Disney Vacation – Next Week!

My plans for Labor Day Weekend involve packing!  We’ll be off to Orlando next Friday and sail from Port Canaveral on Saturday.  Right now we’ve got our eyes on Hurricane Irma and are hoping she moves right on along before the Fantasy sets sail.

Disney Vacation – Next Week!

We’re staying pre-cruise near the airport.  Since we have already booked three more visits to Disney World during the next 8 months, we don’t have the DVC points to spare for one night.  We’ve stayed at this hotel before another cruise and it worked out well.  Initially, we thought we’d just hang out at the hotel and be well rested and ready to go on Saturday.  Ha!  No way could we be that close to Disney World and stay away.  Plus, there’s that new promotion for DVC members that offers a 30% discount at certain restaurants for dining before 6:30 pm or after 8:30 pm (through September 30th).

Our plane lands around noon and once we’ve gotten our luggage and checked into the hotel, we’ll be taking some form of transportation to Animal Kingdom. (We are still undecided what to use, suggestions welcome!).

Of course we couldn’t get a FastPass for Flight of Passage, but Raymond will still get to explore Pandora for the first time.  Our afternoon consists of Asia first – FastPass for Expedition Everest.  Pandora second – FastPass for Na’vi River Journey.  Finally, we’ll use our last FastPass for Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa.  Between FastPasses, we’ll have time to wander at our leisure.  I’m certain we’ll make a stop at the Dawa Bar for a refreshment.  Once we finish the safari, it’ll be time to go.

We’ll be wrapping up the evening with an early dinner (6:00 pm) at Jiko.  We love that place!  Eating early to take advantage of the special discount will give us plenty of time to relax and enjoy our dinner without rushing.  By 8:00, we should be ready to head back to our hotel and call it a day.  The next morning we’ll be on our way to our first sailing on the Disney Fantasy.

I’ll be taking tons of pictures and will have much to report when we get home.  Our Eastern Caribbean itinerary should look like this (Irma, be gone!):

Day Port Ashore Onboard
1 Port Canaveral, Florida 3:45 PM
2 At Sea
3 At Sea
4 Tortola, British Virgin Islands 7:30 AM 5:45 PM
5 St. Thomas/St. John, US Virgin Islands 7:45 AM 4:00 PM
6 At Sea
7 Disney Castaway Cay 9:30 AM 4:45 PM
8 Port Canaveral, Florida 7:30 AM

Tomorrow I’ll be back with the details of our port excursions, dining plans and all we’re looking forward to on this trip!

Have you sailed on the Fantasy?  What did you enjoy the most?

 

Disney Character Dining – Chef Mickey’s Versus Tusker House

Looking for a character dining experience at Walt Disney World?  Love Mickey, Minnie and the gang?  You have two choices:  Chef Mickey’s (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) and Tusker House (Disney’s Animal Kingdom).  Which one should you choose?  Both take one Table Service Credit on the Disney Dining Plan, both are similarly priced (Tusker House is slightly less expensive).  Both provide excellent character meet-n-greets with great photo ops.  Let me see if I can help you with a few pro’s and cons.Meeting Minnie at Chef Mickey's

Disney Character Dining – Chef Mickey’s Versus Tusker House

Chef Mickey’s Pros

Not in a Park – No park ticket required to meet the Fab Five in air-conditioned comfort.  Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto (dressed as chefs) make the rounds while you eat.  Because you don’t need park access, Chef Mickey’s is a very popular first and last day choice for many guests.

Easy to Reach from Magic Kingdom – Walk or grab the monorail!  Start the day with breakfast at Chef Mickey’s before heading to Magic Kingdom or take a break for a meal later in the day.

Pluto Fans Rejoice – If Pluto’s your favorite, Chef Mickey’s is a fantastic way to get a meet-n-greet with this lovable pooch.

Chef Mickey’s Cons

Very Basic Fare – Read:  Mediocre food.  Unfortunately, Chef Mickey’s popularity is more about the location and characters than the actual culinary choices.  If you’re picky and/or prefer pretty bland, meat-and-potatoes (or pasta) dishes, this may be a solid choice.  If you want more diversity in buffet choices with a few slightly more adventurous flavors, this is not the place for you.

Loud and Crowded – Big open spaces often full of screaming children.  It just seems crazy noisy to me all the time with lots of distractions.  Goes with the character-dining territory, I know, but Chef Mickey’s is extreme.

Tusker House Pros

Preferred by my Twitter Friends – In a recent Twitter poll I conducted with the simple question, “Which do you prefer?” and a choice between Chef Mickey’s and Tusker House, Tusker House won big (75% to 25%).

Convenient on an Animal Kingdom Day – Tusker House is a fun way to start the day and also a wonderful break for lunch or dinner.  Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy make the rounds dressed in their safari attire.

Delicious Flavors of Africa-inspired Dishes (plus plenty for less adventurous eaters).  I wanted to try everything, but had to settle for about a dozen different things to taste before I couldn’t eat another bite.  Our whole group of seven (included varying degrees of pickiness) walked away happy when we had breakfast at Tusker House one morning last year.

Daisy Fans Rejoice – She’s pretty special and if you want to meet her in a park, the lines are often very long (and cut off quickly).  In Tusker House, you’ll have her complete and undivided attention for a few minutes…very sweet!  I love her long eyelashes!

