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September 2011 Archives

September 1, 2011

A bit of Disney California Adventure

Alpha Gollihugh is a regular poster on the AllEars Facebook page. One of the ways she shares the magic is with her photo collages. Here are a few for you to enjoy!

If your little one hates TOT or Splash Mountain, bring then over to DCA and Flicks Fun Fair (BugsLand) and find rides just the right size for them. But as Walt said, you can ride too!

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For everyone planning to come to DLR next summer, Carsland is moving along. The Cadillac range is being painted in wonderful sunset hues and the ride is somewhat in order. The shops and restaurants are starting to reveal themselves.....waiting....​waiting. The little pic at the top is a car antenna topper. The bottom a Cars character meet and greet.

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1-2-3- scream..............Califo​rnia version

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Here is one of my favorite shops in California Adventures, It is called "Off the Page" and contains all sorts of Disney collectibles, and books and movies. The inserts are a modern and an older print of Mickey and the new DCA Mouse Ears set.

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I hadn't been on the "Monsters Inc" ride for a while and it was a less than 15 minute wait:

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That's all for today. Hope you enjoyed a bit of West Coast Disney!

September 6, 2011

Yachtsman Steakhouse: One of Disney's Best

Andrew Rossi

I am always excited to try a new restaurant that I have never dined at before, especially when I constantly hear people singing its praises. However, all this hype can be a double edged sword because it puts you into a mindset where your expectations are so high that no restaurant could possibly meet them. This was the situation I faced prior to dining at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.

Yachtsman Sign

Talking with friends and family, as well as reading other reviews, people always rave about the Yachtsman Steakhouse as one of their favorite restaurants in all of Disney World. Even Disney itself sets Yachtsman apart by classifying it as a Signature dining location, one of few such restaurants across Disney property that are noted for their high quality selections of food and wine in addition to their refined atmospheres. For this reason, I went into my meal at the Yachtsman Steakhouse expecting something truly special and it is safe to say that I was not disappointed at all.

Overview:
Disney defines its Signature restaurants as dining experiences that “provide unparalleled cuisine served in elegant and relaxed settings.” These are restaurants that Disney considers to be the best of the best and they seek to offer guests a meal unlike any other. For this reason, Disney’s Signature restaurants feature a dress code to accompany their more refined settings. For men, Disney recommends khakis, slacks, jeans, or dress shorts along with collared shirts. Women are asked to wear capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, or dress shorts. Among the articles of clothing not permitted in the dining room are tank tops, swimwear, hats, cut-offs, or torn clothing.

Personally, I have no problem with these restaurants having a dress code and applaud Disney for attempting to create a more upscale atmosphere by putting these criteria in place. However, I was greatly disappointed to see that this dress code was not very strictly enforced. Seeing so many people casually dressed really did take away from the ambiance of the meal.

Located at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, the Yachtsman Steakhouse certainly lives up to its Signature status. The Yacht Club brings the grandeur and grace of nautical New England to the middle of Florida and, next to the Grand Floridian, might be the most upscale resort on Disney property. The Yachtsman Steakhouse matches this overall feel of the resort and, combined with its Signature status, makes for the perfect dining location if you are looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.

This is a restaurant that can make you forget about all the crowds and possibly make you forget that you are in Disney World altogether. If you are looking for a romantic night out this is certainly the restaurant for you. While there were some families with young children present during the course of the meal, the predominant demographic were couples or families with teenagers and older children. Whether on a date, celebrating an anniversary, or just looking for a quiet meal with a spouse, friends, or family, the Yachtsman Steakhouse is sure to deliver a truly special dining experience.

Atmosphere:
The Disney World website describes the Yachtsman Steakhouse as having a New England theme and with the restaurant’s location at the Yacht Club resort one would expect this to be the case. However, I think Disney is a little mistaken with this description. I am originally from New England and I found very little in the Yachtsman Steakhouse that reminded me of home. Unlike the rest of the resort, there are few nautical touches to be found in the décor besides a sailboat on the restaurant’s sign. I felt the restaurant focused more on the steakhouse angle rather than a seafaring theme. Instead of having the feel of nautical New England, I would describe the restaurant’s atmosphere as having more of an upscale rustic feel.

From its wooden floorboards and wood-paneled walls to the wooden beams supporting the ceiling, the Yachtsman’s dining room suggests more of being on the prairie or the frontier rather than at a pier or wharf along the seashore.

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Even the artwork adorning the walls reinforces this theme, with paintings of cattle, cowboys, and rodeos.

Cattle Painting

Nowhere in the restaurant will you find model sailboats, oars, anchors, brass compasses, or any other details you would normally associate with a nautical theme. That being said, the overall décor of the restaurant is fairly simple and plain. This is a restaurant that truly lets its food do the talking because there is really nothing about the atmosphere of the dining room that makes it special.

I found the restaurant to be fairly dimly lit and, although it features some large windows that let in natural light, after sundown it is somewhat dark inside. This helps create a more mature, intimate, and romantic setting that is great for adults and probably not the best choice if dining with small children.

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Although the dining room is large, it is divided into a series of smaller rooms and the tables are spread out rather than right on top of one another. This adds to the restaurant’s intimacy and creates a quiet, relaxing environment in which to enjoy your meal.

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While there is nothing spectacular about the Yachtsman’s décor or atmosphere, there are a couple of things that stood out. First, as soon as you enter the restaurant you are greeted by a large butchering room where all the steaks served in the restaurant are hand-cut. It is very interesting to see the different types of steak that are served and there is also a very useful diagram that lets you see from which parts of the cow certain cuts of beef come from.

Butchering Room

Cuts of Steak

Beef Diagram

Another nice feature is an open kitchen where you can see the chefs hard at work preparing steaks on the grill. The aroma that comes from the kitchen is amazing and gets you very hungry before even being seated at your table. Restaurants that feature open kitchens can sometimes get a little noisy with all the hustle and bustle, but I did not find that to be the case here; there was no loud crashing of pots and pans, no shouting among the chefs, but instead just the sizzle of cooking steaks.

Open Kitchen

The Menu:
One of the hallmarks of a Signature restaurant is that the menu changes very frequently in accordance with the seasons and what ingredients are most fresh at the time. Being a steakhouse, steaks are always going to be a constant on the Yachtsman’s menu, but how the steaks are prepared and what accompanies them can change regularly. The following is what the menu was like when I dined here at the beginning of August.

The appetizer selections offer a little taste of New England not found in the restaurant’s atmosphere, with seafood predominant among the various choices. There is an Ahi Tuna Crudo ($16.00) with celery mignonette, salt cod aioli, and American osetra caviar, Escargot ($15.00) with pork sausage, garlic, and herbs, Lobster Bisque ($11.00), and the Pan-Seared Diver Scallops ($14.00) accompanied by a roasted pepper hummus, olive chermoula, and summer radish.

If you are looking for something other than seafood there is the Charcuterie Board ($15.00) featuring smoked duck sausage, venison terrine, black and blue beef tartare, and artisanal cheeses. On the lighter side there is the Caesar Salad ($9.00), Heirloom Tomato Salad ($13.00) topped with a lemon-basil emulsion, olive tapenade, and goat brie cheese, the Summer Beat Salad ($11.00) served with assorted baby greens, prosciutto, avocados, and a sherry-mustard vinaigrette, as well as the Assortment of Artisanal Cheeses ($14.00) accompanied by a toasted sourdough baguette.

When it comes to entrees, steak is the star of the menu. I am not really picky when it comes to particular cuts of beef, so I based my selection on what accompanied the steak; the sauces and sides are just as important to the entree as the actual steaks themselves. The steaks on the menu come in different cuts and different sizes (which is another factor to consider when ordering). It should also be noted that if you have your heart set on a particular type of steak and do not like its accompaniment substitutions can be made (including baked potatoes which are not found on the menu).

In order from smallest to largest there is the 8oz Center-Cut Filet Mignon ($40.00) accompanied by mashed potatoes and a cabernet wine sauce, the 12oz Prime New York Strip Steak ($42.00) served with carmody potato gratin and a peppercorn brandy sauce, the 16oz Boneless Ribeye ($43.00) which comes with sweet potato beignets and red wine butter, and the 24oz Center-Cut Porterhouse ($44.00) accompanied by smoked paprika fries and roasted garlic butter. The menu also featured a Beef Wellington Deconstructed ($47.00) served with a trio of wild mushroom duxelles, puff pastry, parsnips, potatoes, carrots, and cabernet wine sauce.

If you are not in the mood for steak, there are still plenty of other options on the menu. There is a Braised Beef Ravioli ($32.00) with crispy wild mushrooms and summer radishes, Copper River Stockeye Salmon ($38.00) with white asparagus puree, English peas, fava beans, olive oil, and herbs, a Young French Hen ($30.00) accompanied by wild rice hash, rhubarb preserve, and a poultry jus, and the Parmigiano Reggiano-Riccotta Gnudi ($29.00) which is a type of gnocchi made with ricotta cheese and comes served with heirloom tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, sage, peaches, and a garlic emulsion.

The menu also features a variety of intriguing side dishes. Among these are the Truffle Mac & Cheese ($9.00), Pot-Roasted Root Vegetables ($9.00) that includes turnips, carrots, and onions, Caramelized Onions ($6.00), Sautéed Mushroom Caps ($7.00) with garlic, cream, and a cabernet wine sauce, Sautéed Green Beans ($9.00) with a butter and garlic crumb topping, and Creamed Spinach ($8.00).

If you still have room for dessert there is an assortment to choose from including the Creme Brulee($8.00) topped with fresh berries and rolled chocolate, a Sorbet Trio ($7.00) that includes pineapple-chili, blueberry-cassis, and strawberry-basil sorbets, the Yachtsman Sundae ($8.00) featuring a trio of gelato topped with amarena cherries, and the Chocolate-Peanut ($11.00) which features a flourless chocolate cake topped with peanut butter mousse and served with vanilla gelato.

For an appetizer I chose the Lobster Bisque. I have had lobster bisque at multiple dining locations across Disney World, and while the one at Yachtsman Steakhouse was very good it was not my favorite. I could tell from its dark orange color that this would be a more strongly flavored bisque. I prefer my lobster bisques to be on the more cream-flavored side and the one at Yachtsman had a very distinct lobster taste. I am not saying that the bisque was bad, just not the type that I enjoy most. My favorite lobster bisque in Disney World continues to be that found at the Coral Reef Restaurant in Epcot.

