Dawn & Dusk at Walt Disney World

RM-Sunset-Seven-Seas-LagoonWith so many gorgeous and captivating Disney details everywhere at Disney World, it’s often hard to notice the spectacular beginnings and endings to the day provided naturally by the Sunshine State.  Early mornings are often missed getting ready to hit the parks for rope-drop and early evenings are completely ignored in favor of delicious meals in a favorite restaurant.  Once I notice what I was missing, I started making it a point to pause and appreciate those breathtaking moments I’d been ignoring.

Some amazing sights are afforded by Dawn & Dusk at Walt Disney World – here are five of my favorites:

Sunrise over Bay Lake:  Peaceful, misty, and absolutely gorgeous, watching the sun rise on Bay Lake is one of my favorite activities when I’m lucky enough to get a lake view room in Bay Lake Tower.  RM-Sunrise-Bay-Lake-Tower RM-Sunrise-Bay-Lake-Shore RM-Sunrise-Bay-LakeAt first, the scene looks as still as a post card picture, but shore birds are waking for the day and boats are soon moving across the water.  I just soak it all in while sipping a cup of coffee – it’s the kind of quiet time every great vacation should include.

Sunset over the Seven Seas Lagoon:  A window seat in the California Grill is a great vantage point for some gorgeous sunset viewing.  RM-Sunset-From-California-Grill RM-Sunset-Over-Seven-Seas-LagoonBut the walkway between the Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower works just as well (first pictures on this page were shot there).  Absolutely worth taking the time to enjoy!

Sunrise on the road to (or from) the Magic Kingdom:  You might not have to enter a runDisney race to catch the particular beauty, but that’s how I saw some pretty awesome sights.  RM-Sunrise-runDisney-road-past-BLT RM-Sunrise-runDisney-Princess-HalfRM-Sunrise-Magic-KingdomDuring the Princess Half Marathon, I was a tiny bit too late to see the sun rise on Cinderella Castle, but if you’re planning on attending the next 24-Hour event, be sure not to miss that!  I bet it’s incredible.

Sunrise over the World Showcase Lagoon:  Again, I was in Epcot before the sun came up for a runDisney event, but I had to stop and take a picture when I saw how still and beautiful everything looked in the early morning light.  RM-Sunrise-World-Showcase-Lagoon RM-Sunrise-Boardwalk-AreaThe sunrise is also very beautiful in the Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club area – and except for my fellow runners, very few people were out and about to enjoy the view.

Sunset at Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I’m sorry I don’t have more pictures to share.  To me, there’s something very special about this resort any time of the day, but as the sun is slowly sinking, the buildings glow and it’s easy to feel as if you’ve been transported to Africa.  RM-Sunset-AKL RM-Sunset-Animal-Kingdom-LodgeBook a dinner reservation at one of the Lodge’s fantastic restaurants and plan to catch the sunset!

Your turn!  What are your favorite places to catch the views of dawn or dusk at Disney World?


Disney Dining and the Two-Strike Rule

RM-French-Regional-Lunch-DessertI believe everyone deserves a second chance, including restaurants.  With Walt Disney World dining, if my first experience in a restaurant isn’t all I’d hoped for, I’ll gladly give the place another try.  I have come to realize though, that two tries is my limit – if a table-service eatery cannot make me happy after a couple of meals, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever darken their door again.  I’ve come to think of it as the Two-Strike Rule.

I am not a picky eater and I don’t think my restaurant requirements are all that stringent.  All I want is a decent table location (not near the kitchen and a window seat is a nice bonus) and a server who paces the meal well and is attentive without hovering.  I’m usually not in a hurry and prefer a leisurely dinner.  The food has to be fresh and well prepared – hot foods hot, cold foods cold; and I’m hoping for a good, moderately-priced red wine selection, but will make do with beer if necessary.  I don’t have any allergies or special dietary needs and will eat nearly anything but black licorice and tuna-noodle casserole.  See?  It’s really not hard to make me a happy restaurant consumer.RM-Brown-Derby-Outdoor-Seating

When we ate at Disney Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood Brown Derby the first time, the service was poor and slow (we were basically ignored except when our order was taken and our food delivered).  The food was good and we loved the Derby’s atmosphere, but strike one.  Poor service has a major impact on overall dining satisfaction!  The next time we ate at the Brown Derby we were on the patio for wine and cheese and loved everything about it.  SAFE!  We’ll be going back!RM-Kona-Entrance

I fully expect the next time we eat at Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) to be a better experience than our first.  All the components of a great meal were there, but the execution left us dissatisfied.  I’m also willing to give Tutto Italia (Epcot’s Italy Pavilion) another try, but not for a LONG time since we used to love it, but found our last meal there to be a disaster on every level.

