Friday, October 28, 2011

Geeky Disney Giveaway.

Head over to the Mouse Chat Facebook page, leave a comment and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $25 Disney 40th annivesary gift card, a 40th anniversary map, and a 40th anniversary pin.  Comments that say "Chris sent me" will be worth one entry and questions we can use on future shows are worth two entries.

Already a Mouse Chat listener?  Thank you!  You can still leave a comment on the Mouse Chat page and be entered to win, but if you head over to our sister site's page, the Disney Food Report, and mention that you're a Mouse Chat listener and that I sent you there, you'll be entered twice!

We'll do the drawing next Friday afternoon.  See you then!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2012 Free Dining Booking Dates Extended until December 17.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

The booking window for free dining for select 2012 dates has been extended until December 17, 2011. You'll still need to book those November and December free dining dates by October 29, 2011, the original closing date. No change on the 2012 dates at this time. They remain as follows:

  • January 8-12, 2012
  • January 21-February 2, 2012
  • February 11-16, 2012
  • March 3-8, 2012
  • March 24-29, 2012
More news on new offers as they come out.

Thanks to my good friend and fellow Disney nerd Bob for the photo.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Christmastime Castle Lighting Ceremony.

Every night during the Christmas holidays, starting this year on November 8th, you can watch the castle lighting ceremony at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.  This is when Cinderella's Fairy Godmother comes out and asks the audience for help in decorating the castle as a special surprise for Cinderella.  If you haven't seen the icicle lights on the castle, you're in for a surprise.  Make sure you leave time in your schedule for this special ceremony.



In November, the ceremony usually beings at 6:30, but as it gets darker earlier, the ceremony will begin closer to 6:00.  Since the Magic Kingdom  closes early on certain nights in November and December for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, you'll encounter heavy crowds leaving the park after the ceremony.  Instead of rushing out, take a few extra minutes to shop. You don't have to be out of the parks until 7:00 if you don't have a party ticket, so that gives you a little extra time to browse.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Post: Legoland Florida Grand Opening.


Special thanks to Bob Angelo for this article on the grand opening of Legoland Florida.

Florida's newest theme park, Legoland, Florida, opened in Central Florida on October 15, 2011 to much fanfare and excitement. As I was lucky enough to attend the media preview of the park the day before, and knowing how anticipated this park was by kids and adults alike, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts and impressions.
Built on the site of the old Cypress Gardens, known for its Southern Belles, beautiful gardens, lush landscaping, and water ski shows, Legoland took great care to preserve many of those details while incorporating their own. So, mixed in with the beautiful gardens, for instance, you might see a deer (built of Legos, of course) stopping for a drink. And, while the traditional water ski show is no more, in its place you'll find Pirate's Cove Water Ski Show, where Brickbeard the Pirate has taken over Pirate's Cove (go figure, right?) along the shores of Lake Eloise. Children and parents are encouraged to participate in the show by yelling and hollering whenever they see Brickbeard.


Florida's state capital.

The park itself is very nicely laid out and a joy to explore. Like any theme park, its divided into separate areas, or lands. These are "The Beginning", "Fun Town", "Miniland USA", "Duplo Village", "Lego Kingdoms", "Lego Technic", "Imagination Zone", "Pirate's Cove", "Land of Adventure", and "Lego City". Within these lands, you'll find over 50 different rides and attractions to explore and interact with. And, since the focus is on kids ages 2-12, many of the rides and attractions have no, or limited, height requirements. One downside to these attractions being built for kids? If you're a taller or larger sized adult, you may find it difficult to fit into some of them. At 6'6". I actually had to sit sideways when riding Coastersaurus, one of the park's roller coasters, and there would have been no way for a child to sit next to me!


Throughout the day, I saw lots of children and they all seemed to be having a great time at attractions like "Boating School", where you can drive your own boat along the water through a course (the boat isn't on a track and is actually free floating), "Rescue Academy", where families must work together to "drive" their firetruck to the scene of a building "fire", and then work together as one person works the pump and the other aims the hose/sprayer to put out the fire, and the "Driving School" where kids can drive Lego vehicles around an actual course (top speed: 3 mph) and earn a driver's license upon completion.

