Monday, December 24, 2012

Disneyland vs Disney World: Christmas Showdown!

Merry Christmas from 3 Dis Kids! I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, filled with wonderful experiences with family and friends!

A couple weeks ago we got to visit Disneyland in California for the first time! As you can imagine I have a lot to share, but today I want to stick (or candy cane) to to subject at hand, Christmas, or more specifically how Disneyland compares to Disney World at Christmastime.

Round 1: Merriment 
It is hard to imagine a more merry place than a Disney Park during the holidays. Christmas music playing, characters dressed for Christmas cheer, Christmas trees that reach to the sky, and resorts decorated to the nines! If you can't get into the spirit at Disney, you should see your doctor about a serious yule tide deficiency.

Both resorts overflow with Christmas cheer.

Round 1 is a push

Round 2: Decorations in Disneyland Park vs. Magic Kingdom
Just like in round 1, both resorts do a wonderful job of decorating for Christmas. Walking down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, or Disneyland Park there will never be a time when you forget what time of year it is. Wreaths hung on the light posts with care, display windows, the before mentioned music, and the smells exuding from the bakeries... When the sun goes down, the lights on the castles glow like ice palaces! Let's just say you won't confuse it with Earth Day!

After leaving Main Street is where the parks begin to separate themselves from each other....

For years I had heard how much better Disneyland decorates for Christmas, and before seeing it with my own eyes, I wondered how it was possible, but it is true. All of Disneyland is maxed out for Christmas! The level of attention that is paid to decorations is amazing! Even the miniature castles and villages of the Storybook Land Canal are decorated with tiny wreaths, Christmas trees, and poinsettias. The only place where I was surprised to see no decorations was on the Jungle Cruise.

Unfortunately once to get off of Main Street at the Magic Kingdom, there are very few signs of it being Christmastime.

Round 2 goes to Disneyland

Round 3: Resort Decorations
Once again if you are staying at or visiting any of the Disney Resort hotels at Christmas, you know it. Giant trees themed to match the theme of the resort, special music, chocolate carousels and gigantic gingerbread houses are just a few of the things you mights see when you stroll through the various lobbies.

Disney World has more resort hotels on property, but Disneyland does a great job of keeping up with their three on site resorts. Quantity does not necessarily trump quality, as they all match up very closely. This category was just too close to call...

Round 3 is a push

Round 4: Holiday Extras & Special Events
If you are visiting either Disneyland or Disney World there are special offerings just for the Christmas season. Tours of the decorations are offered, special treats are cooked up, and special performances are well performed...

From early November to a few days before Christmas you can purchase tickets to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. The party is offered a few times a week, and from 7:00-Midnight you get to be a part of a special hard ticket party, and enjoy the park with a much smaller crowd. There are special fireworks, stage shows, hot chocolate and cookies, and the Once Upon a Christmastime parade runs twice. It is a very festive evening, but you usually have to pay between $50-70 dollars to experience it. For people who aren't visiting right around Christmas Day, this is your only opportunity to see Holiday Wishes or the Christmas parade, but if you are there after the 21st, you get it as a part of your regular park admission.

The other parks at Disney World also get in the spirit. Every night Hollywood Studios lights up the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, with lights dancing to popular Christmas songs. Animal Kingdom has a special Christmas parade called the Jingle Jungle Parade. Epcot offers Christmas storytelling at many of the country pavilions, and also the Candlelight Processional, where a celebrity host reads the story of Christmas, while an enormous choir sings songs from the season. This is hugely popular, so line up early to catch it!  

Disneyland does not offer a hard ticket event like MVMCP, but instead gives it to you with your regular park admission. In addition they have a Jingle Jangle Jubilee that takes up the Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland. Here you get to see Hillbillies sing Christmas carols, color holiday pages, and decorate Christmas cookies ($6 per kit). Characters dressed in their Christmas best stroll around for pictures, and you can get your picture taken with Santa too! Depending on the day, the parade, A Christmas Fantasy, runs once or twice, and the nightly fireworks are the Believe... In Holiday Magic fireworks.

In addition there are special holiday overlays of It's A Small World, and Haunted Mansion. During the holidays these attractions are transformed into almost completely different experiences. It's A Small World turns into a Christmas carol filled cruise around the world. They outside of the attraction is covered in Christmas lights and there is a special little show that goes on around every 15 minutes. The Haunted Mansion is given a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover, and Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King takes over. Both attractions are amazing, and should not be missed if you are there during the holidays!

Disneyland also has a Candlelight Processional, shown at Town Square. It is also very popular, and there is limited area to watch to pick out a place early!

California Adventure doesn't offer much more than special decorations, and a special opening Prep and Landing section in World of Color. But even with that...

Round 4 goes to Disneyland

Round 5: Christmas Parade
Normally I am more of a fireworks/nighttime spectacular type of person, but Christmas is when I really love a parade, and nobody does a Christmas parade better than Disney. Comparing Disney World's Once Upon a Christmastime parade to Disneyland's A Christmas Fantasy is like comparing red apples to green apples, it's just a personal preference. Both have great floats, classic and new characters, and most importantly, they both have my favorite, the Tin Soldier Marching Band. But for me there can be only one winner for best Christmas Parade...

Round 5.... Disney World  

So after 5 rounds who wins the Christmas Showdown?


Disneyland pretty much ran away with this one, but Disney World held it's own. Each resort offers a lot for Christmas, but Disneyland just does it better all around. Disney World has a lot more to offer for Christmas, but Disneyland just envelops the entire resort in Christmas! Honestly, I can't think of two more magical places to spend the holidays! 

***Sorry for the lack of Christmas pictures from Disney World... They are stuck on a laptop that I can't access....***  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Counting Down the Days...

We have all been there. There are countless threads on every Disney fan site dedicated to them. People from all over the world participate. Several websites are dedicated to creating graphical interfaces so you can share them with others.  Some people have several of them going on simultaneously. There are even apps for your phone for them.They are Disney countdowns, and we have a couple going on right now.

