Why Stay at a Disney Resort Hotel?

This post comes partly from the many times I’ve been asked this question from friends, family members, and potential clients and partly because of the recent release of a video from Disney Parks. There are so many perks of staying on property that it definitely makes up for any cost savings you might incur (or may not in the long run if you take other factors into account). This post will serve as an overview of all the benefits of staying on property and how that may translate into possible cost savings and a better overall experience.

First… the Video!

Before we begin, take a few moments to watch the video released by Disney Parks that provides a brief overview of the benefits with a little “flare.”

 

Now a Bit More Detail….

A bit cheeky, I know, but hey! That’s Disney! Now that you’ve got the gist, let’s talk about each point the video makes in a bit more detail.

“With more than twenty fun hotels you get to pick your theme…”

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While theming may not be at the top of your mind on other vacations, at Disney theming is top notch and can completely transform your stay into your own “disney dream.” Experience the tropics of Hawaii with a pool overlooking the “beach” at the Polynesian, the relaxing ambiance of the Louisiana Bayou at Port Orleans Riverside, or watch animals right outside your window in savannah view rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s basically a real life “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

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The thing to drive home here is there are MANY choices of all different price ranges from Deluxe and Villa Accommodations to Moderate Level priced rooms and even Value resorts, each with their own distinct theme and ambiance.

“There are water sports all kinds and sorts that fill the seven seas..”

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There are so many different recreation options to enjoy at Walt Disney World resorts. Well themed pools with waterslides (moderate and deluxe) and sometimes whirl pools, are just the start! At the various resorts (depending on location) you can find boats for rent, fishing, fishing excursions, parasailing, archery, horse back riding, horse drawn carriage rides, bike riding (regular and surrey bikes), and more (all for various fees).

Looking for FREE things to fill your non park days? There are plenty of those too! Many resorts (depending on location) offer planned activities by the pool, outdoor movies, theming tours, and campfires as well as other children’s activities in the various recreation areas. Some places have specialized free activities as well like borrowing night vision goggles to watch the animals after dark at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or sitting on the beach for the Electric Water Pageant (and Magic Kingdom Fireworks) at the Magic Kingdom Area resorts.

There is definitely enough to do at the resorts to fill a couple days without setting foot inside the park. This can allow for a more relaxing vacation and help you save money on ticket costs.

 “… Restaurants for beauvivants, such fine amenities..”

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You can always find great meals in the parks if you know where to look… but some of the BEST restaurants are at the resorts on Disney property. There are so many options from counter service to fine dining and everything in between. Some of the quick service locations have more options than those in the parks and seating is often less crowded. If fine dining is what you’re after, there are many signature restaurants at the resorts to choose from including the creme de la creme Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian!

You can find a variety of cuisines for just about anyone’s palate by doing a little resort hopping. African and Indian flavors abound at the Animal Kingdom Lodge while Hawaiian and Asian fusion can be found at the Polynesian. Don’t worry though there are plenty for pickier eaters to! Steakhouses, Italian dishes, American pub style restaurants, barbecue, and more. Many places have kids menus and all can make accommodations for dietary needs or allergies.

Remember, with free in resort transportation you can easily hop to a resort other than your own for dinner, lunch, or some sightseeing!

“Since your resort hotel can be so near a Disney Park, you can play all day with Mickey and see fireworks at dark.”

This is a big one, especially for those with children. By staying at a Disney resort you can easily go back to the resort to take a break and recharge before watching the fireworks. Even with base tickets (without the hopper option) you are welcome to come and go freely from the same park each day. It is a great option to go back to the resort for a midday nap, swim, and lunch/snack break before returning for the fireworks. This allows you to avoid the hottest part of the day and typically the longest lines of the day.

In order to do this while staying off property you’d probably need to rent a car (which can add a huge cost to the total of your trip). Some off property resorts have shuttle services but they are typically few and far between and can be inconvenient to locate which adds to the “commute” time. Driving yourself can also be a hassle in having to locate and get back to your car, driving a considerable distance back to the resort and doing the process in reverse when returning. As I will talk about a little later, Disney makes this process relatively painless with their free in resort transportation system.

“Stay right here with us and then you’ll get some magic powers. Extra time inside the parks we call it extra magic hours.”

For those guests going on adults only trips or trips with older children and/or teenagers this is probably the biggest perk. Each day at least one park either opens an hour earlier or stays open up to three hours later ONLY for Walt Disney World Resort guests. A schedule of these hours can be found on Disney’s Park Hours Calendar.

During these hours, lines are considerably shorter allowing resort guests to get in a lot of their favorite rides with lower wait times. By utilizing extra magic hours well, you are more likely to hit all of your “must do” attractions and leave time to enjoy the pool! You may also be able to fit more in a day and, if you wish save on the added costs of an extra day on park tickets.

“We’ll give you each a magic band, wear it on your favorite hand.”

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Magic Bands are your key to EVERYTHING while at the Disney resort. They become your room key, your park tickets, your fastpass+, your photopass,  and even your credit card (should you wish to allow for charging privileges to the one linked to your account). If you wanted to, you could walk around with just your Magic Band and be completely prepared!

Non- resort guests can buy these on property should they wish (with no charging privileges or access to resorts) but again an added expense.

“To cut down on your wait, make a fastpass date, we’ll help you get on through.”

Fastpass+ is another great perk for resort guests. Fastpass+ allows resort guests to make reservations for  attractions per day of their stay up to 60 days in advance of their check in date. Non-Resort guests can still make these reservations, but not until 30 days before the day they’d like their Fastpass+ reservations.

This is especially important for the most popular attractions, shows, and character meet and greets. Fastpass+ for rides like Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Toy Story Midway Mania, shows like Fireworks and Parades, and character meet and greets like Anna and Elsa may no longer be available at 30 days. These attractions can have wait times upward of 2 hours at times so the Fastpass+ reservations can make a huge difference in your day. Time spent standing in these lines could be time spent on other attractions, beating the heat in the pool, or relaxing in the air conditioning.

“We can pick you up with our airport bus. Drop your bags and you at your doorstep PLUS with the drive off your mind leave your worries behind. Transportation it’s on us!”

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Alright, we all know that traveling is the least fun part of the trip. You may have to get up at the crack of dawn to get to the airport hours before the flight to get through security. There may be long lines in checkin bags or getting through TSA. The airport food isn’t great, flights are cramped, sometimes bumpy. When you arrive at Orlando airport, you then have to wait in baggage claim, maneuver around with your bags, figure out how to get to the hotel and pay an expensive fare to do so… Wait. Rewind!

When staying at a Walt Disney World resort, Disney takes care of you once you touch down at MCO. All you need to do is navigate your way to the Magical Express area. If you arrive before 10pm Disney can even grab your bags off of the carousel and deliver them to your room (please allow up to three hours for this process after check in). Once at the Magical Express desk, all you need to do is tap your Magic Band and the cast member will point you in the right direction for a bus to your resort. With the new  online check in process, you may be eligible to get your room number sent to you via text message allowing you to go directly to the room once it is ready and skip any check in lines.

Flight got delayed? No problem, Disney provides this service round the clock (minus the bag service after 10pm). You do not even have to call to change your transportation, it will be there waiting for you!

Though some other offsite hotels may have shuttle transportation to and from the airport, most do not. The last time I took a cab (in 2008 to meet a friend) it cost $68 one way from the airport to Downtown Disney (and has probably gone up). Other methods may be cheaper but may require additional coordination particularly when you have flight delays or other interruptions. Here, Disney can save you money, time, and frustration.

