Main

Kay Belin Archives

November 6, 2016

Changes at Ft. Wilderness

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

fort-wilderness-entrance-1.JPG


This past summer Fort Wilderness went through a huge change when they took a popular cabin loop and turned it into a camping loop. Many guests were disappointed as they watched "their" cabins disappear from the Fort. For many weeks you could actually see some of them sitting on the old landing strip on the way to the Magic Kingdom.

Work began to make new sites for RV camping. Concrete pads were built and electrical and water connections were put together for each site. I think everyone had thought that these new sites would be premium sites meaning long pads, high quality picnic tables, and all the other amenities of premium sites. The 2100 loop finally opened late summer and it was a surprise to see that it is now an added Full Hook-up loop and not Premium.

The pads are different from the other four Full loops, 1600-1900. The new pads have short concrete pads with a very small amount of sand pad in front of them. They have instead added a larger area of sand pad to the side and its just big enough for the picnic table. The loop itself is a very pretty loop with many large trees and some sites backing up to a drainage stream. The pads and area are very level and most sites appear to have easy access for backing into them.

There is an old comfort station located in the middle of the loop but at this time it is not available. Thus, two loops will now use the comfort station located next to the 1100 Loop.

Check out the pictures showing the different configuration of the pads.

These are the older pads in the 1600-1900 loops.

ftw-2016-10-1.JPG
ftw-2016-10-2.JPG
ftw-2016-10-3.JPG
ftw-2016-10-4.JPG
ftw-2016-10-5.JPG


These are the pads in the new 2100 camping loop. The 2100 loop will be a quieter area but the pads might not best meet your needs with your longer RV.

ftw-2016-10-6.JPG
ftw-2016-10-7.JPG
ftw-2016-10-8.JPG
ftw-2016-10-9.JPG

Fort Wilderness is looking good these days. Lots of trimming and sprucing up the area has taken place. All cabins have been refurbished and are beautiful and include big screen TV's and queen beds. You can often catch a sight of the many turkey and deer who also call this resort their home making it a very special place to stay.

July 6, 2016

Animal Kingdom Date Night

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

Over the years I have been asked many times about where can parents, grandparents, and couples go at Walt Disney World for a fun "date night". Disney has many superb dining options and lounges throughout the property but I think I found something that will offer you more then just a good meal.

The Animal Kingdom park has evolved to offer evening hours, new dining options, special shows and entertainment. My husband and I had a quick trip to Disney this past week and we decided to visit the Animal Kingdom to check out all the new offerings. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable, relaxing evenings ever spent.

ak-dance-party-10.jpg


We started the evening with dinner reservations and we opted for a dining package for the new restaurant, Tiffins. The dining package includes a three course dinner and reserved seating for the 9:00pm Jungle Book Show. This park has needed another table service option for a long time and Tiffins fits this need. It is a place where you will want to walk around and see the decor and all the details that were used to make it very authentic. There are three dining rooms with different themes and decorations but all three share the same menu.

tiffins-7a.jpg


One of the highlights is the big and beautiful Nomad lounge available to all guests whether you are there for dinner or not. There is comfortable seating inside and out and a fun and extensive drink menu.

nomad320.jpg

Dinner was very relaxing and service was superb. Portion sizes for the most part were adequate and the flavors and uniqueness of the choices were excellent. Although our dining room was full we never felt crowded and the noise level was low making conversation easy which is always nice when out on a date.

menu_item_image_1596.jpg


After dinner it was time to stroll the park. This was probably my favorite time of the evening as we were drawn by the music being played in different locations. African dancing and songs were being enjoyed by many guests. It was easy to add a smile and move your own body to keep in time with the rhythm. The shops were open and it was an excellent time to browse or purchase as the crowd levels were lower in the evening.

ak-dance-party-09.jpg


You can simply walk and enjoy the atmosphere or head to some of the many attractions that are open in the evening. One of the most popular will be the evening Safari adventures. Watching the animals as the sun begins to set is exciting and many of them will be waking up from their day long naps and moving about. If you are looking for something more exciting then head to Everest where you will truly get the best view of a sunset in the park as you climb the mountain.

We were not interested in hitting the attractions but did notice that wait times were very short so it didn't seem to be necessary to have FastPasses at this time.

