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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dining at Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Whispering Canyon Café is located in Wilderness Lodge at the Walt Disney World Resort just inside the main lobby and to the left.  Whispering Canyon Café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is a rustic respite from the hustle and bustle of the parks.

We had dinner and enjoyed a family “skillet” which included pulled pork, ribs, chicken, vegetables, and potatoes served family style with refills on any of the items.  Speaking of refills, Whispering Canyon Café also offers refills on their shakes.  This appealed to the boy and the husband.  They each started with one flavor, finished it, and ordered another flavor.  Their appetites kept them from ordering thirds! The caramel shake was delicious!   I ordered pomegranate lemonade but soft drinks are also available.

Our meal also came with dessert with a trio of favorites including a raspberry cobbler with cream.  Dessert was also served “family style” with individual plates for each of us.

The atmosphere is fun, yet family friendly.  Don’t be surprised to hear a Cast Member yell a request, hello, or good-bye across the restaurant.  And, if you ask for ketchup, be prepared to receive every bottle in the restaurant at your table and then you will be responsible for transporting the bottles to the next table that makes a request for the condiment.  It is a fun thing for the kids to do.  I wonder how many bottles of ketchup have been dropped on the floor.

Getting to and from Wilderness Lodge, if you are not staying there as a guest, is part of the fun if dining at Whispering Canyon Café.  While buses serve the resort from all of the parks and Downtown Disney, boat service is available from Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, and Fort Wilderness.  We took a boat from the Contemporary, that dropped us off at the dock in the back of Wilderness Lodge.  We then followed the winding trail to the main building.  Once you find the lobby, finding Whispering Canyon is easy.  We then hopped a bus to the Magic Kingdom and transferred to a bus headed to our resort.  Bathrooms are located to the left of the restaurant entrance if looking towards the entrance.

Be sure to make time to explore the resort both inside and out.  We were greeted with a large fireplace, massive chairs just perfect for napping, and a picturesque Christmas tree complete with Photopass photographers to capture the occasion. (I’m sure they are only there seasonally.)

Hints and tips for enjoying Whispering Canyon Café:
  • Come with a big appetite and ready to play or enjoy others playing
  • Give yourself enough time to get to and from Wilderness Lodge.  You will want to linger and explore either before or after your meal.
  • Ask how to find the train room at the Lodge from the concierge.
  • Sit in at least one chair in the lobby.  There are several including rocking chairs in front of the fireplace.  Trust me.  Try any chair.
  • Caramel shake.  Enough said.
  • The ribs are okay.  The ribs at Cookies on Castaway Cay are better.  Disney, are you listening?
  • Bring your camera!

We are so glad we gave Whispering Canyon Café a try, even it if took 10 trips to get us there.  It was a great place to eat and be transformed to another time and place as only Walt Disney World can do.  We ate there on a day planned for exploring Downtown Disney and Resort—basically a non-park day and Wilderness Lodge was a great place to explore.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Mystery of Table 106

When sailing on a Disney cruise, guests often find themselves assigned to a dining table with others.  We refer to these folks as tablemates.  Whether or not you will have tablemates and who they will be is one of those adventurous mysteries that will remain unknown until you arrive for dinner on the first night of your cruise, unless you are traveling with a larger party or family.

On our first Disney cruise, we were tablemates with a family of 5 from Miami, making our table a round number or 8.  They had kids, we had a kid, it was nice at best and awkward at worst. 

On our second Disney cruise, we had a table to ourselves.  There was a family from Japan sitting at the table next to us with a little girl about the boy’s age and he learned how to say hello in Japanese. 

The third cruise our tablemates were Jane, Robert, and Becky, a family from New Jersey.  We definitely had the most in common with them and enjoyed their company.  We lingered after dinner visiting while the boy and Becky headed to the kids club. 

On the Dream for the first time, we were assigned table 111 with an extended family from New York—grandmother, mother, aunt/sister, and two young girls.  Again, interesting, but no connections.

