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 World Last Week – Trip Recap

Social Media Buddies, you cracked me up!  Some of you were polite about our Christmas week at Walt Disney World plans and some of you were brutally honest (my kind of folks!) and wanted to know if we were CRAZY!  Yes, a little crazy perhaps, but Christmastime at Disney World is magical.  And crowded.  Boy, was it crowded.

Disney World Last Week – Trip Recap

As with any visit to our favorite vacation spot, this one was packed with tons of Disney magic, lots of fun, and some extra-special Cast Members.  There were a few disappointments, some self-inflicted, but overall we had a great time.  Here’s the lowdown on the best and worst of the trip…

Best Moments-

Having a Tiny Christmas Tree – If Raymond and Joseph thought I was out of my mind for packing a tree, lights, garland, and ornaments (including Disney characters, thanks to my friend, Debbie), they were kind enough not to say so.  Having that little tree in our room made me indescribably happy.  I turned on the lights every evening and it added just the right Christmas touch.

Christmas Morning in Magic Kingdom – The weather was perfect, the Cast Members were incredible, and as the sun came up, we were so happy to be there.  We rode Peter Pan, Little Mermaid, and Big Thunder before breakfast at Be Our Guest.  After that, we used our three FastPasses and were gone by early afternoon to enjoy the rest of the day away from the crowds.

Hugs from Cast Members – I made a point of thanking the various Cast Members we encountered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for being there to make our holiday celebration possible. Some were clearly surprised and just said an enthusiastic “Thank you!”. Others took time to ask where we were from and before long, we were hugging!  This, more than anything else, put the Christmas magic into this vacation for me.

Voices of Liberty – They’re spectacular any time of the year, but this was the first time we’d heard them sing Christmas and Hanukkah songs.  We were so glad we’d made the time to enjoy this must-do in World Showcase’s American Adventure.

Touring The Decorations – Some folks might refer to this as the Monorail Loop Pub Crawl, but in December it’s called the Tour of Christmas!  The trees are gorgeous and the smell of gingerbread is in the air.  Everything sparkles. Bonus: during mid-to-late afternoon, the lounges are practically empty.

Notes of Welcome – We were greeted by special cards in Kona Café, California Grill, and Tiffins (where we also received some peppermint bark candy).  This was unexpected, unnecessary, and made us feel incredibly special.  Nice touch, Disney!!!

Meeting Peas and Carrots – If you don’t know Carmen and Brian and their fun and informative vlog, you’ve been missing out! They were exactly as charming and fun at they appear on YouTube and I was thrilled to make their acquaintance when we happened to be in Epcot at the same time.

Best Food –

Kona Café – Always a solid choice! We love the atmosphere at the Polynesian and while Kona may be easier to get into than ‘Ohana, the food is no less delicious! We enjoyed dinner on arrival day and breakfast later in the week after sleeping in – what a luxury!

California Grill – The view from our table-by-the-widow was perfect. Our server was awesome and the ever-changing menu a delight!  Thanks to my sister, Sandy and brother-in-law, Joe, we had a Disney gift card we used for an extra special Christmas dinner. From start to finish, complete with three courses, delicious wine and after dinner drinks with dessert, our experience at California Grill was perfect.

Tiffins – Remember last time we went and how much we loved having Kile as our server?  Miraculously, we asked for him again and he was there!  This place is outstanding for Animal Kingdom fans like us and Kile knows everything from the artwork to history and food particulars. Again, we had a magical, memorable dinner and will definitely return as soon as we can.

Jiko – What can I say? We’ve never been disappointed. Plus Animal Kingdom Lodge is gorgeous any time of the year and especially at Christmas.

Morimoto Asia – Raymond and I couldn’t wait to take Joseph here since the experience is right up his alley.  Addicted to Food Network, lifelong fan of Epcot’s Japan pavilion and adventurous diner, this restaurant was made for our only son.  Went exactly as we’d hoped it would and we all enjoyed our lunch tremendously.

Best New Experiences –

Candlelight Processional (dinner package) – We chose breakfast at Trattoria al Forno which was wonderful in spite of the restaurant staff being incredibly short-handed. The atmosphere is cool and the food quite tasty. At about 6:15 that evening, we got in line for the show and found seats in the center about half-way back. Cal Ripken, Jr. offered a fine narration and the singers and musicians were fantastic.  Would we do it again? You betcha!

Express Transfer – While this special, optional service is currently in the testing phase, for park-hoppers like us, it was worth every penny of the $24 per person up charge for the week we were there!  One we added this feature to our Magic Bands, we were set! Slip out one park, board the bus and slip right into the next park…all behind the scenes!  Saved so much time and walking!

Wilderness Explorers – Sure it’s for kids, but I talked Joseph into doing this Animal Kingdom activity with me and we really enjoyed the adventure!  (Full review with lots of details coming soon.)

