Walt Disney World Gender Reveal

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Disneyland

He or She

Remember gender reveals back in the day? Mom is in labor, and several hours later, a certified medical professional yelled out in the delivery room, “It’s a ….!”? Well gender reveals have come a long way.  With Promposals, engagement ring scavenger hunts, and pop up weddings, it’s no wonder people are looking for new and unique ways to announce the gender of their baby to be. If a babymoon is in your plans (oh yeah, that’s a thing now, too), why not do your Gender Reveal at Walt Disney World?

Who Does What?

A gender reveal at Walt Disney World doesn’t have to be something the parents already know.  You can enlist the help of cast members, characters, or even other theme park guests.  If the gender reveal at Disney World is a surprise for mom and dad, the planning begins at home.  Have your doctor put the gender of your baby-to-be in an envelope.  Then, keep the envelope sealed until the perfect time!

You can plan who you may want to enlist to help you once you get to the parks.  Maybe give the envelope to a waiter, who can plate it with dessert. Ask a Photopass Photographer to open the reveal envelope while taking your picture in front of Cinderella Castle during the Happily Ever After fireworks display.  If it’s written big enough, he can catch it in a photo, but if not, he can certainly capture your reaction to finding out if you’re adding a Mickey or a Minnie to your family.

I even know of a couple who enlisted the help of a theme park guest.  They handed the friendly stranger the envelope with the gender information, then gave them the money to purchase a baby outfit in either blue or pink.  The couple then opened the bag in front of a Photopass Photographer to find out the gender of baby to be!

Gender Reveal

Purchase a t-shirt

When Mom and Dad Are in the Know

If the gender is already known by the parents, you have other options. You won’t need to grab help, and if plans change, you can be more flexible.  You may want to make larger signage at home that you can use on camera.  Take some time to plan a perfect place, think about what characters might be appropriate to help you share the news, or even arrange for a professional photography session.  That will give you a professional camera operator and some of the most beautiful backdrops at Walt Disney World.

Great Ideas if Mom and Dad Know

Disney baby clothes are super cute.  You’ll find gender specific clothing in many of the shops throughout Walt Disney World. Your gender reveal might involve purchasing a boy or girl baby outfit.  Hold it up to Mommy’s baby bump, and caption a picture with It’s a Boy or It’s a Girl!  You could also stand next to a character and have them hold a tiny pink or blue onesie or a handcrafted sign revealing your big news.

Another great option is the famous Mickey ears.  You can have them embroidered with the name you’ve already chosen, if you know it and want to share.  On the other hand, you can just have Boy or Girl embroidered on the baby sized ears.  Also available are pink or blue baby mouse ears, and they work perfectly!

Disneyland

Photo Courtesy of Courtney Bautista

A Disneyland Gender Reveal Photo

I have also seen parents to be with Disney balloons – Mickey heads for boys, princesses for girls.  Also available are the clear balloons with the brightly colored Mickey ears inside.  You might find the color you need in one of those.

Some couples make a garland to string across themselves and a character, others grab tiny baby shoes in pink or blue and place them at various spots around Walt Disney World and make a photo collage to announce the baby’s gender.  One of the cutest photos I’ve seen is one on Main Street, USA, with Cinderella Castle behind them, and the parents blowing pink “pixie dust” into the air.  I get teary just remembering it!

Pixie Dust

There are stuffed animals in pink and blue, or just use a Mickey or Minnie to let the secret out.  Something else fun to do is to have a Cast Member write on a pin that says you are celebrating your baby boy or girl, then take a picture of the pin.

In the word’s of Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”, and a gender reveal at Walt Disney World is one of the most magical ways to share the happiest news you ever get to share!

Disney’s Pandora – The World of Avatar Review – Good, Better, Best

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Navi people
Navi people

Na’vi River Journey

It’s usually the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But with Disney’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, themed after the almost decade old movie Avatar by James Cameron, it’s all about the good, better, and best.  And there is quite a lot to say about each.

