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Monday, January 29, 2018

The "Little Things" We Do At Disney That Can Make All the Difference

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

When you think of Disney as a whole, it's easy for your mind to run straight to the parks. A simple song we hear on the radio, a faint smell we catch a whiff of in a store, or even a simple Disney TV commercial can take you away from daily life and take you back to a fond vacation memory. It's a phenomenon that is hard to explain but vastly influential in many of our lives.

If you haven't been to the parks, I'm almost positive we sound crazy right about now, but we don't work for Disney (even though I wish I could write for them some day!) and only share our honest experiences in the parks and beyond. Today, we're taking another look at some of the simpler elements of a Disney vacation that have largely become traditions for our family over the years. Chances are these won't be what everyone tells you to experience on your first Disney vacation, and a few of them may be things you've never even thought about looking into, but nonetheless they've held a special place in our travels for years on end.


Before we dive into it, I should first share that we don't necessarily travel in a "typical manner." We move around a lot during our Disney vacations, jump from parks to park, and even from resort to resort. It's part of what we do and what we enjoy, but honestly it's not a strategy that works for everyone. However, if you want to check out how we do Disney in depth, be sure to check our Our Typical Disney World 7 Day ItineraryOur Tried and True "Epcot in a Day" Touring Plan, or even our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! Not only do they share some of our top tips but they'll also give you an idea of our style of travel. We enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon at the pool, but also like to get adventurous and attempt some of the less typical offerings of Disney property, which we're sharing today!



After years of touring the parks, we like to take a step beyond their gates for even just a brief part of the day to explore a little more in depth what there is to offer. Like many of you, we've spent years riding the attractions and still do today, but what you may give up in riding Small World for the 100th time, you may uncover an entirely new aspect of the Disney experience you never knew about. There's so much to see that you'll never experience it all but if you're like me you search to uncover one more piece of the magic each and every time you visit.      

Playing Miniature Golf
Over our last 4 or so visits to Disney World, this seemingly simple activity has become a staple for our vacations. To be quite honest with you, I never thought I'd put miniature golf on a "must-do" list of any type but it really is that enjoyable if you take the time to venture over to Fantasia gardens to play a quick round. 

When we first started this traditions, we only did so because we had free passes that came with our package. To our surprise, we loved it and took the whole family back the next trip down and have payed out of pocket to play on more than one occasion. One of the courses is heavily themed, but the other offers a unique challenge that represents an iteration of full scale golf on a scaled down platform. For example, any given whole may offer a sand trap, water hazard, elevation changes, or even require strategic shot placement to make it out with a par for the hole. It's by far the toughest miniature golf course I've ever played and offers a unique challenge. 

Many of you may pass on the opportunity or assume you can't get there to enjoy the activity without a rental car or other type of transportation, but there's one simple tip that can get you past that barrier. If you're at any of the four parks, utilize the free Dinsey transportation to one of three resorts: The Swan and Dolphin (the shortest walk), The Boardwalk (the most picturesque walk), or Yacht and Beach Club. Once you arrive at any of the three resorts walk towards the common area of the Swan and Dolphin which sits between the two buildings, and continue walking towards the main pool of the property which sits on the back side of the small pond (the walkway will lead right towards the main grotto style pool). Right before you get to the pool area, there will be a single path leading off to your left. Follow that path and it will lead straight to the entrance of Fantasia Gardens. In words, it sounds like a long walk but from the main lobby of the Swan, it takes less than 10 minutes to make the journey on foot.        

Playing Real Golf
This tip may not be for everyone but if you've ever given thought to picking up a set of clubs and stepping into the realm of golf, there's no better place to start than at Disney. The full scale courses are incredibly difficult, but each of the courses offer teaching programs, and driving ranges open to the public year round. Take your first golf lesson or simply step out onto the driving range at the Lake Buena Vista Course (attached to Saratoga Springs) and experience a unique take on the driving range concept. The range, which many expected to be a long narrow field, is designed to incorporate a water element and utilizes a large target to challenge guests while creating an element of both frustration and entertainment as you challenge the guests in your group to a closest to the pin challenge. 


The simple joys of the game get really overlooked by many, but can oftentimes provide that one thing that convinces a non-disney fan to embark on a Disney vacation. They may even surprise you and become a Disney fan in the end as a result of the impressive course conditions and creative layouts.     

Going to Get Soft Serve at the Dolphin 
Another tradition of ours, which typically accompanies a night of miniature golf, is soft serve ice cream from The Fountain. The Fountain isn't Disney owned or operated but lies just inside the doors of the Dolphin hotel. They don't just offer soft serve and actually offer a variety of excellent hand dipped ice cream as well, but the soft serve is the show stopper. I know I've mentioned it here on the site before but the rich flavor and thick consistency of the treat here can never be matched. It's impressive in a surprising way, because at it's most basic principle, it is just soft serve ice cream. If you don't believe me, go try it for yourself and let me know what you think (I recommend the chocolate/vanilla twist in a waffle cone and a seat by the main pool a short walk away! It's the perfect end to a night at Disney.)

Pro tip: If you're already at Epcot, don't worry about catching a bus. Head to the back of the World Showcase and exit through the International Gateway between France and the United Kingdom. If you're not up for the walk around the lagoon by the Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach club over to the Dolphin. Hop on a boat just outside the exit and make two stops before arriving at your destination about 15 minutes later leaving a short 2 minute walk to The Fountain walk up ice cream window. If you want to catch a meal too, they do offer a sit down location, where you can order food and ice cream all from your table. The burgers are quite excellent and reservations are not required.    
   
