Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Dismarks 12th Disney Blog Carnival is Up!

If you write about Disney or even if you just want to keep up with the latest in Disney news, trivia, and theme park tips, head over to Dismarks, a place where the Disney online community shares their stories.  You can read, comment, and mark your favorites, so it's a great way to support other writers and find new ones.   You can also submit your articles, so it's an easy way to get your work out there. 

While you're there, make sure you check out the Blog Carnival going on right now.  Every few weeks, the Dismarks team asks for new article submissions which are then added to that month's carnival.  Writers submit their current favorites that they think others will enjoy.

Don't be shy about submitting your own articles and commenting. Dismarks only works if you take part too! Everyone is welcome into this friendly community.  And if you're tech-challenged like me, they'll even give you a few points for putting the Dismarks icon on your blog. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Can't Get There from Here.

Disney transportation is an efficient way to get around on property, but there are a few quirks.  Here are the ones you'll need to know about:

You can't take a bus from Downtown Disney to the parks, just to the resorts.  This is to discourage people from parking at Downtown Disney--for free--rather than at the parks.

There are no buses running to and from the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, and the Contemporary Resort to Epcot.  You'll need to take the resort monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center and transfer to the Epcot monorail.  Tip:  If you're at Epcot during closing and the line for the monorail is too long, you'll pay around $10 for a cab from Epcot back to your monorail resort.

You can take a bus from the Ticket and Transportation  Center (TTC) to your resort, but you can't take a bus from your resort to the TTC.

Buses do not run from resort to resort. This poses the biggest problem when you're eating at one resort and staying at another, particularly in the early morning.  Instead, you'll go to the nearest park and change from there. For example, if you're staying at the All Stars but eating dinner at the Contemporary, you'll take a bus to the Magic Kingdom and then walk or take the monorail to the Contemporary.

The Magic Kingdom is serviced by two monorails:  The resort monorail and the express monorail.  Both stop at the Magic Kingdom and the TTC, but only the resort monorail stops at the resorts.  You don't have to be a resort guest to ride the resort monorail.
You can rent a car on Disney property, but it's often more expensive than renting at the airport.  This is of course different from the norm; in most cities, taxes and fees make airport rentals higher than in-town rentals.

If you'd like to hear more about Disney transportation, we discuss Magical Express and the various ways of getting around property on the latest edition of Mouse Chat.  You can listen here and on iTunes.

Fast Disney Facts: Special Event Parties and Non-Guests.

It's that time of year again. Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party is in full swing and just a week after that, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party begins. The parties are a great way to see special parades and shows and enjoy the holiday atmosphere, but if you're not holding a ticket for the event, where does that leave you?  The answer is simple: You have to be out of the parks at 7:00 p.m., the official time the party begins.  That's pretty straight-forward, but if you're like most people, you're getting in that last attraction or a bit of shopping right before park closing and might find yourself caught up on a cordon of cast members politely ushering you out of the Magic Kingdom.  Here are the basic rules:

If you're in a store at 7:00, you'll be allowed to complete your purchases. You will not be allowed to buy any special party merchandise, however.

You may not enter shops or eateries after 7:00 if you don't have a wristband identifying you as a guest.

If you're already waiting in a queue when the park closes, you'll be allowed to ride.

During the first couple of hours of the party, there are ropes up designed to keep non-party guests from viewing the shows. Cast members won't allow you to cross those lines without a wristband.

If you have a dining reservation in the Magic Kingdom for 7:00 or later, you will not be allowed to enter the restaurant. While missing dinner is bad, having to pay for it (as you would with Cinderella's Royal Table) is worse.  You'll be advised of this when you make a dining reservation by phone, but there are no warnings on the website.  If you're eating anytime before, you'll be allowed to keep that reservation and then be escorted out of the park after your meal. No dawdling allowed!

Even without a ticket you can still enjoy some of the holiday magic.  The castle lighting ceremony begins between 6:00 and 6:30 and features a brief show with Mickey, Minnie and friends. They're joined by Cinderella's fairy Godmother, who "decorates" decorates the castle with gorgeous "icicles."  It's truly one of the most breathtaking moments of the year at Disney World and it happens every night during the holiday season.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dates for 2011 Wine and Dine Half-Marathon.

Just talked to Disney Endurance Sports and the 2011 Wine and Dine marathon will take place on October 1st next year.  Runners can register for a 5K race, a half-marathon relay, or a half-marathon.  Registration should be open sometime in early 2011.  This is good news as there was some talk that this race wouldn't happen next year. Glad to see Disney is giving it another shot. 