“Take a monorail or a boat or bus. There’s no fee, no charge, there’s no mess, no fuss! With the drive off your mind leave your worries behind. Transportation it’s on us!”

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Not only is transportation provided free of charge to and from the airport, it is also provided throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. You can get from any resort to any park, water park, or Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) by taking either a bus, boat, or monorail. You can also get from park to park, and from resort to resort (though it may involve a transfer at another destination). There is no need for the added cost of a rental car or parking costs at the parks or your resort. If you do, however, bring or rent a car parking is free to all resort guests at all parks, Disney springs, and the resort.

While some non-Disney resorts offer some shuttles to and from the parks, they are typically (again) few and far between. You may not have opportunities to go back and forth from your resort easily during the day. Disney makes this process, along with park hopping, getting meals at another location, and checking out different recreation opportunities at the resort easy!

Now that you know all the great benefits of staying on property at the Walt Disney World Resort, it’s time to begin planning your next trip!

Let me help you plan the most magical vacation possible! I’ll work with you to find the best possible price for your vacation, continue to look for promotions that can be applied, take care of your dining reservations, help you with Fastpass+ recommendations and more all free of charge to you! Contact me today for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com!

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The 2015 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival: A Complete Review and Trip Report

MondayMouthful

The 2015 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival

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Although this year’s Food & Wine Festival has sadly come to an end, I thought I’d post on my experience anyway (better late than never) as we know many dishes may return next year. It’s also a great time to begin planning a trip down for Food & Wine in 2016 (I know I just booked mine!) so this may help those who are thinking about venturing down to Orlando next fall.

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Trip Report Overview

Just a few basics here. Our party consisted of 5 adults (myself, my husband Dave, my brother, and my parents). My brother, husband, and I went into this experience really wanting to try as many different menu items as possible. Our plan was to get one portion of most things and split it so that everyone could try it. We also tackled multiple booths (and lines) at the same time by splitting up to get different menu items and returning to a central location to try them all.

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For our  trip, we arrived late Friday night on October 16 and left early evening on Tuesday, October 20th. We knew we wanted to avoid EPCOT on weekends when possible so we planned on Monday and Tuesday (until about 2) to be our EPCOT days. My brother, husband, and I also ended up heading over to EPCOT Sunday evening for dinner (we aren’t thrilled with options at Hollywood Studios).

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Although there were lines (heavier on Sunday than the other two days) we never felt we were waiting too long or that we skipped something because the lines were long. We actually ended up waiting much longer for La Cava Tequila (which is there year round) than anything else. We also didn’t really notice much of the debauchery than some people have talked about for this festival. Yes, there were people drinking and having fun but we did not witness anything we would mark as inappropriate (like the guy climbing the Mexico pavilion or people talking obscenities in proximity to children).

Festival Eats

Let’s move on to the star of the show… the food!I’ll go through what we tried at each pavilion and a synopsis of what we thought of the dish. Note: I will be skipping the dishes mentioned in the “Top 5’s” my husband and I gave in our vlog. To hear more about those, check out this post: http://childcentereddisney.com/2015/11/06/feature-presentation-friday-epcot-food-wine-festival-2015/.

Sustainable Chew

Pork Spareribs with Red Wine, Fennel, and Cheesy Marscapone Grits (see Vlog)

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Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli with Rustic Tomato Sauce

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This was a good ravioli. The sauce was flavorful, the filling was well balanced and it was a good portion. The fresh parmesan cheese was also a nice touch. The thing is, though, I felt it was something I could get almost anywhere and therefore not something I would necessarily get again.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Fresh Figs and Pistachio Brittle

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Before this, I had never had a panna cotta and wasn’t sure what to expect. I somehow had in my mind a custardy flan or creme brûlée type texture and wasn’t prepared for the yogurt tasting ricotta texture. I’m sure for people who like panna cotta, this was great. Just wasn’t my cup of tea. The gelee was also a bit too sweet for my taste. I did, however, enjoy the crunch of the pistachio brittle and the addition of the fresh fig.

Chew Lab

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fresh Corn, Bacon and Pepper Jam

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This was awesome. Definitely a contender for our  Top 5 lists, just didn’t make the cut. The salmon itself was well cooked. The poaching with olive oil left it moist and smooth. It fell apart at the touch of a fork and almost melted in your mouth. The accompaniments of the dish added a ton of flavor and when eaten together made a perfect bite. My dad loves salmon and this is one of his favorites. My mom hates salmon and will not let my dad cook it at home, but tried this one and went back for a second bite! Believe me, that’s saying something!

New York Strip with Parsnip Silk, Balsamic Glaze, and Arugula Foam

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So here’s the thing. This dish was well made. The meat was cooked to a perfect medium to medium rare (as shown). The presentation was beautiful he flavors balanced together nicely making a few very tasty bites. But that’s just what it was, a few tasty bites. Although I enjoyed it, It wasn’t worth the price tag and not something I’d get again.

Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel (see Vlog)

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Dominican Republic

Souffle de Yuca: Yuca Souffle topped with Griddled Cheese (see Vlog)

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Hawai’i

Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise 

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If you’ve read anything on the Food and Wine Festival, this is probably a dish you’ve heard of. It is typically a fan favorite and returns again and again. Our family had mixed reviews. My brother really enjoyed it. He loved the flavor combination of the pork, the chutney, and the spicy mayo. However, Dave and I weren’t so impressed. It was a good tasting pulled pork, but not better than the pulled pork found at Kona or even Capt’n Cooks at the Polynesian. Also the bread to pork and accompaniment ratio was off and the bite I took wasn’t  much more than bun. We could have gotten it on an “off” day or maybe we’re just spoiled by Kona… either way, we weren’t impressed.

Scotland

Haggis with Neeps and Tatties: Traditional Haggis with Rutabaga and Mashed Potatoes

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To share our opinion of the Haggis, here is a mini vlog, enjoy:

The Tipsy Laird: Whiskey-Soaked Cake with Lemon Cream and Toasted Oats

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This was my brother’s favorite dessert of the festival and I quite enjoyed it as well. The lemon creme mixed with the raspberry preserves at the bottom and the oats and cake made a lovely combination. It also did not seem like a “high volume” dessert like many Disney desserts end up tasty. Well done, Scotland!

Farm Fresh

Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Nueske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Peppers and Green Onions (see Vlog)

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Patagonia

Beef Empanada

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The empanada wasn’t bad, but I felt it wasn’t as flavorful as empanadas I’ve had in the past. It also just wasn’t a memorable dish compared to many of the others we tried. I’d probably skip this one next time and try the Beef Skewer instead. We wanted to try both, but they were out of the chimichurri sauce that went with it, so we skipped it.

New Zealand

Steamed Green Lip Muscles with Garlic Butter and Toasted Breadcrumbs

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The muscles were a tad overdone, but not bad for mass produced muscles. The problem I had with this dish, though was the amount of bread crumbs. They made the dish too dry. A little would have been good to add a buttery crunch, but they added a bit too much.

Australia

Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with Pineapple, Pepper, Onion, and Snap Peas

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This was a solid flavorful dish, though I don’t know if I would necessarily call them “spicy.” The shrimp we got was well cooked, and there was just enough sauce and veggies to add some additional flavor to the dish.