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Driving out to Character Warehouse
Unfortunately for this tip you will need a car or an Uber or other form of transportation, but sometimes it's well worth the hassle. Typically I'm not a fan of leaving the "Disney bubble" (unless you're headed to Discovery Cove), but this is one of the rare exceptions. The Character Warehouse is something we stumbled into by accident many years ago but has grown to reach a higher level of media attention over the last few years. The shopping location is a part of the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets which sit about 5 minutes away (driving) from Disney Springs' main entrance. The outlet mall itself is in no way associated with Disney, but one particular store sells a vast variety of essentially overstock Disney Parks and Cruise Line merchandise. We're not talking about the boot-leg cheap t-shirts found on parts of International Drive, but rather legitimate parks merchandise at deeply discounted prices. 

If you have a car and about 2 hours of free time, head over to the outlets and take a quick look. The rest of the mall is quite nice as well, but remains incredibly crowded most of the year.        

Catching a Late Night Snack at Goofy's Candy Company
At any point during a Disney vacation, we've been known to leave a park or our resort and head someplace for a late night dessert or snack. Time after time, we've found ourselves going to Goofy's Candy Company for one particularly experience, the create your own option. Tucked away in the back corner of the store, this particular offering allows guests to create the snack of their dreams. At one point, the sky was the limit for the amount of toppings you could add to the famous Mickey rice crispy treats, pretzel sticks, and marshmallows but now the offerings have changed slightly and the toppings can still be piled on but a select few will cost you. Nonetheless, the resulting treat is a masterpiece unrelieved by the depths of your imagination.

There's an unexpected joy to it all and when you're finished building your dessert, you can step outside and grab a table (after looking for a few minutes to find one) by the lake and take in the sunset or shimmering lights of Disney Springs reflecting off of the water. It's the definition of a simple joy and relaxing element of the Disney experience but one that never fails to create smiles and memories that will last a lifetime.        


You see, for us a vacation isn't always about what the parks hold, but the opportunities elsewhere on Disney property. On your next trip, consider taking that leap of faith and spending some time outside of the parks. You may be surprised at what you uncover and on a grander scale, you may be shocked at the additional memories you get to take away from the new experiences. Until next time, enjoy the magic and we'll talk with you all again soon! Thanks for reading and have a great rest of the day!


Ready to Plan?
Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you!  

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! 

Thanks for reading and if you liked this post, please SHARE it with friends! 




Friday, January 26, 2018

Walt Disney World Club 33 Prices Shared With Golden Oak Residents

Guide4WDW.com
by: guide4wdw - Collin

During 2017, Disney officially announced that a rendition of the iconic Club 33 will be coming to Walt Disney World in each of the four parks. For those of you who may not know, Club 33 was originally developed out in Disneyland of California and while it has made it to other international Disney parks (not all of them), up until this point it has not been a part of Walt Disney World. Throughout last year, Disney shared a very small glimpse at what is to come in the form of an email campaign sent out only to those who requested it. In the automated response which you can see here (email response), the details are extremely vague which makes me questions the authenticity of the original email altogether. The project is coming to the parks, but we just don't know many of the details at this point.  




After that, nothing overly official was shared by the company until just a short time ago. It is being reported today that members of Disney's Golden Oak Community received an application offer for the club over the last few days. In the the application, the pricing was listed at $25,000 for registration with annual dues sitting at or around $15,000. Of course, this pricing is simply second hand knowledge being shared online. If you or anyone you know received an application in the Golden Oak Community, we'd love to a catch glimpse of one and verify pricing.   

At this point, that is about all that has been shared. We do not know where these new locations will be located, or when they will open. Many locations have been involved in the mass speculation but the one that struck my interest the most was the former Catwalk Bar. We'll see if that comes true or not in time, but it'll be interesting to see the end result (if I can find someone to get me in lol). More details should be made available in the not so distant future. 



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Our Top 3 Buffets at Walt Disney World

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

In my opinion, no Disney vacation is complete without at least one excellent meal. No matter if you're spending one day in Magic Kingdom or 7-10 days hitting all the parks and Disney Springs I firmly believe a great meal can transform your vacation. It doesn't have to be a table service buffet. A counter service location or even simply a special snack can create memories of a lifetime. However, the benefit of the meal isn't necessarily about the food, but rather the experience that meal creates.



So many people in today's society are so busy that they don't always have time to sit down as a family or with friends and just enjoy each others company. You can share a piece of your day, or a concern in your life, but more than anything sitting down together gives you that opportunity to put away the technology and connect with the people you care about the most. To me, that's one of the prime strengths of any Disney vacation. When you step into that "Disney Property Bubble" you can leave the requirements of the world behind for just a few minutes and simply enjoy the moment. 

To me, it doesn't matter which of the hundreds of dining locations on property you choose to dine at, and it really doesn't matter what type of meal it is. When you get that opportunity to sit with family around the table and just enjoy the moment and the excitement of your day, there's truly nothing quite like it. It's a simple joy that so often gets overlooked in the thrills of planning your vacation and one of the most exciting surprises that unfolds as you sit down for a meal at your desired location. I know that sounds trivial, but in the grand scheme of things the simple interactions we share with those we care the most about while on vacation are what we'll remember for the rest of our lives. It's the little things that you'll remember after your vacation is completed. I've said it before, but no matter how great the attractions or dining locations are or even become in the future the true spirit of Disney is rooted in the memories you share with family. 

So, today we've come up with a few great buffet style options for your Disney vacation and a few that have created those lasting experiences for us over the years. While not everything on this list will be a strict "buffet" by the true sense of the word, some of our top picks utilize an all you can eat family style meal that rivals the experience of a full fledge buffet with the added benefit of it being brought right to you. 

