Monday, December 9, 2013

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

 We had a chance to visit one of our favorite holiday experiences at WDW last night, The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  This is an amazing display of Christmas lights and decorations located at an area of the park known as The Streets of America. This should not be missed if you are visiting during the Holiday Season.
 The history of the display is very interesting.  A business man from Arkansas, Jennings Osborne,  had his daughter ask him one year if he would decorate their house with lights for Christmas.  What started out as 1000 lights over the years turned into a display of 3 million.  Eventually neighbors complained and a law suite was brought going all the way to the Arkansas State Supreme Court who ordered the lights be removed.  This is were Disney stepped and in 1995 brought the display to WDW eventually adding more lights and more effects.
Today the display is known as the "Dancing Lights" as they are choreographed to "dance" when a song is played.  After the performance the lights remain steady for about 6-7 minutes before "dancing" again.
Some of the songs the lights "dance" to include: Jingle Bells by Barbra Streisand, Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano and Parade of the Wooden Soldiers by the Boston Pops Orchestra.  Adding to an already magical display are "snow" machines on top of the roofs of the buildings which bring flurries to the heart of Central Florida.  If you are planning on catching The Osborne Lights we suggest arriving about an hour before Sundown (the show starts around 6:30) and finding a spot towards the middle of The Streets of America so you can experience all the lights.  Enjoy and Merry Christmas!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World Resort

With Thanksgiving only a few days away we thought we would list our five favorite places on Disney Property to experience Thanksgiving Dinner.

5.  Mickey's Backyard Thanksgiving Feast at Mickey's Backyard BBQ Show located at the Fort Wilderness Pavilion.  There will be four show times:  noon, 2, 4 and 6pm.  Traditional Thanksgiving food is offered including Turkey, Ham, Cornbread Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes and Pumpkin Pie for dessert.  This is a great, casual (outside dinning, plastic plates) dinning experience for the whole family.

4.  Le Cellier Steakhouse (Canada Pavilion Epcot):  Many of the World Showcase restaurants at Epcot will be serving Thanksgiving dinner.  Our favorite is Le Cellier Steakhouse, modeled after a wine cellar the restaurant has no windows but the ambient lighting, stone arches and beam ceilings create an intimate atmosphere.  This is one of the most romantic restaurants at Epcot.

3.  50's Primetime Cafe (Disney's Hollywood Studios):  for an old fashioned Thanksgiving we recommend the 50's Primetime Cafe where you will be served traditional Thanksgiving fare in the comfort of a kitschy 50's kitchen.  The menu is a la carte and includes, carved roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing, seasonal vegetables,  and a pumpkin torte for dessert.

2.  Fulton's Crab House (Downtown Disney):  this award winning restaurant set in a replica of an old fashioned riverboat with nautical themed rooms is one of our favorite places to eat in all of WDW.  With its beautiful decor and great service Fulton's is an exceptional experience for Thanksgiving.  Some of the offerings include: herb roasted turkey breast, brown butter mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and for dessert classic pumpkin pie.

1.  Liberty Tree Tavern (Magic Kingdom):  What better way to spend Thanksgiving Day with your family than at the Magic Kingdom.  Our suggestion (priority seating arrangements are highly suggested) is Liberty Tree Tavern located in Frontierland.  With its wood paneling, brick fireplaces and candelabra chandeliers the Liberty Tree Tavern has the perfect atmosphere for Thanksgiving lunch or dinner.  Each of the 6 rooms commemorates an important figure in the history of our country including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross.  Expect traditional Thanksgiving offerings.

