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December 2, 2012

Disney Magic – “The Other Kind”

Gary Cruise banner

Disney is Magical . . . we all know that!

If you are a real Disney fan, and I know you are, you understand what Disney magic is . . . it's that wonderful feeling that comes over you as you drive through the Main Gate and enter Walt Disney World. It's that sense of magic you feel as you walk down Disneyland's Main Street USA and see Sleeping Beauty Castle. Sometimes a sound, like the Disney steam train pulling into the station, can bring on the magic . . . sometimes a smell, like the lobby at the Polynesian Resort, brings it on!

But in this blog I want to talk about a different kind of Magic. The kind of magic that happens when a Disney Cast Member goes way beyond expectations and creates a moment of pure magic! A moment of magic that is personal and unique, crafted only for you!

This "other kind" of magic has happened to me and it may have happened to you.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

In December 2000 Carol and I were at Walt Disney World with her parents John and Sybil, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. During the trip Sybil bought a wooden cane at EPCOT's China pavilion. It only cost $5.00 but it was worth a fortune since it helped her a great deal as we toured all the parks. Soon our trip was over and it was time to go home. After spending the morning at a theme park we returned to Port Orleans French Quarter where we retrieved our luggage from the Bell Captain and sat on a park bench in front of the hotel waiting for the Town Car which was taking us to the airport. When it arrived we hurriedly loaded the luggage in the trunk, took our seats and left Disney behind. No one noticed the $5.00 cane, still leaning on the park bench. For two weeks no one even thought about that cane. Then one day the doorbell rang - it was FedEx with a long slender package! Yup - the cane!

French_Quarter_Bench

I don't know exactly what happened, but let's speculate a bit . . . Someone noticed the cane and turned it into a Cast Member. That CM must have gone to Bell Services and asked, "Who was sitting on the bench?" They looked up our baggage check records, added two plus two and came up with four. Then they must have gone to Registration to get our home address. Then they spent over $25.00 to ship a $5.00 cane to our home in Canada. WOW!

It is a well know fact that Disney trains their employees extremely well and stresses at all times that Cast Members are more than employees; they are performers acting out a role. Those of us visiting the theme parks are not seen as customers, we are not seen simply as folks who paid a bit of money to enjoy some thrill rides. Cast Members see us as guests who are there to enjoy their performance.

Cast Members seldom ever break character; they are always "on-stage". Disney Cast are so consistent in treating guests extremely well that we often become complacent about it. Then, every once in a while, a Cast Member does something so extra-special that it's magical. They step so far out-of-bounds to give you great service that you just have to stop and say WOW!

Carol and I have had a few special "magical moments", here's another example: Carol and I were at Disneyland in 2008 celebrating our anniversary. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage had just opened. The lines were huge . . . often over 90 minutes long. We walked past several times, always hoping to return later and find a shorter wait-time.

Nemo_Submarine

Finally our vacation was drawing to a close; we were running out of time. We bit the bullet and entered the back end of a 70 minute line. A cast member walking by, Christina, must have noticed our anniversary buttons. She stopped and said "Happy Anniversary, I have a gift for you. Follow me." She took us to the front of the line and walked us directly up to the boarding area for the first available boat. WOW!

Christina

Just a few years ago Carol's parents were staying at POP Century and had a dinner reservation at Boma. They caught a Disney bus from POP Century to Animal Kingdom where they planned to switch to an Animal Kingdom Lodge bus to head off for dinner at Boma. Unfortunately they misread the sign on the front of the bus and boarded one heading to Wilderness Lodge not Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was close to the time for their ADR so they asked the driver if he knew the fastest way to get to AKL from WL. After they explained the situation he said, "Go have a seat." He called dispatch to get an OK and then drove them directly from Wilderness Lodge to Animal Kingdom Lodge - there was no one else on the bus. Along the way he called Boma and let them know John and Sybil were on the way but would be a few minutes late. WOW!

