The Pirate’s League

Show your Pirate side the next time you visit Magic Kingdom park!

Similar to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experience, which is for ages 3-12, The Pirates League is a makeover experience that the whole family (ages 3 and up) can enjoy together! Choose from pirate, empress or mermaid options, all with coordinating accessories to complete your makeover. Most pirate packages include facial makeup and hair, sword and The Pirates League logo sash, reversible bandanna, earring and eye patch, The Pirates League bag, temporary pirate tattoo, unique pirate coin necklace, pirate’s key, official pirate name and personalized pirate oath. The mermaid packages include luminous mermaid makeup and makeup palette and nail polish, mermaid hairstyle and color-changing hair clip, distinctive mermaid necklace, mermaid sash and bracelet.

Our little pirate chose the zombie pirate makeover because it was scary. Your first task for your makeover is to determine your pirate name by spinning a wheel which turns a treasure chest to roll the dice. The num

bers on the dice lead you to your pirate name.  Our zombie’s official pirate name was ‘Benjamin Sharkstench’.

All of the ‘Pirate Masters’ are friendly and very good with the little ones, telling jokes and sharing pirate stories as they transform your pirate. If it’s your birthday, be sure to let them know and they whole crew will sing you a pirate birthday song!

Once your makeover is complete, you are sworn in to The Pirates League and taken to a hidden chamber where your Pirate Master will surprise you with a bit of pirate treasure.

Our little pirate enjoyed this makeover experience. One of his favorite parts was that during our day in the park everyone was looking at him and commented how awesome his face paint was.

For the money and the experience, I highly recommend this makeover. It’s much easier to confirm a reservation than the Bibbidi Bobbidi Bo

utique and adults can participate too – I think, one day soon, my husband and I might just have our own pirate makeover experience!

The Pirates League is located between the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean and Plaza del Sol Bazaar. Reservations are recommended and can be made up to 180 days in advance, packages start at $39.95.  Options for the basic pirate and mermaid packages can even include an entire pirate or mermaid outfit, for an additional charge.

Disney Cruise Line – Disney Fantasy

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

I just returned from my Disney Cruise Line vacation on the inaugural sailing of the Disney Fantasy after dry dock and WOW – the Disney Fantasy is a magical ship!

My husband was cruising with me and we chose a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah for our first Disney Fantasy experience. Disney Cruise Line has thought of everything to ensure first-rate comfort and convenience during your voyage. The verandah is a private sanctuary where you can watch the sun rise, bask in ocean breezes and enjoy your morning coffee or an evening beverage. We have never felt cramped or crowded in our stateroom when cruising with Disney. The Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah design features include:

  • A sitting area with a couch, TV and desk
  • A heavy privacy curtain to separate the sitting and sleeping areas
  • A “split bath” (in most) that includes a bathroom with a vanity, sink, shower and tub and a half bathroom with a vanity, sink and toilet
  • A leather-upholstered ottoman with hollow inside storage
  • Cabinets with storage space in the living area
  • And my favorite feature – Elevated wooden bed frames for under-bed storage of suitcases and other large items
  • For the kids (or kids at heart), a mural of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Wendy and her brothers soaring through a starry sky reveals itself when the upper-berth bed is pulled down!

 

 

 

 

This inaugural sailing included 2 full days on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, consistently rated by Disney Guests as their favorite port of call – and MY favorite port of call when cruising with Disney!! Castaway Cay is reserved exclusively for Disney cruisers and the ship will dock right at the island to allow you to come and go as you please while enjoying experiences such as snorkeling, boating, swimming and sunbathing and bicycles can also be rented if you want to explore the island’s nature trails. While all areas of the island can be reached by walking, an island tram offers four stops to help you easily get where you want to go.

Your “Key to the World” card will work for all purchases on Castaway Cay except at the local post office where you can send mail to your loved ones back home with a Bahamian postage stamp; the post card postage rate is approximately $0.65 USD each. Dining is also included as part of your cruise package with covered outdoor restaurants serving burgers, BBQ chicken and ribs. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase and, if you are traveling without children, Disney offers “adult only” areas at Castaway Cay – Serenity Bay is a secluded beach exclusively for adults (where you just might encounter Captain Jack Sparrow strolling the beach!) and families can have fun together at the Castaway Family Beach.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are runners and Disney Cruise Line offers a 5K on Castaway Cay. It’s very informal but you do get race bibs and a medal at the finish line. If you want to participate in the 5K on Castaway Cay, you can register at Guest Services when you board your cruise. Your registration ticket, “Key to the World” and photo ID are required the day of your event to participate. The 3.1-mile out-and-back event is free and family friendly; it’s open to walkers and runners ages 10 and older. The race takes place first thing in the morning on the island, typically with a meeting time onboard of 8 am. The vibe of the event is casual, a fun experience worth the early wake-up!