Lobster Bisque Bowl

That being said, the bisque at Yachtsman was extremely smooth and creamy in texture and had large chunks of lobster. Accompanying the bisque was a delicious pepper biscuit that was especially good when dipped in the soup. Something that I also thought was a nice touch was that when two members of my party said they would be sharing a bowl of the lobster bisque, instead of bringing out one bowl and two spoons they actually divided the bisque into two smaller cups.

Lobster Bisque Cup

It took me some time to decide upon which steak I wanted to order because many of the sides sounded unique and tasty. I finally chose the 12oz Prime New York Strip and I was certainly not disappointed. I would not hesitate to say that this was the best steak I have had at any restaurant in Disney World or elsewhere. Everything about this dish was top notch. The steak itself was extremely tender and seemed as though it could almost melt in your mouth. In addition, there was hardly any fat to be found and it came cooked perfectly just as I had ordered it, medium-well with just a little bit of pink inside.

New York Strip

The steak came topped with a peppercorn brandy sauce that really added a nice kick. This sauce is certainly not for the faint of heart and the peppercorns give it a strong and distinct flavor. If you are not a big fan of pepper, you may want to opt for a different sauce. That being said, I did not find that the sauce overpowered the steak, but rather enhanced and complimented its flavor. The steak was also accompanied by a generous portion of carmody potato gratin, which was made up of thinly sliced potatoes layered with cheese. This was a very rich and filling side and a nice change of pace from your average mashed or baked potato. The only disappointing aspect of the meal was that it did not come with a vegetable (however there are vegetable side dishes available for an additional charge).

Dessert was the big disappointment of the night. After such a delicious entrée I really was not very hungry, but the Chocolate-Peanut sounded so tempting. This dessert was a classic case of something sounding better than it actually is, described as a flourless chocolate cake topped with peanut butter mousse and accompanied by vanilla gelato.

Chocolate Peanut Dessert

When the dessert was placed in front of me I thought, “This is it?” It was so tiny that I had trouble believing that they would actually serve it to people. That being said, the chocolate cake was very rich, the peanut butter mousse smooth and creamy, and the vanilla gelato provided a nice refreshing contrast. The dessert itself was good, but just not at all what I was expecting. After being blown away by my steak entrée, the dessert just did not live up to my expectations and certainly was not worth the $11 price. The next time I dine here I will probably just skip dessert altogether.

Service:
A Signature restaurant is marked not only by its fine atmosphere or exquisite foods and wines, but also by some of the most attentive service you will receive at any Disney restaurant. I was very impressed by my server because he really took his time to describe the various items on the menu. He went almost item by item on the menu and offered a little description along with his own opinions on which were his favorites and which were the most popular. Throughout the course of the meal he would constantly check-in to make sure everything was to my liking. Even though he was serving other tables, his attentiveness made it seem as though he was my own private server.

Another nice touch during the meal came when one of the members of my party had to send back her steak because it was not cooked well enough for her. Rather than the waiter returning the steak to the table it was actually one of the chefs who brought it to her. He apologized and then stood by the table while she cut into the steak to make sure it was completely to her liking. To me this was something that truly separated the Yachtsman Steakhouse from any other restaurant I have been to in Disney World. The service here was impeccable. You can tell that the entire wait staff truly cares about creating a memorable dining experience for their guests.

Dining on a Budget:
This is something that is a little difficult to do at the Yachtsman Steakhouse. Unfortunately, while a Signature restaurant offers the best of the best in terms of atmosphere, location, food, and service, you are also paying for that high quality. The price of an appetizer here would be the equivalent of an entrée at some other Disney restaurants. If you are looking to splurge a little on a meal during your vacation this would be the restaurant to do it at because you certainly get what you pay for.

That being said, if you choose to eat at Yachtsman Steakhouse there are a couple of ways to keep the bill low. First, don’t order any alcohol. Beer and wine can often run up a bill, so you may want to consider a glass of water or soda. Second, share an appetizer rather than getting one just for yourself. Not only does this save money, but it also prevents you from filling up before your entrée arrives. Finally, skip dessert and coffee. The entrees are certainly big and filling enough that you do not really need to have a dessert and this will also help in keeping the cost of your meal down.

If visiting or staying at the Yacht Club Resort and looking for a slightly cheaper option for dinner, you may want to consider the Captain’s Grille, which offers a menu featuring several steak and seafood options for a cheaper price in a slightly more casual, but still quiet, setting. On the menu here you can find a Grilled New York Strip served with cheddar-bacon mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and red wine sauce for $28.99 or a Grilled Rib-Eye with horseradish mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and herb butter for $27.99. While still slightly expensive, these dishes are far cheaper than those found on the Yachtsman’s menu. In addition, the Captain’s Grille offers some dishes that cannot be found at the Yachtsman Steakhouse, such as the Lump Crab Cakes with fennel, arugula, and fingerling potatoes and a mustard sauce for $23.99. While I am not saying that the Captain’s Grille is on the same level as the Yachtsman Steakhouse, it does offer a viable alternative if you are looking to save some money but still looking for an intimate and relaxing meal.

The Yachtsman Steakhouse is on the Disney Dining Plan, but its Signature status means that it will cost two dining credits rather than one. Also, the restaurant does offer the 20% Tables in Wonderland discount. No Annual Passholder or Disney Vacation Club discounts are offered, however.

The Overall Experience:
After dining at the Yachtsman Steakhouse for the first time I can say, without hesitation, that it is now one of my favorite restaurants in all of Disney World. I have always said that Le Cellier in Epcot’s Canada pavilion is my number one restaurant, but Yachtsman Steakhouse is certainly challenging it for that spot. That, however, is a debate for another day. I went here with extremely high expectations based on all the hype I had heard and the Yachtsman Steakhouse delivered by exceeding my expectations in every way.

While it is not the type of restaurant that is going to blow you away with a brilliantly themed atmosphere and detailed décor, it relies on its fresh, high quality food as well as its passionate and dedicated service to create a dining experience that is unforgettable. Not only was it one of the most refined meals that I have had at any restaurant in Disney World, it is also one of the best tasting. While it may be expensive, if you want a dining experience on your vacation that is truly special the Yachtsman Steakhouse is certainly worth a try. You definitely will not be disappointed. Personally, I cannot wait for the opportunity to dine here again.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of the Yachtsman Steakhouse and post your own too!

September 8, 2011

A Sneak Preview of Aulani, Part 1

by Jennifer B.
AllEars® Guest Blogger

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The Cast:
• Jennifer – 31 Years old
• Ellen – 29 Years Old
• Beth – 30 Years Old
• Angela – 31 Years Old

Introduction: This is a girl’s weekend/reunion trip. We met and were roommates on the Disney College Program back in 2001. We have remained close over the past 10 years, so this is a perfect way to celebrate our friendship and have a reunion. We are leaving our kids and husbands behind and just having a girl’s weekend. We all live in different parts of the country, so it is so nice that we are all able to get together.

Planning: Really all I needed to do for this trip was book my plane ticket. I found some great flights on United, but due to the arriving flights of the other girls, I went ahead and paid a little more so that we could all land around the same time. I chose to connect in LA rather than take the nonstop flight, just because I am not a huge fan of flying, so I wanted to break up the day. With tax, my plane ticket came out to around $718.00.

We booked the rental car that we would all share through the Disney Travel Company. I believe the rate we got was $180 through Alamo for a midsize car for the four days.

I am also lucky in that one of my sorority sisters who is from Hawaii is now working at Aulani, so we will get to see her a few times while we are there.

Day One – Wednesday
The Plan: Fly to Hawaii and Check into the Resort

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My flight to LA was fast and not bumpy at all. The best part was that I had all three seats to myself! We landed in LA on time, and then I got off the plane to look for the gate that I needed to connect to.

I walked for about 20 minutes to another terminal and I finally made it to gate 63. When I got there, there was no reader board saying where that flight was headed. So I checked the monitors again. Still no gate listed. By this point I am not only mad, but slightly worried that I am in the wrong spot.

A few minutes later, four flight attendants walk by and ask another passenger where we are headed. A woman answers “Hawaii”, so it was only then that I was finally able to confirm that I was at the right gate.

Once I got on the plane, and went to my seat I found a gentleman in the middle and a woman in the window seat. Both were very friendly. and were on their way to Hawaii for work. We talked through most of the flight there.

When I got to the baggage claim, Beth was already there waiting for me. She had been in Maui since Sunday, and flew in just before I did. I got my bag, and then we sat and waited since the baggage claim for Ellen and Angela’s flight was right next to mine.

Finally Ellen and Angela arrived, we got the bags, and then caught the Alamo shuttle. While we were waiting, Beth gave us some yellow flowers for our hair. They looked like the ones we put in our hair at Epcot on one of the first nights we met.

The shuttle took us about 10 minutes away to the rental place. We had reserved a midsize car, but when we asked where to get one, one of the workers offered us an SUV upgrade free of charge. So that was nice! We picked a Dodge Charger and it had third row seating. We loaded up the bags and were on our way!

To start the trip out right, we of course turned on Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride from Lilo and Stitch. The resort was about 30 minutes away, but it was a quick and easy ride. We saw the resort before we got to Ko Olina and I snapped a picture. We got to the entrance and checked in with security there. We told them we were checking into Aulani and they said "Welcome Home" and told us how to get there. It was nice that they told us that, seeing as they were obviously not Disney cast members.

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We drove about 1/4 mile and the hotel was on the right. There was a cast member at the entrance and we told him the last name. We curved around to the top of the porte cochere, and we were greeted by several bellmen and valets. One bellman loaded up our luggage on a cart, while another cast member named Jeremy gave us all leis. Apparently when you check into the resort, the women will all get leis (real ones), the men get the beaded necklaces, and children will get a necklace with a menehune on it.

As we walked in, the bellman followed us, while Jeremy told us about the resort and took our pictures. This was the start of cast members offering to take our pictures for us. It honestly felt like everywhere we went, cast members offered to take our pictures for us. We absolutely loved that! It’s always nice to be able to get everyone in the pictures.

In the lobby, everything was open, and it is in the shape of a cross. The wind was blowing through and it felt wonderful!


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There was a large rainbow collage behind the front desk. Each picture posted was one taken by a local Hawaiian and they were told to focus in on one color and capture the spirit of Hawaii in it. It was beautiful. There was also a kid’s check-in area next to the front desk with stools and a TV set.


