Archive for the ‘Travel Reviews’ Category

Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village Overview   Leave a comment

Good evening Disney fans!

I finally finished my Animal Kingdom Lodge video from Thanksgiving!  (Things have been more than a little crazy).

This video primarily features Kidani Village, and our one bedroom villa.  We loved the resort, but really wished it wasn’t so far away from everything!

What do you think?

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Disney’s MyMagic+ Program – 5 Things Ever Guest Needs To Know   4 comments

Yesterday I posted an article regarding the new enhanced Disney Guest Experience program, better known to Disney Fans as the NextGen project, but formally called MyMagic+.  Since the initial announcement yesterday morning there has been additional information released by Disney, and quite a bit of speculation voiced by Disney Fans.

The NextGen project was originally pitched back in 2010 as a way to revolutionize the guest experience.  Between then and now, very little was leaked regarding what exactly the project was going to entail, only that the cost of the project was astronomical and Disney was taking their time to develop the program before the launch date.  Fast-forward a few years and we start to see a sprinkling of pixie dust around the websites and parks; the announcement of PhotoPass+ and FastPass+, and the My Disney Experience app and website are only the first components of the launch.  You can even consider the development of New Fantasyland & Disney’s Art of Animation Resort at Walt Disney World, Carsland,  Buena Vista Street & the rest of the California Adventure refurb at Disneyland,  and the Disney Dream & Disney Fantasy key pieces in the launch of the ultimate MyMagic+ program; after all, you need these key new attractions and locations to attract new visitors and keep the regulars from getting bored.  The Disney Parks spent a few years feeling a bit stagnant, and then Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, we have a year full of announcements and then a year full of premiers. Pixie Dust.  But, how does all of this enhance the guest experience, and what will it mean to those of us who visit the parks fairly regularly?  How much change will we see, and how quickly?

Disney has slowly been rolling out components to the program.  The information about FastPass+ was announced this past summer, with the PhotoPass+ in mid-fall.  The My Disney Experience ap was ready this summer as well, though it didn’t really do much at its initial launch but allow you to look at the parks maps.  Now we are seeing even more with these  programs, as well as new initialives.

The wristbands, or MagicBands as they are deemed, were explained today.  It appears as though Disney is doing away with the Key to the World cards and going for the wristband approach.
The wristbands will have the following capabilities.

  • The MagicBand will be your key card.  No more having to keep up with a card that is often demagnatized (and usually when your resort room is about as far away as possible)
  • The MagicBand will serve as your Park Ticket
  • The MagicBand will hold your FastPass+ schedule
  • The MagicBand will become your PhotoPass card
  • The MagicBand will have charging capabilities

It seems like a slightly  more convenient and enhanced version of the Key to the World card.  I’m a bit torn on it, as I’m not sure I want to have to wear a bracelet on my wrist in the Florida humidity and have it in all of my pictures.  But, on the flip side, I am far less likely to lose a wristband!  I’ve taken large student groups to Disney and they always manage to lose keys and tickets…  (No word yet on how this program will be implimented into the Disney YES and Disney Performing Arts programs).

MagicBands will be available to those staying at a Disney Resort, Annual Passholders, and guests who pre-purchase a PhotoPass package.  Other guests will be able to purchase the MagicBand.

My biggest question about the program deals with the Disney PhotoPass program.  Having recently visited Walt Disney World, and utlized the new PhotoPass+ program I’m left wondering why they created the PhotoPass+ card if the MagicBand will now serve as such?  The PhotoPass+ card was on a lanyard and was punched with your dates of availability.  The card itself identified you to photographers as having purchased the PhotoPass+.  I’m curious to see how the two technologies are melded together.

Now the other side of the launch.  Shortly after the announcement went out via email this morning news programs started reporting on Disney Parks and Cruise Line lay-offs.  This reaction was fueled by Disney’s announcement of their fiscal year numbers.  I’m not certain we can immediately say that the two are connected.  However, one fan messaged me stating that her understanding was they they would be laying off cashier employees in merchandise locations since guests would now be able to utilize the “touch and pay” feature on either their MagicBand or new enhanced ticket.  From a loss-prevention viewpoint this would seem like the opposite of a good decision, as eliminating cashiers and merchandising cast members would result in a higher theft rate, and then eliminate any cost saving measures.  But I suppose that only time will tell!  One thing is for certain though; if Disney chooses to lay-off Cast Members at it’s Parks and Resorts you will see a downturn in quality, and a less unique experience (which is ironic since the point of the program is to provide guests with a custom and unique experience in itself).  But that’s just my two cents on the subject of lay-offs!