 

 

 

 

Cruising with Disney is a very casual experience – I wore simple dresses and flip flops while my husband wore shorts and polos – even to dinner. The only exceptions are if you reserve adult only dinging experiences at Palo or Remy which both have dress codes. We enjoy the rotational dining exclusive to Disney Cruise Line, experiencing a different restaurant and menu with the same servers each evening. And, unlimited room service is also included!!

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to exceptional dining experiences, Disney Cruise Line offers many entertainment options including Broadway-like musical productions, viewings of recently released Disney movies, character meet & greets that you often cannot find at the parks, deck parties, dance clubs, karaoke, trivia and so much more!  There is definitely enough to keep you busy on a Disney Cruise if you aren’t the lounging at the pool or beach type.

A few new experiences now offered on the Disney Fantasy include Sweet on You, Tiffany & Co., and something just for kids, Star Wars: Command Post and Marvel Super Hero Academy.

The whole family can indulge in frozen desserts that satisfy your confectionery cravings at Sweet on You, a brand-new specialty ice cream emporium located just outside Cabana’s featuring 20 hand-crafted gelatos, 16 ice cream flavors, 32 tempting toppings, homemade chocolate, truffles, a large selection of candy and more!

Disney Cruise Line now hosts the world’s premier jewelry and iconic American luxury brand, Tiffany & Co., with an exclusive store aboard the Disney Fantasy. Indulge your most dazzling fantasies and peruse Tiffany’s timeless designs and discover why their quintessential little blue box is known around the globe!

At Star Wars: Command Post younglings can battle the Dark Side like never before. This hidden Resistance base transports new recruits to a galaxy far, far away—Disney’s Oceaneer Club, to be exact! Young Rebels can train with some of their favorite heroes from the legendary film saga and connect to holographic models of the Millennium Falcon, an X-Wing Fighter spacecraft or even the Death Star via the interactive “holotable,” a high-tech control hub that provides one of-a-kind Star Wars adventures and may even come face-to-face with First Order Stormtroopers!

At Marvel Super Hero Academy young trainees will learn the values of courage, compassion and responsibility alongside some of Marvel’s mightiest. The Marvel Super Hero Academy is an innovative experience where kids can master the mystic arts under the mentor-ship of Doctor Strange. Immersive gaming and interactive portals help beginners unleash their inner strength, become Avengers and discover the true meaning of “super powers”!

 

 

Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom


Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park opened on May 27, 2017 bringing a flight simulator based banshee attraction and boat ride through the landscape of Pandora.

As you enter, you walk through the Valley of Mo’ara and the enormous floating mountains are all around you. The valley is also home to many unique species of plants that can only be found on Pandora. There is a Na’vi-built drum circle, containing instruments you can play, Na’vi totems and other cultural items found throughout the land as well as two new Wilderness Explorers challenges with badges to collect.

This new land offers 2 new ride experiences as well as a Quick Service dining option, a beverage stand, and, of course, Pandora – The World of Avatar themed shopping experiences too!  Make sure you experience Pandora – The World of Avatar both in the day and at night because the land comes to life with beautiful bioluminescence each night!

Rides:

Avatar Flight of Passage (44″)
This experience is an exhilarating, 3D ride where you fly on the back of a mountain banshee offering you a breathtaking, first-person flight over the moon’s incredible landscape. It is for those 44” and taller and is quite a thrilling ride. Once you enter, there is a pre-experience queue similar to DINOSAUR that is narrated by video conferencing but that is also interactive. Once you enter the flight room, you mount your own banshee and prepare to take flight. Many have compared this experience to Soarin’ but it is SO MUCH MORE! This is not just a view of the World of AVATAR; this ride truly immerses you in the land!  FastPass+ is highly recommended for this new experience.  Even if you don’t have FastPass+, the standby queue is quite amazing in itself!

Na’vi River Journey
This experience is a boat ride that takes you on a journey deep into a bioluminescent rainforest in search of the Na’vi Shaman of Songs that the whole family can enjoy.  It is similar to boat experiences at the other Walt Disney World parks.  The boats each have two rows that will comfortably seat 4 Guests each.  After coasting through a series of caves, and passing by exotic glowing plants and amazing creatures of the rainforest, you’ll soon find yourself face-to-face with the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. Your adventure comes to a conclusion as the Shaman demonstrates her deep connection to the life force of Pandora and sends positive energy out into the forest through the power of her music.