No more details are available at this time. I assume it will be another nighttime race through Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and finishing up in Epcot with a party there afterwards.  As noted below, you can get room and park ticket discounts with your registration. More news when it becomes available.

ETA:  Registration opens up February 14, 2011.  For more details, see the official race website.

Photo copyright Walt Disney Company.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Disney Marathons and Discounted Theme Park Tickets.

The least expensive Disney park tickets you'll ever buy are just 13.1 miles away.  If you enter certain Disney half-marathons (and Disney 5Ks), you're eligible to buy discounted park tickets for you and your party.  It works this way. When you sign up for a marathon, you'll get a code emailed to you that allows you to buy these tickets by calling 407-WDW-IRUN.  These tickets are a huge savings. For example, for the upcoming Princess half-marathon weekend in February, runners can purchase a two-day park hopper for $129; a three-day hopper costs just $174.  These tickets for adults usually run $230.04 and $296.07 respectively.

These tickets are an especially good deal when you consider that Disney rarely makes deeply discounted tickets available.  For example, if you buy from a discount broker authorized by Disney (the only way you should purchase tickets outside of buying from Disney or your travel agent directly, by the way), you'll save $10 to $20 on a seven-day park hopper.  To save any more than that, you're probably looking at dealing with an unscrupulous broker selling used tickets, something you obviously want to stay away from.  This is why marathon tickets are such an extraordinary deal and the great news is that since you can purchase tickets for your entire group, the savings really add up.  The only kicker? One of you is going to have to run. But remember that most 5K races are included in this offer, so you won't have to run an entire half-marathon.  These tickets are a good way to push you if you're a runner looking for a reason to visit but were intimidated by the price of park admission for your whole family.  They can also motivate casual runners to sign up for a race and--literally--go that extra mile.

Tickets are available for most Disney marathons except the January marathon weekend. You can also reserve discounted rooms at certain resorts, however make sure you also look for general public and annual pass discounts as well, as they are sometimes a better deal.  Remember that you can make these room reservations under one discount code and change it later if a better one becomes available.

Should you purchase a ticket and not be able to use it, you can give it away or keep it to use at another time. Tickets are valid for 90 days from the date of the race, but this can always change so make sure you verify this.  I bought a 3-day hopper in October and then ended up buying an annual pass.  I wasn't allowed to take the value of my discounted ticket and upgrade to the pass, as you would with a normal park ticket, but they did tell me that I could give the ticket to someone else, as it is good until the end of the year.  If you plan on doing this, make sure you don't use the ticket while you're there, because like most Disney park tickets, they are only valid up to 14-days from the first day of use.

Finally, one very important point.  You must purchase these tickets before you leave. You can't buy them at Disney World. Disney will mail your tickets to your home or you can pick them up at any will call window once you arrive.

Photo copyright Walt Disney Company.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reader Email: When to Christmas decorations go up?

This question comes from Rebbecca:  Can you tell me when Christmas decorations go up at WDW?  We'll be there mid-November.

Rebbecca:  Decorations go up in the parks first. In fact, work has been underway on the castle and in Hollywood Studios for the Osborne Lights for weeks now.  Light displays such as these go up first and then, right after Halloween, the parks are completely decked out. You can expect the parks to be finished by November 8th, which is when the first Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party begins and when the Osborne lights are turned on.  The main difference you'll see from November to December is that the Christmas tree in Town Square is placed there from another location in the Magic Kingdom after the taping of the Christmas parade in early December.

Resorts vary.  Last year, for example, Pop Century, the Grand Floridian (including the gingerbread house) and the Polynesian were decorated by November 18th, but the Epcot area resorts weren't finished until November 24th, so you may miss out on some resort displays.

Thanks for your question and I hope this helps!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Upgrading Your Disney World Park Ticket to an Annual Pass.

If you already have a Disney park ticket and find yourself in the happy circumstances of needing an annual pass, you can take that ticket and apply it to the AP upgrade and pay the difference. Here are the most likely situations you'll encounter.

1.  You have an unused ticket and you want an AP: The full value of your ticket will be applied to your new AP. 

2.  You have a used ticket and are within the 14-day window (that is, more than 14-days have not passed since you first used the ticket to enter a park):   Again, the full value of your ticket will be applied to your pass, regardless of how many days you have left.  The pass can even be completely used.  This 14-day window is very important to adhere to, although I've heard of cases where cast members will give you some leeway if it's within a month.  Added January 28, 2012:  You MUST have one day left on your ticket.
3.  You have a Give a Day/Get a Disney Day voucher.  Here, the value of one day's park admission will be applied to your annual pass.

