Monday, November 30, 2009

Should You Worry about Stroller Theft at Disney World?

I hestitated to write about this because I didn't want to contribute in any way to the rumors of "rampant" stroller theft at Disney World, but as a mom who goes to Disney with small children, my curiosity got the better of me:  Was there a growing problem with stroller theft at Disney World?  Anecdotally, there seemed to be more posts showing up on Disney boards in the last few months where posters reported that they personally had been, or knew someone who had been, a victim of stroller theft.  So I decided to find out for myself it stroller theft was really a problem or if it was just an internet rumor with legs.

What did I find?  Well, very little.  None of the local news outlets seem to have picked up on the story, nor have their been excessive warnings on any travel sites that deal with Disney, which leads me to believe it's not very common to lose a stroller in the parks.  I did find this well-written blog post by a father whose stroller was stolen recently, but not much else.  What I did find was more word of mouth on message boards, the rumors about "rings" of criminals stalking higher-end strollers at Disney parks and doing a fast turnaround on Craigslist or the occasional story about the frustrated parent who "borrows" someone's stroller for the day.  Of course, there were also people who reported their stroller stolen only to find out it had been moved by a cast member to make room for other strollers.

I'm not sure if this means that stroller theft is any more or less of a problem as it has been in past years or if the ability to post and discuss such incidences on message boards makes it seem like a bigger issue than it is. Regardless, it's important to keep it all in perspective.  There are literally thousands of strollers being pushed around Disney World on any given day.  A good chunk, if not all, of those strollers will spend at least some time unattended while the owner visits an attraction or is eating.  And the vast majority of those strollers will stay put until the owner comes to claim them.

One thing all of these reports had in common was the feeling that it shouldn't happen at Disney.  "It's the happiest place on earth", they joked.   How could someone go to a theme park and just ruin someone else's vacation?   Others chimed in with safety tips, cautioning others not to "let your guard down" just because it's Disney.  Solid advice, of course.  But here's the thing.  I don't let my guard down at Disney. What I do is, in some ways, worse:  I give up my cynical side, I step back and believe in the magic. You see that all the time at Disney, people who in their real lives are jaded or very serious losing themselves in the "show" that's taking place around them.    And if you do that and something bad happens, well, it's a lot more disappointing than if something happens at your local mall, even if it isn't Disney's fault.  Perhaps this too contributes to the feeling that theft is more common than it actually is.

I think my research indicates that it's still extremely rare to have your stroller stolen while at Disney World.  Nonetheless, on my next trip, I'm falling into the better safe than sorry category.  A few ideas for keeping your stroller safe:

1. Buy a lock specifically made for strollers. 

2.  Pull the "disgusting bag of something" trick as noted in some guide books.   Basically, the idea is that you tie a plastic bag with a fake "dirty" diaper in it to your stroller handle. Thieves run away screaming!  Well, that's the idea, anyway.

3.  Buy an inexpensive (possibly used) stroller; donate it after the trip.  You'll help a mom in need and get a small tax deduction.

4.  Rent/swap a stroller. Some Disney message boards have "stroller swaps" where members swap out the same stroller over and over.  It requires little effort other than ensuring that you deliver or leave the stroller at the appointed place and time for the next swapper.  Most boards require that these swaps take place without money changing hands, although some swaps ask for small donations to keep the strollers in good repair.  You can also rent a stroller from Disney or from an off-site stroller rental.  Keep in mind that if you rent from Disney, your stroller is for in-park use only.  If you have a child that can't walk long distances back to the parking lot, you might want to bring your own or rent one from off site.   If you rent off site, read the fine print regarding your responsibility in the event of theft; some companies will allow you to purchase insurance at around $25 for the length of the rental.

5.  One mom on a Disney message board had this clever trick:  She made an iron-on patch with her family's name and photo on it and ironed it right on the stroller.  Others laminated nameplates and attached them with zip ties. The latter seems like it would be an especially good deterrent for the "casual" stroller thief who "borrows" your stroller for the day.

In this economy, it shouldn't be a surprise that unscrupulous people will try to make an easy buck any place strollers are left unattended, not just Disney. While stroller thefts are highly unusual, a few precautions should ensure that your stroller stays with you.

Monday Morning Distraction.

I really hope you've eaten, frozen, or thrown out the rest of your turkey leftovers.  You have?  Great.    Celebrate the fact that you've eluded food poisoning yet again this year by taking a break and checking out some of the latest Disney stories around the web.

Kevin Yee has a report on the newly refurbished Space Mountain, including lots of pictures.

The Disney Food Blog has cute ideas for Disney food-related gifts.  The play cupcakes are adorable.

Blue Sky Disney has a collection of some early reviews of "Princess and the Frog."

Disney Geek Dad has "21 Reasons to Go to Walt Disney World."  But he seems to have forgotten Stitch's Great Escape.  Odd. I thought everyone loved that attraction.

