Category: Disney Planning

Christmas in Disney!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

My family and I had been dreaming of a trip to Walt Disney World during the holidays for years, and this year we finally got to make it happen.  From December 14th to December 19th, 2017 we had a magical, fun-filled, and believe it or not, relaxing vacation in The Most Magical Place on Earth.

We started our vacation by checking into The Boardwalk Resort, one of the Epcot area resorts.     To read more about this amazing resort, check out my review.

After settling in and resting for a bit after the long drive, we headed to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!

This was our first Very Merry Christmas Party, and Alyssa’s first hard-ticketed event.  Our family has attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party twice, and I felt as though the Christmas Party had a lot to live up to.  I’m going to be completely honest, I liked the Christmas party better!  We thoroughly enjoyed the festivities (I’m a sucker for Elsa’s lighting of the Castle), the short lines for attractions, the sweet treats and the parade!  I loved the parade!!

And so ended Day 1!  We really had a fabulous time, although my kids couldn’t make it through the whole party.  My husband took them back to the resort and let my sister and I stick around by ourselves.  Totally worth it.

Day 2 began with a lazy morning enjoying Boardwalk Resort.  Breakfast at the Boardwalk Bakery (delicious).

We also rented a Surrey Bike to explore the Boardwalk, Beach Club, and Yacht Club resorts.  Exhausting (because I am clearly out of shape), but also a really great time.

That afternoon, we visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite parts of this trip was seeing all the parks decorated for the holidays

First row for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster!

Back to the resort for the evening for ice cream and entertainment!  The street performers are seriously amazing.  We saw magicians, kid entertainment, guitarists and singers.  It was wonderful!

Guitarist – boardwalk

Day 3 – Animal Kingdom!  We arrived at Animal Kingdom soon after it opened and went straight to Africa to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris.  We had a FP+ for Kali River Rapids, but at 45 degrees, we decided to skip that one.  A kind lady at the Boardwalk Bus Stop let us have a Rider Swap for Dinosaur, so my sister and husband hit that while I took the kids to Dinoland to get their faces painted.  We also hit up Everest in Asia (and got a couple of Rider Swaps for later).

What are Rider Swaps, you ask?  I explain all that in this post.

We left Animal Kingdom to go to Animal Kingdom Lodge for a lunch reservation at Sanaa.  Christopher and I had eaten here before, but my sister and the kids hadn’t.

Melanie checking out Auntie’s pink lemonade.

Sanaa’s famous bread service.  Naan bread served with 9 distinct dipping sauces.  BUT, right before this trip we learned there was a *10th* separate sauce that was rumored to be extra spicy.  As Christopher and I love spicy food, we had to try it out.

The 10th sauce!  Definitely request it if you like extra spicy food.

Our server at Sanaa recommended the cutest dessert for the kids.  Paint your own brownie!  None of the adults liked the actual taste of the brownie, but the kids definitely had fun.

This day was also Kid Club night for the youngins’ and adult-night-out for us.  We dropped the kids off at Lilo’s Playhouse in the Polynesian Resort and headed out to Animal Kingdom.  Why did we go back, you ask?  Pandora at night.

Isn’t it gorgeous?  Also, we could only snag a FP+ for Flight of Passage in the evening hours, and thank goodness we did.  At the time of our FP+ reservation, the stand by line was ~4 hours long.  As it was, the FP+ queue took approximately 40 minutes before we were able to board.

Just as an aside, we saw some nastiness in the stand-by line.  A gentleman near the front had called security to complain about the long wait and was verbally berating cast members as we walked by.  Listen, I get it, waiting in a really long line sucks no matter what the reason, but if you fail to get a FP+ for the most popular attraction in all of Walt Disney World, please don’t blame the cast members.  They are just doing their jobs, please be kind.

After Flight of Passage, there is an example of poor planning on my part, I didn’t realize there was a special ticketed event at Hollywood Studios this same evening, and our plan had been to hop over to DHS to catch the Galactic Spectacular and Sunshine Seasons Greetings (the Christmas themed projection show), so we had to miss out on that.  As of this writing, I still have not seen the Star Wars fireworks/projections at Hollywood Studios!  Something goes wrong in the planning every time.

Day 4 began at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge for breakfast at the Whispering Canyon Cafe.

We had the BEST time here!  Check out a full review in this post, but safe to say this was definitely the highlight of this trip.

And since I am a WONDERFUL mother who LOVES spending time with her children, we dropped the kids off at yet another of Disney’s Kids Centers, this time at the Sandcastle Club for the evening.  The kids actually chose to spend the evening there because the plan for this night was Disney Springs to go see Star Wars:  The Last Jedi.  I had LOTS of thoughts about this movie, and if you are at all interested in hearing them, I rant about them on the Dis Explorers Podcast.  

Day 5 – Epcot day

One of the best parts of staying at the Boardwalk is the proximity to Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  For our Epcot day, we walked over to the France Pavilion for breakfast in a nearly empty park.  Seriously, basically everyone who entered through the International Gateway took a left into the UK pavilion to enter Future World, but we took a right into France.

So, following some delicious pastries and an amazing macaroon, we took off towards Future World for Soarin’, some character meet and greets and the new Mission Space.

