Taking Stephanie To Disney World, June 2010

This past June, Cindy, Sophie and I planned to celebrate Sophie’s birthday at Walt Disney World.  There were so many plans, and Sophie knew about all of them — where we wanted to eat, what we wanted to do, and where we planned to stay — but the one thing that Sophie had no idea about was that we had invited a secret fourth person to accompany us!

On Sunday evening, June 13th, at about 7:30 PM or so, our front doorbell rang.  Since I knew who was coming, I told Sophie to get the door.  As she did, she said, surprised, “Stephanie?”  When she saw that it was, indeed, her cousin Stephanie, she opened the door the rest of the way and gave her a big hug!

As we were all hugging Stephanie, Sophie whispered to me “Daddy, why is she here?”.  When she asked, I told her to ask Stephanie herself.  Steph answered, “Well, I heard you were going on vacation, and I thought I would come along!”

As soon as Sophie heard that, she gave a squeal of delight and wrapped Stephanie up in a great big bear hug!

We had a wonderful vacation planned!  It would all start with leaving on Monday, June 14th, and spending the night in Savannah, GA.  Additionally, we were to spend Tuesday night at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista before checking in at Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter on Wednesday, June 16th.

But first we had reservations for dinner on the 15th at the Captain’s Grille, a seafood restaurant at the Yacht Club over by the Disney Boardwalk.  We decided to make reservations there because I was really in the mood for some crab legs, and also because my friend Beth used to be the hostess there!  Our food was so good, I would eat there again in a heartbeat!  After we ate, we walked around the Boardwalk.  We had always wanted to do that, but had just never taken the time to do so.  We enjoyed the Boardwalk immensely!  We looked in some shops, we bought some trinkets, we watched a man doing a magic show that was quite humorous, and we enjoyed the walk around the lake.

Disney’s Boardwalk as seen from across the pond!

Wednesday the 16th was quite an interesting day, to say the least!  We woke up normally, ate a quick breakfast at the Fairfield, and then packed the car and headed off to POFQ!  We had decided early on that we would check-in early, entrust our luggage with the luggage people at the resort, and head over to the Magic Kingdom to enjoy the day until our room was ready.  We had two things that we wanted to do that day.  The first was to take advantage of our preferred seating location for the afternoon parade, and the second was to make our dining reservations at The Crystal Palace.

However, after we dropped off our luggage, we decided to go inside to use the rest rooms before heading over to the park.  When we came out of the rest rooms, though, we started talking with a very nice lady about the one thing we had never ever looked into: the Disney Vacation Club.  She was talking with us, and in the course of our conversation, we found out that we could get four days worth of fast pass tickets for all of us just by taking a tour of the facilities over at the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

We all talked it over, and decided that other than our dining reservations, we really could take some time to do the tour, so we decided to take her up on her offer.  A vehicle took us over for the tour, and we met a lady named Johanna, who took us around and showed us the resort.  She told us we were welcome to take a few pictures, so I did!  I didn’t take many, but here are a few that I like.

The fountain at Saratoga Springs

 

One of the train displays at the DVC location at Saratoga Springs.

 

A mural at the DVC location at Saratoga Springs.
After the tour, we sat down with Johanna to talk about the pricing for the Vacation Club.  After much talking, we realized that the money we had spent on our three previous trips would have paid for about half of what a Vacation Club membership would have cost, and to make matters worse, we paid two dollars more per night for our hotel at POFQ than we could have paid for a Savannah view at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge!  When we heard that, and then heard about the really special deals that they were offering, and learned what the monthly payments worked out to be, we decided to take the plunge and own a piece of Disney, all for ourselves!
 In the end, we were there for probably two hours, perhaps longer.  Because of that, we did miss the preferred seating for the parade, but we still made our dinner reservations.  Also, I split off with the girls and met the porter at our hotel room to take delivery of our luggage.
I was able to get that done and arrive at The Crystal Palace just in time for us to get seated!  This would be the first of our table service dining reservations, and also the first time for Stephanie to get the Disney character experience!  The Crystal Palace includes meet and greet sessions with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore, and each time they come by, you can take a picture and get an autograph in your autograph book.  Take a look at some of the pictures we took that day!
Sophie, Piglet, and Stephanie
Sophie and Pooh

 

Silly faces!
I like to enjoy a breakfast at least once a trip while we are visiting at Disney World.  Usually we save all of our table service meals for late afternoon/early dinner, but on the 17th, we had reservations at the Cape May Cafe, which we had never eaten at before.
The Cape May Cafe is located at the Yacht Club resort, over again by the Disney Boardwalk.  This was the same resort where we had been for our Captain’s Grille dinner two nights before.  The characters at this buffet breakfast included Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy!  The food is one big buffet with Mickey Mouse waffles, all sorts of sweet pastries, all sorts of bacon and sausages, and of course, eggs (yuck!)  However, there was plenty to eat, so none of us went hungry that morning!  Take a look at some of the great pictures we took!
Steph and Minnie

 

Sophie and Minnie

 

Steph and Donald

 

The girls with Goofy!

