is literally the limit!  So why mess with something as good as nachos?  I don't know the origin story of the totcho, but trust me when I tell you it's delicious.  I feel like it's even more filling than nachos as the tater tots are more dense than the tortilla chips.  

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!

To Infinity, Beyond, and Toy Story Land!

Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort has been a magical addition to this fabulous park! Ever since Andy welcomed us into his home and shared his favorite toys with us back in the 90s, Toy Story has been a fan favorite.  We've watched Andy grow from a little boy to a college freshman and his toys have grown up along the way too learning the true meaning of friendship.  And with Buzz, Woody, and the gang making a return to the big screen in June 2019, a whole new generation of Toy Story fans are ready to join the adventures.  The timing was perfect to unveil this land and I'm excited to share with you an overview of everything you need to know about visiting Toy Story Land with your family on your next Disney vacation!

Which characters can you expect to meet in Toy Story Land? How do I think the rides compare to others across the Walt Disney World Resort?  And of course, what is there to eat?  Check it out and let me know what you love most about Toy Story Land!


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!  

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?

5 Must-Do Star Wars Experiences at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars fever is raging all across the galaxy these days as people across all generations of enjoyed the power of the Force for decades.  While Disney and Star Wars fans anxiously await the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which will be coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2019, there is still plenty of ways to interact with the Light and the Dark Side during your Walt Disney World Resort visit.  My young padawans are near obsessed with everything Star Wars so Hollywood Studios is always a Force-filled, full day for us.  Below are my top 5 Star Wars Experiences for your family!

Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple - My oldest has now participated in this incredible experience twice and he can't get enough of it!  Aspiring Jedi between the ages of 4 and 12 sign up early in the day to participate in one of the multiple shows throughout the day.  During the show, they receive training in the ways of the Force and using their lightsabers, all as they prepare to do battle with foes like Darth Vader and Kylo Ren.  For more details on this experience, check out my full blog post on it, here.  The key is getting to sign-ups early, meaning you'll want to rope drop this to get an assigned time for the day and then get excited!

Star Wars Launch Bay - Next to Disney Junior! Live on Stage, you'll find the entrance to Star Wars Launch Bay.  This has something for everyone in the family to enjoy!  Throughout the indoor exhibit, you'll find memorabilia from the movies and lots of cool trivia.  There's even a short film you can view.  But the highlight of Launch Bay are the character meet and greets!  Currently, you can meet Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and BB-8.  We came to Launch Bay around 10AM and saw relatively no crowds - we visited both Chewbacca and Kylo Ren in under 15 minutes total and then waited about 15 minutes to meet BB-8.  These characters don't sign autographs, but the interaction is memorable!

March of the First Order and Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away - Both of these events you can see throughout the day down Hollywood Boulevard and on center stage.  Captain Phasma leads her troops down Hollywood Boulevard several times each day, followed by a stage show where iconic characters bring to light some of the most loved scenes from Star Wars movies over the years.  We don't typically "plan" to catch one of the shows, but each time we pass by and one is occurring we always stop to watch!

Star Tours - The Adventure Continues - The one ride in Disney's Hollywood Studios that is Stars Wars themed is AWESOME!  During the ride, you enter your space craft and are given your mission. Piloted by C3-PO, your group is strapped into movie theater type seats and then launched into space. The seats and screen move to create the sensation that you are flying, dodging debris, and engaged in battle with the Dark Side.  Each flight also identifies a rebel spy from the participants and my oldest was selected this time - he was so excited to see his face on the big screen!  This is a Tier 2 FastPass+ attraction in Hollywood Studios and is a good choice in my opinion as wait times often exceed 30 minutes.

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular - The perfect way to end your Star Wars filled day at Hollywood Studios is with this nighttime spectacular.  Combining fireworks, lasers, music, and movie images, fans and non-fans of Star Wars alike will be awed by this performance.  We were actually disappointed that we missed it during our most recent trip as it was replaced with Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! during the holiday season.  I think John Williams' score was made for a show like this!

I hear a lot people saying that they plan to skip Hollywood Studios because of the recent closures and current construction, but all of the Star Wars magic coupled with other favorite attractions means that we still dedicate at least one whole day (and sometimes even more!) to this action-packed park!


Disney News Update!

This week featured many big announcements in the world of Disney!  Here are some of the highlights in one place.

