Monday, May 23, 2011

Tomorrowland Speedway Tip

Here's a good tip for families with multiple kids. If you've got a scenario where you've got one adult in a car with two kids and both want to drive the car at Tomorrowland Speedway, notify a cast member and they will tie a rag around your car and let you drive around the track twice, stopping as you come back around to the loading area to switch drivers. For those with young kids, you'll also be interested to know that the minimum height requirement is only 32 inches, and as long as the kid can ride, he or she can drive with you in the car (but you've got to be 54 inches tall to drive unassisted). Our son, who's 2.5 years old was able to steer the car on our latest visit.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tip: Balloons at WDW

Here's the drill: kid wants a balloon, parents are scared to get a balloon because they know it will pop soon after it is purchased, which will likely lead to tears and the purchase of a new balloon. Sound familiar? Well, it shouldn't at Disney. If you purchase a balloon at the parks, and it pops, just find another balloon vendor and tell them what happened. They'll be happy to give your kid a new balloon for free. No tears, no extra expense. Just great customer service as you'd expect from Disney. So go ahead and buy that super-cool Mickey balloon-within-a-balloon!

Create Your Own Star Tours E-Postcard

Check out this link to create your own Star Tours e-postcard. The Star Tours attraction re-opens at Disney tomorrow (!) after undergoing a serious makeover. It's been a long time since I've experienced Star Tours. Can't wait to check it out the next time we're at WDW. In the meantime, I'm going to go create your own Star Tours e-postcard!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Restrictions Placed on Online Dining Reservations

While I haven't personally tested the system, it appears that you ca no longer book multiple Advanced Dining Reservations for the same time frame. Which makes perfect sense (I was surprised it was previously allowed) - double-booking ties up reservation slots that would be otherwise free to other guests. Unfortunately, this will cut down on your flexibility when planning your meals at WDW, especially if you are planning far in advance and are unsure on what days you will be at each of the parks. I actually booked multiple meals in different parks on our most recent trip to ensure we had something planned regardless of which park we decided to visit on that particular day. However, I always made sure to cancel the reservation I wasn't going to use well in advance.  Apparently, many folks were not doing that, so Disney changed the policy. So, looks like you'll have to do a more thorough job of planning on the front end. All the more reason to invest in Touring Plans and the Disney Food Blog Dining Guide to help you determine what days you should visit each park and which restaurants you should choose!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

3 Reasons to Visit Walt Disney World this October

  1. Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party (hosted on certain evenings throughout October)
  2. The EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival (running September 30 - November 13)
  3. The 40th Anniversary of Walt Disney World (October 1st is the official date)
Wonder what the odds are we can pull of a second visit this year???

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recognizing Extraordinary Service at WDW

It seems that in our society we always find time to complain about poor service and negative experiences, but never take the time to write a letter, make a call, or send an e-mail to recognize outstanding service and extra-magical experiences. At Disney, one expects nothing less than truly great service - in fact there have been books written about Disney's focus on customer service (see for example, Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service). However, sometimes there are those cast members who take it to the next level and provide you with stellar service, making your Disney experience that much more magical. If you receive such service from a cast member, I encourage you to take the time to mention to their manager or supervisor what a great job that cast member did,  or call or drop Disney a quick e-mail when you return from your trip (and if you aren't good at remembering names and the cast member helped you at a restaurant, you can always find their name on your receipt). We had approximately six cast members who provided above-and-beyond service during our most recent trip to WDW. I e-mailed Disney and mentioned these cast members by name and what they had done to make our visit more magical ( in our case, it was listening intently to our son's excitement about the volcano inside the Mexico pavilion at EPCOT, providing tips on a great place to watch Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom, discussing English football and televison programs with us, providing tips on the best time of year to visit Venice, and immediately rushing over to our assitance when my son fell at Typhoon Lagoon).Today I received a call from Disney thanking me for taking the time to recognize these cast members for their service and was told that the comments would be passed along to them. I hope that it makes their day - they certainly made ours.

Disney/Pixar's "Cars 2" Characters Coming to Atlanta!