For me though, my favorite part of the park had to be Miniland, which is where you'll find dozens of mini Lego sculptures representing everything from the Las Vegas Strip to the Daytona Speedway. This part of the park is interactive, too. Press a button by the Las Vegas wedding chapel, for example, and watch newly married Lego couples come out the doors, or press another button at the Daytona Speedway, and two cars will race to the finish line! You could probably spend hours just in this area taking everything in.


Of course, the park has many of the same features you'd find at other theme parks, such as stroller and wheelchair rentals, a baby care center that offers high chairs, bottle warmers, diaper changing facilities and the like, and package pickup, so if you happen to buy something big and don't want to carry it around all day, you can have them shipped to the park exit and waiting for you when you leave. Another nice feature for families I noticed is that there were plenty of "family" bathrooms available around the park, though they seemed like it would be a tight fit if taking a person in a wheelchair in one. Diaper changing facilities can also be found in every single men's and women's bathroom throughout the park.

The employees, called "Model Citizens," were all very nice and friendly and happy to offer any assistance they could. Here's a tip --you'll see some of the employees have little minifigurines above their name tags. If you build your own minifigurine while at the park ($9.99 for a set of 3) you can trade with the employee of your choice.

Now, before you head out, there's a few things you need to be aware of. First, the park is currently operating only on limited days and hours. Right now, they are open Thursday-Monday, and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. So, check the hours before you go, because you don't want to drive out there only to find it closed. And speaking of driving "out there", the park is a HAUL from the Disney parks. To get there, you would take I-4 West to Exit 55 (U.S. Highway 27 South). Turn right, and head down 27 until you reach State Road 540, and then make another right, and the park is 4 miles on your left. Huge signs on I-4 near Exit 55 advertise that the park is "only 30 minutes away!" but that's a lie. Maybe if you're in a Ferrari. Plan on at least 45 minutes to an hour. And, at least right now, there's not a lot of signage on the way there, so you'll be traveling down U.S. 27, a road that has lots of farms and orange groves, wondering if you're going the right way. Trust me, you are. It's just far. Parking is $12 per car, or $20 for preferred, but the parking lot is small, so I don't think that's necessary.

If you don't have a car but want to go while visiting Orlando, Legoland has arranged for bus transportation from the Premium Outlets (off I-4, across from Downtown Disney) to leave every day at 9 am. I'm told the cost is $10 per person, round trip, but can't find any information on their website to confirm or deny this. And of course, you'll still need to get to the Premium Outlets from your resort or wherever you are staying.

Next, bring sunscreen and/or a hat. You'd have thought that a park built on a theme park that was known for its famed gardens would have more shade, but it doesn't. In fact, entire areas of the park, like Miniland, are exposed entirely to the elements. That can make the sun feel much hotter than it is. And if there's a chance of rain when you go, bring ponchos or an umbrella, or plan on getting very wet!

If you're going soon, bring cash. When I went, a day before park opening, none of the carts around the park that sold beverages and snacks were set up yet to take credit or debit cards, which was just unexcusable when you consider that many tourists don't like to carry lots of cash when they go out to the parks. This may have been remedied by now, as the park has been open for about 10 days, but you don't want to be caught unprepared.

Lastly, be careful with what you eat.

Pretty safe looking, right?

My wife and I stopped by one of the restaurants in the morning about 10 o'clock to grab some breakfast offerings, and I noted that the lunch foods, including chicken and salmon, were already cooked and sitting under warming lamps. Foolishly, we ate there a little later in the day, around 2 p.m., for lunch, and I'm pretty certain we ate the same food that had been sitting out since morning, as we both became very ill for several hours after the fact. That wouldn't have been so bad if the food was actually tasty, but it was also very dry, lacked any sense of flavor and it was obvious that it had been sitting out. So, if you sit down to eat something, and it doesn't smell right or taste right, take it back, and go for something else, because you really don't want to ruin your trip being sick!