Know that the various tablemate assignments did not detract or distract us from having great meals and great service while sailing.  We still looked forward to going to dinner each night in the various dining rooms. 

Our most recent cruise, we were assigned again to table 111, or at least, that is what our dining tickets said.  But sometime during the first afternoon on board, we received a phone call from Zan, one of the Dining Room Managers.  He told us that they had us assigned to a table of 23 people traveling together and had just realized we weren’t a part of that group.  He then asked us if we would like to be assigned to a different table.  I agree.  We checked in with Zan with our dining ticket the first night and were reassigned to table 106—a table of 4, just for us. 

Throughout our trip, I kept looking for that party of 23 at dinner.  Zan had also told us that they had Asian names, not that it mattered, but it made looking for the group a bit easier.  We even eye-spied our table from our last cruise in the various dining rooms and nothing—no party of 23.  So, was Zan pulling our leg and telling us a story because he needed to change our table due to a guest request that afternoon?

My guess is yes.  My guess is that family or friends traveling together made sure they were dining together when they got on board, which caused reassignments in the dining room.  We were okay with the change, even though we were looking forward to having tablemates, and had Zan simply told us they needed to change our tables it would have been just fine.

The story of tables 111 and 106 and the traveling party of 23 will live on and we look forward to dining on the Fantasy for our next Disney cruise!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rotational Dining on a Disney Cruise

Guests departing on their first Disney Cruise want to know which restaurant to “pick” each night of their cruise.  Well, since Disney makes things as easy as possible, guests don’t have to “pick” as traveling parties are assigned to a dining room rotation for either main dinner seating or late dinner seating, and are assigned to a specific table in each dining room.

Rotational dining allows guests to rotate through each of the main dining rooms during the duration of their cruise.  The serving team assigned to your traveling party will rotate with you and will serve you in each of the three main dining rooms.  If you choose to dine in Palo or Remy, you will be served with dining teams assigned to those restaurants.  As a cruise guest, you will be informed of your dining rotation in two ways.  One is when you check in at the port and are given your Key to The World Card.  There will be a series of letters and each stands for a dining room and the letters are in the order of your dining rotation.  For example, on our most recent cruise, our letters were “ERRAE.”  This meant we were dining in Enchanted Garden the first night, Royal Palace the second and third night, Animator’s Palette the fourth night, and Enchanted Garden on the last night of our 5 night cruise.  The second way you will be informed is with the dining tickets in your stateroom—one for each person in your party with the dining rotation listed, the location of each dining room, and your table number.  It is important to take at least one of these tickets with you to your assigned dining room the first night.  No need after that to bring your ticket along as long as you can remember your table number.  If you forget, no worries; this is Disney and they will look it up for you at the dining room.

While waiting in line to get the boy’s  kid’s club bracelet at the Port Terminal before boarding the ship for our most recent cruise, there was another mother in front of me who indicated that this was their first Disney cruise (I think our shirts give it away that we have done this before) and she asked how to find out their dining rotation.  I showed her on your Key to The World Card how she could find out and told her about the dining tickets she would find in her stateroom.

The main dinner seating is at 5:45 pm and the late seating 8:15 pm.  We have always opted for the main seating.  If you wish to change your dinner seating or rotation, check with Guest Services upon boarding the ship.  They will do their best to accommodate you based on availability. 

So, the only “picking” to do is what you are going to eat when you arrive at your dining room for the evening.  Unless, that is, you have opted to dine at Palo or Remy, which charge an additional fee and require a reservation, or choose more casual dining on Deck 9 or 11 respectfully depending on your Disney ship. 

I appreciate the dining rotation system and knowing which dining room we will be dining in each night of our cruise.  I don’t have a high need to know prior to our cruise as we typically don’t make reservations for Palo or Remy—we have eaten brunch at Palo on two cruises.  Knowing that the decisions are already made is comforting to me and my family.  We stayed at an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean which required making same day reservations at one of the seven on-site restaurants and it was an inconvenience to do that each day. 

