Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Magical Moments - A Disney Christmas for a Future Imagineer

For so many reasons, Christmas is unlike any other season. As I pause for a moment to reflect upon the season, I begin to realize that many of the traditions surrounding Christmas share commonalities with Disney. OK, before you gasp, laugh or balk at that comment, let me assure you that I am not comparing Mickey Mouse to the baby Jesus. Nor am I suggesting that a trip to Orlando is like a pilgrimage to the Holy land. Instead, I am referring to the little nuances of the season itself, along with many of the traditions that we encounter during this time.

The noastalgia that so many Disney fanatics - like us at DLuminations - feel when remembering first visits, favorite trips or long-gone attractions is not unlike the feelings people get when watching reruns of It's a Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Story, while putting up favorite decorations, thinking about the Coca-Cola Santa Claus or rembering past Christmas memories. Even the first visit to see Santa at the local mall is similar to the first photo with Mickey Mouse.

Taking this theme further, I could draw correlations between the overwhelmingly firendly sense of giving that overtakes people during trips to WDW and that experienced around this time of year.

I'm sure, if I tried, I could draw innumerous comparisons between Christmas and a vacation to Walt Disney World, but instead, I will end by asking you to take a journey into your imagination for a moment. Remember back to your childhood. Do you remember how hard it was to sleep on Christmas Eve? The mere thought that Santa would be standing in your home, delivering something special for you was overwhelming. Then, as dawn peeked over the horizon, your feet hit the floor and you sprinted to see what surprise might await you. And, as your eyes gazed upon that one special item, you felt an immeasurable sense of joy, pleasure, grattitude and, well, magic! This, perhaps, is the real comparison to Christmas in Disney. Exciting, memorable and magical. It is a place where your dreams coexist with reality and fantasy. Pure elation.

In honor of this magical feeling of Christmas, we offer to you a very Merry Christmas, and best wishes as we enter into the new year. May that sense of Disney Magic go with you throughout the coming months and may you hold on to that childlike innocence and joy that rests at the heart of Christmas. And, to celebrate that feeling, we share with you a memory that combines Chrsitmas, Disney, dreams, joy and magic - so enjoy this glimpse into a Disney Christmas for a Future Imagineer, and remember to dreams do come true!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Magical Moments - Merry Mickey Christmas

Any time of the year is a magical time for Disney, however, as with the rest of the world that exists outside of that amazing 47 square mile area, the Christmas season seems to bring a little extra magic to the parks.

Before you ask, yes, Christmas is a very busy time for the parks. That, inevitably, translates into crowds. But, before you write off the possibility of visiting WDW during this special season, please allow me to provide a few reasons why you may want to reconsider before passing on this opportunity.

Crowds: As noted above, the crowds are historically heavy during this time of year. However, in my experience, the bulk of the crowds attend between December 19th (the week prior to Christmas) through December 28th. The crowds are the worst on Christmas Day, but start to thin more each subsequent day and usually level out on December 28th. So, When we visit during this season, we usually arrive on Christmas Day and stay until January 2nd. All the Christmas decorations, parades and other related items remain up through this time and the crowds are more than manageable.

Cinderella Castle: I remember the first time I saw the castle in the 1970s. This experience was only surpassed by the first time each of my children saw the castle during their first visits. That is, until we all saw the castle fully coated with Christmas lights. Haven't seen this breathtaking sight? Imagine Cinderella Castle with the glowing frost of ice highlighted by the moon. It's like Santa Claus himself has placed a little bit of the North Pole right in the center of the Magic Kingdom. Still can't imagine what this may look like? OK, in the interest of Disney-like customer service, click this link and enjoy!

Resorts: I love the parks! I know, that goes without saying, but I really do love them. In fact, my enthusiasm for the parks actually takes away from my ability to fully enjoy the resorts at times. Not so at Christmastime! The resorts offer so many unique visual experiences, traveling to each for a quick tour is actually worth scheduling a full day for. Though traditional Christmas decorations adorn several locations, the really unique experiences are the custom designed gingerbread houses. These massive structures feature all the detail customary of Disney creations.

One other neat experience is found in the Grand Floridian. There is something extra special about gazing at the gingerbread house in the lobby while being serenaded with live Christmas music.

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights: Normally a name like this would say everything you would need to know. But, I'm not sure that even a word like "spectacle" really captures or expresses this attraction. Thousands of lights blanketing the Streets of America come to life and dance with the musical accompaniment. This amazing display of Christmas illumination - started by Little Rock., Arkansas native Jennings Osbourne (1944-2011) - is definitely worth your time.

Snow on Main Street: Enough said! OK, maybe I can elaborate a little more. Thanks to Imagineering magic, it snows every night on Main Street. Little flakes of Disney snow float to the ground, adding to the beauty of the Christmas decorations that line the street and buildings.

Christmas Parade: This may be my favorite Disney parade. The cast of normal characters celebrate the season in a way which will arouse your mind both audibly and visually. The neatest part of the parade, in my humble opinion, are the marching toy soldiers whose boots click-clack down the street, as they prepare the way for Santa.

Holiday Wishes: As with Cinderella Castle, this fireworks spectacular has a little extra magic during the season. Sleigh bells hearken in the fireworks as the castle lights go dim. Suddenly, the sky erupts with wonderful shapes and colors. Look for the packages exploding around your head. truly amazing! Huh? You want to see a preview? Well, in the spirit of Christmas, allow me to quote Jiminy Cricket, "Can you hear it? Can you feel it? I say there's something magical in the air...It's the spirit of Christmas."