All in all, this is a great park for kids. If your child is between 2-12 and a Lego fan, they'll be in heaven with all the rides, attractions, and stuff in the gift shops, including tons of hard to find Lego sets and the Lego brick wall that has over 250 different Lego colors in stock that you can fill a container and buy. Future plans also call for adding a water park next year, and a hotel in a few years. I'm not sure the adult admission price of $75 is worth it, since there is far less for older kids and adults to enjoy, but then, seeing the joy on your child's face may be worth the price of admission alone. Happy travels!

Bob Angelo is a travel agent with Pixie Vacations and also a co-host of the weekly Mouse Chat podcast, which brings you the best in Disney news, tips and reviews. A local to the many Central Florida theme parks, you'll find him every chance he gets taking in the attractions.  You can contact Bob by emailing him at Bob@PixieVacations.com or on his Facebook page, where you'll find tons of Disney photos and news.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Update on the Contemporary Resort's Health and Wellness Suites.

Remember the new health and wellness suites that were supposed to open at the Contemporary Resort next month? We've been trying for months now to get a price on these rooms (we can dream, right?) but haven't been able to nail anything down. Well, it turns out there's a reason for that:  They're not going to happen, at least not until sometime in 2012.

No word yet on when they'll open, but since you can still book rooms on the 14th floor well into 2012, it sounds like you'll need to roll up your yoga mat up for the time being.  I'm still intrigued by the idea of these spa-like rooms, which were set to have organic menus, special fitness classes, allergy-free linens, and wooden floors, so I hope they will open eventually. I'd love to stay there just once.

There's a small part of me that thinks these rooms will not happen, however. Perhaps, given the economy right now, Disney decided they couldn't do enough of this type of business.  Of course the other issue is whether or not Disney can attract the kind of guest who wants this type of experience and is willing to pay for it.  I'm going to assume the answer is yes, because Disney is very careful about researching projects before giving them the go-ahead, but then again, the words "Avatar land" come to mind and I do have to wonder about my trust in the company to make the right decisions based on good research.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Save $5 by Watching Five Mintues of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

I don't do a lot with coupons, but this sounds interesting if you're Pirates fan. It comes from Disney Media:

Disney.com Exclusive! Watch 5 Minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
and Get $5 off the 5-Disc Combo Pack 

Starting today, Pirates of the Caribbean fans can watch an exciting 5-minute clip from the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides film exclusively on Disney.com. After watching Jack Sparrow narrowly escape the grasps of the king’s Royal Guard yet again, guests can access a swashbuckling deal of $5 off the 5-Disc Combo Pack from Disney Movie Rewards. Both the exclusive clip and deal will be available until Oct. 23 on Disney.com. 

For more exclusive Pirates fun, visit Disney.com/Pirates

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is now available for purchase in stunning high definition Blu-ray™, eye popping Blu-ray 3D™ (a first for the legendary franchise) and Movie Download.   The Limited Edition 5-Disc Combo Pack (1-Disc Blu-ray 3D + 2-Disc Blu-ray + 1-Disc DVD + 1-Disc Digital Copy) is available at retail for the suggested price of $49.99 U.S./ $56.99 Canada and includes hours of bonus materials offering fans a deeper dive inside Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides including immersive Disney Second Screen technology, exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences, Fountain of Youth mythology, an extensive look at mermaids, bloopers, deleted and extended scenes, and much more. 

Quick Tips: Your Kids' Summer Clothes.

If you're visiting Disney any time from November through February, you'll want to pack both lightweight and heavier weight clothing, as the weather can be extremely unpredictable during this time of year. Since we plan a December trip every year, one thing I do is when it's time to put the kids' summer clothes and shoes away, I don't put their things in storage or donate them right away. Instead, I pack it all in a suitcases that I'm going to bring to Disney. This way, it's ready for when we go and I don't have to hunt down last summer's bathing suits and shorts.

When you're at the point where you're ready to do your real packing, just go through the clothes to make sure they still fit and you're good to go. If you're out shopping and you see some ridiculously priced summer items on the sales rack, think about throwing those items in your suitcase in as well, if you're kids are like mine and their summer clothes take a beating.  Even here in North Carolina, it's hard to find inexpensive lightweight clothing after October. Wait too long, and you're stuck buying expensive "resort wear."  By storing (and even purchasing) these items early, you won't be running around in January looking for shorts.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Breakfast at Kona Cafe.


