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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Photo Friday: Icing Art

Grand Floridian gingerbread house artwork 

Time again for another Photo Friday!

As we wrap up the holiday season, I thought I'd share one final holiday-related photo.  This is from the gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian resort.  What I find most amazing about this photo is that it's drawn with icing.  That's right -- this is edible art!  I have a hard enough time trying to write "happy birthday" in icing so that it's legible to say nothing about drawing early versions of Mickey and Minnie sledding in a snow scene.

Yet another Disney detail -- it's what makes a visit to Walt Disney World during the holidays, or anytime, such a memorable experience!

Thank you so much for enjoying the blog in 2012 and I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts about Walt Disney World with you in 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

This just in... Santa's flight plan revealed!


The investigators here at DisneyDaddy have discovered some evidence to support how Santa manages to deliver all those presents to good children around the world.  We found this FAA flight plan for Santa's annual global trek on display at the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World.  As you can see, Santa's flight plan takes a winding course around the globe, mostly moving from east to west.

Incidentally, I have read before that Santa has special FAA clearance that was approved personally by the President.  This is according to former President Bush. 

In any case -- the big guy is on his way!!!

Merry Christmas to you!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Photo Friday: Christmas at lightspeed

Osborne Lights 

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

As we anxiously await Santa's big flight -- I thought this shot from the Osborne Lights might give you a feeling of Christmas at lightspeed, which is what I suspect Santa must be able to travel at in order to deliver all those gifts to all the children of the world in a single night...

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Holiday crowds and park closures

It's time for another Tip Tuesday!

As we approach what is, without a shred of doubt, the busiest time of year at Walt Disney World, I'm often asked about how to deal with the gigantic crowds at the parks.

While it's true that the parks are crowded during this time of year, it's also generally true that they're not insanely busy for every single second that the parks are open.

DisneyDaddy veterans will know what I'm about to say (and will probably say it with me):  Get there early!

I can't stress enough how important it is to get to the park well before park opening (no less than 30 minutes).  These days with many of the parks no longer having a formal opening ceremony (Magic Kingdom excepted), cast members often open the turnstiles several minutes before the official opening time. 

What you get by arriving early is a few hours of relatively low crowds.  If you examine crowd levels by the hour, you'll notice that the crowd amounts start to sharply increase around 10 a.m. and become insane before Noon, so those few hours become critical.  This is the time to get initial rides in on those attractions you or your family are most interested in experiencing.

After those golden hours are gone - what do you do next?

You've got some decisions to make and a bit of a roll of the dice as well.  Given that these are the most crowded days of the year, the parks often do (for a time) reach capacity and close to guests in phases.  While Disney won't officially say how they decide to institute a park closure,  it's suspected that when crowd levels get to the point when overall guest safety and enjoyment is becoming affected, Disney begins to limit the number of people coming into the park.  This goes in a series of phases, from 1-4.  The phases are believed to be implemented in the following ways (source:

Phase 1 Closure
Casual visitors are turned away at the automobile toll plazas. This means that people without tickets, those with one-day, single-park tickets, and those intending to use cast member passes will not be allowed to park.  The following types of guests may enter:
  • Those with multi-day or multi-park tickets
  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those re-entering the park that day.
  • Those "hopping" from another park.
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
  • Those arriving via Disney transportation
Phase 2 Closure
Those included in Phase 1,The following guests are allowed through the turnstiles and into the parking lots:
  • Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those re-entering the park that day.
  • Those "hopping" from another park.
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
  • Those arriving via Disney transportation
Phase 3 Closure
The following guests are allowed through the turnstiles and into the parking lots:
Those staying at a Disney Resort
  • Annual Passholders
  • Those with in-park reservations or appointments.
Phase 4 Closure
The park and parking lot are closed to all arriving guests.

It's important to stress here that while a park may (and often does during busy times of the year) go all the way to a phase 4 closure, such a closure doesn't automatically last all day.  It's possible that later in the day and into the evening, the crowd levels may have diminished to the point where Disney will decide to scale back the closure level or lift the closure completely.

So as you can see, depending on which criteria you meet on the list above, you could be impacted by even a phase 1 closure.  So if you decide to leave the park once the crowds get high, you very well may not be able to get back into the park, at least for a while.  This is where the roll of the dice comes into play.  If you decide to head back to your hotel/resort for a while or go off-property for a bit, will you be able to later enter the same or another park?  That's a tough call.  I can tell you that if you want to be in the Magic Kingdom for those incredible New Year's Eve fireworks, you'd better be at the Magic Kingdom in the morning and plan to be there all day long.  If you leave, you're not getting back in.

If you do end up getting shut out of one park, don't assume that all the parks are closed.  It's quite possible that you can get into another park.  Even if you can't get into a park, you can always find a lot to do at the various resorts or Downtown Disney (keep in mind that parking might be limited, so be prepared for a bit of a walk).

Also keep in mind that you don't have to be at the Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks.  There are great viewing locations along the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon, especially at the Polynesian Resort.

No matter how you decide to handle the crowds, please be calm and courteous to your fellow guests.  There may be a lot of people who are tired and grumpy, but there's no need for anyone to be rude or mean to each other.  You're in the happiest place on Earth - try to keep it that way!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Photo Friday - different view of the Castle Dream Lights

Cinderella Castle Dream Lights 

Time for another Photo Friday!

On Tuesday, I talked about ways to successfully photograph the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights.  I intentionally left off one angle I wanted to save for today -- the front shot, but not just any front shot, THE front shot.

Now you may think the photo above is easy to get.  You'd be wrong.  It's hard to tell from the photo above, but I'm just about laying down on the ground to get this angle.  Also, this is a vantage point that's hard to get to because normally it's not accessible due to the various performances going on in the evening.  I managed to get this angle after Wishes on a night when the Magic Kingdom was open fairly late. 

Surprisingly there weren't many people here even though this spot provides some different vantage points for other items, but that's for another Tip Tuesday.

So I hope you enjoy this close-up view of the Castle Dream Lights!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Photographing the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights

It's time again for another Tip Tuesday!

We'll we're in the swing of things for the holiday season and there's one thing at Walt Disney World that I absolutely have to see every holiday I'm at WDW - the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights.

I wrote about the castle lighting ceremony in a post last December, so I won't re-hash the information in that tip - be sure to check it out.  What I am talking about today is some good ways to take photos of the Castle Dream Lights.

