Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and 'been-there-done-that' reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


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Best Disney Restaurants for Kids Ages 5 and Under

OH!  Disney Dining…you keep us coming back for more and more and more!

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With 7 Disney trips under their belts, my kids have eaten at a ton of WDW restaurants, ranging from simple snacks to quick counter service to almost every character meal to fine dining at Victoria & Albert’s.  They have seen and eaten it all–and at all ages–from 8 months to 23 years old!

Disney does a great job of creating themed restaurants to serve all guests, kids and kids-at-heart.  Though almost all Walt Disney World restaurants offer a kid’s menu, some are obviously more geared towards the younger visitors.

My daughters and I chose the BEST kid restaurants based on kid-centered theming, characters, fun environments and kid-friendly (not just kid’s menu) food.

 

These are the BEST of the BEST table service restaurants for kids ages 5 and under.

For a list every character meal inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, click here.

Put these table service restaurants on your ‘Must-Do’ list!

Magic Kingdom:

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The Crystal Palace–Read all details and a review here

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Be Our Guest Restaurant–Read all details and a review here and avoid the West Wing dining room if your child is afraid of the dark, simulated thunder and lightening.

Tony’s Town Square Restaurant

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Epcot:

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Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Garden Grill Restaurant

 

Hollywood Studios:

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Hollywood & Vine

50’s Prime Time Café–Read all of the details and a review here.

 

Animal Kingdom:

Tusker House Restaurant

 

Disney Springs:

Rainforest Café–Avoid if your child is frightened by simulated thunder and loud noises.

T-REX–Avoid if your child is frightened by loud noises and large dinosaurs that move.

 

Resorts:

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1900 Park Fare–Read all details and a review here

Chef Mickey’s–Read all details and a review here

‘Ohana

Cape May Cafe

Whispering Canyon Café

 

Click here to learn all about the 2017 Disney Dining Plan.

Click here to learn how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation like a pro!

Click here to read about our favorite Disney buffet!

 

 

 

 

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How To Plan A Walt Disney World Vacation Like A Pro

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Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is a BIG DEAL, especially if you are going for the first time!  So many resorts AND restaurants AND rides AND experiences AND princesses AND character meals–soooooo many options can make the beginning of the journey daunting and overwhelming.

Not to mention, most families save for a long time in order to afford a Disney vacation and if you spend the big bucks, you want a magical experience. Sometimes, looking online just makes things worse–who in the world makes dining reservations 180 days out and what do all of those acronyms (TTC, ADR, BOG, MK) represent?!?

It is so alarming and confusing!  I get it.

No worries…I’m here to help.

Let’s think of all of this like registering for college classes or buying a new car.  Technically, you CAN just show up on the first day of college and hopefully you MIGHT get 1 or 2 classes, but it certainly will not be what you need, every class will be at the wrong time and the classes won’t even apply towards your degree plan, making it a total waste of your time and money.

You CAN just show up at a car dealership and buy whatever car is available. It might not have enough seats for your family and it might lack the bells and whistles you desire.

Likewise, you CAN just arrive at Disney and buy a ticket and walk in to a theme park. Disney will not send you away.  (Unless it’s Christmas Day and the park reaches maximum capacity.)  LOL  (Funny, but not really…)

BUT, if you spend a little time planning your college classes each semester and you register in advance, it greatly increases the chance of you getting the classes that you need at the times you want–saving you money and time and making you smarter!

Same with the car–a little research and effort goes a long way.

So, instead of dreading the planning process of a Walt Disney World vacation, consider it a time to learn.  Yes!  Planning a Disney trip makes you smarter!

It is BEST to plan and get the experience you want–And pay for!

This is a vacation, after all.

No regrets.

A no regrets vacation.

I wrote 2 posts that will help you get started.

  1.  Click here to read the most important thing you need to know about Walt Disney World.
  2. Click here to learn the top 10 things you need to ask yourself before planning a Walt Disney World vacation.

 

Once you read BOTH blog posts, you can continue reading this one.  No, really…you have to go read those two things.  It will only take a few minutes.

Really.  I mean it.

 

Go read them.

No, I am not going to tell you what it says.

You have to read it for yourself.

Did you read BOTH?

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Ok…I am continuing under the assumption that you are an honest person and follow directions.

