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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Is The Dining Plan Truly a "Good Deal" From a Cost Perspective? - A Closer Look


by: guide4wdw - Collin

For many of you, the Disney Dining Plan has always been and will always be a part of your Disney vacation experience. However, it may not be quite the "good deal" some guests believe it to be. Personally, I've used the dining plan many times, and to be quite honest we really enjoy using it when we travel. It is worth noting though that while it is incredibly convenient (and convenience is worth a lot in many circumstances), it may not be saving you any money in the long run and you may very well be paying more for your Disney dining.

First and foremost, I just want to say that we are in no way criticizing the dining plan. It's an outstanding service that really simplifies the Disney dining experience for so many first time and returning guests while offering an upfront price and a flawless booking experience. With that being said, if you are trying to save as much money as you can (as many of us are), it may not be the best option in your individual scenario. To really illustrate the point, let's take a quick look at a typical day in the Magic Kingdom.

When we travel as a family, we'll typically make a reservation for Crystal Palace at some point throughout our day in the park. It's really become a tradition over the years and is a great way to get a break from the heat, enjoy some great food, and the iconic Main Street theming. Of course, this is certainly not a budget friendly dining location. Lunch and dinner rates are typically $42 for adults and breakfast comes in quite a bit cheaper at $30. Of course, these rates can fluctuate due to Holidays and special events where Disney sees it fit to raise prices.

Later on in the day we tend to either grab a snack of some sort. An ice cream cookie sandwich at the parlor on Main Street or even something as simple as a dole whip over in Frontierland are excellent snack options both on and off of the dining plan. No matter how you use your snack credit for the day, you're likely going to make a selection that costs less than $6. After a few somewhat recent changes, just about anything that is single serve is a portion of the dining plan options. 

Towards the end of the night, we tend to use our counter service offering. Counter service does tend to vary in cost fairly substantially by location, but a good example in this situation is Columbia Harbour House. The location features a vast variety of seafood and non seafood offerings, but everything on the menu comes in at or around $14 for an entree. It's plenty of food for most adults, but what really starts to add up are the drink and dessert costs which are automatically included in the dining plan. Drinks will run you $3.29 and desserts (which many guests may or may not order without the plan) will add another $4 or so to your dining experience. All in all, using the prices from Disney's website, you're looking at roughly a meal that costs $21.29 for one adult. It's a nice meal, but when you break it down, it really doesn't have to be that expensive. If you simply drink the free water (non-bottled) given out at the counter, and avoid the dessert, your price drops to simply $14. For most guests, that's a much more manageable priced meal for one adult. 

With all meals and snacks considered (using Disney's listed pricing), here's the breakdown: 
  • Table Service Meal (typically one table service dining credit): $42 
  • Counter Service Meal (as ordered if you were on the dining plan using one counter service credit): $21.29
  • Snack (one snack credit on dining plan): $6 
Total: $69.29 for one guest for one day 

Here's the kicker on the whole system, the Disney Dining Plan will cost you $69.35 per day for each adult. Essentially, if you ordered everything as listed you would break even on your dining plan purchase. Meal strategies for each guest do tend to vary drastically, but as a general rule of thumb, you may end up paying even slightly more for your dining plan and it's convenience factor than if you simply paid out of pocket for the same selections (out of the 100's if not 1000's of snack and meal combinations there may be exceptions but this is generally true). There are certainly merits to both options, but to be completely honest, if you're looking to save money, the dining plan typically isn't the way to go. Most guests wont order the amount of food on their own that is included in the dining plan automatically and you also don't have to limit yourself to strictly dining plan accepting locations. Plus, if you plan on eating at the Yachtsman or other high end dining options, you won't have to use two table service credits on your plan to experience the meal (a great experience but one you may not want to lose another meal for).

As mentioned, I have absolutely nothing against the dining plan and have used it many times, but it's not always the best option for every budget. Sometimes you're better off using a good travel agency to help you book your must-do dining experiences (we recommend Destinations to Travel: Free quote request form down below) rather than simply purchasing the dining plan and trying to find a meal for each and every day. They may be able to help you find new ways to save money and will likely help you decide whether or not it is the best option for your unique situation. When you narrow it down to a few of your favorites, you'll be surprised at how much money you may be able to save and have an equally enjoyable vacation experience. 

As alway, this is simply my opinion. Every guest figures out what works for them in their given scenario. However, this is a great way to configure your budget in a new way to potentially save some money along the way.

