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October 16, 2017

Savor, Sip and Sparkle at California Grill

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We attended the Celebration at the Top - Savor, Sip and Sparkle event at California Grill on Sunday, October 1. This was a MNSSHP night at Magic Kingdom, so we started at 9:15PM with fireworks at 10:15. Times vary with the MK fireworks schedule.

We arrived and checked in at the California Grill podium on the second floor, then we were escorted up to the restaurant and shown to the event rooms. They had a table with "glow" flutes of sparkling wine as we exited the elevator. There was a large room with tables and a bar on one side, and a smaller room with maybe 8 small tables and the food stations on the other side.

Each table had a light-up necklace for each guest to take home as a party favor. We decided to sit in the smaller room since the seating in the larger room was already almost full. The waitstaff were wonderful and made sure our glasses were always full. In addition to the sparkling wine they had a full bar available, but we did not order anything from the bar.


Food selections were sushi rolls - California, Veggie, and Spicy Tuna.

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There were mini lobster rolls topped with micro greens on the sushi table as well.

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For hot selections we had pork belly Bao buns, chicken satay skewers, and 2 choices of flatbread - BLT or Cheesesteak. The appetizers are all served buffet style so guests can serve themselves and come back for additional bites at leisure.

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We struck up a conversation with a lady at the next table who was traveling solo from the UK, and before we knew it we were headed out to the observation deck for Hallowishes. The music was piped in and we had a lovely view of the show. At the conclusion of the fireworks we went back inside for dessert.

The dessert offerings were an assortment of "mini" portions including fruit tarts, chocolate ganache cupcakes, and vanilla cheesecake. We chose to have coffee along with dessert.

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They had one of the photo frames for guests to pose with to commemorate the evening as things were winding to a close.


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We really enjoyed this event! It is offered on select Sundays for $99 per person.

November 6, 2016

Changes at Ft. Wilderness

By Guest Blogger Kay Belin

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

July 16, 2014

Jim's Attic: The Boardwalk Mutoscopes

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The Boardwalk Mutoscopes by Jim Korkis

Located in the Disney Boardwalk Inn and Villas resort hallway directly across from the restrooms near the Belle Vue Lounge are a green and a red Clamshell Mutoscope. At one time, there was also a mutoscope that was painted white with gold trim.

Mutoscopes were originally manufactured from 1895 to 1909 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.

The red and green mutoscopes are authentic operating machines from this time period and you can still clearly see the appropriate markings on the front of the machines.

The cast iron clamshell was one of the most durable styles and is so named because of the clamshell design pattern on both sides.

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Mutoscopes were basically a huge mechanical "flip book" with about 850 sturdy photographic prints on individual cards attached to a central core and flipped by a hand cranked ratchet. Each coin-operated machine only had a single reel, often an excerpt from an existing silent film but sometimes original and lasting about a minute.

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Here's something that I learned about mutoscopes in 1996:

The viewer could control the presentation speed but only to a limited degree. The crank could be turned in both directions, but this did not reverse the playing of the reel. Nor could the patron extend viewing time by stopping the crank because the flexible images were bent into the proper viewing position by tension applied from forward cranking.

Stopping the crank reduced the forward tension on the reels causing the reel to go backwards and the picture to move from the viewing position; a spring in the mechanism turned off the light and in some models brought down a shutter which completely blocked out the picture.

How did I learn all this information about mutoscopes? Because the red and green ones were rescued by me in 1996 which is why they are still around today.

For the opening of Walt Disney World, the Disney Company bought a very large collection of authentic mutoscopes, mechanical games and Orchestrions (music boxes like "Big Bertha" at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) from Paul Eakin in the 1970s and moved them all from where they were being displayed and stored in Missouri to Florida. (Some machines from the Disneyland collection were also shipped out to Florida.)

Eakin's collection of machines operated for many years at the Million Dollar Museum in Sikeston and The Gay 90s Melody Museum located in St. Louis. Both Missouri museums were closed when Eakin sold the bulk of his collection to Walt Disney World.

These two particular mutoscopes were part of that collection and were enjoyed by Disney guests at the Main Street Penny Arcade until it closed March 19, 1995 to become part of Main Street Athletic Company.

A handful of the machines were eventually moved to the Main Street Train Station while the rest were stored under Cinderella Castle in a small, leaky room in the Utilidoors. Most of the collection is no longer in storage but was sold off to private collectors in 1997.

In the early part of 1996, I was hired as an animation instructor at the Disney Institute. One of the programs I developed and taught was on animation history. I was able to convince my manager Larry Lauria that having a mutoscope or two would add greatly to the guest experience.

I was the representative who was sent to examine the machines in storage and decide which two should be selected since some were in pretty bad shape. I was shown how to open the base and make minor repairs using a large, twisted paperclip since the interior equipment was no longer produced.

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To my surprise, the older cast member, who was the only one to care for the machines and who has long since retired, asked me what reels I wanted for the machines.

He led me to a storage cabinet and on the shelves were unopened boxes of reels. My heart soared when I found a silent Felix the Cat excerpt "Cat in a Bag" where Felix hides from a boxing bear in a bag (probably a selection from the 1921 "Love Punch" short animated by Otto Messmer and now long out of copyright) and then found another still unidentified silent animated film clip.

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When the Disney Institute stopped offering individual programs to guests in 2000 and then later left the physical space in 2002, I feared for the fate of the machines but they found a new home at the Boardwalk where a little tender loving care may help them spring back to life to continue to delight guests.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South AND

"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


July 2, 2014

Jim's Attic: The History Behind the Saratoga Springs DVC Resort

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Jim Korkis: The History Behind the Saratoga Springs

Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa officially opened May 17, 2004 with a "health-history-horses" theme. The Development Manager for the project was Kevin Cummings which was ironically appropriate.

Cummings was born and raised in Saratoga Springs, New York, the city that was the inspiration for the new Disney Vacation Club resort. In fact, at the time, his twin brother still lived in that historic upstate New York town so Kevin would go back to visit several times during the year, especially to attend the races.

In his role as a Development Manager, Kevin oversaw the hiring of the project's design professionals, from the design architect to the working architect, to all the engineers.

"I coordinate them as a team to come up with the design for our project," he told me when the resort first opened.

As soon as Kevin heard that the new resort was to be inspired by the tranquil towns of upstate New York in the 1800s, he told everyone, "It's got to be Saratoga! We took trips up there to look at the architecture, and I'd show my friends around since I knew the lay of the land. I knew exactly where to look, where the best architecture was"North Broadway, Union Avenue, and all the special buildings that we took bits and pieces of our design from for the resort."

Working with Boston-based Graham Gund Architects (who had worked on Disney's Vero Beach Resort, the Celebration Hotel in Celebration, Florida, and Disney's Coronado Springs Resort), the team, according to Kevin, "went up and down the East Coast looking for different elements to be put to use for our buildings. Of course, the major part of the architecture is based on Saratoga. But we were very careful to use actual design elements"it's really real, what you're seeing, we didn't make this stuff up.

"Of course, I knew the history from growing up and going to school there, the local history, and the history of the racecourse. It's not a racetrack "it's a racecourse" the oldest racecourse in the United States, going all the way back to 1863. In the 1920s and '30s, especially, Saratoga was the place for the upper class to summer, and they all went during the racing season. It was known as the 'August place'. Saratoga Springs used to have more hotel rooms than any other U.S. destination."

Kevin helped develop a binder filled with photos from the research trips so that the smallest details like the awnings would be accurate.

Kevin was also instrumental in naming many of the features like the High Rock Spring Pool after one of the actual "healing springs" found in the city and frequented by celebrities like U.S. Presidents.

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Street names such as Union Avenue and Broadway will also be familiar with people who know Saratoga Springs. Kevin wanted to see the name of the street he grew up on included, but it didn't make the cut.

What most reminded Kevin of his hometown were the three towers. "We have three different building types, and we have three different tower designs on the Guest room buildings. They're right at the entrances, and they rise 70 feet into the air"those elements really strike you. You'll see them all over Saratoga, even the colors. The blues, greens, reds, and yellows we used to paint the buildings"the greatest homes in Saratoga Springs have those colors. That's what really hit me"the colors of the buildings...and the towers. No doubt about it."

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Having a reference to Saratoga Springs on WDW property is nothing new.