Goodbye Lt. Dan, hello Zoe

Quick side story, a few trips ago, my son and Goofy got into a dance competition that basically devolved into booty shaking.  This has sense become a tradition (that, thankfully, all Friends of Goofy have kept alive), hence the booty shot of Goofy above.

Following a break, we headed out to the Grand Floridian for a dinner at 1900 Park Fare, a character meal featuring Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Druzilla.

All of these interactions were amazing!  My personal favorite was Anastasia.  Who does Anastasia think is prettier?

After dinner, we wandered around the Grand Floridian to take in the decorations.

For our final night in Disney, I stayed in the resort with the youngins while Christopher and Alyssa went back to Epcot.

Neil Patrick Harris sighting!

This view.  Seriously.

Day 6 – Departure Day

The saddest day of all.  Thankfully, one last character meal was to be had before we had to leave for home.  We had a breakfast reservation at Trattoria al Forno, a character breakfast featuring Ariel, Prince Eric, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider.

Flynn Rider was AMAZING.  He was such a fun meet and greet!  The best of the breakfast for sure.  And this food was GOOD.  Different breakfast fare, which is appreciated after a week of pastries, scrambled eggs and mickey waffles.

I can’t get over how much I enjoyed this trip.  By doing less,  enjoyed it more.  Less pressure, more fun!  I’m already ready to go back!


Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Review (A First-Timer’s Experience)

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (A First-Timers Experience)

I know there are probably a thousand different reviews for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring as this was not only my first Very Merry Christmas Party, but it was also my first ever Disney World party experience.  I haven’t been to any of the Disney parties (no dessert parties, no Halloween parties, nothing!  I must literally live under a rock!) so getting to experience Mickey’s Christmas party as my first ever party experience was phenomenal.


As most avid Disney-goers know, any of the Mickey parties have a standard format: starts around 7pm, goes until about midnight, limited tickets available, and those that did not have a party ticket are required to leave the park.  Since it is a ticketed event, only those that purchased a ticket can remain in the park, which reduces the crowds a good bit.  This is a huge benefit, as it keeps ride wait times down to nothing.


So here’s a general break-down of my first-timers experience of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!



When you have a 4 year old who does not like to have his picture taken…you take what you can get!


If you aren’t an annual passholder, or don’t buy park hopper passes, purchasing a ticket for one of these events can actually save you money. You do not need a park ticket if you’ve purchased an event ticket, and you can enter the park as early as 4pm, even if the party does not start until 7pm.  So, if you’re going to the park for 4 days, and one of those days is a Party day, you only actually need to purchase 3 days’ worth of tickets!  On our trip, we planned our Party day on our arrival day (since those are only partial days anyway) and entered the park around 5:00pm.  We received our wristbands upon entry and were able to wander around the park and get our spot of Elsa’s first Lighting of the Castle, which occurred at 6:15pm.  Don’t forget to grab a pamphlet for the party!  It has essential information like show times, vendors, character spots, and a handy-dandy map that we found crucial for navigating the party!


Elsa’s Lighting of the Castle Show


This was an awesome show, only lasts about 15 or so minutes, and was absolutely beautiful! Elsa lights the castle a few other times throughout the night, so if you can’t make the first show, you can catch it again later.  The schedule will vary year to year, so consult the current year’s schedule before making strict plans (they usually release info at least a few months in advance).


There are two other shows that occur at the party, one of which happens in front of the castle with Mickey and Friends, and another in Tomorrowland that has Stitch, Mike Wazowski and Sully, as well as a handful of other dancers. We didn’t stay to see the show with Mickey as it didn’t particularly interest us, and we had read the show in Tomorrowland was pretty cheesy so we didn’t prioritize it either.  We did catch a bit of the Tomorrowland show while we stood in line for Astro Orbiter, and I have to admit…yeah, it was pretty cheesy.  Unless you’re super into shows, these two are skippable.  There’s far too much else to do and far too little time to do it in, to waste time on shows, in my opinion.


Rides and Character Spots


Now, most seasoned party-goers will recommend you avoid rides while at a party, but I have to say the short lines were probably the highlight of my experience! If you’re big on characters, you’ll definitely want to skip rides and focus on that, as it can be the most time-consuming thing to do during the party.  There are a handful of characters that are exclusive to the party (such as Jack Skellington in his Sandy Claws outfit and all 7 of the Dwarves from Snow White) and their lines can be VERY long.  It is recommended to line up for those immediately upon entering the party, as some characters will be out as early as 5:30 or 6:00pm, so the earlier you can get in line the better.


While my brother-in-law and I rode Pirates of the Caribbean (which was literally walk-on, by the way. AWESOME!) and Haunted Mansion, my sister took her two kids to meet some princesses in the Fairytale Hall.



Again, when you have a 4 year old that hates having his picture taken, and a VERY determined princess, you get hilarious photo ops like this!


Once we rejoined the group, we decided to ride Jungle Cruise, which is renamed “Jingle Cruise” for the Christmas season, and enjoyed all their Christmas-themed corny jokes. As this is one of the few rides that gets a Christmas make-over, it’s definitely worth doing while you’re there.


Free Treats! (I’m sorry, did you say free food?!)


Yes, you read that right! Throughout the party, there are various places to get free treats.  Upon entering the party (we entered a side-way near the entrance of the park), we were immediately handed complimentary Santa-shaped sugar cookies.  They were individually wrapped, so I opted to hold onto mine for later consumption.  After the castle lighting, we headed to Tortuga Tavern to get our free snow cones and snowman shaped pretzels.