Castle Dream Lights 

For those of you with point-and-shoot cameras, this shot may work best for you.  First, it's not too dark, so the shutter exposure will still be fairly quick.  Second, you have some good resources to use to steady the camera to avoid motion blur.  For this shot, I was standing along the bridge between Fantasyland and the hub near Cosmic Ray's.  The rail is nice and wide so you can (carefully!!) set your camera on the rail to take a steady shot.  You may want to wait for the sun set so you can capture those pretty evening colors as the light fades.

Castle Dream Lights night 

Later in the evening, you can use the same place to get a nice shot with the lights reflecting in the water.

Also remember that there are more angles of the castle than the traditional front angle.  Take this shot for instance:

Castle Dream Lights side view 

This shot was taken from the East side towards the back of the castle.  What makes this different is the lamp in the foreground and the steep angle enhancing the forced perspective of the castle.  If you have a point-and-shoot camera, this might be a bit tough. Digital SLR cameras will have a better chance of capturing this image without blur.

So there you go -- a few different ideas for how you can get those great shots of the Castle Dream Lights -- and be sure to watch for this week's Photo Friday when I'll post another shot of the Dream Lights from a different perspective.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Photo Friday: Ga-Ga's House

Ga-Ga house at Osborne lights 

It's time for Photo Friday.

This week, I'm sharing a photo that has quite a bit of personal meaning, most especially today, Dec. 7, 2012.  Today, we lay to rest my grandmother of 96 years.  I knew her as Ga-Ga.  When I saw this sign in 2010 during a visit to the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights I knew I needed to take a few shots. 

Every time I see this shot, I smile and remember the woman who (at least to me) inspired this sign.  I spent many a day at Ga-Ga's house and those fond memories will stay with me forever.

So today, this photo is dedicated to Ga-Ga.  We love you and will miss you.  Go say hi to Walt for me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade Spots

Mickeys Jingle Jingle Parade 

It's time (finally) for another Tip Tuesday!!

Now that the holiday season is upon us, it's time to focus on the holidays at Walt Disney World, personally my favorite time of year to visit Walt Disney World.  This week, let's head over to Animal Kingdom to enjoy Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade.

If you've seen Mickey's Jungle Jammin' Parade, this holiday overlay version will look quite familiar.  Many of the same pieces are used in this holiday version of the parade.  The Imagineers have added a few new surprises including the Minnie Mouse float which sprays out the scent of hot chocolate.  Also see if you can spot Donald Duck's name on both the nice and naughty lists. 

Mickeys Jingle Jingle Parade 
One thing to bear in mind is that the sun will be lower in the western sky during December.  So unless you want to spend your time shading your eyes, you'll want to find a spot that will be up-sun (West) of the parade route.  On the map above, I noted a few key locations that I think are good spots.  Thes also are good locations for photography where the lighting should be better.  These are some prime spots, so you'll want to find your location at least 30 minutes before the parade starts (check your daily times guide for parade start times).  This is especially true for the two locations on the inside of Discovery Island near "It's Tough to Be a Bug."  Once you're in place, you're committed because you really can't get out. 

While Animal Kingdom might not be the first park that comes to mind when you think of the holidays at Walt Disney World, it still is a great park to visit for some holiday merriment. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Thanksgiving at WDW - the next chapter

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Two years ago, I gave a few tips about Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World.  I discussed crowds briefly and also talked more at length about how you can still get your fill of turkey, even at restaurants that aren't normally known for serving turkey and the trimmings.

This week, I wanted to talk about a few other aspects of Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World -- getting there and Black Friday.

First, if you're thinking about a trip to Walt Disney World for the Thanksgiving break, do yourself a HUGE favor and DON'T plan to travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  It's flat out nuts.  We journeyed to WDW for Thanksgiving in 2009 and the drive down was murderous, especially as we tried to navigate some of the more populous areas like Charlotte and Jacksonville.  If you're flying, well, you've seen all the stories each year about how it's the busiest travel day of the year, so you might be better off scheduling your flights a little earlier, or, perhaps, fly down on Thanksgiving day itself.  If you can get an early morning flight, you can probably be in the parks in time for a late turkey lunch or easily make a dinner ADR.  Oh, and remember that the Sunday after Thanksgiving is just as bad, so if you can stay a day or two longer, it might help make your return trip a little less stressful.

But... once you've had your fill of turkey (and recovered from the triptophan-induced coma afterward) it's time to start thinking about Black Friday shopping!  Or at least you might think about it.  In 2009, Downtown Disney did not offer many Black Friday deals, if at all.  Based on online research, I don't see any indication that 2012 will be any different.  UPDATE:  The Disney Parks Blog just announced some Black Friday deals at some stores at Downtown Disney including the Lego Store, Ridemakers and littlemissmatched.  For a list of Black Friday offers - see this link.

Disney Stores nationwide will offer Black Friday sales, but according to StitchKingdom, none of the Downtown Disney World of Disney stores (in Anaheim or Orlando) are participating in the Black Friday event.

However, that doesn't mean you can't get into the Black Friday spirit. is offering several online Black Friday sales, which you can start to take advantage of right now. 

Of course, who needs Black Friday shopping when you can be at the parks?  But that's a debate for another time.

My family and I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving!!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Photo Friday: more little Disney details

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Saloon 

 Howdy there folks!

It's time for another Photo Friday!

This week's it's a two-fer-one offer!  Ye get two photos today!

The first photo above is a shot of the Gold Dust Saloon as seen from the Walt Disney World Railroad (and you get a really good picture of it when the train is stuck for about 30 minutes...).

But what I really wanted to show you was this...

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Saloon 

This is a shot of the inside of the saloon.  Now even on a very bright day you can hardly see inside.  I had to use a strong flash and slow exposure to get this shot.  What's impressive is the level of detail Imagineers put in these attractions.  Notice the playing cards on the table and the different liquor bottles.  At most a guest might be able to get a fleeting glimpse while riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or guests may be able to peer inside while passing on the railroad.  Either way, Disney could have gotten away with much less detail... but this is Disney and doing things halfway doesn't cut it.

So enjoy another little piece of Disney detail!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mickey Mouse - The Force is with You

This week's Tip Tuesday post will take a back seat to the major, galactic-sized news that came out late today - Disney is buying Lucasfilm for just over 4 billion.

There's a lot of news already out on this developing story, so I won't spend much time on the finer details.  Instead, I will share my thought on what this new acquisition will mean for Disney and for the parks.

