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December 29, 2014

Ideas for celebrating New Year's Eve outside the theme parks at Walt Disney World

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Walt Disney World's theme parks certainly know how to host splashy New Year's Eve parties. It would be difficult to top the lavish food, top-notch entertainment and spectacular fireworks. But if your family has younger kids who might not make it until midnight or you're looking for a less crowded celebration, here are some suggestions for other ways to ring in 2015 Disney-style. Most of these do not require advance planning, so you can even decide on Dec. 31 what your family wants to do.

Raglan Road

At Downtown Disney, Raglan Road offers live entertainment on two stages, plus dinner and late-night menus inside the restaurant and on the patio. But what makes this especially appealing to families may be the complimentary champagne toast at midnight in Ireland (7 p.m. EST) and again at midnight in Orlando. Obviously those under age 21 won't be partaking, but the celebration itself is fun. My daughter and I have had several enjoyable experiences at Raglan Road and definitely recommend it. Parking in the new parking garage is complimentary, and there is no cover charge for the evening.

Dinner and fireworks viewing at a resort hotel

Although it may be tough at this late date to get a reservation at one of the table-service restaurants at the hotels on the monorail loop - Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian - it is still possible to dine there and then view the fireworks. To do so, you'll need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which costs $17 for the day if you're not staying on property or are an annual passholder, and then take the monorail or a bus to the hotel of your choice. (Because of the heavy holiday crowds, guests who are not staying at the hotels or those who don't have dining reservations will not be allowed to park in those lots.) Guests can eat in the quick-service restaurants at the three hotels and then view the fireworks from various public viewing areas, such as the fourth floor lobby or monorail platform at the Contemporary. Be aware that some hotel viewing areas are restricted to patrons of specific high-end restaurants.

Walt Disney World kids activity centers

If the adults in your group want to experience their own celebrations at Walt Disney World, the children can spend a fun evening in one of the resort's activity centers, which will have extended hours on New Year's Eve. The four locations open at 4:30 p.m. and will have the last pickup at 1:30 a.m. (Children will be able to rest or sleep when they get tired.) I'm told that the centers will not have special activities for the holiday. Still, when my daughter has spent time in the centers, she thoroughly enjoyed all the choices of entertainment. The centers welcome children ages 3 (must be potty-trained) to 12. The cost is $15 per hour per child, with a two-hour minimum. Dinner is included for those who are in the club during the time it is served. At the time of this writing, there still was space available in all four locations, but reservations are recommended. For more details, see the AllEars.Net resource page.

Celebration Town Center

The town of Celebration, located just outside the gates of Walt Disney World, hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" -- a flurry of soap bubbles -- through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge. The last "snowfalls" of the season happen on Dec. 31 at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic. This event does not have a New Year's Eve countdown, but it does offer a last taste of the holiday season with gorgeous decorations, ice skating, "snow flurries," carriage rides and a variety of restaurants for dinner.

DisneyQuest

For the last several years, DisneyQuest, which houses five floors of video and virtual games at Downtown Disney, has hosted a family friendly event on Dec. 31. Unfortunately, that is not the case this year, and there is no word on whether the party will resume next year. Still, the attraction is a fun place to let pre-teens and teens spend time enjoying electronic gaming fun while parents check out some of the more adult offerings at Downtown Disney.

Celebrate early

The Magic Kingdom displays its New Year's Eve fireworks on Dec. 30, as well as Dec. 31. Fantasy in the Sky starts at 11:50 p.m. both days. Although it still will be crowded in the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 30, it definitely will not be as bad as it is on New Year's Eve. This might be a way to see the fireworks early and then enjoy a quieter New Year's Eve. If you are staying at a Disney resort, there also usually are family friendly activities planned for guests.

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!



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October 20, 2012

Parents can enjoy night out while kids have fun at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin's Camp Dolphin

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Walt Disney World Swan


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Walt Disney World Dolphin

Parents visiting the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin can enjoy an evening to themselves while their children have their own special kind of fun. Camp Dolphin, located on the lower level of the Dolphin building, is designed just for kids ages 4 to 12.

The concept of a kids club in a large resort is not foreign to my own kids, who have enjoyed themselves at The Sandcastle Club at Disney's Beach Club on several occasions. Until recently, they had yet to visit Camp Dolphin, though. Their opportunity came last weekend when my husband and I attended the Food and Wine Classic at the resort.

Camp Dolphin operates a little differently than kids clubs in other Disney World hotels. That's because the Swan and Dolphin belongs to the Westin hotel chain, even though it is located on Walt Disney World property.

