Our Next Disney Vacation? Coming Right Up!

Is there anything better than a Disney sea-and-land vacation?  I think not!  In just a few more days, Raymond and I will sail away on the Dream for a little 4-night Bahamian getaway.  I’ve been daydreaming about Castaway Cay and how heavenly that little slice of paradise will be.  Usually I’d prefer to do the land portion of the trip first since the parks are so busy and Disney cruises are more relaxing.  This trip being our anniversary Disney vacation do-over, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.Castaway Cay's Mt. Rustmore

Our Next Disney Vacation? Coming Right Up!

And what we’ve got are some pretty sweet plans!  When we were only going to have the three-night land portion of our trip, I dutifully attempted to book ADRs and FastPasses at the earliest possible moment with mixed results.  I booked dinners at Il Mulino and Yachtsman Steakhouse and left Friday open for Food & Wine since we originally weren’t going to arrive in Orlando until early afternoon.  I booked the only FastPass I could get in Pandora, which was Na’vi River Journey on Saturday morning and then chose some in Epcot for Friday afternoon and Magic Kingdom for Sunday starting mid-morning.

Here’s where having Disney friends all over social media helps – I got a hot tip a couple of weeks ago that some additional FastPasses had opened up for several hard-to-get attractions and SCORE!!!  Na’vi River Journey is out and Flight of Passage is IN!  I’m super excited to see Raymond’s reaction to his first ride on a Banshee.

I’m also very excited to be meeting up with some of those aforementioned fellow Disney fans.  We’re hoping to see Tim from Dad for Disney and his family, Scott from Enchanted Tiki Talk, and our friends Linda and Phillip (we met on the Disney Magic in Norway cruise).  There are even a few more tentative meet-up plans in the works.  It’s good to have Disney friends…they understand me.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Walt Disney World part of this trip…

Friday:  Catch the Disney Cruise Line bus from Port Canaveral to Bay Lake Tower as early as possible, drop off luggage and catch a bus to Disney Springs for lunch at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ – a place we’ve wanted to try since it opened in 2016.  Initially, I couldn’t find a dinner reservation (we were going to eat there instead of Yachtsman) then realized how early we could arrive straight from the ship and lunch was available.  Win-Win!

After lunch, we’ll make our way to Epcot where we can wander World Showcase between FastPasses for Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth.  When we get hungry for dinner, we can sample our way through some of the Food & Wine booths.  We’ll be in go-with-the-flow mode and can soak up the World at our leisure.

Saturday morning we’re headed to Animal Kingdom.  We’ve got FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris, Flight of Passage, and Expedition Everest and I am loving this lineup!  We can hang around until after lunch then rest a while at Bay Lake Tower before meeting Linda and Phillip for drinks and dinner – AbracadaBar (Boardwalk) followed by Il Mulino (Swan).  AbracadaBar recently changed their menu and I’m excited to try a new offering or two.

Sunday we’re planning to rope-drop Hollywood Studios to ride Rock’n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror before hopping to Magic Kingdom where our FastPasses are for Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  We don’t have to rush and can tour at our own pace.  Dinner at Yachtsman will wrap up our plans and Monday morning we’ll head for home.The Red Rock of Big Thunder Mountain

It’s a very short visit, but we’ll be back in February for the Fairytale Challenge and again in May for a family vacation.  There’s a slight chance of a brief January visit as well, but that one’s not certain yet.  I was going for the perfect mix of action and no-pressure touring with lots of free time built in.

If you had only three days at Walt Disney World, what would your priorities be?  How would your plans differ from ours?

Walt Disney World Snacking – 2017 Edition

There have been quite a few snack posts through the years here at Living a Disney Life.  There’s a good reason for that…Snacking around the World is an important part of a Disney vacation!  There are awesome tasty treats everywhere you go.  Let’s talk about a couple of this year’s new favorites and, of course, reliable old standbys.

Walt Disney World Snacking – 2017 Edition

New to us this year (If you’re on a Disney Dining Plan, these are one snack credit each.)

Salted Caramel Cupcake from Karamell-Kuche in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion.  It’s a beautiful and delicious choice for cupcake fans.  Moist, tender cake and wonderfully flavorful frosting.  If you’re like me and don’t have a sweet tooth, it’s a great snack to share.