 
 
 
 
 

Dining:

The new Pandora – World of AVATAR dining and beverage options are Satu’li Canteen and Pongu Pongu, meaning “Party Party” in the language of the Na’vi. Both offer themed menu items with Satu’li Canteen offering Quick Service dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Pongu Pongu offering a quick stop for themed beverages. Of course, my favorite treat on the menu was the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse!

Mobile Food Ordering:

On opening day, Walt Disney World also introduced mobile ordering – only available at Satu’li Canteen. Simply find a table at the canteen area and, using your My Disney Experience Mobile App, you can easily place your order for food and beverage and will be notified via your app when your order is ready. You will only need to know your order number for pick-up. Currently, to use Mobile Order, your MDE account must have a credit card linked and all charges will be applied to the linked credit card – Disney Dining Plans and Gift Cards are not accepted. Mobile Order will expand to other quick service locations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park this summer – and hopefully property-wide soon after!

Entertainment:

Entertainment on Pandora – The World of Avatar is focused around a Na’vi-built drum circle, containing instruments you can play, Na’vi totems and other cultural items found throughout the land. Swotu Wayä – which means “Sacred Place of Song” – is located in the heart of Mo’ara Valley and has the most beautiful backdrop of any stage at Walt Disney World! Performances are fun and interactive with a message of peace and can be seen every hour on the half starting at 10:30 am until 30 minutes before Pandora closes.  *Please check Time Guides for updated performance times.

Shopping:

For Pandora – The World of Avatar themed shopping, this new land offers Windtraders, which is the exit for Avatar Flight of Passage where you can choose from Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and more. And Colors of Mo’arais a retail kiosk that also offers Na’vi-inspired face-painting.

Wilderness Explorers:

While exploring Pandora – The World of Avatar, stop by the Wilderness Explorer stations and earn two new badges!

Experiences at Night:

Once darkness falls, the many unique and exotic plants of Pandora come to life with their beautiful bioluminescence in many different shades and patterns – even the ground you walk on is full of beautiful color! Look for interactive experiences throughout the land too – floating plants that respond to your arm movements and more. And it’s not only the colors that will surprise you, even the sounds of this amazing land change after sunset. As you move through Pandora at night you can occasionally hear the calls and footsteps of the many fantastic beasts that populate the nearby mountains.

 

 

Maximize Your Time:

There are some great ways to maximize your experience in The World of Avatar with extended theme park hours, “Extra” Extra Magic Hours for resort Guests and FastPass+!

*TIP: Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey are both Tier 1 FastPass+ selections at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. If you are only planning for one day at this park, I highly recommend FastPass+ for Avatar Flight of Passage and doing Na’vi River Journey as standby. However, if you are a resort Guest the “Extra” Extra Magic Hours may give you the opportunity to do both without FastPass+.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: Crystal Boston, Missy Tillman, Debi Mitchell     

Everything Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is THE PARK for everything Star Wars!  To help you plan your Hollywood Studio’s visit, below is information about everything Star Wars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

*Please check your My Disney Experience Mobile App or Times Guides available at the park for fireworks and show times.
Star Wars Locations in the Park:

  • Hollywood Boulevard (HB):
    • March of the First Order
    • Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
  • Echo Lake (EL):
    • Star  Tours – The Adventures Continue
    • Star Wars: Path of the Jedi
    • Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple
    • Tatooine Traders
  • Animation Courtyard (AC):
    • Star Wars Launch Bay
    • Star Wars Launch Bay Theater
    • Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, and BB-8 at Star Wars Launch Bay

  Rides:

Star Tours – The Adventures Continue (EL) (40″) *offers Rider Switch
Make the jump to hyperspace—and to a new destination from Star Wars: The Force Awakens—during a 3D, motion-simulated space flight. *New for 2017, voyage changes, switching back to randomized beginnings, and final destinations will include scenes from the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

*Tip: FastPass is available for this experience and is recommended.

Shows and Stage Shows:

Star Wars: Path of the Jedi (EL)
Watch a 10-minute retelling of the blockbuster Star Wars saga and get a peek at the future of the galaxy.

Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple (EL)
Watch younglings train in the ways of the Force and put their skills to the test against the Dark Side!

*Tip: Arrive before park opening to register your child, ages 4-12, for this experience. Your child must be present at the time of registration to participate. Registration is located at the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost located between the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! and the 50’s Prime Time Café.  Availability is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Be flexible with your schedule to accommodate training times.

Star Wars Launch Bay (AC)
Check out movie props, snap photos, screen videos, and greet Star Wars heroes and villains. *New for 2017 Star Wars Launch Bay will feature new props from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Star Wars Launch Bay Theater (AC)
Watch a behind-the-scenes video and see how a new generation of filmmakers is designing the future of the Star Wars saga. *New for 2017 making-of footage can be seen in the attraction’s behind-the-scenes film, “Meet the Makers.”