Thanks for reading, and if you know someone looking to book a Disney vacation (with or without the dining plan), be sure to share this with them. If anyone needs help in the planning process, feel free to email me anytime or look into the excellent free services provided by our friends over at Destinations to Travel. They are an authorized Disney Vacation Planner and trained to help you have the best vacation experience possible at Walt Disney World and many other locations! Free, no obligation, quote request form located below this article. Thanks!    

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Lost Part of Epcot's Japan Pavilion: Miyuki and the Incredible Art of Ame Zaiku

by: guide4wdw - Collin

In the early days of our Walt Disney World vacations, we stumbled across perhaps one of the most unique "performers" in all of the Epcot World Showcase, Miyuki. As a hidden gem of the Japan pavilion experience, Miyuki set up a pop up stand a few times per day and shared the incredible art of Ame Zaiku. 

While most guests to Walt Disney World have no idea exactly what that means or even what that is, Miyuki transfixed audiences with an incredibly interesting close-up performance. The demonstration put on display one of the most exclusive candy making art forms in all of the world. Using nothing but small wooden sticks, tweezers, small scissors, and a few other rather simple tools, Miyuki took a rice based candy (similar to a saltwater taffy consistency when warm) and quickly turned it into a priceless, yet completely edible dessert for guests to enjoy. (photo: labeled for reuse) 

The craft is truly amazing to witness first hand. The candy material itself is heated to well over 200 degrees to transition it into a malleable state. However, given the heat of the product, it takes quick movements and a trained eye to develop this medium into a true work of art before it hardens upon returning to air temperature. As each show progressed, guests would call out their favorite animals and one by one she would create the object before your very eyes in a few short minutes. Once it hardened she quickly added a candy paint to finish them off. A short time later, through the use of a small fan, the candy was cooled and then given out to the particular guest who offered up the animal idea. Unfortunately, during the final years of her time at Walt Disney World, the candy was no longer given away to guests (likely due to some type of sanitation law). 

Personally, this simple exhibition of incredible talent and artistic ability was something I looked forward to each and every trip. Considering the vast majority of my visits to Walt Disney World were during her time in the park (1996-2013), it was tough to see the simple show disappear after its long run. Miyuki was one of a very select group of artists in this craft limited to less than 20 trained individuals in the entire world. Even her own daughter, who would have continued the family tradition, chose not to continue in her mother's footsteps due to the incredible heat of the candy. 

I didn't realize until many years after our early viewings of the show, that the craft was so very limited and how incredible of an opportunity it was to see the production of this edible artwork. 

We made it an effort every year to visit this simple little aspect of the Japan pavilion, but unfortunately we arrived one day and were informed she was no longer performing in the parks (of course, that was long before we started covering info like that on the site). Somewhere, I still have images of the dragon, koala, and sea serpent we requested from the many shows we had the opportunity to see first hand. In those particular cases, I can remember carrying the hard, lollipop style, candy contraption through the park and can even fortunately remember the sweet and slightly gritty texture of the candy. 

Overall, it was an experience I'm incredibly glad I was able to see first hand and one that many of you may have caught along the way during your Disney vacations. If you got to experience Miyuki's incredible talent for yourself, be sure to share your experience with us in the comments on your favorite social media platform!                

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Walt Disney Story: A True Piece of Disney History


by: guide4wdw - Collin

The "Departed Disney" series has always been a favorite of mine to write. By looking back at what was, and experiencing Disney attractions, dining locations, and shows that have slowly left the parks, we can better appreciate the history of this incredible vacation destination. So, today we're looking back at a true Disney classic experience, The Walt Disney Story. 

From 1973-1992, the Main Street experience at Walt Disney World featured a vast variety of truly original concepts, but perhaps none were more "Disney" than the show about the man who started it all, Walt Disney. Throughout the run time of The Walt Disney Story, guests of all ages entered the pre-show area, and marveled at true pieces of Disney history, many of which have become a piece of the Disney Archives over the years. As you waited for the show to load, you could browse the various documents, posters, letters to Walt from famous individuals, and items that each played a roll in the life and influence of Walt Disney himself. Just before the entrance to the show theater area was a Bill Justice mural featuring a vast variety of Disney characters. 

The mural was tweaked and adjusted for quite some time as new films rolled out and new characters were added, but over the years this simple mural became a guest favorite for reasons that we may or may not ever understand. It was a signal of things past and the precursor to a story of the man who started it all. It gave people something look forward to and something that changed from trip to trip for many years. 