Image from Disney Parks Blog
Animal Kingdom Openings - Opening dates were released for the long awaited Rivers of Light Nighttime Show and Pandora: The World of Avatar.  Rivers of Light will open officially on February 17 - just in time for President's Day weekend.  You can book FastPass+ reservations for seating at the show and there are also dining packages with Tiffins and Tusker House that are available for booking at this time.  Pandora: The World of Avatar of Avatar will open on May 27, 2017 - Memorial Day Weekend.  First looks at this new land are amazing with lighted walkways, floating mountains, and so much more.  The movie featured breathtaking scenery and Disney imagineers have worked hard to replicate that in the park.

Star Wars Land Update - Disney also announced that Star Wars Land will be set to open in both Disneyland Resort and at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Walt Disney World Resort in 2019.  Reports have shared that the out-of-this-galaxy experience will feature character interactions, a new Star Tours, and the chance to be Han Solo and take control of the Millennium Falcon.  My two little padawans are going to love this!

Image from Disney Parks Blog
Goodbye Wishes - For the past 14 years, guests at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom have ended their magical day with the Wishes fireworks show.  This park classic will bid farewell on May 11th and an all new show, Happily Ever After, will begin on May 12th.  The new show promises to bring even more shows topping magic to the Magic Kingdom with projections, lasers, fireworks, and of course classic Disney music!

Beauty and the Beast meets Disney Cruise Line - Disney will unveil a Beauty and the Beast stage show on board the Disney Dream beginning in November.  No doubt capitalizing on what is sure to be a wonderful live action film this year, the stage show is sure to bring this "tale as old as time" to life in the grandest of fashions.

Ticket Price Increase - As I was prepping this blog post, more information hit today about ticket price increases for Walt Disney World.  It looks like some of the most notable changes will be increases for single day and annual passholders, no more water park and fun option, expiration dates on all tickets, and an increase to premium parking rates.  More information on all of this can be found in numerous posts online today, including this article from the Orlando Sentinel.

What a whirlwind few days! Hope everyone has been able to keep up and I can't wait to see what new fun awaits in the wonderful world of Disney!

Jedi Master You Will Be

Have you ever watched a movie and imagined how amazing it would be to be a part of the magic?  Any Star Wars fans ever dream battling the Dark Side?  Well, young visitors to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World get the chance to do just that.  Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple allows children between the ages of 4 and 12 the chance to train with a Jedi Master, become an expert in the ways of the Force, and then do battle with Dark Side foes like Darth Vader.  This experience is entirely free (yes, you read that right. . .FREE!) with your admission to Hollywood Studios, but space is limited.  In order to make the most of your experience, here is everything you need to know.

Getting Registered - You cannot pre-register for the Jedi Training Academy.  Registration takes place each day at Hollywood Studios and you want to get there early in order to secure your spot.  We arrived at Hollywood Studios around 8:15 for a 9:00 opening that day.  Around 8:30, cast members began welcoming guests into the park.  Guests who were looking to head towards Sunset Boulevard, Pixar Place, and other parts of the park were held back by ropes once inside, but signs directed those signing up for Jedi Training to head over to begin the process.  The registration takes place back by Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.  Even though we entered at rope drop and were in line before 8:40, the line was still incredibly long.  After about a 20 minute wait, we were able to sign up.  Don't forget that your little Jedi needs to be with you to sign up.  They show runs multiple times throughout the day and you get to select your time based on availability when you arrive.  The earliest show we could get that day was 11:40 AM so we scooped it up.  Along with our confirmation ticket for the training, we also received three FastPasses good for the entire family.  I don't know if this happens all the time, but my guess is that these FastPasses might be a way for Disney to let guests be flexible in selecting their time for the performance - if you have to schedule during a FastPass+ reservation time, no worries.



Checking In - The check-in for the Jedi Training Academy is directly in front of the 50's Prime Time Cafe.  You'll notice some blue circles on the sidewalk and that's how you'll know you are in the right spot.  They ask you to arrive 30 minutes before your show time.  This allows the cast members to check guests in, get them cloaked up, go over PhotoPass information with the family, and give directions to the young Jedi.  I stayed here with Brody while my husband headed over towards the stage to grab a good viewing spot.  It doesn't matter what circle your kid stands on; everyone will get a chance to battle the Dark Side.  While cast members were getting the kids ready, a PhotoPass photographer came over and shared with us information on accessing the pictures they take during the performance.  Remember, all of these images are yours for free if you've purchased Memory Maker.  About 5 minutes before showtime, cast members will lead the future Jedi and their parents over to the stage to begin.