After that, we made a pit stop through Liberty Square to get complimentary ginger molasses cookies (which the kiddos promptly dropped on the ground – sigh – you know how it is) and egg nog. I didn’t partake, as I’m not a huge fan of egg nog myself, and got it mostly for my brother-in-law and the kids.


At this point of the evening (around 7:30pm I think) the kids started to get a little cranky so we decided to separate. We headed towards Cosmic Rays (which has an absolutely adorable dance party with Rudolph and the gang) to get some grub for the kids while my sister and her husband road Space Mountain.  I happily opted out of that experience, as Space Mountain gives me terrible vertigo (I’m turning into my mother, I swear!).  They were gone no less than 10-15 minutes, as again, the wait times are EXTREMELY short for almost all rides.  Cosmic Rays is another free treat spot, but we were pretty full so we skipped this location.  Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies was another free treat spot, but we didn’t stop there either.  This is the downside to eating a full meal at the parties, as you’re too full for the free stuff!


Afterwards, Christopher (my brother-in-law and father to the two munchkins) decided to take the kids back to the hotel because, let’s be honest, they were never going to make it to the parade. Your results may vary, but our little ones were already pooped by 8!  My sister and I were then given free rein to do whatever we’d like, unburdened by children, and decided we were going to close the park!


Holiday Wishes (fireworks show)


Holiday Wishes (fireworks) is the next thing-to-do at the party, which occurred sometime around 10:00pm (I think? I’m not sure; time gets away from you while at Disney!) and we decided to watch from the People Mover.  We also did Astro Obiter, which was a first for me believe it or not, and caught glimpses of the fireworks from each of those rides.  We also caught a glimpse of the character meet and greet spot in Tomorrowland, where you can meet Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Zootopia (they met where you normally meet Buzz during normal park hours).  I don’t care what people say, the People Mover is one of my favorite rides in Magic Kingdom.  It’s so relaxing!



Apologies for the poor quality. Using an outdated cellphone to try to take pictures while moving doesn’t always yield great photos.


Main Street Parade


As it was nearing 10:30pm, we decided to head towards Main Street to stake out a parade spot. As you walk down Main Street, you’ll notice “snow” falling while Christmas music plays.  The snow is actually soap, because – c’mon, it’s still Florida, but it creates such a wonderful ambiance.


“Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile – in the air there’s a feeling of Christmaaaaaas”


We found a spot towards the front of the park, across the street from the Confectionary, so we’d be closer to the exit once the parade was over. This is an excellent strategy, by the way, if you know you’re going to be leaving right afterwards, as it cuts out a large portion of the throng of other people that will be flooding the exit at the same time as you.


Mickey’s Christmas Parade goes twice each party night, once at 8:30pm and the last at 11:00pm. I have to admit, the characters in between each float ended up being the highlight of the parade.  One adorable elf on a wooden horse yelled in the squeakiest little voice “SANTA’S COMING!  SANTA’S COMING! *insert dramatic pause* EVENTUALLY!!” Another guy, dressed up like a baker, came by and said “Guess what we’re doing!  We’re bake-dancing!”  We literally guffawed; it was so corny and cute!  Without trying to spoil the experience for you, here are some highlights from the parade to give you a taste!



Overall, I feel like the Christmas Party was well worth the price tag. Free goodies, fireworks, shows, VERY short lines for rides, and the Christmas parade all make the party a once-in-a-lifetime experience!  If you’re at Disney during Christmas, this is definitely something to add to your list!

Whispering Canyon Cafe – The Best Disney Restaurant You’ve Never Heard Of

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to visit Disney World during the Christmas holiday.  This has been a bucket list item for us for quite some time – we had intentions to stay at the Wilderness Lodge since it’s known for its Christmas decorations.  However, rooms were unavailable at the time of our booking so we conceded to a reservation at Whispering Canyon Café so we’d still be able to visit and explore the resort.


Atmosphere: A

Service: B (this will obviously fluctuate based on server and how busy they are)

Food: B

Overall, we THOROUGHLY enjoyed Whispering Canyon Café.  Our reservation was for 10:15am, as we had stayed out late the night before so we wanted to have a lazy morning.  Even though it was later in the morning, there was no shortage of restaurant-goers.  We arrived early, around 9:45am and were not actually seated until almost 10:45am.  Although this was a minor setback (if we hadn’t purposefully made zero plans for the morning, being seated late would have seriously stressed us out), our server was attentive despite how incredibly busy they were.  Plus, this gave us time to explore the resort and take in all of the Christmas decorations.

Once seated, we were offered adult menus but, according to our server, there was a shortage of kids menus so we (being the tech savvy people we are!) used the My Disney Experience app to look up the kids menu.  All three adults ordered the All-You-Care-To-Eat breakfast skillet, and the two kiddos got waffles.  The skillet offers unlimited refills on whatever you like, and once the skillet actually arrives, you serve yourself family-style.  On the skillet itself, there were potatoes (which, according to my sister, needed ketchup – but we’ll get to that later), biscuits and gravy, sausage links, bacon, and scrambled eggs.  I enjoyed everything except for the potatoes and scrambled eggs – I’m not sure what it is about Disney’s eggs, but they always taste watery and undercooked to me.  Everything else was delicious however!

