New Attractions Coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016

Last week I let you guys know about some of the changes coming to Hollywood Studios. This week I’ve got to tell you that I’m more than just a little excited about the new attractions coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016. They are building an entire new section based on Pandora, the world of Avatar. Here is a short video from Disney on some of the upcoming changes.


Rivers of Light

The hours at Animal Kingdom will be changing as well which will allow the part to have a night time show called Rivers of Light.

New Rivers of Light Nighttime Show Artist Rendering
Disney Artist Rendering

Rivers of Light will not be a fireworks show like wishes. It will be a combination of a live performance and water screens, similar to Fantasmic over at Hollywood Studios.

Here’s what Imagineer Joe Rohde had to say about it:

This is going to be a ceremonial event that will happen on our lake. It takes the idea of the special nature of the animals that are in this park and turns it into a celebration of the beauty of these animals. It starts simply and humbly, continues to unfold and grow as bigger and more elaborate lanterns appear, and then huge curtains of water and light emerge from the water with animals within them. And ultimately it takes off into the sky.

Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris

There will also be a new way to experience the Kilimanjaro Safaris: after dark. Hyenas and wild African dogs will be added to the attraction that will only be visible at night. I actually got word that the hyenas arrived a few weeks ago. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of them while we’re down there in a few weeks.

This may change how you plan to enjoy this attraction. I have always been an advocate of doing Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing in the morning because it is when the animals are most active. It also gives you your best chance at seeing a lion.

A Lion at Disney's Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safaris

Now that they will be open at night, you may have a good chance to see a lion then as well. I’ll have to take a hard look at our planning guide as some of these new attractions become available.

Tiffins

According to Disney, the new Tiffins restaurant at Animal Kingdom will draw inspiration from the places that inspired the creation of the park. It will be located on the water and have indoor and outdoor seating. I’m also guessing that it will be a good place to view Rivers of Light from.

New Tiffins Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Artist Rendering
Disney Artist Rendering

I read that this may wind up being a Disney Signature restaurant but I’ve not found a Disney source to confirm that. Whether it is or not, it will be a welcome addition to the dining options at Animal kingdom.

Which of the new attractions coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016 are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments below.

New Star Wars Attractions at Hollywood Studios

The new star wars launch bay at Disney's Hollywood StudiosWe’ve known for quite some time that there are some pretty big changes coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney recently released a statement that some of the cool new Star Wars attractions will be coming as soon as December 1st. This is unsurprising because the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is scheduled to hit the theaters on December 18th.

We’ll be heading down for our family vacation on December 5th so look forward to some reviews and great pictures of the new stuff soon from us here WDW Magical Memories.

Some of the attractions are being re-imagined and some of them are completely new. Here’s the breakdown.

Star Wars Launch Bay

New Character Meet and Greet at Star Wars Launch BayStar Wars Launch Bay will be located in Animation Courtyard and Disney reports that it will be the primary place to immerse yourself in all things Star Wars. At the Launch Bay you will find:

  • Launch Bay Cargo  where there will be unique items for sale that you cannot find elsewhere
  • The Cantina from the notorious Star Wars scene where Luke and Han first met
  • Launch Bay Theater which will be showing a short behind the scenes films complete with interviews of the minds behind Star Wars
  • A Character Meet & Greet where you will be able to meet Darth Vader and my favorite character, Chewbacca, who I’m told I have a striking resemblance to

The Star Wars Launch Bay sounds like it’s going to be a really cool place to hang out and explore. There will be replicas of large scale stuff used in the Star Wars movies, including some stuff from the upcoming new movie. It also sounds like there will be some new interactive games to check out.

Storm Trooper Patrols

Don’t be too surprised if you start running into Storm Trooper Patrols throughout the park starting soon. They will be on a mission to find members of the resistance and will be interacting with park guests. I hope that I get to interact with them soon.

Storm Troopers on patrol at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars: Path of the Jedi

This will be an abridged film of Star Wars episodes I – VII in a cinema setting near Echo Lake. This film will cover all six of the current movies from the perspective of Luke Skywalker on his journey to becoming a Jedi Knight. It will culminate into the trailer of the new Star Wars film.

Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

This is a great “ride” and I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve been on it. The experience is always a little different and now they’re adding more new features to it.

Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Star Tours at Night By Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

According to Disney there will around 50 different experiences starting on December 1st. This is really exciting and I really can’t wait to see the new experiences.

It’s important to note that you don’t pick your experience. It is random.

Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple

This was formerly known as Jedi Training Academy and is a really great program for kids aged 4 – 12. Man, I wish I was younger because this is a cool program.

Jedi Training Academy at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Jedi Training Academy by Star Wars is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In this interactive show, the trainees will go through a Jedi training to see if they have what it takes to become a Jedi Knight. It culminates in a showdown between the trainees and Darth Vader or Darth Maul and maybe some other new villains are coming to it..

We do know that new characters are being added including a new villain to battle from Star Wars Rebels.

A Galactic Spectacular

Hollywood Studios is getting a new nighttime spectacular: Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular. This one does not start until January 5th, but if you are familiar with any of Disney’s fireworks displays, you will know that being disappointed by this one is not likely.

We don’t have too many details on it yet but we will be sure to update this post when we do.

I’m excited about the new Star Wars attractions at Hollywood Studios that are coming soon. And I’m excited that I’ll be able to get to see them in a few weeks. What are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments below.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom was the fourth theme park built at Walt Disney World. It opened on April 22, 1998, which is Earth Day. Visiting it is akin to being at a zoo on steroids. Imagine being completely immersed in the habitat of the beautiful animals you are viewing. It truly is an awesome experience and there is something for the whole family there.