Courage, the turkey pardoned by President Obama last week, headed to Disneyland, where he was the  Grand Marshall in the Thanksgiving day parade.  Rumor has it Courage slept through the entire spectacle. When asked what he thought about his newfound celebrity, Courage predictably replied  "Gobble, gobble."   Just between the two of us, you do not want to eat a 45-pound turkey.  Tough as leather.

Mouse Planet's Chuck Barry names his top 5 Pixar film sequences.

Possible leak of the super-secret list of celebrities appearing in the Disney parks Christmas parade, which will be taping in Walt Disney World next week.

WDWMagic just announced more features on its WDWMagic mobile.   You can now check out parade and fireworks times and more at  http://mobile.wdwmagic.com/.

Finally, some holiday fun at Ft. Wilderness, where guests decorate their campsites and cabins.  I like the homey touch:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reader Email: Is Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Worth the Money?

I love getting email from readers and am happy to answer them if I can.  Here's the latest:

Chris:

I noticed  you had a post up about Disney during the holidays where you mentioned Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP).  My family is going to the Disney World for the first time in December and we are thinking of going to MCMCP. Do you think it's worth it?  We would be taking our preschooler.

Thanks

I love MVMCP, so I'm probably a bit biased, but I think it's a great event.    You'll see parades and shows you won't see during regular hours and depending on the night, you can walk on many attractions.  Cast members give out free cocoa and sugar cookies and there's "snow" on Main Street.  It's just a beautiful, festive atmosphere.  Crowds tend to vary and for this reason, it shouldn't be the only day you allow for visiting the Magic Kingdom during your trip, nor should it be your first foray into this park. Some nights, you'll walk on every attraction as I did a couple of years ago when the park was practically empty and we rode Buzz Lightyear about 15 times in a row (and my score barely improved, but that's a different, sad story).   This is when you really see the Magic Kingdom and its cast members at their finest.  Other nights can be really crowded.  At $59 for adults and $53 for children (plus tax) , the price is a bit steep so you're gambling on lower crowds and your kids' ability to stay up later.  On a good night, MVMCP is a fantastic experience and worth every dime.

As far as taking a small child goes, I would use that day as a rest day and save your energy for that night.  Maybe do some shopping at Downtown Disney or a little bit of resort hopping; the decorations are beautiful at Christmas.   Even if your child has given up her nap, taking some quiet time in the afternoon can help.  Finally, go into the party knowing that it's likely you won't stay until closing.   Resist the temptation to "get your money's worth" and go back to your resort when the kids are ready.

I've had a couple of people ask me what I think are the best nights to go as far as crowds are concerned.  I don't think there's any real pattern that you can predict, other than the fact that weekends and the last night of the party are usually more crowded, but the truth is, I've been there on a Tuesday night in mid-December and could barely walk the crowds were so thick.  For the most part however, crowd levels are not that high.  Disney only releases a certain number of tickets but it's hard to get an official number on how many that actually is.  I've heard from pretty good sources that it's around 25,000, which seems like a lot but then again, it's a big park.  Even on busier nights, the crowds tend to thin out after 9:00 or so.  If you happen to go on a night that's very crowded, you will still enjoy the party.  There are touring plans available that can help you make the most out of your experience or you can do like I do when it's crowded and slow down and enjoy being in the park for a completely different experience than you would have during the day.

Rumor has it that ticket sales for this year's MVMCP have been down. This is based on the fact that Disney recently opened up more nights for cast members to attend with discounted tickets.  You can still buy tickets to most nights at the Disney website.

Good luck.  I'd love to hear how it works out for you!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fast Disney Facts: Magic Kingdom Ferryboats.

Three ferryboats take guests from the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom:  The Admiral Joe Fowler, which has green panels; the Robert Irvine, with red panels; and the General Joe Potter, with blue panels.  The boats are named in honor of the men who oversaw construction of the Magic Kingdom.

The boats are 120 feet long, 35 feet wide, and weigh between 180 and 190 tons.  Each can carry up to 650 passengers.  There's a common misconception that the boats are on a track, but they are actually free floating.

When you arrive at the TTC, you can choose between the monorail and the ferry.  While the express monorail to the Magic Kingdom is two minutes faster than taking the ferry, at right around five minutes, if there's a line for the monorail and the ferry is waiting, the ferry will likely get you there faster.  During the most crowded times of the year, the ferry is also easier to manuever with strollers.  And of course, it's a very scenic ride, almost an attraction in itself.

Video showing the ride from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reader Email: Disney at Christmastime.

It's time for reader email!  This comes from Maggie who, like me, has toddler twins and is studying for the February bar exam.

Chris:

Was reading your blog today. Not only am I just stressing a little over the Bar (I am completely and utterly an OCD mess but who isn't who went to law school, right?), I started thinking about our planned trip to Disney, which I think I told you has been pushed off to December 2010 for Christmas. My mom, who is 76 is having some health troubles lately and she lives in upstate NY while we are in Chicago. Anywho...the point is, this trip becomes more important soooo . . . I really need your help on planning this Disney trip! I don't know the first place to start. I don't want to pay full price of course but I want to make this a memorable trip. We are budgeting about $2500 for just our family of 4 (my parents are paying their own) for about 5 days. Is that doable?