For those of you in the Atlanta area, the cars from Disney/Pixar's Cars 2 (which premieres in theaters on June 24th) are coming to Atlanta's Perimeter Mall this Sunday, May 22nd from 12pm-6pm. They can be found in the northeast parking lot at Ashford-Dunwoody Rd. and Perimeter Center West. Definitely going to check this out! For more information on Cars 2, check out the Official Disney Site.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Character Dining: Tips from the Disney Parks Blog

Check out these recent Character Dining Tips from the Official Disney Parks Blog. You can also check out the Disney Food Blog's Character Dining Guide to help you decide which character meal is right for you, or go ahead and order the Disney Food Blog Guide to assist you with all of your Disney World dining planning needs!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Unique Kids' Menus at WDW

While you can always find standard "kids' food" (chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, etc.) at WDW table service and quick service restaurants, there are a number of restaurants offering unique meals for kids. A couple of our favorites from our most recent trip were:

Rose & Crown Pub Dining Room at EPCOT:

pictured above: Kids' Bangers 'n Mash (our son ate all of the banger and none of the mash...) The Rose & Crown Kids' menu also includes shepherd's pie and fish 'n chips. Each a  proper English option!

The Rose & Crown kids' meal also came with a build-your-own sundae plate:

Yak & Yeti at Animal Kingdom also offers some great options for kids:
This was actually a large kids' meal - our son had the chicken bites with a side of fried rice and a cup of apple sauce. The fried rice was really good. In fact, this was one of our favorite restaurants on our recent trip. See our review of our overall dining experience at Yak & Yeti. Also, be sure to check out AllEars.net for full menus of these restaurants and the Disney Food Blog Dining Guide for more example of unique kids' menus at WDW.

Disney with Kids Tip: Stopping a Meltdown with Stickers

I'm thoroughly convinced that Disney cast members have been trained in the art of meltdown prevention. In particular, they are quick to the scene with a roll of Mickey stickers (or Disney Vacation Club stickers) that are dispatched more liberally than the fries at Five Guys. Our son was on the verge of a total meltdown as we left EPCOT on our last day and who could blame him - he'd stayed awake later than he ever had the previous night to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks and was upset because we had to go home, which frankly made me want to cry, too. In the blink of an eye, a cast member ran over with a roll of stickers, and as you can see, the meltdown was averted. Unfortunately, we still had to leave, though... 

New Fantasyland Expansion

In case you've missed the news, the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland is getting a major expansion (which, unfortunately meant the end of Mickey's Toontown Fair). The expanded Fantasyland will include a new home for Dumbo, a Little Mermaid attraction, a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves mine train roller coaster, and a cottage and castle for Belle and the Beast (which you can see in the photos below). Construction is well under way and most of the attractions are slated to open in 2013. Kristen took these photos of the construction while riding Dumbo:

You can follow the progress of the Fantasyland expansion and other Disney Parks news on the Official Disney Parks Blog. 

Dining Spotlight: Happy Landings Ice Cream (TL)

If you're spending the day (or part of the day) at Typhoon Lagoon, we recommend grabbing a cool treat at Happy Landings Ice Cream. They've got sundaes, Mickey ice cream novelties, and of course, the infamous Sand Pail - a massive sundae served in a sand pail complete with plastic shovel! I can't say that we've tried the garbage pail (yet) - a simple sundae was enough for our family of three to split. Maybe next time we'll skip lunch, though and go straight for the sand pail!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dining Spotlight: Fulton's Crab House (DD)

Fulton's Crab House is a nice little seafood restaurant at Downtown Disney. You'll enjoy eating delicious seafood entrees aboard an actual Riverboat. It's one of many wonderful dining options at Downtown Disney.

Tickets on Sale now for Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

For those interested in visiting Disney World during some really cool events, tickets are now on sale for the Halloween and Christmas festivities at WDW. I can't speak to them personally, as I've never taken part in either event (perhaps a second WDW trip is in order for 2011?!?!), but I have always heard great things. Plus, if you visit during October for Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party, you can also partake in EPCOT's International Food & Wine Festival! Click Here for more information and to purchase your tickets to these special events (special tickets are required along with your park pass in order to experience the extra magic of these special holiday events).