Grilled Lamb Chop with Mint Pesto and Potato Crunchies (see Vlog)

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Lamington: Yellow Cake Dipped in Chocolate and Shredded Coconut

So this is a bit of a cheat. We didn’t have this one at the festival, we had it at the Illuminations Sparkling Dessert party (stay tuned for a future post on that one). It wasn’t bad… but it did taste like a mass produced dessert (mostly the cake). The chocolate coating was also pretty sweet and sort of a fudge like consistency. I did like the coconut covering though (I am a coconut fan).

 

Mexico

Chilaquiles de Pollo: Corn Chips layered with Seasoned Chicken, Queso Fresco, Sour Cream, and Cilantro

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This was an unexpected contender for Dave’s top 5, just missed it. So what this is, is corn tortillas layered with chicken and cheese and covered in a delicious sauce. It may not look like much, but it was delicious. There was a lot of flavor in the sauce and the different cheeses. The tortillas were more like a soft corn taco texture than a nacho texture. It was almost like a  Mexican take on lasagna.

Tacos de Camaron: Battered Shrimp, Pico de Gallo, Pickled Onions, and Chipotle Mayonnaise 

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This was one of the dishes I went to the festival looking forward to. While I wasn’t disappointed, I also wasn’t “Wow”ed. The shrimp were well cooked and the batter was nice and light. The pickled onions and pico de gallo added texture and freshness and the chipotle mayonnaise was a nice addition of spicy creaminess. Overall, a nice flavorful dish.

China

Beijing Roasted Duck in a Seared Bun with Hoisin Sauce

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I only had a small bite of this dish, but it was pretty good. The bun was sweet and fluffy. The duck was well cooked and flavorful with the sauce. The only off putting thing was the amount of onion added. Overall, a pretty good dish, but not something I’d be rushing to get again.

Black Pepper Shrimp with Sichuan Noodles

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This dish seriously almost made my top 5 just for the noodles. The noodles were well cooked and the Sichuan sauce was amazing. Small bits of fresh cilantro  in the noodles also added pops of flavor and texture. There was also a great amount of them for the price we paid. The shrimp, however, weren’t as amazing. They were well cooked texture wise, but the breading left something to be desired. It really didn’t seem like it belonged. It was somewhat falling off, and seemed to take away from the dish. That being said, I would order this again for the noodles… in fact, I had two helpings while we were there!

Chicken Pot Stickers

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These were solid potstickers, but not as flavorful or texturally on point as those at ‘Ohana. While they were a decent snack, they weren’t something I’d rush back for with all of the other choices available.

South Korea

Bulgogi BBQ Short Rib with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi

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I had mixed feelings about this dish. The cucumber kimchi was more of a quick pickle. While tasty and crunchy, it lacked the spice and depth of flavor you expect with the kimchi. There also wasn’t enough sauce of to flavor the rice, so it seemed a bit out of place. That being said, I haven’t had much Korean BBQ so that might be intentionally done. The ribs were kind of chewy and pretty salty. HOWEVER, when paired with the Myungjak Bokbunja Raspberry Wine, they were pretty amazing. The sweetness of the wine balanced out the saltiness of the ribs and married really nicely. It truly was amazing how well the wine made this dish pop. I might get it again WITH the wine pairing… but without it wasn’t impressive.

Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap and Kimchi Slaw

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Dave had this twice. The first time he really loved it but the second time they put too much slaw and the meat was not as flavorful. It’s hard to be consistent when cooking in these volumes, but this was a big swing!

Refreshment Cool Post

Spicy Hot Dog with Kimchi Slaw and Mustard Sauce

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We remembered this dish from the last time we were at the festival in 2013 and had to have it. The dog itself packs a punch with some heat and with the added heat from the kimchi slaw (while it also adds freshness and creaminess) it was a hit.

Africa

Bebere Style Beef Tenderloin Tips with Onions, Jalapeños, Tomato and Pap

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Another one of Dave’s favorites, which I was surprised did not make his top 5. The pap itself is delicious, something I would be more than willing to eat daily for any meal of the day (it would actually make a great breakfast). The stew on top with the beef, tomatoes, jalapeños and onions was really flavorful and had a great depth of different flavors. It is, however, decently spicy and so not something I could finish on my own. Dave loves spice, though, and said he would gladly eat multiple portions if people had ordered them and were not able to finish.

Germany

Schinkennudeln: Pasta Gratin with Ham and Cheese

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This dish to me screamed comfort food. It was rich and creamy and very good for what it was (kind of a German Mac ‘n’ Cheese). This would be great for kids to try to ease them into the festival while giving them something somewhat familiar. Not something I was blown out of the water by, but good comfort food.

Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll

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Pretty much your standard bratwurst in a smaller than normal pretzel roll with yellow mustard. Not much else to say about that.

Poland

Kielbasa and Potato Pierogi with Carmelized Onions and Sour Cream

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Another comfort food dish. Definitely something I could make at home myself (with frozen pierogi)… but having grown up in a Polish community, it reminded me of home so I enjoyed it. Another dish to ease kids into the festival.

Sauerkraut Pierogi with Pork Goulash

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More comfort food for me! The goulash on this meal though was quite good and something I’d never had before. Similar sauce to what is normally on top of golabki with cabbage, onion, and pork and fresh parsley on top. That’s more comfort food I hope to see in future years at this booth, golabki!

Japan

Spicy Hand Roll: Tuna and Salmon with Kazan Volcano Sauce

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For mass produced sushi, this was good and a great improvement from what I think was the same dish in 2013. The sushi itself was flavorful and had an added crunch from the cucumber. The sauce on top packed a punch (see what I mean when we spoke in the blog about Disney upping their spice level this year compared to 2013) but it was very good.

Teriyaki Gyoza Bun: Steamed Bun filled with Chicken, Vegetables, and Sweet Teriyaki

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This steamed bun was a little sweet for my taste but flavorful. Instead of the light covering most gyoza dumplings have, this combines the steamed bun taste and texture with a gyoza shape. Overall, it was pretty good.

Miso Udon: Steamed Shrimp, Vegetables, and Noodles in a Spicy Broth (see Vlog)

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Morocco

Harissa Chicken Roll

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Although it doesn’t look like much here, the harissa chicken roll packs a good amount of flavor inside this egg roll looking vessel. The outside is very crunch while the inside was the consistency of a pot pie (with very different flavoring). This did not have the same spice level as some of the other items I’ve talked about, but still flavorful with the harissa seasoning.

Baklava

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Another one of my brother’s favorites was the Baklava. He had never had baklava before but really enjoyed this one. This was a really good baklava. It had a great amount of nuts and the puff pastry was crunchy and flaky. It was just the right amount of sweet too.

Belgium

Potato and Leek Waffle with Beer Braised Beef and Smoked Gouda Cream (see Vlog)

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Brazil

Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomato

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The crispy pork belly was good…. ok it was REALLY good. But, there is a big thing that kept us from putting it in our top 5. It is one of those things, in my opinion, that is good in small doses. The fattiness of the pork belly (while well balanced for pork belly) becomes too rich to have more than one helping. In fact, I was pretty set after just a couple bites. However, the addition of black beans and the fresh tomato and pops of cilantro do cut that down a bit.

Cocado:Brazilian Coconut Candy

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Think of a hardened inside of a Mounds bar. This is it. It is a really sweet and really solid (hard to break apart) piece of candied coconut. I am a fan of coconut as I said before, but more than a little nibble of this was too much for me.

France

Croissant aux Escargots: Escargot Croissant with Garlic and Parsley

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Another contender for the Top 5. It seems  like no matter how they change it, the escargot dishes are a hit. The escargot are tucked inside a really buttery croissant and topped with a garlic parsley (solidified) sauce. Although all you taste is the buttery garlicky goodness, if you have problems with texture the chewy pieces of escargot inside may not be your cup of tea. I have enjoyed escargot on their own before so this was not an issue for me, but may be for others. Otherwise, it is a great dish!