The twins will be 3 by then (is that an okay age?). I want a lunch at the castle with my daughter, me and my mom and a girlie trip to the Bibbity Bobbity Boo boutique with her and my mom as well. Are there boy counterpart things to do for our son, Liam? Just some stuff for you to consider when planning our trip for us.

Maggie:

When I first read your email I came up with a response that was full of warnings about travelling to Disney World during Christmas week, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was missing the point.  A Disney vacation is about making memories.  You can go to another theme park and you'd probably have a good time.  But I've been to Six Flags and I can't tell you one thing about my visit, other than the fact that it was fun.  What those other theme parks miss is that magic that only Disney can make.   And for you, making those special memories at Christmas on what you hope will be a very special vacation with your family and your parents is important.  So rather than trying to dissuade you from going at that time, I would simply advise you to be prepared.  Go on a site like  The Dis or Passporter and use their search engine to find threads about  how you can make Christmas week easier.  Consider using a touring plan.  Don't be scared off; plenty of people visit the World during that time and love it.

My other advice to you is to pay for convenience, and in this case, that means staying on site.  Since you're travelling with toddlers and older people, staying on Disney property will help minimize any transportation issues you might encounter.  At first glance, staying on Disney property can appear to be more expensive, but when you add in the ability to use Magical Express and Extra Magic Hours, not to mention that it keeps you in the "Disney bubble," it's more than worth it.  This is particularly true during busier times of the year.   Here are three good suggestions for on site lodging:

1)  Good.   Both you and your parents get rooms at a value resort.  I like Pop Century the best of these resorts; it's newer and I think the bus service is a little better than the other values.  Since it's a short stay, the smallish rooms shouldn't be too much of a problem.  If you get a connecting room with your parents, you or your husband can spend time with them at night while someone stays in the other room with the kids.  This should run you under $900* for five nights.  Alternatively, you can rent a family suite at the All Stars.  Split between you and your parents, this will keep you within your budget and allow you access to a small kitchenettte.

2)  Better.  You and your parents share a cabin at Ft. Wilderness.  I love Ft. Wilderness at Christmas.  I know that Wilderness Lodge gets all the attention for its Christmas decorations, but to me, the homey feel of Ft.  Wilderness can't be beat at Christmastime.  You'll get a full kitchen, a bedroom, a living area with a Murphy bed, and a full bath for around $2200 split between you and your parents.  This is an especially nice option for older folks who might want to retreat to a nice quiet cabin at night or for those who want access to a full kitchen; you could even cook Christmas dinner in your cabin and avoid the  Christmas day dinner crowds.  My only caveat for  Ft. Wilderness is that you will need your own car.

3)  Best.  It's a budget breaker, but you can't beat Bay Lake Towers, a Disney Vacation Club property, located at the Contemporary Resort, for convenience.  You can literally walk to the Magic Kingdom.  It's also a lovely, new property. I know this is more than you want to spend, but for a blow out vacation, particularly one during Christmas week, this might be worth it.  A two-bedroom standard view at  Bay Lake  Towers (or BLT as it is affectionately known) will run you about $3000 for five nights if you rent from a private owner.  Most rentals are going for about $10 - 12 a point.  Here's a link to the point charts on Mousewners, which is a website for DVC owners and for those who want to rent points from them.  You can also rent points from owners on Disboards.   There are probably better deals on Mouseowners but more variety on Disboards.  Most owners will have references you can check and want you to pay through PayPal; some will take a personal check.  There are also cheaper two-bedroom units that you can rent, particularly less popular locations such as Saratoga Springs and Old Key West, but for convenience, you can't beat a Magic Kindgom location.

Make your reservations as soon as possible. Christmas week fills up very quickly.  Disney has a really generous cancellation policy, so don't worry if you have to cancel later on in the year or if you need to change the days around a bit.   Since this is Disney World's busiest time of year, there will likely not be any discounts, but you can always watch for them (won't happen) and attempt to apply it later (won't happen), should a discount appear (won't happen). 

I don't always think visiters need park hoppers, but since you're going during a busy time of the year and may find yourself wanting to go to a less busy park, you might want to consider them.   There aren't a lot of discounts available for tickets.  Obviously, avoid "merchants" selling tickets out of the back of a truck on Highway 192; less obviously, don't buy tickets off of Ebay.  You can probably save around $80 total for your family by going to a site like Undercover Tourist, which is one of a handful of agents that are authorized by Disney to sell slightly discounted tickets.  Use the Undercover Tourist link on the Mousesavers newsletter for an even better deal.   Five-day park hoppers for a family of four with the UC discount will run around $1000.

