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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Our Top Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Locations for 2018


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Our Top Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Locations for 2018 

With Happily Ever After recently passing the one year mark entertaining guests on a near nightly basis, we're looking back at a few of our top viewing locations for this show and why we chose those particular locations. Some of these choices will be rather straight forward but at the same time a select few of these may be locations you've never even thought about watching the show from. 

Happily Ever After is unique for a few reasons. First and foremost, this Magic Kingdom spectacular features projections and truthfully it relies heavily on them as the show progresses. Second, this show is very brightly colored compared to past fireworks spectaculars. Personally, I see the colors as a huge strongpoint for this experience. For example, just look at the array of colors in the photo below. Prepare yourself for a little amateur photography jargon. The photo itself is a long exposure of about the last 10-15 seconds of the performance. For non-photo people that's essentially like taking a video of the last 10-15 seconds of the show and compressing it all into one photo... hopefully that makes sense? Either way, it's kind of beside the point because what I hope to show with this image is just how colorful these burst can be. It's unique from about every other show I've personally seen at Disney or even elsewhere. 

As for the first point mentioned of the projections, if you really and truly want to get the full Happily Ever After experience, you'll want to have a view of the majority of the castle wherever you're standing for the show. If you're not too concerned about all the projection details, or you've seen the show many times, there are quite a few options for places where you can get partial views of the projections but incredibly enjoyable and unique views of the fireworks without facing the crowds of Main Street quite as much. 

Last but certainly not least before we start listing locations, it's worth mentioning that right now (early summer of 2018), Happily Ever After crowds are incredibly high before the show. I'm not talking old wishes-esque crowds where it was tough to get a spot around the partners statue. I'm talking, there will be a sea of people most nights shoulder to shoulder from the front of the castle all the way back to Casey's corner and beyond. If you want a prime spot, get there early and right now for relatively peak crowds 45 minutes to an hour before showtime is likely what it will take for a fairly "prime" spot. If you want that "perfect" spot (in regards to guest demand), right behind the partners statue, be prepared to get there very very early and stand your ground. People can get aggressive so be patient and it'll work out.

I'm typically not a person to wait around too terribly long for fireworks unless there's some special occasion, simply because I find it's not the best use of my time in the park. If you're careful and a touch patient you can find a good spot 20 minutes or so before the show and can use the other time you would have spent staking out your spot enjoying an ice-cream at the parlor or even shopping for a while on Main Street. So, while that's not entirely a comprehensive series of tips for this show, they're some things you may want to consider before picking out a spot from our list. Also worth mentioning is that this is not an end all be all list. There are so many different spots to view this show that its all in what you want to get out of the experience.

The Happily Ever After Viewing "Zones" 

As we start to get into some specific spots in detail, here's essentially the breakdown of the viewing areas of the show... at least in the way I see them. As always, the thoughts shared about these specific locations are simply my own opinion and yours could certainly differ. Either way, hopefully this gives you a closer look at what to expect from different areas of the park! The goal is that a few of our favorites of the group stand out or at least give you a few ideas for your next trip to Magic Kingdom.      

The Very Front: 

Truth be told, I see this as one of the very worst fireworks viewing locations for a couple reasons. If you're right up by the stage of the castle two things are going to happen. First, you're going to wait forever to keep your spot. Second, as the show starts you're going to be looking straight up at the castle. For the projections that isn't all that bad but at the same time it isn't even close to an ideal viewing spot for the fireworks being launched from the rear launch site, because as counter productive as it sounds the castle will be in your way.

Near The Partners Statue: 

As arguably the best view of Happily Ever After, staking out a spot right behind or even near the partners statue is incredibly difficult to do. You'll be competing with not only guests but likely a few photographers as well who are looking for that perfect shot of the castle. With that mentioned, if you're patient and willing to wait, this is an incredible spot for this particular show. For the older wishes show it wasn't all that great simply because there was very little castle involvement with the performance itself. Happily Ever After is the complete opposite. The castle and castle projections are a huge part of the experience and this spot really does blend the "best of both worlds."

Between the Hub Grass:

If you've been to Walt Dinsey World in the last few years, you're likely aware that the hub grass itself has become incredible viewing locations for fireworks right past the outdoor seating area of Casey's as you walk towards the castle on each side of the street. However, the area is almost always used for special parties, dessert parties, or as a fastpass+ viewing area. There are a few exceptions and one big exception is Very Merry Christmas Parties.

If you are planning a trip including an official party event be aware that there are typically no blocked off areas for those events and as a result this spot can make for an incredible viewing area. For example, during our 2016 trip to the parks for the Christmas season we were not only able to grab a spot before show time, but we also got to sit back and relax in the hub grass throughout the entire show. Truthfully, that is unheard of. We soaked up every minute of it and it was the perfect spot for the show. Not a single guest stood up and everyone just seemed happy to enjoy the show from a seated position. Obviously that's not the norm and may be a once in a lifetime experience, but it's worth noting that this viewing area is open to everyone during special parties and very few take full advantage of it.

The hubgrass area itself is almost always taken, as mentioned, but on a typical day the area of Main Street in between the two grassy spots is open to anyone and can be a great spot because it is a touch higher due to a natural "peak" to the street before it falls just a touch as you move towards the partners statue. I know that sounds crazy, but there is in fact a little ridge as you move towards the castle on your way down main street. It's hardly noticeable in person but if you google some empty parks pictures you can see the rise in the pavement. It's a bit of a hidden gem spot and one that tends to fill up a bit later on. This spot offers a fairly good view of the projections and a great view of the fireworks high above you without facing some of the daunting crowds around the Partners statue.    