After entering the show theatre itself, a narrated story told the life and background of Walt Disney himself. It wasn't very in depth into Walt's personal life, but chronicled the story of the creative mind and how his ideas really unfolded before the eyes of many generations of viewers and guests. It not only covered his days with and creating the Disney parks, but took a closer look at the timeframe long before he created the Disney company and branded his most creative conceptual ideas, films, and attractions. 

It was a piece of Walt displayed in a park that Walt never really got to see on display for perhaps the largest theme park audience ever welcomed to a single destination, Magic Kingdom. For many guests, this attraction was a dedication to the man who started it all and a bit of a somber while somewhat uplifting experience. It was a story that inspired generations and still inspires guests today, long after the film itself has run it's course on Main Street U.S.A. It was a non-ticketed attraction (as a result of sponsorship), so guests could really appreciate the film time after time if they chose to do so. Of course, the experience also debuted in Disneyland, but ran a much shorter timeframe ending in 1975. 

In the production phase, cast working on the project scoured hours of film, press releases, speeches, and much much more to truly capture not only the life but also the voice of Walt Disney. In essence, Walt told his own story to guests in a round about way just 7 years after his death in 1966. It was a painstakingly detailed process, but one that created a show that warmed hearts and minds of guests for many years. It wasn't a success story, but rather one of following a dream no matter how impossible that dream seemed at the time.   

Throughout portions of its run, Disney utilized the post show (and even the show area at some points) area of this space to debut new experiences and large scale projects like Epcot and The Western River Expedition (a project that was never completed). While none of these were permanent changes, it offered a closer look at big projects on the horizon at Walt Disney World.  

Today, if you're looking to find what's left of this classic representation, head over to Town Square Theater rather than the original Gulf Hospitality House. It may not look quite like it once did, but I can guarantee you'll be able to spot what "once was." 

Walt Disney is an iconic part of the Disney parks and resorts, but part of me hopes that one day an attraction like this will debut once again to share with generations the nostalgic story behind the man himself. Sure, we see his influence in many aspects of the Disney experience, but there's just something special about keeping a story of Walt in Walt Disney World. We do still have a representation of him over at One Man's Dream, but with the changes unfolding around that location, there's no telling what will happen to that walk through experience. Today, it's getting quite difficult to experience these extinct attractions for yourself, but thankfully video of this experience was captured and can still be viewed online at the following link: Video of The Walt Disney Story (1992) Due to technology restraints, the quality of the video is not all that perfect, but the videographer did an incredible job with the technology that was available at the time. 

So, what do you think? Did you get to experience this somewhat "lost" attraction first hand? Personally, I never got to experience it in person (due to age), but really enjoy taking the time to research and learn about these departed experiences. 

A special thanks to Steve Boutet for these nostalgic Disney photos!  

Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

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Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

5 "Disney Moments" You Don't Want to Miss During A Walt Disney World Vacation


by: guide4wdw - Collin

For many of us, Disney has become a tradition along with a vacation destination. It's a place we've come to love and appreciate in many ways, but some elements of the vacation experience can only be described as "Disney Moments." Here's a closer look at what we mean. 

When someone asks you that age old question of, "Why do you go to Disney?" or even worse the, "Aren't you too old for Disney?" a few distinct memories inevitably come to mind as a quick response. However, some experiences at Walt Disney World are truly hard to explain. There are certain moments that you have to see to appreciate, and are certainly a small piece of the experience that you don't want to miss on any Disney vacation. 

In my own opinion, a few distinct memories that I've been fortunate enough to experience time after time flood to the forefront of my mind. In particular, here's a few "Disney Moments" I never want to miss on any Disney vacation. 

1. Park Opening
There are very few things in life more memorable than a walk down Main Street U.S.A on an early morning long before the overwhelming crowds of the day roll in. It's a simple feeling, but as you walk down the street, make that race to space or even the dash to splash, there's a simple joy that envelopes the park. Every guest has a smile on their face, every cast member is there to greet you at their attractions or store locations, and everyone is happy to be a part of the magic. Even on the warmest of days, the morning remains somewhat cool, and the damp ground from the cleaning crew the night before ushers in a bright new look to the park. There's nothing quite like it. Every parks opening is just a little bit different, but that wonderful "fresh start to the day" feeling is always present and something you should experience at least once (even if you're not a morning person).     

