Monday, 22 October 2012

Back to reality!

I’ve been home for around 2 weeks now so it’s time I finally gave in and let a little reality seep into my Disney bubble, reluctantly of course!

In short, we had an amazing trip, we got to experience a few new things too which I’ll be sure to post all about! The weather was great for most of the trip, we got some rain into the 2nd week but it was mostly late afternoon/evening so it didn't spoil much of anything – sitting in the pouring rain hoping they wouldn't cancel Fantasmic was an experience too! There was no way I’d give up front and centre on Mickey Avenue if the show was to go on! (And it did, so it was worth the wait even if we where soaked right through!).

The blog has been pretty quiet for a couple of weeks, *apologies* I’d planned to post whilst I was over there but blogging on the iPhone wasn't as easy as I thought and to be honest, I was just having too much fun to stop and write *bad blogger*. I took lots of notes and pictures though and have lots of new posts in the works to help you plan your next Walt Disney World vacation!

If you’re joining the blog from ‘Hubpages’ then welcome! If you don’t know what Hubpages is, I’ll link it below. I've started posting some Walt Disney World related articles over there too so be sure to check them out!

Regular posting will resume from Wednesday this week!

Until next time,

Check out my latest Walt Disney World articles over at

Monday, 17 September 2012

Top 5 special souvenirs!

How do you pick out a special Disney souvenir? With so much to choose from, it's hard to pick out just one or two souvenirs from our trips. If we had our own way (and a never emptying bank account!) we'd probably come home with everything Mousegear sells and a Giraffe from Kilimanjaro Safaris!

Before we look at my top 5 special Disney souvenirs, here's a few shopping tips too;

  • Pull out your camera phone or digital camera and take a picture of the store-front, including name, and then take a picture of the item you're pondering buying. I'm always forgeting where I saw that perfect Disney souvenir! 
  • Keep in mind that many parks have park-specific merchandise, which means you will only find the particular item in question in that park! If you've got park hoppers you'll be OK to nip back into the park another day and pick it up, but if you don't have that option you might want to ask a Cast Member if it's available in other parks, if not then you'll have to buy it that very same day.
  • If you're a Disney Resort Guest have your purchases sent back to your hotel, they'll be with you by the next day and it saves you carrying all those goodie filled bags around all day! For Non-Resort guests, you can have you items sent to the front of the park, but if you're leaving early let the Cast Member know or you might end up waiting around for your purchases!

source: paflip25
Now, onto the Top 5 Special Walt Disney World Souvenirs! 

  1. Personalized everything and anything. If you ca have a carving, etching or embroidery put on the thing then go for it! Nothing is more unique than a personalized gift! Kids love anything with their names on and anything with a date on is a great way to bring back the memories of your trip. My favorites are; bathrobes, Mickey ears and Christmas ornaments!
  2. Subtle dinnerware! Not so much a gift for the children but Walt Disney World do some amazing dinner sets that don't scream 'eek-look-at-me-I'm-covered-in-Mickeys' that are both fun and practical. They're also something that's pretty hard to come by back home! I adore the pizza slice plates and the utensils. 
  3. Music really does make Walt Disney World go around, just hearing the opening line to Wishes puts a smile on my face when I'm back home in Ye Olde England watching rain drizzle down my window. All of the music you hear in the parks is available to buy at various locations on CD and I've seen a selection available for download on iTunes too! 
  4. Books, books and more books! If you're a Disney history buff, want to know what makes an Imagineears tick or the truth behind the Evil Queen then you will find a plethora of books all over Walt Disney World. Have a family member keen or architecture or animation? Both? How about cooking? You know you just have to have the recipe for the cinnamon bread at O'Hanas! You'll find some wonderful Disney Editions to suit all tastes and interests. 
  5. Pressed Pennies are the cheapest souvenir next to freebies! Kids love cranking the machines and watching their coins get squished, stretched and imprinted with their favorite Disney characters! Be sure to try and use the shiniest of pennies! There are machines all over Walt Disney World, resorts, parks and even some limited edition machines that come out for special events. My favorite are the ones that imprint the date on - you won't be able to get that the year after! They not only make a great collection but are brilliant embellishments for scrapbooks of those who make their own jewelry or accessories!
What are your favorite Disney souvenirs?

Until next time,

Monday, 10 September 2012

Should you avoid Magic Kingdom on a MNSSHP event night?

source: dawnzy58

MNSSHP, or Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party kicks off this month, a fantastic Halloween event that takes place on select nights from mid September through October. Its fun for all ages and a great way to celebrate this hauntingly good holiday! Magic Kingdom is completely decked out in time for the season, with pumpkins and Disney characters in costume. Ghostly specters dance across the shop fronts on Main Street USA all the way towards the Castle, swirling around the turrets and evaporating before your eyes.

No Halloween celebration would be complete without some trick or treating and there are several stations set up through-out the park, you can pick up a special event map showing all of them - my favorite has to be the pathway to the left of Space Mountain, treat station after treat station all in a row! And those Cast Members are pretty generous with their goodies too!

Special character meet and greets are set up all over the park, where your favorite characters put on their own Halloween costumes for the celebrations - and you're encouraged to wear a costume too (no face masks though!). They have fun filled dance parties with Djs and disco floors themed to particular characters or areas of the park, tons of fun for the younger ones in your party and if you go early enough you'll snag some wonderful alone time with the characters too (keep those cameras to hand!)

source: whami
MNSSHP has it's own parade 'headed' by the head-less horseman, characters in costumes and the infamous 'Boo to You' soundtrack (if you've heard it before I bet you can't help but sing the chorus for the rest of this post!)