The Secret of Christmas Vacation at WDW: OK, to be honest, I couldn't resist the opportunity to pay homage to my favorite Christmas time movie starring Chevy Chase. But, as you can probably tell from reading above, there is a secret to navigating WDW during this season. First, enjoy the resorts. Your time will be well spent doing so. Second, the crowds are the heaviest during the week before Christmas and through the 28th of December. As noted above, the crowds are the worst on Christmas Day, but start to thin more each subsequent day and usually level out on December 28th. Catch a seat on Main Street for the Christmas parade, or while watching the lighting of Cinderella Castle, or for Holiday Wishes, then, "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

So, good luck hitting that "Holiday Road" to your Christmas Vacation at Disney. Have a Mickey Christmas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Magical Moments - Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Last week was the start of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, we had the pleasure of attending on Friday night. If you have an opportunity to attend than don't miss it. This is one of the best events of the entire year at WDW.

Magic Kingdom has never looked more beautiful than it does for Christmas. Cinderella Castle is covered with thousands of LED lights giving the impression it is covered with ice. Wreaths, garland, Christmas Trees and life size toy soldiers adorn Main Street USA. With the help of some Disney Magic it even snows on Main Street. It's an incredible sight to behold. Classic Christmas music (Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Perry Como, etc.) is played throughout the park.

Holiday themed shows are held on the Castle Forecourt Stage in front of Cinderella Castle and in Tomorrowland on the Rockettower Plaza Stage. There are character dance party's held in The Diamond Horeshoe with characters from Toy Story and Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe with Goofy, Pluto and Chip n' Dale. Complimentary snacks (cookies, hot cocoa, apple slices, juice, etc.) are give out at designated areas (check the guide map). These are all great but for me the highlights of the party are:

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade- all of your favorite Disney Characters appear dressed in their holiday finest atop Christmas themed floats. The whole parade is choreographed to classic Christmas songs. The parade is performed twice (8:15 & 10:30) and starts in Frontierland and heads to Main Street, the second show is much less crowded.

The Magic, The Memories and You (Holiday Edition)- this is a projection show in which pictures taken of guests that day appear on Cinderella Castle. Words cannot do justice to this show. It is trully amazing the way the images appear on the Castle. At one point the whole castle is made to look as if it is made of gingerbread. This is not to be missed! Main Street USA is a great viewing spot.

Holiday Wishes-Celebrate the Spirit of the Season- The fireworks are choreographed to Christmas music. This is one of the few times in which the parameter fireworks are utilized. Anywhere on Main Street is great for viewing.

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party does require a separate admission but it is worth every penny. Check the official WDW website for dates and prices. The first weeks of the party are usually the less busy, the crowds increase the closer we get to Christmas. You can check out pictures of the party of the D-Luminations Facebook Page. If you do attend we hope you have a great time, and Merry Christmas to everyone!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Magical Moments - 36th Festival of the Masters

As we noted in the last post the Holiday Season is fast approaching. Cast members at WDW are busy preparing the resort for the various holiday celebrations (which we will talk about in future posts) that will take place throughout the season. There is one event coming up that isn't part of the holiday festivities but shouldn't be missed and that is the 36th Festival of the Masters, presented by Michaels, which takes place at Downtown Disney.

Running from November 11-13th the Festival of the Masters is an open air fine arts show (ranked one of the best in the country) featuring more than 150 award winning artists. As you stroll through The Market Place, Pleasure Island and The Westside you can browse one of a kind paintings, photography, sculpture, jewlery and more, or just enjoy the live music, specialty foods and other activities taking place.

The Michaels Design Team will be on hand offering interactive craft experiences including designing your own friendship bracelet, learning how to make a custom frame for your art, and collaborative painting. Twice daily there will be a craft show on the Waterside Stage featuring ideas and tips for the crafter in your family. Times are 11am and 5pm Fri and Sat, and 11am and 4pm on Sunday.

One of my favorite things to do at the festival is to watch the members of the Florida Chalk Artists Association turn over 3000 square feet into a giant canvas. There will be 75 chalk artists participating and it's truly amazing to see the elaborate works of art created. Be sure to check this out in The Market Place.

Admission to the event is free. 11/11 and 11/12 the hours are 10am-5:30pm and 11/13 10am-5pm. The weather this time of year is great with the high in the upper 70's and a very little chance of rain. If you are visiting WDW at this time be sure to check out the Festival of the Masters, we highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Attractions - The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Driving backstage at WDW recently I was able to see the Christmas decorations being prepared so that the parks can start being decorated for the holidays. It's hard to believe it's that time of the year again, but in a few short weeks the holiday festivities will begin all over WDW. One of my favorites and one that starts the earliest is The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, which goes from November 10th to January 7th (there is no performance on 12/8, the park closes at 5). If you have an opportunity to go to WDW make sure this is near the top of your list of things to do.

Jennings and Mitzi Osborne lived in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1986 their daughter asked that their house be decorated with lights for Christmas, which Jennings and Mitzi did, stringing 1000 lights on the house. Every year afterwards the display got bigger and bigger eventually encompassing the two surrounding properties which the Osborne's purchased. By 1993 the display became so big and was visited by so many people some neighbors filed a law suit to end the display, complaining that it had become a nuisance. The case went all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court who ordered the display be taken down permanently in 1995. This is when Disney stepped in and moved the display permanently to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Originally presented on the "Residential Street" in the backlot section, the display is now seen on the "Streets of America". With over 10 miles of lights it is truly a spectacular sight. The lights turn on and off automatically and are choreographed to the music giving the appearance that the lights are dancing to the music. After each performance the lights remain steady for about 10 minutes before the next performance. Some of the selections that the lights "dance" to are; Jingle Bells (Barbra Streisand), Feliz Navidad (Jose Feliciano) and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Andy Williams). Along with the lights and music, "snow" falls during the performances.