Creme Brûlée Vanille Chocolat: Vanilla & Chocolate Creme Brûlée topped with Caramelized Sugar

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When I heard about this creme brûlée, I thought it would be a mixture of a vanilla custard and a chocolate custard. Instead, this is more of a vanilla custard with some chocolate sauce inside. This makes the texture seem a bit off for a creme brûlée, but tasteless it’s still delicious!

Ireland 

Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie

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Here’s the best way I can describe this dish. Imagine taking a small cup of lobster bisque, adding chunks of lobster and seafood inside and covering it with mashed potatoes. Voila! Ireland’s Fisherman’s Pie. I did enjoy the chunks of seafood, but overall it was a bit bland and one note for my taste.

Canada

Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup

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Ahh, the cheddar cheese soup in Canada. A fan favorite! While I, too, drink the Kool-Aid on this one, it did not make my list for the price point. Though heavenly, it’s $4.00 for a shot glass sized cup of soup. Worth a try for sure, though!

Chicken Sausage with Creamy Polenta and Minus 8 Onion Jam  (see Vlog)

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“Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce

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I’m sure you can see where I was going on this one. As I spoke about on the blog, there was an inconsistency with internal temperature on this one. This was the first time we got the filet. It was WELL done. They pretty much killed a lovely piece of beef here. It was dry and chewy and even the delicious truffle butter sauce didn’t help. The next day, however, when we got this right when the pavilion opened it was a medium to medium rare and melted in our mouths. I know food is mass produced at the festival, but this is such a popular booth that I can’t imagine food should have to sit under a heat lamp THAT long.

Festival Beverages

Although I won’t go into detail in the different beverages we had, I just wanted to offer a few highlights. First, try the pairings. Like I said about the ribs in South Korea, they can really highlight and elevate the dishes. It was amazing how that wine made the flavors pop!

Also, step out of your comfort zone. Try things you wouldn’t normally try or that may sound strange. Though I enjoy beer and even darker beers like stouts, I’m not really a porter kind of person. However, the Toasted Coconut Porter Float was AMAZING!

Lastly, the Food & Wine Festival is all about having fun and trying things… but not at the expense of others. It’s okay to have a few drinks but remember it is also a family park. Also remember that the hot Florida sun can dehydrate you faster than your normal drinking circumstances may. Drink water in between drinks, and monitor yourself more closely than you would at home. In other words, hydrate responsibly!

What did you think of this year’s Food and Wine Festival? Comment below and let us know!

Traveling to Walt Disney World? Let me help you plan the most magical vacation possible! I’ll work with you to find the best possible price for your vacation, continue to look for promotions that can be applied, take care of your dining reservations, help you with Fastpass+ recommendations and more all free of charge to you! Contact me today for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com!

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Introducing Feature Presentation Friday: Review of the Wild Africa Trek

Feature Presentation Friday

It’s Feature Presentation Friday!

Feature Presentation Friday is a relatively new series where I basically talk about a topic that I feel deserves some attention. It may be either Disney related (movies, parks, etc.), general travel related, or child life related. In these posts I hope to provide some additional information on something I am passionate about that I feel others should know about. At the end, I welcome discussion from any readers who have questions, would like to share their experiences, or who want to offer an opinion in the comment section below.

Today’s Feature Presentation Friday:

A Review of the Wild Africa Trek

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What is it?

The Wild Africa Trek is a tour offered at an additional cost (website now says $189 to $249 per person) at the Animal Kingdom mostly on Kilamajaro Safari. During the tour, you get a slowed down version of the safari (to enable better picture taking) along with a trek on foot through some of the Safari grounds. Lunch is included on the Savannah and a photos service is also provided and included in that price.

Our Experience

We participated in this tour on our honeymoon in October 2013 (so bear with me while I recount the details!). Once you get to the meet up point, it’s time to suit up! As shown in the pictures below, you will need to wear a vest and a harness for your safety during the on foot portion of the tour. Your camera must be strapped to your body or connected to your vest, and they will give you strings for your sunglasses. If your personal items fall during the tour, there is no getting them back! You are also given a water bottle with a carabiner to attach to your vest and use during the trek but also take home as a souvenir.

From there, you meet your two guides who will help provide guidance and information while also being your photopass photographers for the day and are taken on the start of your tour on foot. During this portion you “hike” through semi backstage areas to get to your first breathtaking view of the hippos. As you can see from the pictures below, your harness is tethered to ensure your safety giving you the ability to walk right up to the edge and look down.Wild Africa Trek 011 Wild Africa Trek 023

From there, it’s time to traverse the rope bridges you may have noticed while riding the Safari. If you or anyone in your party is afraid of heights, this may not be for you. Otherwise, it is an amazing experience. The rope bridges are pretty high up and you walk right over the crocodile pit! Again you are tethered much like you would be on a ropes course here so despite the fact that the planks on the bridge are spaced apart (which offers you a better view down below your feet), you’re not going anywhere!

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From there, you board a ride vehicle (different than the ordinary vehicle) and are taken on a modified (and slower) version of the safari. During our tour at least the driver was able to pull over for extended periods to allow us to take pictures with animals in the background and to talk more in depth about the different wildlife on the plains.Wild Africa Trek 157

Then it’s time to stop for lunch…. on the savannah! Here are a few of the amazing views from our picnic spot!

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We found the lunch to be very tasty. It is pictured below in very cute cantina containers. I don’t remember exactly what the menu was but I know that there was a fruit salad, a curry chicken salad, a very tasty hummus with little naan rounds, and a few other dishes. I wouldn’t say it was the heartiest of meals but for us it worked out fine.Wild Africa Trek 176

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Was it Worth it?

YES! I felt it was worth every penny we spent as a once in a lifetime thing. We did many special things on our honeymoon from Party for the Senses to Victoria and Alberts to a Spa experience and more. This was by far my favorite thing that we did (and all those other things were pretty great!). Now, I do love the experience of the Safari in general so I may be a little biased but I would definitely recommend this tour.

Want to book it for yourself? Call 407-WDW-TOUR and ENJOY it!

Have you done the Wild Africa Trek? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

Traveling to Walt Disney World or another Disney Destination? I can book everything from hotels to tickets to dining reservations. Contact me today for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com. Remember, all of my services are ALWAYS free of charge to you!

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“Monday Mouthful” with Information on Party for the Senses

MondayMouthful

Time for another Monday Mouthful where I talk about one of my favorite Disney trip planning topics: FOOD! As we get closer to the festival (and selfishly my October trip) it got me thinking back about my trip to the Food and Wine Festival of 2013 and I felt it would be good to report back (even belatedly) on my experience with the Party for the Senses. Bear with me, as this was almost 2 years ago!

Party for the Senses is an event offered on Saturday nights during the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival (this year on 10/3, 10/10, 10/17, 10/24, and 10/31) for an additional fee on top of your admission to EPCOT. During the event, you have the opportunity to try a large variety of small plate dishes prepared by different chefs (sometimes from all around the world) as well as many different adult beverages. Live entertainment is typically provided by Cirque du Soleil La Nouba and you also get reserved seating prior to the event at the Eat to the Beat concert of the night.