Boma

Friend John from New Jersey tells about the time, years ago, when he and his family were staying at the Contemporary Resort. They were heading out for the Hoop-Dee-Doo dinner show at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground but when they arrived at the dock to catch the boat to Fort Wilderness they discovered that it so windy all the boats on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon had been cancelled. They were really pressed for time so they went to the information desk in the lobby to explain their predicament and ask about the quickest way to get to Pioneer Hall. The Cast Member called for a Disney van and they were quickly chauffeured to their destination. The van didn't drop them at the Settlement bus stop; it drove them all the way to the bus stop adjacent to Pioneer Hall. In John's words, "We felt pretty special." WOW!

Hoop-Dee-Doo

Denita from South Dakota tells this story from November 2012: "Our last night at Walt Disney World there were Extra Magic Hours at Disney Hollywood Studios so of course we finished our vacation there. At 10:45 p.m., 15 minutes before park closing, my husband, son and three nephews and I sprinted to Rock 'n Roller Coaster. Our daughter was tired so she sat on a bench to wait. We waltzed right on the coaster; there was no line at all! We still had a few minutes before the park closed so we raced to the Tower Of Terror. While in the queue, close to the loading area, we wondered if we would have the elevator all to ourselves. Alas, it did not happen . . . BUT . . . the ride froze after the first part. The soundtrack continued after the lightning and ghost movie segment, but the elevator just sat there and didn't move. After a delay of about 3 minutes the ride started again. We continued on and finished the "up and down" part of the ride."

"I know how Disney likes to please, and we just couldn't finish our vacation on a botched up ride. So, when the doors opened, I explained to the Cast Member what had happened on the ride, then followed it up with the fact that were leaving the next morning and it would be two years before we could return. We just couldn't end our amazing vacation on a botched trip on our favourite ride. Of course, she agreed with me, picked up the phone and made a call. Soon another Cast Member arrived. He was not a typical Tower Of Terror worker; he was dressed in a suit. He came out of a side door and took us "backstage", up the back way to the loading area.

In the end....we not only got the entire elevator to ourselves . . . BUT . . . by the time we were done with our final ride, the park had completely emptied out! We were the only people walking from Tower Of Terror to the park exit. What a great opportunity for photos! WOW!

Tower_of_Terror

Hollywood_Studios

How do you say thank you when this kind of magic happens? How can you repay magic? Wow, that's a tough question! But there are some things you can do.

Carol and I always carry "Cast Appreciation Cards" which we hand out when we've received "special" service. They are available for download (and customization) from the Tagrel.com Disney fan community. You can see some sample cards here. The Cast Members we've given them to are really appreciative. Disney has a great recognition program for Cast Members and I suspect that a Cast Appreciation Card would draw a smile from the person's supervisor.

Cast_Appreciation_Cards

But, while the Cast Appreciation Cards are well received, are they really enough for that real "WOW" level of service? . . . the kind of experience that carries the accompanying magic? Nope, I don't think so.

That kind of "WOW" moment should be pointed out to senior management!

When the "WOW" moment happens try to get the Cast Member's full name. At least remember the name on their name tag. As soon as possible after the "magical experience" you should write down what happened and describe how wonderful it made you feel. Be sure to include complete details - don't forget to mention the date, time, location and the Cast Member's name. Then send the information by mail to: Walt Disney World Guest Communications, P.O. Box 10040, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040 or by e-mail to: WDW.Guest.Communications@disneyworld.com

How about you? Have you experienced any of "The Other Kind" of Disney magic? Have you said "WOW"?

December 9, 2012

Stay on Property

Gary Cruise banner

A few months ago Carol and I were out riding our bicycles around our neighbourhood and I overheard a mother as we passed. She told her young son, "Those are the people who live in the Mickey Mouse house."

People know that we are Disney fans! When we decorate for Halloween or Christmas there are always Disney themed inflatables involved! It's always a treat to see children stop to enjoy our display . . . and the adults seem to like it too! We make no secret of our mania for all things Disney!