2. Tinker Bell's Flight
As perhaps the most iconic part of any night in the Magic Kingdom, Tinker Bell's nightly flight down from the spires of Cinderella's Castle will warm even the toughest of individuals and often bring adults of all ages to tears. It's the perfect way to cap off the memories created with friends and family throughout the day and the one thing that often brings back a whole series of memories from years of Disney vacations. It's a moment that only Disney could create, and one that has been a piece of the magic for years on end.        

3. Disney Resorts at Night 
Disney truly takes on an entirely different persona as the sun goes down. As the sun dips below the horizon, the lights pop on across all four of the parks and many of the resorts. Perhaps the best example is Disney's Wilderness Lodge. As the darkness takes over, the resort truly transforms into a woodsy and exquisitely picturesque environment that is entirely different from the daylight hours. The lanterns flicker providing light along the guest paths, the reflections appear all across Bay Lake, the pools glow with light, and the lobby transforms into an even more welcoming fireside retreat. The feeling is unexplainable without first experiencing it in person. It's welcoming in a way that makes you feel at home even when you're miles away from your hometown. 

Every resort has it's nightly transformation that changes the way you view your resort experience. Even in the realm of moderate tier resorts, Port Orleans transforms in a way that puts you right in the heart of New Orleans and seems to really accentuate the theming. 

4. Park Closing
As mentioned briefly above in a few ways, Disney really is two different experiences at night and during the day. However, closing time is an entirely different experience all on its own. It's a casual time in any park and a way to really take in the nighttime Disney experience after the crowds of the nighttime spectaculars have dispersed and many guests have left for the night to rest up for the next days adventures. Magic Kingdom is perhaps that most iconic "closing time" park with the Kiss Goodnight worked into an already incredible experience, but the other parks follow suit in a way that many guests overlook. 

Epcot lends itself to some outstanding cast member interactions after the majority of guests have filtered out of the park and offers up spectacular views and lighting for photos. The pace of the park changes, and the lighting really brings out the character of the park. Animal Kingdom, while still a rather new nighttime experience, is essentially two different parks at night and during the day. Pandora transforms into it's overwhelming nighttime presence, the tree of life awakens, and the atmosphere of the guest areas darkens in a very unique way. Later in the night, you can walk around and feel as if you're one of very few people left in the park exploring Africa or even taking one last walk through DinoLand all lit up for the night.     

5. Trying Something Entirely New
As perhaps the most obscure addition to the list, I honestly believe this is a key "Disney Moment" that you never want to miss. Simply trying something new that you've never experienced before can create a moment with friends and family that could start a tradition or create a memory that you'll all remember forever. Head over to fantasia mini golf for  around of putt putt or even just jump on a boat and ride around to check out many different resorts at night. You never know when one of these simple new experiences may become the highlight of your Disney vacation. It only takes one cast member, or one location, or even one seemingly simple moment to make the ordinary extraordinary. Remember, often times the memories a Walt Disney World vacation creates aren't simply due to attractions, or even dining experiences, but rather the moments we share and the memories we make with those who mean the most to us. I truly believe it's these simple experiences that keep us coming back.  

As always, thanks for reading and I truly appreciate you spending some time here with us. If you enjoy the site, I have a simple challenge for you this week. Choose your favorite article (of the over 280 we've shared) and share it with a friend this week. Bringing new friends into this Disney community is what keeps us growing and building this community by Disney fans for Disney fans! Thanks!     

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Disney's Recent Casting Call Could Mean For The Future of the Parks


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Just a short time ago, Disney debuted a new listing on their Disney Auditions page looking for "Comedic Actors." The posting continues on to state that those who audition are attempting to attain a role as: "Male and Female Actors to portray wide-eyed and na├»ve “scientific interns”. Set in a laboratory environment, the warm and friendly “intern” enthusiastically supports various interactive audience experiences." 

Of course as a result of the posting, the rumors started rolling out quickly and aggressively pointing toward one particular attraction, Journey Into Imagination with Figment. Personally, as many of you may know, I don't like to share rumors, so today I'm simply going to share some thoughts on what this could signify and a variety of different options that could pop up in the future as a result of this listing. 

To be quite honest, I have no information about this listing beyond simply as it is stated on the Disney Auditions website. I don't claim to have any sources on any of the scenarios mentioned below, and we should all take into account that even cast members working for Disney (and likely working an attraction or area mentioned) typically have no information given to them about what's next. Even the closing of the Great Movie ride was unknown to the cast until a few weeks before it shut it's doors.

