Blog Archives

A Very Disney Christmas

Christmas carols, silver bells, reindeer… it’s that time of year again! Oh, wait, no it’s not. But as Disney’s summer deals come to a close and discounts are released for the fall and winter, it is time to start thinking about spending your holidays at the happiest place on Earth.

Disney is bursting with magic any day of the week, but around Christmastime, the park really shines. To start with, everything is completely decorated and decked out in holiday cheer. Buildings in the parks are strung with wreaths and lights, and hotels even offer unique yuletide displays.

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(Above: Main Street, USA; Below: Toy train set in the Yacht Club)

Several attractions throughout the park also take on a holiday theme during this time of year, including the very appropriate “Jingle Cruise,” where the skipper’s typical puns are adapted for the yuletide crowd. These holiday variations on classic attractions are definitely fun, but it’s the additional Christmas events that make visiting between late November and early January worthwhile.

One of the more little-known holiday events is the nightly lighting of Cinderella’s Castle. Around dusk, the voice of Cinderella’s godmother can be heard throughout Magic Kingdom as she transforms the castle into a vision of shimmering Christmas lights. It’s a fun little show to catch if you’re around, and you’ll get some really great pictures of one of Disney’s most famous landmarks.

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You’ll also want to check out some of Epcot’s special offerings, including the Candlelight Processional and Holidays Around the World. The former features a special celebrity guest each night, so that might be something to consider when booking. I just missed the time window for those two events, but I was able to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and it’s without a doubt one of the coolest things that Disney has to offer.

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The Streets of America in Hollywood Studios are decorated with more lights than you can possibly imagine, and they all move and flash to popular Christmas songs. My family actually went one night when it was raining (pictured above) and so crowds were minimal and the puddles on the streets reflected all the lights. We almost skipped it because of the weather, but I’m so glad we didn’t—it was nothing short of magical, and I 100% recommend it.

 

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Tip: Hidden Mickeys

One of the best things about Disney World is that each time you go, there’s always something new to explore. Even if you’ve been to the parks many times, stayed at a variety of hotels, and even checked out the water parks or Downtown Disney, you can always find a little extra magic in Hidden Mickeys. Part of the architecture, landscape, and walkways of the resort, Hidden Mickeys are exactly what they sound like: Mickey icons that blend into their surroundings. There are hundreds of them around the resort, and we may never find them all. But here are a few spots to look out for to get you started:

In Magic Kingdom, this coiled rope Hidden Mickey can be found on the ferry loading docks in the park and at the Transportation and Ticket Center.

Also in Magic Kingdom, this Hidden Mickey is part of a window display along Main Street USA’s Confectionery store.

This Hidden Mickey can be found in the Morocco Pavilion display in World Showcase, Epcot.

A little harder to spot, this Hidden Mickey is located in the Karamell Kuche shop of Epcot’s Germany Pavilion.

Try to find others as you make your way through the parks! Share your favorite Hidden Mickey spots on this post to help out other Disney-ers.

Images courtesy of hiddenmickeysguide.com.

 

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Breaking Down Avatar Land

With about two years of construction still to go, many people have yet to make up their minds about “Avatar Land.” Will it be a huge hit, or an unnecessary expansion? Is this what guests want to see, or could the money and resources have been better spent elsewhere? It’s hard to say just yet, but let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Cons

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1. Avatar came out in 2009.

Sure, it was (and still is) the highest-grossing movie ever. But so what? It was a huge phenomenon that has since faded from the pop culture radar. Director James Cameron’s proposed sequels have been delayed, postponed, and then delayed again (the franchise’s second installment is currently slated for 2017… 8 years after the original). The reality here is that Avatar was fun in the moment, but is now just another blockbuster. Incorporating it into the Disney Parks just doesn’t feel relevant anymore.

2. Pandora doesn’t necessarily fit into the theme of Animal Kingdom.

A fictionalized land located on the surface of a far-off moon, Pandora is all about the make believe. Its creatures are larger than life and it is home to blue-skinned humanoids. Animal Kingdom, on the other hand, is all about connecting us with our animal kin; it features up close and personal encounters with real animals and lets us explore the nature all around us. How will Avatar Land fit in?

3. Nighttime shows might disturb the animals.

I’m all for Animal Kingdom expanding its hours and holding nighttime shows, but the reason for not doing this in the first place was to protect the animals that reside on the savanna. There aren’t many details about the “Rivers of Light” show yet, and so the safety of the animals remains a concern for many Disney fans.