To recap, here are the basic details of the deal, announced today:
  • Disney will own Lucasfilm, including all the affiliated operations like Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas Arts and Skywalker sound.  
  • Disney will own the rights to all Lucasfilm characters and stories - this includes Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
  • Kathleen Kennedy, current co-chair of Lucasfilm will become President of Lucasfilm and will come under the Walt Disney Studios.
  • Total purchase price is $4.05 billion.  This deal has yet to be approved by certain government antitrust regulations.
  • Lucas will become a major shareholder of Disney - the 10th largest.
So those are the details of the deal - in a nutshell.  Again there's so much more to this, so I suggest you check out some of the following news releases and news coverage.
Official Disney news release video announcement by George Lucas
Coverage by
Coverage by the Wall Street Journal

But wait... there's more!

As if the purchase announcement wasn't enough, Lucas dropped another proton torpedo: Star Wars:  Episode 7 is coming in a few years.  Yes, you read this correctly - Episode 7!!!  In an interview on, Lucas revealed he has developed story treatments for Episodes 7, 8 and 9.  Episode 7 is in story development and is initially slated for release in 2015.  Bob Iger, Disney CEO indicated additional Star Wars films could be coming out every two or three years following Episode 7.

So it seems fairly certain that we will have a new Star Wars trilogy for an entirely new generation of Star Wars fans.

So what will this mean for Disney and for the parks?

First, it means Disney, literally, has a whole new galaxy of characters and story material to draw from.  It also means that you will see a lot more Star Wars and Indiana Jones coming to the parks.  Could this be the final hurdle for the long-rumored "Star Wars land" at Disney Hollywood Studios?  Could this lead to something even bigger -- an entirely new 5th park?  I suspect we may hear some major, major, major (did I say major?) announcements at the D23 Expo next August related to Star Wars, both in terms of movies and the parks -- oh and there's also consumer products as well.  There's so much to this deal.

Here's what I think this deal also means (though I have little to back this up, so it's just my gut feeling):  Avatar-land at Animal Kingdom is dead.  There have been reports that the deal between James Cameron and Disney was becoming shaky over investment prices and creative control.  I suspect now that Disney and Lucasfilm are in the same family, James Cameron will be left out in the cold.  I could be wrong, but, to quote every Star Wars movie, "I have a bad feeling about this."

The more I think about this deal, the more I start to see what Iger's legacy will be for the Disney company.  Walt's legacy is Mickey Mouse and Disneyland.  He started it all.  Eisner's legacy is reinvigorating Disney animation and growing the parks.  Iger's legacy will be growing the Disney family.  Think about it.  Under Iger's leadership, Disney has purchased Pixar, Marvel and now Lucasfilm.  In the span of only a few years, Disney's book of available stories and characters has exploded and the Disney family is larger than ever.

I personally can't wait to see just how far Disney/Lucasfilm can go together.  I'm ready to again jump into hyperspace to a galaxy far, far away.

The Force is with us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Boma


Ok, so it's been a while.  Starting a new masters degree program can do that to you.

But I'm back now, so let's move forward with another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to share my thoughts about a restaurant I first visited in June and LOVE!


Located in the lower level of the Jambo house of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boma is a buffet restaurant offering breakfast and dinner.  Breakfast items are fairly common and what you'd expect from any breakfast buffet.

But it's a dinner where Boma really shines.

Beginning at 4:30 p.m., Boma offers what the menu calls "an abundance of African and American specialties."  While there are some traditional favorites, the offerings do rotate.


My personal favorite is the carved roast pork with the Boma mustard (I could enjoy that mustard day and night!).  If you're a soup person, then Boma is for you.  Each night several different soups are presented from butternut squash soup to crab soup to coconut chicken curry soup.  Again, buffet offerings change daily, so you might not see your favorite item every night.

The desserts at Boma are decadent beyond belief.  I was blown away by what was presented.  To be honest, you could justify the cost of Boma based on the desserts alone.

Speaking of cost, be prepared to pay to dine at Boma.  As of this post, the breakfast buffet runs about $25 for adults, $15 for kids and dinner runs about $40 for adults and $20 for kids.  These prices may be higher during peak periods.


Another element to consider is that Boma is quite popular as the photo above depicts.  If you're interested in dining at Boma, you'll want to make your ADR's as soon as you can.  Also be prepared for a bit of a wait in line at the buffet, so you may want to plan to get two plates at one trip.

Finally, dining at Boma is a great reason to get out and explore different resorts, especially resorts that are a little more out-of-the-way like the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

So go!  Enjoy!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Photo Friday: A Grand morning

Grand Floridian in the morning light 

Ok, so it's not Friday.  Nevertheless, here's this week's photo Friday!

Obviously, this is the Grand Floridian.  What drew me to this shot this week was how the morning light basked the resort in amber light along with the reflection in the Seven Seas Lagoon.  This shot was taken from a balcony at the Contemporary Resort.  I've commented before about how I really like the Magic Kingdom view rooms at the Contemporary, perhaps the best theme park view rooms in all of Walt Disney World, and this shot is just one more reason.

Oh, and did you see the four hot air balloons in the distance?

Until next time!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Even more reason to get there early

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

It's Tip Tuesday time!

If you're a regular here at DisneyDaddy, you know I'm a big fan of getting to the parks early to take advantage of the low morning crowds.

In the past, Disney held an event known as "rope drop" where guests could queue up at a pre-selected area and wait for an official opening.  Often, a welcome show greeted guests before the countdown to park opening.

Lately, though, this practice has been changing, especially at Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios and Disney Animal Kingdom.

Now, it appears that the welcome shows are a thing of the past, with the exception of the Magic Kingdom, and, more importantly, gates are starting to open even earlier than expected.

Recent reports indicate that though park opening may be set for, say, 9 a.m., guests can often start entering the park and going straight to attractions as much as 15 minutes before the posted time.  Basically, the park opens 15 minutes early, in this example.  While this isn't an official practice yet, it does appear that this is happening on a nearly daily basis, though reports vary on how much before the official opening cast members are allowing guests to enter the park.

So what this really means to you and me is that you really need to get to the turnstiles no less than 30 minutes before the posted park opening time, because you'll likely be allowed to enter before that opening.  This also goes for Extra Magic Hours.

With all the recent and rumored future changes to FastPass, a few more crowd-free morning hours is a magical thing.

So, like I always say, get there early and enjoy those low-crowd mornings!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Book review - Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey

Toy Story Films - an Animated Journey 

Hey howdy hey!

It's time for another Tip Tuesday and this week, let's shift gears and move to the good ol' Disney library shelf for a little Disney book review.