On Main Street: 

Here's the thing about Main Street. Personally, I love to watch from here. If you have even remotely good eyesight you can still see the projections (as long as you're not way down by the train station) and you're the perfect distance to catch the near ideal framing of the fireworks over Cinderella's Castle. The main thing about Main Street is that you want your spot to fall between the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor and the Main Street Bakery (now better known as Starbucks... but don't get me started on that one lol). If you get farther down the street towards the exits you're going to face a couple of things. First, the buildings are going to infringe upon your view just slightly but more importantly the farther from the castle you get the smaller the projections appear. If you stay in that "sweet spot" I mentioned, you'll get two major benefits. First, the crowds are lighter as everyone is starting to pick up on the "closer being better" philosophy for Happily Ever After. Second, the views are still pretty awesome. If you like the look of the photos in this article, every single one of them were taken from this exact spot which I managed to find 20 minutes before the show. It does fill in the last 10-15 minutes or so before the performance in the sky but this is a pretty ideal last minute spot.

The Train Station:

This is perhaps the most iconic viewing location on all of Main Street and it does fill up quite quickly. But... here's the thing. Happily Ever After is not a great show to view from the iconic second story of the train station. Sure, it's super nostalgic and the view of Main Street is truly second to none, but at the same time the projections are hardly recognizable at that distance and 99% of the year there's a flag pole tight in the middle of your view. If it was my personal trip and viewing opportunity I'd pick another spot unless its simply tradition for you and your family.

Behind the Castle:

This one seems a bit odd, but give it a chance if you've seen the show at least one time before from in front of the castle. The view from behind the castle is incredibly unique. You have the fireworks near the castle bursting up front, but at the same time you can catch the larger bursts from the rear launch site peaking over the top of New Fantasyland behind you if you're facing the back of the castle. In my opinion the ideal spot back here is near the front of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Enchanted Tales With Belle between the castle shaped entrance to New Fantasyland.

When you stand here, or even over a bit closer to Pinocchio Village Haus, the experience is far different than anywhere else in the park. The sounds are second to none and echoing bursts leaving the buildings on each side of the castle is quite the sensory experience. If you're lucky enough to secure a seat in the outdoor area of Pinocchio's, you're definitely in for a treat and a dinner with a show!    

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are a ton of great locations for fireworks viewing and no one option is going to fit all preferences. Much like other aspects of Walt Disney World, your preferred fireworks view is going vary vastly from the next person you talk to or even pass in the parks. So, what's my recommendation? Honestly, I don't have a favorite viewing location. I love the environment of viewing the show from Main Street because there's just a classic element to the experience, but it's not necessarily the best view overall. So, if I had to give a recommendation, I'd say to look through the options above and pick what seems most intriguing to you. If that spot is already full when you're looking for a place in the parks during your trip, try another one on the list. Knowing a variety of options is half the battle when the crowds are heavy and from time to time the area in front of the castle will fill all the way down Main Street. If you run into that situation, you've got a few great options still. Behind the castle is a go to spot (as mentioned), but you can also see a portion of the show right in front of Splash Mountain and even a select portion of the experience from the bridge overlooking Tom Sawyer Island. If you're looking for something a bit more unique, head over to the bridge that leads over to Starlight Cafe or the bridge on the opposite side leading into Liberty Square. It will undoubtedly be a somewhat obstructed view, but still a rather good view nonetheless.  

No matter what, just catching a glimpse of this show from anywhere in the park is certainly worth taking the time to enjoy for even just a few minutes. Fireworks have a weird way of bringing people together and creating a moment that will exceed your wildest expectations. Along the way, Disney fireworks shows will likely ruin all other fireworks shows for you in the future, but we can't complain too much about 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 here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! My email is always open, so don't hesitate to send a question or feedback my way! - guide4wdw@gmail.com 

Ready to Plan?

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. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Disney World Itineraries and Trip Planning - What We Recommend


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Disney World Itineraries and Trip Planning - What We Recommend 

Walt Disney World Itineraries are a great way to uncover aspects of the parks and resorts that you may have never thought about attempting or exploring during your Walt Disney World vacation. I started developing itineraries for the parks about a year ago and based a vast majority of the information on stays that we had faced recently and information we had gathered over the years. In doing so and from personal experience, I tend to suggest that a 6 or 7 day Disney World vacation is the sweet spot for touring the parks. 

I used to suggest a 5 day trip, and that probably still is the most cost effective and realistic option, but with new openings in the parks it really does help to have that extra day or two to revisit and explore in greater depth your favorite aspects of your vacation. That last day or two can make all the difference and really give that extra cushion of time to enjoy your resort, head to the pool or a waterpark, or even revisit some of your favorite attractions before returning home. 

Disney World Itineraries and Trip Planning - What We Recommend

Do you want to use an itinerary at Disney?  

Honestly, I'm a firm believer in the fact that a spontaneous day at Walt Disney World can be absolutely incredible because you never know what to expect. However, at the same time, there's a certain level of planning that Disney World in particular has essentially required of guests that didn't used to be a part of the travel planning process. Today, when you visit Disney it's somewhat of a multi-phase process. You book your reservation months in advance, set up your fastpasses 60 days out, and a majority of guests will book their dining reservations 60-180 days out from their travel dates. While some of this is optional, with the Magic Band system and Fastpass+ it is quite a bit harder to book a trip without any sort of formal plan for your stay. That's where we come in! 