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After a few more minutes with Jeremy, we left with the bellman to go up to our room. Ellen had done the online check-in, so she just had to grab our packet and then we went upstairs. We saw Djuan Rivers who is the Vice President and General Manager of the hotel. I had seen him in a few interviews about Aulani in the past, so that was great to get to meet him in person.

We took the elevator up to our room, which was a studio on the 7th floor. We did not face the ocean, but the mountains on the other side of the resort, as well as the conference area. It was a beautiful view. I think it was considered a standard view, but we all thought it was still great.

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We took a few pictures of the room, and then I called Arynn (my cast member friend), who had just gotten off work. We met her in the lobby and then she took us around the resort and we just went exploring.

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We went downstairs and stopped by The Oleo Room, which is a bar. They had beautiful wood carvings all around and the Hawaiian word for it underneath. For the Tiger, it was a wooden carving of Tigger. It was great to see the small, subtle, Disney details.


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We stopped by the pool, the beach, the restaurants, and then Aunty’s Beach House, which is the kid’s area. The kid’s area is wonderful! Everyone must wash their hands when entering, and then we went into a large room that had racks and racks of Disney princess dress-up clothes in various sizes. They also had some boys dress-up clothes for Buzz and Woody. Aunty was also in there at the time, and she was sitting on a couch. It looked like she was reading a story.


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In the next room they had a ton of toys, a kitchen area, and two large interactive tables. We were saying that they were like giant iPads. There were a few kids in there, and a ton of counselors. I think the ratio of counselors to kids will be very good in there. Next we went into a room that was a movie theater and The Princess and the Frog was on. There was also another room full of computers and a Wii for the older kids. There were areas to color as well. They had two large windows with TV screens in them. They looked real, as if you were looking outside a cliff. It was a great effect. Aunty’s Beach House is free of charge to guests, as long as the child is 3 or older, and also needs to be potty-trained.

We also stopped by the Rainbow Reef, which is where you can snorkel. It’s a pretty big lagoon, and I read somewhere that Disney put more than 2,500 fish in there. We looked through the glass windows and could see quite a few. They also have chairs you can sit in while you look, as well as a guide of what kinds of fish are inside.

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After that we were ready to hit the pool, so we said goodbye to Arynn (cast members cannot swim at the hotel) and we went back up to the room to change. I had brought my waterproof camera with me, so I took that to the pool with us. We stopped to get towels first -- we needed to show them our room keys for each person to get them. The towels were huge and thick, which was nice.

There were water stations set up throughout the resort, free of charge. The water was delicious, and ice cold! The water at the front of the resort had orange slices, while the stations out by the pool were just plain ice water. Arynn was telling us that they triple filter it, which is why it tastes so good.


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We spent a lot of time on the lazy river, and then Angela and Beth went on both water slides. One was on an innertube, and the other one was in the dark. After that we went down to the beach and sat in the lagoon for a while. The beaches there are all public, so there were other people there that were not staying at the resort. The beach was also shared with the JW Marriott, which was right next door. Disney did have a cast member standing at the gate checking wristbands to get let back into the pool area to the resort.

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We stopped by the gift shop to peruse the items. They had a lot of Aulani merchandise, but some things that we didn’t see that we wished they had were horizontal frames (they only sold one vertical one) and scrapbooks. They had the usual fare of t-shirts, clothes, and several Dooney & Bourke purses. There was a small food section and toiletries. The prices were in line with the Disney World prices. They also had a PhotoPass section in the store. We also stopped at the Lava Shack, which is the gift shop in the pool area. We noticed that they sold the Nestle Tollhouse ice cream sandwiches, which we love!

We went back up to the room and relaxed and showered before dinner. Dinner for us was at 8 p.m. that night, which was midnight to me, 1 a.m. to Angela, and 2 a.m. to Ellen. We were all super tired, but excited to have our first meal there.

Dinner that night was at ‘Ama ‘Ama. When we got there, they were running a little behind, so we went to the bar to have a drink since it was right next door.

The bar is called Off the Hook. Beth and Angela ordered drinks, and Ellen and I skipped out. About 20 minutes later, we were seated in the restaurant. Our server was Johnson and he gave us some cold oshibori towels (chilled wet towels with a hint of citrus) when we were seated.

Once seated, we were offered the gift of bread. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I remember there was green tea in it. We were given unsalted butter and then two different types of sea salt. One was black and the other was pink. A little bit went a long way.

For our appetizers we got the Crispy Curried Chicken Fire Cracker with Mango Salsa, and the Heirloom Tomato, Buratta Cheese, with a White Corn Vinaigrette. The chicken was just all right for us, but we all loved the tomato salad! It was delicious!

For our entrees, Angela and I both got Grilled Angus Filet of Beef. It came with potatoes and swiss chard. Ellen got Grilled Lobster with Vanilla Sauce and a Korean Pancake, and Beth got the Sustainable Catch of the Day.


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For dessert we shared a Hawaiian Chocolate Cake with Kau Coffee Cream and Caramel Chard and a Lilikoi Mousse Meringue with Caramelized Bananas. The chocolate cake was delicious, but none of us cared for the Lilikoi Mousse. It was just very tart. One bite was all you needed. And when they said bananas on the menu, they should have said banana. It was one slice.


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After dinner we were all stuffed and exhausted. We went back up to the room and read for a little bit and chatted while we were all trying to settle in for the night. Turndown had been done, which I was surprised at since we were staying in a DVC room and they typically only do housekeeping every four nights. They left us a towel that had been folded into a flower and there was an Aulani bookmark and single orchid placed in it. It was very pretty. I think we went to bed sometime after 11 p.m. Ellen had been up for more than 24 hours, and Angela and I had just made it there. It had been a long day, but it was a wonderful start!


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September 9, 2011

A Sneak Preview of Aulani, Part 2

by Jennifer B.
AllEars Guest Blogger

Day Two – Thursday
The Plan: Pool/Beach Time and Exploring

The next morning we all got up around 4:30am. That was still sleeping in to us! Angela brewed us some coffee and we enjoyed it on the balcony while watching the sunrise.

We knew it was going to be a pool day, so we got dressed in our swimsuits and cover-ups and then went down to breakfast. On the way there I ran into one of my old managers, Lisa, who I worked with on my second Disney college program at Hollywood Studios. We chatted for a few minutes. She was there on task force, which means she is there to train cast members and then goes back to Orlando after a few months. I would love to be able to live in Hawaii for a few months free of charge and just get to train.

This morning’s breakfast was in Makahiki Restaurant, which is a buffet. When we were seated, our server brought over coconut bread, which was a little dry, but it still tasted good.


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They had the traditional fare of eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc. But the cool part was, there was also Asian food there. You could get Miso Soup, Dim Sum, steamed rice, congee, fried rice, and a few other items. It was great to be able to try so many different things. I loved eating fried rice for breakfast. That was wonderful!


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Our server brought us some French Pressed Kona coffee, and then also a pot of a Makahiki blend. I didn’t care for the Kona coffee, but the Makahiki blend was wonderful and I am not even a coffee drinker. Some of the other food offered was fresh fruits (I ate a ton of papaya), fresh whipped cream, Mickey waffles, bagels, toast, sausage, salmon, pastries, and muffins.

The restrooms outside the restaurant reminded me of the ones outside Sanaa at Kidani Village, in that I love the décor and the sinks. The ones here are bamboo troughs. They were so pretty.


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After breakfast we went straight to the pool. We got our towels and set them up so that we were facing the ocean. We got into the lazy river and the ocean and just relaxed for a few hours.


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We went back to the lazy river and then we all decided to ride the two water slides. I hate water slides, but I decided to be brave and try them out. The one that you used an innertube on, Beth and I rode together on a tube for two people. I screamed the whole way down and then of course Beth and I flipped when we landed. Then we all did the dark one. Never again. It was so scary for me! I screamed bloody murder the whole time and then after I landed Beth told me, “Angela said, 'What is that noise?' and I said I think it's Jen screaming.” That slide magnified and echoed sounds.

We took some underwater pictures after that and had a great time. We all loved the camera. It was great. We did poses of peace signs, mashaka, and Angela even did a yoga pose in the water. It was just fun acting like kids again.


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We were on our own for lunch that day, so we decided to go to Roy’s for lunch. They closed at 2 p.m., so we rushed upstairs to shower and get ready. The valet told us to go down the road and make a U-turn to get there. We ended up missing the turn and going into the condos that are in Ko Olina. We eventually found it and went in. We were seated just before 2 p.m., so we just made the cutoff.

Ellen, Angela, and I all ordered teriyaki cheeseburgers and fries, and Beth got a fish wrap. The food was delicious. After we finished eating, we snapped a few pictures outside and then drove over to Target. We bought a few souvenirs and snacks and then headed back towards the hotel. There is a small shopping area across the street from the resort, so we stopped by the Island Store there to get a few more souvenirs.


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After we got back to the resort went back to the gift shop to look around, then went back up to the room and I started to Skype on my iPad with my husband and daughters while Beth went out on the balcony to read. She came back in a little while later and said they were putting fake surfboards down on the grass and Goofy, Chip, and Dale were out there. We all went out and they were playing music. It was all set up on the grassy area outside the ballrooms. We asked if we could come down and the character greeter was saying to come and join them, and Goofy was motioning for us to go down.

So we all rushed down to see them. Beth opted to go to the gift shop while Ellen, Angela, and I went out there. I was still online with Jose and the girls, so they got to see it all happening on the iPad, which was so cool for them. We played musical surfboards with the characters, danced, and did the surfboard wave with them. It was so much fun to be a kid again, and we were the only ones out there besides a PhotoPass photographer and the character greeter. How cool was this? It was like we got our own personal meet and greet!


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We posed for a few pictures afterwards and then left to go back to the room. We decided to walk around a bit and go exploring, so we walked down to the beach and walked to the JW Marriott. The hotel there was beautiful, and the spa looked nice. Beth continued to look at the backside of the resort while Ellen, Angela, and I all went to the front of the hotel to take pictures of the sign and the fountain.

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After we got inside we took a few more pictures in the lobby and then stopped by the gift shop to see our PhotoPass pictures that we had taken so far. That took us quite a while and then we headed back up to the room. Beth came back about 30 minutes later and told us she had stayed by the JW to watch the sunset.


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We then went down to One Paddle, Two Paddle, which is the quick service restaurant. The service there was incredibly slow. I think we waited almost 20 minutes for our food, which for a quick service is a pretty darn long time. Ellen, Angela, and I all got the lettuce chicken wraps and Beth got a pulled pork sandwich. The pork came with kimchee, so I asked if I could have some also for my wraps. They were happy to accommodate me.