1. Crystal Palace

I start with Crystal Palace for many reasons but one particular reason stands out well beyond the rest. On one of our most recent 7 day trips (see our 7 day itinerary if you're looking to plan a similar vacation) to the parks, we actually ate here twice. The first time was through a typical reservation, but the second time we happened to score a last minute reservation as we scrolled through the My Disney Experience App (here's how we go about last minute reservations). The second day was completely luck of the draw in a way, but we wouldn't have even looked for it if it weren't for the exemplary experience we had the previous day. 



Now, I should preface this with the fact that we've been going to Crystal Palace for years and absolutely love it each and every time. The menu works for our tastes and while it rarely changes, I can't complain because they're not attempting to fix something that isn't broken in the first place. With that being said, I have to share the story of chef Ron. On our first trip to the dining location during our stay, we happened to notice that the mini corndogs that used to be a part of the kids buffet (I'm not ashamed to eat something off of the kids buffet lol) were no longer a part of the typical offerings. So, in a joking manner a few of us in the group were talking about it and it caught the attention of a chef who promptly came over to us and asked, with a big grin on his face, if we wanted corndogs. Naturally, we said yes, and Ron disappeared casually for about 10 minutes. As we made our way back to the table and started eating our first plate of the meal, Ron pops up out of nowhere with a gigantic bowl of corndogs for the whole family and sets it down at our table. I was expecting maybe a small plate or something of the sort, but he arrived with a huge smile on his face with the bowl full of probably 40+ mini corndogs gently draped with a white cloth. We were blown away and completely shocked by the presentation. 

For us, it wasn't about the meal item (although the corndogs were hot and wonderful), but rather the fact that the chef went above and beyond to make a difference for our family that we never expected and he never had to go out of his way to create. Fast forward to the next day, for our second meal (at breakfast this time) and Ron happened to be around once again. He came over to us, struck up a brief conversation and managed to make our second experience just as welcoming as the first. That little story and many others just like it are the largest reason we will go back to Crystal Palace time and time again.      

2. Whispering Canyon


Much like Crystal Palace, Whispering Canyon has been apart of our vacations for years on end. The number of excellent interactions with cast members we've shared with family there could never be fully expressed in words. The cast honestly makes every necessary attempt to assure you not only enjoy your meal but also leave with a laugh and a smile on your face. The food is excellent, and the Canyon Skillet is a show stopping entree (served family style), but that's not what sets this apart. Jethro and Sunshine, to simply name two particular cast members have personally made a difference in our vacations over the years along with many others. 

I can particularly recall one meal where we weren't having the best day for a variety of reasons. We were extremely exhausted and it was late in the week, and the mood of the day was quickly headed in the wrong direction until we arrived at Wilderness Lodge.

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From the moment the meal started, Sunshine showed up at our table with a big smile and a friendly persona that brought a little bit of extra joy to our day and a needed energy to start the meal off right. As the dining process went on, she took a personal interest in our family's story and not only where we were from but continued on to ask about what brought us to the parks and so much more. We even found out that we had a mutual friend that had worked with her at some point durning a college program before her time at Wilderness Lodge. Long story made short, it was an experience that created a unique memory and turned a simple situation into the highlight of a vacation. If you want to hear the rest of the story, you'll want to take a look at our Legendary Cast of the Disney Parks - "Sunshine" From Whispering Canyon post.

Jethro on the other hand has a different personality. He's equally as invested in the guest experience but is one of the most humble individuals you'll come across with one of the coveted blue name tags signifying the Disney Legacy Award. I see the particular award as one of the highest honors any cast member could ever receive. It not only is awarded by fellow cast and supervisors but also for keeping the Disney dream alive and honoring it. When talking with Jethro he'll outright tell you "he's just a cast member" or some similar rendition of the same phrase, but to many he's an icon of a restaurant experience and one that I hope is still there today and will continue to be there for many years to come. 
     

3. Chef Mickey's 

Moving back to a more traditional buffet, there's very little that remains more iconic than this dining establishment. Located on the 4th floor, in the heart of the Gran Concourse, at the Contemporary resort, you can sit with family, watch the monorail pass over head or take in picturesque views of the surrounding Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon. The meal is quite pricey, but offers something for nearly any guest preferences. We've eaten here with friends with allergies (actually at each of the locations on this list) and never had any issue. Plus, it gives you a prime opportunity to take in the massive Mary Blair mural highlighting the Grand Concourse (don't forget to look for the 5 legged goat!) The atmosphere is a unique piece of any Disney vacation and a magical destination for guests of all ages, but particularly children who get to interact and enjoy time with Mickey and friends in their chef attire. 

I can't really recall any particular cast member or memory to share from this place in particular, but the number of little memories are hard to gather into one small paragraph. Everything from birthdays to special character interactions have happened here and they are something we'll never take for granted. 

If you noticed a trend in this top buffet selection, it was actually quite intentional. You see, Disney dining for me isn't about what you spend or how fancy the location may or may not be, but rather about the time shared with the people you care the most about and the interactions these places help create. You could go and dine in NYC at high end dining locations by the dozens, but the heart the cast members put into creating an experience that goes above and beyond is something that only Disney can fully bring to the table. It's one of the many reasons we love the parks, but also one of the greatest factors in why we return time and time again.  

Ready to Plan?


Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you!  

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! 

Thanks for reading and if you liked this post, please SHARE it with friends! 




Friday, January 19, 2018

Our Top Disney World Resorts For Adults

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Picking a Disney resort is a huge part of the Disney vacation planning experience, especially for those of us who are not local. However, the planning process shouldn't be dominated by a set "must do everything" mentality, but rather a more relaxed journey planning your way through the parks. I understand that statement in itself sounds contradictory to just about everything on this site, but the best way to describe my frame of thought is to recommend that you plan only what's absolutely necessary. Plan your resort accommodations, buy your tickets well in advance, and make your dining reservations. With the exception of the last one of the pieces of the puzzle listed, these things are pieces of the vacation that you really can't do at the last minute. Dining is an exception if you're willing to be a little less stringent about where you want to eat and when. If you're not looking to catch Be Our Guest or Cinderellas Royal Table (and even sometimes if you are), dont worry about booking them at the beginning of the 180 day reservation window. For many, that type of planning gets them excited for their vacation and I can appreciate that, but it's not always necessary. 