We gave ourselves plenty of time to head to the seating area for the Jungle Book show. For the dining package guests it is directly across from the Finding Nemo show entrance. For the FastPass guests the seating is across from Everest. We were told to be sure and get there by 8:30pm as at 8:45pm they will open all sections up for standby guests to fill. There were cast members who were interacting with the guests which made the time go by quickly. There are handicap areas in the first rows for wheelchairs and ECV's and they will direct you to that area when you arrive. I will share a word of caution about the seating. The benches are hard and quite hot. It will be like sitting on a rock that is out in the open sun all day. So come prepared and have something to sit on and it will make it much more enjoyable.

magic-of-jungle-book12.jpg


The Jungle Book show is something that was pulled together when there was a delay to their premiere show, Rivers of Light. I watched with little expectation but we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. Every guest will have a good view, the sound was not too loud, and the entertainment was fun. This show is not necessarily the best Disney has produced but it certainly was a fun way to enjoy an evening. The water images were not clear and if you had not seen the Jungle Book the images would be hard to understand. But whether you have seen the movie or not the entertainment was fun. My favorite part of the show were the three fire twirlers....what an amazing group of talented cast members. And I don't want to forget the incredible dancers and singers who participated.

magic-of-jungle-book07.jpg

As we exited the show area we again felt the draw of music and found an entertainer playing near the Flame Tree Barbecue. In a matter of minutes the Tree of Life came to life with its own new story of projections and lights. It was magical and a perfect way to end our evening in the Animal Kingdom Park.

We found this a perfect "date night" opportunity but it doesn't have to exclude the families. There are so many different things to do in this park to fill an evening between signature dining at Tiffins to authentic street entertainment to an exciting show. The crowd numbers were well handled so it didn't feel like you were among the masses. And it was interesting but all the guests seemed to be in a more relaxed mood then at many of the other parks in the evening. You can add excitement by enjoying attraction rides or you can just walk and enjoy the ambiance and sunsets. I am confident we will be heading back to an evening in the Animal Kingdom park on our next visit.

May 8, 2016

Visiting Kennedy Space Center - Multi-Generational Family Visit

by Guest Blogger Kay Belin


kennedy-space-center-1.JPG

For many visitors, central Florida means a vacation of theme parks and crowds. For the last 40 years that is exactly what my family has enjoyed but this year we dared to change and we ventured out beyond the limits of theme park attractions. On this family trip we were 2 grandparents, our son and his wife in their 30s, and 3 grandchildren 10, 8, and 6.

We chose to visit the Kennedy Space Center even risking to explore it on the Saturday of Easter weekend. It is a short and easy drive from Orlando taking only about an hour to an hour and a half. Signage is good to find the Space Center Visitor Complex and parking is $10 per car. It is very convenient to the entrance and just a short walk. You can purchase your tickets upon arrival but I suggest you do it on line, www.kennedyspacecenter.com, and that way you bypass the ticket queues. Simply scan your bar code on your printed receipt and you are on your way to a day full of fun.

Daily admission is $50 per adult and $40 per child.

The first site you will see is the enormous "rocket yard" exhibit with the life size rockets and space capsules on display. Many of these were used throughout the early phases of the US manned space flight program. You can even try out what it would have felt like orbiting earth by sitting in a mockup of the original Mercury capsule that Alan Shepherd piloted on his first space flight.

kennedy-space-center-2.JPG

Our next stop was a quick visit to the Children's Play Dome where the grand-kids enjoyed climbing and exploring. Benches and tables are scattered around under the shade making this a great spot for the adults to rest and catch their breath. Also a great place for a quick snack for everyone.

kennedy-space-center-4.JPG


As we headed to the IMAX theater we stopped in to see the Journey to Mars exhibit. This was certainly one of our favorites as it was full of interactive exhibits for everyone to enjoy as well as a wonderful 15 minute show about the ambition to land on Mars. It was well done and kept all ages mesmerized about our future in space with the development of a Mars space vehicle. They reminded the children in the audience that it is likely one who is between 10-14 right now could be the first person to land on Mars.

We literally had to drag the kids away from Mars to head to the IMAX theater for the show, Journey to Space 3D. The movie is approximately 40 minutes long and well worth the wait. It is suggested you be in line about 30 minutes ahead of time as the theater is small and it was full during our visit. You can purchase simple movie type foods and drinks to enjoy during the show too. We all enjoyed the summary of the US space shuttle program from beginning to end.

Even though we all gobbled up the popcorn during the IMAX movie, it was time for lunch and the Kennedy Space Center has plenty of places to choose from. There are three cafes and a grill offering burgers, sandwiches, barbecue, salads and many more options for adults and kids. You can find seating inside or out and all locations seemed clean and kept up well. Try to avoid heading there when the IMAX movie ends as everyone seems to have the same idea and the lines will be longer.