Thanksgiving is a very busy day at Walt Disney World some suggestions would be to arrive at the parks early, check opening hours as they do change, if you are planning on eating Thanksgiving Dinner make a priority seating arrangement in advance, eat at off hours as they tend to be less busy, and take advantage of the Fast Pass system to minimize wait times for attractions.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Magical Moments: Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party

Once you’ve witnessed a fireworks display at Disney, all else somehow pales in comparison.  Maybe it’s the fireworks themselves.  Or perhaps it’s the synchronization of spectacular visual effects with the audio stylings of timeless Disney characters and songs such as “Wishes” as to relay an emotionally engaging story.  Either way, it is difficult to imagine a way to make one of these shows more amazing or awe inspiring; unless you are a chocoholic!
The Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party allows you to watch Wishes while treating yourself to a wide assortment of delectable sweets such as pastries, cookies, chocolate covered strawberries, and tarts.  Imagine mouthwatering taste of chocolate covered strawberries exploding in concert with those fireworks just behind Cinderella Castle.  All enjoyed with an unobstructed view of Cinderella Castle as you sit in the covered patio.  To be honest, since the “party” begins about an hour before the fireworks, you may be too full to move from the seat once the fireworks spectacular begins; so the unobstructed view is a definite bonus as you comfortably rest in your prime viewing area.
Sound simply amazing?  You can enjoy it for an approximate cost of $22-$26 for guests over 10 years of age, and $12-$14 for guests ages 3 – 9, depending on time of year.  Please note this is above the cost of park admission; and completely worth it!  And, be sure to book at least 180 days in advance, or your best bet will be to stand on Main Street while eating Mickey Ears. 
Have you attended this event?  If so, we would like to hear your impressions of the experience in the comments below!   

Monday, September 30, 2013

Magical Moments: Dapper Dans

For many people, the name “Dapper Dan” might conjure memories of George Clooney speaking about his hair tonic of choice in Oh Brother Where Art Thou?  But for the true Disney fanatic, the Dapper Dans offer a refreshing melodic detour from the normally hectic pace many adopt in the Magic Kingdom.  Their performance features a nice mix of 4-part harmonies, humor, and the Deagan Organ Chimes which highlights Disney’s penchant for nostalgia, and detail.
If you would like to see them live, you’ll have your chance nine times daily on Main Street USA.  The best, and perhaps most memorable locations and times would be near the Harmony Barber Shop , or at 5:00 in the evening when they accompany the Magic Kingdom Color Guard for the Flag Retreat Ceremony.  Or, you could catch them here – at least until you can make it to Main Street USA.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Attractions: Walt Disney World Railroad

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the thought of Walt’s 1/8-scale, steam powered train known as the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.  I can’t fully grasp how completely neat it would be to have such an attraction in my own backyard.  Now, consider the images that appear in the mind of the conductor as he steams ahead through the detailed, backyard scenery.  What stories were being conjured up for his own amusement?  Or perhaps what stories would he tell his daughters and grandchildren later?  Remember, above all, Walt was a master storyteller. 
So, instead of providing a review of the Walt Disney World Railroad – which may be all too reminiscent of any other review you may find on the web, complete with details of the steam engine, facts about the track length, and a recounting of how this was intended to serve as a “Coming Attractions” for the park-as-movie scenario – I would like to use this as a journey into the youthful, storytelling mind of Walt himself.
Let’s not forget that Walt had a penchant for nostalgia.  His positive outlook shed a fond light on memories and interpretations of his childhood home, boyhood hero, family, and even trains.  This is obvious as we stroll down Main Street USA, view Carousel of Progress or Hall of Presidents, explore Tom Sawyer Island, and even as we take passage on the Walt Disney World Railroad.  I believe this sense of nostalgia continued to permeate the Disney culture decades after Walt’s passing.  This sense of nostalgia, coupled with the same adventurous spirit which lead Walt himself to join the Red Cross, move to California, and travel extensively through his life, are not only present, but tangible as we travel on the railway.  In fact, I argue that the Walt Disney Railroad is the epitome of Disney Magic – because it may be the one thing in WDW that allows us to connect directly to Walt; and perhaps travel through his mind as he formulated stories while journeying on the Carolwood Pacific.
Through the thickness of the trees, from reality into fantasy; you’ll steam ahead from present to past.  You’ll make your way past the Gold Dust Saloon.  The Dry Goods store a recent victim of flash floods from one nearby mountain, and nearly missed by runaway mine cars from another. 
Deeper still into the wilderness, a gentle calm as a settler looks out at the float from the end of his fishing pole, slowly bob up and down in the easy river.  The lazy drag on his pipe, almost as long as the afternoon.  Could this be an elder Tom Sawyer gazing just across the water to a memory of his boyhood adventures?
Perhaps thinking fondly on his old friend Huck Finn and their run-in with Injun Joe.  And what of Injun Joe and his heritage?  Moving into lands little before explored, we find Native American settlements.  Peaceful and prosperous.

