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>Disney World, Part 3: FOOD! DINING! YUM!

>So, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I am so excited about returning to Disney World for our first anniversary is for the amazing dining experiences. Before our honeymoon last year, I had not experienced fine dining at Disney. But getting on the Deluxe Dining Plan last year truly opened my eyes to a world beyond burgers and hot dogs at Disney World. It was so much fun to pick out exactly what I wanted on every menu without worrying about price!

If you are a foodie traveling without children, I highly recommend the Deluxe Dining plan! It’s the highest tier available. It includes 3 sit-down meals per day (you can also opt for walk-up quick-serve, but we don’t do that — we prefer sit-down restaurants!) and 2 snack credits per day. Be warned, it is a LOT of food. Each lunch and dinner includes an appetizer, an entree and a dessert per person. Click here for more on the plan.

So without further ado, here is our Disney Food Plan 2010!

Restaurants in *BOLD WITH STARS* are those that we are returning to because we LOVED THEM so much last year. Restaurants in +BOLD WITH PLUS SIGNS+ are restaurants that we are trying for the first time. Links go to menus.

Day 1:

Check-in at Pop Century Resort
Lunch at *Kona Cafe* at Polynesian
Afternoon at Animal Kingdom
Dinner at +Boma+ at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Day 2 — Our First Anniversary!:

All Day at Magic Kingdom
Lunch at *Liberty Tree Tavern* at MK
Dinner at *California Grill* (premium 2-credit restaurant) at Contemporary with a view of Wishes fireworks.

Day 3:

All day at Epcot
Lunch at +Teppan Edo+ (Japan) in Epcot World Showcase
Dinner at *San Angel Inn* (Mexico) in Epcot World Showcase followed by IllumiNations.

Day 4:

All day at Hollywood Studios
Lunch at *Hollywood Brown Derby* (premium 2-credit restaurant) at HS
Dinner at +Ohana+ at Polynesian with a view of Wishes fireworks.

Day 5:
All day at Animal Kingdom
Lunch at *Yak & Yeti* in AK
Dinner at +Jiko+ (premium 2-credit restaurant) at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Day 6:
All day at Epcot
Breakfast at +Whispering Canyon Cafe+ at Wilderness Lodge
Lunch at +Chefs de France+ in Epcot World Showcase
Dinner at *Le Cellier Steakhouse* (Canada) in Epcot World Showcase followed by IllumiNations.

Day 7:
All day at Magic Kingdom
Breakfast at *Kona Cafe* at Polynesian
Lunch at +The Wave+ at Contemporary
Dinner at +Narcoossee’s+ (premium 2-credit restaurant) at Grand Floridian (Sadly, no Wishes that night, sad face.)

Day 8:
Check-out from Pop Century
Lunch at +Everything Pop Food Court+

So, all in all, we will return to 8 restaurants and are trying 9 more. All 8 of the ones we are returning to were absolutely OUTSTANDING last year. My absolute favorite experiences from last year that we are returning to again are California Grill (I had ostrich, but this menu changes all the time), Kona Cafe (for breakfast — Tonga Toast!), Le Cellier (Pretzel bread and steak. Nuff said.), San Angel Inn (filete moltuleno, amazing!), and Yak & Yeti (Shaoxing Steak & Shrimp).

Looking at our itinerary, you’ll see that we’re only scheduled for breakfast twice. We prefer to save some of our breakfast credits and use them toward 2-credit premium dining experiences at restaurants that would normally be at least $60/head. We’re visiting 4 of those restaurants on this trip — California Grill, Hollywood Brown Derby, Jiko and Narcoossee’s. After this trip, there are 4 remaining premium restaurants that I hope to eat at on subsequent visits.

Lastly, may I point out that all of our meals and days at the parks are planned out? If you don’t make reservations beforehand, it can be nearly impossible to walk up at a lot of these restaurants hoping for a table, especially during peak dining hours with a larger party. If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, you can book your reservations up to 180 days in advance.

I’m also looking forward to certain snacks at Disney World. Some of my favorites from last year were apples and caramel dip at carts and restaurants throughout WDW and the cream cheese-filled pretzel at Tomorrowland’s Lunching Pad in Magic Kingdom.

And for the first time this year, I will experience the magic that is the Dole Whip (thanks Wikipedia!).


These can be found only at Aloha Isle at Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and at Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian. They come in a cup or as a float with pineapple juice — YUM!

