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?

runDisney Proof of Time – Fairytale Challenge 2018

Sometimes the simplest things become inexplicably challenging!  So it was with supplying Proof-of-Time for the upcoming 2018 Fairy Tale Challenge (Enchanted 10K and Princess Half Marathon).

First let me explain why we even care about sending in a proof-of-time for these races.  Proof-of-time is used for corral placement in runDisney events.  The faster you are expected to finish, the earlier you are allowed to start.  Simple as that.

Reasons NOT to send in Proof-of-Time – You or someone you are running with wants their particular runDisney event to be their very FIRST race.  For a lot of people who are new to running, this simple fact gets them through all the training miles that lead up to the magical event(s).  If you want your first race to be an incredibly memorable one, you will not be disappointed.  Another reason you might not need proof-of-time is that you simply don’t care when you start the race.  I know lots of folks who schedule long post-race Disney vacations and race days are not spent park touring.  You’ve got all the time in the World to focus on the task at hand – not a bad thing at all.

Reasons TO send in Proof-of-Time – The most obvious one is that you’re an elite runner who has a chance to place in these events.  If that’s the case, you ROCK and I salute you!  Our reason for supplying proof-of-time is made up of much less than lofty race-winning dreams.  We want to get going as early as we can so we have as much of the day left as possible once the running is through.  We’ll still have a full day of park touring and dining plans once the race is over.  We only spend three or four days at Walt Disney World for these events and time is of the essence!  Yes, it’s exhausting, but we do it anyway.

Back to our proof-of-time for 2018.  Joseph and I like to run a 10K in October called the Grin and Bear It.  It’s a flat course, close to home, and the weather is usually cool and fall-like for the out-and-back course along a pretty lakefront.  We knew we could use our 2016 times for the 2017 Princess races, but on the outside chance that this year’s times would be better, we registered and ran it a couple of weeks ago.  What about Megan, you ask?  Unlike Joseph and I, Meg HAD to run a 10K before the November 14th deadline to have any proof-of-time at all.  She’s never run a 10K before and had already booked a weekend away that conflicted with the Grin and Bear It race.

So we found a 10K race on October 28th in Lake Charles, Louisiana for her to enter.  Not close to where we live, by any means, but close enough for a quick overnight trip.  I’d started coming down with something on Wednesday and by Friday I felt lousy enough to know I wouldn’t be running on Saturday.  No worries, though, Megan would go on without me and I’d be there to cheer her on.  We left Friday right after work and were on the road for the approximately 31/2 hour drive by 6:30 pm.  We’d booked a hotel room really close to the race start to maximize sleeping time and I’d picked up bananas and Cliff Bars for breakfast.

Everything was going great…GPS lady was talking us through directions.  We grabbed a quick dinner-to-go at Taco Bell in Alexandria and had just finished eating when we stopped at a red light, were sitting there for a minute waiting for the light to turn green and then BAM!  We were suddenly rear-ended.  HARD!  It was dark out and raining and there was no way I was getting out of the car to approach the stranger that had plowed into us.  Once we realized we were okay, I kept my eye on the driver through my rearview mirror while Megan called the police.

After talking to the dispatcher for a few minutes as they ran down their list of questions to ask, they requested that (since our car was drivable) we pull out of the intersection and off the road.  As I pulled forward to comply, the driver that hit us simply drove away.  Yup.  We were victims of a hit-and-run.  The police were perfectly nice and sympathetic.  Must have been a slow night in Alexandria as no less than three cruisers arrived on the scene.

Megan and I were unfortunately unable to get the full license plate number of the other driver, but based on what we did record, the police thought the other vehicle was a rental.  My only consolation is that it cannot possibly be undamaged so at least they’ll have to deal with the rental car agency over it.  I’m out my $500 deductible and Joseph and I will have to carpool while the repairs are being made.  In the grand scheme, this is no big deal.  We weren’t hurt, just shaken up (and really mad) for a few minutes.

As we do when faced with adversity, Megan and I shrugged it off and got back on the road.  We were settled down for the night quite a bit later than expected, but safe and sound and back on track.  We set three alarms for 5:15 am and called it a day.

Race morning dawned clear and crisp and perfectly calm – excellent running conditions!  Megan checked in at 6:40 and we sat in the car to keep warm until it was time for her to line up with the other runners for a 7:30 start.  I keep watching for my friend Karen who writes one of my favorite blogs.  I spotted her just before the race and she made me feel so much better – Megan wouldn’t be alone on the race course after all.

55-minutes into the race I started walking backwards along the course to find Megan and cheer her on.  I didn’t get far before I spotted Karen who was doing great (second female finisher)!  I walked on a little longer and there was Megan!  She looked comfortable and was running really fast!  I jumped on the course with her and ran along with her telling her what a great race she was having and how proud I was of her.  Megan’s final time for her very first 10K was 1:01:16.  She was happy and said she felt great.  Mission accomplished.

So, there you go.  Sometimes simple stuff gets complicated, but life’s like that…you can either deal with it or let it get you down.  As for me, I felt even worse as this week began and finally broke down and went to the doctor yesterday.  Next week’s Disney Sea-and-Land vacation is swiftly approaching and I want to be 100% by then.  Adventure is out there!

Are you a runDisney participant?  Do you send in proof-of-time?

Disney Dining – Epcot’s Tangierine Café

I’d heard for years about the great food in Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion.  Aside from that single, ill-fated attempt to eat at Spice Road Table, we’d never put dining in Morocco on our to-do list.  On the Quick Service Dining Plan for our June vacation, Megan and I decided to give Tangierine Café a try.  It was a good value on the plan and the food and service were both great!

Disney Dining – Epcot’s Tangierine Café

It’s not that we don’t like the Morocco Pavilion…We do!  It’s got a lot going for it.  The architectural details, tile work, shopping, and live music all work together to create an especially exotic oasis in World Showcase.  We’ve passed on the food simply because there are so many other choices in Epcot.  Also, a couple of us are picky-ish, so we tend to go places we know everyone will like.  Raymond loves the coffee served at the Morocco Pavilion and has stopped on many occasions to enjoy a cup while the rest of us look around in the gift shop.Tile Closeup / Morocco Pavilion / Epcot's World Showcase Morocco in Epcot's World Showcase

Hopping to Epcot from a busy morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Megan and I were hungry!  The weather was gorgeous and we headed straight for Morocco and the Tangierine Café for lunch.  Everything on the menu sounded good to us, but we both decided on the gigantic Shawarma Chicken and Lamb Platter “served with a side of Hummus, Tabouleh, and Tangierine Couscous Salad with fresh Moroccan Bread“.

Everything on our plates was delicious.  (Pictures don’t do it justice!)  We loved the consistency of the bread and how fresh all the flavors were.  Perfectly seasoned, each generous portion was flavorful and satisfying without being heavy.  As I mentioned, lunch was also a good value on the dining plan (out-of-pocket price for just the Shawarma Chicken and Lamb Platter is currently $14.99).

Megan and I were so happy we tried Tangierine Café!  If you’re looking for a filling lunch in Epcot and haven’t yet tried this quick service restaurant in Morocco, we highly recommend it.

What are your favorite go-to dining spots in Epcot for lunch?