Here are a few quirks when it comes to upgrading:

1.  If you buy a ticket from a Disney authorized discounted broker (like Undercover Tourist), the value of that ticket will be applied based on what you paid to the broker, not the actual value. For example, say your ticket cost $250 from Undercover Tourist.  That same ticket costs $270 from Disney.  You'll only get $250 for that ticket, not the $270 that it's technically worth.  Unless . . .

2. Unless you use the ticket first. Run that ticket through a turnstile in any park and walk over to Guest Services and your $250 ticket becomes a $270 ticket. Disney will give you $270 toward your AP even though you only paid $250.  Some people purposely buy tickets from these brokers to save a few dollars in this way. 

3. Disney calls all types of tickets "entitlements."  You can only use one entitlement per upgrade.  So, say you have a Give a Day voucher and a five-day park hopper.  You will only be allowed to apply one to your AP upgrade. 

4.  You may not upgrade special event tickets, special discounted tickets, and complimentary tickets.  For example, during  some Disney marathons, participants are allowed to buy discounted park tickets (through the Disney Endurance Series) for themselves and their travel companions.  These tickets are usually a very good deal, but you will not be able to use them to upgrade to an annual pass. 

5. The value you receive from your park tickets is the value at the time of upgrade, not the time of purchase. For example, Disney historically raises prices in August.  If you bought a 7-day park hopper prior to the increase and decide to upgrade in September, you'll get the increased value of your park hopper.  In theory, you could take a 12-year old paper ticket and upgrade it; you'll get today's value, not what it was worth in 1998.

All upgrades have to be done at Guest Relations in the parks or at Downtown Disney.  You can't upgrade to an annual pass at your resort.

It's a Small World is Open!

Three days early!  Hope those of you heading down this week get to enjoy it. Word is, no characters were added as they were in Disneyland, despite the presence of IASW themed merchandise with characters on it being sold in the Magic Kingdom with theWDW logo on it.

The only changes appear to be to the queue area. No new boats were added.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Mouse Chat Podcast is Up!

For your listening pleasure, we've got:

  • Current news and a discussion about some new products out for Christmas.
  • A review of the Boardwalk Inn.
  • We talk about the best time of year to visit Disney World (Pssst, it's not early December. No really. Don't go.).
  • And of course, make an inappropriate joke or two.  Hey, don't act like a fool and try to choke out a Disney bus driver and we won't make fun of you.
You can listen here or on Itunes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Five Things You've Never Done at Walt Disney World.

Want to try something completely different on your next trip? Here are five things you've probably never considered doing at Walt Disney World.

1. Play "bus bingo" next time you're waiting for a bus and let the next bus that arrives determine where you're going to explore. Even if the location doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I guarantee you'll find something new to like.

2. Do a professional photo shoot. Your own photos look great--it's almost impossible to take a bad shot with such a beautiful backdrop--but if you want that professional touch, consider one of the many local photographers who will take pictures of you and your group on site. Keep in mind that you can't bring professional photographers into the park, but if you go with a local photographer who knows the area well, they can find all the best locations at the resorts and Downtown Disney, as well as in Celebration.

3. Give away any fastpasses you can't use to a deserving stranger as you leave the park or if your plans for that day change. It may sound like a little thing, but it's a bit of kindness that people appreciate and remember and your chance to make some Disney magic for someone else.

4.  Do private dining at the Grand Floridian.  You'll be attended by a butler at the location of your choice, including the Grand I, a private terrace overlooking the beach, or seated in a secluded location by the marina with a view of the fireworks.

5. Spend a a few hours volunteering with Give Kids the World, which provides trips to Disney World for sick children.  They call it "voluntourism" and it allows visitors to the Orlando area to give a little bit of Disney magic to deserving kids.  For more information and to sign up, visit here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Little Bit of Housekeeping.

I'm trying to clean up the links and add some new sites, so if you know of a worthy source of Disney information, please let me know. Also, if you're linking to me, please don't be shy--I'd love to link to your Disney blog as well.

Thank you!

PS:  I'm sure there are better examples of "housekeeping" than this pink kitchen but holy cow, can you imagine?  It's so cute!

The Mouse Chat Podcast is Up.