March of the First Order (HB)
Watch and listen as Captain Phasma, a ruthless commander, leads her squad of Stormtroopers up Hollywood Boulevard to Center Stage.  *This experience provides a great photo or video opportunity too!

Star Wars: a Galaxy Far, Far Away (HB)
Witness the power of this live show that brings iconic Star Wars moments to life. *New for 2017 Advanced Weapons Research (AWR) Troopers from the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will debut during a new scene. AWR Troopers are encased in specialized Stormtrooper armor with a dark, ominous gleam.

*Tip: If you have seen this show previously or the viewing area in front of the stage is already full, stand behind the stage during the show and then just to the left facing side of the stage as the show is ending and you will see the Star Wars characters as they exit, sometimes getting a fist bump or two, for great photo opportunities!  Another good spot to see the characters enter and leave the stage (if you have already seen the show) is in the Great Movie Ride courtyard.

Fireworks:

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (HB)
Conclude your day with an out of this world fireworks finale bursting with Star Wars music and magic which includes a celebration of the theatrical release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

*Tip: Cast Members will ask everyone stand up before the show starts. The best location is, of course, front and center stage – but you will need to arrive early to snag a spot! If the front section is full, the next best spot is center to the stage just to the right of the handicap area behind the section taped off for a walkway or any spot center to the stage will be a good viewing area. There is no stage show, everything happens on the screens mounted on the stage or in the sky. Watch for the light sabers too!

Star Wars Character Meet & Greets:

You can find these characters in Star Wars Launch Bay (AC).

  • Kylo Ren
  • Chewbacca
  • BB-8

*Tip: Wait times can be long but the lines do move quickly, so don’t be intimidated by a long wait time – at least it’s air conditioned! If you are a Disney Visa Cardmember, just present your Disney Visa card for a special character meet & greet offered daily from 11am to 4pm. Also, during the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party is a great time to experience the characters as wait times are 20 minutes or less. Characters may vary daily for this offer.

Photo Opportunities:

Snap a photo in Star Wars settings or next to replica movie props to prove that you visited a galaxy far, far away.

Shopping:

Tatooine Traders (EL) is located at the exit of Star Tours.

Special Events & Tours: 

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party
Watch the fireworks from a reserved viewing area with Star Wars-themed desserts and drinks—plus receive a souvenir stein.

*Tip: Advance reservations are highly recommended.

Star Wars Guided Tour – New for 2017
This seven-hour guided tour will be led by a Star Wars “all-in-the-know” tour guide. You will blast off on Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, get an in-depth, insider’s tour around Launch Bay, and enjoy Star Wars-themed menu items at Backlot Express. Plus, Guests age 4-12 will have an opportunity to participate in Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. And, the finale of this unforgettable day includes themed sweets and specialty beverages at Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party, which also includes reserved viewing for the fireworks show and a souvenir stein.

*Tip: This experience is highly recommended especially if you are a Star Wars fan! The cost for the tour compared to the cost for the dessert party is a DEAL! Plus, this BONUS, if you have younglings that want to participate in the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple experience, doing the tour provides the opportunity to participate without the need to arrive before park opening to sign up.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios park admission is required for both experiences. Additional fees apply for these separate ticketed experiences.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is already packed with Star Wars attractions, entertainment, and shopping… but new additions are debuting all the time. The Star Wars experience at Walt Disney World Resort will also include a Star Wars-themed Land, the largest single-themed expansion ever added to a Disney theme park!

 

 

 

Review of the Norwegian Escape

written by Sara Toerner, Travel Specialist

One Word Review:  AMAZING!!

You’ll LOVE the Norwegian Escape ship IF:

  • You enjoy flexibility in your cruise experience, not set dining times and stuffy tuxedo dinners (though a Dress Up night is offered on many sailings)
  • You are a solo traveler. NCL’s Studio Suites are innovative and cost-effective for the solo traveler; a great way to meet other solo travelers.
  • You have been dissatisfied by value cruises
  • You enjoy large ships with PLENTY of entertainment, shows, dining options, and activities
  • You are annoyed by dated cruise ships. The Escape debuted in 2015.
  • You are an upscale cruiser: The Haven’s luxurious staterooms, restaurant, and courtyard/pool are exclusive to Haven guests and feature an array of impressive benefits.
  • Fun is on your cruise agenda, but so is relaxation.
  • You’re traveling with kids or you’re traveling without. Escape offers both adults-only areas and kids-only clubs.
  • You enjoy the latest, the greatest, the newest, or the most innovative things in life.