Since the opening of Walt Disney World in October 1971, there has been a major architectural reference to Saratoga Springs, New York in the Magic Kingdom. The majestic train station is an adaptation of one that was in that city at the turn of the century and has greeted Disney theme park guests for over forty years to remind them they are on the East Coast.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS

Saratoga Springs Fact Sheet

Saratoga Springs Videos

In-Depth Look at Saratoga Springs - Three Part Blogs

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


May 21, 2014

Jim's Attic: Humphrey the Bear at Wilderness Lodge

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Humphrey the Bear at Wilderness Lodge
By Jim Korkis

Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort is the only Disney resort hotel to have an official mascot, the brown bear. Images and allusions can be found throughout the resort including bear tracks imbeded in the walkways.

To make that potentially fearsome mascot more friendly for younger guests, some of the brown bear images are of the Disney animated character Humphrey the Bear, a lovable, overweight brown bear who lives in the fictional Brownstone National Park.

Humphrey is most prominent on a totem pole on the outside of the Mercantile Store in the lobby of the resort. A smiling Humphrey is at the bottom of the pole supporting frontier garbed Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck on top of him.

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Over the years, the store has sold exclusive merchandise featuring the image of Humphrey.

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In addition, Humphrey pops on signage throughout the resort that many guests fail to notice. On the road leading to the Wilderness Lodge, just to right before the archway, is a round metal sign with silhouettes of Mickey Mouse being followed by Humphrey.

At the entrance to the Villas at Wilderness Lodge is another metal sign with the silhouettes of Mickey walking along and Humphrey riding on top of an old fashioned penny farthing bicycle to mark the bike crossing path.

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Only seven Disney cartoon characters have starred in their own theatrical cartoon series. Humphrey the Bear was the last one to do so before the Disney company decided to stop making theatrical cartoon shorts.

Humphrey starred prominently in four Donald Duck cartoons, Rugged Bear (1953), Grin and Bear It (1954), Bearly Asleep (1955), and Beezy Bear (1955).

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He was so popular that Disney gave him his own series but only two cartoons were completed, Hooked Bear (1956) and In the Bag (1956).

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In addition, Humphrey appeared in the opening credits for the original Mickey Mouse Club television series in 1955 holding the trampoline on which various characters bounce Mickey Mouse high into the air.

Humphrey the Bear does not speak but communicates through expressive grunts supplied by voice man Jimmy MacDonald who also did the voice of Mickey Mouse. Sometimes, director Jack Hannah would step in to supply some of the grunts.

Hannah directed all the Humphrey the Bear animated appearances in the Golden Age of Disney animation and since he lived in the same city where I grew up, I got a chance to interview him many times. He was actually the very first Disney animator I ever interviewed.

"For the sake of something new, we tried the Duck with a bear and it seemed like an immediate success for them to play against each other," Hannah revealed to me in an interview. "Later, when we started thinking of another picture for the bear, it seemed natural to be in a National Forest and that's how the Little Ranger came into being. The Little Ranger always treated his bears like his own pets and I always found that funny as did the audience."

Humphrey has also appeared in cartoons made for television including House of Mouse and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He even has a short cameo at the end of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

While Humphrey never appeared in any cartoon featuring him in the circus, he was recently revived to be included in the New Fantasyland expansion. He is prominent on the sign for Big Top Treats "Circus Snacks Galore" with him happily munching away on a caramel apple. In addition, that same image is used on a Storybook Circus poster.

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However, while he may sneak over to the Magic Kingdom to grab a tasty treat, his official Walt Disney World home is Wilderness Lodge.

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

====================
Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


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!

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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!

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

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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.

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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!

November 25, 2012

Ft. Wilderness Christmas -- Dave “The Castle Guy”

Gary Cruise banner

In December 2008 Carol and I spent a few weeks at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We took part in a Disney fan meet known as "MouseFest". Carol and I, along with our friends John & Erin from New Jersey, co-hosted a walking tour of the campground to admire all the seasonal décor. About 45 of us wandered the campground admiring the lights, inflatables and the other imaginative displays. Someone we passed that evening said, "Be sure to check out site #551 - it's great." Alas, we didn't make it that night! It was the following night when Carol and I circled the 500 loop and saw Dave "The Castle Guy" for the first time.

Dave's Castle at night

Wow . . . we were in awe when we saw his creation! Carol took a short video which I later uploaded to YouTube. I sent some friends a link to the video and urged them to visit Site 551 before they went home.

We didn't return for the Christmas season again until 2011 when we were fortunate enough to camp just a few campsites down from Dave and his awesome display.

Dave's Castle at night

We visited back and forth with Dave many times during our stay and during our few weeks together he told me the story of "The Castle Project".

This is how he described it, "In December 2007 my wife Dee and I spent 10 days at Fort Wilderness Campground, Disney World. You would not believe what folks were doing to their campsites. The Christmas decorations were out of this world. The campers really put their imaginations in high gear. All the time and effort they spent decorating their sites was really impressive.""

For me, it was inspiring. If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness at Christmas, you should stop by. It is well worth the trip. All the campers are in a wonderfully good mood and the sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air. It's truly a magical place to be during the holiday season."

"When we returned home to Titusville, Florida I started thinking about making something for our own campsite. I thought, 'What would be the coolest thing I could have on our campsite?' The answer immediately came to mind 'Cinderella Castle'. So, in April of 2008 I started on The Castle Project."

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's labour of love took eight months to complete. He started with a six foot by four foot piece of three quarter inch thick Medium Density Overlay (MDO), a resin-coated plywood which is very weather resistant. Dave took a picture of Cinderella Castle, blew it up to the correct six foot by four foot proportions and printed it out on 26 sheets of photo paper.

Adding the picture to the background

He described the decoupage as the most difficult task in the entire project; he applied the photo sheets to the MDO and then covered them with six coats of clear acrylic sealer.

Then he cut the castle out, beginning with a precision jig saw for the rough cut and then finishing the finer features with a Dremel hand-held tool.

Cutting out the castle with a jigsaw

Rough cut of the castle

Next step, Dave drilled some holes. There are 427 lights on the castle.

Drilling front holes for the lights

Each hole was drilled from the front and then countersunk on the back to accommodate the light socket. That's 854 holes to drill! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Countersinking rear holes

Dee took charge of the trees which flank the castle. The first year there were 16 trees, now there are 26. Dee securely fastened each and every light so that they will survive the packing and repacking that is required every year. Everything about the castle is designed to be durable yet portable!

When Dave starts talking about the electronics my eyes start to glaze over. I can appreciate how The Big Bang Theory's Penny feels when she's talking to Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Since I don't understand any of the technical stuff I'm going to quote Dave again, "The castle is controlled by 16 channels of lighting. It is surrounded by 16 Christmas trees so that adds another 16 channels of lighting. Above the trees are 3 lighted snowflakes, each representing a Disney character. All this has been put to beautiful Disney music, "When You Wish upon a Star" and Disney's "Wishes", with fireworks added in for the grand finale. It ended up being 48 channels of lighting that first year. Everything is controlled through my laptop!"

Adding the wiring

Wiring up the castle

The Software that runs the show is "ShowTime Software Suite S3" from a company named "Light O Rama". Much of the hardware is from the same company, Dave currently uses 5 Light O Rama (LOR) 16 channel controllers, 3 LOR Cosmic Color Ribbons with 150 channels each and 1 LOR Cosmic Color Pixel with 100 channels. Just imagine how glassy my eyes were as I typed this paragraph!

From the start Dave knew the first song he had to sequence would be "Wish Upon A Star". It's his favourite Disney song and it touches a spot in the hearts of all Disney fans. He selected the Eric Kunzel version, it's beautiful. Then he used 4 tracks from Disney's "Wishes" to finish it off. The grande finale is made up of 5 audio tracks of fireworks. Wow . . . when you see and hear it I think you will agree that it's amazing!

Ready for dry runs

After all the lights were installed on the castle, the Christmas trees were prepared, the lights and soundtracks were sequenced it was time for a test.

It works

Dave set it all up in his garage, crossed his fingers and started the show. It was perfect - it ran like a charm. Next stop - Fort Wilderness!

Dave and Dee transport the Castle in their 40 ft motor home. The MDO castle lays on the bed while they are underway. Everything else is stored below in the cargo bays. One rule Dave has is that EVERYTHING has to fit in the motor home. He doesn't want to tow a trailer so he keeps it all pretty compact. It takes him around ten hours to set everything up and around four hours to break everything down and pack it away for transport.

The castle in daylight

When Dave returned with his completed castle in 2008 he was a bit nervous. As he puts it, "We returned to Fort Wilderness Campground on December 7th, 2008. As I was putting put up the castle show, I thought to myself, "People are going to think I am crazy, this guy has gone off the deep end." Boy, was I wrong! It was a total blockbuster hit. It was the talk of the campground. The reservation office folks were telling people checking in to "make sure you see the castle show in the 500 loop". I have never met so many great people. It was a total blast!