Suddenly, time and age speeds along.  We find ourselves at a station where we can disembark to explore the fancy of a circus – we hear it features a flying elephant, and the Great Goofini.  Is this a sign of the future? 
A place where vehicles rush along a speedway, or a world where space flight is common?  Perhaps.  A glimpse into this future lasts only a moment before the thick braches suggest that it is alas time to move from fantasy back to reality.  And we pull into a glorious station overlooking a simple, bustling all-American street; but just over the horizon from fantasy.
So, next time you enter the gates of the Magic Kingdom, don’t be in such a hurry to get to the high profile attractions like Space Mountain that you fail to experience a real magical moment.  Instead, take a 1.5 mile journey through the stories and imagine its genesis on the rails of the Carolwood Pacific. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Magical Moments: Scenic Interludes (EPCOT)

     Details.  If you’ve read past posts on this site, you know this is one of the top reasons we love Disney so much.  Sure, those details can be found in attractions, queues, resorts, and restaurants, but it is also found in the backdrop to the parks themselves.  This is one reason why making your way from one attraction to the next is almost (yep, I said it) as enjoyable as the attractions themselves.  Take a moment and think about it.  The scenic backdrop in each park does more to set the atmosphere and shape the tone than we realize, and certainly more than any other amusement park or theme park around.  Thus, the magic found in the notion that "everything speaks".  So, with that in mind, we would like to take a moment and celebrate some of Disney’s Scenic Interludes.  This week's focus - EPCOT.

Canada Pavilion

France Pavilion

A Look into Future World

World Showcase

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Magical Moments - Doing Disney with Special Needs Children

There comes a time in life when you stop and realize just how blessed you are.  Although such moments come easily when standing on Main Street while gazing at Cinderella Castle in the background, they also come when you pause a moment and look around you – wherever you are.  The blessings of family, kids and friends are a special kind of magic that even Disney can’t reproduce. 
Such is the case today as I pause to ponder how special I am to have friends like Jennifer and Jeb who also share our Disney passion.  Moreover, their three beautiful children allow us to view the Disney parks in a slightly different way – but I’ll let Jennifer tell you more about that…
Hi, I'm Jennifer. Wife of Jeb. Mom of Caden, 7, John Luke, 5, and Ella Kate, 3. I was raised to love Jesus, cheer for Alabama, and go to Disney. When my husband and I got married, I was able to bring him over to "the dark side." It really is more fun and magical over here. He even agrees wholeheartedly now.
Having a child with disabilities can be tough. Disney does their part to make your vacation just that...a vacation. Going out of town with a special needs child can be unnerving at best. At Disney, they try to accommodate every need you may have. There are many different types of special needs and each one affects families in different ways. Disney addresses frequently asked questions on their website. While every special need is not the same, I can tell you our experience.
We have been blessed and entrusted with a special needs child. Our family has always been a big fans of Disney. We like to go a couple of times a year, and having a deaf daughter wasn't going to change that. Ella Kate is 3 years old with bilateral cochlear implants. She also has some sensory processing issues causing her to have more trouble than a regular child being still and not running off into the masses.
Taking small children on vacation can be quite the feat. Taking a child with disabilities on vacation adds a whole new level of needing to be prepared and organized to the mix. While Disney can't follow us around making sure we don't lose one of Ella Kate's "ears," ensure they don't get wet, or we don't lose her AND her ears they do all they can to make our vacation easier.
When we first get to Disney we visit the guest relations building at the first park to which we go. There are a few different cards they issue, but we typically get the "Guests can use an alternate entrance where available" card. This card is somewhat like a fast pass. For any rides Ella Kate would be able to ride, we are all granted access to the Fast Pass lane (or to use the exit as an entrance).
photo courtesy of