Now, to the shenanigans.

If you wish to remain un-spoiled, and experience the entertainment first-hand without expectations, stop reading now!  Full disclosure; it may spoil some of the magic because you know what they typically do.  However, if you’d rather be prepared, or are just plain curious as to the mischievous goings-on at this restaurant, please continue.  Ready?  Here we go!

Whispering Canyon Café is known for its hijinks while you dine.  During our meal, the hot ticket item was the ketchup.  We learned quickly that they do not distribute ketchup evenly between tables, instead they give anywhere between 8-12 bottles of the stuff to an individual table.  If another table requests ketchup, the server will yell “KETCHUP!  WHO’S GOT THE KETCHUP?!” across the whole restaurant.  Then, someone from your party must take all of those ketchup bottles to the next table, and so on and so forth.  We are a pretty shy group, so even though the potatoes could have used some ketchup, we opted not to ask for fear of embarrassment.  We chose to laugh at others’ embarrassment instead ☺

Now, don’t think you can get away with taking another tables ketchup bottle without asking your server first.  While we were there, a lady about 2 tables down tried to swindle her way into acquiring ketchup and once her server discovered it on the table, he promptly yelled for the Sheriff, who then put her in “jail.”

So, you must either ask properly or go without, lest you find yourself behind bars at your own dining table!  (As a reminder, this is all in good fun and everybody had a good laugh – the Sheriff eventually “released” her on good behavior).

Now, what happens if there’s NO ketchup to be found?  Well, they have a solution for that as well!  When you have no ketchup, you must BECOME the ketchup.

While we were there, they also orchestrated horse races for all the kids (and some adults!) and were given wooden “horses” to run circles around the restaurant.  We also sang “If You’re Happy and You Know it” and the whole restaurant participated.

Overall, Whispering Canyon Café is a wacky and wild good time.  The food is excellent and the entertainment is even better!  Keep an open mind, keep your elbows off the table, and don’t be afraid to ask for ketchup.  Do these things and you’ll find yourself laughing through your entire meal!

Staying at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort: Christmas 2017

Prior to this vacation, I would have told you that Animal Kingdom Lodge was my favorite resort on Disney property.  Now, the Boardwalk has moved into that top spot.  I’ll talk about exactly why as we go through, but to sum it up, Boardwalk has an amazing location, great food options, it’s GORGEOUS and the entertainment can’t be beat.  Let’s take a look around.
On arrival, we were amazed at just how pretty this resort is.  It has an “old school” cool vibe, designed to resemble Coney Island.  
Inside the lobby

These steps lead down to the Boardwalk, where you find shops, dining and entertainment.

Seriously, guys, this view is amazing.  We requested a courtyard view, but I didn’t expect this.


I can’t get over it!

It’s even more beautiful at night, if that’s possible.

Now, the rooms.  I didn’t think to take a picture of the entire room, however it should be noted that we rented Disney Vacation Club points, so our experience may vary from that of making a reservation directly from Disney.  Our room opened with a small foyer, with a bathroom to the left along with a vanity, sink and closet.  On the right was a mini kitchenette, with a toaster, microwave and sink.

The Boardwalk is one of the few resorts that will sleep 5 and boasts a queen bed, pull out sofa bed and fold-out Murphy twin bed (where my daughter is posing above).  We were traveling as a group of 5, so this met with our needs nicely.

The beds and bedding were typical for Disney World resorts and quite comfy.

Do you want to know one the best perks to staying at Boardwalk?  The proximity to the parks.  A short, ten minute walk to Epcot and about 15 minute walk to Hollywood Studios.  No Disney transportation required!  Pictured above you see the path to the International Gateway, with its own entrance to Epcot (security, bag check and all).  You enter between the UK and France pavilions, which we found very convenient.  We even went to France for breakfast one morning and enjoyed a nearly empty park.

You can also see the fireworks from Hollywood Studios and Epcot from the resort.  I saw several people stopped to watch Illuminations from the bridge before the International Gateway.

Directly across from Boardwalk, you see the Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts.  During our stay, we enjoyed a Surrey Bike ride (7/8 of a mile and you FEEL it on the hills) around Crescent Lake to get a closer look at these resorts.  We also utilized the Sandcastle Club, a kids club located at the Beach Club, one night to enjoy a child-free evening in Disney Springs.

You can also see the Swan and Dolphin resorts located nearby.

On the Boardwalk, you’ll find several shops including The Screen Door (a general store), Thimbles and Threads, Disney Character Carnival and Wayland Galleries.  You’ll find some Boardwalk-specific merchandise, but also a lot of items you can find in pretty much in Disney store.  There are sweet treats, however!  I made sure to buy a Mickey caramel apple to enjoy at home before I left.

Dining was the one thing I was most worried about before the trip began.  Boardwalk does not have a traditional quick service food court.  Instead, you have the Boardwalk Bakery, which offers pastries and traditional eggs, sausage, etc in the morning and deli style sandwiches for lunch and dinner.  For quick options, there is also the Pizza Window and several food kiosks.  I still maintain this is the only downside to the Boardwalk.

Boardwalk also offers several Table Service restaurants, including Flying Fish, Trattoria al Forno and the ESPN Club.  The only one of these we tried was the character breakfast at Trattoria al Forno, which features Rapunzel, Flynn, Ariel and Prince Eric.