The Fletchers at Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life

There are lots of animals to see at Animal Kingdom. Some of them you can even interact with. There is a great place to pet some animals at Rafiki’s Planet Watch which you must take a train to get to.

In addition to the animals, there are several other great rides and other attractions at Animal Kingdom. Expedition Everest makes my top five all time roller coasters. Be forewarned, it goes backwards for a bit.

The park is seperated into six areas: Oasis, DinoLand USA, Discovery Island, Africa, Asia and Rifiki’s Planet Watch. Each area is uniquely themed.

You enter the park through Oasis. There is not much here but there is a tropical garden that is home to a lot of different birds and fish. Once you weave through the paths you will find yourself on Discovery Island which is the hub of Animal Kingdom. The center piece of the park is The Tree of Life which is on Discovery Island and you can see in our family photo in the background above. This picture does not do it justice. The tree is enormous.

Disney's Animal Kingdom MapAttractions

Oasis

  • The Oasis Exhibits

Discovery Island

  • Wilderness Explorers
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug
  • Discovery Island Trails
  • Adventurers Outpost

Africa

  • Festival of the Lion King
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Pangani Forest Exploration trail
  • Wildlife Express Train (Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch)

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

  • Habitat Habit
  • Conservation Station
  • Affection Section (petting zoo)

Asia

  • Flights of Wonder (a great bird show)
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek
  • Kali River Rapids
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

The Fletchers on Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest

DinoLand U.S.A.

  • The  Boneyard
  • Fossil Fun Games
  • Finding Nemo – The Musical
  • Primeval Whirl (April calls it Primeval Hurl)
  • TriceraTop Spin
  • DINOSAUR

Dining

There is some notable dining at Animal Kingdom. Among our favorites is Tusker House which is a buffet open for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is a character dining where Donald Duck is the host, but lots of his friends will be there too. Tusker House is similar to Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. There is a good selection of both African inspired and American dishes so even the pickiest eaters will find something they like.

I have to give a nod one of my favorite quick service dining restaurants in all of Disney World: Flame Tree Barbecue. The ribs and chicken are outstanding and a great value.

Flame Tree Barbecue by hirotomo t is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Flame Tree Barbecue by hirotomo t is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Oasis

  • Rainforest Cafe

Discovery Island

  • Isle of Java
  • Flame Tree Barbecue
  • Gardens Kiosk
  • Beastly Kiosk
  • Discovery Island Kiosk
  • Pizzafari

Africa

  • Dawa Bar (adult beverages)
  • Tusker House
  • Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery
  • Harambe Fruit Market
  • Tamu Tamu Refreshments

Asia

  • Bradley Falls (Asian inspired vegetarian dishes)
  • Mr Kamal’s (Indian and Vegetarian)
  • Upcountry
  • Yak & Yeti Restaurant
  • Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes
  • Yak & Yeti Quality Beverages
  • Anandapur Ice Cream Truck

DinoLand U.S.A

  • Restaurantosaurus
  • Dino-Bite Snacks
  • Trilo-Bites (turkey legs)
  • Dino Diner

Planning Your Day

Animal Kingdom is really unique among the Walt Disney World theme parks. At the moment it is what many refer to as a “half day” park. It generally is not open much past 7:00 PM.

The reason for this has always been for the care  of the animals, but this is changing with the opening of the Pandora expansion at the park which is themed after the movie, “Avatar”. This expansion is currently under construction and portions of it can be seen when entering the park. I have heard that once it is open that Animal Kingdom’s hours will change and that it will be open later.

With that said, I think that we will continue to plan our Animal Kingdom days in a similar way to what we always have done. We usually like to get to the park early to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris. The reason it is important to ride it early in the day is because the animals are most active in the morning time and there is a better chance to see a lion.

A Lion at Disney's Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safaris

In all of the times that we have ridden this attraction we have only not seen a lion one time and that was when we rode it later in the day. I think the best thing to do is get to the park when it opens and go straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris. We don’t bother with a FastPass+ for it. You may wait a bit, but if you are there early, it will not be long. Of course, we are usually there in off season so if you are visiting when it is busier, the lines will always be longer. If waiting for an hour or two for this attraction is going to put you off, you may want to get a FastPass+ for it.

Plan the rest of your day accordingly. I would recommend using a FastPass+ for either a show like The Lion King or, my preference, Expedition Everest. But I would give yourself enough time after the Safaris to walk through Panagani Forest Exploration Trail. You will see lots of cool stuff on it, including gorillas and hippos.

Another thing we never miss is Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia. I can watch the tigers there for hours.

The tigers at Animal Kingdom's Maharajah Jungle Trek

If you opt to ride Kali River Rapids, just remember that you will get wet and you may get soaked. There has only been one time we were there that we decided not to ride it. We were there in March and it happened to be a chillier day. If you are there in the winter, just be warned, I have seen a young lady get absolutely drenched and she wound up being miserable for the rest of the day. You may want to consider packing a change of clothes for this one if you are there when it is colder and it is on your do not miss list. It is a great ride and the anticipation of who is going to get hit with a wave of water next is pretty exciting.

One thing to keep in mind about this park is that they do not provide drink lids or plastic straws within the park, nor will they allow you to bring them in. This is to protect the wildlife. For the longest time you could not get straws at all but a few years ago they started providing cardboard ones.

Have you been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Hollywood Studios

Disney-MGM Studios was the third theme park build at Walt Disney World. This park is themed on the show business era from Hollywood in the 1930’s. It is also home to my favorite roller coaster: The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. In 2008, Disney change the name from MGM to Hollywood Studios.