There is no "one stop shop" Disney World Itinerary and truth be told there's no tried and true perfect plan for every guest  but that's a good thing! As we set out these plans of touring the parks, it allows for a certain level of manipulation. For example, maybe we list Magic Kingdom for day one of a 7 day trip. We list that particular day for a reason, but if it doesn't fit how you want to travel, you can manipulate and change the plan for what works best for you. Consider these itineraries as vacation itinerary outlines that can be changed and manipulated but are, at the same time, tried and proven ways to successfully tour the parks and make the most of your vacation. More than anything, I hope these plans give you something new to try during your trip or offer up a different scenario the you may want to try for yourself one day. 

If you've never been to the parks, print off one of these itineraries (they should be relatively printer friendly) and fill in your must do attractions in the margins, and you should be well on your way to your first Walt Disney World vacation. If you want some more personalized help, feel free to email me (as always - I'm not a travel agent but happy to help where I can at no charge - guide4wdw@gmail.com) or contact our recommended authorized Disney travel planner (also at no charge). 

Long story made short, itineraries aren't for everyone and sticking to a schedule isn't for everyone, so if that's you this article may not be for you and your travel needs. On the other hand, if you like to know what you're doing and where you're going each day of your Disney trip, this may be right up your alley!

A Word of Caution for Any Disney Itinerary

Without a doubt, I know these plans work and have worked for us in the past, but I say that with a certain level of caution. Don't be that guest that obsesses over their "to-do" list so much that they get to the end of their trip and feel like they never took the time to simply enjoy being there. Disney World Itineraries and touring plans are great sources of information, but if you don't throw the plan aside for a few moments to take it all in and enjoy the simplicity of just being their, you're going to miss out on one of the greatest joys of going to Walt Disney World. 

I've had the privilege of talking to other guests over the years (even before the site was created) who had returned home from Disney trips and all they could say was how "stressful" the experience was. Immediately, after hearing that, I could pick out what they were going to say next... "It was fun but I don't know if we'll go back." A majority of those same guests went unprepared or vastly over-prepared. Neither one of those options is a good situation in my opinion when you're talking Disney World Planning. If you don't plan at all, with the requirements of the fastpass+ and My Disney Experience system today, you're going to be playing catch-up for a portion of your stay. On the other hand if you over plan and figure out what exact attraction you're going ride for each and every minute of the day, you're probably not going to be happy with the end result either. 

We've found that there's a certain sweet spot in the middle of both options. Plan the necessities and avoid the aggressive planning. Truth be told, you need to plan these things on your Disney World Itinerary: 

  • Table Service Dining Reservations
  • Your Theme Park Tickets - If you haven't purchased tickets as a package, I always recommend The Official Ticket Center (clickable link) for the best prices I've found on multi-day and single day tickets. You may even catch an upgrade or extra ticketed day when you purchase through them) 
  • Your Resort Accommodations 
  • Your Fastpass+ Selections 
  • Your "Must-Do" Attractions 
  • What Day You Want to Visit Each Park (be sure to look at extra magic hours) 
If you can lock down those decisions, you'll be set for a flexible yet planned Disney World vacation experience. I mention "must-do" attractions because it makes things easier. If each guest in your party picks one attraction or experience they want to do more than anything else for each day of the trip, everyone is happy. For groups of 2-10 guests or so, this works out great. Most days it's possible to check off that "must-do" for each guest and everyone is happy because they accomplished what they wanted to do the most. It's manageable, measurable, and keeps everyone happy while remaining vastly attainable during most lengths of stay. 

As mentioned above, I consider this the sweet spot for Disney World Itineraries. You're not booking too much, but not booking too little. For example, on our trip that's coming up in a few short weeks, our group only booked two dining reservations, our hotel accommodations, and our park days. We wanted to do a lighter trip with less commitment to plans and simply planned what we were doing from a big picture perspective for each day. Basically all we know is our fastpass+ selections and what day we want to be where. Truthfully, that's less than what the average guest will need. 

Obviously, we've been doing this for a while and many of you have been as well. As you travel more, and tour the parks more, a returning guest opposed to a first time guest tends to be less worried about trying to do everything. Spoiler alert: It's impossible to see and do everything at Walt Disney World. I've literally been traveling to the parks my entire life and haven't seen and done it all. That realization is what often sets apart returning guests from first time visitors. We know we'll be back, and we know there's no sense in trying to do everything on property. It wont happen, but that's not a deterrent but rather a blessing that there's always something new to return to and explore trip after trip. Don't worry about doing it all, just focus on making the most of the time you have. That's what our itineraries tend to focus on, and if that sounds like something you can get behind, here's a closer look at some of our top itineraries for Walt Disney World.

Disney World Itineraries and Trip Planning - What We Recommend

Short Stay Disney World Itineraries

A stay at Walt Disney World that is shorter than 4 days can be relatively tough. Inevitably, you will feel a bit rushed. With that being said, our last trip in March of 2018 at the Boardwalk Villas was only 3 and half days in length. If you make the most of it, you can do far more than you could ever imagine. If you want to see every park, it will require a park-hopper, and even with our experience working in your favor you will miss out on a few things along the way. But, a short Disney trip is certainly better than no Disney trip at all so be sure to check this one out if you're looking to make the most of your time in the parks.  

If you're really short on time or doing other things in the area and only have one day to spend at Walt Disney World, we have a few itineraries for that as well. The one day trip is never an ideal situation, so there's a heavy focus on getting things done and making the most of the entire day in the park for these plans, but they're also great to add into a multi-day itinerary so that you can circle back at the end of your stay to revisit what you may miss along the way. If you're careful and willing to get up early I'm pretty confident these 1-day itineraries will allow you to enjoy the majority of what the park has to offer. 