The night ends in the only way a night in Magic Kingdom could ever end - with a fireworks show! Hallo-Wishes puts a ghoulish spin on the classic, as Disney Villains try to take over the Magic Kingdom in a spectacle of lights, sounds and blast to the beat fireworks!

With all of this going on, should you really be venturing into Magic Kingdom when an event is scheduled that night? My answer is yes!

MNSSHP is a separate ticketed event, the party starts around 7pm and party goers are able to start coming into the park around 3 hours before show-time. Regular park guests are encouraged to start leaving before the party and they stop allowing them through the turnstiles around an hour or so before the party starts. Cast Members won’t force non-party goers out of the park, but you’ll find yourself politely pushed towards the exit. That being said, it’s great to hang around Main Street as the party gets going, seeing everyone coming in in their costumes, the effort that’s gone into some of them is amazing! I’ve seen many a guest be mistaken for being on the Disney payroll!

During the day you won’t find the party any busier than usual and as the party goers start coming in, most of them tend to hang around the top of Main Street, getting pictures taking, tacking wings back onto their backs etc. You’ll probably see a few fairies and cowboys in the lines but from my personal experience, I’ve never noticed any dramatic increases in the wait times!

As October 31st draws closer the parties will get busier, so you might want to leave the park a little earlier than planned around that time.

Don’t let an event night put you off a day in the parks, if you have a park hopper ticket you could always head to Magic Kingdom for the morning, then head off elsewhere in the afternoon. If you only have that one day in the park then make the most of it, just know that on event nights you won’t get to see any of the nighttime parades or Wishes as the park closes to regular guests by 7pm.

Do your plans change when you know there’s an event on the horizon?

Until next time,

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Big groups get hungry too!

Could you feed a large Disney dining group on Mickey bars?
How many Mickey bars would feed your group?
Source: Lisa Kline1

What’s the best Walt Disney World restaurant for…big group dining?

When you’re planning for a large group traveling to Walt Disney World everything becomes so much harder – especially planning big group dining!

Most big groups touring Walt Disney World tend to split off into smaller units as the day goes by, eventually meeting back up for shows, parades, fireworks or food! Counter service locations are pretty easy to work with, with places like the ABC Commissary offering a wide variety of choices, you’re sure to please just about everyone in the group.

Sit down meals can be a little more difficult. Not only are the menus more limited, space can be a problem too! As delicious as those sandwiches are at The Plaza in Magic Kingdom but could you really, comfortably, fit a party of 10 in there? If you don’t mind splitting the group up then it could work anywhere, but when I talk about big group dining, I’m picturing everyone around the same table!

Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Buffet style dining is a great way to cater for every palette in the group. Boma is a great location serving up all American favorites with an African flair. From traditional chicken tenders to curried sausage and the infamous zebra domes, you don’t need me to tell you how mouth-watering it all is! Not only do they have a great food choice, the place is spacious to boot and they have no issues around catering for large groups. Long tables and large circular booths are available and due to the layout, it’s easy to push a good few tables together to seat larger dining groups without feeling like you’re on each others knees.

O’Hanas at Disney’s Polynesian Resort

If evening diners time it right you can get a great view of Wishes from the window seats – they even pipe in the music! O’Hanas is a buffet again (do you see where I’m going with this?) served family style. Family style means the food is brought to your table on large skillets – want more of something? Just ask your server and they will top you right up! O’Hanas has these great, large round tables too – everyone gets to face one another and be involved in the over dinner chatters about the day!  

Via Napoli
If you’re looking for a non-buffet option and an all round pleaser, pizza is always going to go down well! I’ve heard rave reviews from the large touring groups about Via Napoli. They’ve been able to seat whole groups together and all the food came out at the same time! Meal timing for large groups can always be a sore point, nobody wants to start without anyone else but they don’t want their food to go cold either. Via Napoli seem to get their timing spot on – and who doesn’t love pizza?

Where would you suggest for big group dining at Walt Disney World?

Until next time,

Monday, 3 September 2012

Top 5 - Must do Foods!

I like my food I won’t deny it, and I’ve gone on I don’t know how much about how I love dining in Walt Disney World, from counter to table and the popcorn stands in between, food is a big part of our trips. Free Disney dining makes it even more enjoyable and allows us to eat at so many new places on property, opening up more dining options than ever before.

Each trip I always like to throw in a new dining experience, which is hard when you travel with some fussy eaters and can take some coaxing to step away from the chicken strips and try something new! But usually, I manage to get at least one in there – the beauty of the free dining plan; if you don’t like it, at least you haven’t had to pay for it! (OK, so at table services you are paying the tip but it’s a lot less than the entire bill!)

Our upcoming trip is no different, we have a couple of advanced dining reservations (ADRs) at some never-before-tried locations and I have big plans for those snack credits!

So what are my upcoming trip must-do-foods?

1.       Cup cake crawl – I don’t have the tolerance for a round the world drinking tour, but cup cakes I can stomach by the truck load!  I recently came across this post over at the Disney Food Blog and wow! Just look at all that confectionary goodness! White chocolate, red velvet, peanut butter, spiced apple…my mouth waters at the thought! What better way to experience the cake offerings of Walt Disney World than an unofficial crawl around resorts and parks! The Disney Food Blog gives a great plan of munching attack, giving you the best opportunity to sample some of the best! Challenge accepted!

