Walt Disney World – Great Places to Explore Outside the Parks

There are lots of magical little corners of the World to be found outside the hustle and bustle of the parks.  Today I want to talk about a few of our favorites.

Walt Disney World – Great Places to Explore Outside the Parks

The walkway between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Village Resorts – For us, this is a must-do anytime we’ve dined at Citricos or Narcoossee’s.  We’ll walk off our dinner with a stroll from the Grand Floridian to the Poly.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful way to end the evening.  If we time it right, we can stop on the boat dock at the Polynesian and watch the Electrical Water Pageant go by.  Disney World's Electrical Water PageantOnce we arrive at the Polynesian, we’ll catch the monorail back to Magic Kingdom for a resort bus if we’re not staying in that area.  If we’re staying at Bay Lake Tower (more likely than not), we’ll take the monorail home.  

Fort Wilderness – This is one of my favorite places in the World and we’ve never stayed there!  Sure, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review is a draw for many, but the entire resort is incredibly interesting.  Feels like no place else at Walt Disney World and has the added bonus of being the home of the Tri-Circle-D Ranch!  We got to explore the ranch’s horse barn during our Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway Tour (highly recommend!).  While we were there, we also took the time to visit the gift shop (very cool!) and explore the resort.  If you’re looking for something different, consider either the Segway Tour or a carriage ride or horseback riding at the ranch.    The Boardwalk at Walt Disney World

Disney’s Boardwalk – A great place to explore anytime of the day, but evening is when the Boardwalk really comes alive.  Live performers like mimes and magicians, lounges for a pre-dinner cocktail, ice cream, snacks, and more.  It took us years (and years!) to visit the Boardwalk for the first time and now that we know what’s there, we visit an almost every trip to the World.  We especially love the Flying Fish Café for a nice dinner and the AbracadaBar for a well-themed libation stop.  

Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Savannah Overlook – If you’ve never taken the time to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge, you need to squeeze it in on your next visit.  The place is spectacular and, you know, ANIMALS!  It’s very cool to step out of the lobby and check out the wildlife.  Whether you’re at Jambo House or the Kidani Village area of Animal Kingdom, there’s a lot to see.  We try to go over in the late afternoon straight from Disney’s Animal Kingdom (park) to see the sights and maybe enjoy an adult beverage at the Victoria Falls Lounge.  If we can add dinner at Boma, Sanaa, or Jiko…all the better!  Tip:  If you only have time for a snack, visit Sanaa after you check out the savannah at Kidani Village and order their famous Indian-Style Bread Service!  You won’t be sorry.

When you’re at Disney World, where are your favorite places to visit outside the parks?

Walt Disney World Christmas Day Planning Tips

If you, against all advice to the contrary, have bravely chosen to spend Christmas at Walt Disney World – Good for you!  Will it be crowded?  Absolutely.  It’ll be CRAZY crowded.  Careful planning with the ability to remain flexible is my best advice.  Based on our own experience last Christmas, I’ve got a few…

Walt Disney World Christmas Day Planning Tips

Incorporate some traditions from home – While you can’t (and shouldn’t, in my opinion) try to replicate all your Christmas traditions, chose a couple of things to add to the day so it would still feel like Christmas to you.  We brought a mini-Christmas tree, tiny lights, and some dollar store Disney figurines to use as ornaments.  We all agreed to bring each other a tiny gift to open.  We also, as per long-standing family tradition, toasted the day with Mimosas before heading to Magic Kingdom for breakfast at Be Our Guest.  We were able to purchase champagne and orange juice at our resort the day before.