There are three categories for admission for this event:

  • General Admission: For $169 per person (this year) you gain entry to the event with unlimited food and drink during the party, access to the live entertainment and reserved seating for the Eat to the Beat concert. You will not have a reserved table for you, however, there will be limited seating as well as standing bar tables for your convenience.
  • Reserved Seating: For $199 per person (this year) you get everything that you would with general admission but will also have a reserved table for your party on the main floor, admission to the party at 6:45 (15 minutes prior to general admission) and a specialty cocktail toast at the beginning of the event.
  • Wine View Lounge: For $319 per person (this year) you get everything you would with a Reserved Seating ticket, but also have a private (I believe this means unshared) reserved table for your party, access to a premium bar, an artisanal cheese station, and speciality cocktail toast.

We decided to go with just the general admission when we went in 2013 and did not regret it. First of all, we had a table (seated) for the entire event which we shared with two ladies. We simply switched off when grabbing plates and brought things back to share. We also did not feel that we were at a disadvantage at all in terms of access to food or drink. You are a bit father removed from the entertainment for pictures sake, but you can see the entertainment fine from anywhere in the pavilion.

Overall, almost everything we tried was delicious, there were just a few things that weren’t our taste (not necessarily the way it was cooked). One was some kind of lobster push pop with a Bourbon (perhaps?) gelée… which I actually had to spit out. We also had a culinary adventure in signature dining meal for lunch that day, which was very poor planning on our part (what were we thinking?). There is so much food available that having anything more than a light lunch might cause you some severe FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). There were many things we didn’t enjoy as much as we could have because we were simply feeling full to the point of explosion and other things that we didn’t even attempt because we simply had no room.

I loved the set up of the event, being able to browse through the different stands while sipping on a drink and taking in the live entertainment. I do also think it is quite possible to enjoy the event without snagging a table (either reserved or not) if you have the stamina and ability to remain standing during the duration. For those with mobility or stamina issues, however, I would recommend splurging on the reserved seating or having someone rush ahead to grab a table for you!

Here are a few pictures of our experience of the event to make your mouth water a bit:

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The one thing we didn’t care for…. but the display was so enticing!
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Chicken and Waffles Station
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Plenty of room at our shared table.
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This gives you a good idea of the size of the portions/plates at each station.

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Has all this talk of Food and Wine got you ready to plan a trip for Fall 2016? Contact me for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com! I’d be happy to help you plan your trip and rebook it should an applicable promotion come along and best of all my services are FREE of charge!

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Friday Five: Five Great Places to Cool Off at Walt Disney World

Friday Five

Happy Friday Everyone!

For those just tuning in, “Friday Five” is a weekly series where I do a quick rundown of 5 things in a certain topic. Kind of like Magic Moment Monday, I designed it as a positive wrap up to my own week to delve into a topic I really enjoy.

To complement this week’s Meltdown Monday post on “Beating the Heat at Walt Disney World” todays Friday Five is:

Five Great Places to Cool Off at Walt Disney World

(In No Particular Order)

  1. The Seas Pavilion at EPCOT I chose this pavilion because there are multiple attractions and experiences contained within this pavilion that would appeal to many different types of guests and age groups. Without having to walk out in the sun and heat at all you can ride The Seas with Nemo and Friends then watch Turtle Talk with Crush, admire the different marine life exhibits including the large dive tank, watch short videos on marine life, watch a demonstration by the marine biologists and divers working in the pavilion, or play a bit in the Finding Nemo play area. In addition, this pavilion is home to the Finding Nemo souvenir shop, the Coral Reef restaurant, and some great tours for additional fees. You could easily spend over an hour out of the sun in this excellently planned pavilion!

    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/epcot/sea-base/
    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/epcot/sea-base/
  2. Rafiki’s Planet Watch/Conservation Station at Disney’s Animal Kingdom This area of Animal Kingdom gives guests an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes working with the animals along with providing education on different species and wildlife conservation. After taking the train over to this part of the park, you can experience animal encounters, watch the park veterinarians work with the animals, prepare nutrition and even perform procedures from time to time. There are also exhibits on conservation around the world and glimpses into the animal’s habitats backstage on the “animal cams.” This is another place where your family can take an hour or more long break out of the hot sun. When you’ve cooled off, you can also visit the connected Affection Section petting zoo where guests can get hands on experience with animals like sheep and goats.

    Photo Credit: the Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/animal-kingdom/conservation-station/
    Photo Credit: the Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/animal-kingdom/conservation-station/
  3. Finding Nemo the Musical at Animal Kingdom As people may know from previous posts, my favorite stage show on property is Finding Nemo the Musical. While it stays true to story of Finding Nemo, it shortens the story line and adds in the new elements of musical theater and puppetry. As with Disney feature films, the music is well done and fits nicely with the story line. The puppetry in this show is also amazing and appealing to young and old alike. As everyone is seated during this experience in an air conditioned theater it provides not only time out of the heat and sun but also time to rest and relax. The show is 40 minutes long though guests are let in the theater a few minutes before that leading to almost an hour long break from the heat.

    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/entertainment/animal-kingdom/finding-nemo-the-musical/
    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/entertainment/animal-kingdom/finding-nemo-the-musical/
  4. Enchanted Tales with Belle at the Magic Kingdom This is an interactive experience of the story of Beauty and the Beast told by Belle, Lumiere, and members of the audience. This attraction is located in Fantasyland and takes you through the multiple scenes related to Belle’s story. Whether you volunteer and get chosen to participate or simply enjoy as a member of the audience you will enjoy a 20-30 minute break from the heat and sunshine once inside. The line for this attraction can get lengthy, however, and is slow moving so I would recommend Fastpass+ to help plan this break into your day.

    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/magic-kingdom/enchanted-tales-with-belle/
    Photo Credit: Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/magic-kingdom/enchanted-tales-with-belle/
  5.  Spaceship Earth at EPCOT This iconic figure in the Walt Disney World landscape is not only aesthetically pleasing but an excellent place to take a break from the heat. This educational yet technologically interactive experience takes you through the history of communication all the way back to the cavemen, Egyptians, and Phoenicians.  The attraction itself is a 15 minute slow ride in air conditioning and low light which can be fascinating for some but also a good place for a catnap if needed for those not as interested in this history. In front of you there is also a screen to “choose your own adventure” for the future which can be fun even for those not interested in the rest of the attraction. As the ride lets out, you also have the opportunity to remain in the air-conditioning and interact with many different games or send a virtual postcard from space! With this post ride interactive experience, you can give yourself a pretty lengthy break from the heat and sun.

    Photo Credit: Walt Disney World https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/epcot/spaceship-earth/
    Photo Credit: Walt Disney World https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/epcot/spaceship-earth/

Disney provides so many great places to take a break from the heat. From attractions to restaurants to experiences and of course resort pools, there is a “chill zone” for everyone. What are some of your favorites? Comment below and let us know!

Traveling to Walt Disney World? Let me help you plan the most magical vacation possible! I’ll work with you to find the best possible price for your vacation, continue to look for promotions that can be applied, take care of your dining reservations, help you with Fastpass+ recommendations and more all free of charge to you! Contact me today for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com!

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Introducing Feature Presentation Friday: Information on TSA Passenger Support Specialists for Guests Traveling with Special Needs

Feature Presentation Friday

Introducing Feature Presentation Friday!

Feature Presentation Friday is a new series I’ve come up with to basically talk about a topic that I feel deserves some attention. It may be either Disney related (movies, parks, etc.), general travel related, or child life related. In these posts I hope to provide some additional information on something I am passionate about that I feel others should know about. At the end, I welcome discussion from any readers who have questions, would like to share their experiences, or who want to offer an opinion in the comment section below.