As far as extras like Bibbity Bobbity Boutique are concerned, I personally don't think I'd pay the money for a child under the age of five.  While the initial price of a Disney park ticket is pretty steep, the value that you get is very high:  Attractions, character meet and greets, shows, parades.  It's a lot, and you can't possibly do it all in one trip.  And because it's so much, I often don't think the extras are necessary, particularly for smaller children.   A quieter alternative that might be relaxing and enjoyable for you, your daughter and your mother might be something like a tea at the Grand Floridian, which is very special and not too pricey.  If you do decide to do BBB and want to try something for your son as well, the Pirates League in the Magic Kingdom gets really high marks. 

Finally, I recommend getting a good guidebook.  I think the Unofficial  Guide is the best Disney guide out there.  The 2010 edition gives you access to their website (with a small fee) that allows you to access touring plans and other information; you can read some of  the website without actually being a member.  I really like the Disboards for planning a trip, so you might want to check that out; no question goes unanswered on that board!  If you have a long commute and an Ipod and you're not listening to multi-state bar exam lectures, you might want to listen to a couple of Disney podcasts.  WDWToday, The DisUnplugged, and WDWRadio are all great sources of information and are available for free on Itunes or you can listen to them on your computer.

Good luck and happy planning!


*All prices are based on what's available at this time.  Ticket prices will likely go up in August.  Discounted ticket savings will vary throughout the year.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction: A few hours late edition. Okay, nearly a day late.

In the better late than never category, here are a few Disney tidbits for your reading pleasure:

The Christmas lights were turned on at Cinderella Castle last week:



I'm just going to say it:  That's magical. 

Speaking of the holidays, The Dis has some great photos of Disney Hollywood Studio's Osborne Fesitival of Lights on their blog.  
From Jim Hill Media, Kerry Camisa talks about what it takes to bring the Magic Kingdom from "Scary to Merry in Just  Five Nights."

Robert Niles at Theme Park Insider has been thinking about gift ideas for theme park lovers.  First up:  Home Funnel Cake Kit.  Mmmm.  Funnel cake. 

Thanksgiving dinner suggestions at Downtown Disney from The Disney Blog.

Verizon, The Dis, and TouringPlans have all announced applications in the last few weeks which will show wait times and fastpass availability for the park you're in, as well as general information about the parks.  If you're like me and these apps don't work on your phone, there's no need to pine for an iPhone:  You can still access general park information if your phone has internet capability by going to http://www.m.disneyworld.com/.  Word is that Verizon and TouringPlans.com*  will be expanding their apps to fit more phones in the near future.

Finally, AJ at the Disney Food Blog has a fun post about Minnie's kitchen.   As excited I am about the Fantasyland expansion, I'm sad they're tearing this place down.   If you've never had the pleasure of "baking" a cake in Minnie's kitchen, head on over and check out these pictures.

*Update:  I ended up needing a new phone last week (don't ask), so I bought the Motorola Droid.  Besides being a really fun phone, the new application from TouringPlans.com, called Lines, works on my phone.  While I haven't used it in the park yet, what I've seen is really useful and interesting.  Back with a full report on it and (hopefully) Verizon's Mobile Magic application after my December trip.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Fun is This?

Leave it to Disney to make setting up Christmas decorations look enjoyable:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Disney Reports Overall Profits Up, Theme Park Revenues Down.

Disney announced its fourth quarter earnings yesterday and while profits are up for the company overall, thanks in part to its lucrative ESPN franchise, parks and resorts reported a 17% drop in profits and a 4 percent drop in revenue.  This, despite the fact that attendance is up.   Incentives like free dining an "Buy 4/Get 3 Free" are working to fill the resorts and bring guests into the parks, but per-room spending is down as people react to the continued uncertainty of the economy.

Meanwhile, disgruntled Disney fans everywhere are noticing cutbacks in the parks, from the quality of dining to fewer Christmas lights on display.  Even DVC owners, some of Disney World's most loyal guests, felt the pinch last month when free valet parking, long a perk of owning part of the Mouse, was discontinuted.  I have to admit, I didn't notice any difference when I went in May, save for the fact that some of the bathrooms were in need of attention.  And I think most of us understand that in this economy, companies need to cut back in order to survive.  However, at what point do cutbacks begin to negatively impact your experience in the parks?  If you're a first timer, you might not notice; those who visit frequently may be a different story.

I'm going next month and I hope to report that the same old Disney quality that brings me back again and again will still be there.  What about you?  Have you noticed that the Mouse just isn't the same in the last couple of years?   Are these grumblings among fans justified or not?

*Disney Vacation Club, Disney's on site timeshare properties.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The List: Must Haves, Nice to Have, and Maybe.




What do you really need for your Disney vacation?  Here are a few things I've found:


Must Haves:

1.  Easy to store rain poncho/coat.
2.  Two pairs of comfortable shoes.
3.  At least one table service reservation at a good restaurant on Disney property.  
4.  Basic understanding of how the resort works:  Fastpasses, dining reservations, transportation.
5.  Unless it's the hottest time of the year (May through October), clothing that you can layer if it gets cold at night. 

