Author Archives: Amanda

The Basics of Avatar Land

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The widely-anticipated expansion of Animal Kingdom currently scheduled to hit Disney Parks in 2017 is well underway—but what exactly is it? Right now it’s being referred to as “Avatar Land,” and will take the shape of the extra-terrestrial world of Pandora as seen in the 2009 blockbuster, Avatar. Imagineers have played this one pretty close to the vest so far, but here are a few things you can expect from the expansion:

– The new land will be built in the former area of Camp Minnie-Mickey. Character greeting spots previously held here have been moved to Discovery Island or discontinued completely. Festival of the Lion King has been relocated as well.

– Imagineers have been working closely with James Cameron, director of the franchise, to make the pavilion appear as close as possible to the world developed in the movie.

– The expansion will see new hours coming to Animal Kingdom; the park is expected to stay open later at night to accommodate evening shows and glow-in-the-dark attractions.

– Avatar Land will be designed as a “walk-through attraction,” with amazing sights and sounds at every turn; this currently includes floating “Hallelujah Mountains,” as well as bio-luminescent and interactive plants.

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– Two main rides are assumed so far: a boat tour through Pandora and a 3-D flying ride similar to Soarin’. The boat ride is expected to be (at least in part) housed in a dark, indoor showroom (concept art pictured above). The flying ride will be similarly constructed, and will allow guests to ride on enormous flying beasts called ‘Banshees’ as they take an aerial tour of Pandora.

– The pavilion will include several themed restaurants and gift shops.

– Some suggest that the Tree of Life will be getting a glow-in-the-dark makeover to tie the park’s landmark back to Pandora.

– Reports indicate that a new nighttime show called “Rivers of Light” will be taking place along Discovery River, and will feature live music, floating lanterns, water screens, and swirling animal imagery.

 

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Spotlight: Disney History

If you’re interested in the man behind the magic or any of his original projects, you can learn about Walt and the early Disney animations at several cool attractions in Hollywood Studios. These relaxing walk-throughs and exhibits are perfect for some down time you might have on your trip, and will appeal to fans that grew up on Disney Renaissance films or those who aspire to be Imagineers.

For a unique perspective on Walt and his imagination, you’ll want to check out Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. This attraction is like a step back in time, with antique items from Walt’s childhood home and original proposals for Disney World. You can see retro animations and models for future rides in the parks. There’s a lot to browse here, and aside from being an insider look at the very place you’re vacationing in, you’ll also get a nice, air-conditioned break from the hustle and bustle of the parks (especially if you stay for the 15-minute movie at the end!).

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You should also stop by the Magic of Disney Animation, which offers behind-the-scenes glimpses at the makings of the classics like Snow White and The Little Mermaid. Original sketches are on display, and the attraction even functions as the office of several artists who will doodle right in front of you. Check some concept art and discarded drawings, as well as storyboards and gorgeous, in-depth paintings. You can also participate! Young ones will enjoy making their own sketches and learning the basics of animation.

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Booking with a Discount

Several times per year, Disney vacationers can book their trip and choose to either apply a room discount or receive a free dining plan. This promotion usually runs seasonally (it is now currently active for summer) barring specific “blackout” dates during which the discounts cannot be applied. It’s generally a good plan to wait for these discounts to become available before booking, because they can save you a lot of money. But how do you know which one to choose?

Below is a breakdown of prices from a Value, Moderate, and Deluxe hotel comparing the savings of the room discount and the free dining plan during the summer season.

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If you’re staying at a Value or Moderate resort, the Dining Plan could wind up saving you more money per night. Keep in mind, however, that Value resorts are only offered the Quick Service Dining Plan, which may not help as much as you think. Read more about the different types of dining plans here.

If you’re booking a deluxe room, applying the 30% room discount is usually the better buy. However, it is still worth researching the dining plans available and determining whether or not applying one would best suit your vacation.

 

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The Disney Dining Plan

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The Disney Dining Plan can be purchased as part of you vacation package, and is a method of budgeting your expenses that will provide you with tokens (stored on your MagicBand) that can be redeemed for various meals and snacks throughout the parks. There are different tiers of the plan that are paired with certain hotels, and during particular dates throughout the year, the Dining Plan is offered for free. How does this work? Let’s take a look:

The Tiers

Quick Service Plan: includes two counter-service meals and one snack per day at $42/day; offered for free with Value resort rooms

Standard Dining Plan: includes one counter-service meal, one sit-down meal, and one snack per day at $60/day; offered for free with Moderate and Deluxe resort rooms

Deluxe Dining Plan: three meals (either counter-service or sit-down) and two snacks per day at $110/day; not offered for free

Details

The three types of meals offered (counter-service, sit-down, and snacks) can be purchased at specific types of restaurants. Counter-service are your fast food type places, like Casey’s Corner, Gaston’s Tavern, and Liberty Inn. On the plan, you would generally pick up lunch at one of these spots. Sit-down meals are your fancier restaurants, and you would ideally use these for nice dinners. They can be redeemed at places like 50’s Prime Time Cafe, Mama Melrose, and Le Cellier Steakhouse. Snacks can be purchased at kiosks throughout the parks.