Sadly Jennings Osborne passed away earlier this year, but it's nice to know that something he loved so much and put so much effort into continues to bring joy to thousands of people each holiday season. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is not to be missed! Keep in mind that Thanksgiving week and the weeks before and after Christmas are some of the busiest all year long, I try to see the display its opening week or the first weeks of December to avoid the crowds.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Magical Moments - An Update from the Food & Wine Festival

If you're heading to the 15th Annual Food & Wine Festival at Epcot this year you may notice the large crowds gathered in the area between Future World and World Showcase. A popular new exhibit has been created this year, a cranberry bog, built in partnership with Ocean Spray. The display celebrates "the taste, health and heritage of the cranberry" and contains more than 1,500 pounds of cranberries.

If you've never seen a cranberry bog before, and most people haven't, now is your chance. Cranberries do not grow in water, when it is time to harvest them the fields are flooded with water and machines knock the berries off the plants. The cranberries float to the top and are then corralled. The process takes one or two days, but the cranberry bog at Epcot will remain throughout the Food and Wine Festival.

The bog itself is quite beautiful, with the crimson of the cranberries surrounded by the green vines. Actual cranberry farmers (and also WDW cast members) will be standing knee deep in the bog answering any questions guests may have. If the sight of the cranberries whets your appetite, you'll be in luck; samples of Ocean Spray Craisins Dried Cranberries will be given out from a kiosk next to the bog. Make a point to stop by this unique display, you will be glad you did.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Magical Moments - Romantic Disney

Just imagine it, Mickey and Minnie holding hands while they watch the fireworks over Cinderella Castle. That's about as romantic as a cartoon mouse can be; right?

Actually, Walt Disney World offers a number of ways to experience the resort as the center of a romantic getaway that rival those found on the Disney Cruise Line. And, because they are Disney related, these experiences offer uniqueness that is, well, magical.

Now, you may be asking "What might those ways be exactly?". So, for those of you who seek to take a romantic journey through Disney, here we go.

Taking into account all that Disney has to offer in Orlando, I decided it would be best to write this post in a form similar to an itinerary. Consider it my gift to those husbands who are tired of being called unromantic, but don't know anything to do about it beyond ordering flowers.

For the sake of planning, let's say this is a three-day weekend. If you are flying in, remember to take the Disney Magical Express from the airport. Sure, you could get a limo, but for a 33 mile trip, that money will be better spent later.

You will then arrive at your Disney Resort. I recommend Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. "What?", you might exclaim aloud, knowing my aversion for zoos and the like; but yes, I recommend this resort. First, the Grand Floridian was the obvious choice, but we aren't going for obvious; we are going for romantic and unique. Second, this is the most secluded resort on property. Third, it has great subdued colors and decorations. The darker, earthy tones set a mood. And, you will be setup for a nice moment later.

Since you have called ahead and spoken with the Disney Dream Makers (407-WDW-GIFT), your wife will find her very own glass slipper as she opens the door to the room. There are actually many things she could find, however, inside every woman desires to be treated like a princess. So, this weekend, your Cinderella will have her own 5" glass slipper sitting on a pillow of carnations and pearls. The best part is that you have become her Prince Charming.

You may spend the day in the Magic Kingdom, so your Cinderella can admire her castle, but don't overdo it. From here, you might leave the park and hop the monorail for the Grand Floridian Spa & Health Club where your Cinderella will be treated to a deep tissue massage. Unfortunately, the spa will be closed until 2013 for refurbishments. So, you'll take the bus (though slightly less romantic than the monorail) to Saratoga Springs Resort, where she will partake in a personalized firm pressure massage as well as a spa manicure and pedicure.

From there, your evening will end atop the Contemporary Resort, where a meal for two at the California Grill will be an almost perfect end to the day. Once your meal of Seared Rare Tuna or Grilled Pork Tenderloin is finished, you will walk out to the balcony where you will catch a special view of the Wishes fireworks spectacular over her castle.

The next morning, you will attend the Around the World at Epcot Segway Tour. You will be a part of a small group, but this is a very unique way to explore the world showcase before it is open to the general public. It makes for nice photos and it is a fun, memorable activity that will last 2 hours. The remainder of the day can be spent enjoying Epcot. Plan to depart the park in time to catch dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios. A nice meal would be the Cobb Salad (originating from the Brown Derby) or the Duck Two Ways. Sharing the Double Vanilla Bean Creme Brule would be a nice way to finish the meal.

When you make your reservation, be sure to get the Fantasmic Dining Package. This allows you to take advantage of special seating for this wildly popular fireworks show without requiring you to arrive 3 hours early. After Fantasmic finishes, you will return to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and sit together on the Arusha Viewing Area, rocking and talking into the night.

On your last morning, you will wake and attend the Sunrise Safari Breakfast Adventure at 7 am. Apparently, animals are extra cute or mysteriously exotic shortly after dawn. Either way, it is a memorable way to spend the morning. Spend the remainder of the day enjoying the park and the shows - I highly recommend Nemo - before you depart for home.

Have suggestions on other romantic ways to enjoy the parks, let us hear them. Add suggestions in the comments area below, or send a complete post of your own to

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Disney Dining - Victoria and Alberts

The best dining experience that I have ever had in my life was at WDW, I am talking about Victoria and Albert's located at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. If you are looking for a place to celebrate a very special occasion this would be my recommendation. V&A's featured the best food, atmosphere, and service of any restaurant that I have been to, in fact V&A's is the only AAA Five Diamond Award winning restaurant in Central Florida.

The restaurant consists of three dining areas: the Main Dining room, the Queen Victoria Room (a private dining room with space for 8) and the Chef's Table. Entering the foyer you are immediately greeted by the fragrance of fresh cut roses that fill the entrance to the restaurant. We ate in the Main Dining room which consists of 18 tables and seats 60. The room is elegantly decorated with walnut walls and silk drapery that sets the stage for your enchanted evening. Depending on the night entertainment will be provided by a classically trained harpist or vilolin player.

