Christmas at Walt Disney World – Extra Crazy, Extra Crowded, Extraordinary

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Our family always spends Christmas at Walt Disney World.  We have been told we were crazy, out of our minds, and even downright stupid. Ouch. That’s the one that hurts.

Christmas Tree at EPCOT

EPCOT Tree

Why would we intentionally go to Walt Disney World during the Christmas holidays? Do we know it’s the busiest time of the year? Are we unable to go ANY other time? Is there no psychiatric treatment in New Jersey that would prevent us from making such an insane decision?

Simply put, we go during Christmas because we love it. From the massive Christmas trees at the theme parks to the beautifully decorated wreaths at the resorts, there is holiday magic in the air. We do know it is the busiest time of the year. We have rubbed elbows and bumped shoulders with tens of thousands of our closest friends for many years now, and we still love it. And yes, there is psychiatric treatment here in New Jersey, but Christmas week at Walt Disney World does more for my heart, head, and soul than any doctor’s office.

Themed Bay Lake Tower Tree

Bay Lake Tower Lobby Tree

So what are the tricks to surviving the busiest time of the year at the Most Magical Place on Earth? Here’s what works for us:

PLAN: We did this year’s trip with four weeks of planning, and despite what some people believe (yes, Jim, I’m talking to you), there was tremendous effort put in. No matter when you decide to head to Disney World for Christmas, make sure you have some plan in place – book FastPass+ options, book dining reservations, and check times for extra magic hours, rope drop, and park closing.

Rope Drop at EPCOT

There is an actual rope at Rope Drop

UTILIZE YOUR MORNING:  I know. It’s your vacation. You can’t even deal with the idea of getting up at 6 AM. If you want to make the most of your time at Disney World during Christmas, the early bird gets the worm. My family can get more done in a morning extra magic hour than we can in a full day at the Magic Kingdom Christmas week. We do more getting there at rope drop in our first hour or two than we will the rest of the day.  Sleep when you’re dead!

EPCOT's famous Geosphere

Spaceship Earth in the morning

RESIGN YOURSELF TO NOT SEEING IT ALL: You won’t. This is not the time for a once in a lifetime trip, where you want to do and see everything. You can’t. A Cast Member told us that if you see seven or eight things a day at the Magic Kingdom during Christmas week, you’re winning. Know this is your fate and roll with it.

USE DOWNTIME FOR BONUS MAGIC:  Now is the time to visit the resorts.  Enjoy the holiday decorations, gorgeous trees, delicious gingerbread, carolers, and characters.  There is more to Walt Disney World – especially during Christmas – than just the theme parks!

Grand Floridian Lobby

Lifesized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian

We have never left a Walt Disney World Christmas vacation disappointed, and I doubt we ever will.  Plan, keep expectations realistic, and just go with it!

Halloween Horror Nights or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party?

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Halloween Horror Nights or Mickey's Not-So-Scary

When the leaves begin to change and the air has a bit of a chill, I know it’s time to start thinking about heading to Orlando to celebrate Halloween.  For our family, it’s almost always been Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.  I love the family friendly entertainment, and I hate being scared – and not just because I have bladder issues.

Before you decide which is the better option for your family, take a look at the comparison:

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

  • Great for all ages:  Disney does “not so scary” better than anyone.  The decorations are happy and fall-ish, and the shows, parades, and characters all echo the not so scary theme.  You’ll find all of your favorite attractions open, and the added bonus of trick or treat stations – candy for everyone!
  • Everyone can wear a costume – just be aware that the costumes can’t be offensive, violent, or obstructive.  Keep the full face masks at home, too.
  • Trick or Treating is welcome and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party even provides bags for the kids and the adults.
  • Cost for adults is $67 – $71, depending on the date you choose.  The price is for the party only – and you will need a separate ticket if you are going to spend the day at the Magic Kingdom.  The Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party begins at 7 and goes until midnight, however, you can enter the Magic Kingdom beginning around 4 PM with your party ticket.
  • Definitely book your ticket in advance.  Dates closer to Halloween can sell out, as can nights that offer special discounts for DVC members or members of the military. (as of this writing – October 1st – Halloween is already sold out)
  • https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/magic-kingdom/mickeys-not-so-scary-halloween-party/