Dave has improved and enhanced the castle show each year since then. "In 2009 we returned to Fort Wilderness with 64 channels, 10 more Christmas trees and a VERY special appearance by "Tinker Bell" (Tink is really hard to book during the holidays, you know). It's the latest in lighting technology."

"In 2010 I decided to light up the whole motor home in the show. That was fun. I also added another musical sequence, Disney's Holiday Wishes."

"In 2011 I added another musical sequence, Disney's "Remember the Magic". They used to play it at Disneyland years ago. It's a great song."

"This year, 2012, I am introducing a new musical sequence. It's a mix of Disney favourites. I have also done a lot of fine tuning to all the other Disney songs. I have added a new "Tinker Bell" effect that I'm trying out. There are also a couple of surprises that I'm keeping a secret. The Castle show is now at 80+ channels and has 7000+ lights."

"The Castle show starts automatically and runs continuously from 6:00 p.m. every evening. It shuts itself down at 10:00 p.m. Quiet time at the Fort starts at 10:00 pm."

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's castle show has been featured in Orlando Attractions magazine and on a local television station but if you haven't seen it live . . . you really haven't seen it!

The thing Dave most enjoys about his castle show is the opportunity it gives him to meet all the Fort Wilderness campers and Disney fans. He puts it like this, "Every night you can find me at my campsite meeting folks and talking about the castle and all the other wonderful decorations at the Fort. Last year a group of about 120 AllEars fans stopped by to see the Castle show; what a great group of people."

"Another thing I really enjoy is giving out glow sticks to all the kids who stop by; kids young and old. Last year I gave out several hundred! I am really stocking up on them this year."

The horse-drawn sleigh rides and wagon rides which tour the campground do not make any stops, except at Christmas when they all pause for a few minutes at Dave's castle. Golf carts and pedestrians stop too! In fact, there's often a traffic jam in front of Dave and Dee's campsite . . . but it's the happiest traffic jam you have ever seen. Dave hasn't just built a castle . . . he's made magic! I'm sure Walt looks down occasionally on Dave's castle - and Walt smiles!


Click on the arrow to see a 15 minute sequence from of the 2010 Castle Show.

This year Dave and Dee will be at Fort Wilderness from December 5th through December 26th. The castle should be up and running by December 8th and the last show will be on Christmas Day.

If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World in December a trip to Fort Wilderness is a must. Set aside an evening to tour the campground and enjoy the amazing Christmas décor.

For some tips on how to get to Fort Wilderness and a few suggestions for your tour of the campground read the last few paragraphs a recent blog here.

So come on over and join the happiest traffic jam on earth! Don't forget, Dave will be waiting to meet you . . . and he just might have a glow stick for you! Go check out his castle . . . you will be amazed!

August 12, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 2

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I ended Part 1 of this blog by saying that Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing.

Many people think "I'm not a camper so Fort Wilderness has nothing to offer me or my family." How wrong they are! There are plenty of families who are not campers but just love to vacation in Fort Wilderness Cabins. You can read all about those luxurious cabins here and there are pictures of the cabins here.

But there is an almost endless list of activities to enjoy at Fort Wilderness even if you're not staying in a cabin or campsite there!

Take a trip over to "The Fort" and have a look. You can get to the campground on a Disney bus or you can board a boat at Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort or Wilderness Lodge.

Fort Wilderness Sign

What can you do there? It's a long list. A very long list!

How about an Archery Lesson? Go to the Bike Barn, near the Meadows Trading Post and enjoy a lesson with an experienced archery coach. The 90-minute experience costs $25 (plus tax) per person, includes equipment and instruction and can be booked up to 90 days in advance.

Archery bows

Archery target

Mount a horse and take a 45 minute Trail Ride - These guided horseback rides are offered 5 times daily (8:30, 10, 11:30 a.m., 1, and 2:30 p.m.) at the Tri-Circle D Livery at Fort Wilderness. The cost is $46 per person.

Trail Ride

Trail Ride

Rent a bike at The Bike Barn and explore Fort Wilderness ($9 plus tax/hour, $18 plus tax/day). Tour around the loops of campsites or follow a nice paved trail to Wilderness Lodge. A side trail skirts along the shore of Bay Lake for part of the ride. Keep your eyes open - there are plenty of deer and waterfowl to see along the route.

Bike Barn

Bike riders

The campground is laced with rivers and canals. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat at the Bike Barn ($6.50 plus tax/1/2 hour; $11 plus tax/hour) and get back to nature.

Canal

Canoe

If you enjoy tennis, there are two lighted tennis courts beside the Meadows Swimming Pool and complimentary tennis equipment is available for resort guests at the Bike Barn.

Join Chip & Dale for a campfire, sing-a-long and a movie.

Chip and Dale Sign

The campfire program is free and is open to all WDW resort guests. It generally begins around 7 p.m. during the fall/winter season and 8 p.m. after the time changes in April through the summer. It is held near the Meadow Trading Post in the campfire area. The program begins with a sing-a-long led by a Disney Cast Member and then a marshmallow-roast around two campfire rings.

Chip and Dale Singalong

Chip and Dale Campfire

You can bring your own marshmallows or buy them at the Chuck Wagon. They even sell kits so you can make s'mores! Chip & Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs. The sing-a-long lasts about 40 minutes. Then a Disney animated features or two is shown on a large outdoor screen. Seating is available in bleachers or on benches.

Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch at The Settlement, near the dock and marina. All those horses you see working at the Magic Kingdom are stabled at Tri-Circle-D Ranch and you can visit them in their home.

Tri Circle D Ranch

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You may see a blacksmith shoeing Cinderella's Ponies or the horses seen on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. There is a nice visual tribute to horses from Disney movies and an amazing steam calliope is on display. Children 2 to 8 years old, weighing no more than 80 pounds, can ride a pony - Cost $5.

Pony ride

Go fishing, catch and release fishing is permitted in canals and lakes. Do not fish from the bridges; that's a no-no. Forgot your fishing tackle? No problem, you can rent tackle and purchase bait at the Bike Barn.

Fishing

If you prefer fishing on the lake or just want to tour Bay Lake head to the Fort Wilderness Marina (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). You can book a chartered largemouth bass fishing excursion on Bay Lake, which includes a professional guide, refreshments (soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate & water), fishing gear and a dozen shiners. For more details look here. If you want to tour Bay Lake you can rent a 21' Suntracker Pontoon Boat ($34.74/half hr) or try one of the Mercury Water Mice ($21.59/half hour; $27.23/45 minutes; $30.05/hour).

Pontoon boats

Sea Raycers

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is the most popular and longest-running dinner show at Walt Disney World. It has been running for almost 40 years! The show is held at 4:00, 6:15 and 8:30 p.m. nightly at Pioneer Hall.

Pioneer Hall

Reservations are a must and can be made up to 180 days in advance. Your dinner will include fresh baked bread, tossed green salad with vinaigrette dressing, country fried chicken, smoked BBQ pork ribs, mashed potatoes, baked beans, strawberry shortcake, coffee, soft drinks, hot and iced tea, unlimited beer and wine. While you enjoy your all you can eat dinner, you are entertained by good old fashion country & western singers, dancers and comedians. Be prepared for slapstick comedy, corny jokes and lots of singing and dancing - it's a rootin' tootin' good time! There are several seating and pricing options.

Hoop Dee Doo Revue

There's another dinner show too! Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-can-eat Disney Character dance party with Mickey, Minnie and friends. This kid-friendly family dinner is held from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. each Thursday and Saturday in the middle of a covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness directly behind Pioneer Hall.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

The buffet includes smoked BBQ chicken, BBQ pork ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, cowboy beans, macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob along with salads, breads and desserts. There is live music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and plenty of fun for kids of all ages. Reservations are required.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

 Backyard BBQ Roping

Try your hand at horseshoes, shuffleboard, tetherball, basketball and beach volleyball near the Meadows Trading Post. Let your children climb, slide and play at outdoor activity areas located at Pioneer Hall, the Meadows Recreation area, Creekside Meadow and the Marina/Beach area.

Take the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway Tour. You can join a group of up to 10 people and take a Segway X2 Personal Transporter to view the scenery of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Wilderness Lodge. The two-hour tour costs $85.00 and some discounts may be available. Details are here.