The Journey Into Imagination Concept Could Be True 
The Journey Into Imagination attraction is one that has been rumored to change for many many years. It has been a favorite of guests for generations, but slowly it has left the spotlight as many different changes have unfolded distancing it from it's original variation. In the early days, we had the Dreamfinder, and a vast majority of guests really appreciated the attraction and loved everything about it. As the years went on, the Dreamfinder was removed from the overall story and the attraction transformed concepts. Sadly, throughout the transformations, the current "ImageWorks" post show area was shrunk tremendously and lost a lot of guest interaction. For years you could wonder the area with many other guests and learn and try new things, but after quite some time and things getting outdated, guest demand for the space really faded away resulting in today's iteration of the area. Perhaps the most iconic portion of the experience upstairs (in the glass "pyramids") was lost much earlier on and has been recently transformed into a DVC member lounge. 

(Photo: Disney)

The casting call could very well point to a redo of this attraction and possibly the post show area as well. However, with the increase in merchandise featuring the iconic Figment character, I do not see the character going away entirely. It doesn't seem quite right to build the characters prominence in the park to simply remove the attraction entirely. For quite some time, a rumor has been floating around about an "Inside Out" themed attraction possibly taking over the space, but personally I hope that never comes to fruition in this particular location. Of course, I'd love to see it pop up elsewhere, which brings us to my next  idea for this castings end result, The Wonders of Life Pavilion. 

My Hope Is That They Re-do The Wonders of Life Pavilion
This particular portion of the park has been essentially abandoned for quite some time beyond festival events, private events, and so on. However, despite it's current state, aging interior, and exterior, it is prominently placed in the concept art for the reimagined Epcot which was debuted at D23. In my opinion, this space is the most overlooked piece of the expansion artwork. The casting opportunity for "scientific interns" would fit perfectly into a similar realm of what was once in the pavilion and it's history of iconic show hosts and semi-scientific attractions like Cranium Command! As mentioned above, I know nothing in regards to insider information, but this very well could be a space that would transform quickly without having to close an attraction or create an entirely new building. If I were an Imagineer, this is where I would locate an "Inside Out" attraction which may or may not ever become a reality. 

An Entirely New Experience May Arise
At D23 essentially Disney fans were told that Epcot would be getting a transformation, and that it was going to be a long process. The concept art doesn't appear entirely complete, so there is a substantial chance that this could signal an entirely new experience or show. Epcot has the space, and they also appear to have the timeframe necessary to create something entirely new. Of course it does seem early to already be casting for such a potentially large project. 

Also worth noting is that experiences like The Muppet Mobile Lab and "pop up" shows are becoming increasingly popular in the Disney parks. Disney did not state how many actors this position would accept and it is strictly listed as "actors." Another aspect that should be taken into consideration is that it does not say in any way that this is a position for Epcot. 

Right now, there's many more questions than answers with this listing, but it's certainly interesting to take a look at a vast variety of possibilities. If you could choose one thing this could turn into, what would it be? A new attraction, a new show, or maybe even a complete redo of an attraction? This could signal big changes, but it could also signal a very small change. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. 

Of course, I do not intend to spread any rumors here because this is simply my thoughts based on what I've observed.   

Thanks for taking the time out your day to spend a few minutes here with us, and if you like any of our ideas, be sure to share this post with friends! Thanks! We want to keep building a community of Disney friends sharing with Disney friends so your shares really help us out!       

Friday, August 25, 2017

Add a New "Disney" Flair to Your Joffrey's Experience!


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Just last week, a brand that is becoming proudly associated with the Disney name released an entirely new offering at Disney Springs, "Ripple Maker." The new technology uses a toner based printing system to create a design which can be placed on any of their foamy drink offerings. 

The technology is currently exclusive to the Tea Traders Cafe at Disney Springs. However, this could roll out to a variety of different Joffrey's locations in the future. Right now, Disney and Joffrey's have yet to state if this will eventually roll out in the parks. 

The printing system itself can create 4 different images currently:

  • Minnie Mouse 
  • Mickey Mouse 
  • The Disney Springs Logo 
  • Joffrey's Logo 
The printing mechanism itself uses a ground coffee substance to essentially dust the top of your desired beverage with a thin design that is fun yet completely edible! As an added bonus, it only takes around 20 seconds to complete the process! 

Personally, I see this catching on incredibly quick and turning into the next big thing in Disney across social media. It's already starting to pop up around Instagram, so we'll see if this remains at this one location or grows exponentially to all Joffrey's locations.  

What do you think? Creative option or a bit over the top? 

