Tag Archives: Syndication Feed
If you go to Disney more than once a year, or if you go for very long trips, you might consider buying an annual pass (AP). There are really only two problems with buying an AP. One, they’re expensive. And two, it requires you to predict your travel plans a full year in advance, so you won’t know what you actually save until the year is up. When I buy a yearly pass to my local zoo, it’s pretty clear even for someone as math phobic as me that in just two trips, I’ll break even. It doesn’t take much effort to make it to the zoo twice in one year. But Disney? Well, that’s a bit more difficult. Factor in the savings offered to AP holders in the form of discounts and you have a fairly complicated problem.
There are two types of APs for non-Florida residents. The first sells for $499 plus tax and gives you admission to all four parks plus park hopping, free parking, and special AP discounts. The premium pass, which sells for $629 and gives you all of the above plus admission to the water parks, Disney Quest, and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course. Passes for kids, Disney Vacation Club owners, and Florida residents are slightly lower.
Consider these discounts when determining if an AP fits your needs:
- Free parking, which saves non-resort guests $14 a day.
- Discounted tickets to Night of Joy, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on select nights.
- 10% off lunch discounts at certain resort restaurants, such as The Wave and Grand Floridian Café as well as most sit-down restaurants in Epcot’s World Showcase (excluding Le Cellier). Valid Monday thru Friday only.
- 10 to 20% off lunch at most Downtown Disney sit-down restaurants.
- Merchandise discounts in Downtown Disney between 10-15 %.
- 15% off most tours, such as the Epcot Segway tour.
- Up 30% off sports and recreation, including golf.
- AP holders may buy a Tables in Wonderland card for an additional $75, allowing them to receive 20% off at participating restaurants.
- Invitations to passholder-only events and promotions. A few years ago, for example, passholders were invited to soft openings for Toy Story Midway Mania before the general public.
- The 2011 Walt Disney World Passholder – Sports and Recreation Discounts (chipandco.com)
- Annual Passholder Discounted Rates: October-December (chipandco.com)
Okay, so you’re a Disney newbie. What should you expect when you get there? If you’re coming from up North, don’t expect wide verandas and southern belles. Culturally, Orlando has a little bit of everything, but it’s not really Southern, although you can get good barbecue and sweet tea. Here’s a quick run-down on the area for first time guests.
The Airport. You’ll likely fly into the Orlando International Airport (MCO). Some vacationers choose the smaller Sanford Airport, about an hour from Disney World, to save money, but if you choose this option don’t forget to add in the cost of transportation to and from the airport, as it isn’t serviced by Magical Express. The main part of MCO is designed like a big rectangle with monorail lines out to the four terminals located at each corner of the rectangle. Shopping, a hotel, full-service restaurants, the baggage claim area, and the oh-so-important Magical Express are all located in the main part of the airport. Disney travelers make up a big part of this airport’s business so conveniently, you’ll see signs for Magical Express everywhere.
Weather and Geography: I’ll admit, this is probably an obvious one. It’s hot. And it’s humid. And it rains frequently during the summer. But the winter can be all over the place: Hot one day, cold the next. Chances are you’ll experience some of the nicest weather the region has to offer during this time, but last January, it actually snowed, so be prepared. I always tell people who are visiting Orlando during the late fall through the early spring to bring a waterproof coat with a liner that zips out, that way you can use them together or alone. This is particularly true for children who will be outside at night.
Newcomers are often surprised by how much water there is in Central Florida. There are literally small ponds and lakes everywhere, which can be very pretty but dangerous. If you’re renting a house and you have small children, you’ll want to take note of any bodies of water near the house; people are often surprised to find small ponds just a few yards from the back of the house. Sadly, every year several people in Central Florida drown when they drive into those ponds, many of which are right next to roads. This has even happened on Disney property, so be extra careful, especially on days when it rains heavily and you may have trouble seeing the road.
Swimming in lakes should be avoided. Part of this is due to the presence of snakes and the alligators. I mean no one wants to run into a gator, right? But it’s these three little words that should really worry you: Brain eating amoebas! I’m not making this up. Apparently these little critters live in fresh water when it sits stagnant at over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you ingest them, it can lead to sickness or even death. Yes, people do swim in these lakes, but it’s not worth ruining your trip over to take the chance. If you want to experience swimming in local fresh water, try some of the nearby state parks that have beautiful clear springs for swimming and boating. These pristine swimming holes are popular with locals and stay around 70 degrees during the summer, making them a nice alternative to the theme parks on a hot day.