The Good

The new section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not even open, but every cast member we encountered greeted us in the Na’vi language, the spoken tongue of the aliens from Pandora.  They immerse you in the experience that transports you to this wonderland.  The colorful blue of their costumes call to mind the beautiful blue shade of the native Na’vi people, and they all already love working in this part of the Disney Imagineared world.

beverages at Pandora

Night blossom and Mo’ara Margarita from Pongu Pongu

Also in the good list are the frozen beverages available at Pongu Pongu (Na’vi for Party Party).  A special bioluminescent “ice cube” is available for the drinks if you purchase them in the souvenir cup, but you can buy them without the added magic.  We sampled the non-alcoholic Night Blossom, a frozen limeade with layers of desert pear and apple topped with passion fruit boba balls.  Although tasty, this is really, really sweet.  After two sips, I needed a big drink of water to cleanse my palate.  But it was a hit with Granuaile. This walk up stand also has a couple of ales and a delicious dessert called Pongu Lumpia – a pineapple cream cheese spring roll.  Think fried pineapple cheesecake.  What’s not to love.  Very good.

The Better

There are two attractions in Disney’s Pandora.  The first one is the Na’vi River Journey. This boat ride is a slow drift through the Valley of Mo’ara as you search for the Shaman of Songs. The attraction is visually stunning. Most noteworthy here is the use of bioluminescence, the glowing soft colored light you see throughout your ride.  Because the background is dark, the blues, pinks, and purples that prevail magically pop and wrap you in the warm glow. Being compared to It’s a Small World, the ride is definitely gentle and family friendly, but the technology kicks it up to a level Walt Disney couldn’t dare dream.

Na'vi River Journey

Almost dandelioin-like in its beauty

Na'vi River

The view above you on the Na’vi River Journey

foliage

More scenery from the Na’vi River Journey

The one counter service dining location inside Pandora will be Satu’li Canteen, and everything was good.  One of the better options on our tray was the blueberry cream cheese mousse. Highlighting the colors of Pandora and the Na’vi people, this light and delectable dessert pairs a passion fruit curd with sweet cream cheese and bold blueberries. It is light, fruity, pretty, and fun.

dessert at Satu'li

Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse

A quick nod here to the other souvenir cup, offered at the Satu’li Canteen.  According to Granuaile, the Na’vi Flute Cup is awesome, but the Pandora Sunrise beverage inside, not so much.  It’s a blend of fruit juices with Powerade melon drink over ice.  Granuaile thinks the drink was weird, although I’m sure the Powerade was a good choice for a 90+ degree day.  So, the cup earns a better, the drink – well, maybe ask for the cup with a soda.

The Best

Everything out there so far about the brand new thrill ride, Flight of Passage, is true.  It is beyond amazing.  I was anxious going into this attraction, which I’ll talk about shortly, but I have never experienced a theme park attraction like this anywhere. When I tell you I wanted to cry when I got off, I mean it most sincerely. There was such a feeling of exhiliration, as you dive through the valley, over the river, and then glide through the beautiful Mo’ara Valley.

It’s not that the ride ended that made me sad, it was just the rush of emotion, the scents, the visual beauty – it was a lot to take in.  I should have followed Granuaile up the hill for a second trip, but that will have to wait for the next trip.  Think Soarin’ on steroids. You are there, in Pandora, on the back of a banshee that has been specially chosen for you, and it is amazing.

They didn’t allow photos inside the actual attraction, but the Imaginears really pushed the limits with the queue as well.  Stunning and spectacular from the get go.

Na'vi wall art

Wall art – visible throughout the attraction

Hank in the Tank

Flight of Passage queue takes you into the lab

lab

Really authentic looking lab

na'vi

Banshee Skull in Flight of Passage queue

The Delicious

One of the best counter service meals I’ve ever had was at Satu’li Canteen. This “mess hall” themed restaurant features actually pretty healthy choices, and while we only sampled one of the Create Your Own Satu’li Bowls, it was delicious.  The bowls give you the option to choose your own protein, a base, and a sauce, so you can really make what you want.  I opted for the chopped wood-grilled chicken as my protein, then based on reviews of other preview visitors, selected the red and sweet potato hash.  I went with the creamy herb dressing over top.

Chicken bowl

Satu’li Canteen Create Your Own Bowl

The boba balls on top were yogurt, and they are definitely a theme at Pandora.  The chicken was tender and delicious, but Oh. My. Yum. The hash was incredible. Sweet, savory, and a forkful of comfort, I could eat this all day long.  Also on the dish was a crunchy vegetable slaw, which balanced the sweet and creamy potatoes.