The Fletchers at Hollywood Studios

The icon of Hollywood Studios was Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat (seen in the background of our family photo above) but that was removed from the park in 2015. The reason it was removed was not made clear by Disney, and it caused quite a stir within the Disney World lunatics enthusiasts community. I surmise it was in preparation for the new areas that are being developed that are tentatively being referred to as Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land.

Attractions

  • The Great Movie Ride
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
  • Star Tours
  • Muppet Vision 3D
  • For the First Time in Forever: A “Frozen” Sing-Along Celebration
  • Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream
  • Voyage of The Little Mermaid
  • The Magic of Disney Animation
  • Disney Junior – Live on Stage
  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Staring Aerosmith
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Hollywood Studios Theme Park Map

Dining

Hollywood Studios has some good dining, not the least of which is The Hollywood Brown Derby which is a Disney Signature Dining restaurant (read expensive). I think it’s worth it for the experience and the food there is really good. We’ve also had some good meals at Mamma Melrose’s.

There are also two great themed restaurants in the park: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Both of these have decent food but really shine in their atmosphere.

If you can’t find something to tickle your fancy in the park, The Boardwalk and Beach & Yacht Club Resorts are a short boat ride or a thirty minute walk. These resorts have some really great dining such as Cape May Cafe, Yachtsman’s Steakhouse, Big River Grill and Beaches & Cream, all of which are fantastic places to eat.

Here is all of the dining in the park:

  • The Trolley Car Cafe
  • The Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Hollywood & Vine
  • Tune-In Lounge
  • 50’s Prime Time Cafe
  • Min And Bill’s Dockside Diner
  • Oasis Canteen
  • Backlot Express
  • High Octane Refreshments
  • Studio Catering Co.
  • Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
  • Pizza Planet
  • Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater
  • ABC Commissary
  • Hey Howdy Hey Take Away
  • Starring Rolls Cafe
  • Toluca Legs Turkey Co.
  • Anaheim Produce
  • Rosie’s All-American Cafe
  • Catalina Eddies’s
  • Fairfax Fare
  • Hollywood Scoops

Fantasmic

Much like Magic Kingdom and Epcot, Hollywood Studios has a special nighttime show. Here it is Fantasmic. I would highly recommend not missing this show. It is not a fireworks show but there are some impressive pyrotechnics. I think the most impressive part of the show is the projection of part of the story onto a mist of water.

Hollywood Studios Fantasmic Sea Monster
Fantasmic by Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The show portrays a lot of the Disney Characters in a magical tale where Mickey does battle with some of the Disney villains. It is a great story for kids of all ages (including dads in their mid-40’s).

We have gone to Walt Disney World a few times now during the holiday season. One of my favorite attractions has always been the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights which is it its last year, unfortunately. Thankfully, if you’ve not already seen me gloat about it, we are going again in December of 2015, so I will get to see it one last time.

Planning Your Day

This is one park that we usually can get through pretty quickly. Typically the longest wait times are going to be on The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Toy Story Midway Mania. The longer wait of the two is going to be Toy Story Midway Mania, so I would do one of two things for that attraction: either get there at rope drop and go straight there or leverage a FastPass+ for it.

Toy Story Midway Mania!'s Mr Potato Head
Toy Story Midway Mania! by Matt C is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The line for The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster usually ebbs and flows, in our experience, so you can sort of keep an eye on the line and hit it when it’s lower.

The Star Tours line usually flows pretty fast so you don’t need to worry about that one.

One of the shows that I would recommend not missing if you have boys of any age is the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. They will be driving cars and motorcycles really fast, jumping them, setting things on fire and will have people falling from buildings! They also show you how they film stunts. It really is a great show.

One of the greatest things about Hollywood Studios is that it is a fairly condensed park when compared to the others so you can get from one attraction to another fairly quickly. I still recommend that you pick one area and stick with it as much as you can but this is one park where you can hop around a little bit.

You will likely not be able to get through all of the shows in one day here, so you will probably need to pick and choose what you want to see. If you have a princess who loves Disney movies you may want to catch Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. If you have a prince who loves action packed adventures you may want to catch Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. You may be able to catch both but it may be at the cost of missing another attraction.

I hope you have found this article useful in planning a trip to Disney World. If you’ve been to Hollywood Studios, I’d love to hear about your experience. Just leave me a note in the comments below.

Epcot – Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

Epcot was the second park built at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It opened on October 1, 1982, eleven years after Magic Kingdom first opened its gates. Its centerpiece is the iconic silver globe of Spaceship Earth.

Epcot is split into four sections: Future World West, Future World East, Showcase Plaza and World Showcase.

The Fletcher family at Epcot

But Epcot was conceived far before its  construction and opening. Walt Disney himself started the plan for the park. Here is a quote from him on what his vision of Epcot was.

EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

Epcot is spread out over 300 acres. It is roughly twice the size of Magic Kingdom. It is dedicated to international culture and the technological advancement of the human race. There is a lot to learn in this park, but the presentation makes it fun!

Epcot has two entrances. The main entrance is at the northern most tip of the park. Then there is the International Gateway entrance that is a pedestrian entrance only. It is walking distance from the Boardwalk and Beach & Yacht Club resorts. The entrance enters the park between the France and United Kingdom pavilions. This makes any of those places a great place to stay if you are primarily going to be visiting Epcot, like in the case of the Food & Wine Festival or for the Flower & Garden Festvial.

In my opinion, Epcot really shines during the Food and Wine Festival and the Flower and Garden Festival.

Attractions

Epcot MapUsually you can get through all of the ride attractions at Epcot in one day. The current rides are Spaceship Earth, Mission: Space, Test Track, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Soarin’ and Living With the Land.