Christmas_Decoration

As a result friends, family and neighbours often ask us for advice before they visit the Disney parks and we are happy to oblige. One of the bits of advice we give is "Stay on Property" - stay in a Disney resort. Walt Disney World offers a wide variety of resorts to accommodate all budgets and each resort is designed, finished and furnished in typical Disney fashion. Their attention to detail is astounding. Are you looking for a luxurious tropical isle feeling? Disney has it at the Polynesian Resort!

Polynesian_Resort

Would you prefer a rustic Mississippi Delta or New Orleans atmosphere? Disney has them both at Port Orleans Riverside and Port Orleans French Quarter.

Port_Orleans_Riverside

Port_Orleans_French_Quarter

Do you need a larger space with room for up to six people? Try the cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground or consider the newest Disney addition, The Art of Animation Resort.

Fort_Wilderness_Cabin

Art_of_Animation

The variety to be found in Disney resorts is just too wide to cover in a blog . . . you can find complete details and prices here:

What about the "off-site" resorts? Walt Disney World is surrounded by some excellent hotels and resorts. There are some good values for families who are looking for multiple bedrooms and are willing to drive a few miles to get them . . . BUT!

In my mind that is a very big BUT! I firmly believe that those who stay "off-property" are missing out on some very important perks!

What are those perks?

First and foremost in my personal ranking is "the magic". When you stay at a Disney resort that magic which you feel at the parks follows you home. Disney properties are not only immaculately clean, well landscaped and secure, but they are also are all uniquely themed. When you stay at a Disney resort you become immersed in the theme . . . you actually feel as though you are living in the time and place the designers had in mind. The cast members in the Disney resorts, like their counterparts in the parks, strive to give guests the best possible vacation experience. I think the added magic when you "stay on property" adds a whole new dimension to your vacation.

My second important perk is the Disney Transportation system. Resort guests have unlimited access to all those Disney buses, boats and monorails! There is no need to rent a car, no hassle finding parking, no need to pay for parking. You will never get lost on your way to a park and at the end of a long day, when you're dog-tired, just sit back and relax as Disney transportation takes you back to your magical resort!

A perk which compliments the Disney Transportation system is Disney's Magical Express which offers free airport shuttle service, luggage delivery and airline check-in (with certain airlines) for Disney resort guests. You really don't need a car to enjoy a Disney vacation!

If you do have a car and prefer to drive to the theme parks there's another perk too! All guests at Disney resorts are entitled to free parking at the parks, a savings of $15.00 per day.

Let's not forget Extra Magic Hours. Guests at Disney resorts are given special access to selected parks for an extra hour in the morning before the park opens to the general public or for two hours in the evening after regular closing hours. These Extra Magic Hours feature much smaller crowds and offer easier access to the most popular rides and attractions. If you are trying to cram as much fun as you can into a short vacation Extra Magic Hours can be a great perk!

Disney resort guests are eligible for several unique Magic Your Way packages. These packages offer a number of discounts around Walt Disney World and can also include a pre-paid dining option. You can save a great deal of money with a Magic Your Way package. Sometimes during slower seasons the Magic Your Way package is offered as a free perk - that means your dining at the parks is free! It's a huge saving when it's free! Complete details can be found here! http://allears.net/pl/packages.htm

Disney offers free shipping back to your Disney resort on all purchases. Looking at a bulky item . . . or simply one you don't want to carry around all day? No problem, it will be available for pick-up at your resort the following afternoon!

When you stay at a Disney resort and you request a wake-up call it will be a Disney character who prompts you to "rise and shine!" How much fun is that?

There are plenty of other advantages to Disney resorts, such as souvenir mugs which can be refilled at no charge for the duration of your stay. Look here to see even more perks and also some advice to help you select the resort which is best for you and your family.

But aren't Disney resorts more expensive than those other hotels nearby? No, in my opinion they are not! The "on property" resorts are priced competitively and compare quite well to other nearby hotels. If you want luxury Disney has it in their Deluxe resorts; if you want economy Disney has it in their Value Resorts. If you are looking for something in between take a look at the Moderate resorts.

