Showing posts with label character dining. Show all posts
Showing posts with label character dining. 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!

Where to Eat When You Can't Get Those Hard to Get Walt Disney World Dining Reservations

Eating at the Walt Disney World Resort.  It's the reason we go there, right?? Well, it's true there may be lots of fun things to during your visit to the Disney Parks, but one of my favorite pastimes is eating my way around all the parks. . .and I know I'm not alone.


via GIPHY

Advanced dining reservations for table service restaurants open 180 days prior to your stay.  Guests staying on property at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel are offered an additional perk of being able to make reservations for the entire length of stay once they hit 180 days prior to arrival.  Still, some restaurants fill up before you have a chance to score your must-dos.  No need to fear though - there are some great alternatives when the most popular options book up quickly.  While these options are often "easier to get" it's not because they are less good.  And, as a disclaimer, even these restaurants book up at peak travel times so still follow all the tips out there to book your dining reservation early!  Let's look at great alternatives to some of the more popular options!

When Your Want to Meet the Original Gang but Chef Mickey's is Unavailable - Chef Mickey's provides a breakfast, lunch, and dinner character buffet where you can meet some of the original gang, but is also a tough reservation to get.  No worries though!  There are three great alternatives to find Mickey and friends.  The first is Tusker House Restaurant located in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Tusker House is an African themed buffet that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well.  Don't let the African flair scare you if your family is not adventurous eaters - there's plenty on the buffet for the whole family to enjoy.  Here you'll meet classic characters in apparel fit for a safari experience! The second option is Garden Grill Restaurant located inside Epcot.  I LOVE this dining experience.  Again, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all character meals offered here and the food is deliciously served family style.  That's right - it's served to your table so you don't have to get up and miss a character interaction while visiting the buffet.  The whole restaurant is a unique experience too as it rotates through the Living with the Land ride.  Mickey and friends greet diners wearing their best farming gear.  Lastly, you can see Minnie and friends at Cape May Cafe at Disney's Beach Club Resort for a character breakfast.  The food here is good and it is typically not a busy location.  However, since this restaurant is located in a resort instead of a park, you may want to allow extra transportation time - resort hopping isn't always quick!

When Your Little Princess Wants to Meet All the Princesses but Cinderella's Royal Table is Unavailable - I'll be honest, in my 30 years of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort, I have yet to be able to get a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table so I know how hard these reservations can be to grab.  With that in mind, there are two alternatives to princess dining to definitely check out.  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot features character dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that hosts an A-list cast of princesses!  This Norwegian restaurant is pricey for the food in my opinion, but it boasts great interactions with classic princesses.  The second option is the Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno located on Disney's Boardwalk between Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  This was one of my favorite character meals I've experienced on property.  Here you meet two princesses AND their handsome counterparts.  Maybe it's because I'm partial to the smolder and Flynn Rider that I enjoyed this so much?!?

When You Want a Romantic Night of Deluxe Dining but California Grill is Unavailable - Let's face it. . .the entire dining experience at California Grill is hard to top.  From the fireworks, to the setting, to the high quality food, there are few places at the Walt Disney World Resort that compare.  But reservations at this location can be tricky to catch.  There are a number of signature dining experiences to choose from, but my favorite alternative to California Grill is Jiko - The Cooking Place located in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  While you can't watch fireworks exploding over Cinderella Castle here, you still get some of the best food on property and may even catch a glimpse of some exotic wildlife while you're exploring the resort before or after your dinner.

The moral of this blog post is that there are so many great restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort, you have plenty of options to explore even if you're top choice may be unavailable.  If you have your heart set on one of those hard-to-grab reservations and can't get it on the day your Advanced Dining Reservations open, don't give up hope!  I've been able to grab some great reservations just a week or so before our trip as that's the time that people start releasing reservations that they made "just in case" or that they double booked.  For even more dining reviews, including a look at dining in Disney Springs, visit my restaurant review page here.  Bon appetite!

Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno

Character meals are a must-do for most families when visiting the Walt Disney World Resort.  So when I new experience becomes available, Disney regulars like ourselves can't wait to try it out.  When we visited in December, we were lucky enough to grab a morning reservation for Trattoria al Forno to try the new Bon Voyage breakfast.  The dining experience promotes adventure and it surely doesn't disappoint.