 

Sophie’s Birthday Surprise — notice the card right by the desert?
After we finished breakfast, we took the water taxi over to Epcot.  One of the hidden treasures of Epcot is the ability to enter the park from the back entrance, over by the France pavilion in World Showcase.  The line is much smaller, and while I have seen it many times, I had never entered that way until this trip.
We spent the day first at Epcot, and then later on we hopped over to the Magic Kingdom.  One of the things we did was take the ferry boat ride across the Seven Seas Lagoon.  In doing so, we discovered that we had taken the following Disney modes of transportation:
  • Disney Resort Bus
  • Monorail
  • Water Taxi
  • Ferry Boat
  • Helium Balloon (Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney)
  • Vacation Club Van

Actually, the girls didn’t do the Characters in Flight until Sophie’s birthday on the 19th, but you get the idea.

You know, as I write about our Disney experiences with Stephanie this past June, it occurs to me that there is so much that we did on our vacation that there is no way that I can get all of the Magic down in a blog post without making the post about a three day job to get it down.  So, at the risk of disappointing my following of 10 on Networked Blogs, I’m going to show you the remaining parts of our trip via the pictures that we took.  I hope you enjoy!

The ghosts from The Tower of Terror!

 

Pluto with Steph and Sophie at The Garden Grill

 

Mickey and Sophie at The Garden Grill

 

He’s such a big player the girls had to have their pictures separately!

 

“And the winner is…Kermit the Frog!”

 

On Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney

 

Our lovely niece at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ!

 

Sophie is wearing her special “Minnie and Me” T-Shirt she created at Downtown Disney!

 

Sophie’s picture with Mickey and Minnie

 

We thought we were as wet as we could get — until it started pouring rain on top of it!

 

My only picture from “Finding Nemo — the musical” that turned out okay.

 

Our picture with Belle at Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall

 

Sleeping Beauty and the girls

 

Cinderella with the girls

 

Snow White with the girls

 

Ariel with the girls

 

Clownin’ around at the bus stop

 

Tink leading off the parade!

 

This parade is SO COOL — see it if you can!

 

Cinderella — and yes, she was looking right at me! (not!)

 

Pete’s Dragon — my favorite shot of the whole parade!

 

Mickey and Minnie riding with some lucky fans late night!  It was 12:06 AM on an “Extra Magic Hours” night!

 

As cool a shot of the Castle as I can get at night.  I’m quite pleased with it!

 

And in the day, still a nice shot I think.

 

Pirate Princess Sophie and her prisoners!

 

The Carousel of Progress — to this day one of my favorite attractions!

 

“Which way did they go, George?”

 

Even Georgette enjoyed the vacation, although all she did was stay in our room and read!

I always have a great time when we visit Disney World, and this year, with Stephanie being able to enjoy it with us, it was just that much more special!  We made so many memories, Stephanie is already “inviting herself” to come with us next time!  I say, the more the merrier!  Thanks for reading!

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney World!

It was on this day in 1971 that Walt Disney World® opened it’s doors to the public!  Happy 39th birthday, Disney World!  The opening consisted of the Magic Kingdom, The Contemporary Resort, The Polynesian Resort, and the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground!

Read about it at the DisneyParks Blog, and check out the killer photo they have posted!

The Lands of the Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is an incredible place to visit.  From a theme park perspective, it is almost like having seven parks all rolled into one.  The reason for this is because of all of the different “Lands” that you can visit.  They include the following:

Over the next several posts, I will take a look at each of these lands, outlining the things that my family has enjoyed from each place, and also taking a look at some of the things we haven’t done that we would like to explore.  Stick with “My Dreams of Disney” for some information you can take with you the next time you visit Disney!