If you have young children, you can also use their stroller as a wheel chair. This allows you to either take their stroller on the ride, or go into the wheelchair lane and transfer them to the wheelchair ride vehicle. We have only used this one time. It was before Ella Kate was walking. Now she walks fine, so we don't use the wheelchair access.
Photo curtosey of without a care in the world

I, personally, have been hesitant to take our little family to different places because it's hard to navigate with a special needs child. Disney goes above and beyond for munchkins with special needs (and I'm sure for adults as well...I just have experience with my little princess). There was even a time we had forgotten to bring back up rechargeable batteries, so the Disney Vacation Club representative in EPCOT used his computer area to plug our batteries in and charge them for us.
We are so thankful for Disney and the special little perks we get when we go on vacation.
Ella Kate is able to have all the fun she could imagine. She works HARD all day every day to hear, understand, and respond to everything. Disney has given us a gift by giving us a "vacation" from the daily struggles of Special Needs.

When going to Disney, we really are able to leave our troubles behind, and that, is PRICELESS.

If you're interested in reading more about our journey, I blog at I don't get over there as often as I'd like, but I still try to chronicle our journey through life. I'd also be happy to answer any questions you may have. If you have a special needs child and were trying to decide whether a Disney vacation was right for you, I hope this has encouraged you to give it a try! You will cherish the memories, I promise.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dining - Le Cellier

            Just beneath the Chateau at the Canada Pavilion of the EPCOT World Showcase, you will find one of the best restaurants on property at the WDW parks.  Offering a stark contrast to the colorful beauty of the landscape adorning the outside of the pavilion, Le Celleir – or “the cellar” – offers a cavernous, almost dungeonous feel that resembles medieval castle with subtle hints of colonial tavern.  It’s almost as if a lord or a lady would be equally as appropriate as a colonial patron entering the chambers to dine.  Whether a lord, lady, or a colonial patron, the warm glow of simulated candlelight reflecting softly off the stone arches in the room establishes a cozy, comfortable, and inviting ambiance for a memorable meal.

After numerous visits, I cannot find any menu item unworthy of a try.   However, my favorite meal consists of Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, “Le Cellier” Mushroom Filet Mignon, Creamed Spinach, and Maple Crème Brulee.  And, though the meal I’ve suggested above is highly delectable, I still maintain that the pretzel bread offered during the meal may rival the crème brulee as far as taste.  Fantastic indeed!    
Le Cellier does accept the Disney Dining Plan and will require 2 Table Service Credits.  Likewise, Tables in Wonderland is also accepted for Florida residents and Annual Pass holders.  Lunch or dinner, the menu is the same, so you have ample opportunity to enjoy this delightful location.
Want to try something at home?  How about the Crème Brulee?
2 3/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
9 egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons maple extract
12 teaspoons sugar for caramelized topping
6 ginger-flavored cookies
1.      Preheat oven to 325°F.
2.      Place six 3/4-cup custard cups in large roasting pan.
3.      Combine cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
4.      Slowly bring mixture to a simmer and whisk continually until the sugar is dissolved. Then, stir every few minutes once sugar is dissolved.
5.      Once bubbles appear around the edges, remove the mixture from heat.
6.      Whisk together yolks and maple extract in a large bowl.
7.      Slowly add cream mixture to egg yolk mixture while whisking.
8.      Divide into custard cups.
9.      Add hot water into roasting pan until cups are halfway submerged.
10.  Bake approximately 55 minutes, remove from the pan and refrigerate until cool.
11.  Dust each evenly with 2 teaspoons sugar.
12.  Add a caramelized crust.  It may be best to hold the torch a few inches above surface for a few minutes.
Have you tried Le Cellier?  What is your favorite meal?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Magical Moments - Managing Mickey Money