2.       Via NapoliNext to cake my all time favorite food has to be pizza! I’ve been wanting to eat here since it opened, those traditional wood smoked pizzas, with their and tossed bases and various cheesy gooeyness look delicious! This place has been getting rave reviews for it’s fresh food, and authentic gelatos! I’ve heard those Italian wines are pretty good too!
3.       Sleepy Hollow Refreshments – updated their menu towards the end of 2011, introducing some interesting waffle sandwiches! I love me a good Mickey waffle for breakfast but here in the UK, we don’t generally make a spicy chicken sandwich with them! If I can’t brace the chicken waffle sandwich then I’ll substitute for a fresh Nutella waffle sandwich! Everything tastes great with Nutella! (Except maybe the spicy chicken!)
4.       Teppan Edo & the Katsura Grill -  I’ve been trying to convince our group to eat here for ages and finally succeeded! Score! Teppan Edo combines great food with an entertaining table top cookery show, whilst Katsura Grill offers Japanese cuisine at counter service prices. I’m looking forward to their vegetable pancake and green tea swirl cake!
5.       Victoria Falls loungenot so much a food-do as a drink-do! My last trip to Walt Disney World, I promised myself a stop by the bar, those brown leather chairs, dark wood flows and the sounds of Boma alive below, it’s so inviting – but my invite got lost somewhere between extra magic hours and not enough hours in the day! So it’s a will do for the next trip! Give me something that glows!   

What's on you're food-to-do list?

Until next time,

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Discontinued Disney

Last week the Disney Parks Blog announced the upcoming end to ‘the magic, the memories and you’ night time spectacular that lights up Cinderellas castle with fancy lighting, visual effects and images of park guests from the day’s photo pass picture takings. I have to say, I’m a little disappointed – I never got to see the show the whole way through!

November 2011 was my chance (and I’m pretty sure it had a Christmas theme going on at the time) and I stupidly decided to go and get ice cream from the Plaza – the queue wasn’t overly long and I was convinced I’d have time to grab out tasty treats and be back in our spot before show time. The odds were clearly not in my favor that night! I was able to order quickly, but must have waited over 20 minutes for my order! Unusual; especially considering this was a quieter time to visit Walt Disney World! By the time I got my ice cream and made it back to our viewing spot (which we’d been camping out for ages, ‘the magic, the memories and you’ was gearing up to it’s big finale and I’d missed the whole thing! *insert a very grumpy face here*

They changed the show seasonally and seeing the Christmas one would have definatly been the on I’d have picked to see. Damn my sweet tooth! 

The final ‘the magic, the memories and you’ show will be on September 6th, after which, Disney’s new, ‘celebrate the magic’ (continuing with the overall ‘celebrate’ theme that’s been around the parks for a while now) will debut. So far, it promises to be similar to it’s predecessor, a fancy light and visual display using the Castle as a canvas, but incorporating more of the Disney characters and musical choreography (I’m thinking Osbourne lights style?).

“The show will be full of emotion and storytelling, proving that, with imagination and magic in our hearts, anything is possible.” Disney Parks Blog 2012

That could mean an end to the photo pass images being displayed on the Castle which I’m not too bothered about, from what little of the show I saw and the videos I watched on You Tube, the photos weren’t that clear unless you staked out a ‘you-have-to-sit-and-wait-3-hours’ spot right behind the Partners statue! Maybe that is just me!

I’m glad their incorporating more storytelling, going right to the heart of what Disney is all about, and it will be interesting what tales they weave. Though I’m sad I missed out on ‘the magic, the memories and you’, I’m looking forward to ‘celebrate the magic’.

This got me thinking; what other shows do I miss from the parks? My all time, number 1, undefeated champion of the discontinued Walt Disney World shows is…*drum roll*

Tarzan Rocks!
You’ll be in my heart, no matter what they…replace you with! I absolutely adored this show; it was the perfect combination of Phil Collins hits, gorillas on roller skates and some fender bending guitar solos. I was devastated when it was discontinued and replaced with Nemo. I’m a big Nemo fan but that show only stands to remind me of all we lost with Tarzan Rocks. It’s a colorful air-con break that’s failed to win me over 100%.

What discontinued shows or parades do you miss?

Until next time,

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


With the introduction of free WiFi in Disneys Magic Kingdom this month, I’m wondering if this will change how we tour?

© Saloca in Wonderland
Touring Plans app
One of the things I love most about my Walt Disney World trips is the distance from home, the escape of the everyday dramas and worries, no newspapers, no commute, no work, my only worries revolving around making my ADRs and choosing between a dole whip and a funnel cake! I get to switch off for two whole weeks!

Having free WiFi in the hotel comes in handy, it makes it easier and cheaper to connect with family back home, thanks to apps like Skype, I can call home, meaning no more forking out for payphone cards or coming home to a massive mobile phone bill.

So how will the WiFi in Magic Kingdom tinker with our touring? Being from the UK, I have zero access to WiFi and 3G when I am in the parks (the phone bill would cost more than the holiday!). This means that all those wonderful planning apps I’ve been downloading are rendered useless once I leave the WiFi comfort zone of the hotel. I do love those apps that give you the estimated wait time for rides in the park, after all you’re not always near the main times board and it would be good to know before heading to a ride all the way on the opposite side of the park. Finding Magic Kingdom busy that day? You can quickly connect online and see what park is predicted to have the lowest crowd that day and head on over. Struggling to make the most of your day? You can click onto the likes of Touring Plans and load up a guide to maximize your park time and magic exposure. Even just being able to get a weather update would come in handy from time to time!
© Saloca in Wonderland
Touring Plans app

Having access to the planning apps is a win for WiFi.

My predicted downside? Teens!