Okay, it's a long one, but I promise you lots of good Disney stuff, including:

  • A review of Via Napoli.
  • Discussion about Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.
  • Listener questions, including the best week to visit in December.
  • And of course, which Disney character is the biggest hunk.
  • Bonus:  Lisa wants a weather goose, Lauren likes to move it at the Halloween party, and I discuss my issues with the Wishes Tinkerbell and confess to being chronically punctual. 
You can listen here or on Itunes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

I'm a veteran of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, but this was my first visit to MNSSHP.  For those who are new to Disney's after-hours parties, MNSSHP is a special ticket event held in the Magic Kingdom from early September through November 1st.  For the cost of admission, you'll see an event only parade, a villain-themed show in front of the castle, enjoy dance parties, and trick or treating. There's also lots of little surprises, like different music, special decorations, and your favorite characters in Halloween-themed costumes.  There's even an actress in the Haunted Mansion queue, Lady Renata, who interacts with guests and teases them. She was hilarious.

Lady Renata, looking ghostly.

For me, the highlight of the party is the parade.  Just about everything gets the Halloween treatment, starting out with a ride down Main Street by the Headless Horseman. A special treat is Snow White dancing with the Dwarves; you rarely see them together.  You'll also see lesser-known villains, such as Frollo.  One of the best parts of the parade is the Haunted Mansion portion. Gravediggers come out and dance and make their shovels spark on the ground and the ballroom scene from the attraction comes to life with dancers in elaborate costumes and makeup.

The whole thing is incredibly creative and beautifully done and  it shows off what Disney Imagineers can do.  Overall, the Halloween parade is a little less G-rated than the daytime parade--a dancing girl gives a cowboy a playful smack across the face which took some parents near me by surprise--but not too scary for most kids. 

As soon as you get to the Magic Kingdom, pick up a schedule.  The parade starts in Frontierland at 8:15 and 10:30. Hallowishes, a slightly spookier version of the usual nightly fireworks display, begins at 9:30.  The Disney villains show, which includes an opportunity to mingle with the characters afterwards, takes place four times a night in front of the castle.  There are also character meet and greets throughout the park, so for character fans, this is a great opportunity to meet your favorites, as well as some new ones.  Finally, you can catch character dance parties in Tomorrowland and in Liberty Square.

There are two schools of thought on how you should approach the party.  Some say it's best to use it mainly as an opportunity to ride attractions with shorter wait times with a little bit of Halloween thrown in.   Others are more interested in seeing the shows, parade, trick or treating, and interacting with the characters.  It's true that if you focus on everything extra there is to do during the party, you won't have much time for rides, but I tend to take a hybrid approach. I'm mainly interested in the rides, but since it's so easy to catch the parade and shows later in the night after the crowds die down, I tend to put off the special party activities until later in the night.  The only thing I missed out on at this party were the dance parties, which sound fun, but I also rode many rides, some multiple times. 

There's a lot of discussion regarding whether or not special events are worth it.  I believe they are, but at around $60 per person, you really have to weigh the costs. Unless you're on a very short trip (three days or less), you aren't saving much money by skipping a day at the parks and buying a party ticket for that night because your park tickets are more expensive on the front end. This means that after the fourth day, you'll only spend a few dollars each day to add more days, as opposed to an expensive party ticket.  If you're on a budget, as most of us are these days, you may find yourself having to choose between party tickets and park hoppers, which cost around the same amount per ticket.   It depends on how you tour the parks, but personally if faced with this choice, it wouldn't be a contest:  I'd go with the park hoppers. 

If your children are very young, they may not last throughout the entire party. If you're okay with potentially leaving the party a few hours after it starts, that's fine, but many people are not.  A good nap earlier in the day helps. So can a relaxing, low-key day at the resort.  But even then, your child may not be up for an entire evening of fun, so be prepared for that to happen.  We had to leave one of the Christmas parties only a couple of hours after it opened and I was disappointed, but I prepared myself that that might happen ahead of time, so it made leaving a little easier. In addition, some kids will be afraid of the characters, shows, and spooky sounds. While the Halloween party is truly "not so scary," every kid is different.  While there were  plenty of young children at the party having a wonderful time, I wouldn't take my children just yet because they're the type that gets scared and that's fine; it's something we'll do in the future when they're a little older.

Like the Christmas party, Halloween parties are busier on weekend nights and closer to the holiday itself.  As the night wears on, crowds tend to thin after Hallowishes as parents of younger children leave.  If you are looking for the least busy nights, you should be fine on non-school nights right up until the week before Halloween, when crowds will gradually increase.  Some parties are slightly discounted if you buy tickets ahead of time. There are also discounts for annual passholders and cast members; incidentally, these discounts are also offered on nights that have historically been the least crowded, so if you're looking for for lower crowds, try these nights.
A few closing thoughts:

  • Some guests don't celebrate Halloween. Don't worry about visiting the Magic Kingdom during the day of the party. You'll find mostly seasonal type decorations and very little that's "scary."
  • The party runs from 7:00 p.m. until midnight, but you'll be allowed in at 4:00 that afternoon.
  • There are multiple places to trick or treat throughout the park, but the most popular, candy-rich spot is the trail that runs behind Toontown.
  • Early in the night you'll be asked to show your wristband as proof that you've paid for the party.
  • Most nights the shops on Main Street are open for about an hour after park closing to allow guests to shop. During the Halloween party we attended, the shops closed at midnight; those inside were allowed to finish, but no other guests were allowed in. If this is your last night for souvenir shopping, make sure you do it earlier.
  • Everyone is encouraged to come in costume. This is the one night an adult can dress up like Minnie or a princess and be admitted into the park, so if you've always wanted to be Belle, this is your chance to do it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When Good Rooms Go Bad: Lodging a Complaint with Disney.

I trust Disney resorts. I trust that they'll be clean, that they'll be safe, that the staff will be friendly and efficient, and that issues that come up will be addressed quickly.  That's been my experience.  Part of the joy of staying on property is knowing what you're getting every time, whether you pay $58 a night or $458 a night.  But no company is perfect.  Such was the case last weekend at the Contemporary Resort.

My good friend had never stayed on Disney property before. Truth be told, until this trip she wasn't much of a Disney parks fan.  But she was coming down for the Wine and Dine marathon and remembered wanting to stay at the Contemporary as a kid, so she decided to give it a try and booked a Magic Kingdom view for a two night stay.  The room was gorgeous. I know not everyone "gets" the theming of the resort, but I think most people can appreciate the room itself. Nice comfy beds, an incredible, big bathroom, and nice modern accents that make the room luxurious.  She lucked out and got an 11th floor room right in the middle of the tower, possibly the prettiest view of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon you could ask for.

There was just one problem:  The room wasn't clean.  There were crumbs all over the floor in the entry way. The rug was dirty and had not been vacuumed.  The windows were covered in little hand prints.  The fold out couch had a large stain on it, as did one of the lampshades.  And the built-in closets were covered in a thick white dust. Clearly, no one had bothered to dust in a couple of weeks.  At this point, this wasn't an issue with the cleaning crew so much as one with supervisors.

Now, my room that same weekend at the All Stars was immaculate.  That's what I expected.  And I think if you're paying more than four times as much as I was paying, you deserve the same thing.  At this point, I just want to make one thing clear. I'm not a complainer.  I was once a Private in the Army, so I know what it's like to work for demanding people who never thank you.  I won't ever forget that and as a result I try to be as accommodating as possible.  This is especially true at Disney, where I try to give cast members a break.  All Disney fans know that there's a certain type of resort guest who makes a lot of unreasonable demands; some of them pride themselves on it.  We all know that being a cast member is a really hard job and that a lot of them do it because they love the company and they enjoy bringing some magic into people's lives. So I don't complain, I say thank you and please even if they're too busy to notice, and I always tip at least 20%, even at buffets.  But at a certain point, you have to say something. This was that point.

My friend called down to the front desk and a bit later was moved to another room after the manager, who was both friendly and professional, confirmed that the room was unacceptable. Even he seemed a little surprised by its condition.  Unfortunately, this room had a very obvious safety hazard that the manager noticed right away. Since there were no other rooms available with that view, she was moved back into her original room. They gave the room a quick cleaning and compensated my friend rather generously, even by Disney standards.  She didn't let this ruin her stay and is looking forward to going back. I felt pretty bad though. I was the one who talked her into going.  This was my "happy place" and I wanted to share it with her.  It would have been nice if things had gone more smoothly.

As I said, I try not to be a complainer, but I also think it's important to let a business know when they're doing something wrong, especially when it's a place you care about. This shouldn't have happened. In fact, this almost never does happen.  As I stated above, that's why I stay on Disney property.   That same weekend we had such great service at the California Grill from our server, Charmaine, that I sent Disney an email to let them know. I also sent in comments about my room at the All Stars. I wasn't crazy about the theme, but every cast member I ran into there was excellent and the room could not have been more clean.

If you have an issue with your room or the service you're receiving, by all means, let Disney know.  But don't forget your manners. Just this last trip, I witnessed a woman using very loud, four-letter words in the lobby of the Contemporary over some room mix-up. She wasn't helping her family or her case and I couldn't help but really feel for cast member she was verbally abusing.   Remember that Disney is a unique company and many cast members take a lot of pride in being part of it; in my experience, they'll bend over backwards to help you. The company holds itself to a higher standard. Because of this, most of us expect better from Disney than we do from, for example, the Marriott or Holiday Inn.  But that also works against it, because it brings out a strong sense of entitlement in some guests. So remember when you complain, be nice.  This person has a hard job.  But by all means, let your comments be known.  Good or bad, they count.