Now that you know the most important thing about Walt Disney World AND you have answered all of those questions, the simple, easy and fun stuff is up next!  You don’t need me anymore!

I am just teasing.  I promise to walk you step-by-step through the process and show you exactly how I plan my Disney trips.  (Mostly because I am pretty sure only 1/10 of my readers took the time to read those 2 links.  LOL)

Keep in mind that every Disney trip looks different.  Every family has different priorities and even my own Disney vacations evolve as my children change and mature.

So, this is how I plan my Disney trips.  Take notes, my friends.

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I always start the planning of a new Disney trip by buying a spiral notebook (or stealing one from my homeschooling stash.)  It helps me keep track of notes, park days, dining reservations, Fast Pass+, packing lists, outfit planning and so much more!

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Then, I purchase the Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World for the year that we plan to travel.  Yes, the book changes and yes, everyone needs the book for the specific year of the vacation.  Disney changes every day…and the writers do an amazing job of updating the book each year.

Click here to purchase the 2017 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

Click here to purchase the 2018 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

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Sometimes, the new book for my travel year is not yet available.

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The new editions are typically released around August of the previous year.  I pre-order as needed.  For example, for my upcoming 2018 trip, I pre-ordered the 2018 version on February 17, 2017 (as soon as I knew we would be traveling in 2018).  It should arrive sometime in August 2017, from Amazon.

To pre-order the 2018 version, click here.

While I am waiting for the new edition, I start thinking about the big questions.

***This is where reading those posts I mentioned above MIGHT come in handy: when to travel, who is going, what’s the budget, how are we getting there, and how long are we staying, etc.

The book can help answer those questions, too.

Here is my thought process:

When can we travel to Florida?  Do we have the time to drive from Texas or do we need to fly?  Who is going?

I should probably start a savings account.  LOL

We are a homeschooling family, but my daughters take several classes that require attendance.  Depending on the semester, schedule and rigors of the classes, our planning might be constrained or quite free.  It just depends.

When the children were younger, we planned vacations around my husband’s work schedule.  Right now, my husband can’t always sneak away from his commitments.

I also have an adult son that graduated from college and moved to a different state.  When he was in elementary school and junior high, we never hesitated to pull him from public school for family vacations.  Once he entered high school and college, he chose not to travel for lengthy times.  But, now he can go if life allows!  Yipppeeeee!

 

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Me and my 3 babies.  Photo Pass Pic.  Epcot.  January.   2017

So, “who is going” is a necessary and logistical question for my people and the answer is always evolving, just like my family.

Our vacation dates are most likely determined by who is traveling with me, school schedules and work schedules.

I don’t want this to frighten you, but here is what I currently deal with:

For our 2017 trip, my husband, 2 daughters and I took several days and drove to Tampa, FL.  We stayed in Tampa and enjoyed experiences there for 4 days and then my son flew from Chicago to Tampa.  Once he arrived, we all drove to Orlando together and checked in at the Caribbean Beach Resort.  (Room sleeps 5).  We enjoyed Disney together for 5 days and then my husband flew back to Texas.  My 3 kids and I enjoyed Epcot and then the next morning, my son flew back to Illinois.  The girls and I checked out of Caribbean Beach Resort and checked in to Animal Kingdom Lodge for 2 nights (Room sleeps 4).  Then, the girls and I took 2 days and drove back to Texas. (YIKES!)

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Do you understand why I use a spiral notebook?

Hopefully, your planning won’t be as complicated.  It was super fun, though!!!  LOL

If your planning is equally nutty, make it work people.  Time with your family is the most important thing and it deserves all of your effort.

So, let’s pretend my new Unofficial Guide book has arrived and I have a general idea of when I want to travel and who is going with me!  YIPPPEEE!

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The authors of the Unofficial Guide have an awesome website called Touring Plans.  A discount code for an one-year membership is offered with the purchase of the book.  Once I have the book in my hand, I renew my online membership at Touring Plans.  The yearly membership is $14.95.  With the discount, it is $9.72.  It gives me all-access to the website and the app, it does not renew automatically and they do not spam to death.  It is delightful and a very important part of my planning process.

Planning Note:  While reading the Unofficial Guide, take notes on anything new, interesting, and noteworthy in the handy little spiral.  There are restaurant reviews, tips and secrets, and plans on how to tour the parks and cut down wait times.  It is an invaluable piece of the planning process.