Culture: Florida, as a state, is a mix of many things: Part southern in the northern part of the state, part melting pot everywhere, expect to meet people from all over the country and the world. In Orlando you’ll encounter more newcomers than true locals. As the number one travel destination in the world, this small city has seen every race, religion and background. You’ll see people of great wealth and those with almost nothing, just on International Drive. You can find just about any type of food although it might not be exactly like it is back home (bagels, pizza). Downtown Orlando has several interesting museums and neighborhoods like Little Saigon and Little Brazil, which have inexpensive ethnic food and shops. The area is, overall, very friendly and worth the trip from the theme parks.
Driving: I-4, the main highway running through the Orlando/Disney World area experiences some congestion in the stretch that goes through Orlando itself. Other than rush hour traffic, the rest of I-4 in this moves at a good pace. Don’t expect Los Angeles style drivers–the speed limit on I-4 is a low of 50 MPH in downtown and as high as 65 near some of the attractions. Major roads near the attractions are congested on the weekends, particularly International Drive. Disney roads are rarely congested with the exception of the Downtown Disney area.
One interesting quirk I’ve found is that if you ask locals how to go to Disney World from the airport, they’ll likely tell you a way that avoids tolls. This is very thoughtful, but for a first timer it can be confusing. Make sure the directions you get are the ones that use the main roads.
Once on Disney property you won’t need a map or GPS, although even with those trademark purple signs, it’s easy to get lost on Disney property.
Fortunately, it’s very difficult to actually stay lost because those signs are just about everywhere. It helps to know where your resort is located in relation to the theme parks or Downtown Disney, since many signs will point you toward the theme parks (or “Epcot Area Resorts,” for example) first and then to the specific resorts.
Tolls: First timers are often surprised by the many toll roads around Orlando. If you’ll be driving, don’t forget to bring change. The fines are pretty steep if you don’t pay. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve sat at a toll booth, caught without change, only to have some kind person come up behind me and toss the .35 cents into the basket. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson. I hope.
Gas: Orlando gas prices tend to stay very close to the national average. The exception is at gas stations near the airport, where price gauging has reached a whole new level of arrogance. In recent months, Orlando officials have called for ordinances which require all gas stations to post prices so that drivers can see before they pull into the station, but that doesn’t keep them from charging nearly double for gas and taking advantage of tourists who are in a hurry to meet their plane and don’t know the area very well.
Surprisingly, some of the least expensive gas in the area can be purchased at the three Hess Marts on Disney property. They are at the Car Care Center next to the Magic Kingdom parking lot; Downtown Disney; and near the Boardwalk Resort. You can also buy soft drinks and other items for considerably less than at your resort gift shop.
Internet: While many large hotels in the surrounding Disney resort area have free internet, Disney does not (with the exception of free internet for Disney Vacation Club owners at DVC resorts). You’ll need to pay around $10 for 24 hours of internet service in your resort room. There is very little free WiFi on Disney property. It’s essentially non-existent in the parks. You can purchase 24-hours of WiFi for use in the lobbies on the Contemporary, Coronado Springs, the Yacht and Beach Club, and the Grand Floridian. It costs $9.95. This thread on Disboards explains everything guests need to know about internet use on Disney property.
Groceries: Hotel gift shops have a limited amount of merchandise and it’s usually quite expensive. If you don’t have a vehicle, try Garden Grocer. They’ll deliver right to your resort. I also like WeGoShop, which will do your shopping for you for a small fee. The Disney resort area has many of the same stores you’re used to at home. There’s a Whole Foods near SeaWorld, a Super Target just off property and numerous Walmart stores. I find that the Super Target on Highway 192 has the best selection and prices. For locations and more information, please see this post.
Wildlife: We probably should talk about these guys:
It’s true that they’re everywhere in Central Florida, even showing up on Disney property, but it’s rare that you’ll actually see one. Avoid swimming in lakes and challenging one to a wrestling match. Gators are notoriously crooked and like to fight dirty. Lesson: Don’t trust a gator.