The menu is prepared by Chef Scott Hunnel and changes daily depending on what is fresh in the market place. Featured is seafood, poultry, red meat, veal and lamb. There are also choices of soups, salads and desserts. Our meal consisted of Golden Osetra Caviar, Elk Tenderloin, Grilled Prime Filet, assorted cheeses, and Poached Pear. Dessert was a delicious Kona Chocolate Souffle with a vanilla bean center. All was accompanied by a wine pairing especially selected for the evening. There are over 700 wines on the menu and another 4000 in the wine cellar.

Service is, of course, perfect with a very high ration of cast to guest. All cast memebers at V&A's are incredibly knowledgeable about tastes and ingredients and ask many questions to determine what would be the perfect choice for each guest. At the end of your dining experience you will be presented with a personalized menu with your dinner selection, Ladies will also be presented with a long stem red rose.

A few tips: V&A's does have a dress code, jacets for men and evening attire for women. I would not recommend V&A's for small children, but children under 10 are allowed at the Chef's Table. There are two seatings per evening, 5:45-6:30 and 9:00-9:45, plan on spending at least 2 hours savoring the tastes of this special evening. Victoria and Albert's is consistently rated one of the top restaurants in the country and is perfect for any special celebration you may be planning.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Attractions - Main Street USA

So, you might be thinking "Main Street USA, an attraction? You don't ride it. You don't stand in line for it. Disney doesn't refer to it in 'ticket terms' like 'E-Ticket Attraction'. Why are you counting Main Street USA as an attraction?" The answer, for us, is a simple formula; Attention to Detail + Immersive Experience = Attraction.

Main Street USA is the opening scene in Walt's vision for a park. It is the destination for a nostalgic journey into the idyllic days of yesteryear. A place where memories of what was and what one might imagine was, are blurred just enough to create magic. Though, technically, it is a themed land, it is also every bit of an attraction.

Stepping onto Main Street USA is a magical experience in a very real sense. Looking around to see buildings representative of early 20th-century America, seeing a horse drawn trolley and hearing the music piped in all around you completely immerses you in another time and place. I can't help but feel like Terrence Mann stepping onto the Field of Dreams, surrounded by players like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, waving my hand in front of my face as I hear the crunch of the warning track below my feet; reminding Ray Kinsella that the memories will be so thick, people will have to brush them away from their faces.Much like Terrence Mann's speech in Field of Dreams, guests come in droves and they return to a childlike innocence, longing for the past, and dipping themselves in the magic waters offered in a way that only Disney can provide.

As your feet carry you from the past and toward timeless fantasy, don't allow them to move you too quickly. Take a moment to take in the sights, sounds and smells that blanket you on Main Street USA. Allow the sounds of "Goodbye My Coney Island Baby" and the smell of popcorn take you back to eternal childhood. And as you walk, take in the detail of the buildings around you.

The buildings lining either side of the street not only represent those of the early 20th-century, but they model the design magic of Disney Imagineers. Using a technique called forced perspective makes the buildings look taller than they are. This illusion not only gives the impression that the buildings on Main Street are much taller than they are, but as a result makes Cinderella Castle ever the taller. Forced perspective works by making each story shorter than the one below it.

The buildings also hold, quite literally, windows into Disney history. Take time to note the names on the fictitious businesses. These give nods to those cast members and Imagineers whose contributions have made Disney what it is. From those who designed costumes, and attractions, to songwriters, and even Walt himself; each window tells a part of the Disney story and serves as credits to the Walt Disney World movie line.

Not only are the buildings along Main Street USA a wonder to observe, but they house a myriad of shops, bakeries, restaurants, and even a barber shop - where you may truly take part in a magical moment.

Main Street USA holds a different feel throughout various times of the day. Arriving in the morning, as you are among the first to enter, gives the impression of the dawning of a dream. A mid-afternoon parade is like a perpetual 4th of July or Christmas Day celebration. And lastly, standing on the train station platform and looking out over the street at night, as it is all aglow with 60,000 lights, captures a romantic feel that lies in the heart of all timeless memories.

What is your favorite part of Main Street USA? When is your favorite time to visit this area of the Magic Kingdom? What part brings back the most memories; sights, sounds or smells? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Magical Moments - Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Starting on 9/30 and running until 11/13 is one of my favorite events at WDW, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. During this festival you can sample delicious food and wine from around the world, see some of your favorite singers from the 80's and 90's in concert, and attend special events set up around World Showcase Lagoon. Located in Future World East is the 2011 Food and Wine Festival Welcome Center. Here you can plan your day by picking up your Marketplace Discovery Passport which identifies the food and wine kiosks or "Marketplaces" set up around World Showcase. You can also attend a variety of culinary offerings in the Welcome Center such as cooking demonstrations and book signings.

The theme of this years EIF&WF is "A Passport to a World of Flavors". The festival will feature 25 Marketplaces from which you can purchase sample sized portions. You will be able to try food from places as diverse as Australia, Brazil, Singapore and Ireland as well as many others. This year features three new Marketplaces, Hawaii, Portugal and the Caribbean Islands. The samples range in price from about $3 to $8.

The Eat to the Beat Concert Series is held at the American Gardens Theatre and features three performances each day at 5:15, 6:30 and 7:45. Performers this year include Taylor Dayne, The Pointer Sisters, Air Supply and Richard Marx.