This week, let's review a new book called The Story Story Films:  An Animated Journey (2012), by Charles Solomon, published by Disney Editions.  This is a pretty large book, measuring 12" by 11.8" with 192 pages chock full of beautiful pictures from all three Toy Story films as well as renderings, concept art, storyboards and some of the back story behind the Toy Story(s). This book was released less than two months ago.  (Full disclosure notice:  Disney sent me a review copy of this book.  The opinions expressed in this post are my own and are not those of the Disney company).

Toy Story Films - an Animated Journey 

If you're a fan of Pixar and/or a fan of the Toy Story films and/or a fan of John Lasseter (he wrote the afterword), you will flat out love this book.  Seriously.

This is a great coffee table book and currently joins a few of my other high quality Disney-related books.  What makes this book special is all the stunning photography.  Sure, there have been books about films before.  What is different here is that the frame captures of images from the three Toy Story films are crisp and clear.  Too often, frame captures are soft and lack definition.  This is primarily due to the nature of film - it's not at the same resolution as print.  So when a frame of film is transferred (and blown up) to the printed page, details tend to get washed out.  Not so with Solomon's book.

But wait, there's more.

Toy Story Films - an Animated Journey 

Throughout the 192 pages are tons of storyboards, renderings and concept art, much of which really helps to tell the back story behind Toy Story.  I won't divulge any of the nuggets here, but I was surprised to read about how the character of Woody was created and what and who inspired John Lasseter in creating Woody.

Which leads me to another key factor of this book.  In many respects, this could also be called The Lasseter Story.  Toy Story is due to the vision and work of John Lasseter and his team.  Solomon helps tell the story of Toy Story through the triumphs and, sometimes, failures of Lasseter and company.  In reading this book, you will discover there was a time when Toy Story almost stopped before it really ever got started (Solomon, 2012).

Toy Story Films - an Animated Journey 

All stories come full circle and Toy Story is no different.  Perhaps one of the most moving scenes (and frightening to some children) in any of the films comes as Woody, Buzz, Jessee, Ham, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and Rex seem destined for a fiery end in Toy Story 3.  In a literal case of deux ex machina (translated: "god from machine") the machine in this instance is the Claw, which, with the help of the Little Green Men, rescues our heroes at the last moment, moving the story to the ultimate ending - where Woody and Andy part ways (the most heartbreaking moment of any Pixar film to date).

The Toy Story Films:  An Animated Journey is a fitting tribute to three films that have defined this new medium of computer-generated animation.  This is one book that should be on your Disney bookshelf.

Amazon ($37.80):

Barnes & Noble ($39.47):

Referenced works:
Solomon, Charles. (2012).  The Toy Story Films:  An Animated Journey. New York:  Disney Editions.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Photo Friday: Skyway to the Past


Time for another Photo Friday!

I friend shared some old photos from a 1999 trip to Walt Disney World today and I just had to share this photo (with her permission).  What struck me the most about this photo was the date:  summer of 1999.  Little did they know that the Skyway would close just a few months later, in Nov. 1999.

I can remember my own journeys on the Skyway during my early trips to Walt Disney World back in the late 1970's.  I particularly remember seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from the air and being amazed at how big it was.

Today hardly a remnant of the Skyway can be seen.  The old launch/landing buildings are effectively gone and you have to look closely for clues where the old pillars were located.

A blast from the past...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tip Tuesday: The Garden Grove Seafood Sensation

Garden Grove restaurant

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to share my thoughts about the Garden Grove restaurant at the Swan resort.  Located on the main floor, the Garden Grove is comprised mainly of a single circular dining room with a artificial tree in the center.  The decor is light and airy.  Situated around the edge of the circle are buffet stations featuring all sorts of options (dinner only).  During breakfast and lunch hours, the Garden Grove offers a fairly standard menu with traditional breakfast fare and common lunch items.

What makes the Garden Grove so different is that the menu changes greatly during the week when it comes to dinner.  Dinner is served buffet style and the offerings were fairly good.

Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays feature a southern barbecue buffet complete with barbecue chicken, ribs, North Carolina pulled pork, beans and more.

Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays feature a Mediterranean menu with pastas, baked fish, sausage and pepper, Beef Bourguignon and more.

For these two menus, adult price is (as of this writing) $29.99 each, kids $13.99.

Fridays, though, appear to be the most popular day of the week.  That's because Fridays mean the it's time for the seafood sensation menu.  My family was able to get an ADR for this Friday buffet, so I will share my thoughts.

First, this buffet is fairy large with snow crab legs, scallops, seafood paella, carving station and more.  If that wasn't enough, each table gets a huge bucket of fried shrimp and calamari.  But wait, there's more.  Each adult gets one half stuffed lobster (yes, half of a whole lobster -- tail, claw and all).  Now the lobsters aren't huge, but it's included in the price ($35.99 for adults, $14.99 for kids).  If a child wants a half stuffed lobster, it will cost an additional $10 per child.

There is so much food available here it's not even funny.  The lobsters may have been stuffed, but so was I.

While overall, I enjoyed the ambience of the restaurant, there were a few areas for improvement.

First, the service for the buffet areas was poor.  It took way too long to replenish many of the seafood offerings, especially the snow crab legs.  When they were finally replenished, they weren't as hot as I'd like.  They were cooked fine, but it appeared that they weren't brought straight out.

Second, the carving station attendant was missing often.  Too many times I was hoping to get a cut of beef or turkey and no one was there.

It very well could be that I happened to dine on an off night.  I'm not sure if these issues are consistent or I just happened to catch a bad day.

These two issues aside, the Garden Grove seafood sensation is a fine alternative to the Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club.  While I still prefer Cape May, it can be difficult to get an ADR there, whereas you might be able to get away with a walkup at the Garden Grove, depending on your time.

Just one more reason why you should keep the Swan and Dolphin in mind when you make your dining plans.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photo Friday: R2D2's Bad Day

R2D2 has a bad day

Time for another Photo Friday!

I was going through some of my photos from June of this year and I ran across this shot of R2D2's dome from the new Droid Factory at Tatooine Traders.  As I thought about this shot, I noticed that R2 is having a really bad day.  First his head has been pulled off.  Second is main eye is gone and finally he's been blasted!

Poor R2.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to wrap up my tips about the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.  This week I wanted to help you as you try to collect those cards.  Below is a list of the current cards from Common to Super Rare.  Keep in mind that you get a new set of cards every day you visit the Main Street Fire Station.