Not only have I never seen a gator on Disney property, I’ve never seen a snake, which are known to appear from time to time and inspire fun threads on Disney message boards. I have however, seen ducks and squirrels parading around the parks and resorts, as well as lizards, the odd deer, innocuous possums, the dreaded and aptly-named Lovebugs, and the occasional cockroach.
The best advice anyone can give regarding local wildlife is probably what you do at home: Avoid it. Except those cockroaches. Do with them what you will.
I’m a veteran of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but this was my first visit to MNSSHP. For those who are new to Disney’s after-hours parties, MNSSHP is a special ticket event held in the Magic Kingdom from early September through November 1st. For the cost of admission, you’ll see an event only parade, a villain-themed show in front of the castle, enjoy dance parties, and trick or treating. There’s also lots of little surprises, like different music, special decorations, and your favorite characters in Halloween-themed costumes. There’s even an actress in the Haunted Mansion queue, Lady Renata, who interacts with guests and teases them. She was hilarious.
For me, the highlight of the party is the parade. Just about everything gets the Halloween treatment, starting out with a ride down Main Street by the Headless Horseman. A special treat is Snow White dancing with the Dwarves; you rarely see them together. You’ll also see lesser-known villains, such as Frollo. One of the best parts of the parade is the Haunted Mansion portion. Gravediggers come out and dance and make their shovels spark on the ground and the ballroom scene from the attraction comes to life with dancers in elaborate costumes and makeup.
The whole thing is incredibly creative and beautifully done and it shows off what Disney Imagineers can do. Overall, the Halloween parade is a little less G-rated than the daytime parade–a dancing girl gives a cowboy a playful smack across the face which took some parents near me by surprise–but not too scary for most kids.
As soon as you get to the Magic Kingdom, pick up a schedule. The parade starts in Frontierland at 8:15 and 10:30. Hallowishes, a slightly spookier version of the usual nightly fireworks display, begins at 9:30. The Disney villains show, which includes an opportunity to mingle with the characters afterwards, takes place four times a night in front of the castle. There are also character meet and greets throughout the park, so for character fans, this is a great opportunity to meet your favorites, as well as some new ones. Finally, you can catch character dance parties in Tomorrowland and in Liberty Square.
There are two schools of thought on how you should approach the party. Some say it’s best to use it mainly as an opportunity to ride attractions with shorter wait times with a little bit of Halloween thrown in. Others are more interested in seeing the shows, parade, trick or treating, and interacting with the characters. It’s true that if you focus on everything extra there is to do during the party, you won’t have much time for rides, but I tend to take a hybrid approach. I’m mainly interested in the rides, but since it’s so easy to catch the parade and shows later in the night after the crowds die down, I tend to put off the special party activities until later in the night. The only thing I missed out on at this party were the dance parties, which sound fun, but I also rode many rides, some multiple times.
There’s a lot of discussion regarding whether or not special events are worth it. I believe they are, but at around $60 per person, you really have to weigh the costs. Unless you’re on a very short trip (three days or less), you aren’t saving much money by skipping a day at the parks and buying a party ticket for that night because your park tickets are more expensive on the front end. This means that after the fourth day, you’ll only spend a few dollars each day to add more days, as opposed to an expensive party ticket. If you’re on a budget, as most of us are these days, you may find yourself having to choose between party tickets and park hoppers, which cost around the same amount per ticket. It depends on how you tour the parks, but personally if faced with this choice, it wouldn’t be a contest: I’d go with the park hoppers.
If your children are very young, they may not last throughout the entire party. If you’re okay with potentially leaving the party a few hours after it starts, that’s fine, but many people are not. A good nap earlier in the day helps. So can a relaxing, low-key day at the resort. But even then, your child may not be up for an entire evening of fun, so be prepared for that to happen. We had to leave one of the Christmas parties only a couple of hours after it opened and I was disappointed, but I prepared myself that that might happen ahead of time, so it made leaving a little easier. In addition, some kids will be afraid of the characters, shows, and spooky sounds. While the Halloween party is truly “not so scary,” every kid is different. While there were plenty of young children at the party having a wonderful time, I wouldn’t take my children just yet because they’re the type that gets scared and that’s fine; it’s something we’ll do in the future when they’re a little older.