I've personally seen reservations for Be Our Guest and many other hard to get reservations pop up on the dining app the day before, or even the day of, your planned time in the parks. However, Disney resorts aren't quite that way. Last minute reservations are certainly doable at times in regards to resorts, but it's not the ideal way to plan your accommodations. Personally, I don't recommend trying to book a stay (without flexible dates) less than 2 months out. The suggested booking window will vary for peak seasons and special events but if you're looking for a particular resort, the earlier you book, the better off you'll be. (If you are booking last minute, I highly recommend an authorized Disney travel planner to help you find any last minute possibilities)

So, to get to what you probably came for in the first place, we're taking a look at the resorts as a whole and diving into what we see as the very best resorts for adult trips. Of course, kids and adults are welcome at any and all resorts on property at any time but a few select options stand out to me as the best case scenario for an adult getaway. 

We'll start out with our suggestions at the value tier and work up from there to the deluxe category of resort accommodations. Honestly, we tend to stay deluxe simply because that's what works for us, but we also tend to avoid the dining plan because that also works for us. There's no perfect way to do Disney, and I'm sure many opinions will differ from mine, but we'll jump right into it and see what we come up with!

Values

1. Pop Century
The value tier is a bit unique in the world of Disney accommodations. The hotels are great and remain incredibly clean, but many guests down play them simply because of the other top tier options on property. Personally, I don't see why. A value resort is every bit as "Magical" as any other Disney resort and I'd go as far as to say that any Disney value resort would stack up to any major hotel chains typical accommodations anywhere in the country. The values are great for what they are. They're not going to have the most elaborate theming thats deep with little hidden details like the Wilderness Lodge, but you still get that Disney flair that sets them apart from all other vacation destinations. 

If you're taking that into consideration, I recommend Pop Century as the best value resort. Not only does it feature a more "Disney" inspired theme in a round about way, but it's also separated from the hustle and bustle of the dance teams, cheerleaders, and sports teams which typically reside at the three All-Star resorts. For adults in particular, it features a great food court, an excellent pool, and some of the better transportation options of it's tier. 

Last, but certainly not least, you have the fact of it's price point. Pop Century, while typically a touch more expensive than the All-Stars remains quite budget friendly throughout the year, and even at peak times. For adult only trips, it's probably your best option of the value tier. 

Moderates

1. Caribbean Beach 
The moderate resorts are a unique blend of deluxe theming combined with value transportation. For years, we vacationed almost exclusively at Caribbean Beach. We loved the resort (especially when we scored a great room location) and the pool area and all encompassing theming gave us an experience we couldn't get anywhere else. The bus situation isn't perfect, and the pool can be a bit of a walk from your resort room, depending on where you get placed, but the little communities allow you to spread out more and avoid a cramped feeling some guests experinece when staying in the value tier.

For adults in particular, the pool area is excellent, the youngest children have their own area to play in, the food and drinks are a few steps away from the pool, and the theming of the rooms is more subtle in regards to the character presence. I'll readily admit I'm a bit nostalgic about Caribbean Beach, and while it is an excellent resort if you can handle a resort with multiple bus stops, it's not my top pick for a moderate resort, but Port Orleans is!  

2. Port Orleans French Quarter
Port Orleans French Quarter has earned an impressive place in the realm of Disney resorts for me and I even went as far as to call it "One of the Best Moderate Resorts" in a recent article here on the site. In my humble opinion, it's the best bang for your buck on property. Now, that stament may change over the next few years as changes develop at Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out in the end, but at the time being I'd recommend Port Orleans to any guest headed to the parks. 

To me, this resort is the ultimate hidden gem. The resort is small, and rooms are never a far walk from the main lobby area, food court, or pool area. The main refillable mug station is just steps away from the main pool and the guest rooms vastly out rank their price level. The counter service food here is some of the best on property. The main dining location is called Floatworks and not only can you purchase the typical cheeseburger and fries, but you can get a little adventurous and try a Po' Boy Sandwich or even a piece of prime rib! For me, it's a highlight of any trip and a place we typically stop in even if we're not staying at that particular resort. We even added it to Our Top 5 Quick Service Dining Options at Walt Disney World!

Another bright spot for French Quarter is it's transportation. Featuring an easily accessible bus stop that only stops at that particular resort rather than making multiple stops to pick up additional guests at other resorts or at four or five additional stops within your resort. I completely understand that seems trivial but after a long day in the park, the last thing you want to do is stop multiple times before arriving at your destination.     

Deluxe

1. Wilderness Lodge 
Inevitably, deluxe resorts come with a higher price tag than all of the aforementioned resorts, but that price comes with some impressive benefits, especially for an adults only adventure. Wilderness Lodge is a prime example of a resort that offers more than you may expect going in. From the moment you walk in the lobby, the inevitable "wow factor" pops out to you. The large, vastly encompassing high ceilings welcome you from the moment you walk in the door. The level of theming is beyond what you may expect. Not only in the realm of theming but also in the realm of dining. At Wilderness Lodge, you have a few excellent dining opportunities including one of the latest and greatest counter service locations on property in my opinion, Geyser Point. The food is excellent and one of the best Disney cheeseburgers I've ever had (even though they offer other items). While providing great food, it also provides an excellent outdoor seating environment that welcomes a casual get together with friends or a simple place to hang out after many hours in the park to unwind and share some stories with friends. 