Before I give the Disney 5, as posted on their website Babble, I’ll provide you with my final thoughts.

The jury is out for me on the NextGen project.  I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the experience, and want to gather additional information and hear from those who have been privy to using bits of it already.

  • FastPass+:  I have friends who tried out FastPass+ and hated it, but see reports that others love being able to plan their days so far in advance.  My feelings on FastPass+ are mixed.  I like having a level playing field, and I feel that giving guests the ability to pre-schedule their usage of the FastPasses at the Parks can provide an unfair advantage to those who don’t have the same kind of access to computers or time to spend planning such a detailed agenda.  Plus, of the people I know who used the program almost all of them said they used only 1 or 2 of their scheduled FastPasses, which means more FastPasses going to waste.  But, I’m also a planner and I’m eager to give it a whirl when the opportunity presents itself.
  • PhotoPass+:  If Disney Travel and Disney PhotoPass can learn to communicate with one another this could be a great thing.   However, my experience has been that there is no communication between the two parties, leaving the guest and the travel agent to deal with the issues alone.  When I was there in November, we had a serious issue with our PhotoPass+ lanyards not being at the resort when we checked in.  Since you can purchase the package ahead of time with a minimum of 14 days notice through Disney PhotoPass, but can have it added to your vacation package with only 3 days notice through Disney Travel there seemed to be vast confusion among desk cast members, and PhotoPass kiosk cast members.  If the communication issues are sorted out I will happily put my endorsement on PhotoPass+, even though I’m curious why they launched the lanyards only to phase them out to become part of the bracelet…
  • My Disney Experience App & Website:  When I used this for my trip it was basically just a map with attraction information.  They had yet to launch the ability to make dining reservations, notes, etc. within the app, so it just took up space on my phone.  However, since then it has been fleshed out a bit more.  I have clients who just used it this past week and I’m curious to hear their thoughts.  The problem I foresee as a Travel Agent comes with making dining reservations for my clients.  In the past I have been able to make reservations for them using my personal log-in information but their information for the actual reservation.  Now I will need to be able to essentially share their My Disney Experience account with them in order to make the reservations.  So, only time will tell on this one.
  • MagicBandMagicBands:  Like I stated above, I’m not crazy about having to wear a bracelet.  I can’t stand those rubber ones that are so popular these days, they make my wrist itch.  So, a lot of it will depend on how they are constructed.  I’m certainly not a fan of how they look in the pictures that were released today though!  But, I do like the idea of having all of my information together in one place, and not having to worry about keeping up with my Key to the World card, FastPasses, PhotoPass card, etc.  I’m willing to give it a try!

 

What are your thoughts?  What has your wristband experience been like at other resorts?  Do you like the idea of having all of your various cards rolled into one device?  Leave a comment below or send me an email!

Now that you’ve heard my take on the new Magic+ or NextGen project, here is the information Disney wants you know straight from the mouse’s mouth!

Shared via Babble, courtesy of Disney

Disney’s MyMagic+: 5 Things You Need to Know

Quiet mutterings about the Walt Disney Company’s “Next Generation Experience,” known among mouse-eared circles as the “NextGen” project, have been going on since 2010, when word on the street had it that more than $1 billion – roughly the cost of building twoDisney Cruise Line ships – had been committed to… something. Something very hush hush, but obviously cool and magical.

Further whisperings pointed to a major technology initiative aimed at radically transforming the way guests enjoy access to the parks while in the parks, leading enthusiasts to believe that radio-frequency identification – like that used in wireless devices – would be used in wristbands.

And they were right.

Meet MyMagic+.

 

Called a “more immersive, more seamless and more personal experience for each and every guest who spends time with us,” by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman, Tom Staggs, MyMagic+ technology will be rolled out in phases over the next several months.