Same thing with Le Cellier (Epcot’s Canada Pavilion) – we were, until this year, staunch supporters with years of happy family meal memories there.  RM-Le-CellierSadly, the reports you hear now about it being over-hyped, over-priced, and over-booked are absolutely true.  We ate there in February and I was absolutely miserable.  Bad food, so-so service, and the bill was staggering for what we experienced.  We were crammed in the middle of three tables-for-two, so close to the ladies sitting next to us, we at least had their entire dinner conversation to entertain us – we had no choice but to hear every single word.  We might as well have been sitting at the same table.  RM-Le-Cellier-Entree-2015The servers appear to have a hard time making their way between tables and really have to stretch to deliver plates to some guests.  Now we’ll just leave Epcot and eat at Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club) if we want an excellent steak dinner.  If I hear things have changed for the better, I will absolutely try Le Cellier again.RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Waterfall

Has anyone struck out?  Have we tried a restaurant twice and decided we’re through forever?  As a matter of fact, we have.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I believe in total honesty.  I’m allowed to dislike a restaurant and still love the resort where it’s located, aren’t I?  I love Wilderness Lodge!  The grandeur, the beauty, the massive lobby and fantastic details – yes, indeed, Wilderness Lodge is wonderful!  RM-Artist-PointArtist Point?  Not so much.  It’s not for us.  There.  I said it.  Artist Point struck out and we will not be going back.  We tried it for the first time in 2010 and thought…meh.  For the price, we just didn’t feel the love.  Everything was extremely mediocre.  There are so many restaurants at Disney World that we think are extraordinary, we don’t need to spend money on mediocre.  But, the Two Strike Rule, right?  We had to give Artist Point another try.  And we did in February.RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Exterior

We arrived at Wilderness Lodge with enough time before our reservation time to stroll around, take some pictures, explore the lobby, and stop by the Territory Lounge for a glass of wine.RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Lobby RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Lobby-Totem RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Territory-LoungeSo far, so good!  We soaked up the atmosphere and felt hungry, but relaxed and ready for a great meal.  The dining room was as I remembered it – nothing remarkable, but cozy.  Our server was clearly overworked – we noticed that at once.RM-Artist-Point-Artisanal-CheesesWe ordered the artisanal cheese platter appetizer and a bottle of wine.  After we ordered our entrees, things went downhill fast.RM-Artist-Point-Swordfish RM-Artist-Point-Entree

I won’t bore you with every detail, but I, the non-picky eater, ate about three bites of my burnt, dry fish and was ready to get back to Bay Lake Tower for dessert at the Top of the World Lounge.  You can see in the picture that my fish was black – I don’t mean blackened – I’m from Louisiana and I love blackened fish. RM-Artist-Point-Burnt-Fish I wasn’t going to utter a word of complaint, but the experience was truly awful and we had to wait so long to catch the server’s attention to get our check.  When he looked at my plate and asked me if he could box up my leftovers, I couldn’t be quiet.  I said, “No, thank you, but for the folks that come after me, please let the kitchen know that this was the driest, most burnt piece of fish I’ve ever been served.”  Here’s the key part of this story – he never made eye contact, never said he was sorry, he just mumbled, “I take that off your ticket” and that was it.  He did!  My entrée was not on our bill and it seemed like a normal, regular thing.  THAT, friends, was what caused strike two.

Have you tried a Disney World Restaurant that you want to visit again and again?  What about one that you can live without?  If you have a bad experience, will you return?

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Walt Disney World – Perfect Day at Magic Kingdom

RM-Magic-Kingdom-SelfieSo many touring styles!  Park-hopping, rope-dropping, FastPass-choosing, where to start, where to eat, when to leave, where to sit for optimum parade-viewing.  Get the idea?  Everyone has an opinion on how to best enjoy Disney World’s Magic Kingdom…including me!  (You’re shocked, I know.).  I’m not here to give you advice (unusual, right?) and you should know (if you don’t already) that I’m currently in a life-stage that does not involve vacationing with children.  So, keep in mind that my perfect touring plan for Magic Kingdom is heavy on the classics and light on the kiddie attractions.