If you want to compliment a cast member or relay an issue you've had during your stay, email Disney at  It's especially important to let them know about good service, as this helps deserving cast members advance within the company.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Morning Distraction.

Now that I'm back to blogging again and things have settled down a bit, I'm going back to Monday morning links and news. There's so much going on in the Disney community right now.

If you read Disboards trip reports, you've probably seen Carrie Hayward's, AKA Lurkyloo, some of the best out there. Well she's started a new blog. You can read about her very funny--and sometimes stylish--adventures here.

Chip over at Chip and Co and George from Imaginerding have a very funny video log now.  You can see the latest one here--and see George get his heart broken, always worth the price of admission.  Okay, admission is free, so that makes it even better.

If you're going to Food and Wine this year, AJ over at the Disney Food Blog has a series of posts on all the food booths. Start with this one on Fifteen Beers for Fifteen Years.

Studios Central is one of the best Disney blogs around and Jentasmic always makes me laugh with her tongue-in-cheek humor.  Check out her post "How I know I'm a Disney Freak."  Also consider reading her thoughtful post "Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat." 

John Frost discusses new, interactive features coming to WDW's Haunted Manion queue.

More discounts for the armed forces? Check out this thread on Disboards for details.  Lots of knowledgeable people posting here; the last few pages apply to the latest discount.

But I loooovve Jim Henson. Check out the hilarious blog Parkeology's take on the Muppets.

I'm loving this whole blog, Disney4Dads, and this very personal essay:  A Dad's Quest for the Magic.

If you'd like to hear me be a total Disney dork of the highest magnitude, I'm now on a podcast called Mouse Chat. You can find us on iTunes as well.

On a housekeeping note, if you want me to link to you or to follow me on Twitter, please send me an email or leave a comment.

Have a wonderful Monday!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Restaurant Review: Via Napoli.

If you're a longtime Disney World fan, you've probably heard the jokes about Disney pizza.  Well, Disney must have heard those jokes too, because they set out to change our perception and have done so in a very big way. Via Napoli may just be my favorite restaurant on site. It's certainly one of the top restaurants in Disney World.

Located in the back of the Italy pavilion in Epcot, Via Napoli features a wide, open space with a large communal table in the middle that would be perfect for larger parties, say up to twenty-five people.  We saw the waiters seat several groups at once there on our visit; none seemed to mind sharing the table.  The walls are covered in cream and rust-colored paint and punctuated by pretty frescoes. 

Light fixtures feature brightly colored blown glass or iron accents. 

It's the type of restaurant where you'll feel comfortable bringing the kids, but the food and surroundings make it special enough that it would be perfect for a casual date night as well.  The dining room has very high ceilings, but even in a crowded restaurant I didn't find it to be overly loud; children or adults with sensory issues should be fine.  There's also ample seating outside in a covered patio area.  During cooler times of the year, this area will be a prime location for people watching and leisurely meals.

The open kitchen in the back has three wood-fired ovens which feature faces used to represent the main volcanoes of Italy:  Mount Vesuvius, Mount Stromboli and Mount Etna.

You can also watch pizzas being prepped, slipped onto a wooden paddle, and then slid into the extremely hot ovens, where it takes only minutes to bake.

Over the course of three different meals, we tried four appetizers: The salad, made for sharing, had a spicy vinaigrette; the fritto misto, which features fried seasonal vegetables; the arancini, fried saffron risotto balls with sausage served with a red sauce for dipping; and a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad drizzled with a nice olive oil.  Of the four, the only disappointment was the arancini, which was heavy and starchy with almost no flavor. Both the arancini and the fritto misto came with a standout marinara that was just about perfect.  Don't hesitate to try the fritto misto because you're worried about it being greasy;  the flavor of the vegetables shines through the crispy coating. In fact, the kitchen seems to have a knack for frying, as everything fried that we tried was non-greasy and perfectly crisp.

Via Napoli serves the usual pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken Parmesan, but the real star here is of course the pizza. Individual pizzas start at $16 and are enough for two people with lighter appetites.  Made from imported Caputo flour, considered by many to be the best for making pizza, and water similar to that found in Italy, the crust is thin and flavorful, but not so overpowering that you don't enjoy the exemplary toppings.  There's something satisfying about biting into this type of crust, slightly chewy but softer in the middle.  Most pizzas are topped with a light smear of the marinara mentioned above, in addition to fresh mozzarella and various meats, vegetables, and even cantaloupe.  I loved the pepperoni, which was smaller and more spicy than what you'd find at your neighborhood take-out restaurant.  In fact, I liked it so much I had it twice on this trip.