The Characters - Not going to lie.  I'm pretty sure I was more excited about the characters here than anyone else in our party.  While the standard Disney line is that characters are always subject to change, the regulars here are Rapunzel, Flynn Ryder, Prince Eric, and Ariel.  Yeah - you read that right. . .two Disney GUYS!!!  Grown women will swoon once being hit by "the smolder" - trust me, I know.  As in most of the other dining experiences, a parade happens during breakfast to get little ones up and moving around.  The characters were great with everyone and the restaurant is relatively small so characters make their way around quickly without feeling rushed.

The Food - Again, this restaurant hits it out of the park.  Each table begins with a pastry assortment inspired by Tangled and The Little Mermaid which is served in a frying pan - of course!  Diners then get to choose from a menu which entree they would like and food is freshly prepared and delivered to the table.  I really enjoy this option compared to the up and down craziness of buffets.  The food was also different then what you find in most Disney restaurants.  I had the Swimmer's Delight - an egg white omelet with smoked salmon, goat cheese, spinach, mushroom and tomato with a side of roasted potatoes.  It was imaginative, themed perfectly with the entire meal experience, and delicious!

The Location - Trattoria al Forno is located on Disney's Boardwalk adjacent to Epcot.  We took a car service from our hotel to Disney's Boardwalk Resort to access the boardwalk area and then had a quick walk to the restaurant.  The location is perfect for spending a day in Epcot which is exactly what we did!  When you finish breakfast, you are very close to the International Gateway entrance to Epcot.  Bonus - you get to skip the crowds entering the park as this is a far less popular entrance.  You could also do this for breakfast when visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios as it's only a 20-30 minute walk or a brief ferry boat ride away.

I was absolutely thrilled with this character meal!  I wish my hubby would have been feeling better that morning to enjoy all that the meal had to offer.  The kids enjoyed the kids menu and had fun meeting some favorite characters and mom got to eat egg whites with goat cheese while swooning over Disney princes - does life get much better?!?

Have you checked out breakfast at Trattoria al Forno yet?

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?

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!

Disney Fun Outside of the Parks

One of the most expensive parts of a Walt Disney World vacation is the park tickets which will easily cost a family of four over $1000 for a week - and that's without added options like park hoppers and doesn't include room and food.  But tickets for a brief weekend to Disney can also break the bank for families as even a 3 or 4 day ticket will cost several hundred dollars per person.  This got me thinking recently about ways that you can "do Disney" without being in the parks.  Here are 5 great things to do around Walt Disney World that won't require theme park admission, but will still add a magical touch to your vacation.

Consider a character breakfast at a resort - You can meet some of your favorite characters without needing to visit one of the parks.  Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, 'Ohana, Chef Mickey's or Cape May Cafe offer a variety of characters and settings.  The cost of the buffet will run you between $20 - 30 per adult (less for kids 3-9 and free for little ones under 3).  Character breakfasts are extremely popular and book up quick so make sure to get your reservations when they open 180 days out.

Dine, Shop, and Play in Disney Springs - Here you will find world class dining, lots of Disney and non-Disney shopping, and fun activities like a movie theatre and bowling alley.  The Boathouse even features really awesome amphicars that you and your family can take out for a spin.  Here you can easily spend an entire day enjoying all that there is to see and do!

Strolling the Boardwalk - Disney's Boardwalk is located between Epcot and Hollywood Studios outside of The Boardwalk Resort and the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.  On the Boardwalk, you'll find a some restaurants and quick grab and go boardwalk favorites.  If you're looking for an adult evening out, check out Jellyrolls, a lively dueling piano bar.

Take a walk on the wild side at Animal Kingdom Lodge - Visit Animal Kingdom Lodge and get a chance to get up close and personal with animals that frequent their safari.  Here you can find viewing spots for all kinds of wildlife.  While you're there, you can also dine at Sanaa which looks out on the Sunset Safari at Kidani Village for a chance to see zebras and giraffes while you have a delicious meal!

Catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks - I know what you're thinking, how can I do this without a park ticket?  There are lots of options! Restaurants like 'Ohana, California Grill, and Narcoossee's offer views of the fireworks from the monorail resorts while piping in the music as though you are standing on Main Street, U.S.A.  Another unique way to see the fireworks is from a cruise on the Seven Seas Lagoon.  Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise offers a dessert party onboard a cruise while the Pirates and Pals Fireworks experience gives you a chance to meet Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and Peter Pan in addition to seeing the fireworks.

If you happen to be passing through Orlando and want a quick Disney fix without spending a small fortune on park tickets, check out some of these ideas to get a little Disney magic into your life.  Not all of them are free, but most will be a significant savings over a park ticket.

It's the Most Wonderful Time. . .

. . .of Disney vacation planning!  Today marks 180 days until our next Walt Disney World trip, which means - drumroll, please - it's dining reservation day!  While I'll be spending the next week securing reservations for our upcoming trip, here are just a few of my top new choices on my list.

I run Disney so I can eat Disney! Portobello Bisque at Artist Point.

Minnie's Seasonal Dine at Hollywood and Vine (Hollywood Studios) - This will be a new dining experience for me.  Since we're going at Halloween, Minnie and her friends will be dressed in their most bewitching costumes.  Our plan is to head here on the first night of vacation so we can get our Halloween trip started off the right way!  This meal is also offered as part of the Fantasmic Dinner Package so we won't only be getting a great character meal, but also prime seating for Fantasmic.

Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) - The newest restaurant to hit Animal Kingdom doesn't even open until Memorial Day, but I already can't wait to try it out.  In a park that is seriously lacking table service options, I think Tiffin's will be a welcome addition.  It promises to offer a variety of flavors inspired by exotic travel destinations.

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) - Dan and I have been trying to make it to this restaurant for a "date night" for many trips now and we finally have the chance since my parents are traveling with us.  I think the thing that my husband is looking most forward to at this restaurant is the wine list.  The large collection of South African wine will be the perfect compliment to a relaxing meal and a night off from "parent duty."

Dining in Walt Disney World offers so many choices and these are some of the ones I'm most excited to try out this trip.  Our itinerary is coming together nicely and I hope we're able to see everything come together to make this the best trip yet!  For more tips on getting your dining reservations booked, check out my thoughts in a previous post.

Disney on a Dime

Walt Disney World is a vacation that some families see as a once in a lifetime trip.  When friends and acquaintances find out how often we travel to Disney, one of the first questions they ask is how can we afford it.  Disney doesn't have to break the bank.  Here are some of my favorite money saving tips we use when planning our Disney trips.

Buying Gift Cards at Target (or Costco, or Sam's Club, etc.) - There are a number of stores that offer Disney Gift Cards at a discounted price.  For example, you can save 5% off of Disney Gift Cards by using your Target Red Card.  That $1000 worth of gift cards will end up costing you only $950.  And if you purchase your gift cards online and use Ebates, you can earn $20 in cash back to your Ebates account.

Weigh the pros and cons of staying off property - Staying at a hotel off property can often be significantly cheaper then staying on property.  But remember to add in hidden costs when you consider this option - resort fees, parking costs, transportation to and from the airport and parks, etc.  Since we have a lot of Hilton points, we've been staying recently at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek for free.  And you can't beat free!

Book Character Breakfasts instead of Character Dinners - Character meals are a must do for most families in Walt Disney World.  Many character meals offer the same characters at all three meals, but breakfast can be significantly cheaper.  It's a great way to still get that enjoyable character experience without the extra strain on your wallet.

Skip the ticket extras - Park Hoppers and Water Park tickets can be fun, but really aren't necessary on your vacation.  You can easily plan your vacation and squeeze in lots of family fun without the need to hit multiple parks in one day.  And with resort pools boasting amazing water areas, you probably won't even miss the water parks.  Skipping these options will save you hundreds of dollars off of park tickets.

Pack your own snacks - Walt Disney World allows you to bring in your own food and drinks to use for the day.  We often pack an extra suitcase with food and snacks from home and then order some fresh fruit and drinks from an online grocery service like Garden Grocer.  Packing a bag with our own food is an easy way to save on the expense of eating in the parks.