Nice to Have:

1.  Park hoppers.
2.  Your own car.  Unless you're staying off site or at Ft. Wilderness, then it's a must have.
3.  Tickets to nighttime events, like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
4.  A kitchen/kitchenette in your room.
5.  At least one character dining experience, especially if you have kids.

Only if you have extra time/money:

1.  Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Pirates League, fireworks cruises and the like.  Your park tickets give you so much value, your kids don't need the extras unless you can do it without worrying about the cost.
2.  Deluxe accomodations.   They're great and I love them, but don't feel bad about staying at a moderate or a value resort.  You'll be surprised at how nice they are.
3.  Eating at Cinderella  Castle.  Eating in the castle and Cinderella herself are the real draw, as the food isn't that great.  Getting a reservation can be impossible unless you call first thing in the morning 180 days out.  Can't get a reservation?  Try the Princess Storybook Dining at Epcot or Cinderella's Gala Feast at the Grand Floridian. Both are easier to book, have good food, and receive high marks for their character interaction.
4.  Fireworks Dessert Party.  Great desserts and a nice view of the Wishes, but for a little more money, you can have an amazing dinner at the California Grill on top of the Contemporary Resort and watch Wishes from there.  If you your budget and time only allows you to do one, pick California Grill.
5. Photopass. Take your own pictures and save over $100.  Most people are happy to take a photo of you and your family if you ask.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

As long as this week is better than last week, I'll be doing great.  Meanwhile, before it starts, a little Disney.

John Frost ponders the question "Does Mickey really need a makeover?" over at the The Disney  Blog

While searching for possible character meet and greets at Hollywood Studios, I found this great list over at Studios Central.  Very handy dandy, I must say.

The likelihood that you'll catch me on AquaDuck, a water coaster on Disney's newest cruise ship, the Dream, is about zero.  Why?  Just look at this thing!  Must it go out over the water?  I can't even look at it.

2719 Hyperion has a group of short blog posts and photos dedicated to thirteen tombstones at the Haunted Mansion.  Since I go to Disney World when the crowds are low and don't spend that much time in line (thankfully), there were a few I  hadn't noticed before.

Disney's new holiday ad campaign:



I like it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Economy Slows Down Plans for Disney's Flamingo Crossing.

Some changes at WDW are welcomed with open arms:  Most Disney fans are excited about plans for the expansion of Fantasyland.   Some changes leave fans scratching their heads.  Flamingo Crossing is one such endeavor.  What's Flamingo Crossing, you say?  Well, it's essentially one part International Drive and one part Highway 192, mixed with the tiniest bit of Disney.  Despite its rather Floridian name, it's simply a ubiquitous shopping center and lodging complex on the western edge of Disney property, the kind you probably have down the street from your own home.  Unlike Downtown Disney, which Disney leases to retailers, the company is selling part of the 450 acre parcel to third party retailers. Think Crossroads, only newer, and in addition to retail space, there will be low to mid-price, non-Disney hotels.   The hope is that resort guests and their money will stay closer to Disney rather than venturing farther off property, as many do now.

If you're looking for a hidden Mickey in this Flamingo Crossing sign you can stop now. There's no Mickey here, people.  It's strictly business.



When the project was first announced, some Disney fans, many of whom take a personal interest in the company, were angry. Selling Disney property? Wasn't the whole point of Disney World to have a large enough parcel of land to keep the outside world out?  And why build something in such a competitive market that already exists so close by?  Some fans wondered why Disney didn't build another park or why, as the economy began taking a turn for the worse, the project wasn't abandoned altogether.  Disney assured naysayers that the project would not affect Disney property negatively as the land would still fall under Reedy Creek, which is the semi-autonomous government entity that overseas Disney World property, and would therefore be subject to stricter design standards.  Over time, most people forgot about Flamingo Crossing.

More than three years later, construction crews are finishing roads and putting in utilities, but there is little else to see:  No buildings, nothing but potential interested parties waiting for the economy to improve.  For now, the prospect of the same kind of big box, value shopping you can do right in your hometown transported to Disney property looms rather small, but inevitable.


For further reading, see the Daily Disney.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Monorail Teal is "up and running".

Monorail teal, built from parts of monorail pink and monorail purple, is now officially operational.  The purple and pink monorail trains were retired after an accident killed a driver, Austin Wunnenberg, on 4th of July weekend.  This makes eleven trains, still one short of the twelve that were operating this summer.

I'm pleased that Disney retired the pink and purple monorails, in part out of respect to Austin Wunnenberg.  The twenty-one year old college student was doing his dream job, was reportedly a wonderful son and friend, and had a lot of promise.

Monorail Teal out for one of its first runs:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Raglan Road: How can you have any pudding, if you don't eat your meat?