The longest waits will currently be for Test Track, which was re-imagined a few years ago, and Soarin’ which is a lot of folk’s favorite, including my own.

Soarin’ puts you on a hang glider and sails you through the California countryside. It is a unique experience. It really does feel like you are flying and this feeling is really enhanced by the cool breeze that is blown over you coupled with the scents that are piped in while in flight. Wait until you smell what it’s like to fly over an orange grove.

Most of the other ride’s wait times will be short. We usually try to hit the “main” ride in the area that we are in then hit the other rides and attractions in that area that have short wait times. For instance, we will get a FastPass+ for Soarin’. After we ride it we will then hit Living with the Land, The Circle of Life and The Seas with Nemo & Friends.

Then we almost always take a bit of time to checkout the aquarium and go see Turtle Talk with Crush which is an interactive show where your young ones can really talk with Crush, the turtle, from Nemo. Just be prepared to hear the word “dude” a lot.

There are a few shows that are on the longer side and younger children may find themselves getting board in the middle of them. One such show is Ellen’s Energy Adventure.

Here are all of the attractions at Epcot:

Entrance

  • Spaceship Earth

Future World East

  • Ellen’s Energy Adventure
  • Mission: Space
  • Advance Training Lab
  • Test Track
  • Innovations East & West
  • The Sum of All Thrills
  • Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World

Future World West

  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends
  • Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Soarin’
  • Living with the Land
  • The Circle of Life
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment
  • Captain EO
  • ImageWorks
  • Club Cool

April, Kaelynn and Iris on Test Track at Epcot

One thing worth mentioning that is not really a ride or show but I think is a really neat attraction is Club Cool. You can get a bunch of free soda there. That’s right. I said free soda. The really neat part is that it is not soda that you would typically find in the United States. There are stations set up for different countries and each will have between four and seven different offerings. Some of them are really tasty, some of them have an interesting flavor and some of them taste just plain weird. It’s definitely worth checking out and it’s a really great place to get a cold drink (or 10) on a hot day.

A note on Mission: Space: This ride has two levels, green and red. If you are at all prone to motion sickness, stick with green. This ride is great but it spins to stimulate gravity and lack there of. It is also has tight quarters to give it the true feeling that you are inside of a space craft. If you are claustrophobic, you may want to sit this one out. April will only do the green side but she is mildly claustrophobic so she often opts to sit this one out while I take the kids on it, who all love it.

Mural in Maelstrom at Epcot The World Showcase is primarily comprised of dining but you will find a few smaller attractions there as well. One that recently closed was Maelstrom in Norway. I loved that ride and was truly sad to see it go but I’m excited about what is coming. It has been closed to make way for a new ride featuring the cast of Frozen. April and I have been told that we look like the man and woman in the mural that was painted on the far wall of the ride’s line cue.

Here is what Disney has to say about the upcoming attraction that will be opening in 2016.

“Frozen Ever After,” is an adventure fit for the entire family that will take guests through the kingdom of Arendelle. The fantastic Disney storytelling combined with new technology and favorite moments and music from the film will make guests feel like they stepped into the magical world of “Frozen.”

Dining

If you have read any of my writings about the dining at Disney World you know that I am a huge fan of eating at Epcot. This park is head and shoulders above the rest of the parks with regards to eating, and I love to eat. It is a major part of my vacations. Most of the best restaurants can be found in the World Showcase, but we really love Coral Reef which is in Future World West.

Future World East

  • Electric Umbrella

Future World West

  • Fountain View
  • Coral Reef Restaurant
  • Sunshine Seasons
  • Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast at The Garden Grill
  • Refreshments Port
  • Promenade Refreshments

World Showcase Dining

Mexico

  • San Angel Inn Restaurante
  • La Hacienda de San Angel
  • La Cantina de San Angel
  • La Cava del Tequila

Norway

  • Princess Sotrybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (a great place to meet a lot of princesses)
  • Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe

China

  • Nine Dragons Restaurant
  • Lotus Blossom Cafe

Germany

  • Biergarten Restaurant
  • Sommerfest

Italy

  • Tutto Italia Ristorante
  • Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar
  • Via Napoli Ristorante & Pizzeria

America

  • Liberty INn
  • Fife & Drum Tavern

Japan

  • Teppan Edo
  • Tokyo Dining
  • Katsura Grill
  • Kabuki Cafe

Morocco

  • Restaurant Marrakesh
  • Tangierine Cafe
  • Spice Road Table

France

  • Chefs de France
  • Monsieur Paul
  • Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie
  • L’Artisan des Glaces

United Kingdom

  • Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
  • Yorkshire County Fish Shop

Canada

  • O Canada!
  • Le Cellier Steakhouse

 

The Food & Wine Festival

If you are a foode like April and me, you will really enjoy a day at Epcot while the Food & Wine Festival is taking place. This event takes place each fall and is one of many great reasons to visit during this time of year.

Food & Wine Festival Display by Jimmy G is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Food & Wine Festival Display by Jimmy G is licensed under CC BY 2.0

During this event many of the restaurants set up booths and sell small portions of their signature dishes. The cost for most of them is right around $5. For example in 2015 in Canada you can get Le Cellier Steakhouse’s Cheddar Cheese Soup for $4.25 and their wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter sauce for $7.50.

This is a great time to get adventurous and try something lavish like croissant aux escargots with garlic and parsley in France. That’s snails, folks. If you’ve never tried it give it a whirl. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised. It will set you back $5.50.

Traditional Kjøttkaker by Edward Russell is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Traditional Kjøttkaker by Edward Russell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

April and I love to walk around the World Showcase and sample food and wine or beer from each different country. It takes a while because it really is a lot of food. Last year we made it around the entire World Showcase for around $50. That is really an economical way to try a lot of the different cuisine Epcot has to offer.