Another great thing about rotational dining on a Disney cruise is that your serving team gets to know your family, especially on longer cruises.   So, don’t be surprised if your drink preferences are already waiting for you when you arrive at your table!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Time, Money, Kids, Planning--What Keeps Us From Walt Disney World?

We hear it all the time, “Yeah, we want to go but. . .” said by folks indicating that they would like to visit the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World yet, have reasons for not that usually spans time, money, kids, and complexity of planning a Walt Disney World vacation.

Let’s tackle time and money first.  I get it.  Those are factors we take into consideration whenever we plan a trip.  What time do we have available?  How long do we want to stay?  How much will it cost?  Some of those questions can be answered at the Walt Disney World web-site by entering various dates for your preferred resort to give you an idea of cost or by phoning a Disney reservationist or a travel agent. Typically, I do all three!  I see what the cost of trip would be on the web, contact a Disney reservationist about special codes or discounts that might be available, and then call our travel agent, who usually gets us a discounted price compared to the web-site.

A Walt Disney World Resort stay is different than staying at other hotels, as if you are booking a package including tickets, your trip must be paid in full 45 days prior to your stay, rather than paying when you arrive for your hotel.  If you are staying on property, but do not have park tickets as a part of your package, then you pay for one night of your stay prior and the rest of the nights upon arrival.  The amount of money needed upfront can be daunting for some potential guests.  And, with the 60 day prior on-line check in now available, guests wishing to take advantage must have their trip paid in full at 60 days rather than 45.

Some potential guests are warded off by the complexity of planning a Walt Disney World vacation.  Let me propose that planning a Walt Disney World vacation is no more complex than planning any other vacation.  Say, you were planning to visit New York City.  You would research hotels, restaurants, entertainment and tourist options, along with transportation.  It would also be likely for you to make reservations and purchase tickets for some of those things prior to your trip.  Same for planning a trip to Walt Disney World and there are many tools to help you. . . guide books, web-sites, on-line panels, even mobile apps!

Now for kids. . . I thought of this yesterday when I was writing about Jedi Training Academy for 2013 and again pointed out that it is for children ages 4-12 and how our time for the boy to participate is quickly running out!  Children grow up, they get involved in activities that have various schedules or even jobs which may mean negotiating with bosses, coaches, supervisors, and directors to find the “time” for a family vacation. 

I hear hesitation from people thinking their child is too young and won’t be able to ride as many rides or do as many things.  This is somewhat true, due to height restrictions, etc.  But those are things that little kids probably wouldn’t want to do, but there are plenty of other things for them to enjoy!  That is part of what makes Walt Disney World so magical is that there are so many things for people of all ages to do and enjoy.  Yes, a 4 year old may not be on Space Mountain, but they can fly on a magic carpet or an elephant. 

Or the, “I want my child to remember the trip.”  Well, this works if you have only one child and pick the perfect year for them to go, hopefully before they are 10 and are considered an “adult” by Disney standards in terms of ticket price.  But what if you have more than one child?  There may not be the “perfect” time when all of the children are going to remember the trip, but I bet they will enjoy it no matter their ages and will relive it through pictures and stories. 

Back to money for a moment. . . children under 3 are FREE for park tickets and can eat off another plate for no charge at most Disney dining establishments, while children 10 and older are charged at an adult rate.  This means children ages 3-9 are charged a child’s rate for tickets and dining.  Sometimes parents forget to take this into consideration when deciding on that “perfect” time for a magical vacation.

We have been to Walt Disney World when the boy was 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and now 10.  Each age has been great and came with its own magic and limitations.  When he was younger, our touring time was shorter and the rides tamer.  If either the husband or I wanted to tackle a “big” ride, we did while splitting up and meeting later.  Each trip he has tried something new whether it was a show, a food, or an attraction.  He has his favorites, just ask him!  When he was younger, the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios scared him and now we can’t leave the park without experiencing this attraction.  Our touring days are longer now, as the boy can stay up later.  But, now that is he 10, it is definitely more expensive.