Another tip we always give to friends and family to help keep costs down, "Use a Travel Agent." It really will save you money! Carol just loves the time she spends planning our trips and for years she booked all our accommodations on her own. She shopped for good deals and always found some bargains but other Disney fans kept telling us to try an agent . . . so finally she relented and gave Mouse Fan Travel a call. WOW! We have saved thousands of dollars because of our terrific travel agent/vacation planner! She is amazing! She doesn't stop once the booking is made; she continues to monitor new deals and special pricing offers. Almost every time we book a vacation we receive a surprise e-mail from her saying something like, "I just applied a AAA discount, you will save $205.00." I really like that kind of mail!

So let's do a quick recap. Disney has almost 20 unique resorts offering a wide variety of unique themes at various price levels; there's something to suit every family. Disney resorts are closer to the theme parks than the "off-property" hotels. Disney resorts come with many unique perks which are not available anywhere else.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with staying off property. There are some beautiful resorts nearby and many of them offer good value, but when you add in all the benefits that come with a Disney resort it's an easy decision for me . . . Stay on property!

December 21, 2012

Food, Fun, and Family at Ohana

Andrew Rossi

Disney's Polynesian has always been one of my favorite resorts with its South Seas charm, prime location close to the Magic Kingdom, and its great food. In fact, there are several appealing dining options and even if you are not staying at the Polynesian it is still definitely worth a visit just to try one of these restaurants. The Kona Café is widely known for its Tonga Toast and Macadamia Pineapple Pancakes for breakfast, but also offers lunch and dinner menus featuring South Seas and Hawaiian-inspired cuisine. Captain Cook's may only be a counter service restaurant but it also features some unique offerings that you cannot find at other resort quick-service locations. Not to be overlooked, the Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau offers an all-you-care-to-eat feast paired with traditional music and entertainment.
Lastly, there is the restaurant that may receive more hype than any other in Disney World: Ohana.

Ohana Signage

Among friends and family, people continue to tell me how Ohana is one of their favorite restaurants in all of Disney World and that they go there every time they visit. It comes as no surprise that resevrations for Ohana are some of the hardest to come by amongst all Disney dining locations. For these reasons, the bar is always set very high when dining at Ohana and yet the restaurant continues to live up to these expectations time and time again. Ohana is definitely a restaurant not to be missed and it offers a dining experience unlike any other.

Overview:
In Hawaiian the word "ohana" means family and that is a central theme for what the dining experience here is all about. Both breakfast and dinner (the restaurant is not open for lunch) are served family-style and are all-you-care-to-eat. While this restaurant will certainly appeal to everyone, it is especially good for those families with children. Breakfast features the characters Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto who visit each table for pictures and autographs. Although dinner is character-free, it does feature live entertainment and other activities for kids to participate in. Disney is a company which prides itself in providing something for every member of the family, whether boy or girl, old or young. Walt Disney himself once said, "The important thing is family. If you can keep the family together, that's what we hope to do." Ohana is a restaurant which truly lives up to this Disney legacy, offering an experience that helps to bring families together to have a good time and enjoy a good meal.

Atmosphere:
In keeping with the family-oriented nature of the restaurant, Ohana has a laid-back and casual atmosphere. It is no surprise that the restaurant has a South Seas flare, but in a way that is more subtle and subdued in its island décor rather than over-the-top. While it does feature carved tiki statues and thatched roofs, the rest of the restaurant's décor is fairly simple.

Tiki1

Tiki2

That being said, Ohana has a certain exotic quality and an authenticity that makes you feel as though you are dining in some faraway Polynesian locale. One of the most notable features of the restaurant is the open fire pit where you are able to watch the chefs grilling the various meat skewers that will be served for your main course.

Ohana Grill1

The fire, smoke, and amazing aroma coming from the grill provide some added flare to the dining experience.

Ohana Grill2

Ohana Grill3

Overall the restaurant has a very open feel, thanks in large part to the fact that it is basically just one large dining room. Also adding to this sense of openness are the large windows along the perimeter of the restaurant that afford spectacular views of the resort's pool area and beyond to the Seven Seas Lagoon and even a distant glimpse of the Magic Kingdom.