One of the newest establishments includes the Abracadabar, a magician themed bar.  I only took a peek inside, but it looked like a really fun atmosphere!

A discussion of Boardwalk would not be complete without talking about the ice cream!  Ample Hills Creamery is a must-do.  My kids loved it!

   I also have to mention the nighttime entertainment!  I wish I had taken more pictures, because we had the most fun.  On two occasions, we stopped to watch a magic show out on the Boardwalk, we also passed by a juggler and a guitarist on two other evenings.  You could honestly not leave the resort and feel as though you had an amazing vacation!

We loved the Boardwalk and I can’t wait to stay there again!

When Perfect Plans Don’t Turn Out The Way You Want

Yep, another Fastness+ post.  Sunday October 15th was officially 60 days until my December trip and it was, you guessed it, time to make my Fastpass+ reservations.  I woke up early (6:45) and got breakfast going so I could get my brain in some sort of working order before logging into My Disney Experience at exactly 6:58 and continuously refreshing until my dates showed up.

Priority #1 was Flight of Passage.  I was already at a bit of a disadvantage as our Animal Kingdom day was towards the beginning of our trip (this is exactly what I have warned against in previous posts), but it couldn’t be avoided as when we were planning this trip (months and months ago), I didn’t anticipate the absolute insanity it would be trying to get one of those Fastpasses.  In times past, the hot ticket attraction Fastpasses were still possible.   I might not have gotten the exact times that I wanted, but the actual fastpasses have always been available to me.  Flight of Passage, though, has been a different beast.  I wasn’t able to get one for our June trip, granted that was less than two weeks after Pandora had officially opened, or for our September trip.  Well, initially, in the craziness that was replanning following Hurricane Irma, I did manage to snag one, but no one was more shocked than me.

Anywho, at exactly 7:00, there were….no Flight of Passage times left for our Animal Kingdom day.  I frantically searched and found one two days later (a Magic Kingdom day, but I was willing to rework things if needed) and I spent the next 20 minutes or so getting all the other fast passes that we had wanted without difficulty.  While re-working the Animal Kingdom day (I had decided to keep the original designated day), I thought I may as well get a Nav’i River Journey since the kids liked it so much.  Lo and behold, a Flight of Passage time appeared!  Not for the morning like we had wanted, but for later that evening.  I grabbed that thing faster than you can say Bob’s your uncle!

Still, 60 days out and our plans are not set in stone.  Our Magic Kingdom (non-party day) we aren’t sure if we’ll want to get up and out of bed bright and early, since we plan on being out late the night before, so I have breakfast and lunch reservations at the same restaurant (Whispering Canyon Cafe, really just an excuse to see the pretty Christmas decorations at Wilderness Lodge).  We plan on an adult-only night and dropping the kids off at a Kid Center and we still aren’t sure where we’ll spend that evening.  And I’m still on the search for a last-minute Ohana dinner reservation that my husband decided he wanted well after the 180 day mark.

So, now it’s time to…wait.  This 60 day stretch is the hardest part of planning a Disney vacation.  I’m thinking…shirts.  And Mickey ears.  I definitely need some custom Christmas Mickey ears.

Girls Make the World Go ‘Round – March 2017 Trip Report

In March 2017, I had the opportunity to go to Disney World with my mom, my sister and my daughter.  The four of us were so excited to get to spend an extended weekend together in our favorite place.

  It was also my daughter’s first trip in an airplane!  She handled it like a champ.

We flew to Orlando on a Thursday evening, and checked into Animal Kingdom Lodge.  This was my third time staying in this resort, Melanie’s second, and my mom and sister’s first time.  Sadly, we arrived really late at night as the flight arrived around 11pm.  By the time we got our rental car and made it to the resort, we were all EXHAUSTED.  On Friday, we headed to Hollywood Studios.    My mom, the lady who raised me to be the nerd I proudly am. Meeting Chewie, always a highlight.  He LOVED my shirt.
 While I love this background, taking your picture first thing in the morning when the sun is in your eyes is not the best idea. LOVE trading with the Jawas!  Want to learn how?  Check out this post.   My sister needed to upgrade her regular ticket to an annual pass, and Melanie needed to rest her tired little feet.

 Epcot next!  My second Flower and Garden festival, but the first time in its “Food & Wine 2.0” incarnation.      Special shirt I made to commemorate the best part – eating!    My new favorite pastime?  Taking pictures of Melanie digging into some Disney food.

 Apparently, my sister and I were the only ones who didn’t realize there was a drop on Frozen Ever After (I hate to admit it, but I had never ridden Maelstrom, so this was all new to me!)

‘Til next time, Epcot! (Because if you don’t take a picture of Spaceship Earth, did you really even go to Epcot?

 Quick stop in Animal Kingdom  Then onto Magic Kingdom for lunch at Be Our Guest.  Our first time dining in the library.  I think it’s my new favorite room! Croque Monsieur.  My go-to meal here.

Ever been stuck on 7 Dwarves Mine Train?  It’s no fun.

I can’t listen to Sleepy snore in my ear for approximately 20 minutes before I start to LOSE MY MIND.  I still don’t know if it’s better or worse than mom and Alyssa having to listen to Sneezy for the same amount of time.   Sneak selfie!