Disney has started selling booster card packs at The Emporium and I'm hearing that these booster packs are much more likely to contain one of the Super Rare (lightning bolt) cards.  Packs are running around $12 each and there's a home game version coming soon.  When these booster packs first were released last month, they literally sold out in minutes, so it's possible they may not be available when you look for them.

I'm also hearing, thanks to the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom fan blog, that Disney will begin handing out limited editions of special spell cards associated with special events such as parties, grand openings and releases.  The first of these cards (apparently it will be a special 12-card edition) will start with a Chip and Dale card released during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.  Other possible cards may be released in connection with movie premieres, the opening of the expanded Fantasyland and/or opening of certain attractions/restaurants in new Fantasyland as well as Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

One more thing about cards.  Some may be willing to turn to Ebay to find cards.  I'd be careful purchasing cards on Ebay because it's all to easy to make fakes.  As easy as desktop publishing is these days, making a fake card is pretty easy.  One way to tell if it's more likely a genuine card is to see if it has rounded corners (the Mickey card shown above was a sample image released by Disney, not a scan of an actual card, that's why it has sharp corners).

A good way to store your cards is to use some sort of sports card collectors album.  I use a smaller book that holds four cards per page.  This way you can more easily carry the book in a backpack or bag.  Some use larger binders, which is fine if you are willing to deal with the extra bulk.

One thing's for sure.  Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a fantastic hit and one that I fully anticipate to expand both in card offerings and in difficulty as it progresses and is updated.

Until next time Sorcerer!

RARE  (marked by a star)
1 Apprentice Mickey’s Broomsticks
2 Belle’s Mountain Blizzard
3 Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster
4 Doris’s Bowler Hat Attack
5 EVE’s Laser Blast
6 Fa Mulan’s Dragon Cannon
7 Flynn Rider’s Flying Frying Pan
8 King Triton’s Trident
9 Lythos’s Rock Titan Boulder Throw
10 Maurice’s Wood Chopper
11 Maximus’ Horseshoes
12 Merlin’s Fireball
13 Monstro’s Water Spout
14 Nibs’s Neverland Assault
15 Rapunzel’s Hair Whip
16 Robin Hood’s Magic Arrow
17 Simba’s Roar
18 The Fairy Godmother’s Pumpkin Bash
19 The Giant’s Giant Stomp
20 Tinker Bell’s Pixie Dust
21 Violet’s Force Fields
22 Woody’s Cowboy Lasso

UNCOMMON  (marked by a crescent moon)
23 Aladdin’s Lamp
24 Bolt’s Super Bark
25 Cinderella’s Magic Ribbon
26 Colonel Hathi’s Righteous Stomp
27 Eeyore’s Gloomy Cloud
28 Frozone’s Ice Blast
29 Lightning McQueen’s Ka-Chow
30 Mickey’s Magic Beans
31 Mike’s Grand Entrance
32 Pinocchio’s Sawdust Blast
33 Prince Phillip’s Enchanted Sword
34 Snow White’s Housecleaning
35 The Headless Horseman’s Exploding Jack-O-Lantern
36 The Mad Hatter’s Tea Time
37 The Queen of Hearts’s Card Army
38 The Sugar Plum Fairies’ Dewdrop Spiderweb
39 WALL-E’s Trash Crunch
40 Yen Sid’s Sorcerers Hat

COMMON  (marked by a planet)
41 Aurora’s Rose Petals
42 Baloo’s Coconut Cascade
43 Caballero Donald’s Pinata
44 Dash’s Whirlwind
45 Flower’s Flowers
46 Gopher’s Demolition Dynamite
47 Grumpy’s Pummeling Pickaxe
48 Lumiere’s Candle Blast
49 Mowgli’s Swinging Vine
50 Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
51 Pocahontas’s Colors of the Wind
52 Pongo’s Soot Bucket
53 Prince Naveen’s Army of Frogs
54 Pumbaa’s Odorous Gas
55 Quasimodo’s Bell
56 Rafiki’s Wisdom Stick
57 The Blue Fairy’s Wand Wish
58 The Woozles’ Woozle Nightmare
59 Thumper’s Mighty Thump
60 Tiana’s Hot Sauce

SUPER RARE (Marked with a lightning bolt)
61 Ariel's Bubble Attack
62 Dumbo's Pink Elephant Parade
63 Fin McMissle's Missle Salvo
64 Hercules Tower Topple
65 Jasmine's Magic Carpet Tassles
66 Mama Odie's Magic Charm
67 Merryweather's Stone Spell
68 Mr. Incredible's Power Heave
69 Mushu's Fiery Breath
70 Winnie the Pooh's Honey Bees

Cast Member Power of the Four Keys

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tip Tuesday: My new favorite spot for evening events at the MK

Main Street Electrical Parade 

Welcome to a belated Tip Tuesday (yet again, sigh).

This week, I wanted to share a brief tip about my new favorite spot to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade which also puts you in a great spot to watch Wishes! and the new "Celebrate the Magic" show coming later this fall about which Disney released some conceptual images earlier today.  Disney also announced they are expanding the seating area for Fantasmic! at the Studios.

Anyway, back to the MSEP.  Many people like to stand in the inner portion of the hub facing Cinderella Castle as the Electrical Parade goes by.  I'm a fan of the opposite view.  Stand in the hub looking back down Main Street U.S.A.  You get a great head-on view of the parade and about halfway through, the lights in Town Square will turn back on so you have a wonderful backdrop for the parade.

Once the parade is done, simply turn around and you're ready for Celebrate the Magic and Wishes.  If you want, you can try to move a bit closer to the Partners statue so that it's in the foreground for any pictures you take.

See for yourself - here's video from when I provided a live stream of MSEP and Wishes! back in June.  It's in parts, due to the feed getting bounced a few times.


Main Street Electrical Parade

The Magic, the Memories and You & Wishes!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Photo Friday: Italy's bell tower in Epcot

Bell Tower of Campanile of St. Marks Square

Time for a (late) Photo Friday!

I've often suggested to try to take images from a non-traditional viewpoint and at a non-traditional angle.  This image of the Bell Tower in Epcot's Italy pavilion is just one more example of how you can make a predictable shot something more than it is.

It also helps that the sky was a gorgeous deep blue this day in June 2010.  


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tip Tuesday: the Arusha Overlook

Arusha Overlook
Jambo!  It's time for another Tip Tuesday!
This week, let's head over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for a quick tip about an easy way to enjoy the lodge savannah without having to book a room.  Simply visit the lodge (there are some great restaurants to enjoy), stroll through the amazing lobby to the far end and go down the stairs and outside.  You will come across the Arusha Overlook, which gives a great view of the center section of the Animal Kingdom Lodge savannah.