In a similar yet different way, you have the Carolwood Room which is an impressively themed and historically accurate representation of a passion of the man who started it all. For more on that, feel free to check out in our Outstanding Disney History Hiding in Plain Sight: The Carolwood Room post. 

I could go on and share any number of deluxe accommodations that are truly wonderful places to stay and unlike anything you'll experience anywhere else in the world. They honestly can be that impressive, but all things considered, you cannot go wrong in the deluxe tier of resorts. For a typical guest though, they may not be the best option for you. They're very expensive, even on discounted rates (Disney Discounts Are Here For Spring and Early Summer - Up To 20%), and are far from the most economical way to travel in the long run, but do certainly have their perks. It's all about what works for you and what you want out of a resort stay.  






Monday, January 15, 2018

4 Excellent Places to Relax During a Disney Vacation

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

A Disney vacation can be a bit overwhelming at times for guests of all ages. At some point during your trip you'll inevitably need an escape from the crowds or simply a place to sit back and relax for even just a few minutes. The crowds of the parks can be overwhelming at times, especially during peak seasons, but I dont see that as a reason to avoid the parks altogether, but rather quite the opposite. I see the crowds as an opportunity to explore something new. 

Perhaps, I view the crowds that way because I've been able to ride attractions time and time again over the years, or because I tend to enjoy the simpler elements of a Disney experience, but nevertheless, a relaxing spot can make all the difference throughout the course of your Disney vacation. A place of "escape" and a place to relax the mind and simply step away from it all while remaining present in the Disney realm of activities can become a small highlight of the day. No matter what your purpose of your vacation may be, here are a few unique places to step back and relax at Walt Disney World.

While many of these locations are outside of the parks, none of them will be more than 10 minutes away from the heart of the magic in Disney's theme parks. Additionally, we're taking a look at some of the less obvious locations and on top of that, locations that cost absolutely nothing extra during your vacation. 
  

The Second Floor of the Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian is designed in a way that is quite relaxing and an excellent place to step away from the parks for even just a short while. The resort is a short monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom and opens up a world of possibilities developing a relaxing venue for guests of all ages. The lobby is complete with a piano playing in the background or a classic band playing in the loft above the main floor, creating a sensory experience that is nearly second to none. Around Christmas, the lobby transforms into a winter wonderland and a Christmas setting like you'd find in a Hollywood movie. 

While the main lobby is excellent, one of my favorite places to relax for even a brief few minutes is on the second floor of the resort. On the right hand side of the lobby, if you're facing Magic Kingdom, you'll find a grand staircase lined with red carpet leading up to the second floor. As soon as you arrive on the next level you'll notice a relatively small seating area off to the right complete with an outdoor covered balcony. As you sit in the comfortable chairs, rest your feet for a while, or take some time to catch up with family or friends you can hear the sounds of the lobby while stepping away from the constant flow of guests. It's a vastly simple experience but oftentimes the needed few minutes of rest necessary to finish out your day in the parks no matter if you're a guest of the resort or not.       


(Pictured: The Carolwood Room)
The Carolwood Room 
A second location just a short boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom is Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Of course, the grand lobby of the resort is typically the selling factor for most guests when booking reservations for the location, there's a second lobby that many guests completely overlook. The second lobby is a short walk away from the main atrium if you follow the path traveling out the right hand side of the lobby. 

As you walk down the hill you'll see a second building. That second building is the main section of villas at the resort (the original villas) and actually features it's own small lobby with a unique twist involving Disney history, The Carolwood Room. I've mentioned it many times here on the site, but the Carolwood Room and display is one of my favorite places on Disney property. It's a place where you can head to late at night, sit down in front of a fireplace, and catch a glimpse at some true Disney history. The chairs are incredibly comfortable, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and could quite easily be one of the quietest places on property at the right time of day. 

I wont go too in depth about the historical element of the room, because we covered it in detail in ouOutstanding Disney History Hiding in Plain Sight: The Carolwood Room article. All things considered, it's one of the most overlooked elements of Walt Disney World that I honestly think any guests should go and see even if you're not looking for a place to relax.



The Contemporary's Grand Concourse 
As one of the closest and simplest places to take a break from the parks, the Contemporary's 4th floor Grand Concourse is a great place to sit down or even wander around for a short amount of time. There are small seating areas throughout the floor in addition to one of the most expansive balconies with an excellent view of the Magic Kingdom. Looking to avoid the majority of the crowds during the Happily Ever After fireworks or have a young child who's ready to be done for the night? Head to the balcony of the Contemporary's 4th floor to relax before the show debuts and then as it nears the nightly fireworks debut, head out on the balcony and enjoy the show from a new perspective. It's not the perfect view of the show and you will miss some of the projections (due to the distance away from the castle) but it's a magical experience nonetheless. 

   
The Japan Pavilion 
Over at Epcot, you can take a few steps away from the promenade and the day's activities to a little hideaway full of character at the Japan Pavilion. Tucked away on the left hand side of the pavilion you'll find a series of fountains over near Katsura Grill. Grab a snack from the counter service location and escape from reality for a brief moment as you explore the unique elements of the garden atmosphere in one of the most picturesque settings in all of Walt Disney World. It's an incredibly simple location, but one that I see as one of the easiest "escapes" to implement for a long spell or as briefly as you want during your day at Epcot.   

The Polynesian Outdoor Seating 
Last but certainly not least is a casual location that I stumbled into a few short years ago and have surprisingly never mentioned here on the site. Just outside of the Polynesian's main lobby, near the Captain Cook's counter service location, you'll find an outdoor seating area a few steps away from the pool where you can catch a glimpse of the Seven Seas Lagoon and even Magic Kingdom in the distance. It's nothing overly special, but a great place to grab a snack and take in a view that is certainly hard to beat! The only real downside to this location to step away from the parks to is that it is not air conditioned. However, with the Polynesians main lobby and ample indoor seating also a short distance away, you'll always have that option to beat the weather if you get hot or a mid afternoon rain shower rolls in unexpectedly. 