The Many Lands of Magic Kingdom - Main Street, U.S.A.


Enter the gates of Magic Kingdom and you will instantly find yourself stepping back into the world of Walt.  The hub in Main Street, U.S.A. is the center of the action for Magic Kingdom and where your magical journey begins.  But Main Street, U.S.A. is not simply a sidewalk to pass through on your way to the rest of the park.  Here you will find shopping, restaurants, and character interactions that will get your day started in the right direction!

One of the things to know about Main Street, U.S.A. is that both the afternoon and nighttime parades pass through this part of the park.  If you hoping to catch the Festival of Fantasy Parade or the Main Street Electrical Parade, be prepared to grab your spot early as serious parade watchers start claiming a viewing location up to an hour ahead of time.  The same is true for nightly viewing of Wishes.  All of three of these attractions do offer FastPass+ as well which we have found really useful traveling with young children and strollers.  Rather than fighting for a spot to view the parades or fireworks, we simply roll into our reserved areas about 15 minutes before the start time.

Main Street, U.S.A. is also home to a number of restaurants.  You can find everything from hometown favorites such as hot dogs at Casey's Corner or grabbing a dip of your favorite ice cream flavor at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor.  However, if you're looking for a "don't miss" dining experience, join Winnie the Pooh and his friends at The Crystal Palace for buffet character dining.  If you hope to dine in the Hundred Acre Wood, be sure to make a dining reservation as this popular restaurant often fills up quickly!  

And before you leave Main Street, U.S.A. you must pay a visit to Town Square Theatre where both Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell can be found.  Each of these characters appear in separate theatre spaces which means that you must wait in two separate lines for them.  The best part?  Not only do you get a great big Mickey hug and an autograph, but this Mickey talks!  This was the most memorable of all experiences for my son.  Wait times can really vary at this attraction - I've seen them as short as 15 minutes and as long as an hour.  We almost always use a FastPass+ reservation on  this since it's a must-do for our family.  On your way out of Town Square Theatre, don't forget to look out for characters greeting guests including Snow White and Mary Poppins.

Whether you're grabbing a character photo, a Starbucks coffee, or picking up a last minute souvenir, Main Street, U.S.A. has something for everyone while paying tribute to the life and memories of Walt Disney - the man behind it all!

The Many Lands of Magic Kingdom - Fantasyland

Fantasyland is everything you think about when you think about Walt Disney World.  Rides, restaurants, characters, and unforgettable experiences combine to make this one of the favorite spots in not only Magic Kingdom, but throughout the entire Walt Disney World Resort.

Dining - In Fantasyland, you'll find many places to grab a meal or a snack as you pass through the park.  Two of the newer places to check out are Be Our Guest Restaurant and Gaston's Tavern.  Be Our Guest is a unique dining experience.  For breakfast and lunch, reservations are definitely required, but the meal is quick service.  You can pre-order your meal before arriving in the park for an even faster dining experience.  Dinner features table service fare and even a visit from the Beast himself.  For more information on this restaurant, check out my breakfast, lunch, and dinner reviews. If you can't grab a reservation for Be Our Guest, swing into Gaston's Tavern where you can grab a quick bite on the go.  You don't want to miss out on tasting some of LeFou's Brew either while there! The other extremely popular dining reservation here is Cinderella's Royal Table.  Regardless of whether or not you have kids, a meal inside Cinderella Castle with some of the most popular Disney princesses is a must do on everyone's Disney bucket list.

Rides - Some of the most popular rides throughout all of Walt Disney World can be found here in Fantasyland.  Classic attractions like Peter Pan's Flight, It's a Small World, and Dumbo combine with new favorites such as Seven Dwarf's Mine Train and Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid to provide literally hours of ride entertainment in this one small section of the park.  Most of the rides here are accessible to even the tiniest of travelers meaning that everyone can join in on the fun.  If you want to ride Peter Pan's Flight and Seven Dwarf's Mine Train, I would strongly recommend a FastPass as these often have waits exceeding 60 minutes.