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

  • Definitely not recommended for young guests.  This is a pretty intense experience, with interactive components designed to make you pee your pants. They call it Halloween Horror Nights for good reasons.
  • Guest absolutely cannot wear costumes.  I think they take great pleasure in knowing they’ve caused you to pee your pants, and they don’t want you to hide that behind a costume.  Or it’s for everyone’s safety.  Or something.
  • No trick or treating.  Boo.
  • Cost – well, here’s where it gets complicated.  Halloween Horror Nights has a variety of ticket options.  The cheapest, which will set you back about $42, is an add on ticket.  You pay for a day at Universal Studios, and you can add the evening at Halloween Horror Nights on for $42 more.  If you have a condition that causes you to spend your day sleeping in a coffin, coming out only after sunset, the ticket for the party by itself is $96.  Then there are multi-day options available that can include as many as 22 nights at the party, PLUS an Express Pass.  That last option is in the $250 ballpark.
  • The party begins at 6:30, and the ending time depends on the night you go – either midnight, 1 AM or 2 AM.  You’ll find the longer parties closer to Halloween.
  • http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/

The choice is yours – cute characters (Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party) or creepy creatures – *Halloween Horror Nights).  Candy or killing (not the real kind).  Either way, these are two great Halloween options in Orlando.

M is for Must Do at the Magic Kingdom – a-to-z blog challenge

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M A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cI get asked, a lot, about vacationing at Walt Disney World.  Go figure.  Most people are pretty familiar with the Magic Kingdom, and many have a good idea of the things they want to do and see when they arrive.  But I have my own list of the things that make the Magic Kingdom just that much more magical to me!

Rope Drop – Arrive about 15 minutes before the scheduled opening time.  You’ll be treated to your first taste of old fashioned Disney.  Singing, dancing, and a train full of characters will greet you, as the Mayor of Main Street opens the theme park to welcome guests.  This is where the fun begins!

Day 2

Dapper Dans – I’m a sucker for a Barbershop Quartet.  My dad, believe it or not, used to make us go see Barbershop Quartet concerts, but they weren’t nearly as fun as standing on Main Street, USA listening to the Dapper Dans.  It’s a must do for me!

Haunted Mansion – Check out some of the really cool features OUTSIDE this awesome attraction.  Take the short detour to get a full tour of the cemetery just prior to going inside.  Don’t be afraid to touch – nothing will come out and grab you 😉  Also, look for the wedding ring embedded in the ground – tossed from the window by Master Gracey’s betrothed.  Don’t forget to pay your respects at the pet cemetery as you leave.

The_Haunted_Mansion

Kiss Goodnight – Who doesn’t like the warm fuzzy feeling of being tucked in at the end of a wonderful day, and getting that last kiss goodnight?  As the Magic Kingdom closes, take one last glance back at Cinderella Castle on your way out of the park.  The castle will be lit with lights and changing colors – a soft, warm kiss goodnight as you head back to your resort room to snuggle down to a good night’s sleep.

goodnight

 

The Best Things I’ve Ever Eaten – Disney World Version

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I periodically pour over the Disney World restaurant menus, always searching for new things I’d like to try, but I always have a list of my favorite things.  I’m sure you have a list of things you love, like Lou Mongello’s carrot cake cookie obsession from the Writer’s Stop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I really try to love it, Lou, but it hurts my teeth to even think about it’s sweetness!) – and I want you to share it with me!  Here are some of my favorite things to eat at Walt Disney World:

Smokey Portobello Soup – Artist Point
Artist Point mushroom soup

At Christmas time last year, our waiter accidentally brought a bowl of this smokey, rich, delicious soup to my mother-in-law, who doesn’t eat it.  The waiter offered to leave it on the table, but  my MIL told him to take it back, as we all already had our appetizers (most of which were the soup).  I thought my middle child would burst into tears, as she watched the creamy bowl of mushroom goodness being walked back to the kitchen.  It embodies the taste of a rustic home in the heart of winter, and the flavor will keep you warm your whole trip.

Bobotie – Boma

bobotie

Minced meat, spices, flavors of sweet and savory, all baked into an egg mixture – oh my goodness.  This very traditional South African dish is an explosion of flavors that leaves my mouth very happy.  It’s comfort food at its finest.

Kakigori – EPCOT

kaki-gori

It’s August.  In Florida.  Where there is only one way to describe the heat.  Hell-like.  I’ve always thought I could survive the depths of Hades, having done the “EPCOT death march” at the peak of summer.  The big difference?  There is no Kakigori in hell.  This absolutely heavenly refresher is shaved ice, with your choice of a variety of sweet syrup, much like a traditional snow cone.  There are two big differences between the Kakigori and the snow cone you might get at your local fair or carnival.  The ice in Kakigori is shaved so finely, you don’t get any of the big, chunky, brain freeze pieces you always get in a snow cone, and it doesn’t glue itself all together as it melts, as a snow cone sometimes does.  The other difference is the syrups.  These seem not as cloyingly sweet as some you might find for a snow cone, and the flavors are brighter – tangerine, melon, and strawberry – much closer to fresh fruit than the snow cone flavors.  I like to taste the rainbow – and dream of cooler days!