You can find some of the best desserts on property in the World Showcase and Via Napoli is no exception. Of the two we tried, the fun ricotta fritters served in a paper cone (you get about eight small fritters, enough for two people) with chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream was my favorite.  The fritters tasted fresh and light, like perfect little donut holes. Some chocolate sauces taste more like sugar than chocolate, either because the chef has a heavy hand with sugar or they're covering up cheap chocolate, but this one was just sweet enough to let the flavor shine through.  We also tried the tiramisu. I'm not a coffee fan, but I would order it again, it was that good.  It's a large piece, so two can share, although it's good enough that you might not want to.

Like all Disney restaurants, Via Napoli has friendly, excellent service. I didn't see any of the new restaurant jitters that you might expect and we received everything we asked for fairly quickly.  Our waiters, all of whom hail from Italy, were mainly easy-going but efficient college students.

It only took a short weekend trip for Via Napoli to become one of my favorite Disney World restaurants. With Via Napoli, Disney set out to make good pizza. Luckily for us, what they came up with is better than that. It's simply exemplary pizza that just happens to be served in one of the best theme parks in the world. Give it a try next time you visit Disney World.

Via Napoli is operated in conjunction with the Patina Restaurant Group.   The restaurant, which seats 250 people inside and an additional 50 outdoors, is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. If you're on the Disney Dining Plan, it's one table service credit; this is one place you'll want to use the included dessert.  As of right now,walk-ups are surprisingly easy to get, but if you really want to eat at Via Napoli, do as you would with any Disney restaurant and make your reservations (407-WDW-DINE) as far out as possible, up to 180-days in advance.  If you have allergies or specific food requests, make sure you make note of them when making your reservation.  There is currently no take-out option.

If you'd like to hear more about Via Napoli, we reviewed it on this week's Mouse Chat podcast.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All Star Sports and the Great Toilet Flushes of Doom.

Like sports?  Welcome to your nirvana.

You know I love Disney, right?  I'm generally pretty cynical when it comes to the motives of any large corporation, but I truly believe that Disney is one of the few that gets it right almost all the time and I'll happily fork over my money to the Mouse because of it.  My experience with Disney resorts at all levels has been overwhelmingly positive.  In fact, as corny as it sounds, I really do consider Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom Lodge to be my family's second home.  This time, I stayed at the All Star Sports.  While there were a few things I didn't love about Sports, overall I was happy with my stay.

The biggest issue I had was with the theming.  Really, I didn't even realize before this visit how accustomed I was to being surrounded by a theme that I actually enjoy.  Whether it's Pop Century or the Grand Floridian, I've found that the theme of a resort really adds something to your stay, I just didn't know how much until this trip.  This wasn't the case with All Stars Sports, unfortunately.   To put it simply, I hated the theme.  Now, let me say that if you love sports, you'll probably like this place. But if you're like me and you live by the adage "no sports with balls," this resort might not be your cup of tea. I mean, it's a pretty in-your-face kind of theme, right down to the wallpaper in the bathroom.  For someone who can't seem to go to a sporting event without a stray ball hitting her in the head, I didn't care for it.

Happily, none of these balls fell on my head.

Another issue I had with Sports was the loud toilets. Now, I've stayed at Pop several times and don't recall ever being woken up by the cacophony of flushing toilets, so perhaps this was related to our room location or is particular to the All Stars, but every morning it sounded like our neighbors were being flushed out into outer space.  Granted, it gave us plenty of tired laughs and gave rise to a few funny lines that can't be repeated here, but it was annoying.  It's not such a big deal if you don't plan on sleeping past 7:00 a.m., but if you've been out late the night before and want to sleep in, it can be.

Other than the sound of toilets flushing, I didn't notice any noise coming from the other rooms or the outside. I think this says a lot given that we had connecting rooms (there was a door between them) and never heard our neighbors.  The resort was, in fact, very quiet and peaceful, even the night of the marathon when people were getting in late.  From what I've read, the doors have to be better insulated against the heat and cold since they lead right outside, and as a result they're also more soundproofed. This definitely seemed to be the case.

You guessed it.  More balls. 

One huge plus was that the room was immaculate.  I tend to notice grime and dirt even when I don't want to and I didn't see any in the room. No stray hairs, no overlooked spots in the bathroom.  Nothing.  The beds were comfortable and we were able to get the temperature in the room just right, sometimes a difficult task in hotel rooms.  I think for us, two adults, the room was more than big enough. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend staying there as a family of four, although I might be concerned about sharing that space with a couple of teenagers as opposed to younger kids.