Port Orleans French Quarter

One of our favorite Disney Resorts is Port Orleans French Quarter. This resort, which is a sister resort of Port Orleans Resort – Riverside, is the smallest of the Disney resorts. This, when coupled with it’s French Quarter theming, really made it a very enjoyable resort to stay at. We first stayed at POFQ in August of 2009. This trip was originally planned for June, but we canceled once because of the economy, then later on in the summer decided it was more advantageous to go because of the free Disney Dining Plan, so we booked our trip for August. However, we left Sophie out of the loop, and proceeded to plan, pack, and leave all one Saturday with her having no idea of where we were going. When she found out, it prompted this video:

When we got to the resort, the first people we met were the two gentlemen who serve as doormen for the entrance to the lobby of the hotel.  They were some of the nicest Cast Members we have ever met, and it is just a shame that I don’t remember their names.  In addition to being doormen, they also were extremely knowledgeable about which was the best way to get somewhere to meet a reservation.  Whenever we saw them they always said — “Where are we going today?”, and when we told them, they promptly pulled out the park information we needed, pointed out the location of whatever it was we wanted to see, and also told us about some other things to do when we were there.  Lastly, they would tell us when the last bus was here that went to that particular destination.  Sadly, they were not there in June when we went back to POFQ.

In addition to the great doormen, we also had a great staff in other areas.  Check out this picture of the towels that the housekeeper left in our room:

The thing that really sets Disney apart from any other theme park, in my opinion, is the incredible detail that is put into every part of a Disney resort.  Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, is based on the real French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana (obviously).  The street signs are the same, landscaping is the same, every detail is brought into the equation of what makes a Disney resort.  For a whole lot more about Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, you can check out the unofficial Port Orleans tribute site.

Because Port Orleans Resort comprises both the French Quarter and Riverside sections, you can actually take advantage of the services at both locations when you stay at one of the resorts.  This means that you can choose from two pools to enjoy, a fishing hole to enjoy some actual fishing, and the nice thing is that the two resorts are only about a 5 – 10 minute walk up the Sassagoula River.  Of the two resorts, Riverside is the larger of the two, and French Quarter feels much more intimate.  However, that intimacy does come at a price — there is only a quick service food court type restaurant at the resort.  If you wish to have a sit down dining experience, you need to head up to Riverside for that.

If you don’t feel like walking, and you don’t want to get in your car and drive, you have other choices available to you. First off, you can take the water taxi. The Sassagoula is a man-made river, and you can ride the water taxi up to Riverside, or you can wait for the one coming back and ride it down to Disney Springs! We have done that twice, and it is a nice change of pace from sitting in a bus to get where you want to go.

But talk is cheap, take a look at some of the pictures we’ve taken of the resort!

The Sassagoula River flows from Port Orleans Resort (both Riverside and French Quarter) to Disney Springs!

Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter is the smallest of the resorts, but it definitely has it’s set of amenities. Take a look at the official Disney World page for more information, and better pictures!

Lastly, if you are looking for someone to help you plan your family vacation to Walt Disney World, reach out to me and I can assist! I am a full service travel consultant with Pixie Vacations, and have been helping families like yours for over six years now. I am certain I can help you plan and have the trip of a lifetime! Email me at mike@pixievacations.com or submit a quote request form today!

My Top 10 places to eat at Disney World

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to eat at a lot of restaurants that are part of Disney World.  There are so many places to eat, you really can’t go wrong.  As impossible as my title seems, I’m going to give it my best effort and give you my top ten places to eat.  I’m going to count down from ten.


At number ten, I give you … The Pinocchio Village Haus

Magic Kingdom's Pinocchio Village Haus Quick Service

This quick service restaurant serves up standard fare — pizza, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, etc., but what makes this place good to me is the location.  Situated behind Cinderella’s Castle, right next to it’s a small world, this location even has windows that look down into the launch area for the popular attraction.  Couple that with it’s Old World charm, and it becomes a place for us to eat at least once per trip.

Sitting at number nine is the Liberty Inn

Located over at the American Adventure pavilion on the World Showcase at Epcot, this quick service restaurant, like Pinocchio Village Haus before, serves standard American food such as hot dogs and hamburgers.  However, what makes this place a really great place to eat is the large, open courtyard seating — which holds probably 200 people (although I don’t have exact numbers).  Additionally, there is an old style military band that plays periodically in the courtyard, and they are well worth the wait if you decide to stay and listen to them.

 At number eight in my list is the Flame Tree Barbeque, located over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The Flame Tree is one of the best quick service restaurants in all of Disney.  This restaurant serves up a lot of great food at a good price.  We don’t eat here every year because some trips we only make one trip over to Animal Kingdom, and often we have a big dinner planned somewhere else that day, so we don’t want to overeat.  However, if you ever have the chance, check out the Flame Tree!

 Sitting at number seven is ‘Ohana, located at Disney’s Polynesian Resort

Ohana is Hawaiian for family, and as a result, a meal at ‘Ohana is served family style.  We ate there in 2009 for breakfast, and had a wonderful selection of sausages, waffles, eggs, fruits, biscuits, and other delightful dishes.  The character breakfast also included visits by Lilo, Stitch, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto, with numerous photo opportunities and autograph sessions.  It was a great meal breakfast, and we enjoyed it immensely.