I mentioned that we stayed in Animal Kingdom Lodge.  In case you weren’t aware, Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually two resorts, Jambo House and Kidani Village, which is the DVC resort.  During this trip, we stayed in Kidani Village, because lately we’ve made a habit of renting DVC points for our vacations.

   Pretty much every morning, we ate breakfast at Sanaa, which had just recently opened as a quick service restaurant in the mornings.  There were several grab and go options (listed below) as well as cooked to order meals.

I, for one, was very happy about this new option.  In times past, when we’d stayed at Kidani Village, which was seriously lacking in the quick meal department.

      Animal Kingdom Lodge is easily my favorite Disney resort.  The theming is beyond compare, and the food options are remarkable.  When we plan to visit, I often have to remind myself to branch out to other resorts simply because this one is so beautiful.

I am so grateful I had this opportunity to spend time with my family!  March is also my mom’s birthday month, so we made sure to get her a birthday button (in addition to our celebration button – my favorite souvenir!).


It’s Almost That time, and I refuse to panic

In 4 short days, it’ll be time to wake up bright and early and choose Fastpass+ reservations for my family for our Christmas trip this upcoming December.  No matter how many times I’ve done this, there’s always slight panic.  I go through the same process every time:

  • talk with all adults and children to determine what the MUST DOs are so everyone gets a say in the plan
  • look over our broad weekly plan, daily plan and any dining reservations to determine the optimal time for each attraction
  • write down the priority attractions, best times for the aforementioned schedule, and alternates for the hard to get Fastpasses (looking at you Flight of Passage)
  • pray

Do you ever wonder if planning a trip to Disney World is this complicated or if you just make it this way?  Secretly, I think I enjoy all of it.  It helps to “calm the itch” so to speak between trips.  I get to collaborate with my just-as-Disney-crazy-as-I-am sister as we go over every possibility and all of our options.  When you get to go through and plan what the day will be like, it’s almost like you’re getting to live it before it even gets there.

Maybe you aren’t like me, and the planning is stressful, I’m here to tell you just breathe.  It’s never going to be a perfect plan.  As much as I enjoy planning everything down to the smallest detail, do you know how often those plans change?  All.  The.  Time.  More often than not, my perfect plans get thrown out the window due to illness (yes, my kids have gotten sick on vacation), fatigue (we have skipped mornings and evenings in the parks simple because we were too tired), ride closures, evacuations (waiting 3 hours for Flight of Passage just to get walked out of the building at the LAST possible moment), and a host of other things.  I’m on my phone searching for new fast passes and checking wait times more often than not and it’s all OK.  I never come back to my resort thinking it was all a waste, I come back thinking “What a day!  I can’t wait to do that all over again!”.

Behind the Scenes Tours at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

My husband and I are planning an adult-only visit to Walt Disney World sometime in 2018.  While there is nothing I love more than planning any Disney World trip, I really love incorporating special requests from my family.  Because I tend to be so type-A, research-mama, crazy planning chick, my husband often leaves the bulk (read 99%) of the planning and scheduling to me.  For this trip, however, he made a special request.  Since Animal Kingdom has started staying open into the late hours of the night, it has quickly become one of our favorite parks.  My husband requested that I look into the special tours and opportunities available because he really wanted to know what was going on in that lookout you can just see jutting out from the Kilamanjaro Safaris path.

So, being who I am, I dove right into the world wide web to find out all I could about the special tours offered in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Caring for Giants

During this 60-minute experience, you’ll meet with dedicated animal specialists who provide for the care and wellness of our African elephant herd. They’ll give you a glimpse into their day-to-day responsibilities as they provide fascinating facts about the elephants.

African cultural representatives will also be on hand to share stories of Disney’s conservation efforts dedicated to the preservation of wild populations throughout their homeland.

Throughout this experience, you’ll be able to observe the elephants from approximately 80 to 100 feet away—so you’ll enjoy a closer encounter with the elephants than you would during other in-park experiences.

Note: A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Disney Conservation Fund.

Cost:  $30 per guest

Recommended Ages:  Any

Savor the Savana:  Evening Safari Experience

Immerse your senses during a privately guided journey and explore the sights and sounds—and tastes—of Africa. Welcome to Savor The Savanna: Evening Safari Experience, an all-new premium tour where you can discover the wonders of the continent’s most amazing creatures… and so much more!

Special Access to the Savanna Your safari begins with a journey deep into the heart of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. As the evening awakens, you’ll soon find yourself within one of the most secluded and breathtaking private viewing areas the Savanna has to offer.

Listen along as your guide tells tales of the unique residents who inhabit the reserve, and don’t hesitate to ask questions as he or she shares insightful information about the wildlife and the special care they’re provided at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

Premium Eats, Drinks and More
While savoring the Savanna scenery, you’re invited to indulge in a sampling of African-inspired tapas too, paired with a selection of regional beer and wine offerings.

You’ll even be given a commemorative keepsake you can take home—yet another memory that will live on long after your excursion has ended!

Cost:  $169 per guest

Recommended Ages:  8 and up (guests under 8 are not allowed to participate in this experience)

Ultimate Nights of Adventure VIP Tour


On this 4-hour group guided tour, discover a landscape shimmering with lights and brimming with life at night. Embark on an expedition through the icy peaks of the Himalayas. Ride in an open-air vehicle on the lush African savanna. Journey deep into a bioluminescent rainforest on a river boat. And see a brilliant fusion of water, sound and light at a show that’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before!