Characters and Entertainment - If you want to meet characters, Fantasyland is the place to be.  There are several character greetings here that even make use of the FastPass+ system.  Inside of Princess Fairytale Hall there are two separate greetings - one for Cinderella and Rapunzel and the other for Anna and Elsa.  I've seen the Anna and Elsa wait time be as long as 200 minutes so this is definitely a great use of a FastPass reservation if you want to meet these two Frozen royals.  Ariel is also available for a meet and greet at her Grotto next to the Under the Sea ride.  You can also catch up with Goofy, Donald, Daisy, and Minnie at Pete's Silly Sideshow for autographs and pictures.  Throughout the day, you may also find the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella's Stepsisters, Alice, Gaston, Winnie the Pooh, and others available around this part of the park.  And if you're looking to escape the heat and enjoy some entertainment, step into Mickey's PhilharMagic or visit Enchanted Tales with Belle.  Both provide a great experience for kids and adults alike and, if you choose to visit Enchanted Tales, you even get to meet Belle at the end and get a photo with her!    

With so much to see and do in Fantasyland, we easily spend HOURS here on each Disney trip.  This is truly where magic comes to life for kids and adults!

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.


Why Disney's Animal Kingdom is So Much More Than a Half Day Park

Brody caught up with Chip and Dale at Rafiki's Planet Watch
One of the more common Disney myths that I hear is that you only need half of a day to visit Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.  At first glance, I can understand why some people may feel this way.  After all, there are far fewer attractions in this park then in it's counterpart Disney's Magic Kingdom Park, but, what you may fail to see is the quality and depth of these attractions.  Pandora: The World of Avatar has been a big addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom Park since it opened in 2017.  The draw of Flight of Passage and seeing the floating rocks of in the Valley of Mo'ara may seem like the biggest things to do here, but there is so much more.  Beyond Pandora, Kilamanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest (all obvious highlights), here are five reasons you need a full day at Animal Kingdom which you may have been missing out on.

1.  The Shows! - Animal Kingdom is home to several great shows the whole family will enjoy.  Festival of The Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical, tell familiar Disney stories with a colorful cast of characters that will leave everyone smiling.  There is also the Flights of Wonder show where live birds become the leading actors and actresses.  Each of these shows are roughly 25 minutes and require you to arrive about 15-20 minutes prior to showtime in order to secure your seat.

2.  Rafiki's Planet Watch - This is a hidden gem in the park that you may miss all together if you're not looking closely.  Hop aboard a train in Africa and be transported to a place where the Circle of Life is explained to young ones as they visit exhibits on animals and habitats.  At Rafiki's Planet Watch, kids can visit a petting zoo, observe animals being treated by veterinarians, and meet some of their favorite Disney characters.  In 2019, this area received a major overhaul and now also features opportunities for kids and adults alike to learn about Disney animation.  This quiet part of the park can be a quick 45 minute visit or may take as long as a few hours to explore.

3.  The Oases and Other Walking Trails- Upon entering Animal Kingdom, guests often rush through the trees and wildlife surrounding the Tree of Life to get to Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, or other rides.  However, you want to slow down as winding pathways get you up close and personal with beautiful plants and animals.  And great walking trails are not just confined to the entrance of the park.  Both Africa and Asia also feature trails filled with unique animals and jam packed with information from knowledgeable guides.

4.  Interactive Kids Activities - If you're traveling with children in your family, Animal Kingdom often has interactive educational opportunities to engage kids in the environment around them.  Whether they are studying to be a Wilderness Explorer like Russell in the movie Up or showing how brave they can be as part of the new Lion Guard, there are several spots throughout the park where kids can participate with cast members in activities to earn stickers and badges!

5.  Great restaurants - Any Disney park is home to great food and Animal Kingdom is no exception.  I highly recommend making a breakfast reservation at Tusker House for some quality time with Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Mickey decked out in their jungle apparel.  In addition, a new fine dining restaurant, Tiffins, will be opening in 2016 which promises to bring even more excitement to the dining landscape.

Check out my review of Yak and Yeti here!


Check out my review of Tusker House's Character Breakfast here!