Personally, my favorite time to visit this casual spot is in the early evening right after the typical dinner time as the sun goes down and those picturesque Florida sunsets debut. Grab a Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai a few steps away and take in the sunset before walking down to the beach for an excellent experience you'll never forget.    

What do you think of our list? Of course, these aren't show stopping locations, or high end spas that most guests look to for prime relaxation, but if you want a free "escape" look no further! Hopefully, these relatively unique locations can provide you with something special during your vacation experience or something new to try for the first time. 




As always, if you're looking to book a Disney vacation, but want to catch some free additional help along the way, we recommend Destinations to Travel (no obligation quote request form below). They're a great group of agents, and it allows you to help out the site at no additional cost to you (Plus, It's a free service in the first place.)      



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Our Top 4 Disney Articles of 2017 - "A Closer Look"

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Without a doubt, the last year has been a huge learning experience, but I wouldn't of had it any other way. Along the way, we shared a little over 300 articles covering a vast range of Disney World news, tips, and history. However, a few articles stood out as the most popular of the year. 

Of course, we're a little late in posting this article, considering that we're already 14 days into 2018, but we thought we'd do a little bit of a throwback post to take a closer look at how the years top posts unfolded. Before we dive into it, I just want to take a moment and say thanks for supporting us over the last year. The site has grown more than I ever expected and continues to amaze me day after day. If this is your first time reading here or if you're a reader of every post we put out, we truly appreciate you being here and taking the time out of your day to spend a few minutes here with us. 



Moving over to the top articles of the year, we'll start out with an unfortunate situation turned memorable for many guests of the Swan and Dolphin Resort. During this years closings in preparation for the hurricane, Disney really made the most of a bad situation providing activities for guests that aren't normally available at resorts and provided entertainment for guests stuck in their resorts. However, one other resort made the most of the unfortunate situation with a celebrity many of us may recognize. Kristen Bell, who was shooting a movie in south Florida as the hurricane rolled in, made a last minute relocation to Orlando to the Swan property (part of the Marriot International group) near Epcot. While she was staying there waiting out the store, she made a special effort to play Bingo with a group of seniors staying at the resort during the storm as well. Along the way, we covered a bit of additional news detailing the items given to guests to get ready for the storm.  


For a variety of reasons, the article became quite popular. If you want to check it out in full, here's the original:  

Kristen Bell Bingo, Resort Dining, and Resort Emergency Kits: A Quick Update As Irma Rolls In



The next post on the list brings us to one of my favorite articles based on one of my favorite simple experiences in all of Walt Disney World. A few months back, during our July trip to the parks, we made a special effort to stay until the park officially closed to experience "The Kiss Goodnight." While that particular short show was excellent and the perfect end to any night at Magic Kingdom, the experience surrounding the show vastly outdid the words of the narration in nearly every way. As the park closes and guests make their way out, the night takes on an entirely different feel. While the park is innately the same in design, the hustle and bustle of the day fades away and there's a simple elegance of the lands that comes to life in a unique way. The lands are emptied, the music becomes much more pronounced and the atmosphere changes for the better. It's an incredible experience and while I'm shocked that this post topped our articles for the year, I would certainly say it was a highlight of my year. 

A One of A Kind Disney Experience: Shutting Down the Magic Kingdom!



In a somewhat shocking portion of our top posts, the list changes directions and goes towards our trip planning tips. As one of many food related posts (we know we do a lot of food posts lol) we shared a closer look at 5 excellent entrees under $15 at Walt Disney World. While we love dining at Walt Disney World in nearly any form, it's always great to catch a great meal at a fair price. It's no surprise that Disney dining can be quite high, so here's what we came up with to try and save you a little money along the way. 


Im happy to say that our last article in this top 4 breakdown takes the site back to it's roots with a little bit of Disney history and in particular Disney's extinct River Country waterpark. The park closed in 2001 and unfortunately I was 5 years old at the time so I never got to see  it first hand. For years, I've been fascinated by the park and it's origins, and wish more than just about anything that Disney would rebuild it in a self contained format (rather than the original lake conjunction design). Of course, it would never be quite the same due to the inevitable dangers of the lake itself and the nature surrounding the aquatic scenario, but it would be neat to see how Disney could bring the concept back to life in an entirely new way.

Sadly, River Country faced a number of safety and economical concerns, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of so many guests who experienced it over the years. It certainly wasn't an ideal waterpark but one that created so many fond memories for guests of all ages and paved the way for the Disney waterparks we have today! 

That about covers our list, but there were many others quite close in the rankings! Do you have a favorite post that we shared this year? Be sure to tell us about it the comments. Have a tip or suggestion for something we should cover next? Be sure to share that with us as well and we'll get to it as soon as we can! Thanks again for reading and have a great rest of the weekend 



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Our Typical Disney World 7 Day Itinerary

Guide4WDW.com

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Over the years we've traveled to Walt Disney World on so many different budgets. From the early days of staying at Caribbean Beach for less than $100 a night (which unfortunately is now nearly impossible) to splurging and going all out on our club level experience back in July. So, I would claim it's fair to say we've run through a vast majority of the realm of possibilities on a Disney vacation planning experience. Of course, budgets vary and personal circumstances and necessary accommodations change on a guest by guest basis, but today we're going to take a look at something every single Disney World guest can apply to their own vacation no matter what resort you're staying at. As you likely already noticed in the title, today we're taking a look at our recommended Disney World 7 Day Itinerary. 