Segway X2 Personal Transporter

If you are at Walt Disney World in October or December you are in for a treat. Set aside an evening and head to Fort Wilderness. Take a walking tour, rent a golf cart or book one of the special seasonal wagon or carriage rides. Whatever way you choose to travel you will be amazed. Many of the campers decorate their campsites for Halloween and Christmas and most of the displays are lavish! It's an easy walk from the marina to the camping loops where you will see the décor. Words don't really describe it but these few pictures and a video will.

Halloween Sites 1

Halloween Sites 2

Halloween Sites 3

Christmas Sites 1

Christmas Sites 2

Christmas Sites 3

Christmas Sites 4

Here's a 5 minute video showing the amazing display a camper created for his campsite! Click on the arrow and watch it to the end!

I'll wrap up this blog with suggestions for two wonderful ways to end your day at Walt Disney World.

1. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride. Board an old-fashioned, horse-drawn wagon in front of Pioneer Hall for a 45-minute scenic tour around Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Wagons hold up to 35 guests and rides depart at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. nightly ($8.00 Adult; $5.00 Child (ages 3-9) Children under 3 are complimentary). For a more romantic experience with your "special someone" try a relaxing 25-minute horse-drawn carriage ride through Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The small carriages hold 2 adults and 1 small child while larger carriages hold 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 small children. The first ride leaves at 6 p.m. and the last ride departs 9:30 p.m. The 25-minute ride costs $45. See more details here.

Carriage Ride

2. Watch Wishes from the beach. Stop by Crockett's Tavern and pick up your preferred adult beverage then head to the beach area beside the marina dock. Find a table and chairs on the deck or stretch out on the lounge chairs along the beach. Soon you will hear Jiminy Cricket narrate the show; the sound track to Wishes is piped in for your enjoyment. You won't see the low fireworks on Cinderella Castle but the higher altitude effect are reflected off Bay Lake and it's an awesome display. Don't rush off, at 9:45 the Electric Water Pageant sails past with the nightly show. WOW!

Electric Water Pageant

No matter what Disney resort you are calling home during your vacation you must visit Fort Wilderness. It is so much more than a campground . . . and you have to see it to believe it!

Walt Disney closed his remarks at the opening of Disneyland by saying, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." The promise Walt made over 57 years ago has certainly come true and I hope the same imaginative growth continues at Disney resorts around the world. This commitment to continuous growth and change in the parks ensures that there will always be new and exciting things to do "outside the parks" as well.

So that's a snapshot, a mere sampling, of some of the things you can do at Walt Disney World when you "think outside the parks". As I said before, there are many more activities I haven't mentioned. I'm not sure Carol and I will ever be able to get them all done, but we will sure have fun trying!

What "outside the park" things do you enjoy most?



P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

February 7, 2012

Disney Fun With Your Pets

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My wife Carol and I have been Disney fans for decades, but did you know that our dogs, Zak and Blue, are Disney fans too? They just love to head to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with us. It's a very pet-friendly place. It's Disney's only pet-friendly resort.

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The 788 campsites are arranged in "loops"; each loop is a road which exits the main road and contains twenty or more campsites. When we first started visiting our favorite campground there were only a few "pet-friendly" loops, but now seven of the twenty camping loops welcome pets. And it's not just dogs, there are plenty of cats and we've also seen some unexpected pets such as parrots there.

We often see dogs or cats laying on the dash of motor homes as we walk past. Some folks even bring collapsible dog runs with them and set them up on their site so the pets are not tied all the time.

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Naturally there are rules, but they all make perfect sense. Pets must be leashed and controlled and you must "pick-up" after them. There are areas set aside for "pet walks" and there are areas, such as around the comfort stations, where pets are not allowed. These areas are all well marked.

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Is there a fee for pets who camp with you? Yes, Disney charges $5.00 per day if you camp with pets. That is a flat fee; it is not $5.00 per pet. The one fee covers all your pets. What do you get for your five dollars? Quite a bit . . . it really is a bargain! The pet facilities are excellent.

The pet walk areas near each of the pet-friendly loops are spacious and scenic. Most of them run beside one of the canals that criss-cross the campground on their way to Bay Lake. There are handy bag dispensers at the entrance to the pet walk area and a few more located along the walk. Most people are conscientious and pick up anything the little dears leave behind.

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Fort Wilderness has plenty of wildlife to keep your pet's attention. We've encountered squirrels, armadillos, turtles, deer, wild turkeys and even a few small gators! Fortunately the dogs didn't notice the gators!

The off-leash doggie park, called "Waggin' Trails", is a fairly recent addition and it has become a favourite for our pups! It is located beside the 300 camping loop and opened in 2010. Our boys just love to head over and romp with their new BFF's. There's always someone new for them to play with.

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Zak and Blue just love Fort Wilderness because they get so much more attention there than they do at home. While we are at "The Fort" we tend to walk them more than we normally do and they really enjoy their time along the canals and at Waggin' Trails. Of course they also enjoy just walking around whatever loop we are camped in. There are always new scents to sniff and other dogs to meet. Many of the other pet owners come out to chat with Carol and I so the pets have a visit too! Often there are extra cookie treats for them as we make our way around the loop.

Zak and Blue really enjoy riding on the golf carts we rent. The first few times on a cart they were both nervous but they've learned that a ride on the cart often means a trip to the dog park and now they are anxious to hop aboard. Sometimes there's too much activity for the dogs and they just can't keep up!

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What they really enjoy though are the "extra special" activities. The dogs have enjoyed some unique experiences over the years; they never know quite what to expect next.

A few years ago there was a special "Pet Day" at Downtown Disney and we took Zak and Zoë.

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They loved meeting Santa Claus who was waiting beside The World of Disney Store to meet four-legged Disney fans!

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In years past we would sometimes take the dogs to the theme parks and leave them in the kennels which were conveniently located near the entrance to each park.

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This gave the pups a great opportunity to mingle with their favourite Disney characters.

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They have even gotten to meet some of our good friends from the Disney fan community.

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The kennels at each park were closed recently and kennel services are now provided by Best Friends Pet Care from their new location on Bonnet Creek Parkway across from Port Orleans Riverside. They offer a full slate of services including grooming and pampering!

The highlight of the year for pets at Fort Wilderness has to be the annual "Pet Costume Parade" held on Halloween. It's a blast for the four-legged participants and the two-legged ones as well. There are usually about one hundred dogs and two or three very wary cats.

The pets parade past the judging table beside the Waggin' Trails park and then stroll through the 300 loop where adoring crowds of campers applaud them.

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The parade ends inside the off-leash park where prizes are awarded in a variety of categories.

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Zak and Blue have a howling good time at the Costume Parade!

Having the dogs with us changes our vacation experience in a very positive way too! When we fly down to WDW and stay in some other Disney resort we tend to spend long hours in the parks. We head out early and stay late, trying to cram as much as we can into every day. Having the boys with us forces us to take a break and attend to their needs. So when they're along we normally spend the morning at a theme park and then head back to The Fort for the afternoon. After spending time with the dogs and relaxing for a while we head back to a park for the evening. It's so much more relaxed for us . . . we savour the Disney experience rather than try to cram it all in! Aaah - so nice!

So if you think you might like to treat your dogs to a Disney vacation, it's easy to do. Make a reservation at Fort Wilderness and come join us.

Zak and Blue would be happy to show your pets around their favorite place!

August 13, 2011

A Quiet Meal at the Turf Club Bar & Grill

Andrew Rossi

Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort is a little bit of upstate New York in the middle of Florida. The resort's theme seeks not only to transport guests to entirely different part of the country but also a completely different time period, with its Victorian architecture reminiscent of the heyday of New York's countryside retreats in the late 1800s. Closely tied into this theme is the historical significance and influence of horse racing; the resort's motto is actually "Health, History, Horses." There are numerous locations throughout the resort that incorporate the theme of horseracing. Guests check-in at the Carriage House and may have a room in the Paddock or Grandstand sections of the resort. It comes as no surprise that this theme is carried into one of the resort's restaurants.

Saratoga Springs Resort

The Turf Club Bar & Grill is centrally located right by the High Rock Spring Pool (the resort's feature pool) and is adjacent to Artist's Palette (the resort's food court), but it is tucked out of the way and can sometimes be overlooked by guests. It is here that the theme of horseracing combines with the flavors of New York State in a quiet and relaxed setting that offers a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.

Turf Club Signage

Overview:
As I have noted in the past, many restaurants found at Disney's resorts are usually far less crowded than those at the theme parks, but this does not necessarily make them inferior in terms of quality. The Turf Club Bar & Grill certainly fits into this category. This restaurant is probably not known by many of the guests staying at Saratoga Spring let alone those staying at other Disney resorts. With Saratoga Springs's close proximity to Downtown Disney, many of the guests staying at this resort probably opt for a meal at one of the restaurants there. It is this lack of publicity and hype that makes the Turf Club so appealing because you can expect a calm, quiet, and relaxing meal whenever dining there. While dining reservations are always recommended for Disney restaurants, the Turf Club is the type of dining location that you can most likely get a table without having to plan it out far in advance.