International Flower & Garden Festival

The Flower & Garden Festival is another great time to visit Epcot. If you are anything like me, and love your flowers and gardens, this event will surely captivate you.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by zannaland is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by zannaland is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The way they make the Disney characters come to life is really spectacular. It really is some botanical awesomeness that these pictures do not do justice. All of the gardens around Epcot spring to more life than usual, and they are already pretty impressive when the Flower & Garden Festival is not taking place. You will find Mickey, Minnie and lots of other Disney characters postured throughout the entire park.

Mickie and Minnie by Chris Murray is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Mickie and Minnie by Chris Murray is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Illuminations: Reflections of Earth

Whatever you do, you do not want to miss Illuminations at Epcot. It is probably a coin toss between this and Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios to determine what my favorite nighttime show is.

Illuminations by Christian Lambert is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Illuminations by Christian Lambert is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Illuminations showcases the past, present and future of earth in a captivating fireworks and laser light show display. It truly is awe inspiring. If you have to take a break during the day and come back to the park due to tired little (or bigger) ones, I highly recommend that you do that. This is probably at the top of my “do not miss” list for Epcot.

Magic Kingdom

Today I want to talk about my favorite theme park of all time; Magic Kingdom. It was the first park built and opened in October of 1971 (my birth year).

I usually request demand that we go to Magic Kingdom on the first day of our trips to Disney World. There is something about coming in under Walt Disney World Railroad and onto Main Street, USA that is very special and very magical to me. It has been that way since our very first trip and I believe it will be that way until my very last trip (in many, many, many years).

The Fletchers at Magic Kingdom in 2014

The park is split up into six themed sections: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Liberty Square, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Frontierland. The theming of the attractions in each section carries over into all of the attractions within it.

Magic Kingdom MapWhen you’re planning your day at Magic Kingdom, I recommend that you knock out all of the attractions you want to see in one area at a time. It will save you a lot of time. You may not be able to do this 100% due to Fastpass+ or dining reservations but it will save you a lot of time walking around if you stick to one area at a time.

This may prove to be more difficult than you think if you are anything like me and get distracted by an app like Undercover Tourists for ride wait times. You may find yourself hoofing a 15 minute walk from Tomorrowland over to Frontierland because the wait time at Splash Mountain is only 10 minutes. Learn from my mistakes and try to avoid this because in my experience, it does not actually save time.

I think the app is a good place to start to determine where you are going to start and what area you are going to next, but walking from area to area and back will chew up a lot of your day.

Main Street, USA

Main Street contains mostly shopping and dining with a few exceptions. At City Hall you can find Guest Relations and lost and found. At the Harmony Barber Shop you can actually get your hair cut, but you’ll need a reservation. There is also the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom which is an interactive, go at your own pace activity where you set out to find clues throughout the park to defeat the Disney villains. You can also start this from within Liberty Square as well.

Here is the full list of attractions:

  • Walt Disney World Railroad
  • City Hall
  • Town Square Theater (you can meet Mickey and Minnie here sometimes)
  • Sorcerers of The Magic Kingdom
  • Harmony Barber Shop
  • Tony’s Town Square Restaurant
  • Main Street Bakery (try the cinnamon buns)
  • Plaza Ice Cream Parlor
  • The Plaza Restaurant
  • Casey’s Corner
  • The Crystal Palace (restaurant buffet)
  • Main Street Chamber of Commerce
  • Emporium (one stop shop for Disney gifts and souvenirs)

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland’s theme is… well… a futuristic one. Most of the stuff has a sort of futuristic art-deco styling. The most popular attraction is probably Space Mountain but my favorite is probably Stitch’s Great Escape. Please note that if your young one is afraid of the dark, it does get pitch black for a few moments during the “ride”. It’s not really a ride but you do get strapped into a chair for a few minutes while Stitch is escaping. That’s all I’m going to say because I don’t want to ruin it if you’ve never been.

The Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor is also in Tomorrowland and that is definitely worth checking out. You will get out of the heat for a while and the show is really funny and always unique. Two years ago I was picked to be Sully.

Iris and Kaelynn on Tomorrowland Speedway
Tomorrowland Speedway

The full list of attractions are as follows:

  • Tomorrowland Speedway (Iris’ favorite in Tomorrowland)
  • Space Mountain
  • Astro Orbiter
  • Tomrrowland Transit Authority
  • Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
  • Buzz Lightyear’sSpace Ranger Spin
  • Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor
  • Stitch’s Great Escape!
  • Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe
  • Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies
  • Cool Ship
  • The Lunching Pad
  • Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant

Fantasyland

Fantasyland is one of the larger park themes. It went under a fairly large renovation a few years ago, adding to it what some people are referring to as “New Fantasyland”. It is home to the classic attractions It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Prince Charming Regal Carousel (formerly Cinderella’s Royal Carousel) and Dumbo the Flying Elephant (there are actually two of them now.

Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak Station
Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station

If you have smaller children, you will likely spend most of your day in Fantasyland as most of the attractions are small child friendly.

It is also home to the newest Magic Kingdom attraction which is a family thrill ride named Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This ride is an absolute blast. The lines are typically always going to be longer for newer and recently refurbished rides but this one is definitely worth the wait. Plus there is a lot of cool stuff to do in the line queue like playing a digital gem game. Fun!

Here is also a trivia factoid for you. The Barnstormer is billed as a “thrilling junior roller coaster” for children. What few people know is that it actually is faster than Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain.