Because tokens are not affected by price, you can use one to purchase an entree that costs any amount. That is to say, a sit-down restaurant token could be used to buy a $15 salad, or a $25 steak. In this way, if you utilize the tokens effectively and manage your meals beforehand, the Dining Plan can wind up saving you a lot of money. This isn’t always the case though, and poor planning might make the plan not worth it in the end. It all depends on how you can budget your tokens. Look into where you would like to eat beforehand to determine whether or not the Dining Plan would work for your trip.

The free promotion can be a good thing to take advantage of, but remember that selecting it for your trip would mean that you cannot receive the room discount offered at the same time—look for another post coming soon about knowing which discount to apply.

 

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Favorite Shows

One of the best things about Disney World is the wide array of spectacular shows, fireworks displays, and parades held held throughout the parks. Each of them is themed differently and offers a unique experience. Here are my top five favorites:

5. Fantasmic!

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This classic Hollywood Studios water show stars Sorcerer Mickey and takes audiences on a journey through iconic Disney animated films. Following the narrative of a dream sequence, characters like Simba, Pocahontas, Ursula, Jafar, and Maleficent all make appearances as Mickey tries break the nightmare. The show ultimately culminates with a fireworks celebration and a journey on the Steamboat Willie River Boat. It’s not the best that Disney has to offer, but everyone should see it at least once.

4. Main Street Electrical Parade

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I’m not the biggest fan of parades, but this one is worth it; held after dusk in Magic Kingdom, the Main Street Electrical Parade features enormous glow-in-the-dark floats that travel around the park. Some of the stories represented are Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Cinderella. The beauty of this parade is breathtaking, and it’s a great way to cap off your night in Magic Kingdom.

3. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

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This holiday extravaganza can be found in Hollywood Studios during Christmas time. The Streets of America are draped in millions of sparkling lights that flash to various Christmas songs. The sheer magnitude of this show is unbelievable, and it’s really something that everyone should experience at least once. The details on each building are incredible, and each new song that plays features something different. You can catch the Dancing Lights show on select nights from November to January.

2. IllumiNations

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This Epcot must-see is completely different than any other show at Disney—it’s not based on anything mythology from the movies, but rather it features a premise designed by Walt himself. Epcot as a whole is meant to bring nations and cultures together to work towards a brighter future, and IllumiNations inspires just that. The show takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon when all the countries around it go dark. A metallic globe rotates on the water and captivating images are projected onto it as it turns. It eventually cracks open and makes way for a gorgeous and inspiring fireworks display. I revisit this show each time I come to Disney, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone for something a little different.

1. Wishes

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You probably saw this coming, right? Wishes is the ultimate Disney experience; there’s nothing quite like gathering on Main Street when the sun goes down to watch the Castle light up and hear your favorite characters come to life as fireworks adorn the sky. The movie scores and original songs that play during the show are a stirring encapsulation of what Disney is all about, and there’s nothing quite like seeing the Castle transform right before your eyes. In the end, it’s nothing short of magical.

 

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Spotlight: The Yacht Club

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding which on-site hotel to stay at during your vacation: price, location, atmosphere, amenities, etc. Some people feel a certain loyalty to their hotel of choice, and will stay there for every Disney trip—others like to explore the wide range of options available. Personally, I enjoy knowing exactly which hotel I’m going to book for all my vacations, and that’s the Yacht Club.

The Yacht Club is a deluxe hotel located in the Epcot resort area next to its sister hotel, the Beach Club, and across from the Boardwalk Inn. The resort is modeled after a New England seaside beach town and features a gorgeous landmark lighthouse, as well as Stormalong Bay, an outdoor pool complete with sand and a massive shipwreck-themed water slide. The rooms are boat-themed, and there is a special floor reserved for a “Concierge Level,” which contains a lounge that serves food and a private balcony. Here are some great reasons to stay the Yacht Club:

The View

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The back of the resort looks out over a scenic lagoon with sandy beaches and a boardwalk that leads to the lighthouse. It’s incredibly picturesque, and is especially pretty at dusk. The resort holds movie screenings and other events right on the beach, and you’re always free to walk along the sand and lounge in the beach chairs. You can see Epcot’s IllumiNations right from the beach, and many of the resort’s rooms give you a view of the lagoon from your balcony.