See for yourself!
Arusha Overlook

There are plenty of animals to see and you can take all the time you want because you're not in a jeep bounding through the savannah like you would be over at Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Just outside the entrance to the overlook is a nice fire pit that can come in handy on those cool winter evenings, even in Florida.

So the next time you're at Animal Kingdom Lodge, head over to the Arusha Overlook and enjoy what makes the Animal Kingdom Lodge such a popular resort.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Photo Friday: The new queen of the savannah

Animal Kingdom lioness
It's time for another Photo Friday!
I thought I'd share this photo from June 2012 of the new queen of the Animal Kingdom savannah.  I learned that apparently just days (or even hours) before this shot was taken, the male lion that was on the savannah had passed away and Disney had brought in some new lionesses for the lion section of the savannah.  It's possible this may be one of the first photos of the new lioness.  That's just speculation on my part.
Anyway, I especially like this photo with the colorful blossoms in the background.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom map

Welcome Sorcerer!

It's time again to share some tips and tricks to playing one of the newest experiences at the Magic Kingdom:  Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.  Here's the problem:  Hades, that evil lord of the underworld, has broken free and is trying to get the crystal of the Magic Kingdom.  It's up to you and Merlin the wizard to stop him and his legion of villians.
As I mentioned in a post two weeks ago, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (SOTMK) is a card based interactive game that guests can play throughout the Magic Kingdom.  Each visit to the parks, guests can stop at the Town Square Fire Station to pick up additional game cards to use to complete tasks throughout the park.
This week, I'll walk through how to play the game and some tips to make your adventure run a little smoother, especially if you're with multiple players.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom key card and map
When you first get your all-important key card and map (shown above), you will want to head to any station on the map (Adventureland is shown above).  Your map will show the SOTMK portals in each of the currently active lands in the Magic Kingdom:  Mains Street USA, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square and Adventureland.  Tomorrowland doesn't have any SOTMK portals as of this post, though the game is likely going to be expanded into the new Fantasyland and could possibly be expanded into other areas like Tomorrowland, though no official announcements have been made.

Most people who get their new key card, map and initial card set will head to one of the Main Street USA portals, resulting in a line.  It's better to head away from Town Square and go at least to one of the two portals further down Main Street USA.  Better yet, head to Adventureland, where there are more portals to work with. 
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom shield

So how can you find a portal? Sure it's on the map, but they're sometime hard to find.  Just look for this symbol on the ground.  This is the EXACT spot you're supposed to stand on to play the game.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom lock

Once you find a portal, look for this lock (shown above).  Take your key card and place it against the lock.  The first time you play the game, the screen will tell you which portal you are supposed to start it.  Be sure to take note of the symbol shown on the screen.  That corresponds to the portal symbols on your SOTMK map.  Go to that portal.  If you try to use another portal, you'll again be directed to the proper starting place.  Oh, and everyone has a different starting place. 

Now, if you're traveling with several Sorcerers, you can ask the cast member at the Fire Station to have your entire playing party to start in the same land.  You won't start in the same exact portal, but you can at least have your adventure running in the same location so you're not cris-crossing the park too much (you'll be doing a lot of that anyway).

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Now that you've found the right portal, it's time to star battling some bad guys (or gals)!!

To play the game, you need to first show your key card at each portal.  You eventually will go to every portal in the Magic Kingdom (often more than once).  You're trying to defeat Scar, Yzma, Jafar, Ursula, Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Dr. Facilier, Gov. Ratcliff and (ultimately) Hades.

Defeating each villian usually involves accessing four different portals.  Most portals require the use of one or more spell cards.  In the basic version of the game (which is the only version currently running), the type of spell card used really doesn't matter.  You can use one or more than one to accomplish your task.  In future versions (Disney has said they are working on advanced versions), the type of spell card used will be a factor in determining success against the villian.

Once you have defeated all eight villians, you're off to battle the head honcho in this whole operation -- Hades and if you're successful you will be given the title of Master Sorcerer of the Magic Kingdom!!!

Now you can complete SOTMK in a single day, though it will be a very long one and it will be all you do.  I strongly suggest taking a few days to try to complete the game.  If you don't finish, don't worry, you can always pick up where you left off on your next trip.  In fact, I think you should only do one or two villians on each trip -- that way you have something new to do on your next visit.

Either way, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a fantastic and fun game for players of all ages.  In June, I saw young kids and seasoned adults playing side by side and having a great time.

A few general tips: 
  • Wear good shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking (you should be wearing good shoes anyway).
  • Keep track of your key card.  If you lose it, you've lost your entire game progress and you'll have to start over.  If you lose a spell card, you can always get more, but you can't get another key card and resume your progress.
  • As you're walking around, take note of where portals are located.  Sure, they're on the map, but it's more helpful to know where they really are so you can easily find them when you need them.
  • Be patient.  You will run into lines at portals, especially during peak times of the year.  While you're waiting, be courteous to other guests and don't spoil the surprises by talking about the game.  Each portal can have different parts of the game running.
  • Always get a new set of spell cards each day you're at the Magic Kingdom.  They're free and you can get one pack a day.  You never know which cards you'll get.
So there you go Sorcerer!!!  You're ready to play.  So hurry to the Firehouse because Merlin needs your help!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Photo Friday: Valet Parking

Valet Parking (for strollers)

Time again for another Photo Friday!

This shot caught my eye as I was coming out of the Tower of Terror in June.  I happened to notice the "Valet Parking" sign with a line of strollers underneath and I couldn't help but laugh at the sarcasm.  Even the Imagineers have a witty moment or two, don't they??

Wait... does this mean we have to tip the cast members who straighten those strollers?  ;)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Disney Arcade Card

Disney Arcade Card

Time for another Tip Tuesday!
(my apologies for yet another delay... oy!)
Last week, I started a series of posts about the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game at the (of course) Magic Kingdom.
This week, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about other gaming option at WDW before continuing about SOTMK -- and that's the many Disney arcades around.
Arcades aren't new to Disney at all.  Many resorts have arcades and have had arcades for quite a while.  There are even two arcades in the parks (one in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom and another in Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios).  There's also DisneyQuest, which is a topic of it's own.  What's interesting is that the concept of an arcade is becoming more and more foreign to kids around the nation (with the prevalence of home-based gaming systems).  Long gone are the days of the mall-based video arcade.  Sure there are a few arcades located in pizza restaurants (i.e. Chuck-E-Cheese) but most people don't visit these on any kind of a regular basis like I did a few -ahem- years ago.  So when kids (and adults) do run across the resort arcades, it's a moment of amazement for kids at all the huge gaming systems and nostalgia for adults who may remember the old days.