For teens, it is important to stay connected, through the likes of iMessage and BBM, they are constantly in touch with each other back home. Having the Atlantic Ocean between them doesn’t even stop them! One of the bonuses for UK families especially was that during the day out at the parks, those smart phones could not connect to anything! Teens had no choice but to switch off and connect with their families instead. These holidays are all about family time, making the most of it and enjoying each other’s company in a way that is too difficult back at home. With the free WiFi services on offer in Magic Kingdom and presumably rolling out across the other parks, there will be a lot of Blackberrys and iPhones showing up clutched in the hands of teens on family photo pass pictures. Maybe I’m tarring them all with the same stereotypical brush, but next time you’re in the parks, have a look how many are staring down at their screens instead of up and around where they are!

Free WiFi in the parks – good or bad?

Until next time,

Monday, 20 August 2012

Come fly with me!

© Saloca in Wonderland
Nov 2011

Does it really matter who we fly with?

Traveling from the UK, the flight to Orlando is rough 9+ hours, and that is after we’ve spent 3 hours in the airport to board the plane, and not forgetting the 1 – 3 hours it can take once we’re state side to clear customs and arrive at our hotel. In all, it is a long day!

© Saloca in Wonderland
June 2012
I have always said I would paddle across the ocean in a dingy if it got me to Walt Disney World but after our trip in June, I have started to re think those plans! We flew, for the first time with Monarch. I had heard mixed reviews but we got such a great deal, I didn’t think I could justify £300+ extra per person just to fly Virgin…and really, could it be that bad?

Apparently so!

Friends had flown with Monarch two years previous and had an awful time, including delays, kamikaze birds and a hotel in the middle of nowhere – I should have heeded their warnings! Of course, no planes are immune to technical difficulties, but apparently, those Monarch planes have a little Atlantic-crossing allergy! We go delayed for over 10 hours in June on the outbound trip! It was an awful start to the holiday, but as I said, these things happen. You know how you get talking to other delayed passengers. You grumble about how annoying it is, talk about past trips with other airlines etc…I was so surprised at how many of them said this had happened almost every time they have flew with Monarch on a long haul flight. The delay was not always as long, but a delay nonetheless. The consensus was if you chose them to fly to Europe you had no problems, it was crossing the Atlantic that caused the issues. Our plane had engine difficulties, so of course I was not happy to board until it was fixed, but I watched so many Virgin flights go out that day I could have cried knowing I would have been on one of them if I had paid that extra!

This is not a Monarch-bashing post and I know any flight with any other airline can be in the same position…so let us come away from that rant and look at something else!


© Saloca in Wonderland
Virgin IFE
Having flown Virgin several times, including on one of their newest planes in November, I have developed a soft spot for flying with them. That new in flight entertainment system is the real selling point to me, with so many films, tv shows and music to choose from, the flight could double in length and I wouldn’t have noticed! I do not sleep on flights so need to keep myself entertained for the duration. I always take my books, notepad, music etc but a film is just a nice way to sit back and relax. I suppose if I had an iPad or took my laptop, I could bring along my own films too. You do not get that seat back entertainment with Monarch; they are the no-frills airline of Trans Atlantic flights! Not having a seat back tv, I thought I’d really struggle to keep myself amused. They had odd ones dotted above in the aisle but watching would have given me a very sore neck! I was dreading the flight, thinking it would be so much longer with no IFE but surprisingly I was wrong! I got lost in a book for a while, perused some magazines, played some games, listened to music, had a chat with my boyfriend, I even managed to take a tiny nap! Of course, on the outbound flight you are excited and filled with anticipation so that really helps! Coming home however, tired, cranky and sat next to the demon child who could rival Damien – that was a much longer flight!


Flying in economy with both airlines, Monarchs seat pitch felt a little bigger but their chairs were not as comfortable. I like how the ‘wings’ fold in on the Virgin chairs to cradle your head. Both reclined around the same distance but the trays on the Monarch flight became useless if the chair in front reclined! You could play a good game of racing rolling pens down them though!


© Saloca in Wonderland
Side dish to main meal with Monarch (outbound)
I have to say, Monarch came up trumps on this one. I much preferred their food on the outbound flight compared with Virgins but the quality was not consistent on the inbound flight! I really dislike how they try to feed you less on an evening flight, not all of us fall asleep you know and traveling makes me hungry! Virgin is at least more consistent both ways (and you really cannot beat their ‘sausage and mash’ meal!).

We are always looking to save money somewhere to enjoy spending it elsewhere and cheaper flights mean you could splash out on an accommodation upgrade, additional trips, special souvenirs etc or just put the savings in the pot to go towards the next trip. I do the same thing, I understand all of that, but for me, getting there is all part of the holiday and I’d rather pay a little extra and have a more relaxed, enjoyable flight. For all I know my next flight with Virgin will be delayed over 24 hours and I will be made to eat my words (pass the ketchup!), but for now I am happy to pay that little bit extra.

Flight booking tips!

  1. Read reviews, lots of them. Get talking to people who have flown to the same destination with the airlines you are looking at and what was their experience. Consider looking through traveler forums too, like the ones over at Trip Advisor.
  2. Grab a bargain in the sale! The reason we can sometimes justify our flights is that we got such a good deal on them during a sale. Book mark the airlines home page and check often. Consider signing up for their mailing lists too and be the first to know about impending flash sales.
  3. Consider a DIY holiday. Look at the package price, then look at it component separately with different travel providers. Your accommodation could be much cheaper with one site and your flights cheaper with another.

It is not all about how you get there, it’s what you do when you get there that really makes each trip special – but a slightly nicer, more relaxed flight helps!

Is it important who you fly with?

Until next time,

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Preview of the Fantasyland expansion!

The Fantasyland expansion has been one of the biggest 'updates' to a Disney theme park since they built Animal Kingdom from the ground up! Considering this is only an 'expansion', it feels almost like they are building and entirely seperate park! With so many new attractions, stores, dining and experiences on offer - your days in the Magic Kingdom just got a whole lot longer (not that I'm complaining!).