Planning resources:

Allears.net menus – comprehensive and amazing!
The Disney Food Blog – wonderful coverage of all things food at Disney! It’s hard to believe this is a one-woman show. You can also follow the Disney Food Blog on Twitter.

I plan on documenting all our wonderful dining experiences this year and putting them here.

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>Disney World, Part 2: Disney resorts

>Countdown: 5 days til Disney World!

Today, I am discussing Disney World resorts. I am a huge proponent of staying at Disney resort hotels. The resorts are like a park in themselves — there’s so much to see and do to keep you occupied. It’s also common knowledge that most of the best dining at Disney World is found in the resorts.

The lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where we stayed in April 2009 for our honeymoon.

Disney resorts are divided into 3 tiers of cost — Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Value resorts are more like staying at a Best Western or something along those lines, but with fun theming and a food court. Moderate resorts have more to offer in the pool areas and include a sit-down restaurant in addition to the food court. And Deluxe resorts have lots of extra activities, the most spacious rooms, beautiful architecture, numerous pools and hot tubs, and several sit-down dining options to choose from, including some of the best restaurants in central Florida.

Some deluxe resorts are also available as villas, aka condos, and these villas are the “home resort” for members of the Disney Vacation Club (aka timeshare club). If only I had thr cash for that…

Here’s a full list of the Walt Disney World resorts (Click here for a map to see the locations):

** Denotes that I have stayed at this resort or plan to stay there this year.
+ Denotes that I have visited this resort or will visit this year to eat and take in the sights.

Deluxe Resorts:

**Animal Kingdom Lodge
Beach Club Resort
+Boardwalk Inn
Yacht Club Resort
+Contemporary Resort
+Grand Floridian Resort
+Polynesian Resort
+Wilderness Lodge

Deluxe Villa Resorts:

Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas
Bay Lake Tower
Beach Club Villas
Boardwalk Villas
+Old Key West Resort
Treehouse Villas
Wilderness Lodge Villas
Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

Moderate Resorts:

Caribbean Beach
Coronado Springs
Ft. Wilderness Cabins
+Port Orleans Riverside
**Port Orleans French Quarter

Value Resorts:

All-Star Movies
All-Star Music
All-Star Sports
**Pop Century Resort

A lot of times, the question is, “Why should I pay more to stay at a Disney resort when I can stay at the Holiday Inn, Best Western, La Quinta, etc., just outside the park for much cheaper?” That may be true — you *can* stay for cheaper outside the parks. But when you’re not staying on Disney property, you don’t get all the extra perks, which oftentimes can save you money. So, what are these resort perks?

1. Free parking at the parks. If you’re staying off-property, this costs $10 per day.
2. Extra Magic Hours. This is when select parks open early or close late on certain days. I have yet to take advantage of this, but I hear it’s really cool.
3. Complimentary airport transportation, known as Disney’s Magical Express. We’ll be taking advantage of this for the first time on Saturday. If you’re flying in, you get luggage tags in the mail. You check your luggage at your home airport, then when you arrive in Orlando, you get directly on a Disney’s Magical Express bus. Your checked baggage is delivered a couple hours later to your resort room. No lugging around heavy luggage! Hooray!
4. Package delivery. If you buy souvenirs at any of the Disney parks, they will deliver it straight to your room.
5. Key to the World card. I mentioned this in my last post. It’s so convenient having park tickets, dining credits and your room key all together on one card.
6. The Disney Dining Plan! This is my favorite benefit available only to guests staying on WDW property. There are 3 tiers of dining plans and I am a HUGE fan of the Deluxe plan, which I’ll get more in during my next post.

Even more benefits are listed here.

Even though I have yet to visit or stay at all the resorts, I’ve seen enough of them to pick out a few favorites: the three Deluxe resorts situated on the monorail near the Magic Kingdom, (Polynesian, Grand Floridian and Contemporary resorts) as well as the Animal Kingdom Lodge. If money were no object, I would stay at one of these four resorts on every trip to Disney World.

We were lucky enough to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge last year, which, surprisingly, is one of the cheaper Deluxe resorts, even though it is the newest. It’s highly rated and houses some of the best restaurants on WDW property, which we will be visiting next week.

In 2006, we stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort, a moderate resort. And this year, we are saving some green and staying at the highest-rated Value resort, Pop Century. So by the end of this trip, we will have stayed at one each of the three pricing tiers and will have a better sense of what you get with each price point.

If we are happy enough with Pop Century, I would consider staying at a Value resort over a Moderate resort just for the pure cost savings, because I don’t think there’s a huge difference. Ideally, I would go to Disney World twice a year — a longer trip while staying at a value resort, and a shorter trip while staying at a Deluxe resort.