After lunch we walked the short distance to the Astronaut Memorial. It is well done and very moving and educational. Separate areas are dedicated to those who gave their lives so we could explore beyond our boundaries. Many adults will stand and remember where they were when some of the tragedies took place. We all felt it was a must see part of our day.

kennedy-space-center-5.JPG

kennedy-space-center-6.JPG

kennedy-space-center-7.JPG

Probably the highlight of the day for us was the visit to see the actual space shuttle Atlantis. My husband and I were lucky enough to be there to watch the final journey into space of the Atlantis and to see this proud and grand shuttle displayed was overwhelming. You enter the building and go through a two stage pre show. At the end of the second show the back wall magically opens and there is the shuttle in all her glory. You can take as many photos as you wish and there are different levels to get different views. Again they have included many hands on exhibits so ultimately you could spend hours here if you wished.

kennedy-space-center-8.JPG

kennedy-space-center-9.JPG

kennedy-space-center-10.JPG

kennedy-space-center-11.JPG

We did not have time to visit the Astronaut Encounters where you can talk and ask questions to a legendary or new astronaut. They also offer lunch with an astronaut but this books up quickly and we were not able to get a reservation for this as well. Next time!

Our last stop was to hop on a bus for the KSC Up-Close Guided Tour. This was $25 per adult and $19 per child (in addition to your regular admission). They offer two tours with one concentrating on the control center and the other more of a backstage visit to the launching pads, space vehicle assembly buildings and much more. These are extra costs but again worth the time and expense. They also offer short bus tours that take you directly to the Apollo/Saturn V Visitor Center. All tours end at this Center where you can again spend hours exploring. Buses run every 15 minutes to get back to the main Tourist Center.

kennedy-space-center-12.JPG


Our backstage tour was amazing and something most people never get a chance to do. We had several stops where we could get off the bus and take pictures and appreciate the magnitude of what we were seeing. Getting so close to a launch pad and learning what has to happen to get a rocket safely into space was amazing. And seeing the rocket vehicle that moves them to the launch pads was just as exciting. They move 1 mile and hour making this an all day event to go just 6 or 7 miles to the pad.

kennedy-space-center-13.JPG

kennedy-space-center-14.JPG

kennedy-space-center-15.JPG

kennedy-space-center-17.JPG

kennedy-space-center-20.JPG


Another fascinating stop was the Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the massive building most see on tv that bears a large US flag down its side. In fact the stars are big enough for several people to stand in them and the stripes are large enough for a bus to fit inside the width. The kids (and adults) loved learning all these fun facts!

kennedy-space-center-23.JPG

kennedy-space-center-21.JPG


Our last stop was the Apollo/Saturn V center where you will see the Saturn V rocket lifted into the air on display. We did not have time for the pre show and instead headed to quickly see a few of the exhibits. This is where you will find moon rocks on display and also a moon rock you can touch although again we were not able to take the time. With that said this center is certainly on the itinerary for our next visit.

kennedy-space-center-24.JPG

kennedy-space-center-25.JPG

kennedy-space-center-26.JPG

The NASA Kennedy Space Center proved to be an exciting day for all ages and a place we will return to again for another visit. The facility was clean and well kept and bathrooms were abundant and constantly being checked and supplied. The grounds are well appointed and other buildings are being refurbished so I am sure there will be new things for us to see and do the next time. The guides at the exhibits and tours were well informed and could answer all questions directed to them. They worked hard to not have levels above children's interest and patiently answered all of their questions.

I might also add that our day turned into a bit of a wildlife adventure as well. We saw many alligators and several massive ones along the sides of the roads we traveled. We had a bald eagle fly right in front of the bus at one point and the guide showed us a huge eagle nest. We saw many long legged birds and turtles and on the way there and back we had fun catching sight of dolphins and a wild boar.

Our journey away from the theme parks proved to be a thumbs up day from everyone and guaranteed to be on the repeat list in the future.

April 27, 2016

Review: Early Morning Magic at the Magic Kingdom

by Guest Blogger Kay Belin

My husband and I had a short Walt Disney World vacation planned when I noticed that Disney was offering something new called Early Morning Magic. I am always one to want to experience what is new in the World so I jumped on this opportunity and made reservations for the first date it was being offered, April 26.

early-morning-1.JPG

We were told to be at the Magic Kingdom queues around 7:30am to check-in and we would then enter the park to be escorted to Fantasyland at 7:45. Not knowing if early morning buses would be running we hopped in a taxi and arrived in plenty of time. We checked in and received a yellow paper band for our wrists and stood in line for the queues.

early-morning-3.JPG

It was soon apparent that everyone who had bought this experience was grouped with all those guests who had early morning dining reservations. It was a bit of a crowded experience and a lot of waiting. We waited to go through the queue and then waited again as a mass group right before the entrance tunnel. Then one more time we waited inside the tunnel as a group. I was never quite sure why we had to wait in all of these locations and why the Early Morning Magic guests were not separated from the others. It was confusing for everyone.