What you need to know:

  1. MyMagic+ is all about letting guests better customize their vacation at Walt Disney World.
  2. MagicBands, as the wristbands are officially called, will be your room key, theme park ticket, PhotoPass card, and optional payment account. They will also provide FastPass+ access. Don’t lose it.
  3. Guests staying on-property at Walt Disney World Resort hotels and Annual Passholders, plus guests who purchase a photography package will get a MagicBand.
  4. Guests who stay at off property at non-Disney hotels will get a ticket with touch features that will provide park entry, allow for redeeming FastPass+, and touch to pay. Purchasing a MagicBand and participation in the “My Disney Experience” is optional for these guests.
  5. A smartphone app called “My Disney Experience,” is the major component of MyMagic+. Accessing it will let guests make plans – think dining reservations, booking experiences, choosing FastPasses, getting the latest Walt Disney World Resort news – before and during their stay. That means you can be spontaneous or plan ahead.

“We know that some people like to plan every aspect of their Disney vacation in advance while others like to plan very little, letting their day unfold spontaneously. No matter where guests fall in that spectrum, ‘My Disney Experience’ gives them the flexibility to plan as much or as little as they’d like to create the exact Disney experience they want,” Staggs says.

Sounds promising.

Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel   3 comments

I stumbled upon an expertly written post about the dangers of working with mega-sites such as Expedia.com to book your travel.  This article is in particularly interesting, as it is written from the point of view of a boutique hotel owner, who has suffered severely under Expedia.

As a travel agent, I always encourage my clients to book with a reputable travel agent.  I understand that price is an issue, and sometimes you will find a price on a site such as expedia.com or hotels.com that is lower than what an agent is quoting you, but you really have to take the time to explore why the pricing is different.  The public needs to understand that travel is not a discount business.  Suppliers will offer discounts and specials based on their own corporate strategy, but you have to know when and where to look.  Travel Agents are not magicians, we are just here to do the research for you, and keep you in the loop of what is currently available.

The dangers of working with these travel mega-sites is that there is no one to answer your questions, deal with your problems, etc.  You can call a 1-800 customer service number and be passed from person to person to person without ever getting an actual answer to your question or resolution to your problem, if you can even talk to a person at all!  These companies do not operate in order to provide customer service.  They operate in order to take a commission cut from the supplier itself, the customer means little to them.  In fact, they can get away with offering basically nothing in the way of customer support because they can blame any issue on the hotel supplier and take none of the blame for themselves.

Okay, off my soapbox for now…  Anyway, please take the time to read the article linked here.  It is definitely worth the time, and will hopefully offer some insight into the real world of online travel mega-sites.
Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel by Luna Blue’s Playazone.

Happy Travels!

Lin

Top 5 Adult Hideaways at WDW – Compliments on Living in a Grown Up World!   Leave a comment

Earlier this week Catie Hiltz over at Living in a Grown Up World posted a great story on her top 5 adult hideaways at Walt Disney World. Take a look!

Living in a grown up World

 

Walt Disney World is typically known as a ‘family’ vacation spot, for families with kids to come and enjoy the rides, characters, and atmosphere. And while this is true, I believe that adults can have an amazing time at WDW too, and that is the main purpose of this blog, is to help people understand and appreciate WDW as an adult vacation spot, as there are plenty of places to go and things to do for those of us without curfews or naptimes!

 

Here are my top five picks for “Adult Hideaways” at Walt Disney World:

 

1. Victoria Falls Lounge – This bar is located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort, and it’s upstairs from the popular restaurant Boma (one of my personal favorites!), so while you sip a drink you can look down on the restaurant or outside at the savannah. They offer some unique and delicious…

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Be Our Guest Restaurant Review!   5 comments

Dining at Disney Parks is one of the things I most look forward to when planning my trips.  I love to try new restaurants, menu items, and experiences!  I find that the restaurants throughout the Disney Parks are all works of Imagineering and Culinary magic, and thrill in inspecting the small details that go into the creation of these unique venues.  When Disney announced that they would be opening Be Our Guest in time for the Thanksgiving week crowds I did a Snoopy-style happy dance, and then made sure I was up at dawn to make that reservation.  After over an hour on hold I snagged an early seating for Tuesday, November 20th.

So, to borrow a bit from Lumiere, It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that I welcome you tonight!  I invite you to relax and pull up a chair as I proudly present…my Be Our Guest Restaurant Review!