Living in Florida, I'd always assumed that the restaurants at Disney World were terrible.  Yes, we visited a lot and loved the parks, but we never ate on site except for counter service food.  It's true that my dreams were filled with rice pudding from the Norway pavillion, but that was the exception, I believed.  All Disney World food was some variation of Pecos Bill's:  Hamburgers, fries, and chicken nuggets, all slightly worse than you might find at McDonalds.  But then I moved away from Florida and was involved in the serious business of law school, buying a house, and getting married.  Although I missed it, I didn't go to Disney for years.  What I discovered when I finally planned a much anticipated trip back, was that you could find a great deal of information about Disney World on the internet and that people actually loved the food!  How did this happen?  Had I been wrong all these years?  And why did this pudding from a place called Raglan Road in Downtown Disney have such a following? 

I'm a big dessert fan.  One of my husband's first impressions of me was that I refused to share a dessert when we went out on one of our earliest dates?  How could I?  What if his fork crossed the imaginary Maginot Line I'd set up and he ate part of my key lime pie?   How would this affect our budding relationship?  No, it's better to order your own dessert; if you're lucky, your dining partner will give you a bit of  their's as well.  I've been known to make an elaborate dessert in the middle of the day and "forget" to make dinner, so it shouldn't surprise you that I sometimes choose a restaurant based on dessert alone.   This also explains, at least in part, my love of Raglan Road.




Raglan Road is an Irish pub located in Downtown Disney.    Because it's Disney and they are experts at getting the theme of a place just right, it's not the standard faux "Irish" pub you might find elsewhere in the states.  The owners and the chef, who are from Ireland, gave a lot of attention to the authenticity of the pub, with four antique bars, one of which is nearly 150 years old, and furniture, light fixtures and wall coverings all created by craftsmen in Ireland.   Adding to the ambieance of the place, most nights an Irish band plays and there is an Irish dancer who dances on the tables.  This is much more wholesome than it sounds.  Even if the food weren't good, the overall feel of the place is fun, the rooms gorgeous. 




Appetizers are creative.  How can you not love deep fried sausages?  If you do, order the Dalkey  Duo, which comes with an addictive mustard sauce.  Or speared scallops on a fork?  Yes, please.  If you're looking for something a bit healthier, the seared beef salad is probably one of the best items on the appetizer menu, with lots of fresh greens and flavorful meat. The dressing tasted as close to homemade as you'll find in a large restaurant.  It might even be homemade. 

Entrees varied slightly from what you'd find at a similar restaurant.  There are steaks and burgers, of course.  My steak was very good, but for the price there are better steaks at Disney.  Conventional wisdom regarding this place is that if you order your steak slightly less done than you normally like it, it will come out perfectly.  I followed that advice and it appears to be true.  Another time I had Kevin's Heavenly Ham.  It was incredible; even the cabbage was delicious.  I don't know that I would order anything else here.  The fish and chips are good, although both times the "fries" could have been cooked a bit longer.  The fish was close to perfect, however.  Not too fishy tasting and the coating was very crispy.

But enough of this talk about meat.  The entrees are, afterall, a formality, a mere ruse designed to get me what I really want:   Dessert, specifically the much lauded Ger's Bread and Butter Pudding.  Since I live in the south, my expectations of bread pudding are pretty high.   Considering that I can get good bread pudding at just about any small, locally owned restaurant and more than a few chains, I wasn't going to settle for just so-so bread pudding.   I wanted great bread pudding.  Ger's Bread Pudding didn't disappoint.  The pudding itself was good, just sweet enough, but the addition of a small pitcher full of butterscotch and another full of creme anglaise brought the dessert from good to spectacular.  And really, who doesn't like interactive desserts?  It's fun to make a little dent in your bread pudding and pour in the syrup.  My only quibble is a small one and probably one that most people (who aren't obsessed with baking) might not notice:   The creme anglaise tasted like it had been made with vanilla extract rather than vanilla bean, thus the flavor of the sauce was somewhat one-dimensional.   But the butterscotch sauce?  I went home and played around with the recipe and made it myself.  A few times.  I might even make some today.

I've generally found  service at Disney restaurants to be excellent.  Several visits to Raglan Road have shown the service to be adequate, but never outstanding.  In fact, our first visit, which might have been the last had it not been for the bread pudding, was so bad that it actually stands out as the rudest service I've ever had anywhere.  I understand that Raglan Road is a busy place and that the influx of sometimes demanding tourists can be overwhelming, but this night?  There were empty tables all over the restaurant.  Without going into a lot of details,  I'll simply chalk up our first experience at Raglan Road to a bad night for the waiter and for us.  It's one thing to have spotty, inattentive service.  It's another to have service that is downright hostile.  Ironically, it was so bad, I have to think that it was an anomaly, particularly given that subsequent visits have been perfectly acceptable. 