Disney with Kids Tip: Bring a Kids' Camera

Looking for something extra to keep the kids entertained at Disney (not that they should get bored...)? Try bringing along a kids camera and let them take their own photos. Our son had a blast, and ended up taking some really good photos. Plus, it gave us a chance to see WDW from his perspective!

We have a version of the Vtech Kidizoom Plus Digital Camera, which comes in blue and pink and maybe even other colors, is very kid-friendly and appears to be pretty indestructible. Based on the images that appeared on the camera's screen, we didn't think the image quality would turn out that great, but when we loaded them onto our computer we discoved that in those (rare) instances when our toddler stood still long enough to get a photo without movement, they turned out really great. For example, he took these two images with his camera:

 If you have an old point and shoot digital camera lying around the house, you could always let your kid(s) borrow that (especially if your kids are older). For toddlers and younger kids, though, you may want to stick with something a little more durable.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Captain EO

I probably should get my wife to write this post, as she is a much bigger Michael Jackson and Captain EO fan than I am (but don't get me wrong - I loved it). Captain EO, a 3D theater experience at EPCOT, returned to several of the Disney Parks (WDW, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disney) not long after Michael Jackson's untimely death. Most likely, the show will not remain as a permanent fixture at the parks (let's be honest, it was removed once before). At EPCOT, the show has replaced the Honey I Shrunk the Kids 3D show. The film is a must-see if you are at EPCOT - don't miss out on your chance, because you never know when it may go back into the infamous disney "vault." It is a true piece of Disney history that should not be missed. Fun for everyone (except small children who may be a bit frightened), but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you won't truly experience the full impact of the show unless you lived through the 1980s. The special effects, costumes, hair, etc. are priceless, and as always, Michael Jackson steals the show. My wife said that when she watched it, the audience actually started clapping and cheering when MJ appeared on the screen.


I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

Looking for a truly unique (adult) beverage at Disney? Then try the Casa (as in Casablanca) beer at the Morocco Pavilion at EPCOT. Definitely a rare find, and a must-drink if you plan to "drink around the world." You can grab one to go at the Tangierine Cafe and it enjoy it while you stroll through the Morocco Pavillion - one of the most quiet, most shaded areas of the World Showcase. A great place to catch your breath and relax a bit on a hot Disney day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dining Spotlight: Pinocchio's Village Haus (MK)

While it pains me to give a less-than-glowing review of a Disney restaurant, it must be done. We grabbed a quick dinner at The Pinocchio Village Haus at the Magic Kingdom today when we returned to the park for the late afternoon/evening. We knew we wanted to do counter service, but hadn't made a decision exactly where. A quick rain shower made the decision for us... We ducked into Pinocchio and found a great table overlooking it's a small world - definitely a fun aspect of this restaurant, being able to watch the boats set off on the happiest cruise that ever sailed. However, the food left something to be desired - flavor.
I really thought the meatball sub that I ordered would hit the spot, but it did not. While it wasn't terrible, it was very lacking in flavor. My wife had the same reaction to her chicken parmesean and its accompanying side of penne pasta. In fact, the best dish at our table was our son's pizza off the kid's menu. While this restaurant provides great entertainment overlooking small world and a convenient location if you're spending time in Fantasyland (and/or trying to get out of the rain), the food could use some improvement. If Pinocchio tells you his food is flavorful, you better check to see if his nose is growing...

Also, be sure to check out AllEars.net for a complete menu and the Disney Food Blog Dining Guide for more information on this and other WDW restaurants.

Dining Spotlight: Lottawatta Lodge (BB)

If you're looking for a place to grab lunch while at Blizzard Beach, try Lottawatta Lodge. It offers pizza, chicken fingers, burgers, and a surpisingly tasty chicken caesar salad.  Lottawatta Lodge is located near the front entrance to the water park, perfectly placed to hop off of the lazy river and grab a quick bite to eat!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

TripIt - A Great Tool to Organize your WDW Reservations

Looking for a great tool to store all of your WDW Advanced Dining Reservations? Your hotel reservations? Park activities? Flights? Then you've got to check out TripIt. TripIt is a free online travel tool for managing your travel itineraries. Set-up your trip online and then forward all of your confirmation emails and it will automatically populate your itinerary. There's also a mobile app, so you can have all the information at your fingertip while touring the parks. Did I mention it's free?