(We are not associated with Joffrey's.) 
Source: Disney Parks Blog   

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Forgotten "Wave Machine" of The Polynesian Village Resort


by: guide4wdw - Collin

No matter how you look at it, the Walt Disney World we experience today is a far cry from the original 1971 iteration. Of course, I'll let you decide if that's a good thing or not on your own, but today we're taking a look beyond the parks to a piece of Disney history hiding in plain site, the Polynesian Village resort's "wave machine." 

In the early years of the Polynesian, Disney decide to put into place a way to expand the already expansive lineup of resort recreation across the two main Disney resorts to give guests something else to do beyond the parks. Of course, today we can see how that trend eventually caught on in a big way developing this simple concept into a multi-faceted resort experience. However, this particular design and recreation element never got off the ground in the way it was originally intended. 

Dick Nunis (VP of park operations at the time) and his team first came up with the "artificial wave" idea and went to work on making it a reality. In concept this was an incredible new creation that would develop an added sense of realism to an already incredible resort. Sadly, once the system debuted and was put into practice, it created semi-large scale erosion along the beaches of the Polynesian and surrounding areas due to the repetitive motion. So, a short time after the wave system debuted, it was stopped rather abruptly until a solution could be reached. 

Years down the road, they gave the concept another shot. The pattern unfortunately continued and the pricey investment was removed from the experience altogether. Today, if you're staying or simply visiting the Polynesian, be sure to take a look just north of the recently built bungalows for a small island. Along the edge of that small land mass you'll see what looks like a small retaining wall that doesn't quite blend in with its surroundings. The wall itself was a small piece of a larger and more elaborate system that was used to create the waves in the early years of Disney's operation. 

At that point in time, there was also a brief period where guests could swim in the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. Of course, that is no longer the case today and has not been in quite some time (please do not enter the lakes!), but it's interesting to look back at what "could have been." Years later, a wave system did in fact return to Disney property, but all man made waves at Disney you'll find in the comforts of a chlorinated waterpark atmosphere.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope you learned a little bit of "lost" Disney history today to be on the lookout for during your next vacation. Don't forget to grab a Dole Whip while you're there!  

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special thanks to one reader in particular who recommended this topic! I sincerely appreciate it! If any of you want to see me cover anything in particular next, be sure to let me know!             

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The "Lost" Disney Island That Could Have Changed Today's Disney Vacation Experience


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Disney is a place of constant development and and incredible innovation that very few places can truly display on such a grand scale. Unfortunately, as new technologies develop and new thought processes are developed a few things are lost along the way. So, today, we're taking a closer look at Walt Disney World's "Lost" island. 

(photo: labeled for reuse)

As land was being gathered in secret for the large scale Disney project that would later become Walt Disney World, they acquired an island called Raz Island. For years, Disney never truly utilized the lands incredible potential, but in 1974 they developed a project called Treasure Island. By adding to the current mass of land, they slowly, yet surely created a small scale park which guests could visit exclusively by boat. The cost of entrance was just over $10 for adults and a little over $5 for children in the later years of it's operation. 

Of course, we're talking about a "park" unlike the Magic Kingdom or anything of that nature, but rather more of a walkthrough type exhibit. Many of you may recognize the island by it's later name, "Discovery Island." The experience was unlike anything Disney had embarked on before end brought real animal exhibits, simple theming, and an observation area all together to create something neat for families of all ages to enjoy.

(Original Treasure Island Map: 1974. Special thanks to Michael Dreitlein for this and the images below!)

All things considered, the island encompassed just over 11 acres of land and could be viewed by guests from surrounding resorts and even over at the also extinct River Country water park. (Learn more about that here in an older article: A Look Back at the Only Forgotten Walt Disney World Theme Park - River Country) The area featured a variety of animal exhibits including: swans, a trained bird show, lemurs, cranes, flamingos, tortoises and many more. Beyond the animals, a private beach offered guests the opportunity to walk along the shore (no swimming allowed), paths traversed the island, and the entire experience revolved around an iconic yet simple pirate theme which was later lost from the experience. 

Unfortunately, despite very little explanation, Discovery Island closed to the public in 1999 shortly after the debut of Animal Kingdom (which also features a "Discovery Island"). At one point the focus of the experience turned to conservation and while it was good in concept, Disney faced issues claiming that certain animals were being kept in restrictive housing and treated quite poorly as well. Of course, there is very little way to know how true these claims were (especially considering they were acclaimed by a zoological foundation), but either way, a majority of the animals were relocated to Animal Kingdom in time.  