Disney Arcade Card

Just about every Disney resort has an arcade and some are much bigger and better than most.  Arcades are open from 7 a.m. to midnight each day.  The best, in my opinion, is The Game Station located on the concourse level (4th floor) of Disney's Contemporary Resort.  This arcade is pretty large and just has more of that old arcade look and feel.  It really fits in the Contemporary. 

To play in the arcade, you first need an arcade card (shown above).  It's easy to get one.  There's a kiosk in every arcade where you can purchase an initial card with points preloaded on it.  The costs are anywhere from around $5 to more than $50 depending on how many points you want.  Games cost different points, from around 15 points per play for very simple (usually kiddie) games to 200 points per play for more complex games such as racing games.  The arcade cards can be reloaded with more points, so there's no need to get a new card when your points run out.  Also, cards can be reused trip after trip, so be sure to keep it with you anytime you're at Disney.

Most importantly, Disney tracks any "tickets" won on the game card, so DON'T THROW IT AWAY if you win tickets at one of the many games that offer ticket rewards.  The ticket credits don't expire, so you can save up to get those more valuable prizes.

Arcades are a great place to kill a few hours especially when a rain shower begins to dampen the day, so just have fun and play on!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Photo Friday: Mickey at his tastiest

White Chocolate Mickey Mouse

It's time for another Photo Friday!

This week, I wanted to share a little surprise that showed up in our room during our most recent WDW trip in June.  During our check-in at the Beach Club, I had asked for an "I'm Celebrating" button for my daughter. 

"What are we celebrating?," the cast member asked.

"My daughter finished the school year with straight A's." I said, ever the proud dad.

"Well, that is worth celebrating," she said and pulled out a form and started filling it out.  I gave my daughter's name and our room number and she said there might be something in the room later tonight.

So we went of to Epcot and didn't think much about it.  Later that evening after we had come back to our room, we got a knock on the door and in comes a cast member with this huge, solid white chocolate Mickey Mouse on a plate with a congratulatory note to my daughter.

Now this Mickey was huge -- it had to be at least 6 inches tall and solid.  It was heavy.  The hardest part of all was making the decision to actually eat the chocolate.  I mean it was almost like sacrilege:  eating Mickey Mouse??!?

Anyway -- over the next week, we nibbled away at this wonderful confectionary scuplture which was delicious.

And yes, he was even tastier than he looked!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (part 1)

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to start a series of posts about a new interactive card came that debuted this summer at the Magic Kingdom, appropriately entitled the "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom."  This is a free card game open to all guests of all ages.

Playing the game is very easy.  First you need cards.  To do that, just head over to the Recruiting Center located in the Firehouse in Town Square.  Show your park ticket and you'll get a pack of five cards, a map (shown above) and, most importantly, your Key (also shown above).  It's very important not to lose this key as all your progress is stored on that card. 

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Each day each player can get a new pack of cards like the ones seen above.  They are numbered 1-70 and have different powers.  They also are different kinds of cards from common to super rare.  I'll talk more about the different card groupings and which ones you should watch out for later on in this series of posts.

I'll talk about how to play the game in next week's post.  This week, I wanted to go over some general tips about this new experience.

First, Sorcerers is VERY popular.  I mean VERY.  It's not unusual to have a 30 minute wait just to get your initial set and/or expansion sets.  As I say constantly, it's best to be at the Magic Kingdom for rope drop.  If you don't have an attraction you really want to get to first thing, you might want to try to pop into the Firehouse to get your cards before it gets packed later on.  Each day you're at the Magic Kingdom, it's a good idea to get a new pack of cards because they card packs are random, so you never know what cards you might get.

As you start to get more and more cards, you may want to think about how to keep your cards together.  Some use baseball card books (the Sorcerers cards are about the same size and fit well).  Disney says they may release a Sorcerers themed card book later this year.

As you play the game, you'll be going from one place in the Magic Kingdom to another and then back again.  You will be cris-crossing the parks several times over, so good shoes really are important because you'll be doing a LOT of walking. 

Finally, did I mention this is VERY popular?  Frequent guests and Orlando locals have taken to Sorcerers with a passion similar to pin trading and Vinylmation.  Don't be surprised if people approach you asking to trade.  While trading can be fun, you will want to know what your doing.  More on this aspect later in this series.

In my opinion, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom may be one of the best additions to the Magic Kingdom in many years (at least until new Fantasyland opens) - speaking of which, it's likely that this game will expand sometime after new Fantasyland opens in early December.  This is a game everyone can play on their own or together.  My three have had the best time working hard to complete the basic game -- and there are tougher versions in development.

There's so much more to Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, that I will spread this out over a few Tip Tuesday posts -- so look for more next week!

Until then -- Merlin needs your help Sorcerer!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Photo Friday: Streets of the UK

UK Pavilion at night

It's Photo Friday time again!

This week, in honor of the Olympics in London, I thought I'd post a night photo from the United Kingdom Pavilion in Epcot. This shot, with a full moon rising, was in December 2008.  Just like in London, the streets were quite alive with guests all around.

Enjoy and Go Team USA and Team GB!!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tip Tuesday: The BEST Burger in the World

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

I've often heard various discussions about where the best burger in Walt Disney World can be found.  I've often wondered where I might find that delectable delight that is an outstanding burger.

It's time I entered this debate and render my own opinion about the best burger in Walt Disney World.

Since the Olympics are taking place in London -- let's grant some medals here.

Bronze Medal (tie):  Pecos Bills and Beaches and Cream

Beaches and Cream 
Now I'm sure that already some of you are saying "WHAT?!?!?"  Pecos Bills doesn't take the Gold??? Others are saying the same thing about Beaches and Cream.  Hear me out.

I think Beaches and Cream (located at the Beach Club Resort) offers a better burger (pictured above), but Pecos Bills (located in Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom) has, by far, the best options for toppings -- especially the sautéd mushrooms and onions.  Both burgers are cooked to perfection - nice and juicy.  Taken together, they tie for third place.  I will give a side award to Pecos Bills -- best burger in the Magic Kingdom.