I come across this video a few days ago and it gives amazing insight on what's going behind those 'excuse our dust' boards!

There's a lot of footage there I haven't seen anywhere else online, especially the likes of the Wardrobe and animated Lumiere from beauty and the Beast! The grand ballroom is already breathtaking and that's before the furniture has even gone in!

What am I most excited about?

  • Be our Guest restaurant - The fact that it is a counter service during the day and a table service during the night really does open it up to everyone's budget and dining plan. I can see this idea being implemented elsewhere in the future! 
  • Gaston's Tavern - They have the recreated and installed the painting directly from the film! 
  • Journey of the little Mermaid - It's like the show from Hollywood Studios meets the clam shells of Finding Nemo, what's not to like?
Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid where two of my favourite films growing up and seeing them brought to life on the grandest of scales just fill's the heart of the little girl inside of me! 

What are you most looking forward to?

Until next time,

Monday, 13 August 2012

Three things first timers should know before they go!

The first time we booked a Walt Disney World holiday we had no idea how much was involved before you even get there! A friend of the family had been several years earlier and put us onto a little forum he'd come across all about Walt Disney World. As soon as we started scrolling through pages upon pages of questions, suggestions, trip reports and more, we all looked at each other thinking, 'what have we done?'. If we had never found these forums I can't even begin to imagine how that trip would have turned out...disaster comes to mind!

We did so much research and forward planning, creating itineraries and a game plan before we boarded   the plane that I do feel as though we made the most of every second we spent there and squeezed out every last drop of magic. It surprises me when people tell me they're off to Walt Disney World for the first time and when I ask them how their planning is going or what ADR's they have made they look at me blankly. I ask them how they plan on getting to Chef Mickeys from Port Orleans Riverside, or if they know the park is open an extra couple of hours because they're a resort guest?

There are so many important things a first timer should know before they go, so here's three to get all your first timers out there thinking!

1. Do it yourself bookings over booking a complete package

That day we walked into the travel agents we where purely curios...what's this WDW our friends and family are talking about? How much would a trip like that cost? It was all curiosity, we just wanted a price, a guide, an idea, we didn't plan on walking out with an invoice in our hands! We got comfortable with the 'package' holiday for the next couple of trips, it was so much easier to just have it all done for us. It's only recently we started to look at the separate aspects of the holiday - from flights to accommodation and tickets, we found there where savings to be made if we booked some things separately ourselves. For example; booking our hotel and tickets as one deal, then booking our flights during a mid season sale saved us a few shiny pennies! This isn't always going to be the case but it's always worth getting a package price and then trying a little DIY too! 

2. Booking your holiday during a free Disney dining plan period.
The Disney Dining Plan didn't exist when we first went to Walt Disney World, nothing like it was in place so all your food money came out of your budget too - and when staying on property your options (price wise) are limited. You may get a great $5 buffet on International Drive but the same buffet on a Disney resort could be close to $30+ per person! The Disney Dining Plan, or DDP, is worth well over £1300 if we where to purchase the standard DDP for our family of four adults. When booking to stay at a Disney resort during a select free dining period they are literally giving the food away! Offering the chance to eat at the likes of Cinderella's Royal Table, 1900 Park Fare, O'Hanas, Hoop de doo review and so many more it's an opportunity you shouldn't pass up! We have had so many amazing dining experience thanks to the free DDP, eating at places we could never have afforded or justified paying for out of pocket. The times of year when free DDP is offered makes a huge difference to when we look at booking our next trip.

3. It's not all about the parks!
Call me crazy but I for one don't go to Walt Disney World purely because I love the theme parks! There is so much going on beyond the parks, so much happening in the Disney Resorts alone that you could probably, and easily spend several days just exploring the resorts and never set foot in a single Disney theme park and still have an amazing time! If you are lucky enough to be staying at a Walt Disney World resort pick up the hotel newsletter or ask at concierge about anything happening, from scavenger hunts to pirate ship sales, African tales around the camp fire and a pool side movie, there is always something happening. Sometimes the very thing you are paying a premium for you don't utilise as much as you could, and should have. The Disney hotels really do strive to provide exceptional guest service and offer some amazing and unique experiences to make the hours beyond park opening just as magical! 


I know I said three but I couldn't help but add this final little gem...

Treat every trip as if it was your last!!

During these uncertain financial times and not having the power of prediction we never know which trip might be our last, it could be the last trip you take with your now young adults, the last trip you take as a couple before kids come along, the last trip you take for some time because it takes so long to save for. We just never know, and when we approach each and every trip like that we find ourselves stopping to appreciate everything, from the shows, to the rides, the streetmosphere, the smells, sights and sounds, the barbershop quartet, the Cast Members waving their oversized Mickey hands, the leaping fountains, Captain EO, a steam train ride around the Magic Kingdom and that final kiss good night. 

Whatever you do, above and beyond everything else, make the most of every last second as if it's your last. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Food Views – Cinderella’s Royal Table (Breakfast)

source: opus2008

As soon as you step foot onto Main Street USA, Magic Kingdom, your eyes are instantly drawn down the middle of the street to feast upon the most wonderful sight…Cinderella’s Castle! You make your way towards the Castle, snapping pictures, seeing the delight on your little Princess’ face as it dawns on her that this mythical place really is a reality. So why not take it one step further? Why stand outside when you’ve got the chance to step up the spiral staircase and discover the magic within?

Cinderella’s Royal Table offers three sittings, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I haven’t had the chance to try out all the menus, but I have been lucky enough to get a breakfast reservation. Breakfast is served between 8am – 11.15am and park admission is required.