The Rooms

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The rooms at the Yacht Club are simple but elegant, and are slightly more refined than the ones found at the Beach Club because the Yacht Club typically caters to an older crowd. All rooms are furnished with a private balcony that provides great scenery. The lobby is also very elegant, and when you arrive you are greeted by The Captain, who hangs around the resort completely in character.

The Amenities

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Stormalong Bay is an outdoor pool that connects the Beach and Yacht Clubs. It’s an enormous facility with plenty of sun, sand, and beach chairs. It’s got a great water slide for the kids, a lazy river section, and has plenty of noodles and tubes to go around. The Yacht Club is also home to Yachtsman’s Steakhouse, an upper-scale restaurant with some really quality food options.

The Location

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Perhaps the best reason to stay at the Yacht Club is its position between the parks. A short walk from the hotel will take you directly to the back of Epcot (pictured above) and right to the France Pavilion. From the park, you have boat and monorail access. If you choose to walk down to the lighthouse, there is a boat service that will take you across the way to the Boardwalk, or over to Hollywood Studios. Buses also stop by the lot to bring you to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

 

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Favorite Disney Movies

While this post isn’t strictly Disney Parks, the studio’s animated films are the foundation for many of the rides and pavilions in both Orlando and Anaheim. Classic Disney movies have shaped many of our childhoods, and here’s a countdown of my top five favorites:

5. Beauty and the Beast

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A classic tale about appreciating what’s on the inside, Beauty and the Beast features some stunning animations and dazzling scenery. It’s one of those movies where, for me personally, the side characters are more entertaining than the main ones; Belle and the Beast are iconic, but I prefer Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and even Gaston (if you get the chance, go see the character performer in Magic Kingdom—he’s hilarious!). The really selling point of this movie, though, is the soundtrack. Look no further than “Belle,” the movie’s impressively intricate and catchy opening number.

4. The Little Mermaid

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Before The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, Disney was in somewhat of an animation slump. This film about a young mermaid that longs to walk on land helped reinvigorate the franchise, and was a pioneer in the field of animation. Much like Beauty and the Beast, I enjoy the supporting roles more than the main ones, and you can always count on Sebastian and Flounder and even Ursula for a one-liner or a tune that’s an instant classic. Truth be told, I’m still obsessed with “Part of My World.”

3. Aladdin

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There’s something mesmerizing about Aladdin and its parent tale, Arabian Nights. The film’s atmosphere always immediately grabs my attention, and the setting still feels so unique. Aladdin and Jasmine are one of my favorite Disney couples, and “A Whole New World” will never get old. Abu is one of the best animal sidekicks, and Genie is an unforgettable Disney addition.

2. Mulan

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Mulan is the ultimate badass, and she was definitely my hero growing up. She’s brave and strong and honorable and is willing to sacrifice her self for others—not to mention that she ultimately saves all of China. Mulan was a feminist icon before any of us even knew what that even meant as kids, and the message of this movie is head and shoulders above the others. Mushu and the other characters are also totally awesome, and it’s impossible to forget the words to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”

1. Hercules

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How do I even begin to explain the special place in my heart for Hercules? It’s been my favorite since I was a kid, and, tragically, it’s one of the least represented films in the parks. Still, there are plenty of reasons to love it. It’s far and away the cleverest and best-written animation of the studio’s Renaissance era. Maybe you won’t get all the jokes when you’re little, but the movie gets funnier every time you watch it. Hercules is the ultimate hero, but it’s his leading lady that really steals the show; Meg is no princess, and she’s all the better for it. Mentor Phil and flying sidekick Pegasus are great secondary characters, and Hades is by far one of Disney’s best villains. The soundtrack of this movie is also outstanding, and “Go the Distance” will forever be my pump-up jam.

Spotlight: Flower and Garden Festival

If you’re booking a last minute vacation this spring (and you love Epcot as much as I do), you’ll want to check out the Flower and Garden Festival, held every year from March to mid-May. The special attraction takes place in both World Showcase and Future World, and features gorgeous character topiary and flower arrangements throughout the parks. The festival hosts special events for Earth Day, as well as entertaining “Flower Power” concerts on select weekends. You can also visit “Outdoor Kitchens”  throughout the park, which are similar to the offerings of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. For an extra fee, you can also participate in a “Gardens of the World Tour,” in which you’re led around the park by a horticulturist for a 3-hour tour of the most impressive garden displays. Also feel free to stop by the United Kingdom Pavilion for a “tea garden” afternoon special tour.