So, let me do a quick recap.

Spiral notebook.  Loose, fluid or constrained travel dates.  List of travelers.  Unofficial Guide for vacation year.  Membership on Touring Plans website.  Add Touring Plans app to my phone.

Now the FUN really begins.

How do I nail down travel dates?

Traveling to Disney and how we actually get to Florida will be determined by my timeline.  We will fly if we need to get there quickly, but we honestly prefer to drive and sightsee along the way.  I do my best to make the latter option a reality.

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As for the actual theme park dates, I use the Touring Plans website.  With my membership, I have access to the magical crowd calendar.  I.  Love.  The.  Crowd.  Calendar.

The Crowd Calendar gives a crowd level rating to each park for each day for an entire year.  If my travel dates allow the freedom to choose, I search for a week that has levels less than 5.  Less than 5 is always my goal.  It does not always work out that way, but it is always preferred.  Of course, we have totally enjoyed crowd level 10 days, too!  Just have to be a little more flexible when the crowds are that high.

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I like to create a page of dates in my notebook, typically spanning 3 or 4 weeks.  I jot down all of the projected crowd levels, days of the weeks, etc.  Then, I look and find the “sweet spot”–a cluster of days that are crowd level rated 5 or less.  Those dates become our travel dates.  **If there is a high crowd day (8+) stuck in the middle of my sweet spot, then that day becomes our rest day!

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Planning Note:  There are many crowd calendars available online.  Just Google “Disney World crowd calendar”.  Make sure you are looking at Disney World, not Disneyland.  I have found that most of the calendars are similar, but I rely on the experts at Touring Plans.  The crowd levels are projected, of course.  No one can see the future.  (If you can, please contact me immediately!  Thank you!)

How do I choose which theme parks to visit?

At this point, we have the 4 main parks memorized and I know which ones we need several days to enjoy and which ones we can skip or tour in a half of a day.

We love, love, love the Magic Kingdom.

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We always spend most of our vacation enjoying the Magic Kingdom theme park.  As my children got older, we added more days to our tours of Epcot (2-3 days).  Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are both 1 day parks for us and we have even skipped Animal Kingdom several times.  It honestly depends on the ages of your children, your interests and your timeline.

The four Walt Disney World parks are the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Each park has it’s own personality and different rides, shows, restaurants and experiences to appeal to the masses.

Planning Note:  Choose which parks you want to visit based on the ages and interests of your traveling party.  Hollywood Studios has the most thrill rides.  Magic Kingdom is the best park for toddlers.  Epcot is perfect for an adult only trip and Animal Kingdom is a must-see for animal lovers.

But, each Disney park has something for everyone!

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How do I choose a resort?

My family and I have stayed on Disney property and off property and if our budget allows, we 100% prefer a deluxe Disney on-property resort.  Sometimes, we can make that happen and sometimes…well…life.

There are several perks offered to Disney resort guests, like extra magic hours (extra time in the parks), free transportation, Fast Pass+ booking at 60 days, complimentary parking at the parks, dining plan options, etc.  Plus, when we vacation at Disney, we want full Disney immersion.  We are junkies, remember?

While reading the Unofficial Guide, I research resorts to see what fits the needs of my family and whittle down the list of places that can accommodate my people.

Planning Note:  Some Disney resort rooms only accommodate 4 people, some rooms sleep 5 and of course, there are suites and villas that hold more.  I recommend you read the entire accommodations section in the Unofficial Guide.  It describes in length each Disney resort and several off-property resorts.

This is where budget comes into play BIG TIME.

Disney divides their resorts into 3 main categories:  deluxe, moderate and value.  I can post in more detail about that later.  My current budget will determine which level of resorts I research and my travel party size determines the room.  Budget.  Budget.  Budget.  Blah.

I consider the location of the resort, which will directly affect transportation to and from parks (Is the resort on the monorail system?  Are ferry boats available?  Only buses?)

Resort food and dining options are also important to me.

I compare resorts in the Unofficial Guide book and on the actual Disney website and then I pick the winner.

Click here to read a review of my favorite Disney resort.