Like the Christmas party, Halloween parties are busier on weekend nights and closer to the holiday itself. As the night wears on, crowds tend to thin after Hallowishes as parents of younger children leave. If you are looking for the least busy nights, you should be fine on non-school nights right up until the week before Halloween, when crowds will gradually increase. Some parties are slightly discounted if you buy tickets ahead of time. There are also discounts for annual passholders and cast members; incidentally, these discounts are also offered on nights that have historically been the least crowded, so if you’re looking for for lower crowds, try these nights.
A closing few thoughts:
- Some guests don’t celebrate Halloween. Don’t worry about visiting the Magic Kingdom during the day of the party. You’ll find mostly seasonal type decorations and very little that’s “scary.”
- The party runs from 7:00 p.m. until midnight, but you’ll be allowed in at 4:00 that afternoon.
- There are multiple places to trick or treat throughout the park, but the most popular, candy-rich spot is the trail that runs behind Toontown.
- Early in the night you’ll be asked to show your wristband as proof that you’ve paid for the party.
- Most nights the shops on Main Street are open for about an hour after park closing to allow guests to shop. During the Halloween party we attended, the shops closed at midnight; those inside were allowed to finish, but no other guests were allowed in. If this is your last night for souvenir shopping, make sure you do it earlier.
- Everyone is encouraged to come in costume. This is the one night an adult can dress up like Minnie or a princess and be admitted into the park, so if you’ve always wanted to be Belle, this is your chance to do it.
I trust Disney resorts. I trust that they’ll be clean, that they’ll be safe, that the staff will be friendly and efficient, and that issues that come up will be addressed quickly. That’s been my experience. Part of the joy of staying on property is knowing what you’re getting every time, whether you pay $58 a night or $458 a night. But no company is perfect. Such was the case last weekend at the Contemporary Resort.
My good friend had never stayed on Disney property before. Truth be told, until this trip she wasn’t much of a Disney parks fan. But she was coming down for the Wine and Dine marathon and remembered wanting to stay at the Contemporary as a kid, so she decided to give it a try and booked a Magic Kingdom view for a two night stay. The room was gorgeous. I know not everyone “gets” the theming of the resort, but I think most people can appreciate the room itself. Nice comfy beds, an incredible, big bathroom, and nice modern accents that make the room luxurious. She lucked out and got an 11th floor room right in the middle of the tower, possibly the prettiest view of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon you could ask for.
There was just one problem: The room wasn’t clean. There were crumbs all over the floor in the entry way. The rug was dirty and had not been vacuumed. The windows were covered in little hand prints. The fold out couch had a large stain on it, as did one of the lampshades. And the built-in closets were covered in a thick white dust. Clearly, no one had bothered to dust in a couple of weeks. At this point, this wasn’t an issue with the cleaning crew so much as one with supervisors.
Now, my room that same weekend at the All Stars was immaculate. That’s what I expected. And I think if you’re paying more than four times as much as I was paying, you deserve the same thing. At this point, I just want to make one thing clear. I’m not a complainer. I was once a Private in the Army, so I know what it’s like to work for demanding people who never thank you. I won’t ever forget that and I try to be as accommodating as possible. This is especially true at Disney, where I try to give cast members a break. All Disney fans know that there’s a certain type of resort guest who makes a lot of unreasonable demands; some of them pride themselves on it. We all know that being a cast member is a really hard job and that a lot of them do it because they love the company and they enjoy bringing some magic into people’s lives. So I don’t complain, I say thank you and please even if they’re too busy to notice, and I always tip at least 20%, even at buffets. But at a certain point, you have to say something. This was that point.
My friend called down to the front desk and a bit later was moved to another room after the manager, who was both friendly and professional, confirmed that the room was unacceptable. Even he seemed a little surprised by its condition. Unfortunately, this room had a very obvious safety hazard that the manager noticed right away. Since there were no other rooms available with that view, she was moved back into her original room. They gave the room a quick cleaning and compensated my friend rather generously, even by Disney standards. She didn’t let this ruin her stay and is looking forward to going back. I felt pretty bad though. I was the one who talked her into going. This was my ”happy place” and I wanted to share it with her. It would have been nice if things had gone more smoothly.