The Spectacular

I would venture to guess most of the people visiting Pandora have never seen the Avatar movie. Although it would help to be familiar with the amazing scenery from the film, you will still be impressed with the themeing in Pandora.

beautiful colors

Some of hte foliage at Pandora

pandora

Pandora Waterfalls

pandoar

Overview of Pandora

pandora

Floating Islands of Pandora

And then there’s the opportunity to adopt a banshee.  More than anything, Granuaile looked forward to this, and she was not disappointed.  The thing hasn’t come off of her shoulder since we bought it.  Definitely a purchase to consider carefully with a $50 price tag, it’s cool.

banshee pandora

Adopting a Banshee

The Not So Good

While I came out of Disney’s Pandora wearing lapis colored glasses, I was not completely blinded to the drawbacks.  The issues guests are having fitting on to the Flight of Passage attraction are real.  Even though I felt prepared and hoped I would fit, I went in there about ready to pee myself with worry. I was the largest one in my group of 16 going in, and I was already dreading the embarassment of being asked to leave.  Although working out well for me, the attraction is designed so that not only weight, but height and width of your calves could impact your ability to enjoy the attraction.

Aside from the “fit” of the ride, the walk up there might be a bit of a journey in itself. A cast member told me the queue was built to accommodate a six hour wait time – so the walk up there is LONG.  And uphill.  And then there are steps at the end to climb to get to the ride (and come down from when you are through).  This is not a Mount Everest climb, but if you are out of shape (like me), you can get out of breath.

The Wrap Up

You need to go.

 

Disney – Greedy Money Grab or Enhanced Experiences?

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The Family at Epcot
Christmas Castle

Cinderella Castle

A lot is being said right now about the recent news from Walt Disney World that they would be adding some extra opportunities for guests to enjoy their Walt Disney World vacation.  The most recent offerings include a test of premium parking – for an additional fee, and something similar to extra magic hours, but, again, for an additional cost over the price of a park ticket.  Is this an attempt at a greedy money grab by Walt Disney World, or are they truly trying to cater to guests who are looking for an enhanced theme park experience and resort vacation?

I want to start with the After Hours evening event.  Scheduled only for a select few evenings, the price tag for this exclusive experience is $149 per person.  Guests can enter the Magic Kingdom beginning at 7 PM, and the event itself runs from 11 PM until 2 AM.  While details are sketchy, it appears as though most of the popular attractions will be open, and complimentary bottled beverages and ice cream novelties are included in the price.

So, because of the hours of the event, I’m going to presume Disney is appealing primarily to adults – as they really have done with the popular (but also very expensive) Club Villain parties currently being offered. Are these the young couples doing honeymoons and babymoons?  Or are they the grown ups who have been married 25 years and have had enough of reality to want to pay a premium for an extra piece of the magic?  Are they the people who have extra money because they haven’t started having kids or have already paid for college and weddings and want to invest some vacation dollars into their own pixie dusted perfect vacation?

DVC Bunaglows

Polynesian Bungalows

Disney has always offered these types of “Oh, if only I had the money!” experiences.  You can rent a pontoon boat and go out privately with friends or family to enjoy a picture perfect view of the fireworks.  Walk on the wild side with the Wild Africa Trek for a cool $250 – small meal included.  $180 will let you dive at Epcot.  There are backstage tours and VIP experiences to be bought – there always has been.

The difference this time in my opinion is that Disney is rolling out too many, too quickly, when it seems like they are trying to capitalize on guests who want the “better than the average Joe” vacation to help pay for Avatar or Star Wars or any of the other new theme park offerings coming down the pike.  They are pitching these things after laying people off in a guest services capacity, performer positions, even the beloved resort greeters have been threatened with layoffs.  It appears to those of us that are average Joes that we are getting less of the magic for more of our money.

A one day wristband to Morey’s Pier in Wildwood (down the Jersey Shore) would cost me $57.  There is a list of attractions not included in that wristband, and those will likely run me $20 a pop if I want to partake in the things not included (per attraction – not for the whole shebang).  This doesn’t include the boardwalk games (those are about $5 a pop now – remember when you used to get 5 numbers for $1?).  It doesn’t include anything to eat, like the $149 Disney After Hours event does (or the $69 early morning event, which will include an unlimited continental breakfast).

I think if Disney had made these offerings seem like something more than corporate greed in action, they would be a welcome addition to the special event options, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party.  There have always been experiences for varying levels of financial comfort – deluxe resorts, special events and activities, Victoria and Albert’s.  Life is all about perception – whether you see things positively or negatively is up to you.  Yay, Disney has a bunch of great new things to try, or boo, here’s Disney, trying to make a buck off the back of the hard working people who are already scrimping and saving to give their families great Disney vacations.  Hooray, Disney is rolling out events to keep those of us who go often coming back to try what’s new, or hiss, there’s Disney greedily grabbing every dollar out of my vacation wallet.