Long Stay Disney World Itineraries 

Longer stays in the parks can make all the difference in the ability to relax a bit more during a Disney trip. You have a bit more time and that extra aspect of the vacation can afford you the time to step away from the parks and explore without giving up quite as much as you would during a shorter stay. Longer stays put a certain level of freedom into the planning mix that is unmatched by anything except being a local Orlando resident. You can set up a morning in the parks, head back to the pool at lunch, and maybe even go catch another park's fireworks show later that night. You're not confined by the thoughts of losing out on time in the parks or the disappointing thought of missing a favorite attraction because you know you'll have plenty of time to head back on another day later on in your 7 day stay. 

There's so much freedom added to the longer stays simply because of that aspect of extra time and with Disney Springs nearing completion, you can take the time to explore that area in depth which you likely wouldn't on a 4 day or shorter vacation. Planning your days out is a bit less important for these loner stays but if you want some help and want to see how we handle these longer trips affectively, be sure to check out:

If you're looking for even more info on the parks and resorts, along with some hidden gem experiences, be sure to check out WDW Magazine! Their print release is coming out soon! Join the wait list

Unique Disney Itinerary Options 

When you really think about it, two things dictate a Disney parks Itinerary, cost and time. It's no secret that Disney trips can be incredibly expensive and just keep getting more expensive year after year. The increased costs do come with an increased level of entertainment, but it would be wrong to avoid the fact of the matter that these are vastly expensive vacations. Disney trips are expensive, but at the same time it doesn't have to be absurdly expensive and that's why we came up with the following itinerary options.

The first option, and perhaps the link that I feel is most important out of this entire article is a closer look at how to make Disney work for your situation and your budget. We've been in your shoes. Over the years we've toured the parks on string budgets, and we've toured the parks with large budgets. No matter what, there's always a budget and staying within that budget can make or break your ability to head to Walt Disney World. Ultimately, that's the step that should precede everything in this article. A Disney trip is great and well worth the investment of both your time and money to create memories that really and truly will last a lifetime, but at the same time, no trip is worth risking your financial security. Definitely check out a few ways to cut costs and make your vacation work for your both in that article and on other sites throughout the Disney online community. 

The second article listed is a way to tour what Disney has to offer without ever stepping foot in a park. I really only recommend this to guests who have been to the parks time after time, but a more relaxing stay at one of Disney's world class resorts can be an incredibly relaxing trip that will rival nearly any other vacation destination. Often times when you cut out the park tickets or even just cut your amount of park days the savings may surprise you and may even allow you to put that money into staying at the resort you've always dreamed of spending a few nights in. 

Disney World Itineraries and Trip Planning - What We Recommend

Why Should You Care? 

Inevitably, I can guarantee that at least one of you is asking this question. Either you're the one planning the trip despite not wanting to go or you're weighing the costs of the experience and requirements of planning against another vacation destination. Ultimately, I'll share one message with those of you who are in this position. Disney is a place that has a bad reputation for being a place for kids or young families. When you tell someone you write about the Disney parks, you typically get two responses. The first is a blank stare and then a comment like, "aren't you too old for that" or something of the sorts. Or you get a second response and that is "We love Disney and have been going for years!" The first response is what keeps me doing what I'm doing today. I know that sounds like quite the opposite of what should happen, but bear with me. 

I share on this site to help people plan and experience Disney on a deeper level. There's not a doubt in my mind that the "you're too old for that" response is typically from someone who doesn't understand the parks and resorts. Truthfully, that's what I enjoy sharing with them. When you tell those same people that Disney has select world class dining options, impressive nightlife, PGA tour level golf courses, bowling, Broadway-esque caliber shows, and incredible story telling capabilities, they tend to look at you with a different thought process. Many times it's a changed perspective and a newfound desire to tour the Disney property in a different way than the media tends to portray it. 

That may sound like I hold myself to this ultimate "manipulative authority" or that I'm a Disney public relations drone trying to drum up business, but it's not intended to sound that way (again, I've never worked for or even with Disney directly at this point). I share those things and ultimately these itineraries to share with others something that has been a big portion of my life and that has created memories that will truly last a lifetime. I want everyone to have that same opportunity in some facet. The moments that create these memories may not be the same for everyone, but Disney as a whole is a place that creates opportunities for guests to create their own story and experiences time and time again. It sounds hopelessly corny in writing but it's true and one of those things so many of you reading this understand and have experienced first hand.            

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?

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.

Disclosure - This post does contain affiliate links that help us out monetarily when you use our partners over at Destinations to Travel and purchase from WDW Magazine or the Official Ticket Center. We recommend these groups because we know them and have talked to their owners personally who stand behind their products and services.     

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Our Top 5 "Hidden in Plain Sight" Locations of Walt Disney World


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Our Top 5 "Hidden in Plain Sight" Locations of Walt Disney World 

A few short days ago I was talking with a reader that mentioned a certain area of Epcot that they felt was entirely underrated and a "hidden gem" of sorts of the Walt Disney World experience. To me, this seemingly simple moment of discovering a "hidden gem" spot during a WDW trip is something that is a bit hard to describe. 

As you travel through the parks, occasionally you'll come across a spot that just clicks with you and is something you really enjoy for a shockingly trivial reason. To me, that moment and type of location is oh so often found in the simplest of experiences in the most trivial moments of the vacation experience. For instance, you wont find an attraction on my list in the generic sense of the term but at the same time you may find little tucked away areas of the parks and resorts that many entirely overlook. They're not big, exciting locations, but sometimes there's beauty in true to life simplicity. A moment sitting on a bench away from the crowds or simply away from the attractions can open up a world of possibilities. Sometimes it frees your thoughts and allows you to escape, even to a greater sense than the parks do on a daily basis for many of us.

If you're one of those people that goes all out and does nothing but jump from attraction to attraction your entire trip, truthfully this list may not be for you. But, for the rest of you, keep reading and you may discover a little area to uncover during your next Walt Disney World trip. If that sounds like a good plan, keep reading and we'll share a few of what we consider "Hidden in Plain Site" locations in the parks.

