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!

Coronado Springs — our second year

Coronado Springs Resort The first year we went to Coronado Springs was in 2007, and we had such a great time that we decided to book a second trip for the same resort the following year.  The difference this time, though, in 2008, was that we went to Disney World for Sophie’s birthday that year, and this time we also decided to check out the pricing from AAA.  We were pleased in that we were able to connect with a great person named Tarah who took care of every detail for us.  If you are interested in getting in contact with Tarah, let me know and I’ll have her contact you.

This trip was as good as the first trip was, perhaps even better if it can be.  Being there for Sophie’s birthday was a special treat that really is cool.  If you’ve never celebrated a birthday at Walt Disney World, tell your significant other that you want to celebrate your birthday there, and start planning!

We were there from June 15th – 22nd, 2008.  The first night we were there we ate at Sophie’s favorite restaurant, The Garden Grill Restaurant at Epcot.  The Garden Grill, if you haven’t been there before, is a circular revolving restaurant located in the Land complex.  The restaurant is really cool because you are able to see down into parts of the scenery that is used on The Land Boat ride.  Additionally, the food is incredible and served all you can eat.  Additionally, this is a character dinner location, with visits from Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale to add to the fun.

Sophie and Chip

Our second day included a special dinner at 1900 Park Fare.  This restaurant is located over at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.  This dinner was special because it had as character greetings Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the wicked Step Mother and the wicked Step Sisters.  The step mother and step sisters were all in perfect form, with each one asking Sophie “Is it really your birthday (they saw her button) or are you lying?”  One of them, when Sophie announced that her birthday was in three days, said “Oh, so you are lying!  That’s okay, that’s what I would do, too.”

Sophie wasn’t all that sure what to make of the step sisters and step mother, as you can see from this picture, but she loved Cinderella and Prince Charming.  They even had a time when you could get up and dance with them!

Sophie and Drusilla

For food, the meal was a standard buffet, very similar to my thinking as The Crystal Palace, but in most of these places, the food isn’t the big attraction — it’s the characters.

On the third day of our trip, we hopped between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  We had dinner reservations in Norway at the ever popular (for us, anyway) Princess Storybook Dining at Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall.  I really enjoy going there — it is great because there is a photograph session with Belle that is shot when you first get there (the prints are included in part of the price), and additionally, you visit with some of the best Princesses you can imagine.  During this visit, we met, spoke with, had our picture taken, and got an autograph with Cinderella, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, and Ariel.

Cinderella and Sophie
Princess Jasmine and Sophie
Sleeping Beauty and Sophie
Ariel and Sophie
Belle and Sophie

As you can tell, we plan our dining experiences around the character options available.  We were hooked on the Disney Dining Plan the previous year, and have continued it each year since.  For us, it is great because we are able to eat really great food that we wouldn’t normally eat, we don’t have to carry a lot of extra food money around with us, and we are able to get some pictures that we just wouldn’t be able to get without waiting in line for long periods of time.

The next day we were able to enjoy one of the perks that we received for signing up through AAA — Disney’s Story Book.  In this setting, which at the time was located in the Magic Kingdom near Tony’s Town Square restaurant, we were able to enjoy a story read from one of Disney’s famous characters.  Today’s story was read by non other than “The Fairy Godmother”.  It was a really nice event, Sophie loved it, we loved it, and we were able to spend some time with her afterwards and get autographs and pictures.  Since it was exclusive for AAA members, there were only about 20 kids there (and their parents), so it was really quaint and had a close, comfortable feel about it — almost like we were in her living room listening to the story at her house.

Sharing a precious moment

Sophie thought that the she had had as much fun as she could have, but then, on June 19th, her seventh birthday, she had even more fun.  We arranged with our friend Leigh Ann to have her daughter Riley join us for the day to celebrate!  We had so much fun, I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Sophie and Riley
Fireworks over Magic Kingdom
Riding Prince Charming Regal Carousel
Riley, Chip, and Sophie at The Liberty Tavern
Riley, Minnie, and Sophie
God’s Rainbow over the MK Parking Lot
God wishes Sophie a Happy Birthday!
God’s Rainbow

The next day we spent the day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  It was the first time Sophie had ever been there, and she quickly became a huge fan of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!  We rode it once together (I did NOT like the ride), and then Cindy and Sophie proceeded to ride it twice more!  They loved it!  While we were there, we proceeded to meet a newlywed couple from Edmonton.  They were so nice, and Sophie instantly formed a bond with Bryanne.  They hit it off so much that they became pen pals!

The last day of our trip was spent at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  We visited Morocco, and had pictures taken with Princess Jasmine and the Genie, and we looked at the garden train that is setup in the Germany pavilion.  We also had dinner at The Crystal Palace, one of our favorite places to eat!

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane!  Thanks for reading!