59 Days until our next trip to Disneyland Paris. 
76 Days until we are back in Disney World. 

These are not just your typical Disney countdowns however. The first one also co-insides with the date we leave the country of Romania, and the second one marks the day when we begin a two month stay in Florida. Just minutes from Disney World!

Our trip to Disneyland Paris is a kind of farewell (for now) to the resort. It will be our third trip to DLP this year, and there have been some ups and downs, but we have enjoyed our trips. Plus, we need to make sure we get plenty of good use of our Dream annual passes!

Just a couple weeks later we will have the awesome chance to get to live next door to the mouse! We have rented a vacation home in nearby Reunion, and will be reaping the benefits of living so close to the most magical place on earth! We'll be trying new restaurants, experiencing new adventures, and just having a lot of fun as a family! Be assured that I will be sharing as many of these new adventures with you as I can, but there might be too many!

So do you have a countdown to your next Disney adventure? Share it in the comments section if you do!   


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Walt Disney World Mom's Panel... The Adventure Continues

About two weeks ago the recruitment period for the 2013 Walt Disney World Mom's Panel began, and just like last year, I decided to throw my mouse-ears into the ring. 

Also like last year the Mom's Panel was looking for specific areas of expertise (Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Vacation Club, Adventures by Disney, RunDisney, and Disney Cruise Line), and once again I selected Disney Cruise Line. Unlike last year, there was no official start date announced for submission of applications ahead of time. Laura Spencer blogged about it  coming soon in July, but on the Mom's Panel website we were told to check there everyday in September. 

Well the Disney fan community, and Mom's Panel hopefuls especially are really good at sniffing out these kind of things, so eventually it got out that they would open for applications on September 10th, and close on September 14th, or whenever they received 14,000 applications. That was 6,000 less than in years past, so many Mom's rushed to get their applications in as quickly as possible. I took a couple of days to send my final submission, and even though they have not closed it out early in recent years, I was slightly concerned about the applications cap. 

The application process was a bit different this year. In stead of waiting for round 2 to test your knowledge in your specialty area, there was a second page of questions in round 1. The first page was general Disney knowledge, plus an essay (100 words) on helping to plan other people's Disney vacations. The second page had a few pretty tricky questions focused on your specialty area, plus another 100 word essay about planning vacations in that area.    

I gotta tell ya, 100 words is really not that much to show your passion for Disney! Both of my essays had to be almost cut in half after my first draft. There is so much that you want to share, but just not enough word space! 

Last year I progressed onto round 2, where they tested my knowledge of Disney Cruise Line, and I had to make a one minute video about my favorite Disney memory, but I didn't make it to the interview stage. It will be interesting to see what round 2 consists of this year, since they already made everyone answer questions and write essays about their specialty areas in the first round. I'm sure there will be another video submission, but what else does the Mom's Panel have up its pink sleeves? 

The wait begins... 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cars Land to Replace Avatar at Disney World???

In the last couple of weeks the only rumors that I have been actively following have been ones surrounding the new iPhone, and if Apple will introduce a new smaller iPad. But one rumor that perked my ears up was the one saying that Cars Land could be making it's way east on Route 66 to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Things really seemed to be lining up for this, what with Kathy Mangum coming to Florida on assignment and all, but I didn't really buy into the whole Avatar Land dying a slow death... But it appears that where there is smoke there could be fire.

I really try not to get into the whole rumor spreading thing. With Disney there is so much to talk about that is happening, I have never felt the need to fill lines with the hundreds of credible, or insane rumors that pop up like pre-teen girls at a One Direction concert. I'm not connected to any sources at Disney to get comments, and I'm not a reporter who is expected to find leads on these types of stories. I'm a tennis coach who lives in Bucharest, Romania! I'm about as disconnected as you can be, so I rely on the hard work of people on the inside to get me my information! 

One of the people that brings this stuff to light is Kevin Yee. He has written a very good article about how Avatar Land could be shelved in favor of an east coast Cars Land. 

When the Avatar announcement was made, I like many people were taken by surprise. I also had mixed feelings about it, and I wrote about it in a post last September. The concept sounded really cool, and I thought that the Imagineers would do a great job with it, but I just thought it was a bit of a stretch. That combined with the stories of James Cameron being a bit of a pain to work with, kind of scared me that there would at best be delays. As rumors started to spread that Avatar might be downsized from an entire land to a couple of attractions, or even shelved completely, I thought it was just because of the fact that no new news was coming from the project. I shrugged them off thinking they were just a result of an impatient public, or from people that never liked the idea (there were plenty out there) who were looking for any reason to paint it in a bad light.

So how do I feel about this? Overall I am excited. Cars Land in Disney's California Adventure looks spectacular, especially the Radiator Springs Racers attraction. But a part of me thinks it should be exclusive to California Adventure. I for one love that all of the worldwide Disney parks have things you can only see there. It gives me the excuse to go see them all! But once again I trust the Imagineers to make a Disney World Cars Land different enough that people will want to see both. I also know that the designers always "plus" things as they re-imagine them. They learn from the previous attractions, lands, and parks, and tweek them to make them better. I have seen this with my own eyes from visiting the Magic Kingdom in Florida (opened October 1971), and the Disneyland Park in Paris (opened April 1992). There are a lot of improvements there, some little, some small, but if you pay attention you will see them.

So will Jake and Neytiri be moving out to make room for Lightning McQueen and Mater? We'll just have to wait and see! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Resort Review: The Contemporary

I've done it again! Here is another Epinions review on a Disney Deluxe resort! If you would like to see it in it's original form CLICK HERE.

There are a few key memories that I have from my first "real" trip to Walt Disney World. Chief among them is riding through the Contemporary Resort on the Monorail. I remember thinking that there is not a cooler hotel in the world. First of all, it is right next to the Magic Kingdom. Secondly, the freaking Monorail drives right through it! The last thought I had was, "Wow! What kind of rich do you have to be to stay here?" Those thoughts continued to run through my head as we drove back to the Econo Lodge (or something like it) we were staying at in nearby  Kissimmee. 