There are a number of Speical Events the take place during the festival as well as some Premium Events, the Premium Events require a seperate admission. Special Events include: The Cranberry Bog Display presented by Ocean Spray, where you can learn about the history, harvesting process and health benefits of cranberries; the Home Entertaining Seminar Hosted by HGTV in which your favorite HGTV stars share creative ideas to entertain at home; Book Signings and Meet & Greets for celebrated authors and personalities from the food and beverage industry; and Bottle Signings by celebrated winemakers.

Premium Events include: Mixology Seminars where an expert demonstrates how to create both trendy and classic cocktails, and serve you the final product ($12 per person); Culinary Demonstrations in which celebrated chef's give tips for working in the kitchen as well as offer delicious samples ($11-$13 per person); Wine & Beverage Seminars where you can learn tips form wine/beverage experts as well as sample some of their offerings; and the Party of the Senses which inludes a reserved seat at the Eat to the Beat concert and then dinner featuring international cuisine. Entertainment for the Party of the Senses is provided by Cirque du Soleil (over $60 per person).

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is a truly unique experience that we highly recommend attending. A few tips: Be sure to stop by the Welcome Center and plan your day. We've mentioned some of the events that take place but there are many more. Find out what events you want to attend and plan accordingly. If you plan on attending one of the Premium Events, buy your tickets in advance. These events are very popular and can sell out. If you want seats close to the stage during the concerts, plan on standing in line at least 30 minutes prior to the show. Finally, relax and enjoy yourself. Do not feel you need to see or sample everything, just take your time and have fun.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Magical Moment - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

Since we are almost through the dog days of summer, we thought it would be a good time to start talking about some upcoming events at WDW.

Starting on Sept. 13th, the Magic Kingdom will begin presenting Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. If you are planning a trip to WDW in Sept. or Oct. be sure to catch this fun event. As the name implies, this Halloween Party can be enjoyed by the whole family. This is the one time when adults can dress up in costume at the Magic Kingdom, which I highly encourage, it only adds to the fun.

The first thing you will notice when you arrive for the party is that MK has been transformed from the Happiest Place on Earth to the Spookiest Place on Earth. The entrance to the park is bathed in mist while the buildings are lit in jues of green, purple and orange. Images of ghosts are projected on the buildings along Main Street USA while Halloween music plays.

(Image of Arden & Christy Beach courtesy of Matt Beach)

The two highlights of the party are, Mickey's Boo to You Parade and Happy HalloWishes Fireworks. The Parade features all your favorite Disney characters (plus a few surprises) in their Halloween costumes on special Halloween themed floats. The fireworks feature the Grim Grinning Ghosts from the Haunted Mansion throwing a party in the skies high above MK with all your favorite Disney Villains.

(Images courtesy of Matt Beach)

The party also features a show on the Castle Forecourt Stage, Disney Villian Mix and Mingle, as well as Halloween Dance Parties with live DJ's. You can also trick or treat around the park collecting candy at designated spots. This is an incredible event and I suggest getting tickets on line prior to attending.

(Image courtesy of Matt Beach)

A few tips: the parade occurs twice (8:15 & 10:30), the second is usually the less busy of the two. Fireworks are at 9:30 and I've found the best place to view them is on Main Street near Casey's Corner. Spots where you can trick or treat are illuminated with a large balloon, the candy is the same at each spot, so there is no searching for the "good stuff". Because there are a limited number of tickets sold for each party there shouldn't be long lines for the attractions. A great time to do some of the most popular attractions is during the first parade. Dates and prices of the event can be found on the official WDW website. If you decide to attend the party we hope you have a great time.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dining - Character Dining

The problem that arises when you attempt to categorize postings is that from time to time something falls into multiple categories. This is the case with character dining. Character dining could be either a Dining experience or a Magical Moment. Either way, it is a must for so many guests.

We received a question on our Facebook page as to which character dining we recommend. Since the answer is not quite as straight forward as the question, we thought a post may help.

There are three main things to consider when planning to attend a character meal:

1. Is the main guest a boy, girl, or is it a mix?

2. What character(s) or types of character(s) are you most interested in?

3. Do you want breakfast or dinner?

Let's take these one at a time. First, it is important to know who is attending the meal. If you are hoping to create a special memory for your son, you may want to attend a meal with Stitch or Mickey Mouse. However, if your daughter is the guest of honor, you may want to consider a princess inspired meal. Either way, all are enjoyable and offer subtle, yet memorable differences.

Second, if you like Winnie the Pooh you have one option, while you have more opportunities to see Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. So, make a decision on who you want to snap photos with while enjoying your meal.

Last, the choice between breakfast and dinner may affect your list of choices. I will say that after attending more character meals than should be allowed, I find with one exception, the quality of the food offered at breakfast surpasses that offered at dinner by far. That said, I highly recommend considering breakfast.

Now that you have considered the big three questions, what are your choices? And, what do you recommend? Well...


1900 Park Fare: Location: Grand Floridian Cuisine: American Characters: Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drisella now appear at dinner nightly Recommendation: The characters are very inviting and may be your only chance to meet Prince Charming. That said, the meal is not very good.

Cinderella's Royal Table: Location: Cinderella Castle Cuisine: American Characters: Cinderella, Fairy Godmother Recommendation: Unlike many character meals, this is NOT a buffet. Dining in the castle is an experience all its own. Not only will you eat in a castle, but you will be treated like royalty as you get the opportunity to pose with Cinderella herself, with the photo package.

Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: Location: Norway Pavilion EPCOT Cuisine: Norwegian Characters: Belle, Aurora, and other Disney Princesses Recommendation: This is my favorite princess meal! You have many opportunities to meet several princesses. Lunch & dinner are also served family style.

The Fab Five:

Chef Mickey's Buffet: Location: Contemporary Cuisine: American Characters: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto Recommendation: Breakfast is much better than dinner at this location!