Jock Lindsey’s Outdoor Seating – I’d never even noticed it before, but Raymond had and suggested we try it out.  There’s lots of space which includes tables and chairs on a boat named “Reggie”.  Of course that’s where we wanted to sit. And what a treat it was! Awesome server and great beer selection.

AMC Dine-In Theater (for Rogue One) – There’s nothing like this movie-and-a-meal experience available anywhere near where we live.  This was such a fun way to combine lunch and a show at Disney Springs.  We loved Rogue One and thought everything from the characters to the scenery, costumes, effects, and storyline were a perfect fit (and tribute) to the original movies.

Disappointments/Regrets

Citricos – This was not what we were expecting after our last visit.  The service was not nearly as good as on our last visit even though there were plenty of empty tables around us.  The real problem was that something bad must have happened in the kitchen and the unmistakable taste of soap was in my and Joseph’s entrees.  No, we didn’t send them back, but we should have.  We should have at least complained.  My only excuse for not doing either of those is that we weren’t very hungry and were particularly exhausted that day.  I just wanted to get out of there.

Wild Africa Trek – This one’s on me.  I should have done more research.  I’ll do a whole review on our experience, but overall I was disappointed in what we got for the splurge.  It was certainly not all bad, just not what I’d hoped for.  One of our guides was really snarky and that’s probably my number one complaint.  We felt the tour was geared mostly towards children and better for families with little ones.

Jingle Bell Jingle BAM Dessert Party – The idea of this is nice, but I wish I hadn’t spent the extra money.  The food and beverage offerings, meeting with Santa Goofy, and viewing area for the show were not worth what we paid.  We did appreciate the nice seating area that kept us out of the cold weather that night and the complimentary hand warmers were a nice touch.  We’ve always wondered and now we know – dessert parties are not for us.

AbracadaBar – We finally made it here on our way to dinner at Flying Fish.  I’m glad there’s a lounge option other than the Belle Vue at the Boardwalk now, but this spot is no Trader Sam’s or Jock Lindsey’s.  It’s a great place to hang out pre-dinner, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit again.

While visiting Walt Disney World for Christmas is not for the faint of heart, there’s plenty of extra Disney magic to be found!  With a little extra planning and patience, a wonderful time awaits!

If you’d be interested in full reviews or additional details about anything mentioned here today, please let me know. Have you spent Christmas at Disney World?  What was your experience like?

 

 

 

 

 

Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

There are so many Walt Disney World restaurants to choose from!  Frequent visitors, like our family, develop a passion for certain snacks, an emotional attachment to a few quick-service places, and we’re downright territorial about our table service favorites!

Let’s talk about Disney’s Signature Dining.  If you’re going to splurge on a meal either out-of-pocket or by burning two table service dining credits on the Disney Dining Plan, it’s important to choose wisely!  While we haven’t quite made it to all the finest dining Disney has to offer (I’m looking at you, Victoria and Albert’s), we’ve tried a good many and have indeed developed enough of a fondness for a few to do what we can to squeeze them into our budgets for both time and money as often as we can.Signature Dining - Yachtsman Steakhouse

For those of you with little ones, fully enjoying a Signature Dining experience can be challenging.  You know you kids best and whether or not they’d like to sit in a fancy restaurant for a lengthy meal.  This is Disney World so signature restaurants are kid-friendly, but they are not as fun as character dining (like at Tusker House or Chef Mickey) or some places with funny servers (think Whispering Canyon Café or 50’s Prime Time Café) and cool themes (Sci-Fi Dine In Theater).  These places also tend to have more “adult” foods on the kids’ menu.  The list I’ve put together here is mainly geared towards families with older children and groups of adults.  If you’ve got something to celebrate, like an anniversary or graduation, signature dining is the way to go!

Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

In The Resorts

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Hands down this is our favorite Signature Dining Experience, but it’s not for everyone!  Jiko is best enjoyed by diners with adventurous palates.  That’s not to say that picky eaters won’t find something to love, but it may take a little creative work with the cooperative servers and chefs.  We’re game (see what I did there?) for trying exotic dishes made with wild boar or buffalo.  We welcome new flavors from African-spiced dishes of all kinds.  Options like pork and lamb shanks, beef short ribs, scallops, halibut, lobster, and vegetarian dishes make up the creative menu.  We have never been disappointed.  The wine list is as fantastic as the food.

California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – The food’s good, but the setting is great!  The view from the top of the Contemporary Resort is fantastic and at sunset it’s downright awesome!  The California-inspired menu is broad and boasts a great selection of sushi along with other, many very complex, dishes.  Service is excellent and compared to Citricos and Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian (also signature), California Grill manages to seem extra special.  No matter what time you have dinner, you’ll be welcome to stay (or return) and enjoy Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular) from the restaurant’s outdoor viewing area.  We celebrated our 25th anniversary at California Grill and our experience was wonderful.