Silver Medal:  Rose and Crown

Rose and Crown burger

But the best burger in any theme park goes to an Epcot restaurant.  The royal burger at the Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot's United Kingdom Pavilion is topped with bacon, cheese and fried onions.   This burger is huge.  The fried pickle on the side adds just that extra bit of fried goodness.  The English chips (fries to us yanks) help this burger make it to the podium at the silver medal position.  It's a bit pricey, but it is exceptionally good.

Gold Medal:  The Fountain

Fountain Burger

Taking the Gold is the Fountain Burger at the Fountain at the Dolphin Resort.  If the Rose and Crown burger is huge, this burger is gigantic!  Topped with everything you can think of including chili, sautéed onions, mushrooms, mounds of bacon and more, this burger really is make for two.  It's that big.  The chips on the side are an afterthought -- there's so much burger to eat.  Add one of the Fountain's legendary shakes and you're in heaven.

So there you go -- the 2012 Best Burger Champion goes to the Fountain.  What do you think?  Where's your best burger?  Post a comment!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Photo Friday: Merry Christmas in July

Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Well it's time again for another Photo Friday!

I thought I'd continue with the "Christmas in July" theme this week with a shot from my favorite holiday event at Walt Disney World - the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios. 

This shot was taken on the final night of the Osborne Lights for the 2011/2012 Holiday season, during marathon weekend.  I decided to play a bit with zoomed exposures to create Tron-like light trails.  Above is just one of a few shots that came out.

Enjoy!!!  Christmas is only 149 days away!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Christmas in July


Merry Christmas (in July!!)

As we start counting down the days to Christmas, I thought I'd take a quick moment and share some places at Walt Disney World where you can get a little piece of the Christmas season, even as you sweat it out during those hot July days.

Just about every park at Walt Disney World has its own Christmas shop.  In the Magic Kingdom, the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe located in Liberty Square -- in Epcot, Die Weihnachts Ecke store is located in the Germany pavilion, selling different styles of German glass ornaments (naturally).  At Hollywood Studios there's a small shop called It's a Wonderful Shop located in the back corner near Muppets 3D and Mamma Melrose's restaurant.  There isn't a year-round dedicated Christmas (or other winter holiday) shop in Animal Kingdom.

Of course, there's also the 365 Days of Christmas shop in Downtown Disney, which is simply huge.  See if you can find all 12 Days of Christmas.  Trust me, you'll know what I'm talking about when you step into the store.

Aside from shopping, there are several other ways to get a Christmas fix in July.  It's always Christmas in the final scene of the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland and then there's the final scene of Soarin' where we fly over Disneyland at Christmastime (you can see the Christmas parade going down Main Street).  At Hollywood Studios, a rather heat-resistant snowman stands guard just outside the It's a Wonderful Shop store.


Perhaps my most favorite Christmas in July spot is the Winter Summerland miniature golf course near Blizzard Beach.  Here you can enjoy two fun 18-hole courses (one dedicated to Santa during winter, the other themed to Santa's off-season in summer).  There are all sorts of gags and jokes for kids and adults.  Oh, and watch our for some spraying water.  You never know when you might get wet.

No matter when you visit Walt Disney World, there's always the spirit of Christmas in the air -- because Walt Disney World is all about magic and happiness and giving.

It may seem early, but Merry Christmas!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Photo Friday: Animal Kingdom Lodge carving

Giraffe carving at AKL

It's time for another Photo Friday!

This week, I wanted to share a photo of a rock carving from the Arusha Overlook at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  You can find this carving in the center of the overlook area.  If you look closely, you might even find a hidden Mickey!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Rose and Crown

Rose and Crown
It's time for another Tip Tuesday!
I thought I'd take you to the United Kingdom pavilion at Epcot and share a bit about one of my family's favorite restaurants -- The Rose & Crown Pub.
Themed after a genuine English pub (down to the panes of glass), the Rose & Crown has two sections - the dining room and the English pub.  The pub often will be packed to capacity, especially in the evening hours before Illuminations.
ADR's (advance dining reservations) are suggested, though I've been pretty lucky with walkups, especially during lunch.  Some of the Rose & Crown outdoor seating areas offer fantastic views of Illuminations, so dinner ADR's are just about a must, and there's no guarantee you'll get one of those few choice tables.
Ok, but really it's all about the food, so let's get to some of our favorites!!
Rose and Crown

By far the signature dish at the Rose & Crown has to be the English fish & chips -- served just like they do in England.  This is not your average fried fish.  Though (in my opinion) the portion size is too small (really for just about every entree, not just the fish & chips), the flavor and preparation is spot on.  My kids routinely devour this dish - even my picky eaters who prefer chicken nuggets.
Rose and Crown

Now if you ask my wife, she will say the UK burger is the best entree on the menu.  This is a gigantic burger complete with bacon and all the sides.  If you want, you can even ask for a fried egg (it used to be a standard item, but no longer).  In addition, it comes with a fried pickle, which, to my surprise, was pretty good!  My wife claims the Rose & Crown's burger is the BEST burger in all of Walt Disney World -- a high honor, and one that I don't share, but that's a post for another day.  I agree it's very good, but the best?  That's up for debate.
Rose and Crown

I have tried several dishes at the Rose & Crown, but I think my favorite has to be either the fish & chips or the cottage pie (pictured above).  Underneath this cheesy mashed potato goodness is ground beef, onions and mushrooms in a delicious brown sauce/gravy.  Again, the portion size could be bigger (I could have devoured two of these), but it still is worth the cost -- about $17 as of this post. 

The Rose & Crown isn't the cheapest place at Epcot -- entrees run from $14 to $27.  The fish and chips runs around $18, so be prepared for a large dining bill.  The Disney Dining Plan is accepted here, requiring only one table service credit, making the Rose & Crown a good value for guests using the dining plan.

And then there's the beer.  The Rose & Crown has a fantastic selection, so just get a pint and enjoy!

Some tips to keep in mind:  a decent amount of the Rose & Crown's seating is outside, though only a handful of tables offer the best views of Illuminations.  Keep this in mind, especially during the very hot and more chilly times of year.  We dined there last December and despite the heaters, we had to go indoors because of the chilly wind.  In a similar manner, when we ate there earlier this summer, we were seated outside and fortunately had a fan blowing on us or we would have withered from the heat.

If you're headed to the pub, keep in mind that there's not many seats, so you'll be doing a lot of standing.  Most evenings, the Hat Lady will come in to perform, so you'll want to be sure to catch her.

I'm getting hungry just writing about this place!!!  Go on -- get over to the Rose & Crown and enjoy!!!  And send me some fish & chips!

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