As I said, I try not to be a complainer, but I also think it’s important to let a business know when they’re doing something wrong, especially when it’s a place you care about. This shouldn’t have happened. In fact, this almost never does happen. As I stated above, that’s why I stay on Disney property. That same weekend we had such great service at the California Grill from our server, Charmaine, that I sent Disney an email to let them know. I also sent in comments about my room at the All Stars. I wasn’t crazy about the theme, but every cast member I ran into there was excellent and the room could not have been more clean.
If you have an issue with your room or the service you’re receiving, by all means, let Disney know. But don’t forget your manners. Just this last trip, I witnessed a woman using very loud, four-letter words in the lobby of the Contemporary over some room mix-up. She wasn’t helping her family or her case and I couldn’t help but really feel for cast member she was verbally abusing. Remember that Disney is a unique company and many cast members take a lot of pride in being part of it; in my experience, they’ll bend over backwards to help you. The company holds itself to a higher standard. Because of this, most of us expect better from Disney than we do from, for example, the Marriott or Holiday Inn. But that also works against it, because it brings out a strong sense of entitlement in some guests. So remember when you complain, be nice. This person has a hard job. But by all means, let your comments be known. Good or bad, they count.
If you want to compliment a cast member or relay an issue you’ve had during your stay, email Disney at WDW.Guest.Communications@disneyworld.com. It’s especially important to let them know about good service, as this helps deserving cast members advance within the company.
If you’re a longtime Disney World fan, you’ve probably heard the jokes about Disney pizza. Well, Disney must have heard those jokes too, because they set out to change our perception and have done so in a very big way. Via Napoli may just be my favorite restaurant on site. It’s certainly one of the top restaurants in Disney World.
Located in the back of the Italy pavilion in Epcot, Via Napoli features a wide, open space with a large communal table in the middle that would be perfect for larger parties, say up to twenty-five people. We saw the waiters seat several groups at once there on our visit; none seemed to mind sharing the table. The walls are covered in cream and rust-colored paint and punctuated by pretty frescoes.
Light fixtures feature brightly colored blown glass or iron accents.
It’s the type of restaurant where you’ll feel comfortable bringing the kids, but the food and surroundings make it special enough that it would be perfect for a casual date night as well. The dining room has very high ceilings, but even in a crowded restaurant I didn’t find it to be overly loud; children or adults with sensory issues should be fine. There’s also ample seating outside in a covered patio area. During cooler times of the year, this area will be a prime location for people watching and leisurely meals.
The open kitchen in the back has three wood-fired ovens which feature faces used to represent the main volcanoes of Italy: Mount Vesuvius, Mount Stromboli and Mount Etna.
You can also watch pizzas being prepped, slipped onto a wooden paddle, and then slid into the extremely hot ovens, where it takes only minutes to bake.
Over the course of three different meals, we tried four appetizers: The salad, made for sharing, had a spicy vinaigrette; the fritto misto, which features fried seasonal vegetables; the arancini, fried saffron risotto balls with sausage served with a red sauce for dipping; and a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad drizzled with a nice olive oil. Of the four, the only disappointment was the arancini, which was heavy and starchy with almost no flavor. Both the arancini and the fritto misto came with a standout marinara that was just about perfect. Don’t hesitate to try the fritto misto because you’re worried about it being greasy; the flavor of the vegetables shines through the crispy coating. In fact, the kitchen seems to have a knack for frying, as everything fried that we tried was non-greasy and perfectly crisp.
Via Napoli serves the usual pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken Parmesan, but the real star here is of course the pizza. Individual pizzas start at $16 and are enough for two people with lighter appetites. Made from imported Caputo flour, considered by many to be the best for making pizza, and water similar to that found in Italy, the crust is thin and flavorful, but not so overpowering that you don’t enjoy the exemplary toppings. There’s something satisfying about biting into this type of crust, slightly chewy but softer in the middle. Most pizzas are topped with a light smear of the marinara mentioned above, in addition to fresh mozzarella and various meats, vegetables, and even cantaloupe. I loved the pepperoni, which was smaller and more spicy than what you’d find at your neighborhood take-out restaurant. In fact, I liked it so much I had it twice on this trip.