To ensure I get the most out of my Magic Kingdom day, I’m planning where and when I’m going to eat dinner in advance and I’m booking an ADR (Advance Dining Reservation) 180 days before my vacation.  Being me (I’m picky about where I eat dinner), I’m not actually eating a table service meal in Magic Kingdom, but will be leaving at the appropriate time for someplace like Raglan Road in Downtown Disney/Disney Springs or one of the fabulous restaurants in the monorail resorts.  ‘Ohana or Kona Café at the Polynesian Village Resort would be good choices since unlike California Grill at the Contemporary or Citricos at the Grand Floridian, I’d feel fine arriving in my park-touring attire.RM-Kona-Menu

I’m also selecting my FastPasses as early as I’m allowed (usually 60 days out).  I’ll choose FastPasses starting very late in the morning and during the afternoon (before or after the Festival of Fantasy Parade at 3:00) OR later in the evening (depending on my dinner plans).  RM-7DMT-Train2I’ll try to book Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (otherwise, standby wait times are typically high enough to ruin my plans), Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain (because my goal is to ride it as many times as I can).  Alternate FastPasses (if my favorites are unavailable at decent times) would be Peter Pan (I know what I said about kiddie rides, but this one’s cool!  Don’t judge), Jungle Cruise (I really hate the queue, but love the ride), Splash Mountain (depending on the time of the year – I don’t like to be cold and wet), or maybe Haunted Mansion (I don’t mind the queue, but it is a pretty hot wait in the summer).

If all the planets align and my planning works out as described, my perfect Magic Kingdom Day would be…drum roll, please…Magic Kingdom Entrance in October

I’ll arrive 30 minutes before park opening (a.k.a. Rope-Drop) to watch the opening show  (which I love beyond description).  I’ll take pictures (mostly selfies) while waiting, then some of the show before heading into the park and straight toward Frontierland.  My objective is to ride Splash Mountain then Big Thunder Mountain first.Walt Disney World's Splash Mountain RM-Liberty-Belle-View-BTMRR If the lines aren’t long yet, I’ll ride one or both again.  While I’m in Frontierland, I’ll visit the Country Bears in Grizzly Hall (I like them, deal with it.) RM-Country-Bear-Musical-Numberand then I’ll check the wait time for Haunted Mansion and ride it next (if the wait is less than 30 minutes).  I’ve been known at this point to squeeze in the Hall of Presidents if it’s warm out because I can cool off AND listen to Morgan Freeman (win/win). RM-Hall-of-Presidents Again, I’m checking wait times.  If I have a pre-noon FastPass booked, I’ll wait until it’s almost expired and do that last before lunch.  For today, let’s say I do and it’s Jungle Cruise.  If I have no late-morning FastPass, I’ll try to squeeze in Pirates of the Caribbean (I don’t mind waiting since it’s indoors) OR Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

I know at this point I’ll be hungry and I’ll want to eat at Columbia Harbor House.  It’s my perfect day and, call me crazy, it’s going to include a tuna sandwich (no, it’s not just a tuna sandwich, it’s the best one in the World!).  RM-Columbia-Harbor-House-Tuna-SandwichPost-lunch, I’ll have time for at least one ride, probably with a FastPass, before I’m looking for dessert and a good seat for the Festival of Fantasy Parade.  If I’m really lucky, I’ll have time for two attractions, so let’s say I use my FastPass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and then catch Mickey’s PhilharMagic (if I didn’t see it in the morning) OR I’ll hit Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or maybe Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor.

Festival of Fantasy is the best parade I’ve ever seen and I want to watch it again and again.  I’ll grab my snack (a churro or ice cream cone, hopefully) to eat while waiting for the parade to start.  Festival of Fantasy Parade Ostrich Ariel in Festival of Fantasy RM-Festival-of-Fantasy-Maleficent-2015So exciting, Festival of Fantasy is packed with Disney magic, favorite characters, and awesome details.  I like sitting on the Tomorrowland side of the hub OR at the end of Main Street U.S.A. in front of the train station.  I only use that second choice if I’m leaving for dinner right after the parade.  So, let’s pretend I’ll be watching the parade near Tomorrowland.  Again, if I’ve worked this right, I’ve got a Space Mountain FastPass I can head for right after the parade passes by.  After Space Mountain, I’ll see Carousel of Progress and ride the PeopleMover.  PeopleMover wins if I don’t have time for both.RM-Space-Mountain-Sign