You can imagine how excited I was when I got to stay at the Contemporary 24 years later! Staying at the Contemporary had been a goal of mine since I was 10 years old. The goal became almost an obsession when I "rediscovered" Disney in 2007. Could a hotel that I had been building up in my mind for 24 years possibly live up to the hype? Yes and no... The Contemporary Resort was built as one of three opening day resorts (along with the Polynesian and Fort Wilderness Campground) at Walt Disney World in 1971. It's A frame design is unmistakable, and it is nothing short of a Disney icon. Another cool fact is that the resort was built similar to how cruise ships are constructed, all the rooms are compartments that were installed into the main building. There is also a Garden Wing that is separate from the main building, and the Bay Lake Tower on the same grounds, houses Disney Vacation Club villas. 

We got a great Annual Passholder rate and stayed for three nights. When we booked the room I was afraid that we would be sent out to one of the Garden Wing rooms, but our room was in the main building, on the 5th floor, with a view of the pool and  Bay Lake. The room had two queen beds and a pull out sofa (that tried to eat my then 2 year old son). There was a flat screen TV mounted on the wall, and the decor was very modern. The bathroom's were equipped with big flat square sinks, and doors that slid inside the walls when they were opened. It was a really cool room, in a really cool hotel! 

No other resort at Disney World can make the claim that it is walking distance to the Magic Kingdom. It is so close that my daughter and I were able to walk from Space Mountain Tomorrowland, back to our room in just over 15 minutes! If you want to take your time, you can hop on the Monorail, and get off at the next stop. Coming back is a little more time consuming because you have to make stops at the Grand Floridian and Polynesian. If you are travelling with small children who nap in the afternoon, there is no better resort on property. 

Even if you aren't staying at the Contemporary, there are three restaurants and a food court that you can visit for a bite to eat. 

At the top of the resort is the California Grill. This is one of Disney's Signature restaurants, and although I haven't had the opportunity to dine there, it gets great reviews! This is fine dining with a great view! If you're lucky you might be able to snag a reservation for dinner during the Magic Kingdom fireworks. 

Chef Mickey's is one of the toughest reservations in Disney World. Here you can enjoy a breakfast or dinner buffet, with the Fab 5 of Disney, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. We have had breakfast here a few times, and it has never disappointed in terms of food or character interaction. It;s a bit pricey, and incredibly loud, but when you see your kids meeting their favorite characters, you forget about everything else! Another cool thing about this restaurant is that it is located just below the track of the Monorail, in the Grand Canyon Concourse of the hotel. 

The third restaurant in the Contemporary is The Wave... Of American Flavors. The good news is that it is pretty easy to get a reservation here, that is also the bad news. The menu here has a big focus on healthy, sustainable food. I'm all for that, but the quality just doesn't cut it. Kevin Klose, the restaurant reviewer for for the Dis Unplugged Podcast described the restaurant as "beige", and I can't think of a better way to describe The Wave. The food is just ok. The decor is just ok. Even the service was just ok. We probably would not have eaten here had we not been staying at the resort. I have heard that the breakfast is quite good here however, and the wine list is very extensive! 

The Contempo Cafe is the quick service option at the resort. By food court standards I found the food to be pretty good. Nice sandwiches, and a good selection. You place your order here at a self serve kiosk, and then take the printed receipt to the kitchen counter. The food is prepared fresh and comes out hot. I had no complaints about the meals we ate here. This is also where you can purchase and put to use your Disney refillable mug.

In addition to the restaurants and food court, there is a coffee bar at the resort. Contemporary Grounds serves up your favorite latte, tea, frozen coffee, and pastires. My wife says that this is the best coffee on Disney property (not a high bar to clear), but with Starbucks coming to the parks soon, we'll see where it stands! 

The pool complex is behind the main building, and was a bit of a disappointment. Considering that this is one of the most expensive resorts to stay at on property, the pool just doesn't compare with other deluxe resorts. There is a water play area for the little ones, and a lack luster slide but that is about it. Our kids actually preferred to just play in the sand by the lake. The pool at Bay Lake Tower next door is much better, but you can only access it if you are staying in the villas. In addition to the pool there is a marina where you can rent boats for tooling around in the lake, or if you are feeling adventurous, book para-sailing. 

Surprisingly enough, the Contemporary Resort did live up to the 24 years of anticipation. I would love to be able to hop in a Delorean and go back to 1986 and tell 10 year old me, "one day you will stay here!" Or maybe I'd still keep it a surprise...   

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Resort Review: Wilderness Lodge

The following review is another review that I have written on If you would like to see it in it's original form CLICK HERE.

If your idea of "roughing it" is pretending to be in the great outdoors, but actually being in an amenity rich resort, then you are a lot like me! If you enjoy the idea of a vacation at a national park, but would prefer a theme park, then have I got the place for you! Disney's Wilderness Lodge resort! 

The Wilderness Lodge is themed like the great lodges of the Pacific Northwest, and the themeing is amazing! Whenever I visit this resort, I feel as if I have been transported from central Florida, to a land of towering trees, bubbling brooks, and thundering waterfalls. 

Just walking into the lobby of this gorgeous resort is an experience. As soon as you step foot through the doors you hear sweeping songs from the west. You look around and see totem poles, big comfortable rocking chairs, a gigantic fireplace, and enormous animal skin (no buffalos were harmed in the construction of this resort) chandeliers hanging from the several stories high ceiling. In the distance you might see a wooden bridge that crosses an indorr creek that flows outside to the pool. You forget you are at Walt Disney World, until your eye catches a few of the well integrated hidden Mickey's, and until you are greeted by a friendly cast member ready to help you find your room. 

The Wilderness Lodge is one of Disney's Deluxe resorts, located near the Magic Kingdom theme park. By deluxe resort standards it isn't in the most convenient area, but it is just a short boat ride to the Magic Kingdom. In some ways this is a big advantage. Because it is very slightly off the beaten path, the Imagineers were able to really go big on this resort. An example is the geyser that lies just past the swimming pool overlooking the lake. While you can't see the Magic Kingdom from the Wilderness Lodge, you are close enough to hear park's opening ceremony in the morning, and the fireworks at night. 