The Family at Epcot

Epcot

No one is forcing anyone to pay extra for Extra Magic Hours – those are still free.  No one is demanding you pay a premium to park in the good spots – you can still use Disney transportation for free or park where you may have ended up parking anyway at the regular rate.  But I do fault Disney for not putting a more positive spin on what may become some people’s favorite things about going to Disney.

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.

Toddler Disney World tips what when and how

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Toddler Disney World Tips

Thinking of taking a baby or toddler to Walt Disney World?  Use these tips for taking a toddler to Walt Disney World to help turn your stress to the start of making the magic happen!

Toddler Disney World Tips #1 – What to Bring:

Your own stroller – If you are flying, gate check the stroller so you’ll have someplace safe to keep your little one comfortable while you wait.  The basket underneath will also allow you to store a carry on item or diaper bag so you’ll have your hands free at the airport.  Having your own stroller at Disney will give your tiny traveler a familiar surrounding, and possibly more comfort.

Carry-on:  Bring a bag with a supply of diapers/wipes; changes of clothes for an accident; bathing suit; sunscreen; hat; food items or medicines that might be needed until bags are delivered or in case they are lost.

ONE:  Favorite toy/stuffed animal

A Ziploc baggie with a few washing machine tablets/pods – just in case you need to do laundry.

Toddler Disney World Tips #2 – Ship Down or Deliver:

To save room in your luggage or in the car – ship a box to your resort ahead of time with diapers, wipes, powdered formula, extra supplies.

Toddler Disney World Tips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Address it to your resort, but include your name and “Arriving Guest” with the date of your arrival.  The resort will store it until you arrive, and you won’t have to worry about taking up precious luggage space with essentials.  You’ll use most of this stuff up before you go home, so you won’t have to save space – buy those souvenirs!

You could also use a service like Garden Grocer.  This grocery delivery service will shop for the supplies you need and drop them off right at your hotel.

 

Toddler Disney World Tips #3 – Baby Care Center:

Located in each park, these are air conditioned, comfortable areas where you can attend to all of your little one’s needs.  Changing tables, high chairs, and a room for nursing mothers can be found here, as well as a microwave for quick heat up for your toddler’s meal.  You can also buy forgotten items like diapers, formula, and baby foods.  Moms and Dads can use the centers, and there is a place for older kids to watch cartoons while you tend to your tot.

Toddler Disney World Tips #4 – What Not to Bring:

High chairs, pack and plays, bed rails – all are available upon request at no additional charge at your resort/restaurants

Every toy you own – you’ll be in the parks most of the time, and not likely to need many things to play with – but do bring a favorite sleeping buddy.

Other Suggestions:

Stick to a schedule – eat when you do at home; try to remember bedtime and nap time if your kids have one. When making your FastPass+ reservations, avoid times when your little one is likely to prefer napping or eating.

Don’t force them to go to the characters if you sense anxiety – you’ll end up paying for therapy in years to come!

 

Review – Shades of Green In Room Dining

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After a long, hot day shopping, we opted to cancel a dining reservation at ‘Ohana (maybe it was the threat of matching grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts?) in favor of an evening of air conditioned comfort in our resort room.  Room service began at 6 PM, and by then, we were starving!  The menu wasn’t extensive, but everything sounded delicious.

SoG Menu

 

SoG menu 2

Eilis decided she was just going to get the chicken wing appetizer, so because I thought she might still be hungry, I added an appetizer of fried calamari to share.  For my entree, I selected the ribeye steak.  The $19.99 price for the steak also included a choice of house or Caesar salad, garlic mashed potatoes, and a vegetable.  Let’s just say, for $20, my expectations were low.  Wow, was I about to be surprised!

We live in Jersey, where the only thing we have more of than diners are Italian restaurants.  Fried calamari is a restaurant staple here, and they give you a huge portion pretty much everywhere we go.  They are a bit risky for me, because if they are overcooked just a little, I can’t swallow them.  No matter how much I chew a rubbery ring, it’s going to get stuck and cause serious discomfort.  The calamari at Shades of Green were so tender, lightly breaded, and seasoned practically to perfection.  I have had calamari that I needed to dunk pretty liberally into the accompanying sauce to give them flavor, but I almost didn’t need the sauce for these – they were THAT good.  Only complaint – it was a small portion.  I toyed with the idea of just ordering this as my dinner, and I’m glad I didn’t.  Eilis and I shared, but you would need another order if you were going to share any further.