Braised Pork – Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom

be-our-guest

Let me tell you, my little Mouseketeers, this is one of the best bargains on Disney property.  Served only during lunch, the pork is cooked like a Coq Au Vin, which is a traditionally French dish made with chicken and red wine, simmered in a pot until tender and delicious.  This dish hits the tender and delicious part spot on, and the serving is a full and generous portion – especially since this is lunch!  You’ll get the wonderfully flavored pork, a healthy portion of mashed potatoes, a gravy filled with carrots, onions and mushrooms, and another side dish of green beans.  Easily a $30 entree at a sit down restaurant with fancy napkins and French waiters, go for a late lunch (no reservations required!!) and make this your dinner.  You’ll have room for a late night Dole Whip snack!

So what are some of your Disney favorites?

 

 

Liberty Tree Tavern – Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

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One of our favorite Walt Disney World restaurants has always been the Liberty Tree Tavern.  LTT is an all you can eat, family style dinner that features several of the popular Disney characters dressed in colonial garb.  The meal here is all traditional American fare, hearty and homestyle.  This does not necessarily bode well for those of us who have had Gastric Bypass Surgery.

We attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party recently, and while we had booked an advanced dining reservation for LTT months in advance, we debated over whether or not we should go.  Of course this is a great restaurant if you come with a big appetite, but I do not have that huge appetite anymore, so dining here doesn’t hold the same appeal for me.  But, this is a great place for character interaction, and Granuaile is seriously into characters this trip, so we make the decision to go ahead to the restaurant.

It should be said that Disney really does try to honor your compromised eating capacity.  This is the second all you can eat Disney restaurant I have been to since my surgery.  I asked the waitress when we sat down if they offered a discount for gastric bypass patients, and she asked to see my card.  I know many of you have dining cards from your surgeons that tell them you’ve had surgery, but my doctor doesn’t give them out.  That didn’t matter here.  I explained to the waitress that I could show her my scars, my sagging skin, my droopy boobs, and my medical alert bracelet, but I had no dining card.  She sent a manager over, who very quickly and politely offered to discount my meal to the children’s price.  That’s a $15 savings here!  Woohoo!!

You start the meal out with the Declaration Salad.  This is a salad of mixed greens – all the stuff you wouldn’t eat as a kid and can block you up big time now – with a strawberry viniagrette.  I love this salad, and I think I ate too fast or too much.  You’ll learn why I think that in a minute.  The waitress also brings out a plate of rolls with a honey flavored butter.  You know I skipped the bread, but those of you who do not have issues with bread may be tempted to use way more butter than your stomach can handle.  It’s delicious.

After the salad plates are cleared away, the waitress brings a bowl heaping with piping hot mashed potatoes; a generous sized portion of macaroni and cheese; a bowl of vegetables; and a platter that held large portions of roast turkey with stuffing, smoked pork loin, and beef.  I helped myself to the pork, a small piece of the beef, and a little of the turkey, and a small scoop of mashed potatoes.  It wasn’t long into the meal when I felt that feeling – you know, when it feels like the food won’t go down, and may not ever come back up?  I don’t know if I over did the salad or if the mustard sauce on the outside of the pork is doing a number on me, or maybe even the bite of mashed potatoes is revolting.  I make a couple of trips up to the bathroom, hoping something will come up, but nothing does.  I’m not sure what to blame – maybe I didn’t chew something small enough – but this is certainly ruining the meal for me.

The meal continues for a while with me bouncing back and forth, up and down the steps to the bathroom (word to those needing assistance – the bathrooms are on the second floor here, and you will need to climb the stairs to get there.  If you cannot climb the stairs, you will have to leave the restaurant and use a facility nearby.), hoping to dislodge whatever I have stuck.  It finally starts to calm down, just in time for dessert – NOT!!  The dessert is to die for, but not sugar free.  Tonight, it’s a warm apple cobbler, covered with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream.  They are able to accomodate a special request, but you must contact them in advance to arrange for a sugar free dessert.  It doesn’t matter – I’m not going to try to put anything else in at this point!

There are certainly plenty of protein choices to be had here – especially if you have no trouble with things like beef.  The turkey was moist and tender, and certainly pouch friendly, but the smoked pork was a little tough.  That may have been the culprit in my incident.  Next time, I think I’ll stick with what I know will work, and avoid pushing my luck with the salad and tougher meats.

Liberty Tree Tavern is located in Liberty Square – Magic Kingdom

“Goofy’s Liberate Your Appetite Character Dinner”
DINING

Menu Date: December 2007

Characters are Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale

PRICES have changed since October, 2007

  • Adults $28.99
  • Adults with medical proof who ask at the hostess station are charged for a Little Patriots meal $13.99
  • Little Patriots (ages 3-9) $13.99
  • 2 and under are free
  • For those Guests not dining, a $5.00 entertainment fee will be applied to your bill.