NCL’s most innovative ship ever built, the Escape, is ready to whisk you away to the Bahamas and The Caribbean from Miami. Get ready to escape on one of the newest and most exciting ships on the seas! Indulging in every whim is what unforgettable vacations are made of. Get ready to chase sunsets on The Waterfront. Explore a world of exotic flavors with two new restaurants from Iron Chef Jose Garces. Get closer to paradise with two quintessential Jimmy Buffett venues: Margaritaville at Sea and the 5 O’clock Somewhere Bar. Sip on some of Napa’s best blends at The cellars, A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar. Or try our unique specialty cocktails, hand-crafted by Bar Lab. Be dazzled by Broadway hits like After Midnight. Discover a new world of Freestyle Cruising on Norwegian Escape.

Ready to experience the Escape first-hand?

Express Transportation at Walt Disney World®

written by Jennifer Hart, Travel Specialist

Do you ever wish that you could spend more time enjoying all 4 theme parks? Or maybe even visit all 4 parks in 1 day? Now you can, and Disney has made it even easier than before. If you have a Park Hopper ticket or are an Annual    Passholder, you can now add the Express Transportation option and give yourself more time to play. Disney’s Express Transportation option picks you up and drops you off inside the parks….no need to go through a second line for baggage check or wait in a line to re-enter a park at the gate. Start your day in one park and when you are ready to change to a different theme park, simply make your way to the Express Transportation check-in location and a Cast Member will escort you to your bus.

The Express Transportation option is available to guests with a valid Park Hopper ticket or Annual Passholders.  To purchase your ticket, visit any ticket window or Guest Relations inside a park, Disney Springs ticket window, your hotel concierge, or a kiosk at the check-in locations.  The day you purchase is the day you can begin using it.  Advance purchase is not available.

Pricing is per guest (ages 3+).

  • Single Day, is valid for the day of purchase only and is $19 per person.
  • Multi-Day, is valid for 7 consecutive days beginning on the day of purchase and is $29 per person.

Here are the check-in locations at each park.

  • Magic Kingdom: near the exit of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • Epcot: the east side of Spaceship Earth
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios: the courtyard in front of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom: near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris

The Disney Express Transportation service:

  • Departs approximately every 30 minutes.
  • Runs each day from 10:00 AM until park closing.
  • Travels directly between each of the theme parks, it does not stop along the way.
  • Drops you off inside the park, so you are ready for fun from the moment you arrive!
  • Gives you unlimited transfers between all 4 theme parks, for as long as your Express Transportation ticket is valid.Several of us used this on a recent trip…it was so easy to hop from park to park.  We made it to all 4 parks in one day and never felt rushed since we saved so much time.  It is definitely the way to go if you are pressed for time, on a quick get away and want to maximize your park time, or trying to mark the 4 parks in one day off your bucket list!

 

Rivers of Light–Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

The long awaited ‘Rivers of Light’ at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park has finally made it’s debut!

Rivers of Light is located in the park’s Discovery River lagoon between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. It features water fountains, mist screens, floating lanterns, fire effects, lasers, lights, fog, projection mapping as well as live performers and incorporates the park’s Tree of Life into the show too .

This new nighttime experience celebrates the beauty of all living things. With a brilliant fusion of water, sound and light, it’s a unique experience that will entertain the whole family!

Rivers of Light is staged in the middle of the Discovery River, with seating split in two sections: on the shores of Asia in front of Expedition Everest, and along the banks of DinoLand U.S.A. in front of Finding Nemo—The Musical. All of the seats in Asia – half of the show’s 5,000 seats – are reserved for Guests with FastPass+. The other half of the seats, on the DinoLand side, are for those booking the Rivers of Light dining packages (available at Tusker House or Tiffins) and for standby Guests. There are also very limited, partially obstructed viewing areas around the river. I have viewed from all 3 areas and I highly recommend the dining package viewing area if you plan to see this new experience!

As sunlight fades, the ‘stars’ begin to twinkle in the trees surrounding Discovery River. A vibrant awakening of flitting fireflies leading to a ceremonious procession across the water of floating lotus blossoms that morph into colorful dancing fountains and over-sized animal sculptures – tiger, turtle, elephant, and owl – that light up in various colors.

The show begins with four flickering, lotus flower lanterns floating on the lagoon. They’re soon joined by shamans. The shamans conjure the forces of fire and water to reveal the majesty of the natural world, mostly as video projections on a huge water screen projected at the back of the lagoon.