When you combine these reasons with the already popular attractions at Animal Kingdom including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, and Dinosaur, there is so much to do in this park you definitely need a whole day, if not more!

Garden Grill Now Serving Breakfast!

Garden Grill has been a character meal favorite within Epcot for years and now they are expanding that excitement into the morning hours by serving breakfast!  The first breakfast service took place on November 8, 2015 and I was lucky enough to be there.

Garden Grill Restaurant located inside The Land pavilion.
Like lunch and dinner, breakfast is a character meal featuring Mickey Mouse, Chip, Dale, and Pluto.  The restaurant rotates slowly inside of The Land pavilion and catching glimpses of the Living with the Land ride below.  Characters rotate to tables and we saw all four characters within 15 minutes of being seated.  We booked a late breakfast following the Wine and Dine Half Marathon the night before so characters seemed to be finishing up before going on a bit of a break until lunch reservations began.  Chip and Dale were particularly playful that day with Chip giving my hand a kiss and taking me by the arm like we were going to run away together!  He nearly swept me off my feet!

Smiling for the camera!
Good Morning from Farmer Mickey!
The food at Garden Grill was absolutely delicious for breakfast.  They serve POG (pomegranate, orange, and grapefruit) juice alongside coffee, milk, or whatever beverage you choose.  Unlike many other character breakfasts, this is served family style so if you're traveling with little ones, you won't need to worry about wrangling them around a food counter.  Table service begins with a sticky bun bake and fruit.  The sticky buns were served in a hot skillet making them extra warm and sticky!  Not long after we had finished with this first course, a large platter featuring ham, eggs, bacon, tater tots, and Mickey waffles arrived at the table.  While some of this is very traditional character breakfast food, the Mickey waffles were a bit unique, served with a chocolate hazelnut sauce.  There was also a plate of biscuits and sausage gravy.  I'm not a big fan of biscuits and gravy but my husband and friends said that this was good as well!

Fruit salad and Sticky Bun Bake

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
An assortment of breakfast goodies for the whole table to share.

And what Disney breakfast is complete without a Mickey waffle?
Our weekend pricing for November was $29.99 for adults.  The food itself doesn't justify that price, but it's certainly on par with other character breakfasts around Walt Disney World.  I enjoyed the change of pace at a family style breakfast instead of the hustle and bustle of a buffet.  My two favorite parts of the meal were the POG juice and the sticky bun bake.  If you're planning a day in Epcot and want a character breakfast experience without the princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, this may just be the spot for you!

Your First Trip to Walt Disney World - Dining

Welcome to Part 2 of Your First Trip to Walt Disney World!  Today we're focused on all you need to know about dining around Walt Disney World Resort.  This is typically your next big decision following your hotel accommodations (see Part 1 of this blog series for more on picking the right place for you and your family!)  When thinking about your dining reservations in Walt Disney World, there are a few big decisions to make.

Do I purchase the Disney Dining Plan or not?
The Disney Dining Plan comes in three different tiers and may be a great option for your vacation.  The latest details on each option can be found here on the Walt Disney World website.  I highly recommend thinking about your dining needs and weigh the costs of this plan against the benefits.  If you can snag this during a "free dining" deal from Disney, it's of course a no brainer!  It's also a great option if you like the idea of an all inclusive price on your Disney vacation where you can minimize out of pocket costs during your actual trip.  However, the dining plan isn't cheap.  I've only used it once during an adult only trip where we planned several high end meals that only used one table service credit each - making this a great bargain!  On our most recent family trip, we opted not to purchase the dining plan because my three year old is such a picky eater, the cost didn't make sense.

Catch up with Farmer Mickey at Garden Grill's
new character breakfast!
What's the difference between Table Service and Quick Service restaurants?
Table Service restaurants are going to be what you would typically expect in a restaurant featuring a waiter, a menu with multiple courses, and nice surroundings.  Quick service restaurants are more "cafeteria" style where you approach the counter to order of a limited menu and then take your food to open seating in the restaurant.  There are good choices at each of these levels and your vacation will most likely feature some of each.