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We grabbed a table out by the pool and it was so relaxing with the ocean breeze and the nice warm weather. We ate dinner and then went back up to the room. We all got ready for bed and then sat around and got online. I think we got to bed a little before 10 p.m.

Day Three – Friday
The Plan: Aunty’s Character Breakfast and Pearl Harbor

We woke up early that morning and all got ready for Aunty’s Breakfast, which we had a 7 a.m. reservation for. It had been surprisingly easy to get up early here since we are all on earlier time zones.

We went down to Makahiki and checked in with the hostesses and waited. Aunty arrived shortly and was mingling with all the guests in the lobby. There was a family of the day, and she spoke with them and offered them the gift of bread and told them a few stories. Mickey arrived a short while later and we all took our picture with him outside just before the tables started.

We were shown to our table and the breakfast offerings were the same as what we had had the day before. So we were very familiar with the drill and went back in to get the delicious food. It was nice to be there again because we were able to try more things that we didn’t have room for the day before. The servers just asked us to remain seated until the drink orders had been placed so that the drinks would be waiting for us after we got back from the buffet.


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During the course of breakfast, Minnie came around as well as Goofy. Goofy was motioning that he was surfing, so he was “telling” us that he remembered surfing with us the night before. That was nice that we were remembered Aunty then throughout breakfast sang us songs on the ukulele, and we got up and did different parades with her with fish on our hands, and coconuts as musical instruments. It was a lot of fun, and the kids there seemed to really love it. There was a lot of audience participation.

As soon as breakfast was over we left for Pearl Harbor. The GPS took us to a random area that we were pretty sure was not near Pearl Harbor, so we stopped at a Long’s Drug Store to ask for directions. Unfortunately neither of the workers there knew how to get there, so we tried again using the store’s address as a starting point. We eventually found our way there and checked in to get tickets around 9:45 a.m. The next open time slot was at 11 a.m., so that gave us just over an hour to look at all the exhibits. There were several Navy soldiers there that day, all dressed in their sailor uniforms.

We started with the gift shop and bought some souvenirs there. Then we looked at all the displays. It was very sad and humbling to see all of that and think about how it must have been that day. We walked over to the opposite side and there was a second gift shop and a food court area. Just before 11 a.m., it started to rain and we got in line to watch the movie.

The movie was just over 20 minutes and it showed real footage of the bombing and what happened that day. We then left and got on the boat. The ride was just a few minutes long and we got off and walked into the Memorial. There were a lot of people there, and many people were putting their leis on the placard displays and also releasing some of the orchids into the water. You could still see the oil coming up on the surface of the water and there were a ton of fish swimming around.

After about 20 minutes, we got on the next boat back and then stopped by the gift shop one last time so that Angela could get a pair of earrings. We headed back to the hotel after that and changed. A friend of Ellen’s that was there agreed to come and take our pictures. We took several on the beach and by the pool and then in the lobby.

We then changed back into our swimsuits and went to ‘Ama ‘Ama for lunch. I had a chicken salad sandwich with pesto, Ellen had a chicken Caesar salad, Beth had a crab and lobster roll, and Angela had some pulled pork tacos. All the food was delicious and came with sweet potato fries.


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We once again got right into the pool. After a while, Angela and I decided to head down to the beach. I recorded some of the lagoon and we watched the runners for a little bit. There were a few young men in Speedos and swim caps who were running the length of the entire lagoon, then they would get into the water and swim across and then do that again. I would say the lagoon was a good mile and a half long. I couldn’t believe it, but that is definitely a great workout! I took a picture of them as they ran past us, and I think it boosted their egos a little bit.

We went back up to the pool area, then Beth went to the Lava Shack to see about getting an ice cream sandwich. There was only one left, so we ended up splitting it four ways. They sold more in the main gift shop, so we decided to get more later on.

We went back up to the room to shower and change and then we went down to dinner at Makahiki. The dinner buffet was delicious! The seating was once again outside. Some of the offerings were fresh seafood, sushi, several varieties of tempura, lumpia, spareribs, and then 6 different kinds of desserts. I had to try a little of each. There were macaroons, chocolate lava cake, bread pudding, and pineapple cobbler. All of the food was amazing!


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After we were stuffed to the brim, we went back up to the room and relaxed before bed. It had been such an amazing day of food and getting to see Pearl Harbor.


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September 10, 2011

A Sneak Preview of Aulani, Part 3

by Jennifer B.
AllEars® Guest Blogger

Day Four – Saturday
The Plan: Beach Day

We slept in this morning, and then just got straight into our swimsuits and cover-ups and headed down to breakfast.

We went to the front desk afterwards so that I could see Arynn again since she was working that morning. We chatted with her for a few minutes and then went out to the snorkel lagoon. We got our snorkel gear and got into the freezing cold water. It was a pretty large lagoon with a lifeguard in the water and another one on the side. The cast member there told us about not stopping in the middle and that we could stay as long as we wanted. It was very similar to the shark reef at Typhoon Lagoon.

We all went into the water and swam around. There were so many fish and they were so beautiful! The fish weren’t afraid of us at all and swam very close, but not close enough that you would be nervous to have them there. There was also a menehune in the water.


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After a few minutes Ellen and Beth got out, and Angela and I stayed in. After we had our fill we went down to the beach and they let us take the snorkel equipment with us.

We tried to find some fish in the ocean, and while we did see one or two, it wasn’t as clear as the lagoon was. And of course the amount of fish that was there was much better in the Disney lagoon. So we decided we were done with snorkeling in the ocean. Ellen decided to get a paddle board then, and we all took turns on it after signing the waiver. It was such hard work! I couldn’t even balance enough to stand, so I just paddled on my knees. It definitely gave me a whole new respect for surfers and what strength and balance it takes to do that.

We left the beach area and went back into the lazy river. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool just relaxing and we also ordered lunch from the servers.


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Again, the service was incredibly slow, but the food was delicious. The pool meals are dubbed complete meals, so we got a burger with avocado on it, taro chips, potato salad, and chocolate cake. We also ordered Passion Coladas which were non-alcoholic drinks. Everything was delicious.


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Every now and then the characters would come out, and Goofy even got into the pool water (just his feet) with the kids. The kids were having a blast with the cast members and the characters. At 3 p.m. that day, they were offering lei-making in Community Hall. That was so much fun! They had out bowls of different colored orchids and they gave us large needles and string, and we just made it however we wanted. They also had bowls of different beads so that we could make bracelets. I ended up making two, one for each of my daughters.

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We took the leis back up to our room, and then went back out to the pool and hot tubs. We did some recordings on the camera about how much fun we had and what we enjoyed most. Then again it was more time on the lazy river. I think we could have spent the entire vacation on those innertubes and been very content!

We wanted to get a few more things from the Island Store at the shopping center, so we walked back. Each time we went to the Island Store, we combined all of our receipts to get it to equal $100. If you did, you got a free gift. So from this trip, Beth, Angela, and I were all able to get a Hawaii reusable grocery bag. On the way back to the room, I stopped by the gift shop to look at their pin book. I had brought a few with me from home to trade, so I was able to get four new ones that I liked out of their book.

We went back up to the room to shower and change and then we went to dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama. We had our original server from the first dinner there, Johnston. He was wonderful again, and offered us purse hangers for our purses. I think this is a wonderful idea for restaurants to carry these!


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For dinner, we got the tomato salad again to share and then Beth and Ellen split a shrimp appetizer. For our entrees, I ordered the goat cheese ravioli, Ellen and Angela got the filet of beef, and Beth got a lobster tail.


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The food was great, and then we went to the gift shop one last time to get the souvenirs we had been eyeing all weekend. I ended up getting Duffy bears for each of my daughters, and an Aulani frame and some pins. We went back up to the room to start the dreaded task of unpacking.

We were all up late that night packing and talking. It was hard to believe that the trip was almost over!

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Day Five – Sunday
The Plan: Swap Meet, Waikiki Beach, and Fly Home

We woke up early because we wanted to get in some more beach and pool time before we had to check out at 11 a.m. After breakfast we went to the Menehune Bridge in the pool area so that I could take some pictures of it. You are supposed to be less than 48 inches to be there. There was a small water slide, and bridges, and waters cannons. It was definitely a child’s dream! I saw adults on it without kids on more than one occasion, so I am sure that it is fun for people of all ages.


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Angela and I snorkeled some more, then Angela went down to the beach. I wanted to get in the ocean once last time since I am in a land-locked state. Angela stayed on the shore and made dribble castles in the sand.

We only stayed for about 20 minutes and then went back to the lazy river. We did a few laps, and then the girls left and I did one last lap by myself. I went back up to the room and showered then got the rest of the packing done. Beth, Ellen, and I ran down to the lounge they have for guests who have a late flight home.

Since checkout is at 11 a.m. you can store your bags with bell services, and then they have a lounge that you can use all day if needed. They have lockers, showers, computers, TVs, and couches. So you could spend the whole rest of your day at the beach or the pool and still be able to shower and freshen up before the red eye flight home. They even have the fast spinning dryer for your bathing suit so that you don’t have to take a wet suit home with you.


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We did a last sweep of the room and then called the valet to pull the car around. We stopped by the concierge desk to see what they recommended for lunch that was near the airport. She mentioned pizza, and we all thought that sounded good since we hadn’t had any since we’d gotten there. We went out to the front drive and the valets loaded our bags in the trunk and then wished us safe travels home.

We drove to Big Kahuna’s Pizza, which was a tiny hole in the wall restaurant. The place was tiny, but it smelled so good! We all ordered individual pizzas and since it was our first visit there, the woman working there gave us a complimentary order of their garlic cheese bread balls. All of the food was so delicious! And the price was between $6 - $8 per individual pizza. I got a veggie pizza, Angela got cheese, Ellen got BBQ chicken, and Beth got a BLT pizza. Beth and I ended up trading one slice each so that we could try out each other’s.

After lunch, we drove Angela and Beth to the airport for their flights. Ellen and I were on the same flight that night, but it didn’t leave until 9:44 p.m. We said our goodbyes, and then Ellen and I went to a Swap Meet that they have on the weekends at the Aloha Stadium. It was a dollar to get in, and then we parked on the backside of one of the tents.