Quite possibly the strangest portion of the closure is that the area has been largely abandoned for quite some time in a similar fashion to Disney's River Country. Years ago, a somewhat brave (if you want to call it that) group of "explorers" dove in and swam a section of the lake to get a peek at what was left on the island. To their surprise, old pictures, theming elements and much of the area were left virtually untouched. There's no way to truly prove their findings, and it is incredibly dangerous to try to get to the island yourself (they were banned from WDW). However, if you take a boat over to Fort Wilderness, you'll float right past what is left of the experience. Rumors have been swirling for many years about a redevelopment of this space, but it will be interesting to see what comes next, if anything. Could you imagine the crowds something like this could draw today? It would be an experience that everyone would want to see first hand and could essentially change the vacation experience of many guests staying on property. 

For now, it's simply fun to take a look back at a small portion of Disney's history and appreciate the past that led the way to what we experience today. As always, thanks for reading, and have a great rest of the day! Did you get a chance to experience it first hand? Share your experiences with us on social media. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Are Disney World Club Level Accommodations Worth It?


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Are Disney World Club Level Accommodations Worth It?  

Sometimes when you're booking a Disney vacation, things just really start to lineup and that was exactly the case when we had the opportunity to experience Club Level at the Disney's Wilderness Lodge. When you mention that particular option of a Disney vacation to most guests the first question they ask is, "Was it worth it?" Well, here's our answer to that question. 

Disney Club Level Benefits Depend on How You Travel  

First and foremost, there is no straightforward answer to that question because it really varies depending on how you like to travel and the plans you have for your vacation. For us, it was an incredible experience with a lot of incredible perks, but it's not something we would (or could) do on every trip. 

In our particular circumstance we were looking for a place that would accommodate 4 guests while having a divided partition between rooms (one person in our group snores so it's great to have that extra rollout to create some space to get some sleep in "peace"). Originally, we had plans to spend the week at one of our favorite resorts, Saratoga Springs. Fortunately, as we searched the Disney site day after day we stumbled into a deluxe room at Wilderness Lodge with Club Level accommodations. Notice the phrasing as "with club level accommodations," because we'll explain that later. In most cases at Walt Disney World, deluxe is actually a resort tier category rather than a room type, but at the Wilderness Lodge this is essentially Disney phrasing for "junior suite." 

The room itself was great, but the club level access simply came as a perk to our overall experience. To be completely honest, it was one of the best experiences we've had at a Walt Disney World resort. 

We had in fact stayed at Wilderness Lodge a few times before and it is certainly one of our top favorite deluxe tier resorts. Fortunately, this time was a bit different than all of the other great experiences. 

For another WDW resort you may be looking into, be sure to check out our Disney's Boardwalk Resort - An Excellent Resort Theme and Location article. 

Is the Cost of Club Level Worth It?

So, let's take a look at Club Level. On a typical rate structure, the concierge or "club level" floor is around $100-$150 more than a standard room per night. Many guests hear that figure and shy away from the accommodation option altogether. Yes, it is certainly expensive, but at the same time the charge varies and oftentimes these rooms are included in discounted rate offers. Also, as in our case, they do (in a few select cases) come with additional space in the room itself. 

(view from club level dining area during a tornado watch: notice how the Magic Kingdom ferry boat was briefly relocated to Bay Lake!)

A typical club level room is no different than a standard room found throughout the rest of the resort. However, as mentioned, there are a select few deluxe rooms that accommodate larger party sizes. Personally, if I were to book club level again, this is what I would reserve. The accommodations can cover 6 guests in the deluxe rooms and as a result is much more price conscious. When booking a room for that many guests comfortably, you typically have to book two rooms or reserve a villa. Sadly, the one bedroom villas only accommodate 4 guests  (in most cases), so a two bedroom is required. When you take these things into consideration, the club level option is much more reasonable in price, plus you receive the following benefits. 

Specially Prepared Snacks 

While the offerings do vary from resort to resort based on the theming of the particular location, at the Wilderness Lodge you get access to what is called the Old Faithful Club. The concierge exclusive seating and dining area is located on the 7th floor overlooking the main lobby of the Wilderness Lodge below. The seating is incredibly comfortable, the snacks (which are prepared at select times throughout the day starting at breakfast and debuting all the way through late night desserts) are quite tasty and exclusive to the club, and the views are second to none. Including both picturesque angles of the property and the Magic Kingdom. 