Get up and get going – The parks will only get busier as the day goes on.  We felt Magic Kingdom would be amazing on Christmas morning and we were right.  The sun was coming up as we walked down Main Street USA and it was every bit as magical as I’d hoped it would be.  Before breakfast at we rode Peter Pan, Little Mermaid, and Big Thunder.  Later we rode the PeopleMover and Splash Mountain.  We were in no hurry and made a point of simply enjoying every moment.  Once the crowds started to make it difficult to move around, we made our way to the monorail and hit each resort stop to take in the Christmas decorations and see what seasonal items were in the shops.  We even stopped in a nearly-empty Mizner’s Lounge for an adult refreshment.  Everything felt Christmas-ish and special.

Plan a nice Christmas Dinner – It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Make a reservation 180 days out for a place you know your family will enjoy.  We chose California Grill because we were staying at Bay Lake Tower and wanted something special without having to fight crowded Disney transportation.  We dressed up a bit and arrived early to sit at the bar for a few minutes and relax.  We could just have easily taken a boat over to Wilderness Lodge for a casual dinner at Whispering Canyon and would have enjoyed that just as much, I’m sure.  The important thing is that you do what’s going to make your family happiest (with the least amount of stress).

Spread a little Christmas Joy – I tried to remember to thank each Cast Member we came in contact with for being there to make our Christmas Day so special.  Most were surprised and grateful for the gesture – some even gave me hugs.  Our lounge and restaurant servers got a little something extra for Christmas as well.  We tried to be extra nice and appreciative of all that goes into making Christmas at Walt Disney World the unbelievably magical experience it is.

Embrace the experience – It’s not for everyone.  The crowds are insane, lots of folks are cranky and Scrooge-like.  We knew what we were in for and made a conscious effort NOT to let it bother us.  My best advice is to focus on your family and the fun of being together on vacation.  Take in the holiday-specific Disney details – they’re fantastic!  Flexibility, patience, realistic expectations and a sense of humor are invaluable for a successful Christmas at Disney World.

Have you braved a Disney World Christmas vacation?  Would you do it again?  What advice would you give?

Disney Dining: How Many ADRs Does Your Disney Vacation Need?

It’s 180 days from your Walt Disney World vacation and you’re ready to book some advance dining reservations (ADRs).  You’ve done your research and you’ve made a list of places you want to try.  Now comes the critical question…

Disney Dining: How Many ADRs Does Your Disney Vacation Need?

I say (as I almost always do) it depends.  How many days will you be there?  What’s your touring style going to be like?  How crowded will it be?  What’s your food budget?  There are so many variables, I could probably write a book on this one topic alone.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll break this down into suggestions for four different scenarios and hopefully you’ll find one of them helpful.

Long stay with plenty of time to relax – I recommend one table service experience per day.  To save some money, make a few of those for lunch (often less expensive than dinner).  If you have the luxury of time, a nice mix of park time, pool time, and maybe a special tour or round of mini-golf will be on your agenda.  Maybe you have time for visiting water parks.  If you have little ones who will need a break or early bedtime, that’s all the more reason to consider a table service splurge for lunch.  This type of vacation allows you to enjoy some special dining experiences without feeling like you’re sacrificing too much time and missing out on other activities.  Too many reservations and you risk spending all your time getting to and from meals instead of relaxing and soaking up the magic.  Moderation is my recommendation.  Once you book your reservations, plan your park days around them.  Personally, anytime I can take a boat or monorail ride to and from Magic Kingdom for a relaxing break, I feel like I’m in heaven.  My favorite restaurants for this include ‘Ohana and Kona Café at the Polynesian Village Resort and the Whispering Canyon Café at Wilderness Lodge.

Medium stay with an emphasis on park touring – Go for an ADR in the parks for breakfast or lunch a time or two and add some special dining experiences on a couple of evenings.  Consider eating only quick service meals for a day or two – especially in Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  Again – you don’t want to waste a bunch of time getting to and from meals when you’d rather be riding rides and seeing shows.  In-park, we especially love Tusker House and Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Hollywood Studios).