Here are some displays you’ll see throughout the parks:

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It’s a great time to visit the parks, and for the avid Disney-goer, it’s something you’ll want to see at least once.

 

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Favorite Rides

The attractions at Walt Disney World are iconic, innovative, and immersive—but which one’s the best? It depends on your taste, but here’s my list of the park’s top five greatest rides. (Disclaimer: I’m no thrill-seeker! You can keep your Rock n’ Rollercoaster and your Tower of Terror.)

5. Pirates of the Caribbean

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This classic Magic Kingdom ride is such a must-see that it inspired an entire movie franchise. It takes you on a boat ride through deep, swash-buckling caverns as 18th century inhabitants pillage, plunder, and party all around you. There’s nothing really thrilling about this ride, save for a small drop at the end—the enjoyment comes from the atmosphere and attention to detail as you traverse the water-way. A fun legend surrounding the ride helps add to its captivating theatrics; many Disney visitors have long-since acknowledged that Pirates is haunted by a (mostly) friendly ghost named George, who will break down the ride if you denounce him in your boat.

4. Haunted Mansion

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Speaking of ghosts, another one of my favorites is the Haunted Mansion. Similar in style to Pirates, Haunted Mansion takes you via Doom-Buggy through the ghoulish residence of Madame Leota. The technology on this one is pretty impressive, and there are so many undead beings floating around that you’ll have to ride multiple times to catch all the details. But don’t worry—this ride never gets old.

3. The Great Movie Ride

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This Hollywood Studios landmark doesn’t have the universal appeal of some original Magic Kingdom favorites, but as a lover of all things movies, it’s a must-do for me. I’m hooked right from the queue, which features a clip-show of great films throughout the years. When you are seated in your vehicle, everything is flashing dazzling lights and you really feel like a part of Hollywood. The live-action part of the ride is always entertaining, and can change each time you return. This one truly lives up to the name.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris

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Instead of taking you on a journey through the movies, Kilimanjaro Safaris brings you to the African savannas. This ride in particular has the most potential for a completely unique experience each go-around, and new animals are constantly arriving at the location. It’s an adventure unlike anything else at Disney, and has become a landmark attraction over the years. As an animal-lover, I really enjoy this up-close encounter with the parks’ residents.

1. Soarin’

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Fly over California in this amazing attraction located in Future World, Epcot. Your vehicles are only a few feet off the ground, but their swinging momentum coupled with the dazzling scenery in front of you really makes you feel weightless. Some of the scenes are even accompanied by scent to add to the immersion. This ride always has a really long wait, but it’s definitely worth it, and the journey’s ending is unforgettable.

 

Honorable Mentions: The Jungle Cruise, Test Track, & Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

 

Images provided by buzzfeed.com, pinterest.com, grumpymickey.com, and thegreatmovieride.tripod.com.

 

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Welcome Back: News & Updates

I am excited to return to the Happiest Place and give you up-to-date information about everything that’s going on at Walt Disney World! The company has announced several new developments over the last year, some of which will change the face of the theme park completely. Here’s are some of the highlights:

1. Hollywood Studios is Going Through Major Changes

WDW’s park dedicated to the golden age of film is most recognized by its iconic Sorcerer’s Hat, but the famous monument is currently being deconstructed and removed from the park. You can now see directly down the street to the replica of the Chinese Theater. Disney also announced that the park will soon be getting a new name. It’s not the first time—Hollywood Studios was formerly known as MGM. No word yet on what the park will be called.

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2. Polynesian Resort Gets Disney Vacation Club Bungalows

Opening on April 1st, the Bora Bora Bungalows are newly renovated complexes available to members of the Disney Vacation Club. The expansion was built on stilts and wooden decks and sit just above the Seven Seas Lagoon. Each unit has a private deck where guests can watch the fireworks and listen to the accompanying music on private sound systems. Sounds like a sweet deal!

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3. Everything is “Frozen” Over

Hollywood Studios has added several events and attractions based around its hit animation feature, Frozen. After a successful run last summer, the Frozen attractions will return this June. They include a “royal welcome” parade, a sing-along at the Hyperion Theater (former home of the American Idol attraction), a special show hosted by Olaf, and a fireworks display to end the night.

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Some other quick updates—Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom is now serving breakfast, and Animal Kingdom is under construction in preparation for Avatarland, coming in 2017.

 

Images courtesy of wdwinfo.com and wdwmagic.com.

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