There's a lot of food for your money, but is it worth it?

I'd heard a lot of good things about breakfast at Kona Cafe, so I've been wanting to try it for a while.  Of course the big debate is whether you go for the macadamia nut pancakes or the Tonga Toast, both of which are the stuff of Disney breakfast dreams. Being the undecided types, our large group decided to try both and because we're extra greedy, we threw in a Big Kahuna Platter for good measure. 

Kona Cafe is located on the second floor of the Polynesian Lobby. You're literally steps away from the monorail, so it's incredibly convenient to get here.  It's decorated in browns, dark oranges, and yellows that compliment the lobby, which is open to the restaurant.  You'll do well to make a dining reservation here, as at most Disney restaurants, but during less busy times of the year walk-ups are an option. We got our 7:40 reservation about a week in advance, so it's a much easier location to book than say Ohana, which is also at the Poly.

Tonga Toast.

Kona Cafe's Tonga Toast has some of the most ardent fans of any dish at Disney World and with good reason. It's simply delicious. They take sourdough bread and stuff it with bananas and then roll it in cinnamon sugar. It's then fried and served with a fresh-tasting strawberry compote.  You'll also get your choice of ham, bacon, or sausage. At $12.99, it's a pretty good deal and filling enough that you'll happily pass by the snacks in the park later that morning. Trust me, this is a good thing no matter how much you love Mickey bars, considering that Tonga Toast is essentially a large donut filled with bananas!  A large, very tasty donut.

By the way, if you're on a budget or can't get into Kona Cafe, you can get the same Tonga Toast at Captain Cook's quick service for $5.99, minus the bacon.

Next up, we tried the Big Kahuna Platter, pictured above. It comes with French toast, pancakes topped with pineapple sauce and macadamia nut butter, two eggs cooked the way you like, home fried potatoes, ham, bacon, and sausage. At $11.99, it's a huge amount of food, but other than the pancakes, there's nothing out of the ordinary here.  It's basically the same breakfast platter you'd get at Denny's or Shoney's and like any of those places, the French toast is dry and a little bland, the eggs and sausage are, well, they're eggs and sausage.  Perfectly acceptable, nothing to write home about.  Definitely try it if you have a big appetite or even consider spitting it and adding a side of toast. It's a lot of food.

The macadamia nut pancakes are a nod to the Hawaiian theme of the resort.  They come with a large scoop of macadamia nut butter and a chunky pineapple sauce, as well as your choice of bacon, sausage or ham.  At just $9.99, this is a very economical breakfast.  The pancakes are light and fluffy, but also somewhat bland. That's probably forgivable, since pancakes basically exist to support the toppings you put on them, but I was expecting more flavor after all the rave reviews I'd heard.  Add the macadamia nut butter and their taste improves, but I would have been hard-pressed to find nuts in with the butter.  The pineapple sauce was good and added something to the pancakes, but at this point, I would have preferred maple syrup.  Overall, I was not impressed with this dish.

There are a lot of great breakfast locations in Disney World. Sadly, I would probably put Kona at the bottom of my list of table service locations.  It's passable and the price is good, but other than the Tonga Toast, there's nothing on the menu that really stands out.  When you contrast this breakfast with a buffet like Crystal Palace or even some of the more inventive items at Grand Floridian Cafe (lobster eggs Benedict) it falls short.  Our server offered the type of  Disney service we usually expect, which is to say, she was great. I rarely find Disney servers lacking and she was no exception. Everything we asked for was brought as quickly as possible, our eggs were cooked to our liking, and she was friendly and helpful.  If you're staying in the Poly or you're on the monorail and want to try something nearby, definitely consider adding it to your reservation list.  But don't go out of your way for Kona.