Enjoy all this with expedited access via FastPass+ on this brand new, first-of-its-kind tour where you’ll:

Experience Attractions and a Show

  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (44” height requirement)
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Avatar Flight of Passage (44” height requirement)
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Dinosaur (40” height requirement)
  • The nighttime spectacular Rivers of Light

Delight in a Tasty Drink and Souvenirs
Enjoy signature snacks and a specialty beverage (non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverage—for Guests 21 and older) along with a souvenir lanyard and other surprises.

Cost:  $249 per guest

Recommended Ages:  Any, but guest must meet 44″ height requirement for attractions


Wild Africa Trek

Be awestruck viewing wild animals in their natural habitat on the 3-hour Wild Africa Trek. On this privately priced tour, discover animals of nearly every variety living in the Safi River Valley—an uninhibited environment that resembles their home turf in Africa.

Walk along a grassland path, cross a rope bridge and ride in a rugged safari vehicle over an open savanna—with a chance to view African creatures including towering giraffes, powerful rhinos, hippos and crocodiles.

Along your journey, your knowledgeable guide will share insights about the majestic animals you’re viewing as well as the general operation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and details about the park’s dedication to animal conservation.

And as if your safari weren’t memorable enough, you’ll receive a complimentary souvenir as well!

Enjoy your encounters with the animals of the Harambe Reserve while a trained photographer captures all the action and excitement throughout your adventure—a service that’s included with your tour.

At the end of your expedition, you’ll receive a photo code that you can use to access and download images taken during your Wild Africa Trek experience.

Work up an appetite during your trek and then enjoy some first-class, African-inspired snacks.

Sample Menu


  • Air-dried beef and prosciutto
  • Smoked salmon roulade with dill
  • Fig cake with Boursin cheese
  • Brie cheese and apricot
  • Berry yogurt and dried cranberries
  • Fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger


  • Chicken curry salad
  • Sun-dried tomato hummus and mini pita
  • Marinated tandoori shrimp
  • Smoked salmon roulade with dill
  • Air-dried beef and prosciutto
  • Fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger

Cost:  $189-$249 per guest

Recommended Ages:  8 (or at least 48″ tall) and up


Honestly, I still can’t decide which is best for us!  Which would you choose?

Childcare Options in Walt Disney World

Ready for a confession?  Even on a family vacation, sometimes I need a break from my children.  There are times when my husband and I want to spend some child-free time together in the parks or go to a restaurant that’s less than kid-friendly.  When these times come up, I am grateful that Disney offers childcare centers and baby-sitters.
 When I mention using Disney childcare, I’m often met with disbelief from family and friends that I’m allowing a stranger to watch my children.  However, all childcare cast members for the in-room baby-sitting are rigorously vetted and have an impressive list of qualifications, including:

  • are at least 18 years of age
  • are certified in child/infant CPR and basic first aid
  • are trained by Kid’s Nite Out & must complete Walt Disney World “Traditions”
  • have previous childcare or teaching experience
  • are thoroughly interviewed, screened, references are checked, and criminal background checks are performed
  • Many of our professional caregivers possess advanced training, a state teaching certificate or a CDA certificate.

In Room Baby-Sitting

Offered by Kid’s Nite Out, in room baby sitting services are available from 8am to 9pm daily.  While not employed by Disney World exactly, this service is the recommended service of Walt Disney World.  Rates are as follows:

  • 1 Child – $18 per hour
  • 2 Children – $21 per hour
  • 3 Children – $24 per hour
  • 4 Children – $26 per hour

All rates are hourly based and there is a four (4) hour minimum charge. Caregiver transportation fee is $10.00.  Interested in booking an in room sitter?  They may be reached at 1-800-696-8105.

Children’s Activity Centers

Disney World also offers four activity centers in various resorts.  They are:

Simba’s Clubhouse in Animal Kingdom Lodge

Sandcastle Club in Beach Club Resort

Lilo’s Playhouse in the Polynesian

Camp Dolphin in the Dolphin Resort

My children have personally visited Simba’s Cubhouse and Lilo’s Playhouse.  They will tell you that they prefer Lilo’s Playhouse, I’m assuming because it is a bit larger with a few more activities.  During their stays, activities have included dress-up, coloring, baking classes, science experiments and character visits!  My daughter still talks about the dance party with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee!

My children beg to attend these Children’s Centers!  They are packed full of fun and activities and the classic Disney customer service and kindness.  I never once worried about their well-being or if they were bored.

A few things to keep in mind about the Children’s Centers

  • Children must be 3 to 12 years old and fully potty-trained. No pull-ups allowed.
  • Rates vary by location. For Simba’s Cubhouse, an hourly rate of $15 is charged per child, with a 2-hour minimum. For Lilo’s Playhouse and Sandcastle Club, a flat rate of $55 is charged per child for the duration of the evening.
  • Dinner is included in the cost of the service and parents can order kid-friendly fare for their children at check-in. Mealtimes are approximate, with dinner served at 6:00 PM and snacks at 10:00 PM. Given prior notice, the Children’s Activity Centers can accommodate children with special dietary needs. No outside food, please.
  • Open from 4:30pm to 12:00am daily.
  • Advance reservations are recommended for all locations. Reservations can be made up to 180 days prior to your arrival at the Resort. Same day walk-ins are welcome based on availability.
  • Call (407) WDW-DINE for reservations.