When we travel to Disney, we typically do so with a certain balance in mind. We've done the trips where we went to ride as many attractions as we could, and we've even done stays where we didn't even go to the parks. While both have their merits and strong points, our style of traveling to the parks has grown into a culmination of both concepts. We like to go all out in the mornings and ride as many attractions as possible as shared in our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! article but then take the afternoon to take a step back and enjoy the little things Disney has to offer in a more relaxed manor. 


If that sounds like a Disney style you can get behind and try for yourself one day (and I highly recommend it!), I invite you to join us as we share a detailed look at what we would do during a 7 Day Disney World Vacation. Before we jump into the details, you will need a couple things if you plan on utilizing our strategy (but it can me modified if you don't want to do these things). First, our plan relies heavily on the park hopper add-on or a annual pass of some type. The best current prices on the park hopper stand alone tickets we've found at the Official Ticket Center. Additionally, you'll need to be staying on Disney property to make the most of this itinerary. The best offer available at the time being is Up To 20% Spring and Early Summer Rates. Other than those two things, that's about all you'll need to take full advantage of our touring plan. 

Cinderellas Castle

Day 1 - Magic Kingdom Partial Day 

Typically the first day of a Disney trip is a partial day at best. A majority of guests will be arriving at mid day if they're flying in or later in the afternoon if they're driving from a fairly distant area of the country. As a result, what we recommend on days like this is that first and foremost you plan your fastpasses late in the day. Additionally, we recommend that you go to Magic Kingdom that first night, because nearly every guest wants to see Cinderella's castle and walk down the iconic Main Street USA as soon as they possibly can. As soon as you step into the lobby of your Disney hotel and the background music hits you and your greeted with that warm cast member welcome, your mind tends to go straight to the parks. 

The parks are a part of the magic that so many of us have fallen in love with over the years. As you arrive, there's no place you'd rather be, and waiting until that next morning to step foot in them is just tough to do. The extra day on a 6 day ticket to catch this extra few hours in the park is typically marginal as the price for extra days falls as the number of days you buy increases. In my opinion, it's well worth the extra money and most of you will agree with me once you get there. If you're looking to save as much money as possible, simply jump to Day 2 and begin your park days there. 


Day 2 - Epcot 


In our experience, the best case scenario for a week long vacation is to schedule your first full park day on a Monday. Monday's are great days for touring any park except Magic Kingdom. As mentioned above, every guest wants to step foot in the Magic Kingdom as soon as they arrive on their Disney vacation. Fortunately, if you took our recommendation, you will have already been to the park while many others waited until their first full day to explore the flagship park. So, instead of Magic Kingdom, we'll typically spend the first day at Epcot or whichever park has the best "Extra Magic Hours" (Disney wording for free extra park hours for onsite resort guests) for the day. To find out what parks have Extra Magic Hours for your dates, check here for Disney's calendar

If you decide to go to Epcot, as we typically do, spend the morning exploring your favorite attractions, and then set up an afternoon stroll around the World Showcase. If you're traveling in one of the hotter months of the year in Florida, you'll appreciate the shade the countries of the showcase provide and the ample amount of stores with air conditioning. 


Epcot World Showcase

As the day progresses, you'll want to eat at least two meals. At Epcot we recommend two somewhat ideal locations for dining. Teppan Eddo in Japan is an excellent table service dining venue at a fairly cost effective price. It's only one credit on the regular dining plan and allows you to be a touch adventurous and explore a bit of culture on your world showcase endeavor. Additionally, we recommend La Cantina De San Angel. The simple counter service Mexican restaurant features excellent nachos, empandas, tacos, and even churros that are quite reasonable in price (by Disney standards) and incredibly filling. In a typical Epcot day for us, we do lunch at one of these options and dinner at the other. The amount of food typically works out great and sets the stage as the world showcase truly comes to life as the sun sets and you claim your spot for the Illuminations nighttime spectacular. If you want more in depth info for Epcot be sure to check out our - Epcot in a Day Touring Plan.


Day 3 - Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios 


At this point in our typical vacation, we start to mix things up and really start to make the most of that park hopper add-on option. On the third day, we typically move on to the parks that aren't necessarily our favorites, but ones that we certainly enjoy visiting time and time again. For us, it tends to be a toss up of Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We used to spend nearly full days at Hollywood Studios (and likely will in the future), but with the current construction and many of the attractions that we once spent a lot of time enjoying closed for future improvements (The Backlot Tour, etc.) we will rarely spend more than half a day in that park at one time. 

Additionally, Animal Kingdom has always been a park that we could nearly complete our favorite attractions and shows in just over half a day. As a result, what we typically do is start the day in Animal Kingdom with early faspasses for Flight of Passage, Kilimanjaro Safari, and one other favorite attraction of your choice. Then as the heat of the afternoon approaches, we'll grab a bus and make the short journey over to Hollywood Studios to ride a few attractions and catch as many shows as we can before the sun starts to go down. At that point, we jump back on the bus and return to Animal Kingdom to experience Pandora at night along with many of the other nighttime festivities which have been recently added to the park. 

As far as food is concerned, we'll typically reserve this day for solely counter service meals. We'll eat a late lunch at Pizzafari or Flame Tree Barbecue before leaving Animal Kingdom and then catch a snack or second counter service meal at Hollywood Studios. If you're feeling really adventurous, we've been known to use this day to catch a late dinner at Floatworks at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort before heading back to Animal Kingdom for late night entertainment. 

To get to Floatworks quickly (if you don't have a car), head to the Hollywood Studios bus station, jump on the French Quarter bus and you'll arrive at the resort and steps away from the counter service dining location near the main lobby. To get back to Animal Kingdom, simply return to where the bus dropped you off and catch the next bus labeled Animal Kingdom just as if it was your own resort hotel.      