Kona Cafe is one of the more reasonably priced table-service locations available on property but this also poses a problem for those on the dining plan.  By no means should you use a table-service credit here. It's simply not worth it if you do the math. That's not to say it's not a decent breakfast, but for the price, consider paying out of pocket unless you're on the Deluxe Dining Plan (which gives you three table service credits a day) and you need to burn up credits.


Getting there:  Transportation at Disney World can be complicated since there are no resort to resort buses.  If you're driving, it's simple. Just park at the Poly; the guard at the gate will likely ask for your confirmation number during busier times of the year.  If you're going from your resort by bus, you'll want to take the bus to the Magic Kingdom and then the monorail (or Poly resort launch) to the resort.  If you're coming from one of the other parks, just take the Poly bus to the resort.  You can also catch a Poly bus from Downtown Disney.  Cabs are also available at your resort and can be a good solution to early morning dining reservations.

Scenes from the 40th Anniversary of the Magic Kingdom.

Photo courtesy of my good friend Bob.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting  up with friends and celebrating the Magic Kingdom's 40th birthday. The event was pretty low-key, but fitting, I think. In ten years, I know I will be there for the 50th!

We could tell from the entrance that it was going to be crowded, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits. How could you not be? You're going into the Magic Kingdom!

The train station, decked out for the 40th with Fall colors.

Once you got inside, Main Street was pretty manageable up until the 10:00 a.m. parade.  We managed to get a good spot right off the Hub, next to the popcorn stand.  

That moment when you first walk into the park never gets old for me.

One of the events scheduled for the 40th Anniversary of the Magic Kingdom was a character parade.  It lasted about 10 minutes, but in that short amount of time, we saw lots of characters you don't normally see. It was a fun moment in a great day.

Mr. Smee came out to say hello.


Do you think Jiminy Cricket is making sure the always-exuberant Aladdin is behaving?

It was nice to see so many of the princesses in one place, especially down
on the parade route rather than in a float.

Why hello there, Pluto.

Everything wasn't perfect. The crowds were really high and 40th anniversary merchandise sold out almost immediately. Getting one of these cupcakes? Almost impossible.  It was at least a 30 minute wait.
They also came in yellow and blue.

After the ceremony, we rode a few attractions with very little waits and then headed over to Epcot for Food and Wine.  We came back later that night and I'm so glad we did.  The weather was perfect and there was a special add-on to Wishes that night that went almost all the way around the park. It was really spectacular.  If you've seen the 4th of July fireworks, it was similar to that.

Thanks again to my friend Bob and his talented wife Donna
for these pictures

If you get a chance to go to a special event at Disney, take it. Yes, you'll deal with crowds. But it was really special to be part of the history of the Magic Kingdom, a simple place that has brought joy to so many people.

See you at the 50th in ten years!






Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Disney Gift Card Offer.



Consider it an early Christmas gift, since i was going to wait until December to put these out, but I'm doing another gift card offer with new bookings. Here are the details:

The vacation must be a new booking.

Book between today, October 13, 2011 and December 31, 2011.

Valid for travel between November 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012.

Amounts are as follows:
  • $25 for vacations worth $2100 to $3000.
  • $50 for vacations worth $3001 to $8000.
  • $75 for vacations $8001 and up.
  • $25 gift cards for referrals worth $2000 and up.
Gift cards are per room, so if you book $3200 room and a $2200 room, you'll get a total of $75 in gift cards, which is lower than the $8001 threshhold for a $75 gift card.  You'll receive your gift card with your final travel documents.  Vacation amounts do not include airfare booked with Disney.  Pixie exclusive offers are excluded from this offer.

If you book a trip worth less than $2100, you'll still receive a gift.  Choose from the following:

  • Pixie lanyards for your group.
  • A personalized tote.
  • A one-year subscription to the Touring Plans website.

Finally, I don't charge for my services and I offer discount monitoring, customized itineraries, and do all the busy work for you. Please email me at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com for more information. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Monorail and Extra Magic Hours.

A rare sight:  An empty monorail car.