The Show - The stage is located next to Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.  When the kids arrive, they take a spot on stage based on the line they are in.  Again, no worries about which line they are in - both get the chance to train and do battle against the Dark Side.  The Jedi Masters teach the kids the ways of the Force and some lightsaber battle techniques.  After some practice, smoke fills the stage and villains from the Dark Side emerge.  The villains may vary from show to show, but we had Darth Vader and the Seventh Sister.  Brody was so excited and volunteered to be first to do battle with Darth Vader.  The show is extremely organized with the Jedi-in-Training lined up and ready to fight as soon as one is done.  Once everyone completed their battles, those two disappeared, but it wasn't long before Kylo Ren emerged.  The kids did not do battle with Kylo Ren, but they used the power of the Force that now flowed through them to cause him to retreat.





















From check-in to the finale of the show, the whole experience lasted about an hour and was one of the most memorable from our trip.  The pictures from the Disney PhotoPass photographer were priceless and Brody couldn't stop talking about his encounter with Darth Vader.  I would highly recommend this free experience to anyone with a young Star Wars fan - just be sure to arrive to the park early to secure your spot as all shows do fill each day and they typically reach capacity very early on in the morning.  

Experiencing a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Visitors to Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort have a number of opportunities to be immersed into the world of Star Wars fanfare.  For my little Jedi, we made Star Wars Launch Bay one of our first stops during the day.  My son was dressed as a Jedi for our Halloween visit to Hollywood Studios and was heavily questioned at the entrance to Star Wars Launch Bay by the Stormtroopers guarding the entrance.  Once inside, we opted to move past the Launch Bay Theater where a short film plays giving behind-the-scenes information about the Star Wars saga and linking together some memorable clips.  At 4 years old, Brody was focused on meeting the characters so away we went!

At Star Wars Launch Bay, you are able to meet Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.  The characters are separated into two queue lines with pieces of Star Wars memorabilia for you to look at while you wait.  We first visited Kylo Ren, which made Brody a little nervous the closer we got.  He was worried that Kylo Ren wouldn't like him because he fights for the Dark Side while Brody is a Jedi and clearly on the Light Side.  I will say, that when the doors opened and we had our chance to meet Kylo Ren, he was a little intimidating.  He paces in front of the group, presumptively trying to use the Force to read our minds.  There really is nothing "scary" about the encounter - but it's definitely a change for the "warm, fuzzy" character meets you might be used to around the parks.  Then he poses for a quick picture before you are ushered out.  We waited about another 20 minutes in the next queue line to meet Chewbacca.  Chewie could not have been more friendly!  He had lots of hugs for the whole family.

After about 50 minutes inside meeting characters, we were anxious to move onto the next adventure in our day.  We quickly moved through the remainder of Launch Bay where there were computer games, more memorabilia from the Star Wars saga, and even a chance to visit with some Jawas.  Launch Bay is a great stop in Hollywood Studios for Star Wars fans young and old alike.  It's also a great place to escape the heat during your day in the park.  And Launch Bay continues to receive updates!  On Monday night, Walt Disney World announced that new pieces - both authentic and replicas - from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be added to the Launch Bay experience, which means that even the seasoned Walt Disney World traveler will have something new to check out on their next visit!

Nighttime Spectaculars at Disney's Hollywood Studios

For years, each trip to Walt Disney World had included a visit to Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We broke tradition on this trip and opted to skip Fantasmic! to get up close and personal with the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show.  As much as I love all of the nighttime shows throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, I was blown away by this extravaganza and would say it is a "not-to-be-missed" show.  Lasers, projections, fireworks, and music combine to make you feel like you are actually in a galaxy far, far away.  The projections highlighted movie clips from the older Star Wars movies all the way up through the latest installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I'm terrible at fireworks pictures, but hopefully you get the idea!
Now that I told you that you have to check this out, I'm also going to tell you that the show is going away. . .whomp, whomp.  Hopefully, it's just for the holiday season though and in it's absence you get to enjoy Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!  This new holiday nighttime spectacular will be shown nightly from November 14 - December 31.  It will be similar in it's presentation to the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show, but instead of droids and Jedi will feature some familiar holiday friends.  I'm sure the show will be amazing based on this sneak peek posted by The DIS on YouTube:



Whether you get to enjoy the holiday fun of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! or you are hoping for the return of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular after the holiday season, these newest nighttime shows at Disney's Hollywood Studios are amazing fun for the whole family!

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!

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.  