Today’s Feature Presentation Friday:

TSA Passenger Support Specialists

As a child life specialist I have worked with many families with children or adults with many different special needs. Whether they be medical, developmental, psychological, dietary, emotional,  or of another type, I understand how hard it can be to travel given these circumstances. Getting through a TSA checkpoint can be a huge concern when traveling with family members with emotional disturbances, autism, physical disabilities, or medical technology such as pacemakers.To aid in supporting these families, I wanted to alert readers to the availability of TSA Passenger Support Specialists.

According to the TSA Blog, Passenger Support Specialists (PSS) “are Transportation Security Officers, Lead TSOs and Supervisors who have volunteered to take on the responsibility of assisting passengers who may need a little help at the checkpoint. They receive additional training involving scenarios such as resolving traveler-related screening concerns and assisting travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.”

As the quote states, these Passenger Support Specialists receive additional training to be prepared to assist in special circumstances. These specialists would probably be especially helpful for those families with special needs traveling by air for the first time or for those traveling with a newer condition but may even be helpful for those who have travelled many many times.

If you think it might be a useful service for your family, try calling 1-855-787-2227 to see how a Passenger Support Specialist may be helpful to you. It seems that there should be specialists at every gate without calling ahead as well for those who want to wait until they get to the airport.  These specialists should be able to help tailor the screening to your family’s needs including fears, aversions, sensitivities, visible or invisible illnesses or disabilities, and hidden medical equipment that may be effected by the scanner. It is best to bring any documentation you have for any medical equipment you have that prevents a normal screening; however, by explaining the situation to a Passenger Support Specialist you should be able to get an alternative screening tailored to your needs without that documentation.

Has anyone used a Passenger Support Specialist? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

Traveling with a child or adult with special needs and need assistance planning your trip? I will work with you to provide accommodations that fit your family’s needs at the best price possible. I can book everything from hotels to tickets to dining reservations and can assist in navigating a vacation with anything from anxiety or aversions to food allergies, illnesses, or disabilities. Contact me today for a free quote at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com. Remember, my services are ALWAYS free of charge to you!

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Finding the Right Hotel for Your Family or Party

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Finding the Right Hotel for Your Family or Party

With so many choices offered by Disney, how do you make a decision on what hotel to choose or even what type? When deciding on a hotel, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. What’s my baseline budget?

Disney offers a three main tiers of hotels according to budget: value, moderate, and deluxe. Within those tiers there are further breakdowns by room type, view, and proximity to amenities. Within the deluxe resorts there is also an additional category called the “Deluxe Villas” which offer additional amenities in the room (including multiple bedrooms and kitchens).

To get a rough estimate, depending on travel dates (and without promotions or tax):

  • Standard rooms in value resorts run approximately $96-$199 per night; preferred rooms run approximately $118-217 per night; (family suites are an additional cost)
  • Standard rooms in moderate resorts run approximately $182-$290 per night; (rooms with better views, closer proximity to amenities, and king beds have additional costs per night)
  • Standard rooms in deluxe (non-villa) rooms run approximately $320-856 per night (which varies quiet considerably between resorts and seasons): (rooms with better views, king beds, bunk beds, closer proximity to amenities, or club level access have additional costs per night)

2. When do I want to travel?

Travel dates can effect costs per night and availability of rooms in each hotel differently. Value seasons like the majority of January (after the New Year season) and the majority of September (before Food and Wine begins) are generally the times when the cheapest rates are available and the most room types can be found. Holiday times (especially surrounding Christmas and New Years) have the highest rates and tend to have much less availability unless booked far in advance. Special events like EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival may decrease availability in certain resorts in close proximity of the event (in this example Yacht and Beach Club and the Boardwalk in particular) or certain types of rooms (like value resorts during Cheerleading competitions).

3. Will the size of my party fit in a standard room?

Most rooms fit 4 people with the option for an additional infant in a Pack ‘n Play. Some resorts allow 5 people in the room with an additional fee. For families larger than this, deciding between 2 standard rooms, joined rooms, a family suite, or a deluxe villa can be difficult. What you should choose depends on your budget, how comfortable family members are in sharing beds, how important the ability to cook/eat in the room is to your family, and the ratio of adults to kids (especially since you need at least one adult in each room).

4. How important is theming?

Disney resorts have the ability to completely immerse you in an alternate reality with their theming. Each resort has a very different theme to choose from. From a laid back stay immersed in the culture of New Orleans at Port Orleans French Quarter to an adventurous stay on the savannah at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, to the active and colorful atmosphere of the All Star Resorts; the right theme for just about anyone can be found. Perhaps there’s a certain style of theming or atmosphere you prefer that can make your stay at Walt Disney World that much more magical. It may be worth splurging on a moderate or deluxe resort to have that ambience.However, don’t feel that you’ll completely sacrifice theming at a value resort! From giant bowling pins, to larger than life Disney characters the All Star Resorts have surprises around every corner!

There are also specifically themed rooms in some Disney resorts. At the Art of Animation resort, family suites can be reserved with Finding Nemo, Cars, the Lion King, or the Little Mermaid themes. At Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort, families can stay in Pirate rooms complete with ship themed beds and at Port Orleans Riverside the prince or princess of your family will feel at home in the Royal Guest Rooms.

5. What about the pool?

If you plan on spending a good portion of time by the pool, it may be a determining factor in your hotel decision. Pools vary greatly by resort in terms of size, atmosphere, and additional offerings (like splash zones, playgrounds, food/drinks close by, and waterslides). Some pools have zero entry available for guests with mobility concerns, others have additional quiet pools for relaxations, and some have hot tubs by the pool.

Generally speaking, the pools at the moderates are more elaborate than those at the values and pools at the deluxe resorts are more elaborate than those at the moderates. Value resorts do not have waterslides or hot tubs and (with the exception of Art of Animation) are not zero-entry (but can accommodate guests with mobility issues with chair lifts). Looking at pools individually to see what has the amenities your family is looking for is the best way to ensure your needs are met.

6. How close do I want to be to the parks?

Proximity to the parks can be extremely important for those wanting to take afternoon breaks or head straight home after the fireworks. There is a huge difference between hopping on a 5 minute monorail ride and a 20-25 minute completely packed bus ride making multiple stops with over tired children. Keep in mind, many buses stop at multiple resorts and others may make only one (possibly very popular stop). When leaving parks at peak times (i.e. after the fireworks) you may have to wait for a bus to be able to accommodate you.

After a long day Food-ing and Wine-ing at the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival a short walk to the Beach Club or Boardwalk may be just what you need.

For those planning on hitting the ground running and getting to “rope drop” each morning, the shorter the transportation to the parks, the later you can sleep!

However, with kids who can sleep through anything, older children, or no children at all; you may be absolutely fine taking a leisurely drive to and from the parks. It’s a decision only you can make for your family!

7. Am I driving/planning on renting a car?

Some resorts; like Port Orleans Riverside, Caribbean Beach, Fort Wilderness Campground, and Old Key West; are pretty expansive and spread out. In some places, you may have to take a bus to get to the main bus stop which may be cumbersome particularly with those carrying strollers, small children and diaper bags or those guests with limited mobility. Those who plan on driving to the parks may have less issues here than those that plan on relying solely on Disney transportation.

This is also true for resorts like Animal Kingdom Lodge that may not require internal transportation but that transportation to and from the parks may be particularly lengthy. These things may not be troublesome for young couples, families with older children, or families used to public transportation (here’s looking at you, New Yorkers) but may be a consideration for other families or parties.