Here is a list of the many attractions in Fantasyland:

  • It’s a Small World (the song will be stuck in your head all day)
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic
  • Prince Charming Regal Carousel (try to find Cinderella’s horse with the golden ribbon in its tail – there is only one)
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • Princess Fairytale Hall
  • Fairytale Garden
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Ariel’s Grotto
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Casey Jr. Splash ‘n Soak Station
  • Pete’s Silly Sideshow
  • Walt Disney World Railroad
  • The Barnstormer
  • Pinocchio Village Haus
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table
  • The Friar’s Nook
  • Storybook Treats
  • Be Our Guest Restaurant
  • Gaston’s Tavern
  • Cheshire Cafe
  • Prince Eric’s Village Market
  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Big Top Souvenirs

Liberty Square

Liberty Square is a smaller area that is usually a little quieter. It’s a great place to find some shade and enjoy a funnel cake or frozen treat from Sleep Hollow. It is also home to Haunted Mansion and the Liberty Square Riverboat.

I rarely miss getting a bowl of New England Clam Chowder and a lobster roll from Columbia Harbour House.

Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder from Magic Kingdom's Columbia Harbour House

Here is the full list of attractions in Liberty Square:

  • Liberty Square Riverboat
  • The Hall of Presidents
  • Haunted Mansion
  • The Diamond Horseshoe(open seasonally – I have not figured out the seasons)
  • Liberty Tree Tavern
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Liberty Square Market
  • Columbia Harbour House

Frontierland

Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Need I say more?

Frontierland does not have a lot of attractions, but the ones it does have pack a wallop. Iris loves Splash Mountain and it is probably her favorite ride in Magic Kingdom. Can’t you tell by her face? Seriously, though she does love it. She loves big drops, even though she always screams on them.

Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain

I love Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland. It is another great place to find some shade. You can bring food into the park and enjoy a picnic lunch here. There is also a lot of stuff for children of all ages to explore here.

Here is a list of all of the Frontierland attractions:

  • Splash Mountain (I have been wetter on this ride than any other in all of Disney World)
  • Walt Disney World Railroad
  • Tom Sawyer Island
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Golden Oak Outpost
  • Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe
  • Westward Ho
  • Frontier Trading Post

Adventureland

disney-world-aladdins-magic-carpetLast but not least, we come to Adventureland. This is home to the very first ride we road as a family, so many years ago, on our first trip to Disney World: The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. This particular ride holds a special place in my heart. As you can see, we have properly trained Iris to ride roller coasters.

I know, I know. It’s not much of a roller coaster but at the tender age of four, it was a thrill for her.

Also within Adventureland is Swiss Family Treehouse which is fun to climb. You can actually get some good pictures of its surroundings along the way. Take your time going up and back down. If someone wants to go faster than you, just let them by and enjoy the scenery.

My favorite attraction in Adventureland is a tossup between Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise. They’re both great.

Pirate’s of the Caribbean is a little more “thrillish” but I have to give a nod to the Jungle Cruise captains. They make each trip unique and they are really, really funny. Pirate’s of the Caribbean was redone a number of years ago to include Captain Jack Sparrow and a few other characters from the popular movies.

Make sure to stop by Aloha Isle and get yourself a Dole Whip. Never had one? Try the pineapple. You can thank me later.

Here is a list of all of the attractions in Adventureland:

  • Swiss Family Treehouse
  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  • Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • A Pirate’s Adventure – Treasures of  the Seven Seas
  • Sunshine Tree Terrace
  • Aloha Isle (mmmmm, Dole Whip)
  • Tortuga Tavern (open seasonally – I have not figured out the seasons)
  • The Pirate’s League

I hope you have enjoyed this post about my all time favorite them park, Magic Kingdom. It sure has been fun for me to write and I enjoyed all of the memories it brought back while I was writing it. I can’t wait to get down there (in 29 days from the date of this writing) and make more memories with April and the kids.

What’s your favorite attraction at Magic Kingdom? Let me know in the comments below.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Starts in 5 Days!

I’m a grump when it comes to starting Christmas too early. I often belly ache and complain when I see a Christmas commercial or store display before Thanksgiving. Can’t we have one holiday at a time?

Magic Kingdom Christmas Tree
Chirstmas Tree, Main Street, USA by Dawn Pennington is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This grumpiness does not seem to apply to Disney World. I get excited when I read about and see pictures of the decorations going up. We’re going again this December so we will get to see them again in person this year including the Osborne Spectacle of Lights which is in its last year.

The festivities start again on November 8, 2015. That’s right, folks. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Starts in 5 Days! So settle in and get ready for your hot chocolate and cookies at the Very Merry Christmas party. If you are going to be anywhere near Orlando for the season, I highly recommend you look into going.

Frozen Holiday Wish

This year they are going to kick it off with a special Frozen Holiday Wish starring Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff. At some point in the show Elsa will use her powers to turn the Castle into an ice palace.

If you’ve never seen it before you can view the lighting (and more) on Pat Mce’s youtube video. He did a great job capturing it, but even it still does not do it justice when compared to viewing it in person. It really is stunning what they can do with lighting and affects on Cinderella’s Castle.

Cinderella Castle Christmas Lights

Also, don’t forget about the magic snow on Main Street, USA. Golly, it really is a magical experience. Can you blame me for not being grumpy about this one early Christmas display?

How to Save Money on Disney Souvenirs

bill-fold-squeezeLet’s face facts. Going to Disney World for a vacation is not a cheap thing to do. You have to shell out money for lodging, meals, transportation to and from Orlando and, if you’re anything like our family, lots of souvenirs. The good news is that I have a few good ideas on how to save money on Disney souvenirs.

Buy before you fly (or drive).