Entrance sign near check-in station.

Entrance sign near check-in station.


We arrived early for our 4:50 reservation, and were not seated until just after 5; not bad for the second official day of opening.  The entrance to the restaurant is down a path and through a large wrought iron gate, you literally feel like you are in the movie.  The huge double doors into the castle are equally as impressive, and when you enter it takes your breath away.  Beyond gorgeous.   Huge murals, heavy tapestries, soft music, I could go on and on.  It is simply stunning.  We were escorted through the Ballroom to dine in the West Wing.   Walking through the Ballroom the primary thing I noticed was how loud the room was.  The height of the ceilings cause all noise to just rise and hang in the air, and with few tapestries to absorb the sound it just echoed off the walls and windows.  This does not match the ambiance they are going for, which is sad, and something I hope they can figure out.  The snow falling behind the windows is breath-taking, and the color pallette of soft golds and whites, crystal chandeliers and marble floor truly reflect the ballroom of the film.

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The Ballroom

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Is it wrong that I wish Stitch was hidden in this gorgeous chandelier?

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View of Belle’s Cottage from the Be Our Guest Restaurant path.

Entrance to the Beast's Castle.

Entrance to the Beast’s Castle.

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Close up of the mural above the entrance doors.

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Lobby Mural

When we entered into the West Wing the volume diminished significantly, which was quite nice.  The atmosphere was much more intimate, as the dining room is significantly smaller.  It was interesting to note that most of the families seated in the West Wing had small children.  I don’t know if this was intentional, but the families dining in the Ballroom were much more varied in age.  The West Wing was decorated in shades of deep blue, purple and grey, with torn tapestries, gargoyles, less elaborate chandeliers and of course, the balcony with the enchanted rose, and the music was often interrupted by the sound of thunder.  The portrait of the Prince that hung above the fireplace would change to that of Beast during a particular crescendo in the thunder.  It was pretty neat.  However, my son was not too happy about the repetitive thunder, and would cover his ears each time it occurred.  He was quite taken with the rose though and wanted to stand at the balcony rail to look at it pretty much our entire dinner.   The lighting in the West Wing was quite low, and made it difficult to get quality photos, for which I apologize.

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Portrait as Beast.

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Torn tapestries and incredible woodwork on the ceiling.

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The Enchanted Rose.

Our table was simply decorated with red napkins folded into roses, and simple china.  My little guy was quite impressed with the napkins.  The menus are lovely with an embossed rose on the front cover.  Our party of five ordered quite a sampling from the menu.  For appetizers my mother and I chose the French Onion soup, which our waiter told us was a specialty of the house.  It was quite good, with an adequate amount of cheese, although after the soup I was hardly hungry for my meal.  My dad chose the plate of assorted cured meat & sausages and shared it with all of us.  It was very good, however our waiter did not tell us what each one of the samplings was, which left us guessing at several of them.  My husband chose the garden salad, and was not really impressed.  The lettuce was crisp but there was nothing in it to make it special.

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Rose napkins

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Look at all that deliciously browned, bubbly cheese!

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Assorted meats and sausages served with baguette, onions and cornichons.

I was most excited about our entrees, and anxious to try a few different things.  For my entree I chose the Pan-Seared Salmon on Leek Fondue, served with Saffron-crusted Potatoes.  My husband chose the Sauteed Shrimp & Scallops.  My mom picked the Grilled Strip Steak, served with Pommes Frites, and I cannot for the life of me remember what my dad ordered.   My little guy chose the macaroni noodles with marinara sauce.  When our food arrive we were all anxious to dig in, and I am sad to say we were just as quickly disappointed.  My mom’s steak was covered in a sort of peppercorn crusting, which she found very, very spicy for her palette   My salmon was not very flavorful at all, although I thought the potatoes were alright, and my poor husband discovered that the “seasonal vegetables” in his shrimp and scallops consisted of mushrooms.  He is allergic to mushrooms, and never in my life have a heard them referred to as seasonal vegetables, so we were a bit shocked by that.  We wound up trading food with me eating the shrimp and scallops, my mom eating the salmon and my husband ate the steak.  He found quite a bit of fat in the steak and said the texture was pretty tough.  He also agreed with my mom that the pepper flavor was a bit much.  My mom prefered the salmon to the steak, but agreed with me that the flavor was pretty weak.  I, on the other hand, loved the shrimp and scallops and devoured the entire thing even though I wasn’t hungry.  My little boy fell asleep waiting for his macaroni and wound up eating it the next day at our resort.  My dad rarely meets a food he doesn’t like…

