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

Signature South African Dining at Jiko

Located inside of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at the Walt Disney World Resort is a restaurant that is home to delicious South African flavors, Jiko - The Cooking Place.  I love trying each of the signature dining experiences within Walt Disney World as each offers a combination of service, atmosphere, food, and drink that is second-to-none.  Jiko has been on my wish list for a while and on our most recent trip we were able to join friends of ours from the Orlando area for a date night out while the kids stayed back at the hotel with grandma and grandpa.

Atmosphere
Jiko is situated on the lower level of Jambo House at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge; directly across from Boma.  The decor could best be described as "elegant casual" in my opinion.  The dining room was a comfortable mix of tables and booths featuring bright colors and beautiful art that is meant to symbolize the natural beauty of Africa.  Our dinner was after dark, but during the day, there are large windows that have a view of one of the savannas.  There is a small bar area near the hostess station where we were able to relax and have a pre-dinner cocktail before being seated.  The restaurant does have a dress code which requests "resort casual" attire.



Food and Drink
We found the menu to feature a lot of variety and delicious flavors.  The dinner service began with bread and we ordered a chicken flatbread appetizer.  During the appetizers, my husband ordered one of the South African wine flights to taste a variety of what the restaurant had to offer.  The pairing was reasonably priced and was smooth and delicious.  For our entrees, everyone sampled something different.  I opted to follow one of our waiter's recommendations and try the Oak-grilled Filet Mignon while Dan went with the Maize-crusted Halibut.  The filet was cooked perfectly, but I have to say that I enjoyed the flavors of the halibut a bit better.  For dessert, we once again took the waiter's recommendation and went with the Malva Pudding.  It was the perfect end to the evening!  Everything was wonderful and we can't wait to go back again!





Overall Impressions
I was really impressed with Jiko.  It definitely ranks above Artist Point in both food and atmosphere in my opinion.  When I compare it to California Grill, I think it's right on par with food, but California Grill does hold an edge with the breathtaking views overlooking Cinderella Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom.  I would look forward to returning to Jiko in the future and trying more of their diverse and delicious menu!
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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!
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Managing Tantrums on Your Disney Vacation

Tantrums can quickly turn Disney smiles
upside down.
The dreaded temper tantrum.  If you have young children, you are all too familiar with these regular occurrences.  Like preparing for the heat during a summer Walt Disney World Resort vacation, you probably aren't going to be able to avoid the dreaded temper tantrum - they will happen. . .probably multiple times. . .each day.  The best thing you can do is to try to anticipate when they will happen and have a plan to deal with them when they do.  Here is my "expert" take on what causes tantrums and how to navigate through them. 

Tantrum Trigger - "I'm hungry."
This would seem like an easy tantrum to deal with.  You're in a theme park with endless food options - and therein lies the problem.  Finding an agreeable food option for the entire family or towing the line that Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars (no matter how tasty) do not constitute lunch, food can become a battle.  The other time food becomes an issue is when you're 20 minutes into a 45 minute ride line and this gem of a tantrum begins.  Advice - Carry small, healthy snacks in your bag.  Whether it's fruit, crackers, pretzels, or something similar, kids will be satisfied (for the moment) with something in their tummies that you know they like to hold them over until your dining reservation that is an hour away or while you finish waiting to ride Splash Mountain.  I pack an entire extra suitcase of food and/or order groceries online for delivery to our hotel so that I have a wide variety of snacks to offer to kids throughout the day.

Tantrum Trigger - "I'm hot."
Well kid, you're in Florida - get used to it.  Wouldn't it be nice if that answer works?  But alas, kids are not always rational creatures and when they're hot, they'll make you miserable complaining about it.  If you're traveling to Walt Disney World Resort in the summer months (or even late Spring and early Fall), this is likely to be a concern for your kids.  Advice - Take cool off breaks.  The good news is that you don't have to go back to your room in the middle of the day to do this - although you certainly could if you wanted.  Inside the parks, guests can take advantage of the Baby Care Centers as a quick place to take small kids inside the cool off.  We also bought a small stroller fan for less than $15 on Amazon prior to our trip to keep kids cool.  Keep them hydrated during the day and spend some time in indoor attractions.  There are even some fun splash areas inside the parks - just remember a change of clothes in case your kid gets soaked.    