I think this is something that people often neglect to do. It’s very easy to get wrapped up on the impulse purchase at all of the great souvenir shops in the parks and at Disney Springs. When our kids were younger this was especially difficult because when my kids want something, I want to give it to them.

One way that we have found to mitigate this is to purchase some souvenirs before we left for our trip. You can find things for far cheaper online and at outlet stores prior to leaving.

Take this shirt on amazon.com for instance. On amazon, it sells for $13 – $20. At any of the Disney World locations in Orlando, you would likely pay around $30 for it. If I bought each member of my family this shirt (or something similar) on amazon it would save me at least $50 versus at Disney World. It is sold by Disney through amazon so it is of the same high quality your would find in the parks.

We typically try to buy our kids, and ourselves, a few pieces of memorabilia prior to leaving for our trips. It makes budgeting a lot easier because you stretch out how long you have to pay for your souvenirs for as long as you want.

Then we hide them from the kids. We will give them to them the day we are leaving for our vacation or we sometimes hold them until we get down there.

Another idea is to give the souvenirs to your kids every few days. What I mean by this is give them a shirt as soon as you get down there, and don’t be surprised when they want to wear it every day. Then a day or two later give them a cap or a set of Mickey Ears.

Disney Gift Cards

Another thing we do is get a Disney gift card or two for each member of our family. This does two things for us.

First, it provides each member with a specific budget of how much they have to spend. This allows for the impulse purchases that all kids (and dads) want, but it makes them think about how bad they want the shiny new object they just found. We use it as a budgeting learning tool for our kids. Once they have spent all of the money on their gift card they don’t have any more to spend the rest of the trip.

Now, I will say that we usually also put rules on when they can spend their souvenir money. Typically we make them wait for at least a few days into the vacation before they can start shopping. We also usually have them save a little bit for our last day because we have a tradition of going to Disney Springs on our last day in Orlando just to shop.

The second thing it does is save us money. You can buy Disney gift cards at BJ’s Wholesale Club at a slight discount. They typically cost around $96 for a $100 gift card so it’s only about a 4% savings, but when you couple this tactic with others the savings can really start to add up.

There are a few notes on the gift cards that I want to mention. One is that they don’t expire. If you’re planning multiple trips you don’t have to worry if you have some money left over on them.  You can use them on your next trip.

The other thing I want to mention is that these cards can be used at most places that accept credit cards at Disney World. We use them for all of our dining and shopping needs. We always try to figure out about how much we are going to be spending eating out at the parks and resorts and budget meal costs into our gift card purchase.

Pin Trading

One thing that is HUGE at all of the Disney parks is pin trading. Most people wear their pins on a lanyard and proudly display them the entire time they are on vacation.

Did you know that if you approach any Cast Member (Disney employee) and ask them to trade pins with you, they will? Our kids always have a lot of fun doing that and that is how they have gotten some of their coolest pins.

For this reason we usually buy some of Disney pins at a discount before our trip. You can usually find a batch of 25 pins for around $25 or less so it is much more economical than buying them at the park where they typically run around $4 each for the very cheapest ones. Some of the more expensive ones are upwards of $30.

Sometimes you can even find some really cool pins in a batch purchase like this from amazon or ebay. We always have our kids pick out the ones they are certain they want to keep and not trade. We fasten the ones they don’t want to lose to their lanyards with locking pin keepers.

Disney Outlet

If you are driving to Orlando, another great idea to save money is to make a pit stop at a Disney Outlet Store once you start getting close to your destination.

On occasion, we try to stop at the Disney Outlet Store in Florida off of Interstate 95 to or from our vacation. All of the products in the store are Disney branded. You will likely not save as much as you would if you were shopping online but the items will not be as pricey as they are at Disney World.

This gives us a chance to shop around and touch the stuff we’re thinking about buying so it is a great option.

I hope I’ve given you some good ideas on how to save money on Disney souvenirs. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. Also, if you have any money saving tips for vacation souvenirs, I’d love to hear about them.

Planning a Disney World Vacation

disney-world-vacation-39-days-to-goAs many of you know, April and I are in the middle of planning a Disney World Vacation. We are super excited about it and we are a measly 39 days, 21 hours, 10 minutes and 5 seconds from being on vacation! Excited much?

Now, I say that we are in the middle of planning it, but it is mostly planned. And when I say we, I mean April. She certainly take the brunt of the planning of all of our vacations. But she enjoys doing it and I enjoy letting her.

What is there to plan? Aren’t you just going to go to the parks?

Well, yeah, we are definitely going to “just” be going to the parks. But if you don’t have a plan you might find yourself among throngs of crowds, waiting in hour long lines and not being able to get into the good restaurants.

When should you go?

I think a better question is when can you go? As for me, I will go whenever I can. With that said, there are times when the crowds are lighter.

I find that many people are hindered by their kid’s school schedule. We have been fortunate in that our kids have always done well enough in school that we can justify pulling them out for a week to go whenever we want.

That is why we are going the second week in December this year. The crowds will be on the light side. We will also get to see the Osborne Spectacle of Lights one last time.

I’ve done some research and writing on when to go. Check out my article on when to go for some tips. Check back often. It’s an evolutionary writing.

Dining Reservations

I have said it before and I’ll say it again here. Make dining reservations as far in advance as possible. Don’t say I did not warn you.

disny-ohana-restaurant
With Stitch at Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast

We have found that even making reservations exactly 180 days from the date of our stay, we often find it difficult to get into the more popular restaurants. Fortunately for us, the most popular restaurants are not our favorites, but if you’re looking for character dining it is best to book as soon as you can.