Ohana Dining Room1

The windows let in plenty of light, but as you move to tables further away from them the restaurant takes on a slightly darker feel (as is also the case once the sun goes down). Whenever I go I always try to request a table by the window because the view is definitely one of the main allures of the restaurant's atmosphere.

Another important component of Ohana's authentic South Seas feel is its live entertainment. Throughout the night an entertainer wanders through the restaurant singing and playing songs on his/her ukulele, teaching guests different Hawaiian words and phrases, and playing games with the children such as limbo and coconut races. I felt that this entertainment really gave the restaurant a more festive atmosphere and allowed for the kids to have some fun during the meal. It should be noted, however, that because of all the singing and activities going on during the course of the meal the restaurant can get a little noisy, especially when it is very crowded. If you are looking for a quiet and romantic night out this might not be the best restaurant for you, but if you are looking to have a good time with your entire family then Ohana is a great option.

The Menu:
Before talking about the food I would first like to sound this warning: whenever dining at Ohana the most important thing you should remember is to PACE YOURSELF. I can best describe dinner at Ohana in three ways: it features a prix fixe menu including a salad, appetizers, entrée, and dessert; the food is served family style and is all-you-care-to-eat; and you will most definitely get a lot of food.

The meal starts with Welcome Bread. It was served warm and soft and was very light in texture. The bread had a slight flavor of coconut and pineapple, but this was not too strong. There was enough flavor, however, that you do not even need to put any butter on the bread. As a bread lover I think I could have eaten a whole loaf myself, but it is important to know that there is still a lot more food to come.

Welcome Bread

Along with the Welcome Bread was a Mixed Greens Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing. The salad was very fresh and the dressing was light and very flavorful. The flavors of the honey and lime complimented each other extremely well in a way that was neither too sweet nor too sour. It was a very refreshing way to start the meal.

Ohana Salad

Next came the appetizer that included Pork Dumplings with a sweet-and-sour sauce as well as Honey-Coriander Chicken Wings. Of the two, the dumplings were definitely my favorite. They were served slightly crispy on the edges but still soft on the inside and the pork filling was seasoned just enough to give the dumplings an added little kick. The sweet-and-sour sauce that topped the dumplings provided even extra flavor and complimented them very well.

Ohana Dumplings

The chicken wings were also very good, but I think they would have been even better if they had been served crispy, as I found them to be a little too soft in texture for my personal taste. The sauce that topped the wings was mild and had a slightly sweet flavor, which provided a good contrast to the slight spiciness of the Pork Dumplings. The wings also came topped with sesame seeds that a little extra texture without really impacting the flavor of the wings.

Ohana Chicken Wings

Then came the entrée. By this point the amount of food was just staggering and it seemed as though it just kept coming with no end in sight. First came Noodles that were tossed in a teriyaki sauce along with Stir-Fried Vegetables. The noodles were actually one of my favorite parts of the meal and had a surprisingly sweet flavor. The light taste and texture of the noodles served as a perfect accompaniment to the rest of the entrée.

Ohana Noodles

The vegetables likewise went along very well with the rest of the main course, but were served a little too undercooked and crisp for my liking.

Ohana Broccoli

The main feature of the entrée is the meat skewers which have been cooked over the open fire. They included Chicken, Pork Loin, and Sirloin Steak. Along with these skewers also came Grilled Peel-and-Eat Shrimp. Each of the skewered items was grilled to perfection and slightly charred just enough to add some extra flavor to the meat. The chicken, pork, and steak were also very tender and not fatty at all. Each of these grilled items was very flavorful and well-seasoned. They had enough flavor on their own that I did not even use any of the dipping sauces that were provided. While the grilled meats each had a little kick, it was the shrimp that were by far the spiciest of all. Even though the shrimp were really good and had a lot of flavor, I would have enjoyed them even more if they did not come served with the shells on them.

