Blog Archives

Tip: Hotel Club Levels

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If you have some extra room in your budget, consider upgrading your hotel room to ‘Club Level.’ Formally known as the Club Level Concierge, this special floor option is available in all Disney Deluxe Resorts. Know upfront that it is a fairly expensive option, especially when it’s on top of the price of a room in a Deluxe Resort. However, there are a lot of perks to staying on Club Level, and you should consider it when planning your vacation.

Club Level, to start with, is (in most locations) a select floor of a resort that operates in a “members only” format. When you arrive for check in, you’re escorted directly to the Club Level floor and allowed to bypass the front desk chaos completely. These Club Level check-ins are very personalized and accommodating; hotel staff are available to print your park tickets, make last minute reservations, and even provide you with something to eat and drink while you wait.

That brings me to another perk: the Club Level Lounge. The Lounge is a sitting and dining area with several couches and tables and television sets. There is a food area that lays out small meals and snacks throughout the day, plus coffee in the morning and wine and beer at night. One great thing about this option is the availability of breakfast each morning; if you’re getting up early before you hit the parks and don’t want to pay for an expensive meal every day, the Club Level is a really helpful tool. Don’t expect any of the food options to substitute a three-course meal; most of the offerings are small finger foods (bagels, vegetable plates, chips, various appetizers), but it’s a decent alternative if you don’t have the time for a full meal.

The service on Club Level is also impressive. Wait staff is very accommodating, and if you’re stopping in while the Lounge happens to be closed and setting up for the next meal period, there are always employees available to grab you some extra food. Some hotels offer additional perks, as well. For example, the Club Level of the Yacht Club comes with a private balcony that you can enjoy any time of the day, and happens to be a great viewing location of Magic Kingdom’s Wishes.

I really enjoyed staying on Club Level, and I would highly recommend that you try it out if you’ve got the room in your budget.

 

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Disneyland vs. Disney World

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Aside from being on opposite ends of the country, there are numerable differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Many first-time Disney-ers might imagine that the parks are more or less the same on both coasts, but the reality is that they offer a vastly different vacation experiences. I’ve never been to the Disneyland California park, but I’m going to provide you with some facts on each resort so that you can understand the differences and decide for yourself which one would best fit your trip.

It’s important to note, first of all, that Disneyland California is actually the original—Walt founded the park in Anaheim in 1955. As such, it contains the first versions of attractions synonymous with the Disney name: It’s a Small World After All, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.. Still, after Disneyland was built, Walt turned his attention to a much larger endeavor called “The Florida Project,” which would ultimately become the massive resort that is Walt Disney World in Orlando today.

This leads us to our first difference: size. Disneyland has two main parks, Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure, with the former functioning as a Magic Kingdom type park (featuring Main Street USA, Fronteirland, etc.). Getting from park to park can be done on foot, though there is a functioning railroad and monorail system. Disney World, on the other hand, has four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios), as well as two water parks and twenty five hotels. The resort as a whole is enormous, and as such getting from park to park can sometimes be challenging. Disney World offers the traditional monorail system as well as buses and water taxis.

While we prefer the all-inclusiveness of Walt Disney World, getting from place to place can be a challenge, and can result in a lot of wasted time. If you’re going for an extended period, Disney World will probably give you more bang for your buck—but if you’re interested in smaller day or weekend trips, Disneyland might be your better bet.

The next major difference between the parks is the attractions. This doesn’t necessarily apply to just rides—as mentioned before, many of the staples exist in both parks. The real discrepancies here fall more in line with the experiences that are offered at each park. For example, two of Disneyland’s major draws, Indiana Jones and Radiator Springs (Cars Land), are unparalleled or simply don’t exist at all in Disney World. Conversely, World Showcase in Epcot is an enormous dining/attraction experience that won’t be found in Disneyland. Many draws of Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios can’t be found there, either.

Also falling under the general umbrella of attractions are nighttime shows. Disney World offers Wishes and IllumiNations (both of which are discussed in great detail on this blog) while Disneyland features Dreams Come True and World of Color. The former is a similar castle show to Wishes, and the latter is a water show that surrounds Disneyland’s famous ferris wheel. Preference here is based on personal taste, so you might consider researching some of the shows on YouTube before deciding.