Tantrum Trigger - "I want a toy."
Ever notice that just about every Walt Disney World attraction ends in a gift shop?  Well played, Disney.  Well played.  Guess what, my kids notice this too and are always looking for "something" to buy.  Advice - Have a plan and communicate it ahead of time.  There are several plans that can work in this situation.  The first is to give kids a Disney allowance.  Whether you use Disney Gift Cards, Disney Dollars, or cold hard cash, your child will have a finite amount of money to spend.  Another choice, not allow your kids to buy anything in the parks.  Instead, surprise them in the room with little Disney gifts that you've picked up on sale at home.  They still feel like they're getting something, and you save some money.  Lastly, you could explain limits to your child.  Maybe they get one or two toys on the whole trip to pick.  Whatever method you choose, I've always found it best to talk about it with my kids ahead of time so they know exactly what to expect.

Tantrum Trigger - "I'm bored."
Who knew the most magical place on Earth could be boring?  Toddlers and preschoolers - that's who. Granted, they have lots of fun when they are engaged in activities, but there is also a lot of "waiting" time.  The bus rides, dinners out, lines for rides or character meets, etc. can all be agonizing for children.  Advice - Carry small items to keep them entertained.  This can be games or shows downloaded on your phone, snacks, or those little play packs that have books, stickers, and crayons.  The good news with this tantrum is that fun is just around the riverbend, which usually helps them wait it out.

Tantrum Trigger - The complete meltdown.
This is when your little prince or princess completely loses their mind, with or without reason, in the middle of the park and resembles something akin to Stitch (You're badness level is unusually high for someone your size).  Instantly, you feel like the worst parent in the entire park and like all parents are staring at you and secretly judging you.  Since during this tantrum, most kids have lost the ability to rationally think or speak and can't communicate what is going on, it's exceptionally hard to solve.  The best advice I have - remove, redirect, and wait it out.  We were once in Epcot when a horrible summer storm blew in out of nowhere.  We ducked into a restaurant, grabbed a snack, and waited for it to pass.  Then went on to have a good rest of the day.  This is kind of what you need to do in this case.  Find a quiet(er) spot in the park to move to - off to a bench, behind a ride, wherever - to gain a bit of privacy for your little one.  Know that trying to talk to them probably isn't going to be very effective at first and yelling at them is just going to escalate the situation.  Once they start to settle themselves, redirect their attention back to next thing - a snack, a favorite ride, etc. Is this bribery?  Maybe.  Does it work?  Sometimes.  

One of the biggest things to remember when you have a tantruming child is that you're in Walt Disney World - everyone with a small child is going through the exact same thing.  So while you may feel stressed and terrible in the moment, be assured you are not alone.  Remember that you won't be able to avoid all of the tantrums, but you can be prepared when they occur.  This post pairs well with an older one that I wrote if you're looking for more lessons I've learned while traveling with my little ones - Things that May Terrify Your Kids in Walt Disney World. What are your favorite tips for traveling with little ones to minimize tantrums?
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Magic Kingdom Fireworks - Without a Park Ticket!

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

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

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

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

These non-park options are great if you don't have a park hopper option on your tickets and want to take in the fireworks on a night you were not in Magic Kingdom.  Or, those of you who are lucky enough to be locals might like to check out the fireworks without braving the Magic Kingdom evening crowds.  I'm excited to use some of these options on my upcoming trip for Princess Half Marathon weekend when my friend and I have opted to save some money and skip park tickets.  Whatever your reason, all of these viewing locations provide a wonderful alternative to watching the fireworks from inside the park.
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Celebrate the 4th in Walt Disney World

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

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

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

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

Happy 4th of July everyone!!