Ohana Entree

Overall, what I most enjoyed about the meal was that it offered a wide variety of different flavors that both complimented and contrasted each other very well. There was a good balance of both sweet and spicy flavors along with some items that were light in flavor and texture while others were stronger and heavier in taste.

As if that was not enough food, then came the dessert which is considered one of Ohana's signature items: Bread Pudding a la mode with a Banana-Caramel Sauce. This is why it is very important to save some room while you are eating your appetizers and main course because this dessert is one not to be missed. The bread pudding is extremely sweet and rich in flavor and is also very filling (just in case you are not full enough already). There was just enough banana flavor to notice that it was there, but not so much that it overpowered everything else; the sauce definitely tasted more strongly of caramel than banana. The vanilla ice cream served on top was very refreshing and complimented the bread pudding and banana-caramel sauce very well.

Ohana Bread Pudding

Even though the bread pudding was very good, I could not help but compare it to the bread pudding at Raglan Road. Having partaken of both bread puddings I would give the slight edge to Raglan Road in large part due to the fact that it is made fresh when you order it and is served piping hot. At Ohana, I could tell that they must have prepared a large batch of bread pudding in advance in order to be able to serve it quickly. At the same time, however, Ohana presents a different spin on bread pudding with its banana-caramel sauce that makes it unique from that of Raglan Road.

Service:
My only complaint about Ohana is that the meal can sometimes be too fast-paced. There have been times where everything just felt very rushed and you hardly had time to finish one course before the next course was brought out. Adding to this is the fact that the servers kept bringing out the additional courses of food without clearing the previous courses, which meant that the table quickly became cluttered with a wide assortment of dishes. The fast pace of the meal is most likely due to the vast popularity of the restaurant. The servers need to bring out the food quickly so they can get the tables turned over quickly in order to get more parties seated. Even though the meal is extremely good, it is nice to have some time to relax between courses rather than getting bombarded with one thing right after another.

That being said, I have dined there other times where this was not the case, but I often find myself having to tell the servers that we are in no rush and just want to relax and enjoy our meal. I have had servers who have been very good about not bringing out the next course until we have said we were ready. Also, I found the servers to be very attentive and are continually bringing over more food. As soon as a bowl of noodles or vegetables becomes empty, they are right there with another bowl. The servers actually give you so much food when they initially bring out the entrees that there is often little need for second helpings.

Dining on a Budget:
Ohana is not cheap. However, I still believe that you get good value for your money based on the quality of food and the amount of food that you get. If you are not necessarily a big eater or if family-style/buffet meals do not really appeal to you, then you might get better value for your money somewhere else. Ohana's price fluctuates depending on whether it is a peak or off-peak time of year. During peak season the price for dinner is $42.59 compared with $36.20 during the less busy times of year. Even at these prices, dinner at Ohana is comparable in price to many of the dinner buffets found on property, such as Chef Mickey's or Crystal Palace, but it does offer a dining experience which is far more unique and exciting than those found in these other restaurants. Therefore, while it may not be the best choice if you are looking to save some money, it does offer you a good bang-for-your-buck.

Ohana is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit for both breakfast and dinner, making it a very good value if you are on the dining plan. The restaurant also participates in Tables in Wonderland, offering members a 20% discount. However, there are no discounts for Disney Vacation Club members or Annual Passholders.

The Overall Experience:
Ohana has become one of my favorite restaurants in all of Disney World. Once you get past the fast-paced nature of the meal, everything else about the dining experience is top-notch. An "experience" is truly an apt word to describe Ohana because it is more than just a restaurant, but rather a little taste of the South Seas in the middle of Florida. The atmosphere, complete with live music and entertainment, and vast amounts of food combine to create a level of authenticity and immersion that is what you come to expect when dining at a Disney restaurant and one that is truly unique in all of Disney World. As its name suggests, Ohana is a great restaurant for the entire family where you can go not only for an exceptional meal, but also to have fun.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Ohana and post your own too!

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About December 2012

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in December 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2012 is the previous archive.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.