So, assuming I know my travelers, the travel dates and now the resort, I book my vacation on the Disney website.  Booking online is pretty straight forward, unless the dates I want have not yet opened.  For example, I am writing this post on March 20, 2017.  The Disney website has the option to book vacations until December 31, 2017.  Sometimes dates during the upcoming year open in June, sometimes it is August.

Planning Note:  Do not fret!  Just call 407-939-1936 and book over the phone if your dates are not listed online yet.

Disney only requires a $200 deposit to hold a reservation.  Payments can be made at anytime and the remaining balance is usually required within 60 days of the check-in date.  That time frame can vary, so be mindful of your specific date and don’t forget to make payments!

When I book the resort online, I also make decisions on theme park tickets, water parks, park hopper, dining plan and memory maker.

If time allows, my family needs to take a rest day in the middle of our Disney vacations.  We usually don’t go to a theme park on the day we check in and sometimes, we don’t go to a park on our check out day, either.  If we are staying at the resort for 7 nights, we don’t necessarily need park tickets for 7 days.  I choose tickets based on how many days we will be going to the parks, not how many days we are at the resort.

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My people need a rest day.

Planning Note:  The number of nights that you stay at a Disney resort do NOT have to match the number of days of theme park tickets.  You can stay at a resort and never buy tickets, if you like.

For a list of 10 FREE things to do on your rest day, click here.

For a list of 10 (not free) things to do on your rest day, click here.

My daughters have shown no interest in the waterparks, so I skip that section.

Historically, I also skipped the Park Hopper section, too.  We ALWAYS just spent an entire day inside one park at a time.  But, we used Park Hopper for the first time during our 2017 vacation and we LOVED it!  My kids are older now–ages 24, 13 and 11–so going to more than one park a day is easier than it would have been when they were toddlers. I can write a more in depth post about Park Hopper at a later date.

Memory Maker is a must for us.  Memory Maker is $149 in advance, $169 if you decide to add it later.  It allows for unlimited downloads of every Photo Pass picture taken of you and your family during your vacation. Our 2017 vacation generated 718 Photo Pass pictures.  I don’t know about your family, but we NEVER get a full family pic because I am the only one taking pictures!

Get Memory Maker.

Family pictures are so important.

Plus, the ride photos are hilarious!

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Seriously, how awesome are these pictures?  All Photo Pass pics–I downloaded each one to our computer and I can print them, put them on a coffee mug or make a super cool wrap for my car!  Whatever I want.  (As long as I don’t sell and make money.) Whenever I want.  Forever.

Next, I decide if we need the dining plan.  And if we do, which dining plan will work best for my travel people.  Click here to learn everything about the 2017 Disney dining plan.

For now, I will just say that we used the dining plan and saved a ton of money when my kids were younger than 10.  We used every table service credit to eat at buffets and character meals and we saved quite a bit of money.  Plus, knowing that our meals were essentially pre-paid helped quite a bit with “sticker shock”.

Planning Note:  10 is the magical age that children become adults in Disney’s eyes.  Ticket prices and dining plan prices are higher for adults, ages 10 and up.

Planning Note:  At the time of this post, if you want the dining plan, Disney requires you to pay for the plan for every night of your resort stay.  There is no option for anything less and your entire traveling party (in your resort room) must be on the dining plan.  The dining plan is only available for Disney resort guests.

I make all of these decisions and choose accordingly online.  By the time I am done “checking out” online, I have chosen my travel dates, travel party, resort, number of days for theme park tickets, park hopper (yes or no), waterpark option (yes or no), memory maker (yes or no), and dining plan (yes or no).  I pay the $200 deposit.

If we plan to fly to Orlando, I start researching flights once everything at Disney is booked.  If we are driving, we start planning our route and possible interesting stops along the way.

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How do I plan dining?

I try VERY, VERY, VERY hard to plan our Walt Disney World vacations more than 180 day out.  That is always my goal.  But, you know…life.

If I book our vacation and it is less than 180 days to our check-in date, I immediately book dining reservations the instant I complete the online booking of our trip.

Either way, I book dining as soon as I am possibly allowed.  With a Disney resort reservation, guests can book advanced dining reservations (ADR) 180 days before check-in date, plus 10 days.  This confuses people and I will write a post dedicated to dining asap.  But, let me quickly explain.