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!  

Hollywood Studios Still Has Plenty to Offer Guests!

If you follow any of the news surrounding Walt Disney World, you are sure to know that Hollywood Studios is undergoing some major changes.  Just a few months ago, large additions of Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land were announced.  In preparation, Hollywood Studios has seen some attractions shut down and more will be on the way.  With closures of some popular attractions on the horizon such as the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure and Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show, some people are scratching their heads wondering if Hollywood Studios is worth it's admission price.  Disney myth debunked!  This park still has plenty to offer during the exciting changes that are currently taking place.

Have a Toddler or Preschooler in Your Group?  Then you will LOVE all the Disney Junior excitement at Hollywood Studios!  Disney Junior, Live on Stage! brings together all of your favorite characters from Disney Junior into one 30 minute puppet stage show.  Kids are encouraged to dance, sing, and play during the show and are even treated to surprises throughout.  When you're done, be sure to visit the character meet and greets outside of the theatre which feature Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Minnie Mouse! As if that wasn't enough Disney Junior fun, you'll also find one entire souvenir store with nothing but Disney Junior goodies.  And if you're looking for a place to eat in the park, don't miss breakfast or lunch at Hollywood & Vine.  The Disney Junior Play 'n' Dine buffet is great fun!



Have a Thrill Seeker in Your Group?  Hollywood Studios is home to some of the most thrilling rides at Walt Disney World!  Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is a thrill a minute as you race to an Aerosmith concert in your own super stretch limo.  When you're done rocking out, head up the hill to the Hollywood Tower of Terror.  Step inside the Hollywood Hills Hotel and enter your own episode of the Twilight Zone.  Do you dare to step inside the haunted service elevator?  Lastly, if you're looking for excitement from another galaxy, visit Star Tours as you fight the Dark Side in a battle that is out of this world.



Have a Movie Lover in Your Group?  At it's roots, Hollywood Studios is all about the movies! The Great Movie Ride showcases some of the best movies ever made - and you might even become part of the action.  Throughout the park, you'll find several live shows including Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones, and Frozen.  And you can still get a lot of Toy Story fun while we anxiously wait for Toy Story Land to be built.  During the expansion, Toy Story Mania, perhaps the most popular ride throughout the entire resort, will remain open and you can still meet Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and the Green Army Men too.


So there you have it!  Still an action packed day with lots of fun to be had inside Hollywood Studios. When the sun goes down, don't forget to end your day by viewing Fantasmic!  While it's sad to say goodbye to some old favorites, I'm excited to see what the future holds at Hollywood Studios!

Your Guide to Baby Care Centers at Walt Disney World Resort

As anyone with little mouseketeers knows, traveling to Walt Disney World Resort with an infant can seem like a daunting and overwhelming task.  However, there are many things in place to make your vacation a little more relaxing and easier to manage.  The Baby Care Centers in each of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World do just that!  Thanks to these convenient locations, my family was able to enjoy a week in the parks with a 5 month old.  Below is a guide to each Baby Care Center so you know what to expect.

Animal Kingdom - This is my favorite Baby Care Center!  The rooms were spacious and colorful here.  When you enter, there is a small seating area with a hostess and supplies you may need - medicine, diapers, wipes, and even changes of clothing.  To the left, you'll find a waiting area for older children and husbands complete with tables and chairs as well as cushioned benches to enjoy the Disney movies that happen to be playing.  In the back are several changing tables, highchairs, and a microwave.  Off of this room are a few private nursing rooms which each feature their own changing table and a rocking chair.  The size and atmosphere of this Baby Care Center made it very relaxing for several nursing breaks during the day.

Each of the Baby Care Centers is located next to First Aid.
Magic Kingdom - This was #2 on my list of Baby Care Centers.  Located behind The Crystal Palace, this center features many of the same separate rooms as Animal Kingdom, only a little less spacious.  At certain times, the Baby Care Center felt crowded.  Another difference is that the nursing room here is not divided into private rooms, but rather it features one large area that is closed off and private from the rest of the Baby Care Center which has about 6 rocking chairs all together.  This room is exclusive to nursing moms so you don't have to worry about being uncomfortable.  I found the moms to be super friendly each time I entered and enjoyed conversations about our vacations, kids, and motherhood in general.