Day 4 - Magic Kingdom and the Resort  


After splitting our Day 3 among two parks, we try to keep Day 4 fairly relaxed. At this point, the long days and late nights will inevitably start catching up with you, especially if you have kids. To combat the fatigue setting in, we'll start the day at Magic Kingdom with our 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+ as mentioned above and then head to a breakfast reservations at Crystal Palace at around 10:30am. After breakfast, you'll notice that crowds are typically rather strong. If that is the case, we usually make our way around to Adventureland for a ride on The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, or to stop in the Enchanted Tiki Room. After riding a few attractions we'll leave the park and head back to the resort to hang out at the pool for a while and recharge for the night. 


Wilderness Lodge Villas

Upon returning to Magic Kingdom we'll have our previously reserved fastpass+ selections set for around 7:00 and set in a way that they back up to each other at 7:00 and 8:00pm. If all goes well, one of those passes will be for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the other will be for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. After we complete the attractions, we make the journey over to Main Street to claim a spot for the fireworks. 

For a second meal on this day, we recommend a counter service meal at whatever resort you're staying at. It will typically be conveniently located near the pool and the food at most resorts is quite good. 


Day 5 - Epcot, Disney Springs, and Your Park Of Choice  

On Day 5, we'll go back to park hopping fairly aggressively. The best way we've found is to start the day at Epcot (mostly because it's our favorite park). When you get there, ride any attractions you may have missed or simply want to ride again in the morning and set up a late lunch reservation at Disney Springs. Once you get done with Epcot by revisiting attractions and a few of your favorite pavilions once again, grab a bus to Disney Springs (to catch a bus to Disney Springs your best bet is to catch the first resort bus that shows up and then once you arrive at that resort, wait for the first Disney Springs bus) to make your late lunch reservation. One of our top pics for lunch at Disney Springs is Homecomin' Kitchen. We gave the location high praises in our Homecomin' Kitchen: Our New "Must-Do" Disney Dining Location article. However, the Boathouse is a great table service option as well. 


Magic Bands

Once you finish the meal, we typically wander the Springs area for quite a while strolling in and out of stores and really simply relaxing the afternoon away. As night time rolls in, occasionally we'll head back to a park and other times we'll just enjoy the nighttime entertainment at Disney Springs. 


Day 6 - Winding Down and Revisiting Favorites  


As the vacation starts to draw to a close, it's easy to start thinking about the unfortunate trip home. This is where our greatest tip comes into play out of the entire Itinerary. Take a moment on Day 6 to step back when that thought rolls into your mind and think about the thousands of guests who only get to spend one day in the parks. For us, it starts to put things into perspective and makes those last two days that much more special and worthwhile in the end. 

On this particular day, a great thing to do is head to a park of your choice early. You may have one park that you enjoyed more than all the others, or maybe you just want to go back and do something all over again. At Disney, there's no way to do it all in a week. To be quite honest, there's no way to do it all in a lifetime so take whatever your favorite experience was and build on it. 

When you decide you're done at that particular park, we almost always schedule a resort table service meal at this point in the trip. Some of our top picks are Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge, Ohana at the Polynesian, or even Chef Mickey at the Contemporary. For us, the meal could be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It could be before or after our time in the park of our choice, but one thing we always do is plan our fastpasses around that meal. If you don't get to your fastpass+ selections or choose to go to a different park, don't worry about it. By Day 6 in your vacation you've probably already rode your favorite attractions. 


Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Our tried and true Day 6 tends to be a few hours in the park, a few hours eating at a resort, and the rest of the time resort hoping and exploring other resorts, shopping at resort gift shops (which all carry different merchandise) and taking the time to relax and take it all in. Head to the beach of the Polynesian for an excellent view across the water at the Magic Kingdom while your kids play in the sand, head to the Contemporary's Grand Concourse Balcony for the perfect view of Magic Kingdom from above, or pick a resort you've never been to and go explore all that it has to offer. All of these options sound very simple, but some of the best days I've had at Walt Disney World have been resort hopping days where we take the time just to enjoy being there.  


Day 7 - Back to Magic Kingdom  


On the last day of your vacation, we always tend to recommend wrapping things up at the Magic Kingdom. It's the most iconic park and one that is steeped in history. Take some time to explore the hidden backstories of Main Street which you can find in the following articles: 
Cinderellas Castel at night

As the heat of the day begins in the early afternoon, head back to the pool one last time to recharge for that final push through to the end of your theme park journey. As the night continues on and slowly draws to a close, as much as you may try to stop it from doing so, stay until the park closes to experience the "Kiss Goodnight." 

As the cast members slowly start ushering guests out, head to the top of the Main Street Station for a truly memorable experience. As you peer out down the street at the few remaining guests in the park, think back on all the memories of your Disney vacation. You'll chuckle to yourself at some experiences, while others will simply bring a smile to your face, and just stand there for a moment and take it all in. For some, it may be an emotional few minutes, but it's one of the highlights of any Disney trip in my humble opinion. It sounds so simple, but at Disney some of the simplest experiences are the ones you remember forever.
     

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!


How Do I Create These Posts? 


Every once in a while I get questions about my gear. This is what I use and highly recommend at the moment in the realm of content creation. This list is varied and tends to change from time to time, but this is my current set up of gear used to create these posts. If you have any questions or need some tips in the site building process, feel free to message me on Facebook!

ComputerMacbook Pro  
If you get one of these you'll inevitably need dongles (The USB-C Struggle): 
Main DSLR CameraNikon D3400 (kit lens currently)
Tripod for Night PhotographyPrimaPhoto Traveler 
Photo Editing SoftwareLightroom 6 Stand Alone Version (Not Creative Cloud) 
Secondary Camera: iPhone 7 (Older Photos on the Site) 


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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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