Coming up later this week — Disney World FOOD!

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>Disney World tips and tricks

>So over a week ago, I promised 3 blog posts on Disney. And drumroll, please….here is your first post!

So maybe you’ve been to Disney World before, maybe not. Maybe you went as a kid in the 80s or 90s, but haven’t been back since. I was in that boat myself up until 2006. I had been as a kid on 3 separate occasions, but up until 2006, I hadn’t been to Disney World since 1997 as an 8th grader, and I had never stayed on property either.

Brian and I lived in South Florida for a year in 2005-06, and we decided to go in February 2006 to celebrate our birthdays – he was turning 27 and I was turning 23. Our birthdays are only 2 days apart, so we got birthday pins and ran around in the rain visiting all 4 parks, including our first ever visit to Animal Kingdom. We had a lot of fun, and were treated really nicely by the cast members for our birthdays, but still didn’t get that full dose of Disney magic because we stayed off property.

In June 2006, we returned to WDW with a friend of mine who came to visit us in Florida. We stayed on property for the first time at the Port Orleans French Quarter and we were really impressed with the resort. But we didn’t really eat at a lot of Disney restaurants, other than a few in the parks, and we still weren’t getting the full “Disney treatment.”

Then, we got engaged in January 2008. We were tossing different ideas back and forth for the honeymoon – California wine country and a Caribbean cruise were the two choices we were thinking of the most. But then in fall of 2008, I got an e-mail from Disney World touting a “Buy 4 Nights, Get 3 Nights Free” deal, and I brought up the idea of a week at Disney for our honeymoon. Brian really liked the idea, and we decided to book at Port Orleans Riverside with the regular dining plan (more on that later).

Over time we ended up switching to the Caribbean Beach Resort to get a king room (none were available at POR). But then we got a huge surprise from our Best Man – he was going to pay for an upgrade to a Deluxe resort as part of our wedding present! (Brian’s parents were already paying for the rest.)

We ended up booking at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and somewhere along the way we decided to upgrade to a Deluxe Dining Plan as well – the best choice we could have ever made!

We had an absolute blast on our honeymoon being immersed into the whole Disney experience – not just the theme parks, but the excellent dining and the excellent resort. I highly recommend staying on Disney property so that you can take advantage of the perks, like the Disney Dining Plan (which can only be used if you’re staying on Disney property) and free parking at the theme parks.

Something we researched while booking our honeymoon was crowd levels. To me, crowd levels and weather are absolutely key to enjoying your time at Disney. I could go fall, winter and spring, but you would have to pay me to go during the middle of summer, during spring break (mid-March-mid-April), the week of Christmas or the week immediately after. Those are the absolute peak times because kids are out of school.

Personally, the only times I would go to WDW are September-mid December, mid-January-beginning of March, and late April-end of May. The weather is great during these times, school is in session, and there are great special events – the Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot in the spring, the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot in the fall, plus the decorations for Halloween and Christmas are out of this world.

Something I really liked about staying on Disney property is the Key to the World card. When you check in at a Disney resort, you receive your card, which stores your park tickets, dining credits, and also acts as your room key. It’s great to have it all in one spot – just don’t lose it!

A lot has changed at Disney since the 1990s. My favorite innovation is the FastPass. The FastPass is something Disney thought of to give park visitors a more enjoyable experience with less time spent standing in lines. The way it works is this: There are machine kiosks at all the most popular rides. Insert your park ticket or Key to the World card into the machine, and you get a ticket printed and spit out back at you that gives you a 30-minute window of time to return. You can then go ride other rides, go eat, do whatever until your 30-minute window. Then when you return, you present your FastPass and are ushered into a “VIP” line that gets you to the ride very quickly.

My advice with the FastPass is – when you arrive at a park, go directly to your favorite ride of choice that tends to have long lines. Get your FastPass right away. Rides that tend to have very long lines are:

Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mtn Railroad, Splash Mtn. and Peter Pan’s Flight.

Epcot: Test Track and Soarin’. Sometimes Mission: Space as well.

Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Mania, Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids (especially in the late afternoon), and Dinosaur.

The absolute WORST wait is at Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios – if you plan on riding that, go get your FatPass right away. When we were there last year, FastPasses for that ride ran out around noon.

Don’t waste your time getting a FastPass for something with less than a 30-minute posted wait time. We found that lines were almost always shorter than the posted time.