Flying Fish (Disney’s Boardwalk) – Recently renovated and with a new chef, Flying Fish has an awesome location (a short walk from Epcot) and has been very popular in the past.  One of our best vacation meal memories is of dinner at the Flying Fish.  Disney's Flying Fish Cafe ExteriorI don’t know firsthand how the restaurant’s new version compares to the old, but our next Flying Fish dinner is just days away.  The new menu looks fantastic (albeit expensive!) and it may well be worth two dining credits.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club) – A solid choice for steak-lovers, Yachtsman’s proximity to Epcot makes it a stellar alternative to Le Cellier in World Showcase’s Canada Pavilion.  Good service, solid menu, and the butcher/meat viewing area is cool!  We thought the atmosphere a bit more laid back than some of the other signature restaurants and that complimented, rather than detracted from, the overall experience to us.  If you’re not a steak fan, there are better places to eat.  If you love a good steak, I found even the smallest one on the menu (6-ounce Black Angus Filet) to be perfectly cooked, tender, and delicious.

In The Parks

Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) – As I mentioned in the review I did recently, this place is probably not for picky, non-adventurous eaters.  If you love Animal Kingdom for the incredible theming and you want to feel like you’re eating in an exotic far away place with amazing service, consider Tiffins.  It can be a bit expensive, but is very special, so worth it in my opinion (at least once).  The menu is extraordinary and the beer and wine lists are carefully cultivated and unique.  While all signature dining restaurants try to offer exceptional service in a special atmosphere, Tiffins succeeds in a way few others manage.The Hollywood Brown Derby / Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Brown Derby (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – While this may be our least favorite of the group I’ve listed here today, it’s worth mentioning.  The Derby has many devoted fans and it offers a wonderful respite from park noise and crowds.  The atmosphere is very cool and the menu offers a good variety.  The Cobb Salad is famous as is the Grapefruit Cake dessert.  If you’re on the dining plan, don’t waste two table service credits here.  If you want a nice meal at a low-ish price for signature dining and/or want the best meal in the Studios, give the Hollywood Brown Derby a try.

What did I miss?  Do you have a favorite signature restaurant that didn’t make our list?

 

Kid Free Disney

If your nest is still full and you love Disney vacations, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to take a kid-free trip to Walt Disney World.  If you fell in love with Disney World before you had kids, you have some idea how that is, and may long for the eventual return of park touring sans stroller, bags full of supplies, and meltdowns.  RM-DuffyTo do what you want to do, go where you want to go…where the only whining you hear is your own on the day you have to leave.  Think about it!  Once the kids are grown, it’s your turn to enjoy Walt Disney World exactly the way you want to.  For us that means we still invite the kids (both adults now) along occasionally, but vacation alone at least once a year.  (If your children still live at home and you can overcome the guilt involved with leaving them behind while going to Disney World, you’re a stronger person than I am!)

Kid Free Disney

So you’ve finally made it.  You’ve booked an offspring-free trip to Disney World.  In order to fully flex your kid-less status, there are plenty of opportunities available to minimize exposure to other people’s children while maximizing your footloose and fancy free vacation happiness.  Here are a few ideas for your consideration…RM-Grand-Floridian-Senses-Sign

Splurge at the Senses Spa – No kids allowed!  With the Spa’s extensive menu, you’ll find something appropriate for pampering yourself at this serene spot at the Grand Floridian.  We’ve enjoyed the Massage for Two on more than one occasion and highly recommend it!RM-California-Grill-Interior

Book a Great Meal – Disney’s Signature Dining options offer an opportunity to dress up a little (or a lot) and dine in Disney splendor.  Citricos-MichaelWe love the California Grill, Jiko, Shula’s Steakhouse and Citricos (just to name a few).  Great service, fewer non-grownups, and excellent food are the draws and while these restaurants are more expensive, it’s worth it for a special evening out.RM-Sunset-Animal-Kingdom-Lodge

Take a Leisurely Stroll – Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, the early and late hours of the day are both great times to take a walk and explore resort grounds.  Bay-Lake-Tower-SunriseI can attest to the beauty of all the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian Village, and Grand Floridian), Port Orleans Riverside, and the Boardwalk areas for this highly relaxing activity.  Dawn and sunset are my personal favorite times of the day at Disney World.RM-Mizner's-Lounge

Relax in a Lounge (or a few) – There are so many to choose from!  Whatever your preference – loud and boisterous or quiet and reserved, there’s a pub, bar, or lounge for you.  Mizner’s at the Grand Floridian, the Belle Vue Lounge on the Boardwalk, The Outer Rim Lounge at the Contemporary, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian, Victoria Falls Lounge at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Jock Lindsey’s at Disney Springs are all places we highly recommend.RM-Victoria-Falls-Lounge

Fellow kid-free people! What are your favorite aspects of an adults-only trip to Walt Disney World?