In the final moments, the largest lotus sprouts a blazing tower. This magnetic display culminates in a triumphant blend of song, light, color and earthly elements. We are all bound together by earth and spirit — past, present and future.

Rivers of Light joins other nighttime experiences recently added to Animal Kingdom, including the sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris, Discovery Island Carnivale, Harambe Wildlife Parti and the Tree of Life awakening. Be sure to watch the video posted above, my photos do not do this show proper justice!

 

Universal Orlando Resort Vacation

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

Your kids grow up and so do vacations. If you are looking for a vacation destination that offers fun and thrills for the whole family, a Universal Orlando Resort vacation is the perfect destination vacation for you!

I recently completed a week of training at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida and it is the Ultimate Central Florida Vacation destination!

We spent our week at Cabana Bay Beach Resort and it’s a fun resort with so much to do! Go for a swim or relax in the lazy river, take the family for a game or two at the bowling alley or get your fitness on at the Jack LaLanne Fitness Center. From the moment you arrive, you will be taken back to the iconic beach resorts of the era with décor that throws back to the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s a fun place to hang out with the entire family. Also, when staying on property, you will enjoy exclusive benefits to make the most of your vacation. It’s the best way to experience all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer!

On our first day we were able to tour all 5 of the resorts on property. Although Cabana Bay Beach Resort has a fun throw-back vibe, I prefer the tropical styling of Loews Royal Pacific Resort. This resort offers the breathtaking splendor of lush tropical surroundings and you feel like you’re on a tropical island in the South Seas.  In addition, Lowes Royal Pacific Resort offers Universal Express Unlimited ride access in both theme parks FREE with your resort stay, which is also offered at Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Cabana Bay Beach Resort do not offer the Universal Express Unlimited ride access.

Universal Orlando Resort also offers special events throughout the year, and most all are included with your park admission! We were lucky enough to be at the resort during the Mardi Gras celebration and participated in the Mardi Gras parade held nightly during the celebration!

Other special events throughout the year include ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ (usually held the last week of January), ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ held in the fall (this is a special ticketed event and is not included with regular park admission), and the ‘Macy’s Holiday Parade’ and ‘Grinchmas’ experience held in the winter.

We kicked off our second day with breakfast at Three Broomsticks inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure park. This Happy Potter themed dining experience offers a traditional English breakfast, porridge, and other more traditional options along with pumpkin juice and Butterbeer! We were then free to tour the parks and explore on our own. If you want to experience all of the Harry Potter themed adventures, be sure to add a Park-to-Park ticket with your package as the Harry Potter experiences are in both parks and you can’t get from one to the other, or ride the Hogwarts Express, without a Park-to-Park ticket.
During the day we were able to use the Universal Orlando Dining Plans for Quick Service and Table Service. There are many good Quick Service options both inside the parks and a couple at CityWalk. I chose Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches for my Quick Service lunch. This is a uniquely themed little spot that looks like an old-time soda shop, with great food and atmosphere. It was a quiet place to relax after a morning in the parks. For evening, we dined at Vivo in CityWalk and the service, food and experience were all excellent. The dining plans are easy to use and the Team Members and servers can all answer your questions about how to use your dining plans.

Day three we were able to experience a VIP Tour and I would highly recommend adding a VIP Experience Tour to your vacation package! Along with a personal guide, the VIP Experience includes priority front of the line access to all rides and attractions including The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man,
TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D and all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions and experiences; exclusive behind the scenes tours, complimentary valet parking (1 vehicle, based on availability); continental breakfast to start your day, reserved Seating at shows; lunch at one of Universal Orlando’s 50+ dining venues. All VIP Experience Tours are date and time specific. There is also a Private VIP Experience Tour option as well as Halloween Horror Nights Tours. While we were able to experience attractions without waiting, it was also exciting to see the backstage areas of the parks. For our evening experience, we enjoyed the entertainment of the Blue Man Group. This is a family friendly and fun show that is also definitely worth adding to your vacation package.

Universal Orlando Resort will have new attractions opening soon, including Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious Supercharged Underground Racing as well as a whole new park – Volcano Bay (which will offer virtual lines via TapuTapu, an interactive wearable designed exclusively for Volcano Bay experiences) – opening May 25, 2017!

 

You will want to experience this full day water park during your vacation which will also offer themed dining experiences and shopping. Be sure to add at least a 3-Day Park-to-Park ticket to your vacation package so that you can experience all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer!

If you are looking for excitement, thrills AND relaxation for your next vacation, something that is family friendly – from the little ones up to the adults – visit Universal Orlando Resort in Florida!