A quiet space to nurse baby inside the Baby Care Center at Magic Kingdom
Epcot - Epcot's Baby Care Center is very similar to that in Magic Kingdom.  Due to the way our schedule worked that day, I only visited this Baby Care Center once and it happened to be about 30 minutes prior to the start of Illuminations.  Perhaps it's because it was so late in the day, but the entire Baby Care Center was empty which worked great to nurse my little guy to sleep.  You'll find this Baby Care Center tucked away next to Mexico between Future World and World Showcase.

Hollywood Studios - This was my least favorite of the Baby Care Centers mainly because of the size.  This Baby Care Center is located inside of Guest Relations and is smaller than a hotel room.  It attempts to have the separate spaces of the other Baby Care Centers, but in doing so makes everything super cramped.  The nursing area here is separated into two private "booths" which was often not enough for the demand required at the park.  Also, each of the other Baby Care Centers had a dedicated cast member to assist moms and dads, but Hollywood Studios did not.  Overall, it served it's purpose, but some more space would go a long way in accommodating the many families traveling with infants.

The fact that Walt Disney World offers such great spaces for families with young children speaks to their commitment to making sure everyone enjoys their day in the parks.  We spent A LOT of time in the Baby Care Centers on our last trip and would not have been able to survive as well as we did without them.  Don't forget that Baby Care Centers are also a great place for older toddlers and young preschoolers too if they need a break from the heat or stimulation.  They also feature kiddie sized potties so that those who are potty training will feel more comfortable then in the busy, big public restrooms.  If you're traveling to Walt Disney World with young ones, be sure to check out these great facilities!

Don't forget to eat your vegetables at 50's Prime Time Cafe

Remember all of those dinner rules you heard as a kid?

Keep your elbows off the table!
No dessert until you clean your plate!
Finish all your vegetables!


With a meal at 50's Prime Time Cafe in Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios, "mom" and your "cousins" will remind you of each of these golden rules of dining as you journey back in time.  As you may guess from the name, this table service restaurant, located next to Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, is themed after a 1950's family kitchen.  Black and white checkered decor reminds you of a simple diner while refrigerators, stools, and black and white televisions playing old reruns of some classic shows make you feel as though you are comfortably sitting in mom's kitchen.  What really completes the theme is the terrific wait staff.  The waiters and waitresses here "play" with diners asking questions about how the family has been since they last visited and checking on the cousins who are visiting.  And as they take your order, they'll pass it along to "mom" who is hard at work in the kitchen preparing a delicious dinner.


The food at 50's Prime Time Cafe features traditional comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, and pot roast.  My husband decided to order the Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes which featured fried chicken, meatloaf, and pot roast.  While it was an enormous amount of food, it did not disappoint!  Desserts were also large and palate pleasing.  We split Dad's Brownie Sundae and even with two of us it was too much to handle.


In true Disney spirit, 50's Prime Time Cafe immerses diners in a fun and playful environment.  While the food is tasty, it's truly the interaction with phenomenal cast members and the theming of this restaurant that set it apart from other choices in Hollywood Studios.  This is a great choice for little kids or picky eaters of any age as menu items are classic family favorites.  If you happen to stop by 50's Prime Time Cafe on your next trip to Walt Disney World Resort, say "Hi" to mom for me!

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!

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!

How to Organize Your Disney Vacation Plans

Planning a Walt Disney World vacation requires keeping track of a number of details including flights, hotel reservations, FastPass+ experiences, and dining reservations.  Thanks to the advent of the My Disney Experience app and website in recent years, this task has gotten a bit easier.  However, I’m someone who likes to be able to lay out my days and visually capture my whole vacation in just one easy to read page.


 The biggest advantage, in my opinion, of using a table like this is that you can quickly check for any time overlaps or concerns.  On our last vacation, I booked our breakfast at Hollywood and Vine and our first FastPass+ of the day for the Frozen Sing-a-Long too close together.  We ended up having to cut breakfast short in order to make it our FastPass+ experience.  While this certainly didn’t ruin the vacation, it was something I could have avoided if I would have been better prepared in planning the day.  When planning for character meals, I usually allow an hour to ninety minutes while other dining reservations can typically be completed in under an hour.  The exception to this would be any signature dining restaurants that are serving higher end meals and longer experiences.


On the above chart, you’ll notice I break the day down into morning, afternoon, and night.  So far, I have only entered times for dining reservations and FastPass+ selections, but as we get closer I will typically add ideas for quick service meals and breaks at the resort.  Planning you Walt Disney World vacation is a dynamic process that may involve many shifts along the way.  Finding a planning strategy that works for you will help make the whole experience more enjoyable and successful for you and your family.