A note on reservations for Cinderella’s Royal Table – you need to book this in advance! When you hit the 180 day window of your desired reservation be sure to be on that phone as early as possible, especially if you’re travelling during the busier seasons! They have a very limited capacity for each seating and being what it is, you can understand why it’s so popular 365 days a year! You can also dine here using your Disney Dining Plan; it’s a signature dining spot so that means it will use two table service credits per guest dining.

The entrance is located under the Castle towards the back and there is stroller parking near the reservations desk. Once inside the Castle you will get a private audience with Cinderella herself, pose for a picture and then be shown the way to the dining room. Be sure to look up into the rafters and see if you can spot any of Cinderella’s ‘little’ friends! The photos you have taken will be presented to you at your table as a gift, yay for freebies! You can also have these photos added onto your photo pass account. The photos themselves come in a golden Cinderella themed photo-holder which doubles up as a great display frame.

Your little Princes and Princesses will also get a special treat upon entering the dining room, a magical wand for the girls and princes’ sword for the boys. They will both receive a special Wishing Star – hold onto these, you’ll need them during your stay!

The dining room itself is at the back of the Castle, overlooking Fantasyland. If you get a table near the windows you will have an amazing view! The room itself is not overly large and the tables feel a little on top of each other but it’s not too bad, there is space enough for the characters to move around the tables and for you to stand and pose for pictures with them.

Not only will you meet Cinderella over breakfast, you will also get to meet Belle, Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine and Fair Godmother. Characters vary and you may not always get these same ones or you may even get a surprise character!

The breakfast is a plated all you care to eat set menu with two options; traditional and healthy as well as a set children’s menu. All guests receive a pastry basket and fruit medley on the side. Soft drinks, fresh juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate are all included too. There is an additional charge for cappuccinos, espressos and bottled water (still and sparkling).

So how does it all taste?

I had the traditional breakfast option which consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, cheese danish and french toast. I’ve got to admit I’m not a huge fan of American breakfast fare and nothing here changed my mind about that, it was all the same as what you’d get in the resort grab-and-go with a much higher price tag! The fruit and pastries where nice enough, nothing fancy but tasty. Most of the reviews I’ve read before and after my experience have all said the same thing with regards to the food, it’s nothing special and when you’re travelling as an older family, you do expect something a little fancier for your location/what you’ve paid.

source: ~* Kylie *~'
This breakfast is an all you can eat plated affair, so if you want more sausage or potatoes just let your waiter/waitress know and they will bring it over to you. The staff where really friendly and helpful, our drinks where filled often and we were asked several times if we fancied more of anything in particular. The staff did seem rushed though and moved quickly, I’m not sure what the guest turn around time is here but they where kept right on their toes.

source: marada
The atmosphere is grand! Everyone is sharing the same ‘buzz’ from being inside the Castle. As I’ve said before, we’re an older family and there where many adult couples and groups without young children there that morning and nobody felt awkward or out of place. The characters where just as interactive with the childless groups as they were with those who had children.

Would I dine here again? I doubt it. Getting it on the dining plan was the only reason we ate here, paying out of pocket we could never have justified the cost. I would say it’s one of those things that everyone should attempt at least once just for the novelty of saying you have dined in the Castle, but don’t expect much from the food – you’re paying for the location, experience and characters not the breakfast fare in my opinion.

As an alternative to those who want to dine with Cinderella but avoid the Royal Tables price tag, check out the evening buffet at 1900 Park Fare over at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. It too is available on the dining plan but only costs 1 table credit per guest. You’ll get to dine with Cinderella, Prince Charming and the Ugly Sisters who are a riot!

Have you ever dined at Cinderella’s Royal Table?

Until next time,

Friday, 3 August 2012

What's the best resort for...

Are you unsure of where to stay on your next Disney vacation? Here’s a quick fire round on Disney resorts!

What’s the best…

Value resort?
source: zannaland
I’ve yet to stay at a Walt Disney World value resort but when the chance comes up I’d be picking the Art of Animation resort! As the newest resort on property everything is super shiny and new! I love the themed rooms (especially the Lion King rooms!), Nemo pool (with under water sound effects!) and that lobby? Wowza! All that art work and the check in ‘pods’? It’s ticking all my boxes!

Moderate resort? 

My moderate heart belongs to Port Orleans Riverside! It was the first Walt Disney World resort that I ever stayed at over 10 years ago on that first magical trip and I would stay there again in a heartbeat! The mansions along the Sassogula River are so exquisite, surrounded by lush greenery ad some of the most beautiful agriculture! This resort screams ‘relaxation’ and after a long day at the parks you couldn’t want anything more! I really enjoyed the quiet pools amongst the mansions and the boat ride to Downtown Disney! The food court is massive with a wide variety on offer including a great pizza window and some really yummy deserts! The gift shop is massive too, with a great selection of park merchandise and snacks. It also carries quite a lot of apparel.

Deluxe resort?
If you’ve read enough of my blog post then you’ll know my answer to this one! Animal Kingdom Lodge really is my home away from home! No other resort does as good a job when it comes to really transporting you to another place entirely. From the minute you step onto the grounds you’re no longer in Orlando, in fact you’d be forgiven for even forgetting you’re at Disney all together! The atmosphere, the d├ęcor, the sheer grandeur of Jambo house and the expanse of the savannahs, it is simply, breathtaking!

To avoid sounding like a broken record I will offer an alternative answer…Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. The buildings overlooking the golf course have spectacular views and the food court offers some nice alternatives to chicken strips and cheeseburgers. It also offers a boat ride to Downtown Disney which is so relaxing and you get a really great view of the West Side marketplace from the water front.