Chocolate-filled Beignets from Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie in Epcot’s France Pavilion.  These were the perfect mix of traditional beignets (fluffy and coated in powdered sugar) with the added bonus of a not-too-sweet chocolate filling.  Delightful!

Perennial Favorites

Of course most of you are already familiar with the classics:  Mickey Shaped Pretzels, Citrus Swirls (or Dole Whips if you prefer), Churros, Popcorn and Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars.  These are, without a doubt, “the usuals” for us.

There are a few slightly less universally popular, but worthy repeat snacks for our family…

Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafes’ Eggroll – If we’re in Animal Kingdom and anywhere near Expedition Everest, I’m detouring into the queue for Yak and Yeti’s quick service counter.  The eggrolls come in single or double servings and are not only a great bargain, but are really fresh and delicious.  As a savory snack fan, these are currently my favorite.

Sweet Spells Carrot Cake Cookie – We will always miss the Writer’s Stop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios which was closed to make way for new construction.  That special shop may be gone, but at least one of its best offerings lives on.  The Carrot Cake Cookie (big enough to share) puts a slice of carrot cake in a convenient sandwich form.  It’s huge!  I’ve never eaten one all by myself.

Refreshment Port Croissant Donut – Take into consideration that this type of treat is not one we normally crave, thus it’s a special vacation sweet!  Flakey, cinnamon/sugar-coated and warm, fresh from the oven(fryer?), if you’re headed into World Showcase towards Canada, grab one of these and see for yourself how yummy they are.

Candied Almonds – They seem to be available in several places now, but my personal favorite place to snag a paper cone of these tasty morsels is at a snack cart in Animal Kingdom.  They’re warm and crunchy, sweet and delicious.  These?  I’m not sharing.

Karamell-Kuche Caramel Corn or really anything else on the menu.  While the Salted Caramel Cupcake (mentioned above) was new to us, the offerings in this place are always tempting!  If you’ve never taken the time to check out this sweet shop in the Germany Pavilion, please take a minute to step inside.  While the Caramel Corn does need to be eaten on day of purchase (trust me, it is absolutely best when fresh), there are so many treats (I’m partial to a simple salted caramel square) can be purchased for later.

Still in Epcot – There’s a Gelato Cart in the Italy Pavilion that serves the Gelato Affogato we’ve loved since the very first bite.  It also has the added bonus of being one of the cutest-looking snacks in the World.

Have you recently discovered a new Walt Disney World snack?  Do you have a favorite not mentioned here?  What is it and where can we find it?  Our next Disney vacation is right around the corner.

 

Who Would Love Disney’s Festival of the Lion King?

One person in our family considers Festival of the Lion King a must-do Animal Kingdom attraction and insists on trying (usually unsuccessfully) to include it on every visit. Poor Megan!  The rest of us are kind of meh about the Lion King show and it’s probably due to getting burned out in the early years when she’d beg to see it twice a day.  (She has powerful persuasion skills and was the sweetest child!)

Who Would Love Disney’s Festival of the Lion King?

Having pretty much shunned the Festival of the Lion King for the past couple-few years (as we say in these parts), I promised Megan when we took our Mother/Daughter Disney trip back in June we could see her favorite show. I was so excited we were going to see Pandora, I think I was unusually agreeable.

So, once we’d ridden Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage (twice), it was time to make good on my promise. We were off to the Harambe Theater, which is conveniently located just past the Dawa Bar (had to stop, Pandora made us thirsty). We didn’t have to wait long outside the theater before we headed in to find a seat (Tip: don’t use a FastPass for this attraction).  It was wonderfully cool and dark as we made our way up the aisle in the closest section to perch on the bleachers.  I’d forgotten about those seats.  Luckily, the women in our family come “standard equipped” with good seat cushions.  Still pretty uncomfortable.  So much for trying to squeeze in a nap.

When the show started, I quickly realized it was much better than I remembered. The Tumble Monkeys had a much smaller role than they’d had in the past and didn’t perform the acrobatics I’d seen them do before, but the singing and dancing was fantastic!  Who Would Love Disney's Festival of the Lion King?This show does an amazing job of including the audience throughout its entire 30 minute duration.  I’d forgotten how great the costumes are and how talented the performers…I owed Megan an apology for a few (slightly) negative comments I’d jokingly made pre-show.