early-morning-2.JPG

When they let us loose it was around 7:45am and it was a calm walk down Main Street to Fantasyland. We did not stop for the castle photo but also did not rush. We were not escorted as the information had mentioned but it was nice to just enjoy an empty park and stroll at our own pace.

early-morning-5.JPG
early-morning-6.JPG
early-morning-7.JPG

The Early Morning Magic event offered three Fantasyland attractions for us to enjoy: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan's Flight. We headed to what we knew would be the most popular choice, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We were met with no lines and no wait and hopped right on and enjoyed our first attraction of the day. When we exited you could go right back to the loading area without leaving the building which was nice.

early-morning-9.JPG

We opted to head to Peter Pan's Flight and do our next attraction. Again there was no line and no wait and we were on immediately to enjoy my husband's favorite ride. Next stop was the last attraction offered, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and again walked right on. I checked my watch and saw that we had done all three attractions and it was only 8:03am. My question to myself was now what were we going to do for another hour.

early-morning-10.JPG

My husband isn't a lover of roller coasters of any kind so I decided to head back to the Mine Train and do it again solo. I actually could have done it another ten times if I had wished to ride that many times. They were asking guests to get out of the cars after each trip but you literally could just walk back on.

One of the perks to getting this extra park event was that it included a full breakfast. So that is exactly where we headed next. Breakfast is served in Pinocchio Village Haus located right in the center of Fantasyland.

pvhext.jpg
early-morning-22.JPG


Two identical buffet sides were set up and the offerings included scrambled eggs, vegetable frittata, two kinds of sausages, bacon, potatoes, fruits, assorted pastries, assorted cheeses and cold meats, and waffles. Two juice flavors were options as well as milk and water. They also had a coffee station offering regular coffee, decaf coffee, and assorted teas. We thought the food selections adequate and everything tasted great. We were not disappointed in the all you can eat buffet that was included in this special ticket. Breakfast was offered until 10am so if you wanted to ride the attractions for the full hour you could still come and enjoy this private dining event once the park opened.

early-morning-15.JPG
early-morning-14.JPG
early-morning-13.JPG
early-morning-17.JPG
early-morning-18.JPG
early-morning-19.JPG
early-morning-20.JPG
early-morning-21.JPG

After breakfast I decided to do the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train one last time. It was now about 8:45 and with the park opening at 9am that morning it was good to get the most popular attraction under my belt once again before the crowds descended. What surprised me and disappointed me was the fact when we walked over we saw that the stand-by line was filling up. Why? Because th queue included some of the early dining guests. We had heard the announcement of the park opening show as we left breakfast so didn't think guests could all be there yet but wondered about the crowds building.

I walked through the FastPass line and was immediately stopped by a cast member who asked if I had a FastPass. I was stunned and said no but that I had bought the Early Morning Magic ticket and showed her my yellow wristband. She was hesitant but allowed me to join the line. Yes, I am saying the line now. They were allowing all the standby line guests to enjoy the attraction and I had to join into that line. Of course the wait was not long but I was just surprised that it was inferred that only those guests who paid for this special ticket would enjoy the three attractions until park opened at 9am.

My opinion of this event is mixed. Unless you have family members who are avid Seven Dwarfs Mine Train fans this will not appeal to older children who would rather be on Space Mountain. You will also have to be careful that your group can all enjoy the three attractions that are offered as I saw a few times that young children did not meet the height requirement for the Mine Train and they were very disappointed.

I personally felt that they certainly could have at least two more attractions open such as Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid and Its a Small World as they both are in the same area if they wanted to keep it compact. If not then Dumbo and Barnstormer would be great additions. But three attractions just didn't offer enough to do for the hour in the park. I appreciated not waiting in the long lines those attractions draw during the day but I found we had so much extra time on our hands and didn't know what to do.

The cost for the Early Morning Magic ticket is $69 for adults and $59 for children 3-9. This is on top of the admission ticket you must have for the park that day. It does include a full breakfast and the opportunity to experience three attractions but I felt that was a bit steep. Characters were not out and if they wanted to make it a better value for their guests it would be nice to have one character meet and greet and at least two more attractions open to enjoy. It was difficult for me to find out how many Early Morning Magic tickets are sold for each date but I finally was told that it was around 200 so if this is something you wish to experience you will need to grab a reservation quickly.

Because of the cost of the ticket I hope they will encourage the three attractions that are included to stay open only for the ticketed guests until the published time of the park opening which is 9am. I understand that the Magic Kingdom will often open early if crowds become heavy at the entrance but it was disappointing that with my ticket I lost 15 minutes of private enjoyment of the attractions.

All in all we enjoyed our quiet time in the park but I doubt we will encourage our family to purchase this special event ticket if it is continued past June unless more is added to enjoy.