1. Swiss Family Treehouse 

For years, if I'm completely honest, I looked at the Swiss Family Treehouse as nothing more than a lot of stairs and that's certainly a regret of mine, but at the same time a blessing in disguise. On a relatively recent trip, heavy crowds forced us to think outside of the box and take the time to enjoy a few of the simpler aspects and attractions of Magic Kingdom. In doing so, I convinced myself to give the treehouse another chance and I'm glad I did. As you embark in climbing the multitude of stairs leading to the top, you're greeted by some of the most spectacular and vastly overlooked views in all of Magic Kingdom. From your vantage point high in the tree, you can see Space Mountain clearly in the distance and can witness Adventureland from an entirely new perspective. 

If you're lucky enough to have a few minutes at night, the views are improved upon and changed in a unique way in the dimly lit light of the staircases and classic lamps of the structures that make up this impressive treehouse structure.        

2. The Gardens of the Japan Pavilion

Once again, this garden is a bit tucked away and out of sight of the average guest. Over in the Japan Pavilion of the World Showcase, a little garden welcomes guests into a sensory experience of wonderful smells and the gentle sounds of water flowing over rocks and through little streams slightly elevated above the World Showcase promenade near Katsura grill. 

If you've not taken the time to at least quickly wander through the garden, it's worth a few minutes or even potentially longer to enjoy a moment of true simplicity and beauty in the classic nature of the situation Imagineering so expertly developed. It's culturally representative of Japan but at the same time features that uniquely "Disney" touch that makes all the difference in setting the scene for a memorable moment in the parks.     

3. The Canada Pavilion Waterfalls and Gardens

The Canada Pavilion is, in my opinion, the most overlooked and glanced past pavilion in all of Epcot. If you ever take a moment to watch guests at this point in the World Showcase, you'll typically see them glance up at the pavilion and keep on walking. Honestly, that's a huge mistake. The Canada pavilion is far more diverse and far more unique than most guests give it credit for. As you walk up the stairs and head towards the back of the pavilion you'll find a small staircase that leads towards a large waterfall. If you walk right up near the waterfall you'll find a small path leading the way to the gardens of the pavilion that open up to the area near the entrance to Le Cellier steakhouse (a must-do if you've never tried it!). Shockingly, the area is very peaceful and is also a great place to catch a glimpse of Illuminations from a new perspective. You will miss out on some of the low level fireworks, but the atmosphere is, in many cases, worth the trade off.      

4. East Center Street 

Much like the Carolwood Room mentioned below, East Center street is a place where you can sit back and escape the crowds for just a few minutes while enjoying a bit of Disney history hidden in plain site. For example, a select few of the unique historical elements you can find here are: 
Magic Kingdom is a treasure trove of Disney history but East Center Street is unique in that many guests walk past it day after day and trip after trip without any recognition or recollection of what it is or may hold. Don't get me wrong, in essence East Center Street is a narrow street jutting east about half way down Main Street USA across from the Emporium. The street itself literally goes nowhere and simply ends after about 15-20 yards, but it's clever seating area and hidden touches create a great "escape" from the park. You can sit back on a bench or small table and listen to the sounds of Main Street, the singing lessons hidden in the cracked window above, and watch the guests hustle and bustle around Main Street.

It is, without a doubt, a simple pleasure of the Main Street experience but one that can be enjoyed in just a few minutes or you can sit back and relax for hours on end. If you can spare the time, this could be an incredibly good place off the beaten path in the parks to think and take a step back from the troubles of the world for even a brief moment.    

5. The Carolwood Room 

If you've been following along with the site for a while you likely know how much I enjoy this simple piece of the magic. Tucked away over at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, this vastly overlooked little room unveils the real history of Walt Disney's train obsession that often culminated into larger than life theme park steam engine iterations. It was no secret that Walt loved steam engines and Walt's Carolwood estate was perhaps the most striking example of that larger than life love of a hobby that we can still appreciate today. Walt's Carolwood estate was perhaps one of his most unique projects. Around the home, Walt built an incredibly elaborate miniature railroad and this little room in the heart of the Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge is a tribute to that hobby of the man who started it all. 

The Carolwood room is cleverly placed out of site of most guests. As you enter Wilderness Lodge head out the right exit near the gift shop and follow the path down to the Villa lobby area. As soon as you enter the door head to your right and you'll be in the heart of this classic room. I wont go into vast detail because I did that in our article - Outstanding Disney History Hiding in Plain Sight: The Carolwood Room. However, this little room is an incredible place to escape for a few brief moments. There's a beautiful fireplace, big comfy chairs, and you're steps away from one of the most incredible views of Bay Lake you'll find anywhere on property! Don't forget to stop by Geyser Point for a great cheeseburger and an even better atmosphere.  

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?

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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter or Riverside? - A Closer Look

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter or Riverside? - "A Closer Look"

Today's topic is one that pops up almost weekly on social media and one that I even get asked directly from time to time and typically give the same answer. However, what I choose is oftentimes what works for me and the people I travel with and may vary from what is best for you. So, today I'm going try and hold off on a final "verdict" until the very end of the article as to not try and sway you one way or the other without first considering a variety of factors.

Honestly, in the realm of moderate tier resorts at Walt Disney World, Port Orleans is one of the most overlooked properties in my opinion. The property is excellent, and while there are  a few slight qualms to the overall guest experience that set it apart from feeling quite like deluxe resort (for obvious reasons), I like to put these two properties in what I like to call a "moderate+" category. It's a term that is completely and utterly made up, but at the same time I see incredibly fitting for the property as a whole. Both sections of the overall resort area bring a lot to the table in the areas of dining offerings, transportation, and even resort recreation. On top of that, the layout lends itself to a better guest experience in comparison to some of the other moderate tier accommodations. 