If staying at Saratoga Springs, the Turf Club is the perfect restaurant to go to if you are looking to just spend some time at the resort away from all the crowds and craziness of the theme parks. Also, located right next to the clubhouse of the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, it is a great place to relax after a round of golf and enjoy a good meal. While it might not deliver the unique type of experiences you can find at other Disney restaurants, the Turf Club's tranquil setting and out-of-the-way location make it the type of care-free, stress-free dining experience that you sometimes need on vacation; it is a nice change-of-pace from many other Disney dining locations.

Turf Club Exterior

Atmosphere:
While centrally located at the Saratoga Springs Resort, the Turf Club can be difficult to locate. To get there, you need to walk through the Artist's Palette food court and then down a long entrance corridor.

Entrance Corridor

Once at the end of the corridor, you enter not into the restaurant but into a little lounge area with a bar. The lounge includes a seating area with couches and chairs, a television, and even a pool table. This hidden area is a great place to come and relax and enjoy a drink or a game of pool even if you are not planning on eating at the restaurant.

Lounge

The Turf Club dining room itself is actually fairly small. The dining room's shape is long and narrow and its small size combined with the dark-paneled walls and ceiling give the restaurant a very intimate feel.

Indoor Seating1

While the restaurant does feature large windows that allow in some natural light, the amount of sunlight entering the dining room is largely blocked by the canopy on the patio. Combining this with the low-level lighting inside, the dark-wood furniture, the dark-colored upholstery and carpet, and the stained glass along the upper edge of the windows all help to give the restaurant a more upscale and refined feel. It is a throwback to the kind of upscale clubs you would find at horseracing track around the turn of the century.

Indoor Seating2

The theme of horseracing is certainly evident, but by no means over-the-top. As one enters the restaurant you are greeted by a variety of vibrantly colored jockey jerseys (including one featuring a familiar shape).

Mickey Jockey

Inside the restaurant there are old black and white photographs of jockeys and their horses, antique racing equipment, and framed newspapers featuring stories and photographs about horseracing. These touches are just enough to solidify the restaurants theme and tie it in with the rest of the resort, but this restaurant's atmosphere is more about its calm, relaxing feel than its theme.

Jockey Photograph

Framed Newspaper

The real allure of the Turf Club is its outdoor dining. The restaurant features a huge covered patio and probably has just as much seating outside as inside. Even though I went in the middle of a hot July day, the patio's awning and fans created a shady and comfortable dining atmosphere. I can imagine this area being even more appealing on balmy summer nights.

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Outdoor Seating2

Seating on the patio offers beautiful natural views of flowers, trees, and even a little glimpse of the lake and Downtown Disney on the opposite shore. Its secluded location makes for a quiet meal (there is not even any background music playing) and can really almost make you forget you are in Disney World altogether.

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View from Patio2

The Turf Club's calm and quiet atmosphere might not make it the best restaurant when dining with children, but it is not so formal that families would be uncomfortable dining here. That being said, if planning on dining here with children I would suggest going for lunch as the restaurant offers a more relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. I would suspect the restaurant to become much more intimate and refined at night (as evidenced by differences in the menu which I will talk about next), making dinner here a great option for couples looking to spend a little time away from the kids and have a romantic night out.

The Menu:
Going into my meal at the Turf Club I was not really sure what to expect from the menu, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide selection that offers something for everyone. Whether you are in the mood for just a sandwich or salad, chicken, fish, or pasta, the menu at the Turf Club features a variety of dishes ranging from traditional favorites to some more unique items. It should also be noted that the menus for lunch and dinner offer vastly different options. Lunch features primarily a lighter fare of burgers, sandwiches, and salads while dinner features heartier meals.

One thing that stays consistent on the menu for both lunch and dinner are the appetizers. For soups there is a Tomato Bisque ($5.49) topped with herb goat cheese as well as a French Onion Soup ($6.49). Among the salad selections are an Iceberg Wedge Salad ($6.99) with blue cheese, bacon, and cherry tomatoes and the Turf Club's Signature Grilled Romaine Salad ($5.49) which features lightly grilled hearts of romaine with Caesar dressing, balsamic vinegar reduction, and cherry tomatoes. Other appetizer offerings include Fried Calamari ($9.99), Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels ($11.99), Crab Cakes ($10.49), Buffalo Chicken Dip ($8.49), and Onion Rings with Dips ($5.99).

When it comes to entrees, lunch at the Turf Club features several intriguing burger and sandwich options. For burgers there is a standard Angus Chuck Cheeseburger ($12.99) topped with cheddar and applewood smoked bacon, but also a Bacon-Barbecue Angus Chuck Burger ($13.99) topped with smoked bacon, barbecue sauce, crispy fried onions, aged cheddar cheese, and cilantro mayonnaise. For the more adventurous there is the Surf & Turf Angus Chuck Burger ($18.99) which comes topped with watercress, lobster, and bernaise sauce.

Other sandwiches on the menu include the Crispy Chicken Breast Sandwich ($13.99) with herbed goat cheese, balsamic-marinated tomatoes, and onions served on rosemary foccacia, the French Dip ($14.99) featuring shaved prime rib, au jus, horseradish cream, and watercress on a baguette, the Classic Reuben Sandwich ($10.99) with corned beef, thousand island dressing, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on marble rye bread, and a Barbeque Pork Tenderloin Sandwich ($10.49).

If you are not in the mood for a sandwich the lunch menu also includes several other entrée options. There is the Greek Salad ($12.99) with mixed greens with grilled chicken, tomato, cucumber, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, feta, and a lemon vinaigrette (substitute grilled shrimp for $15.99), the Turf Club Pasta ($16.99) that comes topped with shrimp, garlic, olive oil, vegetables, and fresh herbs, the Turf Club Fish and Chips ($13.99), and a Spiced Salmon Salad ($15.99) on tossed arugala with vine-ripened tomatoes, smoked bacon, and a roasted garlic mayonnaise.

Dinner at the Turf Club features a more upscale and elegant fare as the burgers, sandwiches, and salads are replaced with more substantial dishes. The dinner menu features Prime Rib ($25.99) served with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, Swiss chard, and a red wine demi-glace, a Grilled New York Strip ($30.49) with lump crabmeat, asparagus, bernaise sauce, and red bliss potatoes, Grilled Salmon ($19.99) served with cauliflower puree, fingerling potatoes, fennel, onion, and tomato, Mint-Crusted Lamb Chops ($22.99) with a smoked gouda polenta, a Roasted Free-Range Chicken Breast ($17.99) accompanied by a shiitake mushroom risotto and topped with a sweet-and-sour cherry glaze, and a Pork Chop ($21.99) served with a three cheese casserole and red onion jam.

The dessert offerings are the same for both lunch and dinner, although there was nothing that really stood out to me. Among the desserts are Cheesecake ($5.49) with seasonal toppings, a Chocolate Espresso Torte ($5.99) with raspberry sauce and vanilla port wine ice cream, and a Warm Apple Crisp ($6.49) with vanilla bean ice cream.

When perusing the menu there were a couple of appetizer selections that stood out to me, but I decided to start my meal with the Buffalo Chicken Dip ($8.49) which featured pulled buffalo chicken in a spicy wing sauce topped with blue cheese and celery and served with Saratoga chips. As a warning, this appetizer is not one for the faint of heart. I am a big fan of spicy foods and even I considered this to be a very spicy dish.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

First off, I was very impressed by the portion size, not only the amount of dip but also the large serving of chips that accompanied it. The chicken had the consistency and stringiness of a pulled pork sandwich, but was still tender. I am not the biggest fan of blue cheese and there was a layer on top of the chicken that was a little too much for my taste. I felt the blue cheese was too overpowering and ended up picking some of the cheese off the top. Also, once I had mixed the cheese with the chicken it helped to subdue the strong flavor of the blue cheese. The chicken also came topped with shredded celery. While this did provide a light and refreshing contrast to the spiciness of the chicken and the strong-flavored blue cheese, I felt that there was too much of it and I likewise ended up taking off a lot of the celery.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the dip I kept thinking that it would have been nice if it was served with something that would tone down the spiciness slightly; I had to drink a lot of water while eating this appetizer. A side of ranch dressing would have been the perfect compliment. What made the dip even better were the Saratoga chips with which it was accompanied. The chips are freshly made and were served warm. They were cut a little thicker than your average potato chip with made them perfect for dipping. The chips had a beautiful golden-brown color and were not greasy at all. They were also seasoned slightly with salt, pepper, and chili powder to give them just a little kick.