At this point, I’ve used all my FastPasses (most likely), but that’s great.  I’ll leave the park around 5:00 pm and I won’t make it back until nearly 9:00 pm.  If my Dinner ADR is at 6-ish and I don’t want to eat and run, that’s the sacrifice I’ll have to make for a nice meal.  When I get back to the park, I’ll grab the first decent spot I can snag that will let me see both Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade.  RM-HalloWishesI’ll have a full belly, so sitting on the curb in Main Street will be just fine with me.  Once the Electrical Parade passes by, I’ll be ready to call it a day.RM-Main-Street-Electrical-Parade-Dragon

No, I didn’t see and do everything I could have, but that’s okay with me.  I’ll have plenty of time on a future visit and someday, If I’m really fortunate, with a grandchild (or two or three).  In the past, my idea of the perfect Magic Kingdom day looked a lot different, as I’m sure it will in the future.  But for now?  This is what I like to do.  It’s the way I love Magic Kingdom most and, in my lifelong, ever-changing love for Disney World (the place that makes me happy at every age), keeps me coming back as often as I can.

How about you?  What are your must-dos?  What FastPasses will you choose and where will you eat on your perfect day in Magic Kingdom?  How has your touring style changed over the years?


Disney World Dining – Yak & Yeti Table Service

RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Restaurant-ExteriorNot long ago, we tried (and loved) Yak & Yeti’s counter service eatery.  The really special thing about Animal Kingdom’s Yak & Yeti?  It also boasts a very unique table service restaurant!  Yes!  In the Asia section of the park, you’ll find TWO great dining choices – quick-serve on the outside, sit-down-dining on the inside.  Pretty neat, right?

Knowing we’d be heading to Animal Kingdom post-Princess Half Marathon and knowing I’d probably be starving, I booked an ADR (Advance Dining Reservation) for lunch.  Normally, we are strictly dinner ADR people, but I’d been wanting to try Yak & Yeti’s table service option and eating there guilt-free, having burned a few calories over 13.1 miles, it seemed the perfect time to give it a go.

We arrived a couple of minutes late – we try never to do this, but I was moving uncharacteristically slow.  No problem for the kind Cast Member at the check-in podium and we were seated after only a very short wait.  RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Table-Service-SeatingI was a bit apprehensive about our table’s location – right in the very middle of the first floor’s dining area, but then I realized I could take in all of the atmosphere and see details of the restaurant’s unusual décor without having to move.  Not moving was a very nice option that day, I assure you.

The Pan-Asian menu offered a surprisingly broad range of options and our server, who seemed very busy, was sweet and attentive.  We started with the Pork Pot Stickers (the choice was tough because so many dishes sounded great!) and were happy with our selection.  We also ordered some sake to enjoy with our meal.  The cocktail/adult beverage menu was amazingly full of a huge variety of drink options – one of the best you’ll find in any Disney park, I’ll bet.RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Table-Service-Menu

Now that I was sitting down, sipping sake and had put the worst of my hunger pangs at bay with a couple of pot stickers, I had more time to look around and soak up the ambiance.  RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Table-Service-AppetizerThe décor was very ornate and I felt a bit like I was eating in a museum.  In a good way.RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Decor-FigureRaymond and I, after studying the menu for quite a while, went for completely opposite ends of the food spectrum.  He chose the Kobe Beef Burger.  I chose the Chicken Tikka Masala.RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Table-Service-Burger RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Table-Service-EntreeWhen our entrees arrived, there was very little conversation at our table!  We both thought the food was great – especially for an in-park table service restaurant at Disney World.  Perhaps this is because the Yak & Yeti is not Disney-owned.  It’s true – it’s a Landry’s establishment (see the website here).RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Decor-Figure2 RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Decor-Details

Relaxed, rested and satisfied, we passed on dessert in favor of hitting some of our favorite Animal Kingdom attractions.  Lunch totaled around $70 with tip, but we felt the service, food, atmosphere, and convenient location made this a reasonable price for our meal.  Would we eat here again?  Absolutely.RM-Yak&Yeti-Printout

How about you?  What’s your favorite table service restaurant in Animal Kingdom?