December 8, 2015

Review - Holiday DLights Tour

holiday-dlights-2.JPG
by Guest Blogger Kay Belin

December is the month that draws many guests to Walt Disney World to see their famous holiday decorations and events. This year I decided to take one of their premiere tours, Holiday D-Lights, which takes you into three parks to see some of these amazing sights.

The tour begins and ends in Epcot making it easy to figure out the transportation. Park tickets are not required and you meet outside the Guest Relations window in front of Epcot. The tour has a maximum of 40 guests which is very manageable and transportation from park to park is on one of the Disney cruise/Magical Express buses.

Our guides and tour coordinators appeared and met us singing and in festive moods making everyone excited about the next few hours on tour. Name Tags and paper work were taken care of quickly and we were soon on our way to the Wilderness Lodge for dinner. Our guides for this tour were Donna, Jim, and Nancy and they were all wonderful and informative.

Whispering Canyon was not open to the public yet so we had the entire restaurant for the group. They were ready for us and soon we had amazing barbecue feast platters set on the tables with baskets of cornbread. The food consisted of ribs, pulled pork, chicken, sausage, corn on the cob, baked beans, and yummy mashed potatoes. Guests with dietary restrictions were easily taken care of and offered great alternatives by the chef. Drinks included water, coke, and ice tea and were constantly being refilled by the service staff. We were not given dessert but told we would have a surprise later in the evening.

holiday-dlights-4.JPG

Time was provided to take pictures of the Wilderness Lodge lobby and a bit of history was given about the tree. We observed,in my opinion, one of the prettiest resort trees on property as it's decorated with canoes, teepees, and Indian drums and obviously very unique for the resort.

holiday-dlights-5.jpg

Back on the bus and on our way as we headed to the back stage area of the Magic Kingdom. Our next stop was to visit the Event and Decorating Support Team. They work out of a massive warehouse and put together not only the castle lights but also special staging pieces that might be needed or requested for the parks or groups. The main emphasis was learning how they decorate the castle with the lights using LED light strands and special dyed and flame retardant netting.

holiday-dlights-6.jpg
holiday-dlights-7.jpg

Every strand of lights are checked at least three times before they are put on the castle and this whole process actually begins in May. Work on the castle cannot begin each night until all guests leave the park so when the Magic Kingdom is open late it just makes it a little more difficult to get it all done on time. But Disney is used to making magic and it always happens and most never know what it took to get the amazing outcome.

After learning about how the castle is lit we hopped back on the bus and headed to the Magic Kingdom to see the castle lighting show. Our guides provided us with listening devices so crowd noise would not be an issue while in the parks. The group was divided into two making the numbers much easier to handle and we were then dropped off back stage and walked a short distance to the Castle hub where we then observed the great lighting of the beautiful castle. With a theming from Frozen the castle went from a lighted structure to a magical sparkling icicle wonder. This is probably the most magnificent piece of holiday magic Disney offers its guests.

holiday-dlights-12.jpg
holiday-dlights-16.jpg
holiday-dlights-17.jpg

Time to head to Hollywood Studios! We were given a Rice Krispie holiday treat as we entered the bus and were shown a short video of how all the Disney castles worldwide are decorated for the holidays. The actual castle lighting idea began at the Paris Disney park and only the Tokyo Disney castle is not lit as it is actually not a Disney owned park. It was very interesting to learn facts about not only Walt Disney World but about the parks around the world.

Our next spectacle of Disney lights was the Osborne Family lights in the Studios. It was bittersweet to visit this amazing street filled with millions of LED lights as it is the last year for this display at Disney. We kept to our two smaller groups and were led down the street listening to more amazing facts from our guide Jim. Some of the great trivia he shared include that at the far end of the lights you will see many blue angels flying overhead. Look for a white one and that is representing Jennings Osborne, the patriarch of the Osborne family and who started this light tradition for his daughter. In this same area you will find a large Mickey and Santa shaking hands which is supposed to represent the agreement Jennings Osborne and Disney made to bring the lights to the park. If you look closely you will see they are shaking left hands which is the hand that is closest to the heart.

holiday-dlights-22.jpg

As we moved down the street we were told to look for over 150 lit Mickeys and also the purple cat.

holiday-dlights-20.jpg

The story behind the cat is when they shipped the decorations this one Halloween cat got mixed up with the Christmas lights and the Osborne family told Disney to just keep it. So every year the cast enjoys placing the cat in different locations and changes it almost every week so guests can hunt it down.