My Top 5 Places to Eat Breakfast at Disney World…

….That You May Not Have Thought About

written by Sally Portera, Travel Specialist

I am sure that y’all know the classic favorite breakfasts at Walt Disney World: Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Castle, Crystal Palace, Akershus…  While those can be fun places to eat breakfast, I find that they are typically crazy busy, loud and can be hard to secure reservations (understatement!).  This top 5 list offers a variety of food options, character experiences and give you the opportunity to choose between a leisurely breakfast and a quick bite.  They can also expose you to resorts you may not have visited and are a great first or last meal on your next Disney World vacation!  Also, many of these great places do not require a dining reservation at 6 am 180 days in advance.  Here they are in no particular order!

1. Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House

This restaurant is one of my favorites for a great lower key character experience, especially for little ones.  This was actually where my son first met Mickey when he was three.  Smaller than Chef Mickey’s, it’s not as loud or busy and the characters have more time to spend with your kids.  Donald, Mickey, Goofy and Daisy are decked out in their safari gear.  I also enjoy the food there so much!  For those with a more adventurous palette, there are amazing African–inspired options.  My favorite are the sweet plantains, mealie pap (aka cheese grits) and ham with sweet and spicy mustard sauce.  For picky eaters, Mickey waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon, and breakfast pastries are offered.  We alternate between reservations before park opening and at around 1030 so we can catch both breakfast and lunch.  Tip: The other great thing about Tusker House is that, as a hidden gem, reservations can easily be made and changed last minute.

2. Boma

Love, love, love, Boma breakfast!  What a great excuse to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge!  The awe I experience entering the lobby at Jambo House and the opportunity to visit the animals never gets old for our family.  It is also relatively easy to get reservations, even last minute.  When you first sit down, the server will offer you my favorite, POG juice (passion fruit, orange, and guava).  I discovered it in Hawaii earlier this year and can’t get enough!  In addition to the standard Disney buffet fare, you can select a made to order omelet, scrambled eggs with goat cheese and chives, hand-carved African ham and turkey, and A-MA-ZING French bread pudding with pecan caramel sauce.  I don’t normally like bread pudding, but this one is a delightful “dessert” to end a great breakfast!

3. Be Our Guest

Who doesn’t love eating any meal in a Castle?  This reservation can definitely be tough to get, especially if you want a reservation prior to park opening.   The day that we ate there this summer, we were able to ride Seven Dwarves Mine Train twice before the park even opened!  Tip: With Early Morning Magic being offered at the Magic Kingdom now on select days, this will not always be possible.  I enjoyed the Croque Madame – an open-faced egg sandwich with ham and topped with a Gruyere cheese bechamel sauce.  I hear the croissant doughnut is sweet and tasty!  One thing to be aware of: the Feast a la Gaston breakfast could definitely be a more bountiful feast.  Fortunately, a basket of small pastries is served at each table and happily provided us a box to take with us for snacking later in the day.  Cost-wise, this is the best use of a quick service dining credit for breakfast in all of Disney World.

4. Garden Grill

We experienced Garden Grill for the first time our last visit and loved it!  Located in the Land Pavilion at EPCOT, Garden Grill is a rotating restaurant with two levels of booths facing out towards the Pavilion and rotates over the Living with the Land attraction.  We made nearly one full rotation while we ate.  It feels very private.  I could hardly hear the family that was next to us.  Another perk is that the food is served family style so there is no worry about missing a character while off at the buffet.  The server made sure Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale had all been by to visit with us before we finished our meal.  Our meal started with cinnamon rolls served in a cast iron skillet followed by Mickey waffles with Nutella chocolate sauce, scrambled eggs with salsa, bacon, sausage and potato barrels.  They also serve my favorite POG juice here and I was able to get a cup to go!

5. Kona Café/Captain Cook’s

Located at the Polynesian Resort, the popularity of ‘Ohana eclipses Kona, but I enjoy eating at Kona more for both breakfast and dinner.  The favorite breakfast entrée is the Tonga Toast.  If you like French toast and bananas, you will love the Tonga toast.  At Kona café, it is served with strawberry compote and bacon or sausage.  At Captain Cook’s, the Polynesian’s quick services restaurant, you can also get the Tonga Toast, but it does not come with the strawberry compote.  Both ways are delicious, but the strawberry compote does help moisten the toast.  The price difference is $6.50, so I will let you decide how important the compote is!  I love that you can enjoy the Tonga Toast whether you are in a hurry or want a relaxed meal.  They do offer more specialty items than just Tonga Toast at Kona.  The Macadamia-Pineapple pancakes are also delicious!   Tip: Don’t eat at Kona Café using the dining plan.  It is not a good use of a table service credit.  Captain Cook’s offers the Tonga Toast, but not the specialty pancakes for a quick service dining credit.