Donald's Safari Breakfast at Tusker House: Location: Tusker House (Animal Kingdom) Cuisine: American Characters: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto Recommendation: By far my favorite character meal! The food seems better and the interaction with the characters is great. This is a breakfast only meal.

Mickey's Backyard Barbecue: Location: The Settlement at Fort Wilderness Resort Cuisine: American Characters: Mickey Mouse Recommendation: This is held outdoors, so weather is a factor!

Cape May Cafe: Location: Beach Club Cuisine: American Characters: Minnie, Goofy, Donald Recommendation: Characters appear ONLY during breakfast.

Garden Grove: Location: Swan & Dolphin Cuisine: American Characters: Mickey & Friends Recommendation: Characters appear at dinner each day and breakfast on the weekends.

Other Characters:

The Crystal Palace: Location: Magic Kingdom Cuisine: American Characters: Winnie the Pooh and Friends Recommendation: Breakfast is best here. Early reservations also get you into the Magic Kingdom early. This makes for some unique looks at the park without crowds and will lead to wonderful photo opportunities.

1900 Park Fare: Location: Grand Floridian Cuisine: American Characters: Mary Poppins, Alice, the Mad Hatter and friends Recommendation: The characters are available at breakfast each day. Other than a potential sighting in the World Showcase, this may be the best time to meet these characters.

Ohana's Best Friends' Breakfast featuring Lilo and Stitch: Location: Polynesian Resort Cuisine: Polynesian Characters: Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto Recommendation: This is a breakfast only character meal.

Hollywood and Vine: Location: Hollywood Studios Cuisine: American Characters: Agent OSO, Handy Manny, June and Leo (Little Einsteins) Recommendation: Characters appear at breakfast only.

Wonderland Tea Party: Location: Grand Floridian Cuisine: Note Below Characters: Alice, the Mad Hatter Recommendation: Only 25 people are allowed per day to ensure ample interaction between the characters and guests, so make reservations early. Also, this really isn't a meal, but is worth noting simply because it's Alice!

Although you can book reservations while there, it is best to reserve a time 90 days in advance if possible. Simply call (407) WDW-DINE.

Have you tried any of these character meals? Which did you enjoy most? What was your favorite dish?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Attractions - The Art of Plussing (Journey into Imagination)

Several weeks ago, DLuminations began a series of posts focusing on the "plussing" of attractions. In the first post, we took a look at the Enchanted Tiki Room and posed the question as to whether the "plussing" of this attraction was a positive, or a negative. This week, we continue the examination of attractions that have been "plussed", and once again pose the question for you to ponder and answer. This week's attraction of choice - Journey into Imagination.Journey into Imagination is another fan favorite gone astray. This attraction opened in 1983, a year after EPCOT's opening. I remember seeing Figment everywhere and also remember thinking that Disney must be positioning him as the main character of EPCOT. Figment would be the image associated with the brand that was Disney's EPCOT. The character who embodied that spark of imagination that fueled exploratory learning. But, then again, I was only 10, so what did I know?In 1998, Disney decided to retire the Dreamfinder, and gave the job to Dr. Nigel Channing (introduced previously in the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience attraction.) I can imagine how that meeting went down. Eisner and other Disney executives called the Dreamfinder in for a meeting. The Dreamfinder entered the room and noticed Dr. Nigel Channing sitting at the table with them already. Dr. Channing, it seemed, had formulated a different idea of how the attraction should move forward into the next millennium. Suddenly, the Dreamfinder found himself ousted from the attraction that he helped found. In short, it was a Disney version of what happened to Steve Jobs in 1984.

Nevertheless, this change called for a major overhaul of the storyline. It was also at this time that ImageWorks was closed in the upstairs portion of the pavilion.

Once reopened, the attraction was titled, simply, Imagination. Unfortunately, fans were upset (irate maybe a better assessment) to find the Dreamfinder gone and that Figment had been reduced to a very small role. It seemed that this change caused nothing more than one little spark of exacerbation! (I know, but I couldn't resist!)

Finally, in 2001, Disney decided to refurbish the attraction once more and brought Figment back as the star and central character. Though this has appeased many fans, it seems that there are many who will remain discontent until the Dreamfinder returns to his original job. Who knows, the re-emergence of the Dreamfinder may be like Steve Jobs returning to Apple, setting the ship straight again. Once more igniting the creative spark of imagination of all who pass through it's doors in order to produce a long-lasting, and highly desirable product. Though one drawback to that would be an attraction with an actual line or a wait once more.

Until then, maybe we can look forward to the Sequel to Roger Rabbit entitled "Who Framed the Dreamfinder?" It could show in the theater once occupied by Captain EO, or Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. But alas, we must be satisfied with the subtle reference to the Dreamfinder's contributions to EPCOT's early years by seeing the name "Dean Finder" on a door in the Imagination Institute.

Let us know what you think in the comments section below. Do you think this attraction was "plussed" or "subtracted"? Would you change it back to the original version? Would you bring the Dreamfinder back?

Don't remember the original? Watch these two videos to compare:

Journey into Imagination (1983 - 1998):

Journey into Imagination (2001 - present):

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Magical Moments - Hidden Mickeys

I guess any true Disney fan knew it would only be a matter of time before this topic was broached, but try as I might, I can't avoid it. I love Hidden Mickeys! No, I am addicted to them, as are my kids, and we look forward to seeking them out during each visit to the parks. So, here we go...

What? What's that? What are Hidden Mickeys? Well, imagine playing hide-and-go-seek with the leader of the Fab Five himself, Mickey Mouse. A Hidden Mickey is a partial or complete impression of Mickey Mouse placed by Imagineers and artists into attractions, resorts, restaurants and more. According to Disney, it started as something fun and unique by Imagineers. However, there is an "unofficial" story as to the origin of Hidden Mickeys. According to this legend, when EPCOT was in the design phase, Disney held the stance that the characters belonged only in the Magic Kingdom. The Imagineers held a different belief, so they found a way to slip the characters into EPCOT.