At number six in my countdown, we come to one of the true institutions of Disney — the Main Street Bakery

If you want a quick place to grab some good food, this is the place.  Serving everything from yummy breakfast items like cinnamon rolls, sandwiches, and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for picky eaters like Sophie, this is the place to be.  One step inside the shop and you are inundated with all sorts of sweet smelling treats, just begging you to try one out.  It was here where one of our Disney memories was created when Sophie was presented with her huge chocolate chip cookie, courtesy of Cinderella.

Now we have reached the top five in our list.  Starting us off is the Liberty Tree Tavern at number five.

 Located in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, this restaurant was one of the ones that Cindy and I ate at when we were “eating our way through Disney” in January of 2001.  At that time, and again when we took Sophie and Riley there for Sophie’s birthday, the Liberty Tree served dinner and also had character greetings with Chip and Dale, Minnie Mouse, and Pluto.  At this point, though, looking at the page linked above, it doesn’t appear that there are any characters at the Liberty Tree.  If that is the case, I might have to bump this down on the list some.  However, the food is still delightful, and the deserts are really awesome!

Coming in at number four we have Cinderella’s Royal Table.

The beauty of Cinderella’s Royal Table is in the details.  A picture with Cinderella herself, with prints included in your meal.  Going up the stairs of the Castle to a site in the dining room overlooking Fantasyland.  A delicious meal, served with a Princess Wand for your little girl to make wishes with.  Character greetings with other Disney characters (the list varies from time to time).  It all adds up to a top five restaurant in my book.  I imagine that I will receive some criticism that it is ranked “only” number four in my list, but the top three I have I believe are better.

Sitting at number three in my countdown, The Crystal Palace

 The Crystal Palace continues to be on our list of restaurants to eat at every year.  The place has it all:  a fantastic building, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and best of all, character greetings from Winnie the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore.  What is better in your opinion — having Tigger ham it up for the camera, sticking his big snout closer to the camera, or getting a great one-on-one with Eeyore? Wait, I know what’s better — sharing the moment with your Cousin Stephanie, that’s what!

And coming in at number two…Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall located in the Norway Pavilion of Epcot!

This restaurant is listed at number two on my list for several reasons:  First, it all starts with a family picture with Belle — and the prints are included in the cost.  Secondly, the Royal Banquet Hall is an incredible room, take a look at the link above to get an idea — but you’ve got to see it in person also!  Third, the meal starts with a traditional Norwegian buffet of cheeses, meats, breads, and salad to get you started — this is so good I could almost just stick with that and call it good.  However, then you get to choose one of several traditional dishes.  You can check out the dinner menu here.  The last time we ate, which was in June, I had the Traditional Kjottkake, and it was delicious!  In addition to all of this, the meal we had in June included visits with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White (that was the first time we had ever seen her here, so that was a big treat!), and Ariel.  If you have never eaten here, try it out — you will be happy you did!

And finally, my number one restaurant in all of Disney World to eat at…The Garden Grill Restaurant, located in The Land Pavilion at Epcot!

What makes this restaurant unique, and my (as well as Sophie’s) favorite is the circular nature of the restaurant.  The restaurant itself spins ever so slightly, taking you in a 360 degree view of the Land Boat ride below.  In addition to the coolness of that, you also will enjoy a family style dinner of flank steak, roast turkey, and sustainable fish (that varies), along with all of the fixings, and a delicious desert afterwards.  To top it all off, you will be greeted by some of Sophie’s (and my) favorite characters:  Chip and Dale, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto.  This restaurant is such a favorite of Sophie’s that she has already told us that she plans on taking her date there when she is old enough to date!  How’s that for planning ahead!

That, my friends, is my list of my top ten restaurants to eat at Disney World.  In addition to my top ten, I am also including my honorable mentions here.  These are restaurants that I have enjoyed, but not enough to visit them every year or two.  If you haven’t tried these out, I recommend them as well!  There really isn’t a bad restaurant in all of Disney!

  • 50’s Prime Time Cafe
  • Cape May Cafe
  • Captain’s Grille
  • Chef Mickey’s
  • Pepper Market
  • Sassagoula Float Works and Factory Food Court

All of these restaurants are quite good for various reasons, whether it be for the cuisine, culture, selection, or location, but just not good enough to make my top ten.

Before I leave you, I think I should point out that most of these restaurants would not have been enjoyed by us except that we choose to take advantage of the Disney Dining Plan.  If you can do it, I recommend it.  Some people claim that it isn’t as good a deal as it used to be, but I disagree.  In a future post, I’ll talk up the plan.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to post any comments, or even your own top ten list!