There are several different types of rooms, but we stayed in one of the rooms facing the woods (and a kind of sad pond) with a queen bed and a set of bunk beds. The kids loved the bunk beds, so much so that they never tried to sneak into our bed! The room was not as large as other rooms in the deluxe category, but it was still very roomy and very comfortable. The beds are made to look like they have been built from trees, and the colors are dark woods and American Indian inspired designs. A flat screen TV mounted on the wall gives it a feel of modern comforts, and there is a small refrigerator to keep your drinks cold. 

Outside of the room there is a lot to do! One of my favorite things to do is explore the resort. The theming is so immersive that they offer free tours of the lobby just to tell the stories behind the design elements! Check at the concierge desk for times. The pool is more aesthetically pleasing than others on property, but otherwise it is about average. The water flowing in from the lobby over the rocks is really cool though. There are a couple of hot tubs at the back of the complex close to the geyser, but unfortunately, like most hot tubs at Disney they are very crowded. 

Out past the pool there is a rental hut where you can rent bikes and surry bikes,  and a great playground for the kids, right on the beach at the lake! There are also a bunch of lounge chairs on the beach where you can sit, relax, or catch a glimpse of the Electrical Water Pageant each night. There is also a bar where you can grab a soda or your favorite adult beverage! 

Dining is a definite highlight at the Wilderness Lodge. Roaring Fork Snacks is the quick service "food court" at the resort. It isn't very big inside (there is a lot of outdoor seating), but there is a lot of good food to choose from, and it has a fixins bar for your burger or sandwich. We really like the made to order flat bread pizzas. If they are offering it, try the BBQ Chicken flatbread. 

In addition to Roaring Fork, the Wilderness Lodge has two sit down restaurants, Whispering Canyon Cafe, and Artist Point. Whispering Canyon is a loud and rowdy cafe that is great for a fun dinner! Be sure to ask for a large drink, and ketchup! You can order off al a carte, but I recommend getting the all you care to eat family platter! All the ribs, sausage, potatoes, and salad you can eat! This is not a place for a romantic dinner! If that is what you are looking for try... 

Artist Point, one of Disney's Signature restaurants. I have never eaten here, but you can bet that you will get a great Pacific Northwest inspired meal. Their specialty is the Cedar Plank Salmon, and I have heard that it absolutely melts in your mouth! 

With all of these things you may need to extend your vacation by a couple days! 

The only real negative that I see with the Wilderness Lodge is that for a deluxe resort, it is not walking distance to one of the theme parks. The location is good, but not as good as the resorts on the Monorail, or in the Epcot resort area. 

One more thing... If you are planning on visting Disney World during the holidays (mid-November-January 1st), there is not a better resort to stay at for Christmas decorations! The Christmas tree that they put up in the lobby is jaw dropping! It is just a great resort to stay at for a wonderful family holiday, or vacation anytime of the year

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Resort Review: Beach Club

Before I had my own blog to force my opinions on people, I did a lot of writing on Epinions. When the website was started in the late 90's people were making some pretty good money writing reviews on the site. In fact, there was a lot of "dirty pool" by some people to maximize their earning potential! While I never made the big bucks like some posters, I did my fair share of reviews, and was able to gain a little extra spending money for myself. 

Over the years my commitment to doing reviews there has ebbed and flowed. Recently, there has been no flow at all for me at Epinions. Before the review I will post below, I hadn't written anything there in over four years! The site is a good place to find out what real people think of products and services. When I was writing there a lot, most of my reviews were of tennis products, but I think I might start doing some Disney reviews over there. 

Well anyway, I just finished writing a review of my favorite Disney resort the Beach Club resort and I thought I would share it here as well. If you want to see it on the Epinions site, CLICK HERE

We have stayed at most of the resorts on property at Walt Disney World, and the Beach Club is our favorite! It was also the first of Disney's Deluxe resorts that we stayed at, and suffice it to say, it set the bar high! 

Originally I wanted to stay at the Beach Club because of it's proximity to the International Gateway entrance to Epcot, which is only a five minute walk from the resort. Little did I know that the resort would become the benchmark that we would judge all Disney resorts by! The rooms are spacious, the sand bottom pool is amazing, and the service is great, even by the high Disney standards you expect! 

Upon arrival we were greeted at the door by a cast member who showed us to the registration desk. As it turned out she was from the same small town in Ohio where my family comes from. She could not have been more plesant, and check in went very smoothly.   

We stayed in a first floor room that looked out on Crescent Lake, and the sand volleyball court. The room was very nicely sized and our family of five was very comfortable. The light blue beach motif was very comfortable, yet it had a very luxurious feel as well. 

The room was equipped with a flat screen TV, two queen beds, and a day bed/sofa. The furniture was of a high quality, and thanks to a recent refurbishment of the resort, in great condition! There was also a small refrigerator and a coffee maker, albeit with below average coffee, but if you have been to Disney before, this will come as no surprise!

Whenever we stay at  Beach Club we build in a resort day to our vacation. In my opinion,  the Beach Club, and Yacht Club (which is attached to the resort) are two of the few resorts on Disney property where you can spend an entire day at the resort, without ever leaving to hit one of the theme parks. The main reason for this is Stormalong Bay, the resorts main swimming complex. I say complex, because just calling Stormalong Bay a swimming pool is like saying that Disney World is just a theme park! One part of the inter-connected swimming area is a sand bottom pool. This is where the smaller kids hang out and make sand castles, and climb on the rocks. The water is shallow, and there are lots of chairs to relax in while the kids play. There is also a more traditional swimming area, and a small lazy river that is deep enough to play dolphin or mermaid! The last part of the complex is a shipwreck themed slide. There is a big slide that starts at the mast of the ship and empties out into the main pool, and a smaller kiddie slide that is in the hull of the shipwreck. You could easily spend a whole day here at this mini water park! Something else that is very nice about Stormalong Bay is that it can only be used by people staying at the Yacht and Beach Club. You must show your room card to enter the complex and get towels, and they put a wristband on you that you need to re-enter. Throughout the day there will be poolside activities and games for the kids as well.