Short stay with a packed schedule – Consider making no reservations at all.  Okay, maybe one if you have to.  Since Megan and I just did this and found the Quick Service Dining Plan a good value and super convenient, I’m speaking from experience.  We wanted to spend every moment we could in the parks seeing and doing as much as possible.  If we had a do-over, we would not have taken the time to try Paddlefish in Disney Springs.  It wasn’t bad, but took a chuck of time from our measly three-and-a-half days.  Our favorite in-park quick service places include Columbia Harbor House (Magic Kingdom), Flame Tree Barbecue and Harambe Market (Animal Kingdom), and La Cantina de San Angel and Sunshine Seasons (Epcot).  I must confess, we don’t think any of the quick service places in Disney’s Hollywood Studios are all that good and will either just eat snacks or try to snag a table at the Hollywood Brown Derby’s outdoor lounge.  Let’s hope Galaxy’s Edge (a.k.a. Star Wars Land) and Toy Story Land include some excellent alternatives when they open.

Any length of stay during an insanely busy season – Make as many as you can afford!  Based on our experience the last two years at Disney World during Christmas week, we found the park crowds to be nearly unbearable everywhere by mid-afternoon.  We were happy we had a nice dinner to look forward to at the end of every day.  We also booked breakfasts at Be Our Guest and Tusker House then made our FastPass plans around them when the time came.  We booked a Candlelight Processional dining package for breakfast at Trattoria al Forno then walked to Epcot in time for park opening afterwards.  Note: Trattoria al Forno now offers the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast!  As a final thought, If you ever get the chance to enjoy Christmas dinner at the California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) do not pass it up!

Are you a big Disney dining planner?  What are your best ADR-booking tips?  How many table service meals to you usually plan during your vacation?  What did I leave out?

The Right Way to Tour Epcot’s World Showcase

Hang around with enough fellow Disney fans and you’re bound to notice one hotly debated topic:  Which way is the right way to circle World Showcase?  One camp swears by the Mexico Pavilion route as the only acceptable way to go (Looking at YOU, Nick Maglio).  The other camp adamantly believes the only way to kick off a World Showcase visit is to begin in Canada (Hello, Dave Hodges!).  Of course, I have my own opinion (no big surprise, right?) and I’m certain my way is best.  (Want in-depth arguing on this topic?  Listen to The Disney Exchange!)

The Right Way to Tour Epcot’s World Showcase

The answer is simple.  Enter World Showcase wherever you like!  Our plan is always to go towards whatever is first on our agenda if we have one.  If we’re there simply to wander (a favorite family activity), we go to the side that appears to be less crowded at that particular moment.Gran Fiesta Tour / Mexico Pavilion / Epcot's World Showcase

If there for the rides, we enter on the Mexico side and hit the Gran Fiesta Tour on our way to Frozen Ever After in Norway.  When looking for a bite to eat, the direction we take is solely based on whatever we’re craving at the moment.  In search of a cold beverage, we’re headed to the Canada side to make our way to the UK Pavilion for an Innes & Gunn (Scotland’s finest beer, IMHO).  See how this works?

On of the very best and most charming aspects of World Showcase is that it can be completely different from one visit to the next.  Seasonal festivals, holiday decorations and special events, and slower times of the year – all game changers.

For example:  During Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, the World Showcase can be packed!  Between guests and the extra food booths and kiosks, it has a certain party atmosphere unlike other time of the year.  If we’re there for attractions or visiting particular pavilions to shop, we go at park opening.  If we’re there for the food, we prefer to be in and out by late afternoon.

When there are no special events, World Showcase begs to be explored at a leisurely pace.  This is when we love to visit every pavilion and stop here and there to speak to Cast Members or watch a performance unique to a particular country.  Drummers in Japan, acrobats in China, Mariachi band in Mexico, performers in Italy and France – we’ll take in whatever happens to be going on at the moment.  Of course, there are always snacks and drinks to try!

Don’t fall for the arguments!  There is no one correct way to tour World Showcase – no matter where you start, there are amazing sights, sounds, and flavors to explore.

What’s your World Showcase touring strategy?