There are similarities, though. Both experiences begin with parents making reservations for their children, though the clubs will take walk-ups if space is available. Camp Dolphin opens at 5:30 p.m. each day, an hour later than the Disney World clubs, but they all close when Cinderella's coach turns into a pumpkin (which we all know is midnight).

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Miss Thelma

Perhaps the most obvious comparison comes when families see the physical size of Camp Dolphin -- it's quite small compared to The Sandcastle Club. Camp Dolphin can accommodate up to 18 children with two counselors present. Thelma, who has been a camp coordinator at the Dolphin for 19 years, explained that during busy periods, such as holidays, the camp moves to one of the ballrooms.

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Still, Camp Dolphin has all the basic components for kid fun: Video games, movies, crafts and counselors who will supervise and entertain youngsters in an environment where parents will not worry about their well-being. On the night my children visited, the theme for the crafts was "A Very Merry Unbirthday," which included card-making and birthday tiaras for the participants. Blackout Bingo was played for prizes, and when we arrived to pick up our children, they were just settling down with a mound of pillows for movie time.

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Dinner at Picabu

Dinner is included for children who are in Camp Dolphin from 7 to 8 p.m. Counselors take the kids to nearby Picabu (Peek-A-Boo) restaurant, where the meals they have pre-selected from a menu of traditional kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and hot dogs, are served. Then, they are treated to ice cream from The Fountain ice cream shop. (At The Sandcastle Club, parents help children place dinner orders when they are dropped off and the meals are served in the club. They are served cookies and milk later in the evening.)

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Ice cream from The Fountain

Pricing varies slightly between the five Disney World kids clubs and Camp Dolphin, as well. At The Sandcastle Club, parents pay $11.50 per child per hour, with a two-hour minimum. At Camp Dolphin, the price is $10 per child per hour with no minimum. Plus, each adult who orders an entree at Shula's Steak House, Todd English's bluezoo or Il Mulino New York Trattoria in the hotel earns two complimentary hours for a child at Camp Dolphin. This offers also applies to an adult who purchases a spa service at Mandara Spa.

Our children enjoyed Camp Dolphin, and my husband and I appreciated the ease of checking them into a safe environment so nearby as we enjoyed what the resort had to offer. It's not hard to imagine that we will return, giving the kids a night out and enjoying the same ourselves.


August 2, 2012

Take a peek inside a kids club at Disney World

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Making memories at Walt Disney World often is a family endeavor, but there are some magical experiences designed just for kids and others just for adults. The folks at Disney have come up with solutions that allow parents to have a guilt-free night out while the kids are fully entertained and supervised.

Located inside most of the deluxe resorts are children's activity centers, which are designed for kids ages 3 to 12. Children have to be potty-trained to attend. You do not have to be staying at a particular hotel to use the activity center, though. I'd suggest selecting one of the six sites that is closest to your destination. That way, pick-up is easy and, if you need to pop in for a visit, you are nearby.

Your choices include:

** Simba's Clubhouse at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

** Never Land Club at Disney's Polynesian Resort

** Cub's Den at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

** Sandcastle Club at Disney's Yacht and Beach clubs

** Mouseketeer Club at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

** Camp Dolphin at Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan resorts

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My children spent a couple hours at the Sandcastle Club and enjoyed their time so much that they didn't want to leave when we arrived to pick them up. While in the Club, they could choose to play video and board games, participate in arts and crafts, color, read, play with a variety of toys and watch Disney movies.

When I saw everything that was available, I was sure my kids would have fun. I also felt comfortable leaving my children in the cast members' care because there were security measures to ensure no one else could pick up my children, and doors to the center were monitored. Parents also can request pagers if they want another communication tool besides their cell phones. In addition, the ratio of adults to children in the center was better than average. There were two adults and four kids in the center when we arrived. When we returned, there were three adults and about a dozen children.

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Most of the kids clubs are open daily from 4:30 p.m. to midnight. Dinner is included for children in the centers between 6 and 8 p.m. My kids loved getting to "order" their dinners. Choices included a hot dog with fries and fruit; macaroni and cheese with fruit; chicken tenders with fries and fruit; fish nuggets with fries and fruit; cheese pizza; and grilled cheese with fries and fruit. At the end of the evening, kids will be offered cookies and milk.

The cost is $11.50 per hour per child with a two-hour minimum. Call 407-WDW-DINE to make reservations, which are strongly encouraged. Walk-ups are welcome, based on availability.

If you'd prefer to have a babysitter come to your room, Disney recommends Kid's Nite Out caregivers. Get all the details on the AllEars.Net page.

Let us know what your experiences have been and read what others have to say in our Childcare Rate and Review Section!

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About Sandcastle Club

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Sandcastle Club category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Never Land Club is the previous category.

Simba’s Clubhouse is the next category.

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