Next to the pool on the Crescent Lake side is Hurricane Hannah's, which is essentially a snack bar. It's a nice place to get a quick burger or a beer, but there isn't anything really special about it. 

On the resort side of the pool there is a large video arcade, and one of the best reasons to stay at Beach Club, Beaches and Cream! Beaches and Cream is an undersized for it's popularity pool side diner that serves typical diner food like burgers, hot dogs, and yummy onion rings. They also have (and you're probably getting tired of me saying this) the best ice cream on Disney Property! My favorites are the No Way Jose, which is a chocolate-peanut butter sundae (big enough for two people), and the Kitchen Sink (big enough for the whole family), which is 8 scoops of ice cream, all of the toppings at the bar, and a whole can of whipped cream! We have tried twice unsuccessfully to finish it. They only allow walk ups, and it is not unheard of to have 2-3 hour waits for a table. There is a walk up ice cream counter where you can get a couple scoops or a milkshake, but not the signature sundaes or non ice cream items. 

There is a sit down restaurant at Beach Club called Cape May Cafe. In the mornings it is a breakfast buffet with character meet and greets. The characters that are usually there are Minnie, Goofy and Pluto, but I have also seen Chip and Dale show up as well. The food is pretty good, but your kids will be too excited to eat. It is one of the easier character meals to get reservations for, and we have always gotten a lot of attention from the characters when we eat there. 

At night the restaurant serves a seafood buffet that they call a clam bake. My wife is allergic to seafood so we have never tried it, but I have heard mixed reviews. 

There is also a quick grab and go market/deli in the resort gift shop, The Marketplace. This is where you can buy and refill your refillable mug, pick up some small grocery items, and of course souvenirs! The shop has a lot of great stuff in it, and a few resort specific items, but we have never had much luck with the food here. 

To be honest, that is the one negative thing about Beach Club. The food options can be limited. It is the smallest of the Disney Deluxe resorts, so it doesn't have as many food options as the larger resorts. There have been a couple times when we have just wanted something quick, but couldn't easily get what we wanted. The other side of this criticism is that you have the larger Yacht Club literally next door, and the Boardwalk Resort a short walk away. Not the most convenient solution, but it's an option. 

One very good reason to walk next door to the Yacht Club is the Yachtsman Steakhouse, one of Disney's signature restaurants! This is probably my favorite Disney restaurant that isn't on a cruise ship! The steaks are great, the service is professional, and while it is a bit expensive, totally worth the price! A couple years ago my wife and I had Valentine's dinner here. She is a recovering vegetarian, and still not a big meat eater, but she loves it to! It's usually pretty easy to get a reservation, and I recommend asking for a table with a view of Stormalong Bay. Try not to rub in the face of the people walking by what a great meal you're enjoying! 

So I think that just about covers it. I wish that the beach vacations that I used to take as a kid was as great as staying at the Beach Club!            

Thanks for reading!      

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top 5 Pixar Faves

The youngest Dis Kid expresses his love for Pixar with wooden letters
After seeing Pixar's 13th feature film, Brave this weekend, I thought I would do the very predictable blog post of my favorite Pixar films.

I know that I am a couple of months late seeing Brave, but in my defense is only premiered in Romania on August 17! Because it has been out for so long, I'm not going to give a full review of it, except to say that it was a very enjoyable movie, but not one of my favorites from Pixar.

For this post I I'll rank all of the 13 films in my preferential order, but will only comment on my top 5. I'm sure that some of my picks might surprise you, as they might not fall in line with other such lists, but hopefully my explanations will shed a little light on my thinking...

5. Ratatouille: You'll notice a couple of trends in my picks. One, the uniqueness of the story. And two, did I see this movie on a Disney Cruise? I love the story of Ratatouille. It was fresh and unexpected. Also I saw it on one of our cruises when Disney had one of their premiers at sea!

4. Cars 2: This is another one that I saw on a Disney Cruise! Making it even more special was the fact that we were on a Mediterranean sailing, and it kind of coincided with the theme of the World Grand Prix theme of the movie. The entire family from our youngest (3 at the time), to my almost 70 year old father enjoyed the film. I also found the animation the most beautiful of all the Pixar films (until Brave).

3. Cars: I have probably seen this Pixar film more times than any of the other 12. Again, the reason is that the entire family loves it! It has a great story, great music, and is just a lot of fun! I saw this movie in the theaters with our oldest daughter, and both of the younger Dis Kids have enjoyed it just as much ever since!

2. Monsters Inc.: The gap between number 2 and number 1 was razor thin! I love Monsters Inc. because of the story, and how imaginative it is. Monsters using kids' closet doors to enter the human world to sustain their energy needs through the screams of children, and it doesn't stop there. The door chase scene, the entire cast of Monster characters, it is all amazing! This one almost topped the list but I had to go with...

1. Finding Nemo: This film hit me at every level, except that I didn't see it on a Disney Cruise. First of all, the film is gorgeous, the underwater world that Pixar created was amazing. The characters were lovable and as a father I could really connect with Marlin and his quest. But what put Nemo on the top of my list was again, the story. Nemo overcoming his "lucky fin", Marlin throwing his cautious nature to the wind (or waves)           to save his son, and who doesn't love the character of Dory? We don't watch this movie as much as others, but when we do, I am almost always in it from start to finish. I just can't turn away from it!

So rounding out the rest...
6. Toy Story 3
7. The Incredibles
8. Toy Story
9. Toy Story 2
10. Wall-E
11. A Bug's Life
12. Brave
13. Up

This really is a case of there being no losers. I have really enjoyed all of these films. In fact, we own all of them with the exceptions of Ratatouille and Brave. Most of these 13 films are among my favorites for one reason or another. Like most people, I feel that what separates Pixar from Dreamworks and other companies making animated films is the story and the characters. No matter what Pixar film I'm watching, I feel a real connection to the characters, and really have an emotional connection with them while they embark on whatever journey they are on. The films are beautiful, and frequently have glorious musical scores to accompany the visuals.