The final major difference that this post will cover is theme. This can probably be best represented in the parks’ major landmarks. Walt Disney World is best recognized by the grandiose Cinderella’s Castle (and, to a lesser extent, Epcot’s giant golf ball and Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life). Disneyland, on the other hand, is represented by Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (which, let’s be honest, has nothing on Cinderella) and the ferris wheel. While Disneyland focuses more on original Disney storylines and attractions, Disney World branches out to include themes like connecting cultures (Epcot) and understanding life around us (Animal Kingdom).

In the end, which park you choose really just depends on your preference (as well as travel convenience and vacation specifics). I’m (clearly) partial to Disney World, but many people that write about this topic will tell you that you’ll likely be more favorable to whichever park you experience first. But either way, you can’t really go wrong.

Image courtesy of theculturebite.com.

 

 

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Spotlight: Disney’s Boardwalk

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For an enjoyable and laid-back evening, stop by Disney’s Boardwalk, located just outside of Epcot and across from the Yacht and Beach Club hotels. Though it’s open during the morning and afternoon, the best time to experience the Boardwalk is at night, when the entire strip is lit up and comes to life. The environment is evocative of a classic Seaside boardwalk, complete with arcades, bakeries, shops, and live performers. If you walk along the strip, win some prizes by playing games of chance and skill, and end your evening by picking a table along the water’s edge and treating yourself to a beautiful view of Epcot’s IllumiNations, visible just above the Boardwalk buildings.

I personally love ending my vacations with a trip to the Boardwalk, which is somehow simultaneously relaxing and exciting. There are many great places to eat (the ice cream shop is particularly delicious) and the performers are so full of life. The Boardwalk is a must for me, and it’s something unique that everyone should experience at least once!

Image courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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Trip Log: November 20th, 2013

My most recent trip to Disney World took place from November 20th to November 24th just last year. My family was hoping to see the Christmas decorations and events up and running before the large crowds descended, and indeed, when we arrived on Wednesday, 11/20, Disney’s holiday spirit was already in full swing.

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We were staying at the Yacht Club on the concierge level, and were checked in to room 5177 at around 12 PM. For those of you wondering, the concierge level is basically a special floor in on-site hotels that has its own check in/check out desk and its own “concierge lounge,” which concierge guests can visit and get complementary meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day. It costs a little extra, but I would recommend trying it at least once! The accessible food is especially convenient, and if nothing else, it’s a really fun experience that helps you feel a little like Disney royalty!

Here is the view from our balcony:

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Pretty great! We were basically right across from the iconic lighthouse, which was unbelievably lucky. It was especially cool to sit on the balcony at night, when the entire boardwalk was lit up just across the way.

Once we were all ready to go, we headed over to one of my favorite places in Disney: Epcot’s World Showcase!

A great perk to staying at the Yacht Club is the ability to walk directly into the back of World Showcase. There is a path that will lead you right into France, and it was remarkably uncrowded this time around. We arrived the week before Thanksgiving hoping that crowds would be light, and we were in luck!

The weather was cloudy and a little rainy, but temperatures were steady in the high 70’s. We explored France for a bit, stopping in the well-known stores and taking pictures by the wonderfully decorated Christmas trees. We eventually made our way to Morocco, where we had a lunch reservation at Restaurant Marrakesh.

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I’m not the most adventurous eater, but my mom was dying to try Moroccan food and so we dove in to the authentic dishes. They were actually quite good, and my mom (who is a far better judge of good food than I am) was very impressed by the chicken bastilla.

We finished up at Epcot (enjoying our time in Italy, Germany, Norway, and Mexico) and then caught a Monorail to Magic Kingdom at around 4 PM. First stop, Main Street, USA!

The three of us shopped around on Main Street for a bit before exploring the other subsections and getting on some rides. We ventured off into Adventureland in pursuit of two of my favorites: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise! Despite the little bit of rain that fell in the afternoon, the rides were so much fun. We took a quick detour through Liberty Square to ride another personal favorite, the Haunted Mansion, and then proceeded to new Fantasyland.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time to dedicate to new Fantasyland, as our dinner reservations were coming up, but we did take a peek at the new Be Our Guest restaurant, and I even got to hang out with Gaston! If you’re in the area, he’s definitely worth waiting for — he’s completely hilarious!

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At about 5:30, we went to the Plaza Restaurant for our dinner reservation. They had pretty basic dishes — meatloaf, chicken, sandwiches, burgers — but we were all relatively satisfied with both the meal and the service. Honestly, the best part of the dinner was the view of the castle; we were able to watch Magic Kingdom slowly light up as the sun set.