All I can say is, WOW! We wished we would have known about this place sooner. Ellen and I joked that next time we are getting off the plane and going straight there. It was the perfect place to buy souvenirs. I ended up buying two Hawaiian shirts for my husband, two dresses for my daughters, two dresses for me, and one for my sister. I really wish we would have known about this sooner because we spent twice the amount on dresses earlier in the week at the Island store, and we could have gotten them here for half the price. Oh well, lesson learned.

We stopped to get some cold drinks and then left since the meet shut down at 2 p.m. We didn’t really have a plan, so we decided to go to Waikiki Beach and go exploring. We couldn’t really find a good place there, so we parked at the Army Museum and then walked around Luxury Row. It had stores like Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc.

After a couple hours of exploring we stopped at a few more shops to get drinks and I bought a couple more trinkets for my daughters. We knew we wanted Bubba Gump’s for dinner, so we drove toward the mall where the restaurant was located. Once we got into the mall, we saw that there was a Longs Drugstore there, so we went in to buy some Locals flip flops. Ellen picked up a pair for herself, and I bought a couple pairs for my sister and niece. We stopped by a DVC booth and I took Ellen’s picture with it, and then went to the Disney Store.

This Disney Store was definitely the plainest one we had ever seen. It didn’t have any decor on the walls, so it almost seemed as if it was a temporary setup. Ellen and I both bought reusable grocery bags that had the characters on them and it said Hawaii, then I got some Princess Jasmine pajamas for my daughter, and a Minnie Mouse Hawaiian shirt.

We went upstairs to Bubba Gump’s, where Ellen ran into a friend of hers at the restaurant, and then we left for the airport. We stopped to fill up the tank and even though we had used less than half a tank, it was over $40 to fill it up! I think we paid $3.99 a gallon. We dropped the car off at Alamo and then took the shuttle to the airport.

Once we got to the airport, we had to send our bags that were getting checked through an x-ray scanner. I think they were checking for illegal produce. After we got the bags back we got in a very long line to check in for the flight. I had forgotten to print my boarding pass, so I decided to try out the phone document check-in. It was very easy, I just handed over my phone and it was scanned over a barcode reader. It was a pretty far walk to our gate, but we were outside, so the breeze was nice.

It was a full flight, so Ellen and I didn’t even try to see if we could change seats to sit together. We landed at LAX the next morning at 6:45 a.m. My next flight left an hour earlier than Ellen's did, so we said our goodbyes and I got on my plane.

I must have been tired because I remember watching the very beginning of the safety video and the next thing I knew I woke up and we were already in the air. After an uneventful flight, we landed about 20 minutes early.

Conclusion/Thoughts:

All in all, this was an amazing trip! Disney has absolutely outdone themselves with the Aulani resort. I can’t wait to start planning my next trip there with my family. I think the kids' club looked like a lot of fun, and had a lot of great activities. The decor was beautiful and the service was outstanding in terms of friendliness. My only complaint would be the length of time the food establishments took, but hopefully that was all because it was new and they were just trying to see what systems worked best.

We also would have liked to have seen a few more items in the gift shop. They didn’t have a scrapbook there, and there was only one Aulani frame for sale, and it would only hold a vertical picture. Most people take horizontal pictures, so it would have been nice to have more options there.

In terms of the cast members, we did not encounter anyone that wasn’t exceptional. Everyone was friendly, accommodating, and if they didn’t know the answer to a question, they went and found out. I would say the same for the local population. We seriously did not meet anyone that wasn’t extremely friendly. What a refreshing place to visit!

We loved that all the restaurants and the lobby were open air seating or outdoors. It was so pleasant to eat and feel the breeze and hear the ocean around you.

The pool area was amazing! I have never been on a vacation before where I have wanted to stay by the pool all day. I could have done that all day and been happy as a clam. There was so much to do; I could have easily made an entire vacation there without ever leaving the resort.

A word of warning though, the ground at the pool is HOT! We would practically run to get into the water because our feet couldn’t take the heat. On the plus side, they did spray the stairs with misters on the way up to the water slides, so those were nice to walk on. The pool area also only played maybe four songs, so we would hear them over and over. You’d think they would play more music.

The hotel offered a daily schedule that would show all the activities for each hour. That was very nice to have so you could see what was going on.

I did not see any face characters there, only Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Stitch, and Chip and Dale. I had heard that Lilo will not be there at all because she is not the typical Hawaiian girl that Disney wants to portray at the resort. I can understand that, but I think it’s a shame, because I think it would be great to see her there with Stitch.

Four nights was definitely not enough. I would say a minimum of six would be a good amount. Again, all I can say is how much we loved the resort. It was so much fun and relaxing! I look forward to being able to take my daughters there and letting them experience the culture and friendliness of Hawaii!


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September 13, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Disney Food Blog Mini-Guide to Magic Kingdom Snacks

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REVIEW: Disney Food Blog Mini-Guide to Magic Kingdom Snacks by AJ Wolfe


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AJ Wolfe, writer of the online “Disney Food Blog” has followed her e-book, The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining: Steps to a Stress-Free, Personalized Plan, with a new e-book devoted entirely to snacks that can be found in the Magic Kingdom.

As noted in my previous review of the comprehensive dining guide, the new mini-guide is available as an e-Book, which, when purchased is downloaded as a .pdf file. Once downloaded, you can save the file as an e-Book in iTunes, and then download the file to your iPad or iPhone. Again, I tested using the guide on my laptop, iPad and iPhone, and preferred the iPad to the others, as outside links worked best from this platform. Note that if you are reading the book on any device in a place where you cannot access the internet, many of the links will not work. However, as I explain below, the iPhone version may be some Magic Kingdom guests’ best friend.

Ok, now on to the snacks!! Wow. I never knew there were so many choices! We have our family favorites, of course, including turkey legs (um, ok, not MY favorite, but my husband and daughters REALLY like them!), Mickey Ice Cream sandwiches and Itzakadoozies, but it appears that in all of my visits to the Magic Kingdom, I have not been paying close enough attention to all of the wonderful goodies hiding in the food kiosks that I always bypass, and the shelves at the back of the gift shops.

The food guide identifies both sweet and savory snacks that cost between $1 and $5 (although some cost more), offers advice on getting the best snacking bang for your buck, and reveals the availability of some snacks, toppings and add-ons that aren’t on Disney menus, but that are available to those who know to ask. The guide also includes suggested themed Magic Kingdom “Snack Crawls” (most intriguing, the “Ice Cream Headache Crawl”), snack pairings (popcorn and an English Toffee Bar anyone?) and meals that can be made out of snacks (soft pretzel with Chicken and Wild Rice Soup from Sleepy Hollow).

The guide is organized by taste (savory, then sweet), with alphabetical listings for each snack (Baked Potato, Ball Park Chili Cheese Nachos, Breadsticks with Marinara Sauce, etc.), and there is an index that lists each snack by each Magic Kingdom “land,” so that readers can easily locate that English Toffee Bar for the popcorn and Toffee Bar pairing at the Prairie Outpost and Supply in Frontierland.

Each snack has its own page, a description of the atmospherics, price and whether it is available as a snack credit on the dining plan. It is this feature that may end up being most useful for those guests on the Dining Plan. Have you ever been in the Magic Kingdom on the last day of your Disney World vacation with three snack credits left, and you are not sure how to use them? If you have loaded this mini-guide onto your smart phone, you will be able to find those snacks throughout the Kingdom that you can use your remaining credits on, and maybe even score a souvenir to take home with you (you know your co-worker will love those Mickey Mouse Coconut Patties!).

This is the first Disney Food Blog Mini-Guide, and Wolfe promises us that there will be more, including:

• The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
• Dining Strategies for Specific Locations and Resorts
• Dining with Special Diets in Walt Disney World
• Dining in Disneyland
• Dining with Kids in Walt Disney World

My mouth is watering already!


To purchase the Disney Food Blog Mini-Guide to Magic Kingdom Snacks with a $2 Discount, use Code: ALLEARS

AJ has also recently published the Disney Food Blog Mini-Guide to the 2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival e-Book. We haven't done a formal review yet, but it looks to be another excellent comprehensive guide by the Disney Food Blog!

Click here to view more details $2 Discount, use Code: ALLEARS

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DISCLOSURE: AllEars® received a complimentary review copy of the Magic Kingdom mini-guide. AllEars® is a member of the DFB affiliate program. This did not influence the review in any way by Alice McNutt Miller, an independent reviewer and guest blogger for AllEars®.

Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

September 18, 2011

Finding Disney in Unexpected Places: Jim Thorpe, PA

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Over the Labor Day weekend, I went to visit some of my wonderful friends (or family, depending on how you look at it) in the northeast. One of the places they took me to visit was Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I have to be honest and say that before this trip, I had never heard of Jim Thorpe, PA but I knew something was up when they told me I couldn't Google the town to find out more about it...

I thought we were there to roam around and enjoy the town. While that's what we did, come to find out, this gorgeous town has a connection to our beloved Disney World- it's home to the mansion that inspired the exterior of Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

A Bit of History

In 1833, Asa Packer settled in Mauch Chunk ("Bear Mountain" in the Lenape's language/present day Jim Thorpe), located in the Lehigh Valley. Packer was a very successful business man and ultimately gained control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. He also founded Lehigh University. In 1861, his mansion was completed and sits near the bottom of Packer Hill.

When his son, Harry Packer, got married, Asa built another mansion up the hill for his son. It was completed in 1874. About 20 years ago, the mansion became a bed & breakfast.

The town and its neighbor eventually merged were renamed Jim Thorpe, in honor of the world renowned Olympic athlete who died in 1953. The town was hoping to boost tourism and struck a deal with Thorpe's wife to rename the town.

Finding the Inspiration for Disney World's Haunted Mansion

In the early 1970s, the Imagineers were looking for a concept for the Haunted Mansion that best suited Liberty Square in the upcoming Magic Kingdom in Florida. Imagineers traveled to Jim Thorpe and found what they were looking for in the Harry Packer mansion. I tried to find out what led the Imagineers to Jim Thorpe and/or how they found out about the mansion but I wasn't able to find specifics or dates beyond the early 1970s.

Like I said earlier, Asa Packer's mansion is at the bottom of the hill.

Asa Packer Mansion

Just up the very steep hill (and I do mean steep hill) is the Harry Packer mansion. The exterior, not the interior, was the basis for the attraction.