Best with children?
source: Loren Javier
It’s a safe bet that any of the All Stars resorts will be a huge hit with the kids! Their favorite characters on a giant scale adorn the resorts. They have some fantastic pools and the kids get a real buzz off the whole atmosphere that surrounds the resorts. There’s a resort to suit every child, from the sports enthusiast t the music lover.

Family of four or fewer?
As a family of four ourselves we loved the extra floor space in Port Orleans Riverside but do not feel uncomfortable in the slightly smaller standard rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We prefer the Lodge as it offers rooms with bunk beds, the only other resort that offers bunk beds is Wilderness Lodge. Many offer trundles and couch beds but I don’t find them anywhere near as comfortable!

Family of six? 
Go for a villa! I’d love to try the ones over at Wilderness Lodge. I love hotels that are all one self contained unit and the views from the rooms pool side are spectacular! The ones higher up offer a great view of the Electro Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon!

If you want some real space though then Fort Wilderness Camp Ground is going to be for you! Great if you have an RV or your own transport and prefer a more self-sufficient accommodation! The grounds are massive, home to the Tri Circle D horse ranch; offering nightly carriage rides through the resort as well as marshmallow toasting, story telling and open-air films over a traditional fire.

Best for a couple?
The Polynesian is very romantic, with a lovely beach, Magic Kingdom views and that tropical get away vibe. It’s a monorail resort too so you’ll have the option of taking the monorail to both Epcot and Magic Kingdom. It offers great views of the Seven Seas Lagoon, hammocks amidst palm trees and a variety of water activities and sports.

source: Samantha Decker
Two friends/family members traveling together?
The Boardwalk is a great choice for friends traveling together, offering some great restaurants and nightlife a well as my favorite boat ride to and from Downtown Disney! This is definatly the place to be if you’re looking for a little more life in your night!

What are your quick fire suggestions?

Until next time,

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Packing for the trip home!

"I'm great at packing up to leave on vacation. However my suitcase coming home is usually a giant MESS!
Is it just me who shoves everything back in their bags at the last minute and then can't find anything when they get home? How do you pack for the return home? Do you have any tips or tricks that you use on vacation to make the experience easier once you're back home?" (source)

The last thing we want to be thinking about is the end of our vacation but no matter how much we try and put it off it always comes about and we have to start the journey home. 
Packing is a pain, I'll admit it, especially when you're trying to squeeze in those souvenirs, over-sized teddies, that must have obscurely shaped and over sized mug - how do we fit it all in whilst trying to squeeze out every last second of magic? We don't want to risk forgetting to pack our super-comfy-had-them-for-five-years flip flops, but do we really need to repack our toothbrush and half used toothpaste? I know quite a few people who end up leaving so much behind because they can't fit all their new goodies in the suitcase  - only to regret it once they get home.
Here's a few of my top tips for re-packing your suitcase on the return journey so you're faced with less loss and hassle once you get home!

  1. Pack light on the outbound journey. The less you take to begin with the more space you already have for bringing things home!
  2. Use the laundry facilities at your resort. Don't look at me like that, I don't enjoy doing washing whilst I'm on holiday either but if I'm packing less to begin with them chances are I'm going to need to do at least one if not two loads of washing just to make sure I've got something clean to wear! Also, the more I wash over there means I have less to wash when I get home. Throw the washing on and grab that book you brought along, or take a quick dip in the pool - you don't have to watch those socks go around. I've never spent more than 90mins washing/drying clothes. Do the washing whilst everyone else is getting ready then leave the clothes on the backs of chairs in your room to dry whilst you go out for the day!
  3. Mail home anything that is oversized, heavy or just too awkward to pack (things like artwork that's pre-framed, snow-globes etc). If you use a post office off Disney property it will be a lot cheaper.
  4. Roll your clothes! This saves so much space and is also a great way to protect the more 'breakable' items in your case. Your clothes won't crease and you'll create a lot of space!
  5. Utilize your hang-luggage for small souvenirs, breakables and bulky clothes like jeans and jackets. Just make sure you don't put any snow-globes in there or liquids over 50ml!
  6. Space savers or packing cubes are a great idea for compartmentalising your things. They come in all kinds of sizes and some suitcases are even specifically designed to be used with packing cubes. I prefer cubes to space savers as you will need a vacuum with a hose to suck the space out. 
  7. Leave behind the essential non-essentials like toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouth wash, shampoo and conditioner etc. I always take a travel sized toothbrush and smaller/cheaper toiletries knowing what doesn't get used will get left behind! 
  8. What didn't get used last time? We all have those items that don't even leave the suitcase for the duration of the holiday! There's always something we pack with intention in mind but it never quite sees the light of day once we reach the other end. We've saved so much space over the years by making a note of things we didn't use on a previous trip.  
Keep in mind that you might want to start packing around 2 days before you're due to go home. You're not rushing the inevitable but it will make for a more relaxed last day if your not frantically trying to pack everything and anything in your suitcase!

Are you a stuffer or a meticulous packer? 

Until next time,

Friday, 27 July 2012

Planning your Disney Vacation

To plan or not to plan that is the question!

source: Orange County Archives

When we book a Walt Disney world holiday, we have to plan just a little. Dates, accommodation, dining reservations, special events etc, we cannot really escape planning the details that put our trip together (and would we want to?)!

What I want to talk about is itineraries! When you plan your Disney trip, do you create an itinerary? Is it set in stone, every minute of every hour planned out to maximize your time in the parks? Or, is it a little looser? A dining reservation over here, maybe one or two must do extra magic hours? I have to admit, when I first started travelling to Walt Disney World over 10 years ago, our itineraries where set like cement! Though we never went as far as pencilling in the toilets breaks, we had every day planned from start to finish. These days, things are much more ‘free spirited’ but we still can’t help putting an itinerary together.

