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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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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Consider yourself a cuisine connoisseur? Stop by World Showcase from mid-September to mid-November and dine your way across all eleven countries! This fun fall event boasts nearly 30 international marketplaces, culinary demonstrations and dining experiences with professional chefs, and even an “Eat to the Beat” concert series. The 2014 event is currently scheduled for September 19th to November 10th.

 

Image provided by disneyworld.disney.go.com.

 

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Star Wars Weekends

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Star Wars Weekends

Occurring in late May and early June, Hollywood Studios uses the power of the Force to bring guests an out-of-this-world experience. Special franchise characters like Darth Vader and Chewbacca make an appearance to sign autograph books, and even to help train young ones in the art of being a Jedi!

 

Image courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.

 

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Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

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Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

This special Spring event takes place in the gardens of Epcot each year from March to May. World Showcase and Future World are adorned with delightful flower displays and character topiary, including crowd favorites like Mickey, Donald Duck, and Tinkerbell. HGTV specialists visit Epcot during this time of year to conduct DIY seminars about indoor and outdoor designing, and their schedule can be found on Disney’s website. Also be sure to check out the Flower Power concerts performed each weekend.

 

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