(Pictured: Riverside - Photo: Disney)

In my option, there is no one best resort for each guest or family traveling to the parks. It's an impossible task to try and peg that ultimate "one stop shop resort" that is going to have everything that meets your needs. Price is inevitably going to be a big factor for many guests, and Port Orleans as a whole falls into what I would call the "affordable" category at around $200-$250 per night currently. It's not a budget buster for a majority of guests, but at the same time it's not going to be quite as budget friendly as the value tier in most cases. At the same time though, if you book it on a bounceback offer as we mentioned in our Disney World Discount - How We Saved 27% With One Phone Call article, it may fall in price to the point where it may work out for even the tightest of budgets.

If you're looking at both resorts from a cost standpoint and trying to choose one that way, you're typically only going to save a few dollars and the resort that typically remains cheaper is almost always a toss up. Personally, I've seen French Quarter listed at a more budget friendly rate recently when their is not a big discount offer available.

For example, consider the discount currently available for Summer 2018. If you book a room for July 22nd the cost is $252.00 for Riverside and $252.90 for French Quarter. There's very little difference in price but our friends over at Destinations to Travel could weigh the options for your particular dates. As always, you'll find a quote request form for them at the bottom of the page and thanks for supporting those who help support us.  

If you are considering staying at one of these two resorts, here's what I recommend you consider before price, mostly because price tends to be a fairly negligible difference. I will pick a winner for each category simply to give an idea of why I prefer one over the other for each category.

Theming- My Pick - Port Orleans Riverside

Truth be told, I literally just typed French Quarter, then deleted it and wrote in Riverside. This one really is a bit of a toss up, but I'll tell you the one main reason I chose Port Orleans Riverside for theming. When you walk in that resort and out of the main lobby to the waterfront area with the big mill wheel rotating and the water glistening with the reflection of the main building, it's one of the few moments out of all the moderate resorts that makes you step back and think "wow, that's incredible." Sure, you have similar moments as you walk out to the main pool of Caribbean Beach, and maybe even walking past one of the towering statues at a value resort like Pop Century, but this is different. That "wow" moment  is developed by an incredibly subtle yet largely classic and inspiring elegance that really sets the stage for the resort experience.

As guests, we all tend to talk about this "transformative experience" we get to enjoy at Disney. The parks transform your state of mind and put you into your favorite film, or even into a location that you've always dreamed of visiting, and for a brief moment you're there! Sure, you're not in New Orleans, but for many of us it's about as close as we may come and even if it's not a perfect iteration of the original, it's an excellent ambiance nonetheless.

To me, the edge goes to Riverside for that view in it's entirety, because in all reality, the two resorts are quite similar in regard to the resort room interiors. Riverside rooms are bit brighter with lighter wood accents and slightly different decor but the furnishings and set up are near identical with one main exception. At Port Orleans Riverside, you do get a child size pull down bed in non-royal rooms. It's a nice bonus to squeeze another person into a room that would typically only accommodate four guests.

Port Orleans Riverside does offer, as mentioned, what are called royal rooms. The rooms themselves are different in that they feature touches of princess decor and a more elaborate theming than other rooms on the property. It kind of feels like a toned down version of staying in Cinderellas Castle, albeit a much less luxurious version. It is a fun option for kids or those of us who are kids at heart, but to me it seems like a bit much and is quite difficult to justify the $30-$70 increase in nightly pricing.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with French Quarters theming, and the lobby of the resort is quite impressive as well, but in many ways the "wow factor" is more subdued, but for what it lacks slightly in "wow factor" of design, it more than makes up for in "wow factor" for beignets! More on that later!      

Transportation- My Pick - French Quarter (marginally)

Transportation is impossible to pick a "winner" for a few reasons. First, they share busses sometimes and either way you're going to be riding a bus to all four parks. However, what's nice about French Quarter is that the bus stop is literally a few steps away from the main lobby and dining location Floatworks. Due to the smaller size of the property at French Quarter, a majority of rooms will be a shorter walk to the bus. It isn't a make or break difference, but even a few steps could make a difference. Additionally, both resorts offer boat transportation to Disney Springs which is an excellent option for guests looking for a greater variety of shopping and dining offerings without having to ride yet another bus. French Quarter is the shorter boat ride to Disney Springs by about 7-10 minutes, but either way it's a pretty relaxed and enjoyable ride to Disney Springs with some incredible views along the way. 

Port Orleans boat dock

Be aware, these are boats that are a fair amount smaller than the Friendship boats over in the Epcot resort area, and also a different style than the boats of the Magic Kingdom resort area. I've never heard a reason why, but this watercraft transportation uses a pontoon-esque boat to transport guests. For most, it makes very little difference, but as you sit still at the docks, the rocking motion of the boat when it is not in movement is a bit more noticeable.           

Size- My Pick - French Quarter (without a doubt) 

This is and was the deciding factor for us time and time again. Port Orleans French Quarter features just over 1,000 guest rooms. Riverside is home to well over 2,000 guests rooms. That variation in and of itself makes a huge difference in the scale of the resort. In turn, Riverside is much more spread out. It's not quite as spread out as Caribbean Beach or Coronado Springs, but it is a noticeably longer walk from various points of Riverside to common areas and the main pool when compared to French Quarter.