By the large tree in the center of the street you will see toy soldiers surrounding the bottom. The soldier in the center is a bit different as he proudly wears Mickey ears. This is to honor the cast member, Dan, who was responsible for inventing the different relay lighting systems needed for the show each night. He passed away a few years ago and they found his name tag in his locker and if you look closely this soldier is also wearing a Disney name badge.

holiday-dlights-18.jpg

Continuing down on the left side you will see what appears to be crossed light sabers in the upper floor window. The story goes that this is now marking the spot where they will begin the dismantling of the Osborne Lights to begin the new construction of the future Star Wars Land. Not sure if this is true but it does make a nice Disney story.

holiday-dlights-19.jpg

Cross the street here and in the first floor windows you can see photos of the actual Osborne Family light displays from their home in Arkansas.

holiday-dlights-21.jpg

The last bit of trivia to add is heading back up the street and in a little alcove. Look up and you will find Kermit sitting up high playing a banjo. The word is that he is actually using a banjo pick from the famous Mulch, Sweat, and Shears group that entertained guests in the Studios for years but are now gone. There are many, many more things to see and observe and on this tour it was fun to have someone share some of the more unknown stories and facts.

Once again we were back on the bus and again headed to a backstage area of Epcot. Our last special treat of the evening was the incredible Candlelight Processional. It was fascinating to learn that the Candlelight show was started in Disneyland with Dennis Morgan as the first narrator. Walt met with the USC music director, Dr. Hirt, who suggested the format that is still used today. Guest choirs, full orchestra and guest narrators are brought together for this moving spectacle. It was later moved to Walt Disney World where it held shows for a few years at the train station in the Magic Kingdom. Rock Hudson was the first narrator there and when Epcot was built it found its permanent home in this park where we watch it today.

holiday-dlights-23.jpg

Watching the Candlelight Processional is always moving and inspirational but I was disappointed in our reserved seats. We were led to the second and third last rows and had a few trees to dodge to get unobstructed views. This was the end of the tour but everyone had the opportunity to stay and watch Illuminations if they chose to do so.

This tour is one of Disney's most expensive tours at $269 plus tax per person so one needs to think hard about what they hope to see and do for their time and money. I think it is a great choice for the guest who might have a very limited time at Disney and who wants to experience as many of the holiday events as possible. Park tickets are not required which is a savings and you are offered a meal that is included. To be able to see the Magic Kingdom castle lighting, the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and the Candlelight Processional (and Illuminations on your own) in one evening is amazing. Plus you get some backstage stops and professional guides who can answer questions and offer information you might otherwise not receive.

The biggest disappointment was the fact that seating for the Candlelight event was in the far back rows. You would hope that paying a large amount of money for a tour would also get you better seats to a show. You would actually get front seats if you chose to do a dinner package instead. We were sitting among guests who had been in the stand-by line. It would also have been nice to offer water on the bus at some point. The tour is five hours long and many of us were needing refreshment. The Rice Krispie treat is cute but not much of a dessert treat, again on what they tout as their premiere holiday tour.

This tour can accommodate guests who use scooters or wheelchairs but they must provide their own. They cannot use Disney park rentals. The minimum age for the tour is 16 as you will be visiting backstage areas. Cameras are welcome but guests must adhere to rules about not using them in backstage areas. Backpacks and bags are allowed but you will be subject to bag inspection at all parks even though you enter through backstage areas. Closed toe and heel shoes are also required as I believe this is also a rule for anyone using backstage areas.

I am not sure what they will do next year when the Osborne Lights will be gone. I would imagine they will reinvent a holiday tour to include possibly something else. If you are planning a several day Disney vacation at this time of year you can easily do the events on your own. This is especially true if you plan on being in the parks to do other things and buying a daily ticket is not an issue. Besides a commemorative pin for the tour and backstage access you are not getting anything special beyond what the normal guest would experience on their own. That was disappointing for the price but as I said before this is a great tour for the guest with one night to see it all.

November 16, 2015

REVIEW: Merry and Bright Osborne Lights Dessert Party

osborne-lights-201516.JPG
By Guest Blogger Kay Belin and Comments by Deb Wills

Fabulous lights, wonderful music, and delicious sweets certainly bring out the festive spirit in all of us. Disney has put all three of these ingredients together to offer the 90 minute Merry and Bright Dessert Party at Hollywood Studios.

This special ticketed event allows guests to enjoy the famous Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights while enjoying some holiday sweets and drinks in a private area at the end of the Streets of America.

aaosborne100.jpg

Every guest of the party will be given a large light-bulb sticker to wear. This sticker was always coming off and it would have been a nice touch to perhaps have some sort of plastic credential to wear around your neck instead. Be sure to put the bottom section in a safe place - you will need that to get your special blanket when you are ready to leave.

merry1.jpg

When you entered you were given unique glasses to wear while enjoying the lights. I have to say I expected to see millions of Mickeys when wearing them but instead something else surprised me. I think I will keep it a surprise to all of you planning on enjoying this party!