Do I need to make reservations ahead of time?
YES!  Table service restaurants offer reservations and you really need to make them prior to your trip.  More about the timeline for making dining reservations can be found here, but the simple rule is that they open 180 days prior.  More popular restaurants like Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey's, and Cinderella's Royal Table often book up within hours of the reservation window opening while others will feature a lot of availability up until the beginning of your trip.  Don't despair though if you can't grab your favorite reservation right away.  I've been able to get some great reservations within two weeks prior to the start of my trip by checking the My Disney Experience app frequently!

Is Character Dining the right choice for my family?
Character meals are a great choice in my opinion - especially if you have young kids!  These provide a great way to interact with the characters while getting pictures and autographs too.  Some characters will feature long lines in the parks, but you can save time by sharing a meal with them.  However, character meals can be expensive.  Make sure you look at pricing for the ones you are interested in so that you're not surprised.  One of my favorite tips is to book a late character breakfast.  You pay the cheapest price of the day and can fill up for lunch too!

There are so many great restaurants in Walt Disney World!  With so many great options, you only need to do a little research to discover the tasty delights that await you on your vacation!

Happy 44th Birthday, Magic Kingdom!

Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom opened 44 years ago today!  It's hard to even begin to fathom how many people have passed down Main Street U.S.A. or how many memories were made with magical first glimpses of Cinderella Castle!  To honor this birthday, here's 44 things you don't want to miss in Magic Kingdom:

1. Walk through Cinderella Castle

2. Meet Mickey at Town Square Theatre

3. Grab a Dole Whip in Adventureland

4. Take time to read the windows on Main Street U.S.A.

5. Get a hair cut at Harmony Barber Shop

6. Make your little princess a real princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. . .

7. And give kids the chance to become a pirate at The Pirate's League.

8. Dine with the Beast inside his castle at Be Our Guest restaurant.

9. Ride the horses on Prince Charming Royal Carousel

10. Take flight with Dumbo the Flying Elephant

11. Watch Wishes explode high above Cinderella Castle

12. Will you have what it takes to remove the Sword in the Stone?

13. Find Cinderella Wishing Well on the path between the castle and Tomorrowland.


14. Try breakfast with your favorite princesses inside Cinderella Castle.

15.  Don't miss your chance to meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall.

16. Take a spin on the Jungle Cruise - you may even get to be the Skipper!

17. Conquer the mountains - Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain.

18. Ride around the park on the Walt Disney World Railroad.

19. Get your family picture taken in front of Cinderella Castle.

20. Become a part of the story at Enchanted Tales with Belle.

21. Have an ice cream at The Plaza Restaurant.

22. Battle Zurg in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

23. Buy a pair of Mickey Mouse ears.

24. Take in the nighttime spectacle of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

25. Ride the monorail!

26. Visit Tom Sawyer Island.

27.  Check out the 999 haunts of the Haunted Mansion - I've heard there's always room for one more. . .

28. Listen to a performance by The Dapper Dans on Main Street U.S.A.

29. Join Alice and friends for a spin on the Mad Tea Party ride.

30. Watch the moving tribute to America and our military veteran's during the Flag Retreat.

31. Hum along to Zip-a-dee-doo-dah on Splash Mountain with the Brer Rabbit and his friends.

32. Join the fun of the Move It! Shake It! Dance and Play It! Street Party

33. See Walt's vision of the future on the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland.

34. Watch good battle evil at the Dream Along with Mickey stage show.

35. Participate in pin trading with Disney cast members.

36. Take a tour to learn backstage secrets of the Walt Disney World Resort.

37. Get "spit" on by one of the camels outside of The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

38. Cross swords with Jack Sparrow at Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial.

39. Get to the park at rope drop and see the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show.

40. Attend a special event like Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

41. See the tiki birds at The Enchanted Tiki Room.

42. Visit the mines with 7 of your closest friends on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

43. Fly to Neverland on Peter Pan's Flight.

44.  Get the theme song from It's a Small World stuck in your head for the rest of the day!

And that's just the beginning!  There's so much to see and do at Magic Kingdom!  Here's to many more birthdays, or as Buzz would say birthdays "to infinity and beyond!"

Making Memories with Disney's Memory Maker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.