Still unsure of what resort would be best for your family? Contact me at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com for more information or to quote your next trip!

Top 10 Reasons to Book Your Next Disney Destination Vacation Through a Travel Agent

Exciting News!

I am excited to announce that I have just started as an independent contractor for Magical Vacation Planner, an Authorized Disney Vacation Planning Agency! Through the process of researching the role, applying to the agency, and training to take on this role I have learned the many benefits of using a travel agent and wanted to share that information with all of you to help you book even more magical and stress-free vacations.

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Here is a list of the Top 10 Reasons you should consider using a Travel Agent to book your next Disney Destination Vacation:

1. Knowledge

Travel Agents that work for agencies that are authorized Disney Vacation Planners are knowledgeable of the product they sell. Not only are they graduates of the “Disney College of Knowledge” but they have gone on many trips themselves, keep up to date with the latest news in the various Disney Destinations, and are overall passionate about the magic people can experience on these vacations. I personally know Walt Disney World like the back of my hand, so much so that I can visually map out the parks in my mind to provide turn by turn directions if needed! Along with my own vacations for “research” I keep up with the Disney Travel Agent Website, listen to multiple podcasts per week, and read various websites, blogs, and forums to ensure I have the most up to date (and official) information out there.

Especially for those making their first trip (or first trip in a while) to any of the Disney Destinations, this knowledge can make the world of difference in planning the most magical vacation tailored to your family’s needs.

2. Deals

Authorized Disney Vacation Planning Agencies like Magical Vacation Planner get alerts when promotions like Free Dining become available. When possible (depending on your needs and preferences) travel agents will even work to rebook vacations to apply promotions that become available AFTER you book.

3. Disney Dining Reservations and Recommendations

Travel Agents know the best places to dine and are happy to make recommendations based on your family or travel group’s preferences. Travel Agents can also take the hassle out of dining recommendations by booking these reservations for you up to 180 days before you check in. Travel Agents will try their best to get you even the harder to get reservations by getting up early to book so you don’t have to!

4. Assistance with My Magic+

Even if you have been to Disney in the past, using My Magic+ may be new for you. Plus, as Disney becomes more technologically advanced more and more features are added into the system. Especially for first time travelers, the many facets of My Magic + can be confusing and at times daunting. Travel Agents can help you navigate this system and give you pointers on how to use it to make the most of your vacation.

5. FastPass+ Recommendations

Part of knowing the product inside and out is being able to help you plan and strategize to make your vacation as stress free as possible. Travel Agents can help you decide on a plan of tackling the parks that works best for your family based on crowd levels, attraction preferences, and estimated queue lengths for the season you wish to travel. Based on this knowledge and knowledge about your group or family, they can recommend what FastPass+ reservations you may want to schedule to reduce your wait time for some of your “Must-Do” attractions.

6. Special Event and Recreation Recommendations

Interested in behind the scenes tours, fireworks cruises, holiday events, or the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival? What about a fishing excursion, parasailing, golfing, surfing lessons, or horse drawn carriage rides? Didn’t know these things existed at Walt Disney World? Travel Agents can provide recommendations and information on all of these things and more!

Disney Vacations are also the perfect way to celebrate important milestones and events in your life. Whether it’s a birthday, graduation, honeymoon, family reunion, or just being together and away from work you’re looking to celebrate, Travel Agents can help you find magical extras to plan into your vacations that fit the occasion! Travel Agents can help note these celebrations in your reservation to alert cast members of your celebration; recommend things that can be delivered to your hotel room, stateroom, or dining location; or even offer ideas for experiences that will surprise the guest of honor in your party!

7. Less Phone Wait Times, Early Mornings, or Late Nights for You

Particularly during peak times, it is important to grab those promotions or popular dining reservations as early as possible. Travel Agents will wake up early and get on the phone at 7 a.m. to try to accommodate your needs so you don’t have to. Phone wait times for peak season reservations can be long and reservations can book quickly which can be stressful. Travel Agents will take this hassle off your plate and do what they can to make your Disney  Dreams realities!

8. Trouble Shooting

Need to rent a stroller, wheelchair, or scooter? Deciding whether or not to get a rental car? Need help figuring out the difference between the various ticketing options Disney has to offer? Need help finding out where your child can meet their favorite Disney Princess? All things a Travel Agent can help with!

9. It’s not JUST About Theme Parks

Sure, we all know about Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida but there are so many more Disney Destinations to explore. Take the world by storm on an Adventure’s By Disney tour, have adventures on the high seas on a Disney Cruise, or relax and take in the beautiful Hawaiian landscape at Aulani. Travel Agents can provide you with all the information you need to find the absolute best option for you and your party.

10. FREE Service!

Travel Agencies like Magical Vacation Planner NEVER charge you a dime for their services. Your vacation will never cost you more than booking directly through Disney but may end up costing you LESS. Travel Agents attempt to find you the best deal possible for your needs and preferences because they want you to continue coming back and telling your friends all about the service you received. Travel Agents always put their customers first and want to ensure that  you are satisfied with your vacation and have a magical time making life long memories.

Want to Learn More?

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Contact me at m.pigden@magicalvacationplanner.com. I would be happy to answer your questions about using a travel agent, provide you with information regarding the various Disney Destinations, or quote/book your next vacation! I look forward to hearing from you!

Stretching Comfort Zones at Walt Disney World

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Stretching Comfort Zones at Walt Disney World

After talking a little bit about common fears at Walt Disney World, I felt it was important to talk about stretching comfort zones and facing some of those fears when possible. First, it is important to think of comfort zones like a spectrum.

Comfort Zone Spectrum

On one side of the spectrum is the “comfort zone.” Think of this like a green light. You are in this zone when doing things you find easy, simple, and fun but also things that are dull or boring. These are things you are completely comfortable doing without support or assistance. Things like writing your name, playing your favorite game that you’ve played many times, or doing easy chores could fall into this category

Toward the middle there is the “stretch zone.” Think of this like a yellow light. You may be in this zone when something is new or unfamiliar to you, you are doing something that is somewhat difficult or tricky for you, or you are doing something that makes you nervous. Sometimes things you may be somewhat scared of fall into this category.

On the other side of the spectrum is the “panic zone.” Think of this like a red light. These are things that you are very fearful of or anxious about and that when attempted or forced into may cause you to panic. Things that make you enter your panic zone can trigger anxiety attacks or have long lasting traumatizing effects that lead to deep rooted fears or aversions. When faced with something in their “panic zone” some people completely shut down, others flee, others build a defense or “fight” (also known as the “Fight or Flight” response).

Stretching Your Comfort Zone

When stretching your comfort zone, you want to do things that make you a bit nervous or cause you to stop and think (things in your “stretch zone”) rather than things you feel will cause you to be completely terrified or out of your element.

To stretch your or your child’s comfort zone at Walt Disney World, try to find rides that put yourself or them in their stretch zone rather than their panic zone. Part of that involves facing only one fear at a time. If your child is afraid of both heights and drops, it’s best to avoid things that involve both those fears (like Tower of Terror and Splash Mountain) and start with rides that only involve one of those fears in a somewhat gentle way (like Dumbo).

When Stretching Your/Your Child’s Comfort Zone at Walt Disney World, Be Sure to Follow These Guidelines:

1. People cope better with novel situations in a supportive environment. Being with people that unconditionally support you and you trust will keep you safe helps you feel more comfortable taking chances and risks. Encourage the person who is a bit nervous. Hold their hand if they need or provide other positive touch. Discourage other members of the party from making fun of them. 

