Trip Report - Walt Disney World
Submitted by Michael “DizFanatic” DiMare
Our usual autumn Anniversary getaway took place in late November this year. Unfortunately too late for the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, which I was looking forward to, but gladly not too early to join in the Christmas festivities.
We flew down, this time with our 17 month old daughter, and the boys remained home with our dearest of friends. Taking DisneyAnna’s advice for flying with a small child made flying in both directions a pleasure with our little princess. Yes, we practice what we preach. I must say, however, that I would never recommend flying JetBlue after dealing with, in my opinion, a completely unprofessional flight crew on the return trip. I will not get into the details as I choose not to air negativity on this website; so I’ll leave it at that.
To save some money, we did not rent a car. We utilized Disney’s Magical Express, a free service to and from Orlando International Airport for Disney Resort guests only. We arrived at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa without a hitch. Those of you who are familiar with this resort know that it’s huge expansive grounds can be a challenge to get around if you don’t have a car. However, Disney cast members were happy to drive us, and our luggage, to our room immediately after we checked in. We stayed in a studio villa, which was clean and well appointed. The room was equipped with a queen bed, queen sofa/sleeper, a sink, refrigerator and microwave in the pantry area, a large closet, portable playpen/crib, a table and chairs, tv and DVD player. Our balcony looked out over a playground and across the lake to Downtown Disney. The bus to all of the attractions and a pool were very close by. The resort’s central facilities were a quick 5 minute walk, although you can take the resort bus if you desire.
After spending the day traveling, we decided to wind down with a walk around the meticulously landscaped grounds, browsing the gift shop and enjoying a fabulous dinner at The Turf Club. The Turf Club is a warmly decorated full service restaurant with a steakhouse feel. The menu includes grilled tuna, NY strip steak, prime rib, lamb chops, pork tenderloin, linguini with shrimp as well as other tempting dishes. If you’re looking for a great burger, you’ll find that as well. A nice appetizer selection made it hard to choose. We selected an appetizer sampler for two which included artichoke and spinach stuffed mushrooms and a baked goat cheese tomato bisque. It was a great choice. Having similar taste, we both selected the NY strip steak with balsamic port glaze and bleu cheese with portobello mushrooms. The steak was cooked perfectly to our liking and went well with the glaze.
The next day we spent at the Magic Kingdom. The crowds were extremely light and Christmas was in full swing. A nice sunny day in the low 80’s made for a perfect day in the park. We strolled casually down Main Street and enjoyed all of the sights and sounds. Those of you who were following us on twitter and Facebook know that I once again had the opportunity to meet with the Mayor. Space Mountain was in soft opening, so we were able to get a ride on one of our all time favorites. We were glad to see that the classic ride remained basically the same, but nice enhancements to the queue and load area brought it into the 21st century. The games on the queue were a nice addition to help make the wait time more manageable. There was no line during my visit, but I did stop to play the game for a while. An on-ride photo system was added and the track felt smooth and tight. I do miss the glow-in-the-dark stripes on the sides of the trains though. It was always fun to see the trains zipping by while passing through Space Mountain on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.
We had the chance to see Tianna’s Showboat Jubilee. This limited time show, designed to promote the December 11th release of the Princess and the Frog, started off as a singing and dancing parade through Liberty Square and onto the riverboat. Once onboard, the riverboat proceeded down about midway through Frontierland where it stopped and a show full of music and characters from the movie continued on. The show was a lot of fun and I’m glad that we took the time to see it. I would recommend catching this show if you will be in the Magic Kingdom sometime before it goes away in January of 2010. And yes, the show also served its purpose in making us want to head out to theaters to witness Disney’s return to hand drawn feature animation on the silver screen.
We enjoyed lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Tomorrowland. Likely our favorite counter service eatery in the Magic Kingdom, I of course enjoyed the chicken and rib combo which is a juicy half rotisserie chicken and a mini slab of delicious pork ribs. It came served with fresh mashed potatoes and string beans. Anna had the veggie wrap. We dined while watching Sonny Eclipse perform which made for a fun afternoon break. If you’ve never dined at Cosmic Ray’s, I highly recommend it because of its huge selection for a counter service restaurant.
As a side note, we’ve noticed that Disney is incorporating the roped off character meet lines more throughout the property. This really seems to be working as it keeps people from sneaking up to get a quick picture with character while others have been waiting on line. It of course does not prevent the people who send a drone on line to hold a spot for a half dozen friends. This did seem to be happening more often in my recent visits and is totally un-cool. But that’s a topic for another day.
We took part in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP). MVMCP is a separately ticketed event that takes place after Magic Kingdom’s closing time. It requires the purchase of a special ticket just for the event. You can read more about it , but basically there is limited attendance, most popular rides are open, the Christmas Parade is performed twice, the spectacular Holiday Wishes fireworks show is displayed, there are several shows, holiday character meet & greets, character dance parties, complimentary hot cocoa, cookies and fruit and, of course, snow on main street. The shows are performed numerous times throughout the night and are a lot of fun for the entire family. The Christmas parade is a treat and I advise watching it both times in different locations if you have the opportunity. Main Street or in front of Cinderella’s Castle are the most magical locations. Holiday wishes needs no other comment besides: “just see it” or “don’t miss it.” Disney always makes their ticketed events a special treat and we find them a worthwhile experience.