Harry Packer Mansion

Harry Packer mansion

Mansion exterior

Mansion exterior

Mansion exterior

Disney World's Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

We did not go inside the mansion but we spent a good bit of time walking around the exterior. We compared and contrasted the mansion and could definitely see the resemblance, especially looking at it from the middle. It was a very unexpected surprise to find "Disney" there, so far from "home". HUGE thanks to my friends for taking me there. :)

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2011

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Disclosure: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's ticket to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party was paid by the Disney company.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) is an annual tradition at the Magic Kingdom. We (my mom and I) attended the party on Friday, September 16, 2011. We got to Magic Kingdom early decided to walk around before dinner and the party started.

The areas under the monorail beams are decorated for the fall and the event.

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Signs are posted that show you where to head if you have a party ticket.

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Main Street is decorated for fall and Halloween. For more of the fall decorations, keep an eye out for a new "What's New, What's Next" blog.

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Treat stations, like Max's Pit Stop in Tomorrowland, are set up around the park.

Max's Pit Stop

Max's Pit Stop

Cast Members are on hand to help direct guests with and without party tickets.

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A great photo-op of Cinderella Castle surrounded by pumpkins has been set up at the flag pole.

Castle

Pumpkins

The Liberty Belle was decorated for the party. It hosts a treat station.

Liberty Belle

One of the most popular photo-ops is with Cinderella's carriage.

Cinderella's carriage

The party began at 7 PM. We decided to see the princesses (and their princes!) first at the Town Square Theater. The princesses and princes begin greeting at 7 PM and you must have a wrist band to enter the queue. This was VERY popular throughout the evening.

Rapunzel

Snow White

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Duffy is greeting guests next to City Hall.

Duffy

We caught the first Villains Mix & Mingle. The show is very different this year -- it has new music, new costumes and a new character. Dr. Facilier (from the film, The Princess and the Frog) starts off the show and brings his villain friends along.

Dancers

Dr. Facilier

Here's a snippet of Dr. Facillier's song.

The villains arrive after his song.

Villains

Here's a short video of the villains.

We decided to skip the first parade and see the second so we headed over to Haunted Mansion. There is a storyteller (for lack of a better word) who sits outside the mansion and interacts with guests.

Storyteller

There are projections around the park.

Pumpkin

Space Mountain

Tomorrowland

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In Tomorrowland, Stitch's Club 626 hosts a character dance party.

Stitch's Club 626

Around the hub, there are a lot of villain character meet-and-greets. I saw Gaston, Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters and Lots-O-Huggin' Bear. It was too dark and crowded for me to get pictures of Gaston and Lady Tremaine but I did manage to get one of Lotso.

Lotso

Tarzan, Jane and Turk greeted guests just over the Adventureland bridge.

Tarzan

Captain Jack Sparrow was greeting guests near Pirates of the Caribbean.

Captain Jack

There's a treat station near Splash Mountain. We were going to have a look at it and see the Seven Dwarves near Big Thunder but it was very crowded back there we needed to start making our way back to Main Street to see the fireworks.

Treats

The fireworks show is called Happy HalloWishes. It's Halloween themed and Master Gracey from the Haunted Mansion is the host (the ghost host, of course).

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

After the fireworks, we went back to Town Square Theater to see Mickey and Minnie.

Mickey and Minnie

After that, we got a spot for Mickey's Boo-to-You Halloween parade. The Headless Horseman rides just before the parade kicks off. If you've never seen it before, it's awesome.

Boo to You

Characters

Mickey

Pirates

My favorite performance of the parade is the Haunted Mansion grave diggers. Here's a short video of their performance (I didn't want to spoil it all!).

Pain and Panic

Goofy's

We called it a night after the parade. We really enjoyed spending the evening at the party! The atmosphere was great and it was a great way to kick off the fall season.

Additional notes:

Tinker Bell and friends were greeting guests during the party. The lines for her, and most of the characters, were rather long and we decided to walk around instead of waiting.

Cast Members hand out bags for treats as you enter the park.

There are maps for the party. The maps list the attractions that remain open for the party, character locations, etc.

2011 Guide Map 1 (large .jpg about 300K)

2011 Guide Map 2 (large .jpg about 300K)

September 20, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next - September 16, 2011

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On September 16, 2011, we started our day at Downtown Disney.

There is some pavement work going on near the Lego Store and World of Disney.

Lego Store

Lego Store

World of Disney

To get to the World of Disney bathrooms, you have to use the outside entrance. You can no longer get to them inside the store.

World of Disney bathrooms

The signage and such on the Mannequin's building on Pleasure Island has been removed.

Building

Apricot Lane is now open where Harley Davidson used to be (Harley Davidson is now located on the West Side, in LittleMissMatched's old location).

Apricot Lane

The wall near the boat ramp is still up.

Wall

The embellishments on the Adventurers Club have also been removed.

Adventurer's Club

The sunglasses shop is behind walls.

Sunglasses

Work has started on Splitsville (located where Ridemakerz and Virgin Mega Store used to be).

Splitsville

Splitsville

Next, we went to Disney's Hollywood Studios to see what was new there.

Journey into Narnia: Prince Caspian has closed.

Narnia

Mike Wazowski was greeting guests near the Backlot Tour.

Mike

The Backlot Tour is currently closed for refurbishment.

Backlot Tour

The Osborne Lights are in the early stages of being put up on the Streets of America.

Osborne

Power outlet

On the way to Magic Kingdom, we saw that work is progressing on the tennis courts at the Grand Floridian.

Tennis courts

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party has begun at Magic Kingdom. (You can read my report here.) The park is decorated for fall/Halloween.

Decorations

Train station

Work has been completed on the right tunnel and they're working on the left one now.

Tunnel

The park looks great!

Leaf garland

Main Street

Main Street

Wreath

Main Street

Town Square Theater

Main Street

Uptown Jewelers

A wall was up near the Plaza Restaurant.

plaza

The character statues are up around the hub.

Donald

Pluto

Goofy

Minnie

Work is still being done on the exterior of Pinocchio's Village Haus.

Pinocchio

Scrims have been added to the tops of the walls near the Beauty & the Beast/Dumbo area.

Scrims

Dumbo had a short wait so I decided to go on it.

Fantasyland

Fantasyland

Fantasyland

Walls are still up at Enchanted Grove.

Enchanted Grove

There's been a LOT of progress for Storybook Circus.

Storybook

Storybook

The Lunching Pad was closed for refurbishment.

Lunching Pad

The photo-op at the flag pole was very popular.

Photo-op

The "See ya real soon" pumpkins are back over the exits.

Exit

The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House is closed for refurbishment.

Tree House

There's some work going on at the Adventureland/Frontierland entrance.

Adventureland

Part of Pecos Bill's is still under scrims.

Pecos Bill's

The Frontierland Shootin' Arcade is still undergoing refurbishment.

Frontierland Shootin' Arcade

That's all for this update. Have a great day! :)


September 25, 2011

Adventures by Disney: Barcelona Escape/Mediterranean Magic, Part I

by Erin Foster
Guest Blogger

The Disney Magic made its home in the Mediterranean this summer and Adventures by Disney went with it, creating trips specially designed as companions to the Disney Cruise Line Mediterranean sailings.

I had the great good fortune to experience both of these special AbD trips, Barcelona Escape and Mediterranean Magic, in conjunction with a Magic voyage. Talk about a perfect summer vacation.

BEFORE THE TRIP

The combined booking for all components of the trip was quite complex. Based on heavy-duty number-crunching by my husband, we chose to make a partial payment using our Disney Vacation Club points. This meant that we were dealing with three different arms of the Disney company, AbD, DVC, and DCL, to construct our package.

We started with an extremely competent rep at DVC who spent nearly an hour and a half on the phone with us, acting as a liaison between each of the parties involved, communicating every step of the way. In the end, we were left feeling completely confident that our booking had been made in the most cost-effective manner based on our needs.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, we received periodic mailings from both DCL and AbD with packing tips, itinerary reminders, countdown calendars, and fun gifts like special Adventures by Disney backpacks for everyone in the family.

BARCELONA ESCAPE, ARRIVAL DAY

The first part of our trip was the Barcelona Escape. Barcelona Escape was a mini AbD experience. While most Adventure trips are 7 to 10 days long, the Barcelona trip was only three days and change and was offered as a trip extension only to guests sailing on the Magic.

We left JFK airport in the evening and after an overnight flight (direct!) we arrived only semi-exhausted at the Barcelona airport. We gathered our bags, made our way through passport control and were met on the other side by James, one of our unflappable, indefatigable, and utterly charming guides for the trip. You’ll probably get sick of hearing me gush about our guides, but truly, there is not enough praise for them.

Following brief introductions, James escorted us to a private car with a driver instructed to take us to our home in Barcelona: the Gran Palace Hotel, about half an hour away from the airport.

Upon arrival at the hotel, we hopped right out of the car, with no need to tip the driver. All incidental gratuities along the way (drivers, local guides, waitstaff, bellmen, housekeepers) are included in your AbD package. Even later, gratuities for the Magic cast such as waiters and room attendants were include in our package.


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We were met at the Palace by Dusty, our other gracious and preternaturally competent guide. Dusty ushered us into the magnificent hotel lobby where he explained that our AbD program officially began in the evening, so we had the afternoon on our own to explore and freshen up after our travels. He offered restaurant suggestions, nearby activities, maps and guidebooks, and then had us taken to our rooms.

Because we were a family of five (myself, my husband Jeff, and our three daughters, 15-year-old Charlie and 11-year-old twins Josie and Louisa), we were given two rooms, one with a king-size bed and one with two single beds and a full-sized pull-out couch. The rooms were extraordinarily large, especially by European standards, and well appointed with slippers, robes, ample storage space, Jacuzzi-style tubs and rainshower showers, and L’Occitaine toiletries. There was also a business center and free WiFi in the lobby. They even had a pillow menu with six different types of firmness and construction to choose from.

Based on Dusty’s suggestions, we ventured out for a simple tapas lunch at a restaurant about two blocks from the hotel: Divinus.

We feasted on plates of local dry hams, marinated artichokes, meatballs, and spicy shrimp.


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Then, again following Dusty’s suggestion, we meandered down Las Ramblas, one of the biggest shopping streets in Barcelona. This busy avenue combined international chains (Zara clothing, for example) with small local street vendors. Our favorite part of Las Ramblas was the Mercat de Boqueria, a bustle of fresh food stalls.


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The afternoon ended with a quick stop in the Chocolate Museum, a bite-sized repository for information about the history and making of, you guessed it, chocolate. The best part – our tickets to the museum were chocolate bars. After your visit, you get to eat the ticket.

Many of the museum’s displays were large sculptures constructed entirely of chocolate. Several of them used Disney characters and films for inspiration.