For the folks who are on the fence, know that the price for a family vacation to Walt Disney World, will not go down.  Each summer, ticket prices increase and as your child ages, the cost will only go up.  For the folks who have already been bitten by the magic and are pondering their next trip, go ahead and go for it!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jedi Training Academy--Changes for 2013

Jedi Training Academy is an opportunity for children ages 4-12 to take on the evil of the dark side and learn lightsaber moves.  Some changes have been made for 2013 to this great experience:

  • More children can now participate in each show, as the “stage” has been expanded to include the area below the original stage area.  This has doubled the number of kiddos that can get the opportunity for each show.  Based on our experience, the taller children have the lower portion of the stage area.
  • Darth Maul has been added to the show—definitely a plus!

What hasn’t changed:
  • The need to head to the Sound Studio as soon as you arrive in the park—if your child or children ages 4-12 is interested in participating—and reserve their slot for a show.  You must have your child present when you register.
  • Arriving at the Sound Studio 30 minutes prior to your slotted show time.
  • Photopass photographer on hand to capture the magic and the memories—you are given a card with the event number and can add the photos to your Photopass account.

The boy has been participating in Jedi Training Academy since he was, well 4.  While the show hasn’t change much over the years—except for the addition of Darth Maul, the process of how children get into the show has.   The sign-up and come back system is definitely the best!

Some things to know and tips to help you:

  • Visit with your child(ren) prior to your trip or arriving at Hollywood Studios to see if this is something they want to do as signing up early is important.  The day we were at Studios there were 15 shows with double the kids and all were full with a “wait list” before 3:00 pm.  It your child isn’t sure, have them watch some of our videos to help them decide.  We have seen many disappointed adults and children who stumble upon Jedi Training Academy while walking by and then try to get their child in a show, only to find out that all the shows are full or only slots are available for shows much later in the day.  You want to plan ahead for this experience.

  • When you sign-up for a slot, it doesn’t have to be the next available slot.  Know the plan for your day and pick the time, if available, that words with that plan, including ADR’s.  The boy and the husband went off to sign-up as soon as the park opened (I headed to Toy Story to get Fastpasses).  The husband requested the 3:40 pm show, even though he was the first person to sign-up for that day and would have normally been assigned the first show (9:20).  The 3:40 time worked in our schedule for the day better knowing that we would need to be there by 3:10 pm and would be done by 4:00 pm—our dinner ADR was for 4:30 pm.
  • Be sure your child knows that they are borrowing the lightsaber and the robe for the training.  Each child does get a certificate to take home and there are “make your own” lightsabers for sale in Tatooine Traders nearby and at Downtown Disney.
  • Have your camera ready!

Jedi Training Academy is another reason Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a top park for us at Walt Disney World.  The changes for 2013 have made the experience better for the participants.  The boy was thrilled that he got to take on Darth Maul and looks forward to our next trip.  Time is running out for us, as this experience is for children ages 4-12.  We better hurry!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Holiday Prince of the Sea on the Disney Dream

A dream is a wish your heart makes and the boy made a big wish prior to our holiday cruise on board the Disney Dream.  He wished to be the Holiday Prince of the Sea.

It all started last winter when we were planning and dreaming about our upcoming Disney cruise.  We had watched a video on-line of the tree lighting ceremony that included a boy being crowned and then lighting the tree.  When our son knew there would be a tree lighting ceremony during our sailing, he began to inform us that he wanted to be the boy who lit the tree.  My response, “Ask when you get on the ship.”  And that he did.

As soon as we boarded, he began to ask various crew members about the tree lighting ceremony, which was that evening, and let them know he would be willing to do the job. . . he was up to the task.  No one could give us a firm answer or knew for sure how the child was selected to perform the ceremony.  They did, however, take his name and thank him for his interest.