Tusker House Cons

Need a Park Ticket to Dine – Maybe because you have to enter Animal Kingdom to dine at Tusker House it makes it easier to get a reservation there than at Chef Mickey’s.  Seems to me demand is always higher at Chef Mickey’s.

Buffet Area gets Congested – This is basically due to nobody listening to instructions, but it happens anyway.  The hosts and hostesses explain up front that the design of the buffet is to encourage guests to walk up and help themselves to whatever looks delicious.  In reality, nobody does that, everyone forms lines.

Are you a fan of character dining?  Have you been to both Chef Mickey’s and Tusker House?  Which did you prefer?

 

 

Disney Shopping! Windtraders in Pandora

In Animal Kingdom’s newest land, the ubiquitous merchandise common to many stores throughout Walt Disney World is missing.  Pandora’s store, Windtraders, is packed instead with unique, land-specific souvenirs.  And while the toy Banshees were still sold out when Megan and I were there in June, there was plenty left to satisfy our desire to pick up a couple of things to take home.Windtraders in Pandora

Disney Shopping! Windtraders in Pandora

Windtraders was doing a brisk business both times we visited.  Our M.O. for souvenir shopping is usually a recon mission on the first go ’round followed by a later visit for making actual purchases.  That’s exactly what we did in Pandora.  On our first morning there, we took about 10 minutes to check out the merchandise assortment.  There was a lot to choose from even without the super-popular shoulder-Banshees!Windtraders in Pandora

Things you’d expect like shirts, caps, mugs, toys, and jewelry were plentiful and offered in quite a bit of variety.  Personalized Avatars, unusual plants, and A.C.E. (Alpha Centauri Expeditions) uniform items and accessories were also available.  We took our time on the second visit and explored every section of the store before making our selections.  Windtraders in Pandora Windtraders in Pandora Windtraders in PandoraAfter much deliberation over design choices, Megan bought a shirt.  I picked up some tee-shirts for Joseph and Lyndsey and at the last minute, I also grabbed a canister of small, plastic toy Pandora creatures.  I haven’t opened it yet, but as far as an inexpensive reminder of the very unusual aspects of this little corner of Animal Kingdom, I thought it was kinda cool.

We loved the interior of Windtraders found it tons of fun to explore.  It’s immersive, visually interesting, and the merchandise seems to be carefully curated to appeal to a wide variety of shoppers.  I’m not sure how many souvenirs from Pandora I’ll feel the need to own in the future, but Megan, Joseph and Lyndsey seem to love their shirts and we will definitely stop in Windtraders again for another look around.

Have you visited Windtraders?  What did you buy?  If you haven’t yet visited Pandora, is Windtraders on your to-do list?

Magical Memories – When Expedition Everest Opened

Sometimes we need the kind of getaway that only a Disney vacation can provide.  While I treasure the memories from all our family vacations, one trip in particular stands out in my mind as being especially cherished for several reasons.

When Expedition Everest Opened

Spring Break, 2006.  This vacation was unusually important to our family.  In December, 2005, we’d been terrified by a potentially serious health scare.  After a series of tests followed by a lymph node biopsy and a seemingly interminable wait for lab results, we found out that Raymond did not have cancer and was, in fact, perfectly fine.  Weeks of worry through the holiday season had taken a toll on all of us.  By mid-January, I knew we needed a Disney vacation as soon as possible.  The Disney Bubble beckoned.  As a family, we needed to regroup, recharge, and regain our equilibrium.  December had been incredibly stressful and we badly needed to shake off the lingering aftereffects.  The fastest I could manage to get us to Disney World was by Spring Break.

Megan was 15, Joseph 10 and they got along exceptionally well (and still do). While he’s a thrill ride junkie and she’s in love with all of Disney’s live shows, they compromised well enough that year for each to do and see everything they wanted.  We were completely blown away by Animal Kingdom and could not believe our good fortune when we found out that Expedition Everest was in soft-opening status.  We snagged FastPasses and also used the standby line which seemed to us an Imagineering marvel – such detail!  So incredibly entertaining and is still today my favorite queue at Disney World.  I remember when we boarded the tea train for the first time how tiny all the plants were on that first segment of the ride.  All in neat rows, we could tell they’d just been planted.

As we climbed the Forbidden Mountain and took in the view, we had no idea what to expect.  When we came to the broken tracks, flew backwards, saw the Yeti’s shadow and heard the Yeti’s “voice”, we were completely and utterly amazed by the perfect combination of thrilling ride and amazing details.  Then we saw the actual Yeti in all its glory!  Huge, entirely covered with brown dreadlocks and with an enormous simian arm that reached right out and took a swipe at us…we were in awe!  The experience was unforgettable – we’d found the YETI and we wanted to get back up that mountain immediately to see it all again!Expedition Everest Queue Yeti Museum Expedition Everest Train Platform Gear Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest

We rode multiple times that day and again later in the week.  Thanks to some kind strangers who gave us four FastPasses for Everest on their way out of the park, Megan and Joseph used all four to ride twice more.  They ended up riding this newest, most wonderful ride a total of seven times before we went home.

Disney magic has always worked wonders for our family, but Spring Break, 2006 is a particularly remarkable example.  Never had we needed a vacation more and our favorite vacation destination did not let us down.  As the week ended, we found ourselves soothed and tired (in a good way).  We were ready to get back on track with our busy lives when we got home.

Is Disney World your happy place?  What Disney vacation stands out most in your memory?