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Back at the hotel, we met up with our entire Adventure group -- Guides James and Dusty, plus a total of 23 guests from six families. AbD tours can accommodate up to 40 guests, but ours was pleasantly intimate. The children in the group ranged from age 7 to 17. Following quick introductions, we boarded a bus headed for a brief ride to El Xalet in the Montjuic district of Barcelona. On the way we passed some of the venues constructed for the 1992 Olympic Games as well as an ornate former bullfighting ring turned shopping mall.

At El Xalet, we bonded with our new friends, feasted on breads, salad, and a choice of roasted chicken or baked cod, and enjoyed spectacular panoramic views of the city. Dessert was a silky crème Catalan, the local sweet specialty which is sort of a cross between flan and tiramisu.


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As an example of the quick kindness of our guides, when the entrees were brought to the table, Dusty immediately saw that a 7-year-old boy in our group found the adult chicken meal to be more appealing than the child’s breaded chicken meal he had ordered. Without batting an eyelash, Dusty immediately switched his own plate with the boy’s, giving the young guest what he wanted, seamlessly and without incident.


September 26, 2011

Adventures by Disney: Barcelona Escape/Mediterranean Magic, Part II

by Erin Foster
Guest Blogger

BARCELONA ESCAPE DAY 2, EL GRAN MAESTRO

The day started with breakfast at the hotel’s sunny patio restaurant. The selection was buffet-style and, due to the hotel’s international clientele, included morning foods from a variety of cultures. My oldest daughter’s typical plate included French-prep scrambled eggs, Spanish chorizo, and Japanese dumplings.

In addition to our two Disney guides, at each stop on the tour we were joined by local guides who were fluent in the language and expert in the culture of each locale. Our guide for Spain was Estrela, a font of information about art and history.

Our first stop of the day was Barcelona’s Parque Guell designed by Antonio Gaudi, a monument to the Modernist art movement, now designated as a World Heritage site by Unesco. The fanciful structures and candy-colored undulating bench seemed more like a Willy Wonka movie set than a real-world experience. After Estrela led a brief walking tour, we were given time on our own to explore the park and purchase souvenirs.

The centerpiece of the park is Gaudi’s mosaic salamander, which has become a visual icon for all of Barcelona. Representations of the salamander were ubiquitous throughout the city.


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Our next visit was to the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. Construction on this Gaudi-designed church was begun in 1882 and continues today.

The Sagrada Familia visit was a great example of the Adventures by Disney difference. The queue to enter the cathedral that morning was easily 500 people deep, with a wait time of several hours. Disney and our guides arranged a special entrance and we were escorted in immediately upon arrival, bypassing all lines. This was typical of every one of our cultural site visits. We had a FastPass to Europe!

I had previously visited many European cathedrals but have never experienced anything as unique and uniquely breathtaking as the Sagrada Familia. In the nearly two weeks of our vacation, this visit was the highlight for me. I simply could stop staring at the soaring, color-saturated windows. I haven’t figured out how yet, but I’m going to find a way to get back there someday.

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Our day continued with lunch at Can Travi Nou Restaurant where we dined on a family-style lunch of tapas. Before the meal, guide Dusty was at the ready with four different kinds of hand sanitizer for us to choose from. The contents of Dusty’s Mary-Poppins backback was an endless source of fascination. An Adventurer broke a toe; Dusty pulls duct tape out of the backpack to tape it up. An Adventurer is thirsty; Dusty extracts a water bottle from his backpack. An Adventurer is overheating; Dusty pulls a massive Chinese fan from his backpack and creates a cool breeze. Amazing.

Back at the restaurant, I lost count once we crossed more than a dozen dishes that were brought to the table: tuna, roasted vegetables, marinated beans, sausages, chicken croquettes, pasta, mushroom casserole, a different variation on Crème Catalan, and on and on. We were welcome to have as much or as little as we liked. Most of the Adventurers took the opportunity to try several new dishes.


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Following lunch, we moved into a shady alcove where local artisans instructed us in painting glassware and pottery in the style of Gaudi.


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The end of our day was filled with a walking tour of Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter and dinner on our own. My family was still adjusting to time zone changes. I confess that we took naps in the late afternoon and then went for a stroll around the neighborhood near the hotel. We ended up feasting on gelato for dinner. Only on vacation folks, only on vacation.

BARCELONA ESCAPE DAY 3, LA VIDA DE CATALONIA

Up early for another breakfast buffet at the hotel, then onto buses for an hour-long ride to Montserrat.

Montserrat means “serrated mountain.” From a distance, it’s easy to see why this name stuck. The jagged peaks of the mountain certainly resembled the edge of a serrated knife.


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Our principle cultural activity at Montserrat was a visit to the Cathedral to see the famed black Madonna, la Moreneta. We were allowed to place our hands on the globe in her hand as a blessing for good luck.


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When the church visit was done, we boarded a funicular and ascended further up the mountain for panoramic views of the valley below. We then were given an hour to either take a gentle hike down the mountain or ride the funicular back to the village for relaxation and shopping. The group split fairly evenly. Those who know me will not be surprised that I ended up in the exact inverse of the hiking; I purchased and ate several varieties of local chocolate.

Lunch was at the Restaurant Montserrat with a selection of cold meats or paella.


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Back in Barcelona proper in the afternoon, we headed out to Pueblo Espanol. Our guide James described this as the Epcot World Showcase of Spain. The tiny walled village is divided into sections with varying architecture to match the varying building styles in 15 different regions of Spain. Each “pavilion” had shops, restaurants, and artisan demonstrations typical of the represented region. Sound familiar?


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In addition to exploring, we were treated to dinner at Tablao de Carmen, with Flamenco dancers as the entertainment. If I had one word to describe the performance, I’d choose “fierce.” These dancers were among the most passionate people I had ever seen.


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September 27, 2011

Adventures by Disney: Barcelona Escape/Mediterranean Magic, Part III

by Erin Foster
Guest Blogger

BARCELONA ESCAPE DAY 4 – MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 1

This was the transition day. We slept in (yay!), ate a leisurely breakfast, and left the hotel in Barcelona in the late morning. Disney took care of our luggage and we boarded buses for the 20-minute ride to the Port of Barcelona to start our voyage on the Disney Magic.


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At this point, our day was much like anyone else’s sailing on the Magic. We freshened up in our room, grabbed some buffet lunch at Topsiders, explored the ship, attended the safety drill, and danced at the sail-away party. My first stop was the ship’s store, Treasure Ketch, where I purchased a DCL Mediterranean exclusive Vinylmation to add to my embarrassingly vast collection.


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As an extra nice touch, the Cruise Line left us a small fruit basket in our room and Adventures by Disney left us a case of Evian water and some fun AbD refillable water bottles. Since we had used DVC points to pay for part of the trip, DVC also left us a beautiful wooden keepsake box. This is the point where I’ll mention that I had to purchase another suitcase in the ship’s gift shop to transport all of our loot home.


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(ROOM 8078)


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The sole organized activity for the day was a brief welcome reception for this leg of the trip. The reception took place in Studio Sea, deck four midship, with the room was just for us. Very fancy.

While all of the families on the Barcelona Escape trip were sailing on the Disney Magic (this was a requirement), not all of them were adding the Mediterranean Magic Adventures by Disney supplement to their cruise. Three of the Barcelona families (including mine) were cruising AbD style, while three were enjoying the Magic on their own (we continued to see them on the ship at meals and shows). While some left, we gained three new families for the remainder of our journey, two with elementary-age children and one young married couple.


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Dinner was on our own in the ship’s regular dining rooms. Some Adventurers spent the evening enjoying the Magic’s entertainment, but we hit the hay early to rest up for the busy touring time ahead of us.

MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 2, MONACO AND THE VILLAGE OF EZE

We sailed overnight and docked in the morning at Villefranche, France. Regular Magic guests had to arrange their own port excursions, but Adventures by Disney took care of everything for us.

Villefranche is a tender port, which means that instead of walking off the ship onto a dock, you have to take a small boat from the ship to the land. One of the perks of AbD is that they have priority over other guests on the tenders. They held the first tender off the boat for us.

We were joined by our local guide for the day, Patrice, an expert on Monaco and the French Riviera. Patrice gave us special “Whispers,” basically small radios with one-ear earbuds that allow you to hear the guide well without him having to raise his voice. Most of our local guides used this method as well.

We strolled past the Monaco Oceanographic Museum, where we posed for shots with Jaques Cousteau’s yellow submarine and toured a small garden of native plants.


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Next up was a visit to the Palace of Monaco, much of which functions as a museum. We were immersed in the history of this tiny principality and, of course, got to see many artifacts related to Princess Grace.

We viewed the changing of the palace guard, which is much smaller than the changing of the guard in London but still very regal, and we were allowed a brief time to explore and shop on our own. But mostly we were occupied by admiring the incredible view. Our guide Dusty commented that you can almost smell the money in Monaco. I think he’s right.


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By the way, the blue patch in the center left is the town swimming pool.

Lunch was a spectacular buffet atop the roof at the Hotel Fairmont Monte Carlo.

Eating there, I felt more than a little like Princess Grace myself.


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The girls and I did a bit more exploring of the town and decided we were glad it was Sunday, meaning most of the over-the-top shopping temptations (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc.) were closed. However, the Casino was open and my husband stepped inside to play a few hands of blackjack. He won 100 Euros – or about 1/20th of what a room at the Fairmont would cost.


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A brief bus ride took us to the charming town of Eze, France, an ancient village in the mountains. We hiked through the town, past a succulent garden, for more of the most breathtaking views on the planet.

One of the most charming details about Eze is that the hotel there is located up such a rocky passages that donkeys are used to carry guests’ luggage from lower areas up to their rooms. You can meet the donkeys at reception.


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Dinner was back on the Magic. Junior Adventurers (children) were welcome to use their family’s regular dinner table, dine at a quick-serve venue, or in the kids’ clubs. The adults in the group were invited to join Dusty and James in a private dining room at Palo, the ship’s adults-only restaurant.

Despite being completely stuffed from lunch, this was a must-do activity for me. Suffice it to say that I let more than one notch out on my belt that day.


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September 28, 2011

Adventures by Disney: Barcelona Escape/Mediterranean Magic, Part IV

by Erin Foster
Guest Blogger

MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 3, FLORENCE

Our docking at La Spezia, Italy, was another tender day and another day in which our Adventures by Disney group was first off the Magic.