Dining Spotlight: Mickey Ice Cream Bar

A not-to-be-missed, classic Disney treat!

Dining Spotlight: Tortuga Tavern (MK)

The stars must have been perfectly aligned for us today, because - wait for it - Tortuga Tavern (formerly known as El Pirata Y El Perico) was actually open! This seasonal counter service restaurant, located just across from the Pirates of the Caribbean, has not been open during our last two WDW visit. We stopped to grab a quick meal before continuing on our touring plan. I had a chicken burrito and Kristen and Michael each had a kid's chicken quesadilla. The food was good and hit the spot for a quick meal. The entrees come fairly plain and there is a toppings bar located just inside where you can add all the fixins' you want. We were glad to add this restaurant to our list (finally), but don't worry if it's not open when you visit - Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and the Golden Oak Outpost are just around the corner.

Dining Spotlight: Aloha Isle (MK)

The famous Dole Whip from Aloha Isle. Can't believe I'd never had one until today! A perfectly refreshing treat to enjoy while waiting for the afternoon parade at the Magic Kingdom to start.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dining Spotlight: Typhoon Tilly's (TL)

There are several places to grab lunch at Typhoon Lagoon.  We chose to eat at Typhoon Tilly's, which is located at the back of the water park. We tried the chicken caesar salad and the fish and chips.  The food was, we thought, pretty solid as far as theme park food and water park food goes, and filled our post-swimming empty bellies. The chicken caesar salad was actually quite good as was the fish and chips. The quantities were also sufficient, as we split the two meals between my wife, toddler son and me. You're not going to find gourmet food at the water parks, but this is definitely one simple, solid option that gets the job done.

Dining Spotlight: Earl of Sandwich (DD)

If you are a looking for a delicious sandwich or salad at WDW, the Earl of Sandwich is your place! This restaurant, located at Downtown Disney, is actually owned by THE Earl of Sandwich. As an Anglophile, that certainly caught my attention! We enjoyed a great meal here this evening before enjoying the shops of Downtown Disney. I had the "Full Montagu" sandwich, Kristen had the Cobb salad, and Michael had the Kid's Pizza sandwich. The Disney Food Blog's Guide to Disney Dining says this is place is a universally loved place to get a to get a great sandwich for a great price - now I know why!
If you visit during the holiday season, consider trying the holiday sandwich. All the ingredients sound a bit odd (think traditional Thanksgiving dinner), when combined it's delicious!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beers @ the Rose and Crown Pub (EP)

If you live in a larger city, you've probably got great access to a wide selection of both domestic and international beers. I'm fortunate enough to live in a city where I can find almost any English beer that I might be craving. However, the Rose and Crown Pub at EPCOT's England Pavilion offers a couple of special pub blends that you won't find anywhere else (unless of course you decide to mix them up at home...). So, next time you're at EPCOT, be sure to give one of them a try. I've had the Bumblebee, which is a blend of Boddingtons and Guinness, and the Golden Fox, which is a blend of Boddingtons and Bass. Both hit the spot on a hot day at Disney. Be sure to ask for a plastic cup (or a plastic souvenir glass!) so that you can carry your beer with you as you stroll around the World Showcase. And remember to check out the Disney Food Blog's Disney Dining Guide for more on the Rose and Crown and other Disney dining experiences.

Dining Spotlight: Via Napoli (EP)

Looking for pizza at WDW (and not the generic, mass produced counter-service type)? If so, Via Napoli, located in the Italy Pavilion at EPCOT, is the place for you. Although a bit pricey, it's worth every penny. Via Napoli is fairly brand new to the Disney dining scene, having just opened in August of 2010.


We actually saved on costs by splitting the family house salad and a large pizza margherita, which was definitely enough food for the three of us. The pizza was beyond delicious.
And don't forget to check out the three amazing pizza ovens (not that you'd miss them!):
Check out AllEars.net for a full Via Napoli menu and the Disney Food Blog Dining Guide for more information on this amazing restuarant.