After dinner, we gathered around Main Street to watch what is now one of my favorite parts of Christmas at Disney World — the ceremony that lights up Cinderella Castle with thousands of sparkling holiday lights. It was perfect!

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While waiting for Wishes, we decided to spend our time in Tomorrowland. It was relatively uncrowded since the rest of the park-goers were likely staking out spots for parades and fireworks. We were able to use our FastPass+ for Space Mountain, which is always scary but in the end really fun. Then we stopped by Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and eventually the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which we had never been to previously but turned out to be hilarious, thanks to some funny interactive bits with the crowd.

Finally, we made our way over to the Rose Garden, and presented our FastPass+ to watch Wishes.  We arrived just a few minutes before showtime, and had a great view of the castle. (Be sure to head over to the Tips section of the blog to read about exactly how we did this!) The show, as always, was absolutely perfect, and is one of my favorite things to do in all of Disney World!  Check out some of my dad’s great pictures from the show:

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Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll be talking about our time at Hollywood Studios and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights!

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Tip: Purchasing Park Merchandise

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Worried about having to carry bags of souvenirs on your day at the park because you don’t have time to stop back at your hotel? Here’s a quick tip: ask the cashier to package up the items and have them sent back to the room you are staying in. Though this is a very popular tactic for veteran park-hoppers, a lot of vacationers might not realize this option exists. As long as you are staying on property, cast members can bundle your purchases and have them shipped right back to your hotel, where they will magically appear waiting for you. It doesn’t cost any extra, and it’s a great way to avoid carrying your souvenirs all over the parks!

Similarly, if you’re worried about carrying cash, remember that your Magic Band can now be used to charge items to your room bill. This means that you can now scan your Magic Band at any restaurant, quick service, or store in the Disney parks, and have the total purchase automatically added to your overall hotel bill.

 

Image courtesy of wdwhints.com.

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Tip: Nighttime Show Viewing Areas

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Wishes

For the traditional and rightfully classic view of Magic Kingdom’s nighttime spectacular, Wishes, many vacationers will want to line up along the edges of Main Street, USA. While this will certainly provide you with a fantastic vantage point, you’ll need to arrive very far in advance (sometimes more than an hour) to reserve a good spot, and you’ll have to deal with very heavy crowds. If you’re eligible to use the FastPass+ system, therefore, I recommend picking up one for Wishes. This reservation guarantees you a “preferred viewing location,” and allows you to arrive to the site anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes before showtime. With this FastPass+, you’ll be surrounded by significantly thinner crowds, as only people with a valid FastPass+ will be allowed to enter the viewing area. You also won’t have to scout out your spot an hour ahead of time, so you’ll have a better opportunity to enjoy the park.

The FastPass+ for Wishes allows you entry to an area called the Rose Garden, which is located on the outskirts of Tomorrowland and is in very close proximity to Cinderella Castle. The Rose Garden is roped off by employees until the window of entry arrives, at which point cast members will welcome you into the viewing area. Because the Rose Garden is to the side of the castle, you won’t get the traditional vantage point pictured above. You will, however, get extremely close to the castle without having to deal with large crowds or wait an unnecessary amount of time, and in my opinion, this option is very well worth it. For a quick sneak peek at what Wishes looks like from the Rose Garden, check out my video.

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Though there is a similar FastPass+ option available for Epcot’s IllumiNations, I prefer an alternative viewing method. For any fans of the Great Britain pavilion, I suggest booking a reservation at the Rose & Crown pub. This dining option is delightfully themed and boasts some great authentic dishes. If you eat close to the showtime of IllumiNations (I would recommend around 7:00 or 7:30) and speak with the very accommodating wait staff, you will be allowed to enter a roped-off viewing area just around the back of the Rose & Crown. If you’re familiar with the pub, the area I’m talking about is just past the outdoor tables around the side of the restaurant. This area never has more than a dozen people in it, and does not require you to arrive much earlier than 20 or 15 minutes before showtime. You’ll have an up-close, unobstructed view, and I highly recommend trying this out. For a sneak peek of what your view of IllumiNations will look like from outside the Rose & Crown, check out my video.