            The bad thing about being married to an accountant / financial planner is that you don’t get to buy every cool thing you see during a trip to WDW, while screaming “I’m rich, I’m rich”.  The good thing, is that you don’t go home to find yourself in debt while looking at a room full of stuff you’ll never use.  In turn, it allows you to pay for more trips to the place you’d rather be – WDW.
But, as one-day ticket prices rise again this year, most of us are left wondering how in the world we can afford to pay for a trip to central Florida without being forced to sell our first-born child.  Let’s face it, Disney will never be cheap.  But, if you – like me – can think of nowhere on earth you would rather be than standing on Main Street USA, then you might be interested in taking some simple advice from an accountant / financial planner who absolutely loves Disney too.
If you want to go to Disney on a budget, my best money saving tip is take CASH.  If you can, pay cash for everything possible; snacks, meals, and most definitely for souvenirs.  Don’t be fooled by the ease of the “Keys to the Kingdom” card when staying at a Disney resort.  Remember, just like the local convenience store, you end up paying for that convenience. 
The convenience of the card is offered in two areas.  First, it charges back to your room.  Second, it is much easier to keep track of one card than a wad of cash while in the parks.  However, like all things Disney, this too comes with a price.  So, let’s talk about possible ways to combat the siren call of convenience.
To make using cash easier, we do two things that you may find useful.  First, we create a budget before we leave our house.  We know exactly how much we plan to spend on tickets, meals, snacks, and souvenirs – and yes we still buy them.  For those of you who just cringed when you read the word budget, think of it this way – a budget doesn’t control you, it is simply a tool that allows you to be the master of your own money.  With complete control over what you spend, you have a level of freedom you never could have otherwise.  Imagine a trip to WDW without worrying about how to pay for it when you got home!  That’s what a budget helps make a reality.    It’s OK to spend the money (if you have it) but know what you plan to spend before you spend it, and stick to the plan.
Once you know your budget, take out cash for the budgeted items and use the envelope system.  Yes, I’ll readily admit that using envelopes to keep or carry cash looks and feels absolutely ridiculous.  But, you’ll be surprised at how quick you get used to it.  Here’s how it works.  Let’s say you have allotted $20 per day for snacks, and $70 for meals.  On top of that, you plan to spend a total of $50 per person for souvenirs for the entire trip.  You can create an envelope to hold the meal cash, an envelope for snack cash, and a souvenir envelope.  Each day, pull the allotted amount from each envelope and carry in your pocket, or in a daily envelope.
For souvenir purchases using the envelope system, you have three options.  You could carry all the souvenir money at all times.  You could designate a souvenir shopping day, which is the only day you plan to shop for souvenirs, and as such is the only day you’ll have the money available.  Or, you could window shop throughout the week, take notes of what you want and where it’s located, and come back later to purchase it with cash.  The option you choose is up to you, but the third option offers the benefit of reducing impulse purchases.  Besides, if you make one day your souvenir day, your children know this in advance and you can take advantage of the parks rather than the shops!  The more you stay out of the shops, the less you spend, and the less you have to hear the screams of “I WANT THIS: from your children (or even your spouse)!  Let’s face it, most gift stores in the parks carry the same thing.  Mouse Gears, for example, is a great souvenir place in Epcot that carries just about everything Main Street has to offer.  And there are many Disney stores in downtown Disney.  It might also be worth remembering that if you are staying on property, you can have the items you purchase delivered at the door as long as it’s purchased 2 days before you leave for no extra cost.  Either way you slice it, the key to the envelope system and the planned budget it supports is that once the money is gone, it’s goneno over spending.
The great thing about using cash is that it reminds you that your money is a limited resource.  Each time you hand over a few dollars, you know you only have so much available to use.  It’s also deeply emotional.  There is something more difficult about handing over a $20 bill than handing over a card to pay the same amount.  Face it, it’s tougher to let someone take away uncle Andrew Jackson than it is to let them hold that blue plastic card with an image of Cinderella Castle for a few moments before returning it to your pocket.  This will cause you to think about spending those few extra dollars on souvenirs you’ll likely never use or look at again.  The benefit of using the envelope system is that you aren’t tempted to dip into a virtual piggy bank, which only puts off the pain of needless debt until later. 
Using cash has not only changed how we enjoy WDW, but it has changed our kids’ behaviors too.  They know not to ask for more money than already allotted.  They also question their own purchasing decisions, which ensures that when they do finally purchase a souvenir, it’s one they really want and will enjoy once we return home. 
You don’t have to be Scrooge McDuck to afford Disney, you simply have to act responsibly.  Doing so will allow you to enjoy your trip to the parks without regretting it once you return home.  And, if you take full control of your money, you can budget your way into another trip next year!
What tips do you have for enjoying Disney on a dime?  Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dining: Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano

As with everything at Disney, telling the story is vital to creating the magical fantasy that make Disney so special.  So much of that story is told in the minute, often subtle details.  As Disney claims, however, “everything speaks”, so – though you may not have known it – even the restaurants have a story to tell.  And, that story sometimes involves a backstory. 

Such is the case with Mama Melrose’s Ristoriante Italiano.  Legend has it that Mama Melrose found her way from a Sicilian village to somewhere beneath the shadow of the Hollywood sign for the same reason so many others have ventured to southern California – in search of stardom.  However, whether for herself or for her starving fellow actors, Mama soon began recreating her father’s Italian recipes.  Before long, she had opened her restaurant in a vacant backlot warehouse.
Regardless of the reason given, this is one Disney guest who is glad Mama left stardom behind for her ultimate recipe for success.  (I couldn’t help adding that pun.)  Located around the corner from MuppetVision 3D, right behind the Streets of America in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this restaurant offers a great variety of Italian dishes that are sure to please even those guests who consider themselves Italian food traditionalists. 
Open for lunch from noon to 3:25pm, and dinner from 3:30 to 10pm, Mama Melrose’s offers a great atmosphere to accompany the fine dining.  As with any other dining location throughout WDW, Mama Melrose’s offers a menu full of fantastic selections.  However, my favorites include the Mama’s Antipasto for two (Italian meats and cheese), Seafood Arrabbiata (shrimp, muscles, calamari, fish, whole wheat pasta), and Chocolate Cannoli Cake (it has Nutella!)   
Worth mentioning is the kids menu.  As many parents may attest, though Disney offers decent meal selections for kids, there are times when the kid’s menus at Disney dining locations seem to be limited to burgers, pizza, and the like.  There are some notable exceptions, however, and Mama Melrose’s is one.  Whole wheat spaghetti and Chicken Parmigiana are wonderfully tasty options that you won’t find in so many of the other locations.  The Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake is a pretty cool treat for kids too.  This chocolate cupcake features spaghetti (frosting), a meatball (chocolate), marinara sauce (strawberry) and cheese (white chocolate) and is surely to elicit a reaction much like the one pictured below.  Needless to say, your kids may find this to be a nice change to some of the meals they may have eaten as well. 
Finally, I suggest that anyone who desires to try this treasure do so by also purchasing the Fantasmic! Dining Package.  This way, you will not only find yourself filled with delicious Italian fare, but will be able to enjoy Fantasmic! in a premier reserved location.  That alone is highly worth it!  
Have you tried Mama Melrose’s?  If so, what are your thoughts?  What are your favorite dishes?