There were a few more pieces, but we were starving - this couldn't wait for photos!

There were a few more pieces, but we were starving – this couldn’t wait for photos!

The Caesar salad was simple and good, nothing special, but tasty.  I love roasted vegetables, and these were perfect – onions, peppers, and zucchini, tender with just a bit of a texture to bite into.

Who doesn’t like steak and potatoes?  The garlic mash were a  hit with Eilis, who helped me get through my plate.  They were a tad thick and “sticky”, but did have a great taste.  The ribeye was the star of the plate – absolute beefy perfection.  The seasoning enhanced the flavor of the medium steak, and there was just the right amount of juice to mix in with the potatoes for added flavor there as well.  This was possibly one of the best steaks I’ve had at Walt Disney World.

ant

Eilis loved her wings – a healthy portion of 10 with a bleu cheese dressing.  Don’t expect heat, though – these were kid friendly.  Brighid inhaled, ummm, I mean enjoyed a chicken penne alfredo.

I would say the portions were just enough – I was able to share thanks to gastric bypass, but a hungry Dad would be able to easily finish a meal and possibly an appetizer to boot.

We’re so glad we opted for in-room dining.  The meal was great, the room service attendant awesome, and the price for our entire meal was less than the price for two at ‘Ohana.  A delicious bargain – definitely a winner on two fronts!

Shades of Green – Military R&R At Its Finest

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SoG entry

Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC), located within the Walt Disney World Resort property.  As the only AFRC resort in the United States, this is a popular destination, and the resort has more than 500 rooms that can each accommodate at least five guests.  There are rooms that are ADA compliant for those with accessibility requirements, and there are a couple of suites for larger parties.

SoG guard house

As we pulled up to the beautiful flag lined entrance, the gate guard checked to make sure our name was on the list, and you must have your military ID to show him.  We pulled up to the front of the resort, and a valet came over to see if he could help us.  He explained that there was a parking garage available for $5 per day, or we could use the valet for $5 each time we needed them to get our car.  We opted for the garage, which was a multilevel facility with ample parking.

The lobby is beautiful and simple, with comfortable furnishings and a nice fireplace.  The registration desk is in an alcove just off of the lobby, which is kind of nice, because you are removed from some of the noise and busyness of the lobby.

SoG lobby

The room, on the Magnolia side of the resort, was easily as big as a room at the Grand Floridian (and a check when I got home shows the Shades of Green standard room is actually 40 square feet larger than a room at the Grand Floridian).  It’s not fancy, but there were two queen sized beds with comfortable mattresses and a convertible sofa for a fifth person.  Not a fan of the color scheme, but they are definitely aiming for a tropical feel.

SoG whole room SoG sofa bed SoG seating SoG dresser SoG beds

The bathroom was very generous, although I wish they had separated the toilet from the shower, which I think works better for families.  There was a definite lack of toiletries – one small bottle of shampoo, no conditioner or lotion, and a small bar of soap on the sink and in the shower – but I always bring my own, so it didn’t impact our stay very much.

SoG bathroom

One of the pools was open during our stay, and it was a zero entry pool with lots of seating, tables and umbrellas, and room to move around without bumping into people.  The Mickey pool was being renovated during our stay, but just near the pool was a small play area.  Not huge, but it was cute.

The people here were all very friendly and really helpful, from the valet and the front desk people to the store clerks and the room service attendant.  The resort is laid out so it’s easy to find everything – even for the directionally challenged.

We used the room service option for dinner once during our stay, and the food was delicious.  I had the very best steak I’ve had in ages, and the calamari was just delicious.  The portions are not huge, but sufficient.

Overall, our experience was great.  This was kind of a no-frills resort – but the comfort and quality were certainly there.  We paid $95 a room for the night, and taking that into consideration, this was a huge bargain for what we got.  We would totally stay here again.

When Must Haves are Can’t Haves – Disney Dining Alternatives

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It’s here – your day that is exactly 180 days away from your Walt Disney World vacation, when you can get up at the crack of dawn and make the dining reservations you’ve been planning for since your last Walt Disney World vacation.  But your alarm doesn’t go off, and you’re dreaming of a Club Level room at the Yacht Club – who wants to wake up from that?  You over sleep, and your best laid dining plans crash and burn.  What’s a Disney vacation diner to do?