Serving from 4 p.m. – closing varies depending on park hours

Admission into the Magic Kingdom is required.

BILL OF FARE

  • DECLARATION SALAD – Tossed Mixed Greens, served with our special Tavern Strawberry Vinaigrette Dressing
  • PATRIOT’S PLATTER – A generous serving of roasted turkey breast, carved beef, and smoked pork loin, with mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, herb bread stuffing, and Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese
  • Rolls and gravy also included
  • BEVERAGES included in meal price
    • Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Orange, Lemonade, Birch Beer
    • Coffee, Regular or Decaffeinated
    • Hot Tea
    • Hot Cocoa
    • Milk, Whole, Low-fat, Skim or Chocolate
    • Nestea Iced Tea
  • Cappuccino, Espresso, Bottled Water and Tavern Punch are an additional charge
    • Bottled Water (Still or Sparkling) $3.25
    • Cappuccino $3.69
    • Espresso $3.19
    • Fresh Orange Juice $2.29
  • SPECIALTY BEVERAGES
    • Patriot’s Punch – Enjoy a frozen beverage from our Patriot’s Punch Bowl served with a Liberty Tree Tavern Collector’s Mug — Take home a piece of the Tavern $8.19
    • The Spirit of ’76 – Take home the spirit of Liberty, one of the Tavern Keeper’s Collector’s Mugs from the top shelf $5.00
  • DESSERTS
    • Warm cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream included
    • Assorted fresh desserts from Martha’s kitchen additional $2.25 – $5.50 each

For your convenience, you may purchase film, disposable cameras, autograph books and souvenir mugs from your server.

Jolly Holidays Tuesday

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Tonight is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, so we’re going to try to take the morning easy.  We get up when we’re ready – which for me means by 6:30, and the rest of the crew by about 8:30.  I offer the kids breakfast now, pool later or reverse, and of course, they are kids.  They want to go to the pool NOW.  The AKL pool is so nice.  It’s a zero entry pool, which means you don’t climb down steps, you go in like you do at the beach, and the water gradually gets deeper.  It’s also HEATED – YAY!!!  The air temperature is still a bit cool – low 70’s – but the water feels pretty good and the kids go right in.  The water slide is closed, since there are no life guards on duty yet, but I don’t think the kids would use the slide anyway.  We hang out at the pool about an hour and a half, and the girls have worked up an appetite for some breakfast.  We head on up to the room, and I throw breakfast together while Jim puts the kids in the shower, then while they eat, I hop in the shower.  We are going to head to Downtown Disney to get Granuaile’s silhouette done.  I have one of each of the other girls at age 2, so it’s her turn.

 We arrive to find out that the silhouette booth won’t be open for another 20 minutes, so we go into the World of Disney to do a little shopping.  The check out line is pretty long, so Jim ends up taking Granuaile over to the silhouette stand and Eilis and I check out with our purchases.  Because we spent $50, we also picked up an adorable snowman throw blanket for only $10 more!  A great addition to the holiday decorations at our house!

With Granuaile’s silhouette in hand, we take a ride back to the hotel for Jim to take a call for work and for us to eat lunch and change for the party.  We are out the door by about 4:30 to head to Magic Kingdom, and that puts us there just in time to see the transformation of Cinderella’s castle!  Oh my gosh – it’s so beautiful!

We have a dinner reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern.  Uh oh.  Something got stuck.  I’m not really sure what it’s called, but stuck is what it feels like.  It’s when I eat something that seems to stick somewhere in my upper chest region.  I feel lumpy there, and I feel like I should throw up but often can’t.  It’s such an uncomfortable feeling, and I end up making 3 trips to the bathroom, praying to be able to throw up or for the walking to help it move down.  Finally, it did move, and I felt better.  I also got great pictures of the kids with the characters, so that made the meal worth it, despite not being able to eat much.  And, as a bonus, they only charged me a kid’s price!

The party is wonderful!  I love the special events at Disney World.  The party was sold out, but there didn’t seem to be lines for anything.  The kids rode a few rides, we saw a fantastic Christmas parade, the fireworks were amazing.  This year, in addition to giving guests hot chocolate and sugar cookies, you could also select apple juice and apple slices – they were a huge hit with my kids.

We ended up staying at the park until just past 11 o’clock.  Tomorrow will be a long day at EPCOT, and I know the girls will be tired.  They are back at the hotel and in bed around 11:45, but both of them fell asleep in the car on the way home.  That will certainly help in the morning 🙂