The outside of one of the buildings. 
Note the subtle sports theme.

All of the values feature oversized icons based on that resort's theme.  They also have food courts which serve a variety of foods and activities that, in this case, are geared mostly towards children.  The lobby is attractive and the food court is more than adequate.  Neither felt  overly crowded, although keep in mind this was during a very slow time of year. I feel that Pop's lobby is better designed and has a brighter, more open look, but that's really a minor thing. The pools were very pretty and clean. In fact, the grounds were kept as nice as any deluxe resort I've stayed at.  Someone is doing something right management-wise at this resort.  Security was thorough but quick, checking both room keys and parking passes, unlike a number of deluxe resorts I've stayed at.  We did online check-in, so getting our room keys went very fast, maybe five minutes.  We rented a car and did not take the buses, so I can't vouch for them.  In general, I just prefer renting a car unless I'm at a monorail or Epcot resort.

Now for the practical stuff. Value rooms have two double beds. They run around 260 square feet, so they are rather small. There is a tub/shower and toilet combination in the bathroom and a single sink with a small counter outside of it in the main room. You'll find a small safe (too small for a laptop) in the bathroom area and the usual open area for hanging clothes. There is a television (our room had not been refurbished yet and did not have a flat screen TV) with a combination dresser/hutch. There's also a table with two chairs and a nightstand between the beds. Both beds have reading lamps over them. Refrigerators are not standard with value rooms. You'll need to pay an additional $10 per night, although those with medical reasons (such as storing insulin) may ask for one free of charge. A small number of value rooms have a king-sized bed only; you'll need to request this in advance. All rooms open out to an outside corridor; none have balconies or patios.  Therer are stairwells at the ends of the building and a bank of elevators right around the middle.

I'm definitely the type of guest who prefers to stay on site, even at a resort where the theme isn't my favorite, so I would stay at All Star Sports again.  But I'm glad I learned just how important theming is to me on this trip. Next time, I'll go with one that's more my taste. I always say that the values truly are the best bet for your money on Disney property, so don't hesitate to stay at one if that's what fits your budget.  Even if you don't love the theme, you'll still get a clean room and all the benefits of staying at a more expensive resort for a fraction of the price.

Rooms start at around $58 a night during value season with a discount and top out during the busiest times of the year at just under $200.  Always check to see if there are discounts available. You can contact a Disney certified travel agent or try on your own through Disney. Make sure you ask the Disney cast member when you call central reservations (407-WDISNEY) what discounts are available during your stay.  If you go through the Disney website, make sure you click on the icons that say "special offers" or similar words.  You can also check out websites like Disboards, Passporter and Mousesavers.  Of the three, the Disboards resort discount code sub-forum is the most active; you'll find out about discounts there before some Disney independent travel agents have been notified.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Few Thoughts on My Trip.

Just got back yesterday from Disney World and I wanted to share a couple of thoughts; I'll blog more in-depth later.  This is the first trip I've taken where I specifically did a few things for the blog, so I have lots to say!  Here's a brief run-down for now.

  • Pack early.  I was very busy the week before I left that I put off packing until the last minute.  As a result, I forgot a few things that I really needed. Like toothpaste. (Don't worry, I got some).
  • Disney IS for grown-ups. A friend seemed surprised when I got back that I didn't take the kids and when I told her that many adults go without their kids (or don't have kids at all), she was shocked.
  • Don't be shy.  If you're a Disney fan, go to a meet-up. Follow your favorite bloggers and podcasters on Twitter and join them if you're down there. They're friendly and they like the same things you do!
  • The Halloween party is more than worth the cost. I don't even like parades and this one had me mesmerized.
  • Don't be afraid to go for a walk-up at your favorite restaurant.
  • Used Lines again. It was indispensable. Even showed a college cast member who approached me about it how to use it. If you're on the fence, get it. It costs less than a burger and fries at Pecos Bills.
  • Via Napoli is probably my favorite new restaurant.  Disney finally got pizza right.
  • If you think you're going back in the next year, buy an annual pass. Between the room discount (which I got at the last minute, after no general discounts were available) and merchandise and dining discounts, I've already saved about $150.
  • Resort theming is more important than I thought.
  • Going with a large group of people requires a lot of planning and coordination.

I'll try to start putting up more later today and I'll be answering some readers' Q&A on different topics over at Chip and Co today as well, if you'd like to see those.  What a great trip!