For our vacations, that makes all the difference. We're known for running to the resort food area to grab a snack on the way back to the room at night or to catch a meal by the pool and the convenience factor really starts to come into play if you plan on using the common areas of the resort to their full extent. If you're just going to the parks and not spending much time at the resort, I wouldn't worry about this too much because it may not effect you all that much in the end result.

Dining- My Pick - French Quarter 

Some of you may find this a bit odd, but I vastly prefer the food at French Quarter compared to Riverside. In all fairness, Floatworks at French quarter is perhaps my favorite counter service restaurant on property for a few reasons. First and foremost, they offer large meals at reasonable prices by Disney standards. The menu is massive and with 5 different "shops," each featuring a different set of food offerings, it's hard to go wrong. Between the Po' Boy shop with it's catfish and shrimp sandwiches to the carving shop with an array of meats, chickens, and even a create your own option it's truly a must do for us on nearly any vacation.

Perhaps the kicker to it all is the Beignets. These little fluffy pillows have an almost donut like consistency to them with a slight crossover flavor to the funnel cake world. It's a French Quarter icon of Walt Disney World and genuinely near the top of my must-try desserts list for prospective guests.

Beyond the food itself, French Quarter's food court area is a bit more quaint in nature and seems more open and welcoming in my opinion. There's nothing wrong with the Riverside Food Court and it is quite a bit better than some food courts on property but it is rather large and when it is crowded it's an entirely different atmosphere than Floatworks.

Beignets at French Quarter WDW

On the other hand, the location's size could work in your favor when looking for a table, but in my experience that is sort of a non-issue. As far as Table service goes, there is only one table service option and that is over at Port Orleans Riverside and is Boatwright's Dining Hall. Truthfully I've never taken the time to go over there and try it out. I have heard good things about the food offered and the quality of the experience, but to me it seems like a place I'd go on a rainy day if I didn't want to leave the resort. It's not particularly special, but not bad in any regard. The atmosphere is pretty unique but it's not something that will blow you away. All things considered, if table service is a big thing for you, jump on a boat and ride to Disney Springs for a larger variety of offerings and this becomes sort of a non-factor for most guests.

Perhaps one of the most iconic experiences in all of Walt Disney World is housed over at Riverside, Yehaa Bob. His performances at the River Roost lounge have become a truly hidden gem of the Port Orleans Riverside experience and are something I've been trying to make time for during our next trip. His piano and singing performance gets the audience involved in a show that is unlike any other. Just be aware that he is not there every night so be sure to check before making the journey over or planning a night for the show.                  

Pools- My Pick - Riverside 

Riverside's pool takes the win here for a few reasons. First, it's larger. Second, it's more elaborately themed. Third, the French Quarter Pool feels a bit outdated to me. There's nothing wrong with the elaborate serpent type dragon slide and decor of French Quarter but the pool is fairly small in comparison to other resorts. The location of the pool at Port Orleans French Quarter is excellent in that you are literally a two minute walk to the food area and mug refill station, so that's a big bonus in my book. 

Riversides Pool is fashioned to look like an old swimming hole and it's classic nature is incredibly fitting to the look and feel of the overall resort. It puts you "into the story" in a way that French Quarter's pool really seems to lack. 

A more unique selling point of Riverside is a legitimate fishing area that allows guests to fish in a catch and release manner. It's one of those little elements that builds story around the experience, and while they didn't have to add it in, it makes all the difference in a distinctly Disney manner. 

My Overall Pick - French Quarter    

To many this may be a surprise but here's the thing... When we travel to Disney we do so for two main reasons. We travel to enjoy the parks, or to enjoy the resorts. For longer trips we tend to split up the time pretty evenly, but for shorter trips we devote a majority of our time to the parks. Either way, this resort fits our needs. It's exciting enough and there's enough to do at the resort that we could spend a good amount of time there, but if we want to spend a lot of time in the parks, the cost is low enough that you don't feel bad about missing out on some of what the resort has to offer. As always, we recommend a deluxe resort instead, especially if budget is not a problem. If you want to spend some time exploring and enjoying your resort in depth, my top pick is Wilderness Lodge. If you want to go all out, try Club Level at Wilderness Lodge. However, if you want to stay at a fairly budget friendly resort with the best bang for your buck on property, I certainly suggest French Quarter. If you're looking at the moderate tier, this is my pick hands down. It's better than Caribbean Beach in many ways (and we've likely stayed at Caribbean Beach more than any other resort as a result of the low prices quite a few years ago), and while that resort is a great experience this one far outweighs it in the realm of "luxury" and comfort for a few extra dollars a night (at least until Caribbean Beach construction is completed).

Wilderness Lodge
(Pictured: Wilderness Lodge)

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?

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, May 21, 2018

Disney World Discount - How We Saved 27% With One Phone Call


by: guide4wdw - Collin

Disney World Discounts - How We Saved 27% With One Phone Call

Starting out today, I'll be completely honest with you. This is not a special Disney discount code or a trick to capture a special "pin-code" or even a limited time offer discount. Well, actually in some ways, the 27% discount we received on our next booked Disney vacation was slightly time sensitive, but I'll share how we got around that in one simple way. Long story made short, good Disney World discounts are hard to come by these days and, with the rising costs, finding ways to get back to the parks at a cheaper rate is incredibly important to so many of us. 

While many of you may have heard of the discount we're sharing today, I was shocked by this individual scenario and rather than focusing on the discount itself, I wanted to share our experience and how much money it actually saved us. We have the numbers and we will share the real world numbers. Also worth mentioning is that these are real numbers that you can find on Disney's site as of Sunday, May 20th, 2018. Lastly, I would be out of place if I didn't tell you "your results may very" as unfortunate and cliche as that sounds. 