Images courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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Tip: Extra Magic Hours

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One of the biggest benefits of staying on Disney property is access to “Extra Magic Hours,” which is exactly what it sounds like – more time to enjoy the parks! Everyday, one of the four main parks are open an hour before or after the regular schedule. This means that if Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic Hours tomorrow morning, the park would be open to on-site Disney vacationers at 8 AM instead of 9 AM! Evening Extra Magic Hours tend to run even longer, tacking on two or three hours after closing time.

If you’re staying at one of the Disney-owned hotels, I would highly recommend planning some days around the announced Extra Magic Hours. Before you decide on a park for the day, be sure to check out Disney’s schedule and see if your group can work in the designated times. Parks during Extra Magic Hours are often much less crowded, and it’s a unique experience to see them early in the morning and late at night! When factoring in these Extra Magic Hours, you should also read up on what is open and running during these times.

Image courtesy of disneylandflorida.com, resources courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com and allears.net.

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NEW: Festival of Fantasy Parade

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On Sunday, March 9th, 2014, Disney World debuted its highly anticipated Festival of Fantasy Parade. The procession can be found in Magic Kingdom every afternoon, and is designed as a tribute to the newly-renovated Fantasyland. Young ones will enjoy seeing all their favorite characters (Belle & Beast, Peter Pan & Tinkerbell, Rapunzel & Flynn Rider, and even Elsa & Anna!) on spectacularly decorated floats. Make sure you stick around to see the parade’s biggest spectacle: Maleficent as a metal, fire-breathing dragon.

Want a sneak peek? Check out a video of the full parade courtesy of allears.net.

Image courtesy of insidethemagic.net.

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Spotlight: Beaches & Cream

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Looking for an old-fashioned, out-of-park dining option? Stop by the Beach Club hotel, near the back of Epcot’s World Showcase, and check out this classic take on a 50’s soda shop. Beaches & Cream boasts one of the best burgers on Disney property, and is famous for the delightfully challenging dessert, The Kitchen Sink.

This hidden gem is one of my favorite places to eat at Disney World – it’s perfect for a light and flavorful lunch or dinner, and its fantastic dessert selection makes it a popular nighttime hot spot. It’s got such a great theme, and the wait staff is always friendly and helpful. Compared to other park dining options, Beaches & Cream is relatively cheap, and you certainly get what you pay for in terms of proportions. I would highly recommend giving this classic seaside diner a try!

Images courtesy of disneyfoodblog.com, themellosandthemouse.blogspot.com, and onlywdworld.com.

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Christmas at Disney World

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Christmastime in Walt Disney World is one of the most spectacular events of the year, and if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s sure to be a wonderful experience for the whole family. In November and December, each park and resort gets grandiosely decorated for the holiday, featuring trees, wreaths, life-sized gingerbread sculptures, and 8.5 million lights strung throughout the property. If you’re planning to visit Disney during this time of year, be sure to check out the following special events:

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

On select nights during November and December, you can purchase an extra pass to attend this special event held in Magic Kingdom. If you’re in Disney for the season, there is simply no better way to celebrate the holidays! Guests will enjoy a magical lighting of Cinderella Castle, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade featuring Santa, a delightful holiday version of Wishes, and even a snowfall on Main Street!

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Holidays Around the World at Epcot

After Thanksgiving, this unique and enlightening event takes place at World Showcase to highlight how each culture celebrates the season. Travel across the pavilions to learn about customs, traditions, and special stories that each country has to share. Also be sure to check out the Candlelight Processional, a beautiful retelling of the story of Christmas told by a celebrity narrator (Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, and Geena Davis are some popular attendees!). Finish your night with a holiday presentation of IllumiNations at Showcase Lagoon.

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The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

This dazzling display of multicolored lights is strung around the Streets of America in Hollywood Studios. On select nights, the buildings alight with patterns synchronized to familiar Christmas songs, completely surrounding you with holiday spirit as you stroll down the street.

I was recently in Disney for the 2013 holiday celebration, and I can say that this really is one of the most magical ways to get into the Christmas spirit. My family scheduled our trip the week before Thanksgiving, which meant relatively low crowds, but an indeterminate amount of holiday festivities available. As it turned out, the only thing not yet running was Holidays Around the World — both the Christmas Party and Dancing Lights show were in their regular rotation, and the parks and hotels were decorated for the season. If you don’t mind this small caveat, I would recommend planning your trip before the Christmas crowds descend. Though I can’t attest to the Christmas Party as we didn’t attend, I can say that the Dancing Lights show is spectacular.  It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and is such a beautifully immersive experience.

Images provided by disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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