Pros

New Details on ÒRivers of LightÓ Nighttime Spectacular Coming to DisneyÕs Animal Kingdom

1. The proposal sounds awesome.

It’s impossible to tell until we can actually see the thing, of course, but from what we’ve heard so far, Avatar Land has the potential to be an incredible addition to the park. A 3-D flight simulator a-la Soarin’? A winding river boat ride through Pandora? Glow-in-the-dark plants and bio-luminescent pathways? Floating mountains? I’m in.

2. Including Pandora expands on the original premise of Animal Kingdom.

Ever heard of Beastly Kingdom? It was a proposed pavilion in Animal Kingdom’s early stages, a land that would represent dragons and unicorns and all things fantasy, and connect them to the animals that we know today. The idea was scrapped and Camp Minnie-Mickey was produced instead, but doesn’t Pandora seem to fit in perfectly with this premise? The characters and creatures of Avatar are mythical, magical, and most certainly beastly. I think it’ll be a good fit.

3. Animal Kingdom can currently be done and over with in just half a day.

Whenever I plan a trip, we pretty much dedicate only one morning to Animal Kingdom. We hit the Early Magic Hours, stay through lunch, and then head off to a different park that has more things to do. Expanding Animal Kingdom’s hours and including a nighttime show is a great idea that will give guests a whole new way to explore the park. Something like this has been long overdue, and judging by the concept art, “Rivers of Light” is going to be amazing (as long as it doesn’t bother any animals).

We’ll have to see how things progress, but right now, I’m totally in for Avatar Land. I don’t care so much about the actual film mythology (I’ve actually never seen the movie, whoops), but I really like the concept and I dig the idea of a glow-in-the-dark Tree of Life. What do you guys think?

 

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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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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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Epcot Overview

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Devised by Walt himself during the park’s earliest days, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was designed to highlight not only the many cultures of the world, but to show how we can all come together to build a better future. As such, the park is split into two distinct sections: World Showcase and Future World. Both unique themes stay true to Walt’s vision while forming one cohesive experience, making Epcot one of the most revolutionary aspects of Disney World.

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World Showcase

In an effort to bring together the world’s many cultures, Disney highlights 11 countries at Epcot, where unique cuisine, architecture, and language make up the different areas of World Showcase. In one convenient and diverse location, you can explore the culture of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the U.S., Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Each designated pavilion is run by cast members indigenous to the country, and features immersive dining and entertaining experiences. Certain places, like Norway and Mexico, even have attractions dedicated to telling the history of their countries!

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Sticking around for the night? Don’t miss IllumiNations, the fireworks spectacular that takes place on the lake in the middle of World Showcase. The show tells the story of Earth with a globe on the surface of the water, reflecting powerful and beautiful images of the history of humanity. Vacationers of all ages will be amazed as each country of World Showcase goes dark, only to illuminate and celebrate their culture as the music swells. This is one show you just can’t miss!

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Future World

Best known for the enormous golf ball-shaped landmark, Future World is just a step away from the center of World Showcase, and features some of the coolest attractions that Disney has to offer. Thrill-seekers will want to try out Test Track, which has been recently renovated to send guests on a ride like never before, allowing them to design their own car and then take it for a test spin on both an indoor and outdoor track. Looking for something a little more laid-back? Consider the ever-popular Soarin’, a high-flying ride that uses spectacular technology to take guests along the California coast line. For the classic Epcot experience, you’ll want to head inside the park’s famous landmark for an out-of-this-world adventure on Spaceship Earth, or its sister ride, Mission Space. Both are experiences unlike anything else on Disney property.

 

Images courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com and wdwinfo.com.

 

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Things to Do

No matter how many times you visit Disney World, there will always be something new to discover! First-timers will want to check out the traditional park landmarks, while more frequent vacationers might like to explore some hidden magic throughout the property.

There are four main parks in Disney World, each with its own theme. These are: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.

Outside the classic parks are two adventurous water parks, golf courses and spas, and even a shopping/dining complex called Downtown Disney. There’s something for everyone all across Disney World, and you’re sure to enjoy your stay if you do some research beforehand and find out what you’d most like to see. Check out the parks pages to discover attractions, restaurants, and even Special Events that you just can’t miss!

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