We were up and out early, so most of the Adventurers chose to nap on the hour-and-a-half bus ride to Florence. Guides James and Dusty periodically walked through the bus with an omnipresent basket of snacks and sweets.

Our guide in Florence was Samuelle, an excellent storyteller, but as we would come to find out later, also a savvy negotiation assistant.

Toward the end of the bus ride, we stopped at the Italian equivalent of a highway rest stop, chosen by AbD as a place with modern, clean bathrooms. I’ve travelled in Europe before and had hit-or-miss luck with the comfort of the facilities. Disney clearly had taken great care to make sure we were provided with the best conveniences possible. It was a little detail that made a big difference in the trip.

The rest stop included a small market and coffee bar. I think many of the children in the group found this stop to be equally, if not more, interesting than some of the museums and cultural sites. Harry Potter in Italian! Smurf-shaped marshmallows! Wine in a machine-gun-shaped bottle!


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Part of our morning was spent walking through the main thoroughfares of Florence. We passed both modern shops and a bazaar of local leather dealers. My personal favorite sight was the Florence Disney Store!


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During the guided portion of our morning, Samuelle, took us around the exterior of the Duomo cathedral, explaining details about the architecture and history of the building. We also toured the cathedral museum and Ponte Vecchio, with a side visit to the Grom gelateria. The Junior Adventurers got to participate in making a batch of hazelnut gelato and we all got to have an ample tasting of three delicious flavors. The overall favorite was blueberry.


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We also visited a special statue on the streets of Florence, a boar that, if you rub his nose, will ensure that you return to Florence in the future. Another charming tidbit we learned was that Florence was the birthplace of the Pinocchio story. Several shops sold Pinocchio marionettes as souvenirs.


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Lunch was of bruschetta, pizza, and beef and potatoes in a simple local restaurant. Then, onto the afternoon’s activity: shopping! Florence is world-renowned for its wonderful gold jewelry and leather goods. My husband was in the market for a leather jacket. Local guide Samuelle pointed him to the best shop in town and his advice allowed us to save more than 30% on the jacket. Nice!

Back on the Magic in the evening, we ate at Lumiere’s and enjoyed the Twice Charmed stage show in the Walt Disney theater.

MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 4, ROME

We docked at Civitavecchia (fun to say, try it) and took a nearly two-hour bus ride to Rome. This was by far the busiest day of the trip. Guides James and Dusty called it our “Amazing Race” day because we moved at breakneck speed trying to cover all the highlights of Rome in a single day. Obviously that’s not possible, but we came pretty close. Luckily James and Dusty kept us supplied with water bottles and snacks throughout our tour.

The local guide today was Valentina. She was my favorite of all the local experts. In addition to being a trained archeologist with extensive knowledge of the historical sites, she was also a young mother able to share with us many stories about family life in Rome. Plus, I loved her chic haircut.

The first stop was Vatican City where we toured the grounds, the museum, the Sistine Chapel, and the Basilica. In order to enter the Basilica, we were required to have both our shoulders and knees covered. My girls balked at this because the temperature that day was a sweltering 102 degrees Fahrenheit. We compromised by bringing arm-covering scarves and having them wear sundresses with an under-layer of leggings. Once we were done with the Basilica, the scarves and leggings were quickly removed and stowed in a backpack.


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At the Vatican, Dusty gave us all pre-stamped Vatican postcards. We could write a message and send it home to ourselves or to a friend. Our card arrived a few days ago with an official Vatican postmark. Neat!

We walked through Rome and stopped briefly at the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, periodically taking water breaks at Rome’s public water fountains. At the Trevi Fountain, guide James explained the tradition of tossing a coin in the fountain to make a wish. Before we even had a chance to start rummaging in our pockets for loose change, he produced a shiny penny for everyone in the group. So thoughtful. My wish is sure to come true.


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Another nice touch was when guide Dusty made sure to point out to me the restaurant Alfredo’s, which was the model for the former flagship restaurant in the Italy pavilion at Epcot. He truly tried to personalize the tour for this obvious Disney geek.

Following a brief lunch of lasagna and tiramisu at a private club, we were off again to see the Forum and Coliseum. At the Coliseum, we were joined by another specialist guide who took the Junior Adventurers on an interactive mission for some hands-on learning about this historic site.


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Dinner was back on the Magic at Animator’s Palate, followed by a deep, deep sleep.

MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 5, NAPLES

After speeding through the heat in Rome, we had a much more relaxing day on the outskirts of Naples.

Our tour bus passed by the ruins of Pompeii and we learned quite a bit about the history of that ill-fated town on the way to our morning visit, Agriturismo La Galatea, a family-run farm.


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At the farm, we took it easy, eating house-made bread and salami, learning the craft of mozzarella-making, bonding with the farm animals, making and eating pizza, and generally keeping out of the sun. This was a refreshing intermission after the frenetic pace of our Roman holiday.


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A memorable event for the Junior Adventurers was when guide James encouraged them to get into a playful flour fight with guide Dusty. Our group took the fight VERY seriously and Dusty become more than a little, well, dusty. The kids caked over his entire face. Dusty was incredibly gracious about this attack. He laughed, poked fun at himself, and generally made everyone feel at ease, even though I’m sure none of this could have been pleasant. Dusty was a big hero in the eyes of the kids.


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After the farm, we changed into bathing suits and made our way via hydrofoil to the nearby island of Capri. From Capri we boarded a smaller, private craft to do a bit of swimming in the Mediterranean. Swimming. Off a private boat. In the Mediterranean Sea. Need I say more?


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We wrapped up the day back on the Magic with a pirate dinner at Parrot Cay. We absolutely had to take the obligatory family pirate photo. I think the kids will kill me if I make this the Christmas card.


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September 29, 2011

Adventures by Disney: Barcelona Escape/Mediterranean Magic, Part V

by Erin Foster
Guest Blogger

MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 6, AT SEA

With one exception, our day at sea was just like the day at sea for other guests sailing on the Magic. Members of our group slept in, used the health center and spa, watched movies and shows, and ate, and ate, and ate, and generally enjoyed the amenities of the ship.

The special Adventures by Disney activity was an animation class. The restaurant Animator’s Palate, the perfect spot to learn about animation, was closed for our exclusive use. Guide Dusty, who had been trained in animation instruction, walked us through a lesson on how to draw the classic Disney character we had encountered in Florence: Pinocchio. After we completed our creations, Pinocchio himself came out to give his opinion on work. I think he liked it.


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MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 7, PALMA DE MALLORCA

Another fairly easy day. We took a brief bus ride to Palma where our local guide, Beverly, told us some of the history of this Spanish island and walked us around the cathedral and surrounding Arabian-style gardens.


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The big activity of the day was a 45-minute old-fashioned train ride, literally through the mountains, to the Mallorcan port of Soller.


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We had a train car all to ourselves. On board, James and Dusty passed out fresh-squeezed orange juice and local pastries. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of the pastry, which I found delicious, but I do remember everyone’s reaction when Beverly told us that the name translated into English meant “lard cake.” There were a lot of leftover treats that day.


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In Soller, we meandered through the village. I purchased the last of my souvenirs and gifts for folks back home, mostly olive oil, locally grown almonds, and flavored salts native to the area.

Our leisurely lunch was at Es Canyis, overlooking the sea. On this day, two children, from different families, both experienced a birthday. James and Dusty gave them cards, the restaurant brought them cakes with candles, and we all sang. A very happy birthday indeed.


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We dined on chicken smothered with almond sauce and a yummy dessert of “Floating Islands,” basically pudding with meringue and caramel hovering on top. The recipe is available, in Spanish, on the restaurant’s website. I’m going to find a translator, but I hope they don’t find the word “lard” in there.


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And speaking of floating, we had about an hour after lunch to explore the seaside area. One of the Adventure families was ambitious and rented a paddleboat with an attached water slide for about $20 for the hour.


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James and Dusty saw that we were having so much fun that they delayed our departure, giving us more time to play.

And then we went back to the Magic to pack for disembarkation day. Sigh.

While the weather had been gorgeous the entire trip, and we had not seen a single cloud since we left the US, back in New York the weather situation was rapidly deteriorating. As we packed, we kept our in-room TV tuned to MSNBC, which was broadcasting frequent reports about the advancement of Hurricane Irene. We were scheduled to leave the next day from the Barcelona airport back to NY JFK.

We dragged ourselves away from the television to go to the Adventurers' farewell reception. Again, we had a public room on the Magic all to ourselves. This time it was Diversions, deck 3 forward.

Everyone in the group had the opportunity to share stories about their favorite parts of the trip and exchange contact information. Dusty and James had also created a fabulous slideshow of photos from the entire journey. There were more than a few laughs, and a number of tears as well.

One of the other women on the trip, a single mother, talked about how meaningful it was to go on vacation with her children and simply enjoy them. She didn’t have to plan excursions, or make meal reservations, or arrange transportation. The Adventure guides did everything to allow her to “check her brain at the door” and just have fun. I couldn’t agree more.

As a matter of housekeeping, James and Dusty explained that all the photos taken by the photographers on the Magic, as well as the many hundreds of photos they had taken on our outings, were included with our Adventures by Disney package. They gave us the ship’s photo CD on board. The AbD CD would be coming from Disney PhotoPass in a few weeks.


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Late in the evening we received notice that our flight had been cancelled, as were all flights into the New York area for the next two days. My husband, with assistance from the Magic concierge, worked the phones with our carrier, American Airlines. They determined that we would get home only two days late, instead of three, if we left Barcelona and instead flew to London and then onto Philadelphia, where we could rent a car to return to New York.

Frequent readers of the AllEars® newsletter may recall that this is the second time in less than a year that a major Disney-related trip of mine was unexpectedly extended due to a major weather incident on the East Coast. I’m thinking Al Roker may want to start tracking my travels to hone his prediction quality.

MEDITERRANEAN MAGIC DAY 8, DEPARTURE DAY (NOT)

This was the last day of our Adventure, but now not the last day of our vacation. The cast on the Magic was extraordinarily helpful in allowing us extra time in our room in the morning so that we could spend more time on the phone solidifying our modified travel plans.

We then disembarked and headed to the airport, bound for London. The Disney part of our story ends there, with the exception being that our bonus sojourn in England allowed me to visit the London, Oxford Street, Disney Store. And of course, I had to take home a UK-exclusive Vinylmation as a souvenir of our extended stay.

We made it home safely after two weeks away, with memories to last a lifetime.


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About September 2011

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in September 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2011 is the previous archive.

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