The key to this article to me is not to say "Hey, look what we got!" but rather to be real with you all about the discount. As always, nobody pays us to say these things, we aren't given "special discounts" by Disney as media (contrary to popular belief - believe me... Disney hardly acknowledges we exist at this point lol), and as always this is a pretty raw and unfiltered expression of our thoughts. 

How We Saved $1,000+ On Our Next Disney Trip   

This is likely what you all came for, but believe it or not we saved 27% on a "bounceback" offer. Typically, that is an extremely common discount if you take the time to seek it out during your trip, but our situation was a bit different. For those of you who may not know, Disney offers what is called, as mentioned, "bounceback" discounts. When you're on a Disney vacation, you'll occasionally find a card placed in your room with info about booking your next trip at a discounted rate. According to the info provided by the resort, you must book your next stay before you leave from your current stay. That's where the possible "limited time nature" of this offer (mentioned above) typically comes into play. Truth be told, that's the only way to guarantee your discount. The actual discount will vary by resort and resort category/type but the offer is nearly always available for at least some variety of dates if you can book your stay before you leave. From my experience, the easiest way to do this is to call from your resort phone and ask about the offer, even if the discount card does not appear in your room. At one time these cards were everywhere but they have appeared less and less frequently in recent years. 

Here's where our case gets a bit strange. We did recently return from a trip to the parks and a stay at Disney's Boardwalk Villas, but we did not book our trip before we left. Obviously, at that point we wouldn't typically qualify for the discount. At this point, we didn't think we had even the slightest chance of securing a bounce-back rate. Instead of worrying too much about it, we decided to try and book under one of the discounted rates available for our dates of travel that were straight from Disney and available to everyone. Before we booked, a member of our travel party decided to call up Disney and ask about anything that could be tied to our name. In the past we've ran into free dining (a long time ago) and unique one time discounts long before this site was a reality. This particular call ended in a similar result. 

We inquired about any other discounts that may be available, and were shocked when, after a few minutes on hold, they offered up a discount that took a Boulder Ridge Villa at Wilderness Lodge from a price that was well out of reach for our finances down to a cost that was far less than the rate quoted to us for Saratoga Springs on Disney's website. This is one of many reasons I recommend calling to book your stay or talking with our recommended travel agency. As always, it helps us out when you book through them and we appreciate your support, just tell them Guide4WDW sent you! either way, you may be surprised at the discounts you can get or what a real person can find for you opposed to booking online. 

As you may have noticed, I didnt call the discount a bounceback offer at this point, because honestly they didn't even tell us that was the offer they booked the discount under. Considering this was 2 months after we checked out of our resort, which they knew, the thought of it being that discount never crossed our minds. It wasn't until we made a rookie mistake and forgot to pay our deposit after holding the reservation and losing our entire reservation, that we found out the rate we were booked under originally. See.... even those of us who have been doing this for years miss something every once in a while.... To rectify our classic oversight mistake, we called in desperation to try to get the reservation back. Thankfully we got to talk to a supervisor who was incredibly nice about the issue and who told us that they had went ahead and originally booked us under a "bounceback" offer. It was a stellar recovery for our mistake in the end result but just goes to show that Disney can still be very accommodating if you go about things a bit more creatively than you may originally think to. If you think it's been too long since your last stay to try this, give it a shot anyway, the worst they can do is say "no." You've got nothing to lose but a few minutes of your time!  

The Real World Numbers  

All of this could be made up without real numbers and proof of concept, so here's the breakdown of our savings. We booked a discounted room at the Boulder Ridge Villas in a one bedroom villa. The cost for that room was $5047 originally for a 6 night stay. Keep in mind, every rate you see here is a part of a package we booked with a 2 day ticket included for 4 guests. After the discount was applied, the cost dropped to $3697 for an overall cost difference of over $1000 dollars and a legitimate 27% discount! Its not an "up to 30% off discount," those are real numbers and real world results. If that's not a good discount, I'm not entirely sure what is.

Things to Consider     

Perhaps the best part about these offers is that they apply to the exact same cancelation policy as any other Disney reservation. So, in essence, you could book your stay and hold your stay for a $200 deposit for your package or one nights stay for a stand alone room booking that will be refundable if you decide to cancel more than 30 days out from your travel dates. Also worth noting is that this offer does not prohibit you from utilizing future offers that debut if they are better than your currently booked discount. The offers cannot be combined or layered though. It's a one or the other type of decision. 

With all of that being considered, first - never hesitate to ask about other discounts you may be eligible for, and second - if you can generally pick dates for your next stay, book a second stay for the future during your Walt Disney World resort stay. If you have to change your dates, you can typically take the bounceback rate to your next set of dates, assuming it's not a drastic change. if all else fails, simply cancel your reservation and you've lost nothing if you do it early enough before your next trip. 

Wrapping Up

I know this isn't the ideal discount we all hope for, but it was a surprise nonetheless and something that I thought I would pass some info on to you all about for future bookings. As always, these are simply my tips and what may work for me, may not work for you and your vacation planning style. I share this because it's real results. It's not a sugar coated TV commercial, and you know we only share what has been tried and proven. If you're looking for more info like this, and you're an annual passholder check out our tips on "ticket bridging" in our Disney Annual Pass: When Is It Worth The Money? post.

As always, I truly appreciate you taking the time out of your day to spend a few moments with us. Your time is an incredibly valuable resource and one that there's never quite enough of in this day and age, so we honestly and truly appreciate you spending a few minutes here with us. We're coming up on 1 million page views across the sites history and that is truly a mind blowing number to me and something I never thought I would ever see when this website project began. We're not the biggest site, but if you told me back in 2016 that I would have made the friends I have made through this endeavor, I would have never believed you but I wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks for being here! 

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?

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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