All this being said, when I travelled to Orlando this year, June 2012, I actually didn’t go with an itinerary. I wanted to know if it could be done, if I really could give myself complete freedom each day to step out of my hotel and go wherever my feet may take me, I went with park times in one hand and only two days specifically reserved for Busch Gardens (we had to book the transport pre-trip).

The results where mixed.

I know many people who do not travel with itineraries, they just get up and go and always seem to have an amazing time (it’s hard not to enjoy yourself out there though isn’t it?) and their reports always make it sound like they had it so easy every day. It felt far from easy. I actually felt lost without my precious itinerary! As decisive as I can be by partner is equally indecisive and it doesn’t make a simple decision as ‘which park shall we go to today?’ any easier. I started to panic that we might spend too much time in one place, not enough time in another etc, even when it came to dining with no firm ideas we ended up in the same place quite a few nights (not that I’m complaining, it was delicious). It meant that when we finally switched to a thrown together plan (I’ll get to that next) we finally got to eat at the new places we’d wanted to try but too late in the holiday to go more than once!

I have a wide variety of Disney planning tools that I use when planning a Disney vacation and each one of these help me piece together my holiday. A variety of dining reservations can be put together after browsing through menus, touring plans that give me an idea of which parks to avoid on what days, and as much as I have learnt from experience over the last 10 years, I still find tons of helpful advice and new ideas on the forums. My days feel much easier when I have a plan set in front of me. It’s not as set in stone as it used to be, but just having it there takes away, some stress.

By the 5th day of our trip, I grabbed my park hours and started putting something together. I pulled out a map of International Drive, looked up reviews and menus online, and started making notes of places we wanted to eat and slowly started putting them next to a particular day.

It all sounds a little OCD now I’m reading this post back but it really did make such a difference. Having it all set out and ready meant we knew the night before were we where off to the next day! What time we had to be up and out for opening and could look forward to where we were going that night without spending 2 hours wondering about where to go eat, only to settle for the same place again.

I always feel as though I do and see more when I have a plan. That first trip back in 2002 was planned like a military operation, we didn’t stop from start to finish and it was an amazing trip, but looking back now, everything was so precise that we missed out on a lot. There is such thing as over planning and we’re careful now not to let our plans take control of our freedom. Maybe I should stop calling them plans altogether and start calling them ‘guidelines’? Dining reservations can be moved around during the quieter seasons and if you wake up one more morning and fancy going to Hollywood Studios instead of Epcot then do that!

Are your Disney travel plans set in stone or are you a free wanderer hopping on the first but that pulls up each morning?

Until next time,

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Extra Magic Hours and Me!

Extra Magic Hours, aka, EMH are one of the many perks of being a Walt Disney World Resort guest. These little gems allow Disney resort guests to enter select Disney theme parks an hour before general admission AND to stay for up to 2 hours after the park has closed to the general public.

Having Main Street USA to yourself during a Magic Kingdom extra magic hour, or racing around Big Thunder Mountain at midnight - it's a totally different way to experience the Disney theme parks and it's exclusive to resort guests!

There's been a lot of talk recently regarding Disney's plans to reduce the extra magic hours, particularly cutting the evening hours down from an extra 3 to just 2, starting January 2013. Disney say they will review the schedules and I imagine during the peak season we could very well find that missing hour back on!
The news hasn't been received well across the Disney community and many are saying it's a factor that would put them off staying at a Disney resort. Honestly, I can see where they're coming from, you're paying a fair few extra $$$ to stay on site and you want to feel like you're getting something extra special, above those who stay off Disney property and considering ticket prices have just gone up too, this is yet another kick in the teeth to many fans. (Lets just hope they don't go the way of Universal and start limiting the EMH to only those guests staying in moderate or deluxe resorts!)

I always consider the EMH's in my planning, especially the early openings. During busier times of the year those early extra magic hours really do make all the difference and you can usually get quite a few rides in before the park opens up. Early extra magic hours have always been my favourite - I'm an early riser! Once the extra magic hours schedule comes out (around 10months or so in advance), the parks with early openings get put straight into the itinerary.

Top tip: Book an in-park ADR for just after general opening. You'll have done a whole bunch of rides and can take a leisurely breakfast afterwards!

As for the evening extra magic hours, we do sometimes take advantage of them, after all nothing can rival the experience of Tower of Terror when it's quiet, late and dark - it's like a whole new ride! We don't tend to include the evening hours in our itinerary but we always make a note of them. The downside to the evening extra magic hours is that the operational rides are always restricted and not everything will be open. The biggest problem I have though, is that non-resort guests are of course still in the park. Now, Disney Cast Members are suppose to stop guests without resort key cards from entering the ride queues etc, but on a busy day when the line has been 90+mins even during evening extra magic hours many of those guests will still be in line. And when they can't get on the rides? There's always lots of arguing, pleading, speak-no-English-so-will-push-past-and-ride-now chaos going on. You don't really feel as though you're getting much out of the evening hours. By time many of the non-resort guests have left, and especially now they are cutting back on the extra hours you get - it's going to be time to head for your resort bus. 

Evening Extra magic hours for me could mean extra time to shop in the parks - but all of the non-resort guests want to stay in the park for as long as possible too so they head to any lighted building with open doors that will have them!

Even though I want to take as much advantage as possible being a resort guest, the evening extra magic hours just don't work for me - so the cut back, as sad as it is, isn't really going to put me off being a Walt Disney World resort guest! Now, if they were to lay their little white Mickey gloves on the early extra magic hours I'd start to get really upset!!

Do you take advantage of extra magic hours? Which do you prefer - early or evening?

Until next time,