Tables are set up to accommodate everyone (or so it seemed) and seat 4 persons. Most tables have wonderful views of the lights and the light shows taking place around them. It was quite enjoyable to have a seat to relax and take in the beautiful views. It was especially nice to listen to the music but not have it so loud that you could not have conversations with those around you.

osborne11.jpg

KAY: Unfortunately, the tables were a bit too close together making it difficult to wind your way back with a full plate of sweets or drinks without taking many detours or hitting chairs.

DEB: I totally agree on the closeness of the tables. For an event at this price point, I would want a roomier table set up and not have to balance my food while navigating the chairs and tables. Also, while the location is great, you still need to venture out into the actual Osborne Lights to see displays on both the sidewalks (see below) and the color canape!

aaosborne295.jpg

There is a section of tables for wheelchairs and ECV's. Getting around the dessert tables and drink stations is more roomy than the seating area which makes it nice for all guests.

Now it's time to talk about the sweets and drinks. I was amazed at the great offerings for this dessert party. There are two stations with the same desserts on each and two sides allowing for many guests to serve themselves at the same time. There was never a line so you weren't spending your whole evening standing waiting for food and drink.

merry3.jpg

Some of the offerings, and they could change from party to party, include light-bulb eclairs, lemon and raspberry cups, chocolate truffle wreaths, rice crispy bon bons, white chocolate peppermint mousse, and coconut cakes. The mousse and coconut cakes were favorites while the eclairs were a bit messy to eat and not as appealing.

aaosborne1001.jpg

Another station served pecan and apple pies with buttered popcorn vanilla gelato and these were both very good and popular.

KAY: I especially appreciated their effort with those guests who needed gluten free desserts as they will provide a cute box with a variety of sweet items for them. If you have such a need or need no sugar added desserts please note that when making a reservation so they can be ready to serve you your special items.


DEB: My favorite was the Gelato :) To me the desserts available were not as good or varied as other Hollywood Studios dessert parties I have attended. The addition of the ever popular Mickey Ice Cream Bar would have been nice.

DEB: Even noting a special dietary request on your reservation does not necessarily guarantee a special dietary box. Go over to the dessert area after getting your table and ask cast members for the Gluten Free or No Sugar Added. I was told the Gluten Free box is almost always on site. However, on the night we went, there weren't any "no sugar added" options. The manager did offer to go to a restaurant and get something but I declined. Here is a photo of the Gluten-Free dessert box. Also note there are 2 items on the dessert bar labeled as "No Gluten Added". Scroll Down for contents of Gluten Free Dessert Box.

merry4.jpg
merry5.jpg

The coffee station included several flavored additives (hazelnut or caramel cane sugar syrup; zero calorie French Vanilla syrup) as well as tea and hot cocoa complete with peppermint and marshmallow offerings. Water, soda, cider and juice are available.

osborne1231.jpg

Four alcoholic choices were found at the bar and were given special holiday festive names such as Jack Frost, Snowflake Flurry, Warm Mistletoe, and Cinnamon Crush. The warm mistletoe is indeed a warm drink and probably not the best choice on a hot night , although I did enjoy the flavor. It was nice to see even the bar themed for the evening.

Pictured below:

The Cinnamon Crush - Hot Apple Cider with Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey -- think a sweet cinnamon red hot ~!

aaosborne292.jpg

Warm Mistletoe - Hot Chocolate, Bailey's and White Chocolate Syrup

aaosborne293.jpg

In addition to bottled water and sodas there are 2 Merry and Bright non-alcoholic beverages. The Elf Warmer is hot apple cider garnished with dried apple slice. The Rosy Cheeks, has passion, orange, and guava juice with a touch of Grenadine.

merry2.jpg

Remember the light bulb sticker I mentioned at the start? Well, be sure and pull it back out so you can get your parting gift as you leave! It is a very nice lap blanket which is something very special this year since it has the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, 2015 written on it. Since this is the last year of the lights this will be a keepsake you will cherish. The blanket comes in either blue or red and measures approximately 42" x 52".

aablankek2.JPG
aablanket1.jpg

CONCLUSIONS:

KAY: I enjoyed the event and recommend it but, I find it better suited to a date night situation or adults versus families. With the cost being $69 for adults and $39 for children (3-9) I don't feel the food offerings for the children would make it cost worthy. Most children enjoy simple sweets such as cookies and these choices are very sophisticated and more for the adult tastes. Although you can come and go as you wish during the party wiggle worm children will want to be out on the street getting up close to the lights and the action and counting how many lighted Mickeys they can find.