I've enjoyed each visit to Raglan Road, even the one with the disgruntled waiter.  The space is beautiful, the food is good and at times excellent, and of course, there's the pudding, which deserves its following.   I think what the chef is trying to do here is admirable, which is to stretch his own and our vision of what "pub" food can be.  The results is often surprising and innovative, but not so foreign that diners who prefer more familiar fare will not find something to enjoy.  Reservations aren't too hard to get, particularly by Disney standards.  Use Disney dining or make them online here

If you can't get to Raglan Road, you can still have the bread pudding.   You can use the chef's recipe or your own for the pudding, but you'll want to recreate the butterscotch sauce using his recipe.  I've used it on everthing from bread pudding to ice cream. It will keep in the refridgerator for about a week, but if you're like most people, you'll finish it before then.  This recipe comes directly from the chef at Raglan Road.  Don't be afraid to play around with the it a bit; it's pretty foolproof.   I sometimes like to throw in a dash of salt at the end, but it's not necessary.

BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE

½ stick unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. light muscovado sugar*
2 ½ Tbsp. honey
2 ½ Tbsp. double (heavy) cream
Place butter sugar, and honey in a small pan. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat. Add cream and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until thickened.

Pour on everything and enjoy.  Try not to dance on your table, though. 



*Those nice boxes of Domino light brown sugar that you find in your loal store work just fine; no need to search out "muscovado" in a specialty store.  Additionally, if you prefer not to use honey, you can substitute corn syrup.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Child Seriously Injured at Ft. Wilderness.

A four-year old girl was severly injured yesterday at Ft. Wilderness when the golf cart she was riding in overturned, partially pinning her underneath.  The child suffered injuries to her head, face and neck and is reported to be in stable condition.  The driver told police that he swerved to avoid another golf cart that was operating without headlights.

My thoughts go out to the little girl and her family. 

Source.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

A few fun links to ease you into your Monday morning.

This  very funny post by a Brit who was convinced that she would hate Disney is worth reading for anyone who's dreading their upcoming Disney vacation.  You know who you are.  Ahem.

AJ over at the Disney Food Blog gets a little help from travel blogger Gray of Solo Friendly on dining alone in Disney.

Military discounts are now available for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party on certain nights in November.

Terrence, and his very 80s hair, will now be making appearances alongside the other fairies at the meet and greet in the Magic Kingdom. 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Disney Resort Showdown: Pop Century vs. The Grand Floridian.

The other day I was talking to my best friend and fellow Disney nerd fan about the differences between the Grand Floridian and Pop Century.  She loves the Grand Floridian and was shocked when I told her that if I wasn't staying on DVC points (Disney Vacation Club), I'd rather stay at Pop. After determining that I'd probably lost my mind, I decided to break it down like this:

Cost: A full-price standard room at the Grand Floridian will cost about four times what a standard full-price room at Pop costs. Kind of staggering when you put it down in writing, isn't it?

Advantage: No question, Pop is a better deal no matter how creative your math when you explain it to your spouse. And believe me, I can get pretty creative.


Amenities:  All Disney resorts have great theming; it's what sets them apart from off site hotels.  But some have better amenities than others.  If you're wondering what pools your kids will prefer, Pop wins with fun, lively kid-friendly pools.



On the other hand, for adults travelling without children, the Grand wins hands down with some of the most quiet, elegant pools on property.  You can also rent a cabana for a day or half day at the Grand  Floridian and hang out in your own private space.  And while it comes with a fairly high price tag, the Grand Floridian has a spa where you can also get a poolside massage.  There's also has a beach and cabanas for relaxing.

For me, deciding where to eat is a big part of planning a WDW vacation.  I want variety and easy access to good food.  With four table-service restaurants on site, including the top rated restaurant in Central Florida, Victoria and Albert's, the Grand Floridian outshines Pop, which has no sit-down restaurants.   For a casual meal however, I think Pop's food court beats  the  Grand every time, as its has really excellent variety and quality.  The quick service location at the Grand is slightly worse than what you would find in a mall food court, but you are a short monorail ride away from the Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian, both of which offer better quick service meals.  



The first time you walk into the Grand Floridian you're bound to be just a little bit awed.  The lobby is really extraordinary, the best on Disney property in my opinion. You could easily pass a couple of hours sitting there, just people watching and soaking up the atmosphere.   An orchestra plays there daily.  Yes, I said an orchestra. 



Pop, on the other hand, has a small but lively little lobby decorated with memorabilia from the latter part of the 20th century.



Notice how shiny it looks?  Yes, it's that clean. 

What really sets the Grand apart from Pop is that it's on the monorail. When you stay at the Grand Floridian, you're just a couple of minutes away from the Magic Kingdom.  This is a huge advantage if you're planning on taking a break during the afternoon.  Should you tire of the monorail, there's always boat access to the Magic Kingdom.  Of course, you're just a few minutes away from the Ticket and Transportation Center and a monrail transfer to Epcot.