For my entrée I chose the Barbeque Pork Tenderloin Sandwich ($10.49). Much to my delight, the sandwich came with another health portion of Saratoga chips. The pork itself was basted with an ancho-coffee barbeque sauce, but I did not find the coffee flavor to really stand out. Rather than overpower the flavor of the pork, I felt that this barbeque sauce actually enhanced its flavor; the two paired together very well. The pork itself was extremely tender and was grilled to perfection so that it was slightly charred so as to add just a little extra flavor.

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

What made the sandwich unique was that it came topped with coleslaw. I have heard of coleslaw as an accompaniment, but never as a topping for a sandwich. I was pleasantly surprised. The slight sweetness of the coleslaw provided a light and refreshing contrast to the stronger, heavier flavor of the pork and barbeque sauce. The bread that the pork was served on was soft and fresh, but I would have liked it even better if it had been lightly toasted. Nevertheless, this was a very tasty and filling sandwich and the portion size was substantial enough that I was too full to consider having anything for dessert.

Service:
Overall, I found the service at Turf Club to be very pleasant and it started as soon as I entered the restaurant. Everyone from the hostess that sat me at my table to my server and all the other servers I witness all seemed to be in a cheery mood. My server was very energetic and enthusiastic, although not necessarily the most personable. She explained some items on the menu and took my order, but did not really try to strike up any type of conversation. Because the restaurant was not very crowded for lunch, my server did not have too many other tables to wait on and was able to pay close attention to my needs, regularly refilling my drink and checking in on me multiple times to make sure I was enjoying my meal. The meal itself progressed at an efficient but relaxed pace; I certainly did not feel rushed and there was just the right amount of time between courses to enjoy the scenery while sitting on the patio.

Dining on a Budget:
While dinner at the Turf Club can be a little pricey, lunch is very affordable. It starts with appetizers including the Fried Calamari for $9.99, which is an particularly good deal when considering the same appetizer is $14 at both Tutto Italia and Via Napoli and $13 at Mama Melrose's. There is also the Buffalo Chicken Dip for $8.49 and a great value on Onions Rings for $5.99, especially since onion ring appetizers at other restaurants like 50's Prime Time Cafe and Sci-Fi Dine-In cost $7.99. If you are looking for a light lunch, just getting a couple of appetizers to split amongst a group would be a very affordable option.

The rest of the lunch menu also includes several economical choices. The Barbeque Pork Tenderloin Sandwich might be the best deal on the menu for $10.49, but other sandwiches like the Classic Rueben for $10.99, Crispy Chicken Breast Sandwich for $13.99, and Bacon-Barbecue Angus Chuck Burger for $13.99 are also very affordable. Even if you are not in the mood for a sandwich, the Fish and Chips for $13.99 is a good value when you consider that the same dish at the Rose and Crown in Epcot would cost you $15.99 and at Raglan Road at Downtown Disney would cost $17 for lunch and $19 for dinner. They may not necessarily be of the same quality, but it is a viable alternative if looking to save a little money.

The Turf Club is on the Disney Dining Plan, but you would definitely get better value if using the dining plan here on dinner rather than lunch. The restaurant also offers a Tables in Wonderland 20% discount and both Annual Pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members receive 10% discounts for lunch.

The Overall Experience:
The Turf Club Bar & Grill is another one of those resort restaurants that tend to get overlooked because they are removed from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. In the case of the Turf Club, however, that is what makes it so appealing. This restaurant is the perfect place to go if you are looking for a clam and relaxing meal in a tranquil, quiet setting; it is really an escape, a great place to unwind. While you might not want to make a special trip all the way to Saratoga Springs just to dine here, it is definitely worth a visit if staying at the resort. In addition, its proximity to the clubhouse of the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course makes it the perfect spot to visit after a round of golf to enjoy a good meal at an affordable price. While this is not a restaurant that may have the same detailed, immersive theming of other Disney dining locations, it still delivers the same high quality food and service that you would typically expect from any Disney restaurant.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of the Turf Club Bar & Grill and post your own too!

March 29, 2011

A Relaxing Escape at Olivia's Cafe

Andrew Rossi

Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi returns with a review of Olivia's Cafe at Disney's Old Key West Resort.

When it comes to dining at Disney, the restaurants inside the theme parks tend to receive much of the attention. While there are certainly some dining locations at the resorts that are immensely popular, such as Ohana at the Polynesian, California Grill at the Contemporary, or Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club, a good many resort restaurants tend to get overlooked. These are the restaurants that I like to call my "hidden gems" of Disney dining. While many guests will make reservations months in advance to get into the most popular restaurants inside the parks, there are numerous restaurants at the resorts that you can walk up to without a reservation and get seated right away.

While these resort dining locations may not be as well-known or as crowded as the restaurants inside the parks, that does not mean they are inferior or inadequate. On the contrary, I have been extremely pleased with my experiences at these lesser-known dining locations, all of which live up to the high standards you would expect from any Disney restaurant. If you are looking to get away from the crowds and escape the hustle and bustle of the theme parks to have a calm and relaxing meal, there are so many options waiting to be discovered at the various resorts. Olivia's Café at Disney's Old Key West Resort is one of these restaurants.

Olivia's Signage

Overview:
Spread out amongst several of the holes of the Lake Buena Vista golf course, Disney's Old Key West Resort provides a quiet, relaxing, and care-free environment that can sometimes make you forget that you are even in Disney World. The widespread layout of the resort amongst a natural landscape littered with waterways, palm trees, and other natural vegetation gives it a very secluded, intimate feel and one that perfectly embodies the island paradise theme of the Florida Keys. Because of the nature of the resort's layout, it just does not feel as crowded as many of the other Disney resorts.

Located just across from the lobby and right by the main pool, Olivia's Café is a restaurant that ties in perfectly with the overall theme of the Old Key West Resort. With its beachside feel and nautical touches, it is almost as if this restaurant was lifted out of the real Key West and set right in the middle of the resort. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Olivia's is a great way to escape the crowds of the theme parks and enjoy a relaxing, laid-back meal.

Olivia's Exterior

Atmosphere:
If you are looking for a casual, calm, and quiet meal then Olivia's Café is a great option. I arrived at the restaurant around noon with no reservation and was seated immediately. In fact, there were only three other tables with guests when I arrived and only two other parties were seated during the course of my meal. This makes Olivia's a great option if you have no reservations and are looking for somewhere to eat. It should be noted, however, when I inquired to my server about the relative emptiness of the restaurant she told me that it is generally more crowded for dinner than lunch and they do recommend making reservations ahead of time (but probably not as far in advance as with many of the more popular Disney restaurants).

The restaurant features both indoor and outdoor seating and has large windows offering beautiful views of the resort's marina just outside and let in plenty of sunlight, giving the dining room an open, airy feel.

Olivia's Seating

Even though the restaurant is very casual and laid-back, its relatively small size gave it an intimate feel. It actually feels as though you are eating at some small, family-run restaurant rather than being at Disney World. Adding to this were several walls in the dining room that were crammed with photographs of Disney Vacation Club members and their families. This really helped to give the restaurant a more personal touch that you seldom find at many other Disney dining locations.

Olivia's Family Pictures1

Olivia's Family Pictures2

The main theme of Olivia's is vintage nautical, but it is by no means tacky or over-the-top. The restaurant's light pastel-colored walls and furniture give it a beachside feel in addition to many little details that help immerse you in this atmosphere. It is an atmosphere which is very authentic. Having vacationed in the Florida Keys before, Olivia's has the type of feel you would expect to find in a restaurant on the streets of Key West itself.

Olivia's Seating and Nautical Touches

There are several large pieces that will quickly catch your attention as soon as you enter the main dining room and help establish the nautical theme of the restaurant, such as the large fish mounted on one of the walls, a vintage ship's wheel, oars, fishing nets, and model ships.

Olivia's Nautical Touches

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However, there are also many little touches to be found that help add extra detail. The walls of the restaurant are adorned with many old black and white photographs of Key West in addition to framed post cards that help add sense of history and nostalgia.

Olivia's Key West Photos

There are many additional touches that help give the restaurant a sense of being older than it actually is. From the vintage wicker fans slowly spinning overhead to the brass light fixtures, Olivia's atmosphere is a throwback to an earlier time (it is the "old" in Old Key West).