John Lasseter and his staff have really produced some of my favorite movie memories, and I can't wait to see what else they have in store in the future!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Favorite Disney You Tube Videos

Do you remember when you were a kid and your Aunt Hilda would come over for dinner after returning from vacation, and she would show you hundreds of boring slides of whatever distant mind numbing place she had just visited? Well maybe that goes too far back for some of you...

What about when your co-worker gets back from their honeymoon and shows you two hundred Instagram photos of various flowers from whatever Caribbean island they just returned from? Why do these people think we care about their vacation photos? We weren't there, why try and comatose us with these pictures? We don't care!

Unless you are a Disney fan, and the pictures are of a Disney vacation.

Now you have my attention.

It's a funny thing about the Disney fan community... Many of us will go out and search on You Tube for complete strangers vacation videos! For a lot of people this is a great way to keep away in-between Disney trips depression. And there are a lot of these videos out there! In fact there are a lot of great ones, that are really professionally done.

Programs like iMovie and Windows Movie Maker have allowed so many people to produce great videos to share with the world. The quality of these videos have improved so much since I made our first Disney Cruise slideshow back in 2008.

Here are some of the favorites I have found recently...

Phil, Emma and Ben are a British family that travels to Disney often. Whenever they take a Disney trip, they take tons of video and post each day in one or two parts after they return. They have a huge online following, and lots of people have duplicated their style. They chronicle everything even the travel days! When I watch their videos, I really feel like I am there with them! Also, Emma is a member of the Disney World Mom's Panel. This video is from their most recent trip, but there are several more on their You Tube page.

This is a very popular video from a family's 2011 trip. What I love about this video is how professionally it is produced. There are a lot of cool effects, and you can tell that the family had an idea of what they wanted to do before they even got to Disney.

What I love about this video is that you can really see what makes a Disney vacation so special. This family has a great time, and there is a good message as well. I also love the music!

Those were just a few great Disney videos that you can find on You Tube. Do you enjoy reliving your Disney memories by watching other people's videos? Do you use them to get ideas for you next trip? Do you have a favorite, or have you made a video of a recent trip? Share them here in the comments section!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Staying Fit at Disney

I want to start this post with a little confession... While I make my living teaching people to play tennis, and have spent the better part of my life competing as a player, I am in no way a fitness nut. I am not the person who feels bad at the end of a day when I didn't "hit the gym." And I am not that guy that you see running from Beach Club across the Boardwalk towards the International Gateway before breakfast. That person would be my wife, and she will frequently get up early to get in a quick run before we hit the parks. She loves it, and counts these runs as a highlight of her vacation. She also loves running along Deck 4 of the Magic and Wonder while the rest of the family sleeps off the feast of the night before! I am trying to embrace running, but doubt that it will ever become a part of my vacation routine.

When we go to Disney (especially the cruises) I tend to indulge. Regular Coke instead of Zero, steak instead of chicken, a burger instead of a turkey sandwich, a turkey leg instead of, well that one pretty much speaks for itself! I also tend to eat a lot more sweet things. My favorites are Dole Whips, Butterfinger Muffins, and Carrot Cake cookies. The funny thing is, at least with our visits to the parks, I don't gain weight. In fact I tend to drop a couple pounds. 

I wondered why this was, and I initially came up with a couple of ideas... The first was that even though I was indulging, in reality I wasn't eating as much. When we are really hitting the parks we rarely eat three full meals a day. We will usually eat one large meal a day, and kind of have a couple mini meals along the way. For example, if we do a character breakfast, we try and schedule it as late as we can so we can essentially knock out breakfast and lunch in one meal. Since most of the character breakfasts are buffets, everyone getting enough food to hold them over until dinner is no problem! 

The second thought I had was that Disney really is taking their healthy food initiative seriously, and they are serving zero calorie food and beverages! Wouldn't that be some real Disney magic?! Since this probably wasn't the case, I came to the third thought... 

Is it possible that we do so much walking while we are vacationing in the parks that I am actually able to burn off the extra calories I am consuming? So I decided to do a little Disney experiment, or a "Dis-speriment" if you will. 

Thanks to Apple's Generation 1 iPod Nano recall program, we had two brand new generation 8 iPod Nanos, with built in pedometers and Nike+ fitness apps. For a couple weeks I used the iPod to measure my average number of steps in a day. On an average day I would take between 6-7,000 steps (about 3 miles). On days when I would teach a lesson or two the total would go up to 9-10,000 (roughly 5 miles). These might be a little higher than some people, I tend not to take elevators if I can avoid them, and with two kids under 5, I am rarely immobile for very long! The next part of our "Dis-speriment" would be to see how many steps we take a day on a Disney park vacation. 

The testing ground would be a five night vacation to Disneyland Paris. During this trip we would be spending 4 full days in the parks, and one day visiting that big tower thing that they have downtown. For the first time ever, on any Disney trip, we would be staying off property, at the Dream Castle Hotel, just outside the resort proper. Since this was a Dis-speriment, I would only measure our steps on park days. This would be interesting. Behold the results... 

Total steps during four days of touring the parks: 97,455
Total distance covered: 47.24 miles 

Honestly, I was pretty shocked by the numbers! I didn't think that we would do that much walking at Disneyland Paris, where everything is so compacted together, but I think it would be about the same at Disney World where everything is more spread out. Again, we tend to walk more than the average park guest. At Disney World we almost never take the trams from the parking lots. Usually this is because we don't like having to stop and fold up the stroller, but also we enjoy walking. During this trip to Disneyland Paris, we frequently walked to the parks from the Dream Castle Hotel, and almost always walked back. It was about a 25 minute walk, which we found much preferable to waiting in line for the shuttle back. Unfortunately there are only a few resorts at Disney World where you can walk to the parks, that might lower our step count there, but I'm sure we would make it up somewhere. We'll find out for sure when we go back late this year. 