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Believe it or not, there are restaurant options at Walt Disney World.  I know when people talk to me about making dining plans, they all have the same restaurants on their list – Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, ‘Ohana, Chef Mickey’s, and Le Cellier.  Not being able to get these restaurants can really ruin a vacation for some people.  Let’s see if we can save the day by recommending some alternative dining options.

1 – Can’t get dinner at Be Our Guest?  Grab lunch.  There are no reservations necessary for lunch at the Beast’s Castle, and if you don’t mind going early or late for lunch, you may not even have a very long wait.  The best thing about lunch here is that it feels very table service, even at lunch.  You’ll order as you go in, sit down, and the restaurant does the rest.  Lunch options also include some very “sit down” dining food.  Go for the French onion soup and braised pork, and you’ll feel very much like you’re at a table service meal.

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2 – No room at Cinderella’s Royal Table?  Happens all the time.  This has always been one of the most coveted reservations to secure, so weigh your reasons for wanting to eat there.  Is it the castle experience? Do lunch at Be Our Guest in Beast’s Castle.  Is it meeting Cinderella?  You may also find her at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian for dinner, and she may also appear at breakfast, lunch and dinner at Restaurant Akershus in EPCOT.  Want early entry to the Magic Kingdom?  Try Crystal Palace.  Is it the food?  Nah, it’s never really about the food here, but hopefully, one of the other options will satisfy your reasons for wanting to dine there.

3 – Le Cellier is Le Sold Out.  You’re obviously looking for a great steak dinner.  If you want to stay in EPCOT, try Monsieur Paul, where you’ll get an amazing beef tenderloin.  Jiko has my most favorite filet mignon anywhere, followed closely by the California Grill.  For a great selection of steaks, hit up the Yachtsman Steakhouse.

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4 – ‘Ohana means family, and if you don’t book early, your family may be waving to your cousins from outside this wildly popular restaurant.  I can almost always get a breakfast reservation here – even at the last minute.  I know, you want the all you can eat grill.  Keep calling – up to the day you leave.  And if that fails, turn up at the podium as soon as the restaurant opens for dinner.  They may be able to squeeze you in.

5 – Chef Mickey’s – I hate to say it, but I got nothing.  You can see each of the characters that appear there at other restaurants, and there are other buffets.  But there’s just something about Chef Mickey’s that you can’t get anywhere else.  You’d better set a backup alarm so you can snag this one!

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Lesbians, Gays and Disney – OH MY!

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I have a friend who totally knows I’m writing about her (or at least she will by the time this blog is published and other people start telling her about it!).  She was reading something online about Gay Days at Walt Disney World, and as she is just in the beginning stages of planning her family vacation for next June, she was expressing some concern for the timing of her vacation.

“I’m not sure I want to have to explain ‘that’ to my kids just yet.”

She’s right to question.  I mean, who wants their kids exposed to that?  

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Who wants their kids to see families enjoying a vacation together after working and saving all year to be able to spend this time with each other?  Who wants their kids to see dads holding onto their little ones as they scream with delight on Splash Mountain?  Who wants to see moms wiping chocolate from yet another Mickey bar off the face of an overzealous Mickey bar eating child?

Be careful, those of you who don’t want their kids to see affection shared between families.  I said affection.  I even looked up the word affection in the dictionary.  Nowhere did it say that affection meant stripping naked, slathering in oil (or mud, if the mood strikes), clearing all the dinner dishes off the table inside Cinderella’s Royal Table, and doing the horizontal mambo right there in front of the theme park public.  Affection – you know – the thing those of us with the defective “straight” gene show by hugging or holding hands, laughing and smiling when we talk to someone, generally enjoying each other’s company.  Who wants kids to see that?

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Your kids will see people riding rides, watching shows, singing songs, enjoying meals, and you might even see someone pop the question to the one and only true love of their life in front of the castle.  Yeah, who wants their kids to see that?

Well, wait a minute, I’d want my kids to see that.  I want them to see happy families, loving couples, and Disney World.  How convenient that if you go to Walt Disney World the first week in June, you get to see all of that! 

So yes, person who may or may no longer be my friend after you see this blog post, you do want your kids exposed to that.  Love and family, in any form, is a beautiful thing to be exposed to.

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