We went to dinner in the Enchanted Garden, prior to the tree lighting ceremony, still not sure of the plan, other than we were going to attend the ceremony at 7:30 pm.  We made our way to the Lobby Atrium at 7:15 and the boy saw more of the cruise staff, in their bright red shirts, gathered near the grand staircase.  He approached one more time to inquire about the ceremony and got a big surprise.  They knew his name and informed him that he was going to be the Holiday Prince of the Sea.  He was thrilled to say the least. 

Prior to the ceremony, he was whisked away to the next floor and we were told to stand off the side of the staircase, as we would join the ceremony momentarily for a photo—even being told where to look.  Disney thinks of everything!

The excitement built with music and lighting and Trent, the Assistant Cruise Director, appeared to conduct the ceremony.  Here’s the video:

Then it was time for the tree to come to life, followed by snow falling in the Lobby Atrium.  Here’s the video:

And, the boy after the ceremony being returned to his parents. . .
The boy was on cloud nine not only that night, but for the rest of the cruise.  There was even more to this story that kept unfolding days later. . .

The next day the husband and I went to a Disney Cruise Line Trivia Contest while the boy was in the club.  Callie, one of the cruise staff, was hosting the event.  She told us that this was the first time they ever had a boy ASK to be the Holiday Prince of the Sea and they were thrilled and flattered.  She said that typically they have to ask 4 or 5 boys before they find one willing and who still fits the criteria:  boy, certain height range not too tall and not so short as they can’t see over the railing when lighting the tree, certain age range. . . not too young that they can’t follow directions or run away and not old (see height range).  So, the cruise staff was thrilled that there was a boy who was willing, able, and fit the criteria.  Before the ceremony, they told the boy that this was a serious ceremony, hence the look of seriousness in some of the photos.  Callie said the boy talked their leg off back stage before the ceremony and was very excited.  That’s our boy!

Also, during Disney Cruise Line Trivia—which we smoked the others—we met a couple, Mark and Susie Perry, from Atlanta.  Mark said he had captured photos from the tree lighting ceremony the night before and offered to send them to us.  I was happy to provide our email address.  Many of the photos in this post are from Mark.  Thanks, Mark!

The magic of wish kept going throughout the cruise, as a bag appeared on our door with a certificate for the boy from the “Magical Moment” of being the Holiday Prince of the Sea along with a Perry the Platypus stuffed toy.  Hmmm. . . how did they know he liked Perry?

The boy became attached to Trent, the Assistant Cruise Director, and Natalie, the Cruise Director during the cruise so much so that he wanted them to sign the book that Santa brought along with Captain Henry.  Santa delivered Ridley Pearson’s The Shell Game as a gift as it takes place on the Disney Dream.  Trent, Natalie, and Captain Henry were all happy to sign the boy’s book. 

The last night of the cruise during the Sea Ya Real Soon celebration when the characters come out for one last appearance, a fellow cruiser asked to take a photo of the boy.  He said he hadn’t gotten a picture of the Holiday Prince of the Sea.  He smiled for the photo. 

Being chosen as the Holiday Prince of the Sea was a highlight of our cruise and something our son will always remember.  In fact, it changed him, transformed him, and gave him more confidence. It also showed him that dreams really do come true.  For that, I am ever grateful.  Thank you, Trent, Natalie, and Callie!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Just Ordered Custom Photo Checks!

What do the following photos have in common?

Yes, our family is featured in each of them, and yes, they were all taken during our most recent Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney World vacation. 

Since it was time to reorder checks for our personal account, I decided to order personalized photo checks and each of the above photos will be featured on a check in rotation.

Ordering on-line was easy!  I started at Ebates, so that I could earn cash back from my purchase.  You can do the same by clicking here. (Now is a great time to join Ebates. . . it’s free and you get to pick your joining bonus!)