My favorite parks are the older ones — Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Magic Kingdom is a no-brainer for me — I like to start and end our vacation there. It’s just plain magical! I love pretty much every ride there, especially Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain. It’s a Small World is always a classic, along with the Jungle Cruise and the Tiki Room. Mickey’s Philharmagic is my favorite new attraction, it is the cutest thing ever. We’re also excited to check out the Hall of Presidents, which was closed last year to make room for Obama. And I absolutely LOVE the nighttime fireworks show, Wishes. It makes you feel like anything is possible.

As for Epcot, it’s an adult paradise. All the rides and attractions at the front of the park have been updated, and my favorite by far is Soarin’. And I lovelovelove the World Showcase. I could spend all day just looking through the shops, riding Maelstrom at Norway and eating and imbibing my way through every country. And the IllumiNations fireworks is AMAZING — so unique and inspiring — and wonderful to watch after a dinner at Le Cellier or San Angel Inn (both are our dinners at Epcot this trip).

Not to rain on Hollywood Studios’ or Animal Kingdom’s parade — they just don’t hold the same amount of magic for me. My favorite attractions at Hollywood Studios are the Great Movie Ride, Toy Story Mania, Muppets 3D and the Tower of Terror. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Voyage of the Little Mermaid stage show on our last trip, and I plan on seeing the Beauty and the Beast stage show this time. We saw Fantasmic for the first time last year, but are opting to skip that this year in favor of dinner at Ohana at the Polynesian Resort with a view of Wishes at the Magic Kingdom.

We decided to use our 7th ticket for our upcoming trip for Animal Kingdom, for the day we arrive. We’re going to go for a few hours and devote our time to seeing the animals and walking the trails toward the back of the park. Then when we go later in the week, we’ll visit our favorite attractions — Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur!, and the safari. The It’s Tough to be a Bug show is cute, as well as the Finding Nemo stage show, but both are a little kiddie. Note that there is no nighttime show at Animal Kingdom and it usually closes around 6 p.m., so if you’re park hopping, be sure to visit in the morning and end our day at one of the other parks.

So, speaking of park hopping – to Park Hop or not to Park Hop? For me, this really depends on the length of your visit. If you only have 1-3 days at Disney – absolutely get a Park Hopper. If you’re staying for 4 days or more, save your money and savor a full day at each park. This is how we do it since we are getting 7 days of park tickets.

Lastly, there are a ton of great Disney Web sites out there to get you acquainted with Disney World, and they’re absolutely filled with tips and tricks on making the most of your time there.

Here is just a sampling:

allears.net (their newsletter is great)

disboards.com

Stitch Kingdom

The Disney Blog

There are seriously a million Disney sites, but those are just some of my favorites. I hope y’all found this informative! My next post will be on Disney resorts, followed by Disney dining.

Random

>House for sale! And more Disney talk

>Well, now I’m realizing it’s been a week since my last blog post!

The makeup bag I won last week is now resting snugly in my purse as a wonderful catch-all for all my cosmetics and odds and ends. It’s gorgeous.

I’ve been busy the past week at work, and also busy getting our house listed for sale.

Yep, that’s our house. I don’t want to post up a link to the listing for fear of Internet stalkery, but if you know of someone in the Birmingham, Ala., who might be interested in becoming a homeowner, taking advantage of the $8K first-time homebuyer credit by April 30, feel free to e-mail me: southernwebgirl@gmail.com.

So, happy April! For my new readers, April is our anniversary month. We got married on April 25 of last year at The Beach Club in Gulf Shores, Ala., honeymooned at Disney World, and are now returning for our first anniversary.

I recently gave Freck some great advice on getting around Disney World and some dining recommendations. So that got me to thinking about my dear old blog. To celebrate our first anniversary, I’m going to do a 3-part blog post on my best tips for visiting Disney World.

Post 1 will cover Disney parks. I’m going to talk about my favorite attractions, getting around the parks and some of the newer innovations that someone visiting for the first time or someone who hasn’t visited since they were a kid might not know about.

Post 2 will cover Disney resorts — the ones I’ve stayed in, the difference in the pricing tiers, fan favorites, etc.

Post 3 will cover my favorite topic — Disney dining! I’m going to dig through my camera and find some great pics of some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. No lie.

The truth is, I should have blogged about our Disney honeymoon in depth in oh, about last May, but I just never got around to it. So this will be a great way to get some of it out there while imparting my Disney wisdom upon the (mostly uninitiated) masses.