Just a heads up to those taking the monorail during Extra Magic Hours (EMH).  You've probably heard that Disney changed their policy regarding monorail use. From now on, monorails will run for only one hour after regular park closing and they won't run at all during extra magic hours (EMH).  At first glance, this seemed to be a bigger issue with regard to those staying at the Magic Kingdom resorts. After all, those guests need the monorail to get back to their resort and they pay a premium for that privilege.  After experiencing the change in person, I think that transportation to and from Epcot is just as big of an issue. Here's the problem.

We were visiting the Magic Kingdom on a night when it closed at 11:00. We decided to leave right after Wishes and head over to Epcot to ride Soarin', because that park was open for EMH until midnight. Usually this just involves a quick ride on the monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC), then a change to the Epcot monorail. Easy peasy.  Unfortunately, you can't do this anymore during EMH!  And of coruse, we forgot, which made it even worse. Instead you have to take a bus, either from the Magic Kingdom or from the TTC, where you then take a bus to Epcot.  It added about 45 mintues to our trip. I think once the new system is ironed out, it won't take as long, but for now, plan on at least an hour for this type of park hopping.

You're probably wondering why the change? Well, it's for safety purposes as it became more and more apparent that the trains needed more downtown every night for maintenance.  And we're all for making the parks a safer place.

If you're a guest planning a vacation to Disney World and you're going to be staying on the monorail for convenience purposes, know about this change in advance. I know that a lot of guests don't use EMH, so it's a non-issue, but if you're paying $500 a night to stay at the Grand Floridian and you expect to be able to use the monorail during EMH, you might want to weigh the value of what you're losing against the cost of your room. Personally, I still think you can't beat staying at a monorail resort even without EMH access, but that is a very personal thing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Disney World's Halloween 5K Run.


I just got back from Disney World, where I got to celebrate the Magic Kingdom's 40th birthday. One of the highlights of the weekend was running (okay, mostly walking) in the Halloween 5K, which took place on  Saturday morning at Animal Kingdom. If you haven't done a Disney race, this is a great introduction and a fun way to spend the morning.

We were playing hooky too!

Disney 5K runs are different from the half and full-marathons in that they're not officially timed. Most Disney races have a 16-minute mile requirement; if you fall too far behind, you'll be taken out of the race and have to ride in the "golf cart of shame" as they take you to the finish line. You'll still see golf carts on the race path during 5Ks, but only to pick up the injured.  What I loved about the 5K was the opportunity for all fitness levels and every member of the family.

We saw a many groups with matching t-shirts made especially for the run.

There were defintely people who had trained for the race there. I'm sure a lot of them did the Couch to 5K program with this as one of their goals. I love that--you could see their excitement in their faces. But there were also groups like ours that had little kids and strollers. We even saw one big, multi-generational family pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair. 
Because it's the Halloween run, many participants wore fun costumes.



Here's how it all worked, if you plan to try one in the future. The race started at 7:00 in the morning. Parking wasn't an issue. The huge line of cars looked intimidating, but it moved very quickly. Since it's a smaller race, it was pretty easy to find people and get what you needed, whether it was water or picking up your race packet a little late (which you can do if you miss picking it up the night before--just have your waiver form with you).  There was a DJ playing music and tellling jokes, asking people where they were from and teasing them about their costumes and the like. 

People lined up based on their estimated running time, but overall, it was pretty flexible. We were in different groups be we were allowed to all go together.


If took a while for our group to start moving since we were all the way in the back with the stroller group.  We went around the parking lot first and then through the park. We even got to see some backstage areas.



There were plenty of opportunities for character meet and greets along the way. If you're a character hunter, definitely consider doing a race.


I loved this experience and would recommend to anyone, regardless of their fitness level. It's a great way to connect with your friends and family while you walk around the park. The energy level is contagious and the fun was palpable.  I especially enjoyed seeing Animal Kingdom's extraordinary theming when the park was a little less busy and the weather was cooler, as well as getting a look at some of the cast member areas you don't normally see.

One small caveat:  While you'll do a lot of walking at Disney World regardless, keep in mind this is 3.2 mile walk/run. You'll be getting up early to get to the race as well. If you like full park days and later nights in the park, this event might tire you out a bit, so consider planning a shorter park day on the day of the race.