One of the restaurants that I’m really looking forward to this December is Coral Reef in Epcot. It is a really cool place to eat where the rolls sort of get reversed between fish and people. There is an enormous aquarium and the restaurant has stadium seating. It sort of feels like you are sitting in a fish bowl and the fish are viewing you. There are even sharks in the aquarium. SHARKS!

Coral Reef Restaurant by Richo.Fan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Coral Reef Restaurant by Richo.Fan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There are gobs of great restaurants to eat at. Pick the ones you want to eat at and jump on getting some reservations. Without them you may not get in. Again, I cannot say this enough.

Which Park, Which Day

This is a tricky one to figure out. If you are making in park dining reservations and do not have a park hopper, you may get pigeon holed into going to certain parks on certain days. Don’t be discouraged. You can work around this. The only park this really happens to with us is Epcot, usually, because we frequently eat at resort restaurants.

If you have some flexibility a great resource is the Undercover Tourist iPhone app. It’s free and easy to use. It not only gives you wait times for the attractions, but lists the parade times and even tells you what the estimated park crowds are heaviest and lightest for that day.

I love going to Magic Kingdom on the very first day we are there. To me it’s nostalgic and the crowds will not keep me away. But everyone is different.

Whatever parks you decide to visit on whichever day, you will certainly want to take advantage of FastPass+.

FastPass+

Learn how to skip the lines from the pros at Undercover Tourist. I cannot explain it any better than them, so I’ll just leave you with this link.

In short, though, FastPass+ allows you to skip the line queue by setting up an approximate time you want to ride a specific ride. You are allowed a few of these per day. I recommend using them for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom, Toy Story Mania and The Rockin’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios, Soarin’ and Test Track in Epcot and Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom.

Break Days

What is a break day? Stay at the resort and go to the pool. They are all awesome and you get a relaxing day without having to rush to or from a park. April has found that these are her favorite days on vacation.

Planning a Disney World Vacation

Whatever your plan is, try to be flexible as well. You may end up having to change your plans due to weather or park crowds. But it’s OK. Relax. You’re on vacation at the most magical place on earth. And I’m sure you’ll be able to reschedule your plans.

If you have any questions or comments, as always, reach out to us below.

Discount Disney World Tickets

There are quite a few ways to get discount Disney World tickets.  There really is no real reason to pay full price when you can save a few bucks.  Here is a list of a few of the ways we’ve found to purchase park passes at a discount rather than having to pay full price at the gate.

What kind of tickets do you need?

The first thing to decide is what kind of tickets you need for your trip. There are a few options to choose from. There is an annual pass (with a few different options to choose from) and a Magic Your Way base ticket.

Most people visiting Walt Disney World will probably want the Magic Your way Base ticket. The only real reason to upgrade to an annual pass is if you plan on visiting more than once in a 12 month period of time or if you are visiting the parks more than 10 days which is currently the maximum number of days you can put on a base ticket.

If you decide you need the magic your way base ticket there are a few add-ons you can purchase. One is the Water Parks and More upgrade.

"Ski Patrol Disney Blizzard Beach Florida" by Dr latino999 at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ski_Patrol_Disney_Blizzard_Beach_Florida.jpg#/media/File:Ski_Patrol_Disney_Blizzard_Beach_Florida.jpg
Ski Patrol Disney Blizzard Beach Florida by Dr latino999 is licensed under Public Domain via Commons

We almost always upgrade to the Water Parks and more option which allows you the same number of “fun visits”. Here are what the Fun Visits are:

If you use this option for one water park and one miniature golf entrance it has paid for itself. We almost always hit the water parks at least twice so it’s really a great value for us.

Entrance to Disney Quest used to also be included but since they announced its forthcoming closure which I talked about here. It is now included on your regular park pass.

Another upgrade is to add the Park Hopper. The Park Hopper option allows you to visit more than one park per day. This option is extremely useful if you are visiting during certain events like the Food and Wine Festival. We often like to visit one park for the attractions and then head over to Epcot for the food.

undercover-tourist-discount-disney-world-ticketsUndercover Tourist

This is the way we usually purchase our tickets. They have several different options options to choose from. You can save up to $38/ticket to Disney World from Undercover Tourist, plus FREE shipping!

Undercover Tourist offers discount Disney World tickets for all pricing levels with the exception of annual passes. They also offer tickets to other Orlando attractions such as Legoland, SeaWorld and Universal Parks.

The best thing about Undercover Tourist is that the discounts are offered to everyone. You do not need to be a member of any organization or club to receive a discount. Their discounts are also usually deeper than other organizations that you already have to pay to be a member of.

AAA

AAA offers discounts for members, currently up to $25 off gate prices. From what we have seen, this discount has never better than Undercover Tourist’s. With that said, if you are a member, it may be worth checking into at the time you are purchasing your tickets. I believe you will find that Undercover Tourist is always going to be cheaper.

Military

Walt Disney World usually has a discount for active duty or retired United States Military Personnel. If you fall into either of these categories, thank you for your service, and definitely check into the military discounts. They are usually pretty deep. You are also eligible to stay at Disney’s Shades of Green Resort which provides nice accommodations at a very reasonable price.

disney-vacation-clubDisney Vacation Club

Every once in a while Disney will offer annual pass discounts to DVC members. They are usually priced at the Florida resident discount. We always try to take advantage of this but it usually only works out to be a savings if you are either staying for more than 7 days or if you can manage two trips within 12 months.

Discount Disney World Tickets

There are a few other discount ticket offerings. Florida residents get a discount and there is a program for school field trips. But in summary, I still feel that Undercover Tourist is the best route for non-annual pass tickets as they offer the deepest discount and have the most flexibly.

As always, if you have questions, please ask below.