I then found 4checks.com which offers a variety of discount codes and an opportunity to personalize your checks with photos.  And, you can earn 12.5% back into your Ebates account!

Just upload and edit your photos as they would appear on the checks.  The web-site was easy to navigate.

I was also able to include “Disney Fan” above the signature line when personalizing our checks as an added bit of fun.  Having personalized checks is just another way to show your affiliation.

How do you show you are a fan?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Can A Warm Weather Vacation Be "Christmasy"?

Where does Santa go after delivering gifts?  On a Disney Cruise!

A faithful Williams Family Blog reader, Carolyn, asked about how “Christmasy” a warm, dare I say tropical, vacation on Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney World could be during the holidays.  Yes, Carolyn, there is Christmas in the tropics.  Our warm weather Disney holiday vacation was very Christmasy.  Here’s how. . .

Our first taste of the holidays was at both airports as there was a Christmas tree from our departing airport and at Orlando International!

 The Disney Cruise Line terminal in Port Canaveral was decorated for the holidays with Christmas tree and wreaths.  Is that Mickey's hand holding the ornaments?

 As soon as we got on the ship, we were greeted with the huge tree in the Lobby Atrium and the characters were decked out in their holiday attire.  There was also a life sized Gingerbread House in the Lobby Atrium.

 Christmas Eve, we had some photos taken in our pajamas to commemorate the occasion.  When we returned to our stateroom, we were greeted with a towel snowman topped with a Disney Cruise Line Santa hat!

Every gust received this holiday print to take home as a special gift.  Ours is framed and hanging on the wall!

 The ship had holiday decorations throughout.  The tree below was in the entrance to Animator's Palette and had little paint brushes and artist palettes for ornaments.

 The watermelon was carved for the occassion and even the little signs labeling foods had a holiday greeting!

 On Christmas Day we had a special holiday menu for dinner.  I considered that all the guests sailing on Disney ships that day (all 4 of them) were being treated to the same holiday meal--that's a big family gathering!
 Christmas morning, Santa was still working after his long night of toy delivery and decided to greet guests on the ship.  Well, if I were Santa, there would be no better way to relax after working so hard than to take a Disney Cruise!

We were also greeted with a buffet of holiday treats including cookies and hot chocolate and an ice sculpture of Santa's sleigh and reindeer of course.

Two hands, two cookies!  He said the frosted ones were best.

 At Castway Cay we were greeted by another Christmas Tree which was used as a backdrop for a photo.

 The trans that transport guests on Castaway Cay were decorated for the holidays and the garland included shells and fish.
 The island Post Office was also decorated and I couldn't resist the wooden hand painted Santas located throughout the island.
 Once back on land and at our Disney Resort, Coronado Springs, we were treated to another Christmas Tree surrounded by Poinsettias. 

 Downtown Disney was decorated for the holidays, too.  I love the Mickey planter in the photo above.  The fellas enjoy getting their photo taken at various locations, too!

Chef Mickey's had a special holiday wreath on display.  Look closely for the spatula.

Here's the giant Christmas Tree in front of Disney's Hollywood Studios.  This photo was taken in the morning. . . not night.  Can you tell we arrived early?

Phineas and Ferb were wearing their holiday hats when greeting guests at the park.

Santa Goofy also got into the holiday spirit at Disney's Hollywood Studios when meeting guests.

 But there is nothing else that can get you in the holiday spirit more than millions of dancing lights at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios. 

Our warm weather Disney holiday vacation was just as Christmasy as a holiday at home, possibly more so.  And, it was definitely more relaxing from my point of view. . . no cooking, no cleaning, no cleaning up.

We made memories and stayed “present” as a family instead of focusing on the presents.  Our time together was the greatest gift and often staying home allows for other distractions.  And, with a full ship and very crowded parks, other families feel the same. Thanks, Disney, for a great holiday vacation!