2. People cope better when they know what to expect. Explaining what the ride is like and entails in the most honest but least threatening way can help someone prepare themselves for what they are about to experience. This is a main premise of Child Life practice! When it comes to comfort zones, surprises are not your friend!

3. Start small and build up. Going back to the stretch zone vs. panic zone, you don’t want to put the person into panic mode from the start. This may cause them to never want to try again or to have a terrible day or rest of the vacation because of their traumatic experience. They may even begin to associate Walt Disney World in general with that negative experience. You can always then take it one step further and try something bigger if they have a good experience, but it can be very hard to erase that negative experience from memory!

4. Always offer options and a sense of control when possible. When people are trying new things that may make them a bit nervous give them some choices. Going back to the fear of heights, allowing them to choose between things like Dumbo or Astro Orbiter may help them take ownership of their decision to try and be slightly less nervous. For younger kids, offering 2 choices is best to ensure they do not get overwhelmed. Rides like Dumbo that allow the person to control how high they go will also help them feel a sense of control.

5. Allow the person to have an out… even if they change their mind at the last second. The person may be ready to try up until they get to the ride load area. It’s important to let them know it’s okay to change their mind. Forcing the person to then get on the ride can have detrimental effects in their trust in you if they end up in their panic zone. When traveling with small children (and two adults), Disney offers a rider switch option so that if one child decides they no longer want to go on one adult can stay behind with that child while the other adult goes with the other child(ren). Once they come off, the kids can then go again with the second adult without much of a wait! Just let a cast member know in the line when you get to the front that you’d like to try this option.

6. Don’t force a child before they’re ready. Again, if they aren’t ready to do something and enter into their panic zone, it may have detrimental effects in their trust in you.

7. Validate, Validate, Validate. When a child tries something new, whether they liked it or not, applaud their effort for trying and validate their feelings. If they enjoyed themselves this can look something like this: Mickey I know you were pretty nervous about  trying that ride because of the big drop, but you were so brave and tried it anyway. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

If they had a tough time, it may look something like this: Mickey, it seemed like that ride was pretty scary for you. I’m so sorry it wasn’t what you expected. Even though you didn’t end up liking it, you were so brave for trying something new. We can take a break from these type of rides and you can decide what we try next. (This again places some control back into the person’s hands after they may have felt like they lost some control during that fearful experience).

8. Bravery is not the absence of fear… or tears… or screaming. A big thing we always talk about with kids in the hospital is that being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid or not crying or not screaming but more that you tried your best to do what you needed to do to help  yourself get better. At Disney, bravery is trying something new, trying something that makes you nervous. You can scream your head off and cry but still be brave! Praise those trying new things for being brave, even if they cry or scream or are terrified the entire time!

Have any experience stretching your or your child’s comfort zone at Disney? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Common Fears and Walt Disney World Attractions

Walt Disney World offers attractions for children and adults of varying preferences in terms of thrills. For those who do not enjoy roller coaster type rides, there are still many different rides to choose from. However, the thrill of the roller coaster isn’t the only fear that may be faced at Disney. Sometimes, attractions that you may not think could trigger a fear, may surprise you. If you or your child has particular fears, it is best to plan ahead to prepare for attractions that may stretch your comfort zone and avoid those that may just be a little to extreme for your or your child’s taste.

Here is a list of more common fears and attractions that may trigger those fears….

Keep in mind these attractions include varying degrees of thrills. Not all attractions on each list will trigger fears for all who have that particular fear, however, their design warrants mention because of the possibility to do so. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the comment section or by email at childcentereddisney@gmail.com.

Heights

The following attractions include portions that the ride vehicle is higher/above scenery or ground level.

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, Triceratops Spin Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Barnstormer, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain, Astro Orbiter, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Peter Pan’s Flight, Swiss Family Treehouse, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Prince Charming’s Regal Carousel EPCOT: Soarin’, Test Track, Sum of all Thrills, Mission: SPACE (though it is simulated) Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show (depending on how far up in the bleachers you sit- the bleachers here are on a relatively steep incline), Star Tours: The Adventure Continues (also simulated)

Speed

The following attractions include portions at higher speeds and many also include quick turns.

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Barnstormer, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain EPCOT: Test Track Hollywood Studios: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Dark

The following rides either include very low ambient lighting or portions that are completely dark (at times unexpected).

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Dinosaur,   Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Carousel of Progress, Stitch’s Great Escape, Country Bear Jamboree, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Jungle Cruise, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted Tiki Room EPCOT: Soarin’, Test Track, Sum of all Thrills, Mission: SPACE, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros, Journey into Imagination with Figment, Spaceship Earth, Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith,  Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, The Great Movie Ride, Muppet Vision 3D, Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Drops

The following rides include quick and sometimes unexpected hills or drops.

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, Kali River Rapids Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Barnstormer, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean EPCOT:  Sum of all Thrills  Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Surprises (Things that Jump Out)

These attractions include elements of surprise that either pop out from unexpected places or appear to quickly come toward you (particularly 3D shows).

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Dinosaur,   Magic Kingdom: Haunted Mansion, Stitch’s Great Escape, Mickey’s Philharmagic EPCOT: Soarin’, Test Track,  Journey into Imagination with Figment, Mission: SPACE Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror,  Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, The Great Movie Ride, Muppet Vision 3D, Toy Story Midway Mania

Spinning/Weightlessness

The following attractions include moments of weightlessness or involve a great deal of spinning (more intense than a Carousel or Dumbo type ride).

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Mad Tea Party EPCOT:  Sum of all Thrills,  Mission: SPACE Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Toy Story Midway Mania

Claustrophobia

The following attractions either include small, tight, or crowded spaces either in the loading process or actual ride design that may be particularly troublesome for those with claustrophobia.

Animal Kingdom: Dinosaur Magic Kingdom: Haunted Mansion EPCOT:  Sum of all Thrills,  Mission: SPACE Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Motion Simulation

The following attractions include motion simulators that may be troublesome for those with motion sickness.

Magic Kingdom: Mickey’s Philharmagic EPCOT:  Sum of all Thrills,  Mission: SPACE, Soarin’ Hollywood Studios: Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, Toy Story Midway Mania

Loud Noises

The following attractions include particularly loud noises that may be particularly disturbing to those with sensory sensitivities.

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Dinosaur  Magic Kingdom: Wishes EPCOT: Test Track,  Journey into Imagination with Figment, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth Hollywood Studios: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith,  Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, Fantastic!, Lights, Motors, Action!: Extreme Stunt Show, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, The Great Movie Ride

Water

The following attractions take place on a boat, travel over a body of water, or involve  water elements that may get the guest wet (from slight sprinkles to being soaked).

Animal Kingdom: Kali River Rapids, Kilimanjaro Safaris  Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Casey Junior’s Splash ‘n’ Soak Section, It’s a Small World, Liberty Square Riverboat, Mickey’s Philharmagic (slight sprinkles), Tom Sawyer’s Island, EPCOT: Soarin’, Test Track (slight sprinkles),  Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros, Living with the Land Hollywood Studios:  Muppet Vision 3D (slight sprinkles), Fantasmic! (slight sprinkles)

Have any categories to add or attractions that should be placed in the categories above? Please comment below and I will add them to the list!

Next up: Comfort Zones and Walt Disney World. In this post I will discuss stretching your or your child’s comfort zones in Walt Disney World without placing them in their panic zone. Stay Tuned!