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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!  
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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.
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Quick Service Favorites in Walt Disney World

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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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!
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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!
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The Many Lands of Magic Kingdom - Adventureland

Adventures await around every corner in Magic Kingdom's Adventureland.  We found this a great place to start the day as most of the crowds rush back to Fantasyland.  From Main Street U.S.A., turn left and cross the bridge into a world of excitement!
A 17 month old Brody enjoying his Magic Carpet ride!

Adventures in Agrabah - Adventureland is home to some pretty famous royals - Aladdin and Princess Jasmine! You can meet up with these two and explore their "whole new world" by flying high above Adventureland on your own magic carpet ride.  Just be careful - the camels that surround the Magic Carpets of Aladdin have been known to spit!  This ride is great for families with young children as it's a familiar design which is popular at a lot of carnivals and the wait isn't usually too long, even without a FastPass!

Adventures on the High Seas - Pirates are waiting around every corner in Adventureland. Take a cruise through treacherous waters on the classic Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but keep a look out for Captain Jack Sparrow!  This ride was just recently updated during a lengthy refurbishment in 2015.  And if you have little buccaneers in your travel party, they can get a makeover at the Pirates League to resemble the most fearsome pirates this side of the Caribbean.  If you plan to join the pirate crew at the Pirates League, be sure to make a reservation and note that there is an extra charge for this experience.
Showing off his Skipper's License from the Jungle Cruise!

Wildlife Jungle Adventures - There are two iconic experiences in Adventureland that you won't want to miss.  The first is the ever popular Jungle Cruise.  Join some of the most comedic skippers that you can imagine as they take you on one wild cruise spanning the globe!  And if you're lucky, your young adventurers may be selected to be a guest skipper on your cruise.  In addition, you can take a chance to cool off inside the Enchanted Tiki Room and take in a festive show with a few feathered friends.  The Tiki Room birds will spread laughter and delight to all!

Culinary Adventures - Don't miss one of the newest restaurants to hit Walt Disney World.  Jungle Skipper Canteen is a table service restaurant that serves tropical dishes with the humor and good times that you're used to experiencing on the Jungle Cruise.  And a trip to Adventureland wouldn't be complete without one of perhaps the most iconic Disney treats - a Dole whip!

Whether you're traveling to Walt Disney World for the first time or the hundredth time, you're sure to find adventure around every corner in Adventureland!
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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.


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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!
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Epcot's La Hacienda de San Angel

Hola!  Bienvendios a La Hacienda de San Angel!

OK. . .that's as much Spanish as I know for this review :)  As you may have guessed, La Hacienda de San Angel is located in Mexico within Epcot's World Showcase.  This is no Taco Bell - you will definitely encounter authentic Mexican cuisine which is well prepared here.  Reservations are encouraged at this popular dining location, especially around the time of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  With it's location right along the water, the restaurant features beautiful views of the nightly pyrotechnic spectacular and guests don't miss any of the experience with the lights inside the restaurant being dimmed and the audio played throughout the restaurant.

Interior of La Hacienda de San Angel
La Hacienda de San Angel is a table service restaurant and offers a warm, cozy interior that is designed to transport guests to an upscale Mexican kitchen.  With so many yummy items on the menu, we were anxious to get started.  Unfortunately, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs - especially after a day of tasting at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

When in Mexico, you have to begin with a margarita!  The restaurant had a fun drink menu with a few margarita concoctions that were tasty treats.

I tried the Rosita Margarita - definitely a good pick!
Our table began with appetizers.  My husband and I each ordered the Crema de Elote.  This cream of corn soup is served fresh table side.  When the waitress brought the soup to the table, it was just the corn in the dish.  Then the cream soup was poured fresh over the corn.  It was a beautiful presentation and one of the best soups I have ever had!  Our friends shared an order of the Queso Fundido.  I tasted a bite of theirs - it was wonderful cheese deliciousness, but I would recommend the Creama de Elote over it.