DEB: I, again, agree with Kay. To me, this event is about sitting, relaxing, noshing and sipping on the sweetness, and enjoying the ambiance of the lights. While you can come and go, I would wait until you are ready to leave the event (or it concludes) and then go visit the lights up close and personal. If you or your group don't want to sit, relax, and enjoy the evening I suggest you attend Minnie's Holiday Dine (review coming) and then go walk the lights on your own.

This is sadly the last year for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights in Hollywood Studios and this Merry and Bright Dessert Party would be a great way to say good-bye. Being able to sit and look upon the lights and not be in the throngs of people moving down the Streets of America is relaxing. Add to that some tasty sweets and drinks makes for a wonderful evening.

You still have a chance to book the party as it will continue until December 30 excluding 11/17, 12/9, and 12/18. Party time is 7-8:30pm until 12/24 and then 8:30-10pm until 12/30. Check in may begin as early as 6:30pm.

Admission to Hollywood Studios is required and you are not able to use Disney Dining entitlements for this event. In case of rain it will be moved under cover. You can book on line or by calling 407-939-3463.

This is a bittersweet year for many of us who have enjoyed seeing this incredible light display for the last twenty years. Change is hard and we have lots to look forward to ahead in the Studios. Take this opportunity to say good-bye with this comfortable and festive dessert party.

CONTENTS of the Gluten Free Box:
Housemade Popcorn and dried cranberry mix (small)
OMG It's Gluten Free Fudge Brownie
Housemade Cookes (3)
Larabar Cashew Cookie
Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie
Enjoy Life BoomChocoBoom rice milk crunch bar

Please leave your comments and questions below!

DISCLAIMER: Kay and Deb were guests of Walt Disney World as media. This did not affect our story, and our opinions our own.

November 3, 2015

Ft. Wilderness Renovated Cabins

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

Since the end of summer, crews have been busy refurbishing the Fort Wilderness cabins. Guests will be pleasantly surprised at the changes that have taken place and will continue to make it a sought after resort reservation. The cabins are especially enticing for the larger families since they can sleep six. In the past this was a tight squeeze but now it is a much more comfortable option. Work is currently going on in Loop 2600.

fort-wilderness-cabin-201547.JPG

The cabins themselves have stayed the same structurally. Since this is technically a wetlands area they cannot change the building profile. So Disney used their magic and pixie dust on the inside.

Guests will find new carpets and window treatments and new flooring throughout. There is also updated and new lighting. All cabins have had new decks built outside.

Probably the biggest change is the addition of a queen bed in the bedroom. With the bunks remaining as well as the nightstand I thought this might make for a very tight room but was pleasantly surprised that it looks and feels great. The new queen bed is also one where you can store your luggage or other gear underneath giving you more room. The closet and drawers remain the same and maybe during the next renovation they will address the small size of the closet.

fort-wilderness-cabin-201533.JPG

The bathroom has been updated with new countertop, tile backsplash, hardware etc. You now have four storage drawers as well as a large area of the countertop to keep personal items close at hand. Although the cabins have only one bathroom it is a large area for several to use at one time.

fort-wilderness-cabin-201522.JPG


The largest area of the cabins is the kitchen/dining/living room. Disney has added a great coat rack at the main door entry so you have a place for those pesky rain ponchos on rainy days.

The dining table is the same with the bench seat and three additional chairs allowing for six or more to sit and eat comfortably.

fort-wilderness-cabin-20157.JPG

Big changes happened in the kitchen and it all looks wonderful. New countertops and cabinets seem to open the room up and they have moved the sink and appliances to different locations. Disney removed the stove and oven and replaced them with a two burner cooktop and large convection/microwave unit. Some guests are intimidated by a convection oven but I can assure you that it is just as easy to cook food in it as a normal oven. I cook foods from meatloaf, pies, brownies and more in my small convection oven in my motor coach. There are new refrigerators and dishwashers making the kitchens some of the most updated ones on property.

fort-wilderness-cabin-201550.jpg

The final changes to mention are the ones that happened in the living area. The Murphy Bed is gone! In its place is a new queen sleeper sofa upholstered in a material that will repel just about anything that you could think of spilling on it including red wine! I find the color a bit too light for the decor but am happy that they addressed the possibility of spills happening on the furniture.

fort-wilderness-cabin-201510.JPG

The old small tv and cabinet have disappeared and in its place is a 55" flat screen tv mounted where the murphy bed once was located. Under the TV they have added 6 drawers helping overcome the small closet space.

fort-wilderness-cabin-20154.JPG

I am excited about the changes and excited that Disney is listening to the needs of the guests. The cabins have needed a true refurbishment for a long time and the results are definitely positive.

Check out over 50 new photos of the Ft. Wilderness Cabins!

Take a video tour!!

Return to Blog Central

About Kay Belin

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Kay Belin category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Jim Korkis is the previous category.

Kristin Ford is the next category.

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