So there you have it. My secret for staying fit on a vacation at Disney... Eat what you want, and walk you tail off! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Disneyland Paris Annual Passes: 365 Days of Magic... Almost!

With only one day before we leave for our second trip to Disneyland Paris, I wanted to talk about something that we purchased on our first trip, that we will be using on all future trips - or for at least until February 21, 2013 - our Dream Annual Passes! If you are looking to purchase an annual pass for Disneyland Paris there are a lot of options, but I'm not going to go into all of those options, I'll leave that to DLRP Magic's webpage on AP's. They do a great job of breaking down all of your options, including blackout dates, benefits of each category, and of course pricing.

When we were researching which AP to purchase, we eventually decided on the Dream Pass, which is the top level of annual pass. We chose the Dream for two main reasons; no blackout days, and a 35% discount on Disney resort rooms. Another nice benefit of the Dream Pass was that since we were buying 5 of them we got a 20% discount on the passes! Boy I wish that Disney World would institute this!

So on our first day at the resort, we walk up to the ticket booths at the Disneyland Paris Park and take the first step towards Dream Pass ownership, purchasing them. now at Disney World when you buy an annual pass that is allyou do.... You go to the booth, pay your money, and get your pass. You can also pre-purchase your AP, get a voucher and redeem it at WDW. At Disneyland Paris it's not quite that easy! After paying for your passes at the park (there is no way to pre-purchase), you are given a pass to enter the park for that day, and while in the park you are required to go to the "Bureau Passport Annuel." This is where Dream Pass ownership becomes a little less magical!

After entering the park we walked to the Bureau Passport Annuel, to take the next step. Upon arriving at the Bureau, we were greeted by a queue that stretched well outside the door of the office. We decided to go have some fun and let the

line die down a bit. Each time we walked past the Bureau we checked to see if it diminished, and it never did. Finally we reached the point that we could wait no more. The park would be closing soon, and we would not be able to enter the park tomorrow if we didn't finish the process.

This was the longest queue of our day, and we waited 45 minutes for Dumbo, and rode Buzz Lightyear without FastPass! This was also particularly difficult with a 3 and 5 year old, who didn't get the pay off of an actual ride at the end of the line! Finally, we get to the end of the line, and finish the process of Dream Pass ownership. what took so long you ask? Well they have to get some extra information from you - like your address - and take your picture.

Now I like that they put your picture on your pass, but why couldn't all of this be done during the first step of the process? Several years ago we bought "annual passes" at Colonial Williamsburg, and they were able to get all of the same information, and take your picture in a matter of minutes! Not the best introduction to 365 days of Paris Disney Magic! I'll trade the picture on the pass for the biometric ID system that WDW uses for the sake of efficiency! I just think that because there are so many options for annual passes at Disneyland Paris, that just about everyone purchases one, and because of that the lines at the Bureau gets insane! I really think that they need to streamline this process!

The benefit of the Disneyland Paris passes are that you get an actual plastic card, with a clear protective cover to store it in! for those of you familiar with the passes at Walt Disney World you understand why I say this. At WDW your annual pass looks no different than any other day pass, just a paper pass. I was always a little miffed that despite spending close to $500 for an annual pass I couldn't even get a plastic card, like my Key To The World Card. Oh well, I only had to replace it once, and that was my fault...

So while I did not enjoy the process of getting our Dream Passes, I have very much enjoyed using them. And when I walk by the Bureau Passport Annuel, my heart will go out to the poor souls using up part of their magical day, but not for long, because there is a candied apple at a 10% discount calling out my name!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Disney Dreams! - Initial Thoughts

I just finished watching the delayed premier of the new Disney Dreams! castle show from Disneyland Paris, and my first reaction is WOW! The show combines different aspects from several different Disney shows, and then takes them to the next level! You can't call it just a fireworks show, or a projection, or dancing fountains, or lasers... It is all of these things, put together to form an epic event that plays out in front of, and on the already beautiful Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris. I can't wait to see this in person!

The effects are amazing! There are projected scenes on water-spray screen like Fantasmic!, water shooting hundreds of feet in the air like World of Color, beautiful projections that transform the castle like The Magic the Memories and You, and low level fireworks like Illuminations and Wishes. All of the scenes are tied together with Peter Pan, but during the show we visit some new and old classic films such as: Jungle Book, Mary Poppins, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Beauty and the Beast, Ratatouille, Rapunzel, and others. The characters projected on the castle are huge! Much larger than any of the projection shows we have seen up until now. The use of projections has become my favorite effect in any of these nighttime spectaculars, and this is no exception. It is amazing how they can transform the castle, and change the way we see it!

Only Disney can do something like this. I am so glad that I am going to be able to see this in person soon. I am sure that like other shows, seeing it on video can not compare!

I'm going to make a prediction here, right now. Disney Dreams! (maybe not exactly in this form) will be the replacement for Wishes in Walt Disney World within a couple of years. Probably when the Fantasyland renovation is completed. If it does replace Wishes, it will be a worthy replacement. Disney will want this show in their flagship park, where the most people will see it.

I'm not sure how long this link will be good, but for now you can watch it here...



Thats all for now. Good Night!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Disneyland Paris 20th Anniversary: Here We Come!

I can't imagine that it will come as a surprise to any readers of this blog, but we have booked our next Disneyland Paris vacation! Announcing that we bought annual passes was probably not the best way to build suspense for future posts I guess.... But surprised or not come April 18 we will be on our way to take part in the 20th Anniversary celebrations at Disneyland Paris!

We learned a lot from our first trip last month, and we have already been putting our new DLP knowledge to work with a few changes this time around.

You might remember my review of the Sequoia Lodge from a couple weeks ago, where I wasn't that impressed with the resort. Despite our disappointment in the resort, we were willing to give another Disneyland resort a try, and planned on booking at the Newport Bay club. Well, that didn't happen....