Beautiful presentation!

Did someone ask for cheese?
For our entrees, my friend Ali and I shared Carnitas Yucatecas.  We were both getting pretty full from all of the food that day.  Even with sharing, we couldn't finish everything on our plates!  The pork was good, but I think the Tacos de Camarones (Shrimp Tacos) that my friend Craig had were the better bet.  Everything was well prepared and service was fast.  Actually, service was almost too fast. We hadn't finished our appetizers yet when our entrees arrived. 

Carnitas Yucatecas
Tacos de Camarones
Of course, we had to save room to try some desserts.  We ordered the Mousse de Chocolate and an Empanada de Manzana to share around the table.  Both were OK, but I'd save my calories to enjoy more appetizers or cocktails if I were you!

Mousse de Chocolate
Empanada de Manazana
At 9PM sharp, the lights dimmed in the restaurant and we were treated to a great view of Illuminations.  Granted, it's not the same as the FastPass+ viewing experience we had on another trip, but this was a nice alternative and didn't require fighting crowds for a front seat view.

Overall, La Hacienda de San Angel is a solid choice if you're a fan of Mexican cuisine and looking for a place to enjoy some indoor, relaxing dinning after strolling around the world in Epcot.  Until next time, adios!
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Artist Point - Pacific Northwest Cuisine in WDW

Artist Point Menu
There are many things I enjoy about a Walt Disney World vacation, but one of the best parts in my opinion is trying out all of the delicious restaurants on property.  Did you know that more than 125 restaurants can be found across theme parks and resort hotel properties?  With choices ranging from quick service sandwiches to fine dining with some of the best chefs in the nation, there truly is something for everyone.  When my husband and I have the chance for some adult time on our vacation, we always enjoy trying out one of the signature dining locations.  Our most recent trip to Walt Disney World was for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend and we went sans kids.  We visited Artist Point, located inside Disney's Wilderness Lodge, for a late dinner with another couple.  I will give a little disclaimer before starting this review.  We had a very long and unseasonably warm 13 hour day in the parks and had a 9PM dinner reservation.  I think I was more tired than I was hungry which may have impacted some of my overall opinions of the experience.  

The location and decor of the restaurant were comfortable, but not as awe inspiring as some other signature restaurants.  There were large windows overlooking the outdoor area of the hotel while the interior featured soft lighting and beautiful murals depicting life in the Pacific Northwest. It was a pretty restaurant, but didn't compare to California Grill's breathtaking views of Magic Kingdom and the Wishes fireworks show.  

A view across the restuarant
One of several murals throughout the dining area
Our waiter made a few recommendations for the table including the Smoked Portobello Bisque.  The soup was smooth and tasty - it turned out to be my favorite item of the evening!  For my entree, I opted to go with the salmon.  Maybe I was expecting to much of a "wow" dish since we were in a restaurant that should specialize in salmon, but I wasn't overly impressed.  I felt like it lacked seasoning and flavor that could have really enhanced the dish.  In my opinion, the winner of the entree category was the Aged Buffalo Strip Loin that my friend Craig ordered.  When it came time for dessert, I was too tired to keep eating so I passed, but my husband ordered the fruit cobbler and our friends split the fresh donuts.  Both looked tasty!  Throughout the meal, the restaurant staff was able to offer wine pairings that complemented each course - something very important for my husband!

Smoked Portobello Bisque - YUMMY!  A must try!
Cedar Plank Salmon
Overall, I would go back to Artist Point again if I was staying at Wilderness Lodge, but I wouldn't go out of my way to resort hop to make it there.  There are a number of other choices that are just as good or better to check out while in Walt Disney World that are also more convenient to the parks, such as California Grill or The Hollywood Brown Derby.  

What's your favorite signature dining experience in Walt Disney World?
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