Another side note, speaking of fireworks: Have dinner at the Polynesian resort, and then watch any of the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Great for some romantic time alone with your hubby, or if the kiddies are afraid of the loud noises.
The next day we headed over to EPCOT. Another day of warm sunny weather. The crowds picked up a little bit from the day before, but still basically light crowds and very short lines. I had the opportunity to try out the new “Sum Of All Thrills,” presented by Raytheon, over in Innoventions. The idea is similar to “Virtual Space Mountain” over in Disney Quest, but with an entirely new ride system. After waiting on line, riders are handed a swipe-card and escorted into briefing room where instructions are given. The next stop is a room with large touch screen tables where the rider gets to design and test his ride. There are 3 basic rides; Bobsled, Roller Coaster and Jet Fighter, each one progressively more aggressive. You do get to choose if you will go upside down or not. (be quick, your design time is limited) After the design process, the rider enters the loading platform where he is assigned a locker for loose objects and it’s off to one of four ride vehicles. The ride itself is a personal size simulator, two actually, mounted to the end of a Kuka Robotic Arm. You can see photos and more info . Although the ride is quick, I found the motion to be smooth and well synchronized with the computer generated simulation video. I imagine that there will be a long line for this ride during peak seasons, and once the word gets out. Note that the ride is not listed on the main park map, only on the Innoventions map which you can pick up inside the entrances of both East and West Innoventions buildings. We did, as always, take a spin on Space Ship Earth. This ride is still a favorite, and if you haven’t ridden in the last few years, remember that it has been refurbished with a few new & updated scenes as well as an entirely new narration.
We took our time strolling around World Showcase and stopped to eat lunch at the Tangerine Cafe, over in the Morocco pavilion. Tangerine is a counter service Middle Eastern restaurant that serves lamb, chicken and vegetarian dishes as well as some great desserts. I absolutely enjoyed the Lamb and Chicken combo platter and DisneyAnna had the Falafel wrap. Both came with some tasty sides. The food was very tasty and the portions are a good deal for the money. We highly recommend having a meal here. If you are unsure if you will like this type of food, I suggest that you purchase a plate and share it with your entire party. In fact, you can make your own mini food & wine festival by making stops at the various countries represented in EPCOT and sharing one plate from each of them with your party. I also recommend inviting me along to join in.
After lunch, we met up with some great new friends from WDWTravels.com to record a new podcast segment. Remember to keep your “Ears” open for this new podcast series coming early 2010. We enjoyed our afternoon together in Italy, France and England. Allot of traveling for one day. We then headed over to Mouse Gear to visit another friend for a quick chat, then it was off to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
No trip during the holiday season is complete without spending time enjoying the wonder of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. This display consists of millions of Christmas lights covering the buildings of the “Streets of America” section of the park along with additional holiday displays. The lights are choreographed to a Christmas song about every ten minutes. And in true Disney style, it snows when the lights are not dancing. It is something that you must see to believe. DisneyAnna and me, accompanied by our little precious Princess Gianna spent a couple of hours walking around the display, soaking it all in. Of course there are PhotoPass photographers and street vendors with soft pretzels, hot honey roasted nuts… and beer! Yes, that was our dinner! This was the most crowded I saw any of the parks during our trip.
Our last day, we headed over to Animal Kingdom. The day was a bit overcast with some tiny sprinkles, but still a nice day. The animals were out big time on the safari. In fact, a guy in the row in front of us even touched a giraffe’s butt. (kinky) As I always suggest, hit the safari early in the day because it is cooler and the animals are out looking for food. The mid afternoon is too hot for them you will likely see less animals. We took a spin on Expedition Everest, and Gianna had to ride a dino on Triceratops Spin. We enjoyed a huge lunch over at Tusker House. (does everything revolve around food???) Tusker House is now a buffet with an African flair. The food was delicious and the selection was fantastic, including the desserts. Disney again found another way to make salmon. Maybe I’ll write a book, “Salmon Around The World” where I’ll travel around Disney World sampling the different salmon selections created by Disney Chefs. We took Gianna to see some characters in Camp Minnie Mickey and then headed over to see Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade; the holiday variation of the Jammin’ Jungle Parade.
Sadly, it was time to start our journey home. We went back to Saratoga Springs Resort for a dinner at Artist’s Palette. At Artist’s Palette, you’ll find specialty flatbreads and sandwiches as well as a daily hot plate. Although we have enjoyed anything we have eaten there through the years, it does seem a bit pricey. A quick run to Downtown Disney will get you some fantastic sandwiches at a more reasonable price over at Earl of Sandwich. Anyway, we were scheduled for the 7:00PM Disney Magical Express, and somehow missed the bus by like two minutes. Well after telling bell services about a diaper episode (sorry Gianna, you were the easiest excuse to cover up our loss of time) they called a taxi, and gave us a voucher, so the ride only cost us the tip. Another example of “the Disney difference.”
Now it’s back to that “other world” until our next trip, which of course we have already begun to plan! In the mean time, I have lots of work to do on the website and podcast… the fun stuff! Oh, then there’s that job thing I have to go to. Well, I need some source of income to pay for my Disney addiction.
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