This is another example of how different the Disneyland Paris resort from the Walt Disney World resort. When we were annual pass holders at Disney World we frequently were able to get great discounts (even at Christmas) on room only reservations. This was also true of our first time booking a room only reservation for Disneyland Paris, but not this time! The room only rate (no AP discounts available) was actually more expensive than the complete package, including tickets! This seemed really backwards to me, but I had heard that room only reservations were a huge hassle at Disneyland Paris. Since all of us are Dream annual pass holders, there was no reason to pay for a package that included tickets, so we did something that we would never even fathom at Disney World.... We booked a room off property!

Like Disneyland in California, Disneyland Paris has a group of hotels that are preferred off site resorts (you can even book them from the official DLP website), and we will be staying at one of them, The Dream Castle Hotel. We passed by this hotel on the way to our resort on the last trip, and we all thought it looked really cool! From the pictures it looks like the level of theming (not Disney) that we have grown accustomed to from our stays at Disney World. Rest assured that you will get a full review of the resort when we get back, and for now we all have high hopes for it!

Also since this will be a longer trip we will be venturing into the "City of Lights" to take the kids to see the Eiffel Tower, and other important cultural thing-a-majiggers!

All in all it should be a great spring getaway! More to come soon!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stacey vs. Sophie: Disney Resort TV Showdown!

One of the things that we really enjoy whenever we return to Walt Disney World is watching Stacey and the Must Do Disney show. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Must Do Disney runs on a continuous loop all day and all night on Walt Disney World Resort TV. The show has had many editions, and hosts, but the current version runs for 15 minute, and uses a lot of green screen intros. Our family preferred the version before the current one, the Top 7 Must Sees, that featured a lot more park footage and ran around 30 minutes. The show takes you to all four parks, plus the two water parks, Downtown Disney and Disney Quest. About the only things missing are the two miniature golf courses! Must Do Disney uses a lot of the same footage from Top 7, but is missing a lot of our favorite Stacey-isms like "yummy, yummy, yummy" when describing the food options in Epcot's World Showcase. Regardless of which edition it is, we always make sure that we watch Stacey at least one time, start to finish, each time we visit. For those who haven't seen the latest edition of Must Do Disney, here it is!

As we were on our way to Disneyland Paris we wondered if they would have their own Stacey, and as it turns out they do, Sophie! Sophie is British and her show, 10 Things to
Know Before You Go, more closely resembles the longer Top 7 Must Sees from Disney World. Even the animated intro is very similar. From what I have read, this version is a few years old, so that could be why. Sophie takes you around the entire resort as well, but since there are only two parks, she has to throw in some resort stuff to fill out the 10 things. In Paris this show actually does not run continuously, in between they throw in a couple of Disney related commercials before Sophie comes back on. So in a 24 hour time frame, you get less of Sophie than you do Stacey. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? I'll let you decide that! Here is Sophie's 10 Things to Know Before You Go, courtesy of our friends at Dedicated to DLP, who by the way have a really great Disneyland Paris Podcast!

So there is the info, but this is a shhowdown! Who should hold the crown as the ultimate Disney Resort TV Spokesperson? Let's find out...

Round 1: Energy Level
Both Stacey and Sophie bring it in this category. I'm betting there is no decaf lattes being handed out at their shoots. Straight double shots of espresso baby! Both of them are running around, riding attractions, sharing (and shouting) their excitement for their respective resorts for all to enjoy. In previous editions of her show, Stacey had energy and excitement to spare, but in the new edition they have really toned her down. There are still clips of her prancing and high fiving characters, but it is broken up with green screen shots of her introducing the Must Dos in an almost local news format. Sophie has not been toned down yet, and she is still all over the place at DLP. If this were three years ago, I would give the edge to Stacey, but for today. Sophie takes Round 1.

Round 2: Fun Level
Whether you are talking Walt Disney World, or Disneyland Paris, you are there to have fun! The resort's spokesperson should really sell how much fun you can have at the resort. Stacey looks like she is having a blast on every attraction from Teamboat Springs ("you could throw your whole family in that puppy!"), to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, where she sees a gorilla that reminds her of her Uncle Phil. Sophie brings the energy, but I just don't get the feeling that she is having as much fun. In Sophie's defense, Walt Disney World has a lot more fun things to do compared to Disneyland Paris, but the result here is pretty obvious. Round 2 goes to Stacy!

Round 3: Re-Watchability
Yeah I'm pretty sure I just made that word up, but lets be honest. There isn't a lot else on Disney Resort TV worth watching except for Sophie and Stacey (although I have read reports of a big upgrade coming to the channels at Disney World). Which of these women would you rather watch over and over (and over) through out your vacation. For us, we got a little tired of of Sophie early on, and didn't venture back to that channel as much as our stay went on. With Stacey, we frequently will watch her every day, and while we prefer her earlier shows, we don't ever really tire of her. In fact we quote her very often when talking about Disney thing we enjoy. Round 3, Stacey.

Round 4: Information Delivery
For many of us watching Stacey and Sophie is for entertainment at this point. We might see them as just another perk of staying on Disney Property, or as one of those things that make us feel at home. For families visiting for the first time these shows can be a great way to introduce you to your vacation. This was true for us years ago at Disney World, and weeks ago at Disneyland Paris. While there is no shortage of information online about Disney World and Disneyland Paris, sometimes you just have to have it shown to you (repeatedly). In my opinion both Stacey and Sophie accomplish the goal here. They do a great job of presenting their respective resort to the vacationer, in their own style. Round 4 is a push.

So who is the ultimate Disney Resort TV spokesperson? In my opinion the winner is...


Honestly, this wasn't really that close. My family loves Stacey. It was nice to see that Disneyland Paris had a similar show, but it can't compare to the Disney Must Dos. Stacey does a great job getting everyone excited about the adventure they are about to embark on at Walt Disney World, and even if Disney edited her down, and cut the time of the show in half, we still love watching it, and always will! So thanks Stacey for helping make so many of our trips to Disney World more magical!

If you get the chance stop by Stacey's website and see what Stacey does outside of Disney Resort TV land!