Though not advertised, we received a 10% annual passholder discount when we requested it.

Camp Dolphin is run a bit differently:

  • Children must be 4 to 12 years old and fully potty trained.  No pull ups are allowed.
  • An hourly rate of $15 per child with a 2 hour minimum.
  • Open from 5:00pm to 12:00am daily.
  • Advance reservations are required for Camp Dolphin. Reservations can be made up to 180 days prior to your arrival at the Resort.
  • Call (407) 934-4241 for reservations.




Strategy Guide for Pandora – The World of Avatar

On May 27th, Walt Disney World opened its newest, and highly anticipated, land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Pandora – The World of Avatar is an immersive land, located beyond Tiffin’s and the Nomad Lounge and is based on James Cameron’s Avatar movie series.  Walking into Pandora is truly like being transported to that other planet.

First, I’ll talk about the ins and outs of Pandora with tips and tricks on how to experience the best the land has to offer with the shortest wait times.

    Despite the awe that this land may inspire in you, you may be surprised at its relatively small size.

Current map of Animal Kingdom
Map of Pandora

Inside Pandora, you will find 2 new attractions, Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, in addition to Wind Traders and Colors of Mo’ara, souvenir shops, Pongu Pongu, a kiosk for unique drinks and snacks, and Sati’li Canteen, a quick service restaurant.

Flight of Passage is a screen-based attraction similar to Soarin’ in Epcot.  Though I often describe it as Soarin’ x 10.  For this attraction, you mount a Banshee and are connected to an Avatar to experience flight as a Na’vi would on Pandora.  You’ll experience thrilling drops and turns, while feeling the Banshee “breathe” under your legs.

 The queue for Flight of Passage is nothing short of amazing.  In the outside queue, you get a unique view and perspective of the Floating Mountains.  Inside, you transition from ancient Na’vi cave paintings to industrialized and scientific research experiments.

 The real centerpiece of this queue is the avatar animatronic.  Watching the avatar float with real, lifelike movements is breathtaking and nearly worth the price of admission itself.

The height requirement for this attraction is 44″.  It is also easily the cornerstone of the land itself, so you can expect long lines.  Fastpass+ highly recommended.

Na’vi River Journey is a dark, boat ride attraction suitable for all ages.  While not as exciting as Flight of Passage, it is enjoyable for the whole family.

   It is also beautiful!  The bioluminescence is on full display.   The Shaman of Songs ends your journey, and is the most impressive animatronic I have ever seen.  The movements are so fluid and lifelike, it may cause you to take a second (or third, or fourth) look.  Be warned, her song is an ear worm, and will be stuck in your head for days!

Onto the food!

Menu from Satu’li Canteen
Cheeseburger pods with veggie chips, slaw and boba balls
Build Your Own bowl
Chocolate Cake
Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse

I really enjoy this restaurant.  I’ve eaten as much off of the menu as I could and there really has not been an item that I didn’t enjoy.  My only complaint would be the veggie chips.  They’ve been inconsistent during the times we’ve eaten here, sometimes crispy and fresh, and other times a little limp and soggy.

Outdoor seating at Satu’li Canteen
Indoor seating at Satu’li Canteen

However, there are so many other reasons to give this restaurant a try.  The theming is, of course, ridiculously good.  It has plenty of indoor and covered outdoor seating.  Satu’li Canteen is also the founding restaurant for mobile ordering, which is more convenient than I could ever say.  For a family with small children, being able to order from your seat, having one member of your party collect the food while the other stays with the kids is a lifesaver.

Night Blossom from Pongu Pongu

Pongu Pongu offers quick drinks and snacks.  The Night Blossom is the non-alcoholic offering here, and we were not impressed.  Overly sweet, the large straw (necessary for the Passion Fruit boba balls) was awkward, and overall it was just not our favorite thing.  This is located right outside the Satu’li Canteen and has access to the large, covered seating.

So if you’ve made it this far, you know it’s time for some strategy.  Crowds in Pandora have not trended toward the ebb and flow of other areas in the Disney World parks, as it is still fairly new it is quite busy from park open to park close.  My suggested plan is this:  You are only allowed to Fastpass+ one Pandora attraction, and the clear winner for this is Flight of Passage.  However, this can be very difficult to obtain, even bright and early at the 60 day mark.  As you are planning your trip itinerary, I suggest putting your Animal Kingdom day toward the end of your trip to better your chances of getting that Fastpass.  If you are able to get that Fastpass, and are lucky enough to have times to choose from, I would further suggest making your fastpass+ reservation for after dark.  This guarantees you entrance into Pandora if it hits capacity, and entrance into Flight of Passage without 3+ hour waits.  Late in the evening, I found that Flight of Passage was closed to all guests excluding Fastpass, and stand by only open to resort guests utilizing extra magic hours.

If Na’vi River Journey is the only Fastpass+ you can get, go ahead and get it (for the evening hours so you don’t miss out on all the beautiful bioluminescence) and arrive at Animal Kingdom as early as you can stand to hit Flight of Passage first thing in the morning.  You aren’t guaranteed a “no-wait” experience with this strategy, but our experience was around 45 minutes.

Happy touring!