Olivia's Wicker Fan

Along the top of the walls there is a shelf that runs around the perimeter of the dining room that houses numerous antique-looking items, such as copper tea kettles, bird cages, cookie jars, ceramic plates and vases, and various other knick knacks. All these little touches give you plenty to look at during the course of you meal and help immerse you into the restaurant's theme.

Antique Items1

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The Menu:
I was impressed by the wide selection of offerings available on Olivia's menu, featuring many tropical/island inspired dishes reminiscent of Key West, with seafood featured very prominently. To start, there are many tempting appetizers. With Key West being known as the Conch Republic, it comes as no surprise that Conch Fritters ($10.49) and Conch Chowder ($6.99) are both available. Other appetizer selections include Crab Cakes ($10.49) served with key lime mustard and papaya-ginger sauce, Grilled Mojito-Marinated Shrimp ($10.99) accompanied by Johnny cakes, Island BBQ Pork Ribs ($11.99), Onion Rings with Dips ($5.99), Mozzarella and Tomato Salad ($7.99) with a balsamic syrup, and Caesar Salad ($6.49).

For lunch, the entrée choices are primarily lighter fair and feature many different sandwiches. There is a Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Sandwich ($12.99) served with creamy horseradish, balsamic onions, and field greens, a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sandwich ( $14.49) topped with grilled pineapple, a Cuban Sandwich ($11.49) featuring sliced pork loin, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise, an Angus Chuck Cheeseburger ($12.99), and a Turkey Club Sandwich ($11.99). Another option is the Soup and Half Sandwich Combo ($10.99) offering the choice of a Tuna Salad, Roast Beef and Blue, or Turkey Club sandwich with a cup other either Conch Chowder or the Soup of the Day.

If you are looking for something a little more than a sandwich, the lunch menu also includes Blackened Tuna ($19.99) served with fried yellow tomatoes, arugula, and roasted red peppers topped with an avocado ranch dressing. There is also Olivia's Marathon Shrimp Pasta ($17.99) with a sun dried tomato pesto and fresh herbs (you can also substitute chicken instead of shrimp for $15.99) as well as the Key West Salmon Salad ($16.49) with mixed greens, vine ripened tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon, cucumbers, and topped with a citrus vinaigrette.

The dinner menu is slightly different from lunch, and a little more pricey, with the sandwiches replaced by heartier offerings such as a Grilled Pork Chop ($21.99) with a chipotle barbecue sauce and accompanied by smoked cheddar grits. Other options include a Grilled New York Strip ($28.99) with mashed potatoes and a cabernet mushroom sauce, Marinated Chicken Breast ($17.99) with a mango glaze served with a warm potato salad, Slow-Roasted Prime Rib ($27.99), and Coconut-Encrusted Mahi Mahi ($21.99) topped with a spiced citrus glaze.

The dessert offerings are few and for the most part fairly standard, but still tempting nonetheless. The restaurant's specialty is the Key Lime Tart ($5.49) topped with a mango and raspberry sauce. There is also the Banana Bread Pudding Sundae ($6.49) served with a warm banana fosters topping, Chocolate Cake ($5.99) topped with a raspberry sauce, No Sugar Added Lemon Pound Cake ($5.49), and a New York Style Cheesecake ($5.49).

For my entrée I chose the Key West Burger ($13.49), which came topped with grilled shrimp, pepper jack cheese, and pico de gallo. This was unlike any other burger I have ever had anywhere and probably one of the best burgers I have tried in Disney World. What I enjoyed most about the burger was the tremendous combination of different flavors. Each of the toppings added their own distinct taste, but they all blended together extremely well. There was the spiciness of the pepper jack cheese, the light, refreshing taste of tomatoes and avocado in the pico de gallo, and a slight citrusy flavor to the grilled shrimp, but no one flavor really dominated or overpowered the others. If anything, I could have done with a little less avocado and a little more pepperjack cheese, just because I like my food to have a little more of a kick.

Key West Burger

I was also very impressed by the portion size, not only of the burger but also the quantity of fries that came along with it, as well as the amount of shrimp that topped the burger.

For dessert I decided to try the Banana Bread Pudding Sundae. I absolutely love bread pudding and have tried it at many restaurants around Disney World. The bread pudding at Olivia's was certainly good, but not the best I have ever had. The bread pudding itself was served warm although I found it to be a little dry. The bread pudding was topped withy a banana fosters sauce that added some sweetness to the dessert but was by no means overpowering; I actually think that the dessert could have used a little more of this sauce. The bread pudding also came topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that provided a light and refreshing contrast and the slices of banana that surrounded it provided additional flavor and texture to the dessert.

Banana Bread Pudding Sundae

Service:
One of the benefits of going to a restaurant that is not very crowded is that your server is able to pay a lot of attention to your table. My server only had one other table in addition to mine, which meant that she was able to provide very dedicated service. I found my server to be very friendly and pleasant, although not too conversational. She did, however, take time to explain several items on the menu in addition the describing the daily specials in detail.

I found the service to be very efficient. After ordering, my food came out quickly but I did not feel rushed at all. On the contrary, the meal really progressed at a calm and relaxing pace that matched the atmosphere of the restaurant. This is the benefit of dining at one of the lesser-known resort restaurants as opposed to the more crowded dining locations inside the parks.

Dining on a Budget:
Olivia's is a great dining option if you are looking for a nice sit-down meal at an affordable price. The prices are just a little more than what you would pay at a counter service restaurant in one of the parks and here you get to enjoy the calm, relaxing atmosphere in addition to larger portion sizes and higher quality meals than what you would find at a quick service location. One of the better values on the menu might be the Soup and Half Sandwich Combo for $10.99. All of the sandwiches are very reasonably priced, ranging from $11.99 to $14.49, and the portion sizes are generous. If you are looking to save even more money, consider ordering an appetizer as an entrée. The Crab Cakes, Conch Fritters, and Island BBQ Pork Ribs are all tempting options that when paired with a soup/salad or a dessert would make a nice meal at a very affordable price.

The Overall Experience:
I was pleasantly surprised by my dining experience at Olivia's Café. It is one of many restaurants found at the various Disney resorts that fly under the radar. These restaurants offer a great option if you are looking to try something different. One thing that you can expect from any Disney restaurant, regardless of whether it is in one of the parks or at one of the resorts, is that you will get tremendous quality in terms of atmosphere, food quality and taste, and service.

Olivia's may not be the best Disney restaurant that I have ever been too, but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. The restaurant has everything you could possibly want, including a menu featuring several unique items, high quality and large portioned meals, in addition to a casual and laid back atmosphere that allows you to truly relax and enjoy your meal in a peaceful and un-crowded environment. If you are looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks, definitely consider Olivia's or one of the numerous other lesser-known restaurants at the resorts. I often find these restaurants offer some of the best values for your money and overall provide very enjoyable dining experiences.

Check out Reader Reviews of Olivia's Cafe and post your own too!

March 10, 2010

A Short Stay at the Contemporary Resort

by Emily Owens-Pickle

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I could name a couple of million reasons I love to visit Disney. One of the top ones is the feeling of nostalgia and timelessness I get driving through the Disney Main Gates, walking down Main Street USA and strolling through the Epcot World Showcase, to name a few. Life changes fast, but tweaks and alterations take place fairly infrequently for a world the size of WDW. It makes Disney always seem familiar and warm and gives us all an opportunity to share memories from generation to generation.

In 1971 the doors of the Contemporary Hotel opened on the Walt Disney World Property. The first of many Disney resorts, the Contemporary was the dream destination for children and families across the United States. In the (always) hot and humid (except for Marathon Weekend 2010") south my mother, Janis Owens, was one of those young dreamers.

'You have no idea how incredibly cool the Contemporary Resort was to kids then. They would show commercials with families going to stay there and we would just fall on the floor screaming,' says Janis, who is now a professional writer.

The youngest of three children and only daughter, my mother, uncles and grandparents visited the World during her childhood. But tickets themselves were a splurge, so the only experience with resort properties was plastering themselves against the monorail windows as they whooshed through the Contemporary Hotel on the way to the Magic Kingdom.

In her high school yearbook, my Mom proclaimed that she would 'write a book to shock the world'; less than a decade later she published the first of four books. This fall she received a call from her agent inviting her to give a talk to educators throughout the US. The location of the conference left her laughing: Walt Disney's Contemporary Resort. She immediately called me and we scheduled our stay at this mythical hotel.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

The Contemporary's best feature is undoubtedly location. Of course I have always wanted to stay at the Contemporary, but I have always been a bit skeptical of this resort; the theme is a bit cold and sparse for my taste. However, the rooms are much warmer than the public areas of the resort and it was nothing short of amazing to step onto the monorail or easy-distance walking path to the Magic Kingdom and stroll through the MK turnstiles minutes later.