 

My runDisney Experience

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

Are you thinking about participating in a runDisney event?  In 2016 I experienced several runDisney events. My goal for 2016 was to run my very first Half Marathon events and earn my Coast to Coast Race Challenge medal. I wanted to get a feel for the runDisney race experience before I jumped right into the qualifying events to earn my Coast to Coast Race Challenge so I started with the Princess 5K at Walt Disney World Resort in February then moved up to the Star Wars Dark Side 10K in April, also at Walt Disney World Resort and finished my year with the Disneyland Half Marathon in California in September and the big finale was the Wine and Dine Half Marathon back at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida! Each event was so different yet had similarities and it was an amazing year of runDisney!

runDisney events are held on weekends, typically beginning on Thursday, ending on Sunday. There is always an Expo for each event and I recommend going to the Expo as early as possible as I found that popular items sell out quickly. You will also receive a t-shirt for each race you are registered for and a finishers medal for each race you complete. Also, runDisney will provide you with a course map prior to your event date. Each race has a bit different course due to the length differences.

With my first event, the Princess 5K at Walt Disney World Resort, we met at Epcot at 5 am and it was a very chilly morning for Florida. I had a little time before heading to my corral to enjoy the pre-party with DJ and character photo opportunities. I ended up in corral B so I had a quick start once the race got underway.  The course took us around Epcot’s parking lots on surface roads and then through some backstage areas before moving through the World Showcase and then Future World, finishing near the Start line in the parking area. It was pretty magical to run through Epcot in the dark without the crowds and it was a great introduction to the runDisney events!

For my second event, the Star Wars Dark Side 10K at Walt Disney World Resort, we met in the parking lot at Epcot again. This time the course took us through Epcot and then out the International Gateway and around the Boardwalk before heading over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finishing at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Again, it was very magical to experience this side of Disney! There were, once again, DJ’s, character photo opportunities and entertainment before and after the event as well as on the race course – this time Star Wars themed! This was a tougher course with some unpaved roads and paths near the end. I was happy it hadn’t or wasn’t raining as then we would have been running a ‘tough mudder’ and, well, that’s not what I signed up for… Disney provided buses to return us to our resorts or cars parked at Epcot. The bus lines for this event were very long and I waited approximately one hour for a bus. Even though this was a bit more challenging course, I did enjoy it more.

Now, for my Disneyland Half Marathon, this was my first experience back at Disneyland in California since June of 2004 so this was going to be a pretty amazing and magical experience for me even without the half marathon experience! Again, Disney offered pre and post-race entertainment, character photo opportunities and DJ’s as well as on the course. The course took us through both parks, Disneyland and California Adventure, and I must admit, I did become a little teary-eyed when running through Cars Land in California Adventure as this was my first experience in that new Disney land. It was so spectacular and I just took it all in!! This was a very easy course and we had amazing California weather! The course took us through the streets of Anaheim and we even ran through the Angels Stadium. There were locals on the sidelines cheering us on during the entire race, it was so wonderfully overwhelming how they came out to support us! The locals even cheered us on with their participation in a car show through an extensive part of our run which concluded with a Lightning McQueen look-alike. Bus service was provided for all participants and the only snag I experienced with this event was the huge backup at security as Disneyland only offered one security checkpoint at the main entrance to the “Disney areas” and runners and general guests were all trying to get through the same security checkpoints. Needless to say, these lines were very long! My goal for this race, which was my very first Half Marathon, was to finish in 3 hours and I finished just under! This was a great course and experience and I highly recommend it for anyone thinking about a runDisney event.
And, for my big finale, I completed the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and earned my Coast to Coast Race Challenge medal! As usual there was ample entertainment, DJ’s and character photo opportunities before after and during the event. The course took us through all of the Disney parks except Magic Kingdom and we also ran on Disney owned surface streets and backstage areas. The entertainment was varied with many different Disney characters and musical entertainment. Our 4 am morning did start out a bit cool but we enjoyed exceptional weather, without the usual Florida humidity, so that helped to make this race a bit easier to get through. This was the first year this race was held in the morning, they have always held this race at night but have experienced inclement weather the past couple of years. In Florida, it tends to rain or storm at night but our mornings are usually nice so, my guess is, that is the reason for the time change. With the good weather, I had a great run for my second half marathon and finished in 2 hours and 48 minutes!

If you are considering participating in any runDisney event, we are a preferred runDisney Travel Provider and I hope that you will also consider reaching out to me to help you book and plan your resort stay and participation! Participating in a runDisney race event is truly a magical experience and I think everyone that loves Disney should at least try it once!