Whatever the official story may be, the existence of Hidden Mickeys is real and fun! So, how do I know when I see one? Well, let me first let me note that there is a debate over what an "official" Hidden Mickey is. Some you see are "design Mickeys" while others are "Hidden Mickeys". That aside, my family considers all of them the same. The three-circle silhouette of Mickey's head is the most common. There are also Mickey profiles, full body shapes and even 3-dimensional versions.

In fact, the largest Hidden Mickey could once be seen from the air, but was sadly covered a few years ago. When Disney created Hollywood Studios (MGM Studios back then) Mickey's entire face could be seen in the center of the park. The Great Movie Ride served as the chin. Sadly, this was covered by the addition of the Sorcerer's hat. Here, see if you can find him, go ahead...

Need a little help? OK, now try...

Before the hat covered his nose, before Sunset Blvd. was added, and when the roof of the building on the left was painted like the lower half of a black oval, there he was.

The second largest Hidden Mickey can still be seen from the air, untouched by progress or expansion. Now, where could that be? On special occasions, you may also see another hidden character; my favorite is the Hidden Donald in the chair inside the Haunted Mansion.

OK, so what is so fun about hidden shapes? Well, Disney is notorious for long lines, especially in certain seasons. Looking for these hidden treasures is a great way to pass the time. In fact, you may get so into looking for them, this activity itself may become an attraction of sorts. One year, my wife and I went to Disney alone and spent the entire trip looking for them. It was a blast to find them, snap a photo, and check it off the list. The added bonus is that looking for Hidden Mickeys is absolutely free! Make searching for them a game and see who in your family can find the most. Maybe the winner can get an Ice Cream Sandwich from the Main Street Bakery!

OK, so my interest is piqued, where do I start? There are a number of resources, but I will recommend two specifically.

Hidden Mickeys, 4th Edition: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets by Steven Barrett. This $8 book can be found at any of the parks or at your local bookstore. It provides hints for finding the Hidden Mickeys and is setup in a treasure hunt format.

Steven Barrett's Hidden Mickey Walt Disney World is also available as an iTunes App. Yep, there's an App for that! And, it's worth it. Not only is this less expensive than the book, but it is interactive, and allows you to note and catalog the ones you have found.

If you are anything like us, once you get started, you will start seeing Hidden Mickeys everywhere. My son often finds them at home, in rug designs, billboards, books and more. So, for the real Disney enthusiast, the fun of this activity can last far beyond the days spent inside the parks.

What? You want to know where to find the second largest Hidden Mickey? Are you still thinking about that from a few paragraphs ago? OK, visit Google Earth and locate Walt Disney World. It should take you to the center of the Magic Kingdom. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Now, toggle (technical term) down toward the parking lot. There you go, now, go past it until you see the Disney Raceway, home of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Now, look in the middle of the track. Do you see it? Yep, the lake is shaped like Mickey. There you go, your first one! Now, go find the rest.

Have you looked for Hidden Mickeys? How many have you found? What was your favorite? Do you see them outside the parks? Let us hear about them in the comments section below.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Resorts - Top 10 Reasons to Stay

I'm often asked by people, usually as I am being told they are staying off-site because it is less expensive, why anyone would want to consider staying on-property in a Walt Disney World Resort. Well, if your only concern is price, then maybe a Disney Resort isn't for you. But, if you gauge cost in terms of value, then I believe there is no better value than a Disney resort.

This is the point where people normally respond by saying "Value? What do you mean value? Isn't that simply a way to say 'more expensive'?" Go ahead, you can ask too...OK, I'll tell you. Disney Resorts provide value in that you will get a greater return for your investment. You will get more than what you pay for - so much more!1. Extra Magic Hours: If park admission is $85 a person, and normal park hours are from 9am - 9pm, then you are paying around $7 an hour to attend. Extra Magic Hours allow resort guests to take advantage of additional time in the parks. Depending on the day, you could gain from 1 to 3 hours in a given park. If you park hop, that number could jump to 4 hours. Those Extra Magic Hours factored into the $85 park admission could reduce your hourly rate to $5.30 - $6.50 an hour. That adds up over a week and when you are paying for more than 1 park admission. Moreover, Extra Magic Hours allow you to enjoy the parks with fewer people, because only resort guests are allowed during those times. That is value!

2. Disney Dining Plan: It is no secret that I love to eat! For me, eating is what makes vacation a vacation! Disney restaurants offer so many great themed restaurants, it would be difficult at best to explore their extensive menus without draining your finances. However, the Disney Dining Plan allows you to partake in snacks, walk-up meals (at locations like Cosmic Rays) and full service restaurants. These meals can come with appetizers, a main course, a drink and a desert. All at a reasonable price. Lastly, the plan allows you to remain in the parks to eat. That translates into more time inside the magical walls. And, as noted above for Extra Magic Hours, time directly translates into money. Still not convinced? OK, let me channel my TV salesman personality for a moment; "How much would you pay for this? $500? $300? $100? Act now and we will throw it in for FREE!" Yep, at certain times of the year, Disney has and usually does offer this plan for free to those who choose to book a stay in their resorts. I don't know about you, but I can eat a bit, and doing it for free is more than a value. As a Disney Vacation Club member though, I must pay for the Dining Plan - and still do. After adding it up over the years, I can say that I definitely come out ahead, and you will too.