I asked Megan to share her thoughts on why she loves Festival of the Lion King so much and here’s what she had to say…

“I love the stunts like the fire twirler and the monkeys. The dancing is fun to watch and I enjoy the choreography (mainly when the two birds dance).  I love the singing and I think Disney does a really good job of finding people who will sing the songs really well live (like “Be Prepared”) and I’ve always thought the floats with the giant moving and talking animals were a pretty cool touch.”Who Would Love Disney's Festival of the Lion King?

We noticed families with children of all ages enjoying Festival of the Lion King’s clever mix of circus-style performance, musical numbers, characters and audience participation. It’s a winning combination!

Have you seen Festival of the Lion King? How do you feel about it?  Who in your family loves this show?

Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

There’s no right or wrong way to kick off a vacation at Walt Disney World.  But a bit of advance planning for some arrival day fun helps make the most of every precious vacation minute.

Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

First let’s take a quick look at some of the factors that influence your arrival day options

  • What time will you reach the World?  Will you have most of a day? Part of a day? Arrive Late?
  • What size is your travel party?  Maneuvering a group takes time and sometimes more effort that expected.  Spending a bit of time in advance to map out at least a framework of plans is super helpful when you’re traveling with a group.
  • Littles or Bigs?  Will your children need naps?  Did they have to get up extra early for travel?  (Also, it’s good to know before you go what the height requirements are on various attractions.)
  • Will you have park tickets on day one?

Some suggestions…

Lots of folks don’t purchase park tickets for arrival day.  Before we became annual passholders, our family fell into this category.  If you’re staying near or on Disney property, you can jump right into the Disney Bubble and start soaking up the magic before you ever visit a park.

Here are some tried and true ideas:

  • Explore your resort.  It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the location of restaurants, shops, pools, activities and transportation.  Many Disney World resorts have evening activities like movies, story-telling and S’mores-making – ask about the events schedule when checking in. 
  • If you have a car, make a grocery run.  Stock up on things like snacks, water, and breakfast foods.
  • Plan ahead for a nice dinner.  (Reservations at Disney resorts can be made 180 days in advance.)  There are so many restaurants to choose from, we usually pick someplace new to try on our first day of vacation.
  • Check out Disney Springs.  There’s something for all ages including fun shops, cool atmosphere, and live entertainment.  With or without reservations, there are a bunch of great places to eat.
  • Hang out at the pool.  We have lots of friends who claim this is their most favorite way to kick of a Disney vacation.
  • Turn in early so you can hit the parks refreshed first thing the next day.
  • During the holiday season, resort-hop to check out the amazing decorations.

Have Park Tickets?  With a little advance planning, you can dive right into the action!  If you only have three or four days in Walt Disney World, a few extra hours in the parks on arrival day can make a huge difference in the number of shows and attractions you get to experience.

Head straight to a park:

  • Book FastPasses starting about two hours post-arrival.  That gives plenty of time to check in at your resort and make your way to whichever park you’ve chosen.  Between FastPasses, keep an eye on the wait times in the My Disney Experience app and you’ll be amazed at how many attractions you can fit in on day one.
  • Magic Kingdom is my personal favorite arrival-day park.  There’s no better welcome to the Disney Bubble than seeing Cinderella Castle right away and soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of Main Street USA.
  • Want a casual, low-key arrival day in a park?  Choose Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  During any of Epcot’s festivals, there’s nothing more relaxing to me than a stroll around World Showcase sampling food and drinks along the way.  In Animal Kingdom, exploring the trails and animal exhibits is a laid back way to check out the park without waiting in long lines or rushing around.
  • Pre-shop a bit for park souvenirs to purchase later.
  • Plan a nice dinner at your favorite in-park restaurant.  We like Tiffins (Animal Kingdom), Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom), Via Napoli (Epcot) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
  • Pick a nighttime spectacular to wrap up the day.  Whether it’s Happily Ever After in Magic Kingdom, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular or Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Illuminations:  Reflections of Earth in Epcot, or Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom – there’s a magical way to end your first day of vacation no matter which park you choose.

Now it’s your turn!  What’s your favorite way to start a Disney World vacation?