The rooms were very large and comfortable; Disney did a great job with décor during the recent refurbishment. The flat screen television embedded into the wall adds a significant amount of space to the room but the sink design in the bathroom while visually appealing, left very little counter space.

DINING:

Previously reported on by AllEars® columnist Jack Spence (see his blog, The World According to Jack) I have been waiting to try the Contempo Cafe for quite awhile. I was able to have lunch and breakfast at this restaurant during my stay. The breakfast burrito was decent though I could not find the cilantro. It was doused in sauce, so I would ask for this on the side in the future, but the sauce was pretty spicy for Disney, which gets big thumbs-up from me. I had the Chicken Chop Salad for dinner and again -- where was the cilantro exactly? The veggies were fresh and portion sizes generous. The Comtempo Café was not nearly as crowded as I would have expected; even during the evening crowds were minimal. We never waited for an ordering kiosk or table. In general, I am not a fan of resort quick-service but the CCafe has been one of the best counter service experiences I have had at a Disney resort, the other being Mara at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

I am ashamed to admit that I have never tried Chef Mickey's and we were unable to get a dining reservation during this stay. By all accounts, this is one of WDW's most popular character breakfasts and features Disney's Fab Five, namely: Mickey, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Minnie (dinner) and Mickey, Goofy, and Chip & Dale (breakfast). Add the Fab Five to any meal with your friends and/or loved ones and I ask: how could you go wrong? The two observations about this restaurant I was able to make that I am sure will not come as a surprise: it was loud and busy. In all fairness, it looked and sounded like everyone was busy having a lot of (loud) fun. Just let this be fair warning not to use Chef Mickey's as a romantic date night at WDW and to be careful of spending a sensory filled day at the parks followed by what will certainly be an exciting meal with young or sensitive children.

ACTIVITIES:

I would use the phrase 'unseasonably warm' for my December trip, but this is Florida-I am still not sure if we have seasons and I'm a native! Suffice to say, it was very comfortable weather and we were able to try out the new children's splash zone next to the main pool at the resort-what a home run with my daughter! Several children were also enjoying the area while their parents relaxed in the morning sun. The zone is laid-out very well; several umbrella-covered round picnic tables line the zone to the left. The zone and pool are separated by a low wall which means I could sit at a table and have my coffee, supervise my daughter, and not jump up every two minutes to keep her a safe distance from the pool. She was always in a direct line of site and close enough to reach quickly should there be a problem, but also had enough space to play with newfound friends.

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The shops at the Contemporary Resort were great - Bayview Gifts and Fantasia are located on the fourth floor of the resort. A large monorail Christmas tree was set up in the center of Fantasia-amazing! The cast members were very helpful and friendly. Standing in Bayview Gifts late the last night of our stay, my daughter commented that a large octopus was waving to her from the window. I 'mhm'ed' her comment and then wandered over to be dumbfounded that in fact she was telling the truth! The Electrical Water Pageant was clearly visible and circling Bay Lake. Front and center a large and friendly octopus was gliding by waving a tentacle at us. The beach of the Contemporary would be a wonderful place to view the parade.

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My daughter has developed a recent fireworks-phobia-shocking for this Disney-phile Mother! We did view 'Holiday Wishes-Celebrate the Spirit' at the fourth floor observation area from behind the glass. It was very convenient to look at my watch, realize Wishes started in less than five minutes, walk to the observation deck, and then watch the extravaganza from the comfort of our resort.

One piece of Disney Magic in the Contemporary Lobby that immediately caught my eye: Kid's Check-In. A large check-in book with stool sits at the top of the registration desk in the lobby. Children can enter their names and information into this colorful book-loved this extra touch.

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THE BOTTOM LINE:

So the real question... would I stay here again? Probably not. The Contemporary is a pricey resort, even for a Florida Passholder who enjoys discounts of 40 percent or more. If I have the opportunity to stay at what is in my opinion a resort with a stronger 'theme', such as Animal Kingdom Lodge or Wilderness Lodge, for a lesser rate, then the decision becomes a no-brainer for me. Even with the recent refurbishment and addition of Bay Lake Tower, there is nothing about the Contemporary that has the Disney 'X' factor for me.

Was the Contemporary my dream resort? No. But I absolutely think a stay here would not be regretted. It is a nice, clean, family-friendly, and extremely well-located hotel. The convenience is a huge plus-factor in and of itself and in all fairness, I am sure Bay Lake Tower offers its own unique experience worth trying.

I was thrilled to have been a part of my mother's dream come true at Disney. I have gotten quite a bit bigger since walking through the Magic Kingdom for the first time at age 5 -- my daughter is getting to walk those same steps now and I am lucky enough to take those steps by her side, this time as one part of a three-generation trio, which is about as magical as it gets for this mouse.

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RELATED LINKS:

Fact Sheet for the Contemporary Resort

Contemporary Resort Photo Gallery

Contemporary Resort Photo Slideshow



November 17, 2008

Flag Family at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Sue, Mick and Sam Farrell, May 30th 2008.

On Friday 30th May 2008 we were invited to be the Flag Family!

After breakfast we were escorted to the roof of Disney's Wilderness Lodge by Ranger Stan.

He gave us a guided tour of all the sights from the roof and then we took it in turns to raise the five flags for that day. The view is amazing and offered us some fantastic photo opportunites.

Sam started with the American Flag, then Sue raised the white Wilderness Lodge flag, next it was Mick's turn to raise the State of Florida flag, then back to Sam for the Disney Flag.

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Lastly Mick with the green Wilderness Lodge flag.

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We did a short version of this in August 2004 (see our earlier photos below), but this time we were lucky to enjoy the full ceremony.

I would suggest anyone else staying at Wilderness Lodge to try and do this. It's a secret attraction that will remain a favourite of ours.

Thank you Ranger Stan and everyone at Wilderness Lodge.

Our 2004 Flag Family Photos:

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October 16, 2008

Wilderness Lodge Flag Family Report

Cathy, Darryl, Bradley and Samantha Kittle September 2008
Kittle Flag Family at Wilderness Lodge
I had spent months planning for our 10 day trip to WDW and when I saw that Wilderness Lodge had a special opportunity to be the flag family for the day I was so hoping we could be picked. When we checked in I asked if there were any slots left and the only one was on the morning we were leaving. Since we had a 9:30 Magic Express shuttle we were told we could still be selected. On our designated morning, we met the most wonderful Wilderness Lodge Ranger, Stan, at the front desk. I had read so much about him from this website, I was extra excited meeting this "celebrity." He seemed as excited as we were as he told us all about how he had worked on constructing the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier when he was a young man.

Kittle Flag Family at Wilderness Lodge

We rode the elevator up to the 7th floor and then took a set of stairs up to the roof. The view was breathtaking and the weather perfect.

There were four of us and we each got to raise one of the flags. After my son raised the American flag, Stan asked if we would salute the flag and say the Pledge of Alliegence. I had tears in my eyes as we said it outloud with our hands over our hearts.

Kittle Flag Family at Wilderness Lodge

Stan took pictures of each of us and as we were thanking him for such a beautiful experience, he huddled us together and told us to always remember to care for each other. I still have goosebumps thinking about it. Stan treated us to breakfast on the concierge level snack room which just was the perfect ending to a perfect memory!

Kittle Flag Family at Wilderness Lodge

-Cathy

July 26, 2007

Grand Floridian Room Renovation

All Ears® reader Rebecca Brophy sends photos of a newly renovated room at the Grand Floridian. The room is in Conch Key with a Theme Park View.

The desk (with roll out table underneath), the TV armoire (with 4 drawers underneath on the left and refrigerator behind door on right) and daybed (that folds down similar to ones at rehabbed room at the Polynesian, we stayed there last year, were lined up against the wall past the closet on the left side. I think the addition of the comfortable chair with ottoman was a good idea. Also on the nightstand was an iPod dock (another great idea).


Grand Floridian 2007 Renovated Room

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Grand Floridian 2007 Renovated Room

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Grand Floridian 2007 Renovated Room

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Grand Floridian 2007 Renovated Room

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Also, AllEars® Team Member LindaMac was at the Grand Floridian today and found a sign posted in the lobby about the room construction:


Signage at Grand Floridian regarding Room Renovation

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About Resorts

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

Recreation is the previous category.

Sammy Duvall's Water Sports Center is the next category.

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