Advantage:  The Grand Floridian.  It's beautiful, on the monorail, has four table service restaurants, and a gorgeous lobby. The grounds are amazing enough that even non-guests schedule photo shoots there. 

Rooms: At around 260 squre feet, Pop's rooms are small, the kind of rooms that bring new meaning to the term  "family togetherness."   Fearturing two double beds, a TV with stand, and a small table and two chairs, Pop's rooms have very little theming other than a couple of framed collages representing the building's decade and a Disney themed border on the walls. The rooms at the Grand Floridian are, not surprisingly, far roomier with two queen sized beds, a desk and chair, a large TV armoire, and a daybed. There's also a balcony.  While Pop's decor is very basic but upbeat, rooms at the Grand are airy with subtle, feminine patterns and furniture.

What about bathrooms and closets?  At Pop you get a small rod and shelf right next to the sink for a closet as opposed to an actual roomy closet at the Grand Floridian. Bathrooms at the Grand Floridian are spacious and pretty, with a separate sink/dressing area and a shower/bath combination and toilet in its own room. The bathrooms at Pop are tiny; in fact, it's one of the biggest complaints about Pop. The small sink area is in the actual room, with the toilet and tub occupying the actual bathroom, which is so small that it requires a bigt of  gymnastics to actually close the door. There have been complaints about soundproofing, but I can't personally confirm this as I slept like a rock during my stay there.

I found both resorts to be equally clean and well-maintained, both the rooms and the common areas.


Advantage: Well, okay. This is getting unfair. Of course the Grand's rooms are better. Next!


Customer Service: If you're staying at a deluxe resort because you think the service is better than at a value, save your money. From my experience, cast members at all Disney resorts are stellar, regardless of the level. It's true that the Grand Floridian has a higher number of cast members per guest than does Pop, but I didn't feel that effected the level of service I received. Keep in mind that we didn't require anything special during our stay, nor did we have any emergencies, so I can't speak to how my interactions with cast members might have been under special circumstances, but for the normal guest experience, both resorts were great. In both cases, I arrived at MCO in 9:00 in the morning and was in the Magic Kingdom by 11:00, which is pretty impressive given that it's a longer ride from Pop than it is to ride the monorail from the Grand Floridian. In truth, I might have gotten to the Magic Kingdom from the Grand sooner if I hadn't been gawking. It's such a beautiful hotel.

Advantage: Tie, with a slight advantage to Pop for trying harder like an awkward, funny girl at a Sadie Hawkin's dance.

Grounds/Atmosphere: I don't think Disney resorts really photograph as beautiful as they are. You miss out on the scale and the full experience.  The Grand looks stuffy and old fashioned, when in fact the buildings feel very light and airy. It's also not as feminine as you might think from the photographs.

Pop, bless it's heart, looks garish in photographs. And to a degree, it is, but that's really the whole point. The atmostphere is a both a bit frenetic and nostaligic, meant to be evocative of the old roadside motels that one might have stayed in as kids on the way to Disney World. But unlike those old motels, the grounds are beautifully maintained, the pools are clean, and the common areas are nice. I love the lobby at Pop. It's a bit more subdued than the rest of the resort but it's still fun and the memorabilia is fun to look at. Pop has a great feeling, full of families and couples having a good time. There's a great energy to the place that I don't find at any other resort.

I know a number of people who don't feel comfortable at the Grand Floridian, but I think that's mainly an internal thing.  I honestly haven't seen a huge difference in the guests from values versus deluxe resorts; everyone is sporting a kind of resort casual look that gradually gets more rumpled as the day goes on.  And certainly the casts members are no less friendly at the Grand as they are at Pop.  You'll be treated just as well if you come into the Grand Floridian in a t-shirt as you will if you're dressed to the nines. 

What about for families travelling with kids?  All Disney resorts are kid friendly, but in my experience, the Grand Floridian seems to attract more adult guests than children.   That's not to say that there aren't lots of activities for children at the Grand Floridian and that there aren't plenty of kids.   But comparatively speaking, particularly when contrasted with the  All Stars or Pop,  it's just a more "grown-up" resort.   One reason is that its popular with couples celebrating honeymoons and other special occasions.   It's also wedding central, with the Wedding Pavillion and reception areas located at the resort.  If you're looking for a relatively quiet, romantic hotel on Disney property, the Grand Floridian is it.

Advantage:  Tie.  Both are nice-looking resorts.  It depends on your tastes.


Summary. Obviously, a comparason between Pop and the Grand isn't entirely fair. The Grand Floridian is Disney's flagship hotel. Pop, while loved by many, is a value resort. But look at it this way: You can go to Disney World at lot more often and for a longer amount of time if you stay at Pop. Sure, the room is smaller. And it's not on the monorail.  You have to decide how important theming and convenience is to you.  If you're juggling costs and trying to figure out how to make a Disney vacation work, Pop is a great solution.  You certainly shouldn't feel that you're missing out on something because you stay at  Pop instead of a deluxe hotel.