3. Keys to the Kingdom: I'm not a big fan of carrying around a pocket full of keys, cards, tickets and receipts. When you stay at a Disney Resort, your room key also serves as your ticket and as a charge card. The charges from anywhere in the parks are then billed directly to your room. You can use one card to enter the parks, purchase souvenirs, and return to your room at the end of the day. If convenience stores can charge a premium for convenience, then I will consider this a value.

4. Package Delivery: After so many trips to Walt Disney World, one might think we have purchased just about every souvenir possible. For some reason though, we always tend find a multitude of treasures to ship home. The problem with purchasing souvenirs in the park, however, is that you are forced to carry them around the park with you all day. Trust me when I say that riding Space Mountain while trying to juggle a Big Fig in one arm, a Mickey clock in the other and a porcelain Jiminy Cricket between your knees is not fun. Sure, you could pay for a locker at the front of the park, but you would need to keep returning there after each purchase to unload your treasures. As a resort guest, I never have to worry about this predicament. The store will actually deliver the purchase to my resort room, or to the resort store. Again, convenience = value! Priceless value in my opinion.

5. Pools: As noted in an earlier post, some people just don't consider it a vacation without the ability to spend time in the pool. The Disney detail of the parks has definitely found its way to the resort pools, which offer a unique experience one might think only reserved for in-park attractions.

6. Transportation: As noted in an earlier post, Disney Transportation is not only a savings of money, but of time and hassle. Once again, value!

7. Luggage Check: Check out is normally 11am for most hotels. On our day of departure, we usually like to stay in the parks until late afternoon before we reluctantly return home. We also like to take Disney transportation to do so. So, we often have the resort keep our luggage in storage until we are ready to leave. Great service once again means value.

8. Changing Resorts: There are currently 25 WDW Resorts. These range in price and in amenities, but each offer specialized experiences focused around unique themes. If you travel to Disney once each year, it would take decades to experience each. One solution would be to stay in multiple resorts during your visit. Let's say you plan to stay for 7 nights. 3 could be spent in 1 resort, 2 in another and 2 in yet another. Not only is this possible, but Disney will actually move your luggage for you. Imagine waking up in one resort and going to bed in another, and never worrying about your luggage! What? What's that sound? That's the value train coming full speed ahead!

9. Character Wake-Up Calls: I know that this is 2011 and I can not only set my in-room alarm clock, but can also set my smart phone to wake me up in time to wait impatiently for the parks to open. However, I love good old-fashioned wake-up calls. There is something about having someone else wake me up per my request that makes me feel, well, presidential. So, I take full advantage of them. Alas, technology has also found its way into this service, as pre-recorded messages have taken the place of desk clerks. At Disney Resorts though, your courtesy call could come from Jiminy Cricket, Stitch, Goofy or even Mickey himself. Now, that is cool!

10. Welcome Home: At Disney Resorts, you get the same world class guest service from cast members that you find in the parks. Disney is world famous for providing impeccable service and providing the highest level of personal attention during your stay at their resorts. Disney anticipates guests' needs, allowing for a carefree stay; and it all starts with the simple phrase "Welcome Home" with which you are greeted upon arrival.

So, next time you plan a trip to Disney, we strongly recommend you consider staying in a Disney Resort. In the words of Lumiere, "Be our guest, Be our guest, Put our service to the test..."

What is your favorite thing about staying in a Disney Resort? Feel free to share it with us in the comments section below.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dining - Eat Around the World

As the father of 4 kids, who also likes to visit the Disney parks several times a year, I am often tasked with ways to enjoy the parks in a less expensive, or fresh, new way. Fortunately, like Walt "I believe in being an innovator."

For kids, the World Showcase in EPCOT may be the most challenging area to keep fresh or interesting. For the most part, the World Showcase has few attractions that kids might enjoy (Rio Del Tiempo in Mexico, American Adventure, Malestrom in Norway). And, once you have seen these attractions seven or eight times, as an adult, they hold less of your interest as well. Couple that with the scientific fact that kids are starving to death every fifteen feet or fifteen minutes - whichever comes first - and you have a potentially bad or boring visit on your hands.

So, how "In the World" (yes, I love puns) do you enjoy the World Showcase? Well, one solution often enjoyed by adults is to Drink Around the World. However, I don't personally drink and neither do my young children, so we Eat Around the World.

I realize this may sound a bit taxing on your waist as well as your wallet, however, this tactic for enjoying the World Showcase can not only be fun, but can be easy on your belt and inexpensive. As you work your way around the World Showcase, select one snack item from the gift shops in each pavilion. One snack should be enough in most cases to feed a group of 6 or 7 guests. These snacks are generally inexpensive, and since you are snacking throughout the afternoon (or morning) you will find yourself voluntarily skipping lunch. Though a tad bit less healthy, that should pay for the cost of the snacks.

My family likes to try various treats and, if possible, change the selected treats each time we visit. We then compare our thoughts and determine our favorites from each pavilion or overall. The other hidden benefit is that snacking all day with kids, while walking around, helps keep their interest. This allows you to explore the World Showcase pavilions without hearing "Can we go back to Test Track" every 5 minutes.

Here are some suggestions on snacks to try:

Canada: Double Dutch Waffle Cookies with Syrup Filling. You can thank me in the comments section.

England: Border Crumbles. Nothing quite like a biscuit!
France: Any pastry will do. The cheesecake is my favorite.

Morocco: Marrakesh Sunset. This watermelon flavored Slushie is great.

Japan: Rice Crackers. I generally stay away from dried crabs!The American Adventure: Funnel Cake

Italy: Cannoli. "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." (Couldn't resist.)

Germany: Large, Soft Pretzel.
China: Egg Roll.Norway: Lefse Potato Bread.Mexico: Churros.We would love to hear from you. Have you tried this? What were your favorites? Post replies in the comments section below.