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Pan-seared Salmon on Leek Fondue
served with Creamy Saffron-crushed Potatoes 20.99

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Sautéed Shrimp and Scallops
with Seasonal Vegetables served in Puff Pastry
with a Creamy Lobster Sauce 22.99

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This little guy was almost out…

We decided to skip dessert, as we were stuffed, and to tell the truth the cart of mini desserts didn’t really appeal to us.  Plus, by this time my little dude was pretty much done.  We did try to “try the grey stuff” and were told that that had been discontinued by the chefs.  Sad day.

Periodically throughout dinner the narrators voice comes on announcing that the “Master of the House” is making his way through the castle and will be seeing guests in the library following their dinner.  Then the Beast pops into the room, bows and leaves.  It happens so fast it is near impossible to get a photo of him.  So, after dinner we headed to the Beast’s Library to take a picture with him, which was a nice way to end the meal.  The photo is on my photopass card, so I will post it when the card comes in.  But, in the meantime here is a photo of the hallway where you exit the library.

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The suites of armor talk, snore, etc., and the screens have the story of Beauty & the Beast on them.

My husband and I also ventured into the dining room that is used for lunch and snapped a few pictures.  It is a cute room, but definitely nowhere near the themeing or detail of the Ballroom or the West Wing.  It reminds me a bit of the main dining area of Tony’s Town Square.

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Twirling centerpiece of the dining room.

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Chandelier

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Tiled roses on the floor.

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The walls are decorated with pictures of characters from Beauty & the Beast.

Overall, we were both pleased and disappointed in Be Our Guest Restaurant.  I was so excited to dine here, and don’t feel that it quite reached the mark.  However, I will happily try it again.  The decor enough is worth another visit, and I would like to try a couple of other items on the menu.  I would also love to take better photographs!

The entire menu can be viewed by clicking here.  In addition you can also find many official Disney photos of the restaurant and food on that page.

I hope you found my review helpful, and I look forward to your own thoughts on Be Our Guest restaurant!

New Fantasyland Now Open at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!   Leave a comment

Today is the Grand Opening of the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom Park history – New Fantasyland!

I had the opportunity to be present for the previews over Thanksgiving, and I fell in love.  Be Our Guest Restaurant was gorgeous, Lefou’s Brew at Gaston’s Tavern was delicious, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid is definitely a new favorite!

Visit www.RevealFantasyland.com to learn all about the wonders of New Fantasyland and help break the curse that has kept this magical land hidden for all these years.

The Opening Festivites!

The Enchanted Rose is located in the West Wing of Be Our Guest Restaurant.

LeFou’s Brew @ Gaston’s Tavern. DELICIOUS!

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort Review & Video Tour   Leave a comment

I have to admit that I am very excited to have created this short photo montage video of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge!  I have been meaning to create a few of these for a while and I finally sat down and got one knocked out!  Now, on with the review.

We had the opportunity to stay at Wilderness Lodge last year for Christmas, and we fell in love with the resort.  The lodge feel is so homey, and the color palette is rich, warm and inviting.  We stayed in a standard view room, and lucked out with a window view of Bay Lake where we could watch the Water Parade from our window.  We were also right outside the Smores making location, which was all my 2 year old cared about!

The room was well-equipped with two queen beds, flat screen television, coffee maker, more than adequate closet, dual vanities, nice bathtub/shower combo, and patio with two chairs and a small table.  We really enjoyed sitting out on the patio while our son napped in the afternoons!

The lobby area features comfortable arm chairs, rocking chairs, fireplace, and plenty to look at, including a few railroad pieces, a large totem pole outside the Merchantile shop, Whispering Canyon Cafe and more.  It is a vast lobby!  Since we were there at Christmas they also had the Christmas Tree set up, which is certainly a sight to behold!

Enjoy the video, and feel free to comment with any questions or comments!

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