The snack "menu" for each day and each window of dining varies each and every timeframe. To partake in the dining aspect of the experience, simply head into the club dining set up area (when it is open) and select what you would like to eat from a spread of a small variety of themed and tasty treats. Along with the food, an assortment of alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages are available in an unlimited capacity (drinks are also available by request when the dining area is not open). After picking up your snack meal, head to the seating area overlooking the resort's lobby from high above, watch some TV on one of the large screen tv options (one for adults and one for kids), or head out to the club balcony for a glance over at the Magic Kingdom in the distance. 

The Views From Club Level Are Incredible!  

Beyond the food, Club Level offers some of the very best views out of the entire resort. A majority of the views are from the 7th floor, but the deluxe category suite style rooms are uniquely placed near the corners of the club level wing stacked in the corner of the resorts layout simply due to the space required for the larger accommodations (hence the wording above "with club level accommodations," not guaranteed on club level for deluxe rooms). Either way, you're guaranteed one of the best views of the property. In our own personal case, we secured a room on the corner of the second floor overlooking the boat dock. It was a unique treat to wake up each morning and head out on the balcony to see the sun shining off the lake and the boats preparing for the day. 

Beyond the in-room views, the club where the food and drinks are located has it's own private balcony for fireworks viewing over the Magic Kingdom. Personally, this was a highlight of my Club Level experience. At night you simply grabbed a dessert headed to the balcony and stood there with possibly 2 or 3 other people max and enjoyed a semi-private viewing of Happily Ever After. The music is piped in, the balcony is shielded a bit from inclement weather, and the experience is truly hard to put into words. 

Disney Club Level Cast Members Are Excellent! 

At Disney you always expect the best cast member experiences, but Club Level takes that a step further. The staff working this level are the best of the best Disney has to offer, quite literally. They essentially volunteer for the position, but must be considered and qualified in order to be transferred. It's amazing what these cast are willing to do to make your experience perfect or as near perfect as it can be. Upon check in you are given a number to text if you have any requests and they will bring it to the door or find a way to fix the issue at hand. One night we missed the dessert timeframe and simply asked (expecting it wouldn't happen) if they could send something small to our room. When we arrived later that night, we walked in to a custom made box of treats. The box featured one of everything offered that night for each guest in our party and truly blew away our expectations. 

The Private Concierge Could Be A Great Bonus For Some 

As you would expect, the concierge floor offers guests the option to use a concierge during their trip. In our experience, we were called by the resort about a month before our stay and asked if we had any special requests or if they could help us with dining reservations or anything else. Being the over-planners that we are we didn't use the service, but it was great that it was offered. While at the resort, the concierge staff greets you and checks you in at a private location on the club floor while bringing you any variety of drinks or snacks available at that time. Throughout your stay, if you ever had any questions someone is nearly always at the desk and ready to help. We used the service once to secure a reservation for a last minute dining reservation at Epcot on the Fourth of July. They were quite helpful and incredibly knowledgable of menus and gave truly honest reviews of their past experiences at the dining locations. 

Obviously we don't tend to ask a lot of questions when booking or during our Disney trips. For the most part, we do our own thing and may even follow our own 7 Day Itinerary that is proven and works excellently for us. But, at the same time, this service could be vastly helpful for many guests.  

The Disney World Club Level "Big Picture"

While these offerings simply touch on the perks of Club Level (also including: special bath products, ultra plush bath robes, turn down service, chocolates delivered to the room each night, and much more), the reality of if it is truly worth it is something that has to be considered on a case by case basis.

For example, on our trip we intentionally planned a resort day to relax at the pool and just explore the resort/neighboring resorts. On that particular day, the Club Level dining options were an outstanding perk. Each time the doors to the food area were open we grabbed something then headed back to the pool! It was great and we really got a lot out of the additional cost. Sadly, on our main park days, we spent so much time out of the room, we didn't really take as much advantage of the perks of Club Level.

(view from the fireworks viewing balcony: also during/right after the tornado watch)

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Is it the best option for everyone? Certainly not. The perks were truly incredible considering we were going to stay in a similarly priced option elsewhere in our unique circumstance, but that doesn't always work for everyone. Take your situation into account, don't expect these "snacks" to be full meal replacers, and Club Level could very well be a highlight of your next Walt Disney World experience.To answer our first question, "Is it worth it?" I truly believe it was worth it in our scenario! We created memories as a family that will go down as one of our very best vacations we've ever been on, and you really can't put a price on that. 

Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Ready to Plan?

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Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.

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