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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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

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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 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: 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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Spotlight: Haunted Mansion

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This iconic supernatural journey through a ghostly home is located in Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom, and is one of Disney World’s most famous attractions. Just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s overrated! The ambiance and attention to detail are just a few great things that puts this ride on my must list.

The Haunted Mansion attraction starts with an interactive queue that builds the spooky atmosphere, complete with an eerie crypt and ghostly graveyard. Inside the mansion, Disney Imagineers put forth some of their greatest work with a room that inexplicably stretches right before your eyes. When you get to the ride, an invisible Ghost Host invites you to take a seat inside your ‘doom buggy’ and tour the home where ghosts lurk at every turn! You’ll want to try out this ride a couple times to catch all the details – they’re worth it!

While a little scary at times, this ride is suitable for younger vacationers, and is perfect for the kid at heart. It truly sums up Disney Magic.

Images courtesy of vimeo.com, answerparty.com, and disneyworld.disney.go.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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