If my check-in date is June 6th, let’s assume 180 days before that is January 6th.  I am not going to pull out a calendar and do that math, so let’s just all agree it is 180 days.

On January 6th, I can made advanced dining reservations for any available dining June 6th-June 16th.  Essentially, it allows guests to make reservations for their entire vacation (as long as it is 10 days long or less), instead of having to book 1 dining reservation today, book 1 tomorrow, 1 the next day, etc.

Does that make sense?  The 180 days, plus 10 days is only available for Disney resort guest.  Guest staying off property get the 180 days and will need to book 1 reservation a day (unless you are less than 180 days out).

I hope I didn’t make it more confusing.

For this little post (LOL–it’s getting sooooo long!), I am going to pretend I have more than 180 days until my check-in date.

While I am waiting for my 180 day mark, I read about new restaurants, character meals and look at menus in my Unofficial Guide and online.  The Disney website shows the most recent menus for each restaurant and I add the My Disney Experience App to my phone.

Planning Note:  Add the My Disney Experience app to your phone and get familiar with the lay out long before you arrive at Disney.  Use this app to keep track of dining reservations and Fast Passes while in the theme parks.

I ask my kids and husband what restaurants they want to visit, if I need to book any character meals, and I create a very loose plan in my magical spiral notebook.

Planning Note:  Book the most important restaurant first, even if it’s on the 3rd day of your vacation.  Then, go back and book dining for the 1st and 2nd day.

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Planning Note:  For a list of all character meals at Walt Disney World, click here.

Once my 180 mark comes, I book all of my dining online or on the My Disney Experience (MDE) app.  I typically get the dining reservations we want because I am a little flexible with days AND I book at 180 days out.

Non-Disney people think that is nuts.  But, let’s all remember my college registration and car buying analogies.

Planning Note:  If you do not have park hopper, you can only go inside one theme park a day.  You can come and go from that one park 100 times in that one day, but you can not enter another park.  That means, all of your dining reservations need to be inside that one park or at a resort for that day.  Dining at a restaurant inside a theme park requires guests to have a theme park ticket.

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So, if I can’t get a reservation for a restaurant on a day we are in a specific park, I will alter my little notebook plans to accommodate the dining reservation.  Priorities, my friends.

For a list of the best breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner at Magic Kingdom, click here.

Booking dining 180 days out (as crazy as it sounds) gives guests the best chance to get the desired restaurants at the right times.  I HIGHLY recommend making ADR for every table service restaurant and for the quick service meals offered at Be Our Guest.

For a full review of Be Our Guest, click here.

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If I can’t get a reservation for a must-see restaurant, I check my MDE app several times every day.  People cancel dining reservations all of the time and I want to snag it!

Once dining is all booked, the plans for each day are pretty much set in stone.

Next, I decide on dinner shows, tours, or additional experiences and book those.

One of our family Disney rules is to try at least 1 new restaurant and 1 new experience during each vacation.

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The Spirt of Aloha is a fabulous dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  Reservations are required.

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3 of my people during the Aqua Seas Tour at Epcot

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Bibbidi  Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League though the years.

At this point, the resort, dining and extra experiences are all booked.

Planning Note:  Don’t forget to continue to make payments on your vacation through your My Disney Experience account!

Around the 180 day mark, or about 6 months before check-in, my family starts to “train” for Disney.  I am so serious and people laugh about this one, but Disney requires a TON of walking and we don’t want to stop the Disney fun because of a lack of conditioning!  So, we start walking as a family–further, longer and more often than normal–and we use that uninterrupted time to discuss Disney things, of course!

Now it is time for matching T-shirt planning!!!!

OMG!  (Jumping up and down!)

My Favorite part of a Disney vacation!

Ok…maybe not my favorite…but I really, really like it.

I plan our theme park outfits based on parks, rides, characters or dining each day.

My youngest daughter LOVES the People Mover.  Obviously, we will wear our People Mover shirts to Magic Kingdom, where the People Mover lives.  Matching Star Wars shirts are for Hollywood Studios because of Launch Bay…Frozen T-shirts for Epcot when my daughters met Elsa and Anna.  It’s all planned.  I know you are shocked.

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Baymax beanie on the day she met Baymax–another great Photo Pass pic!

 

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My bedroom floor–planning outfits for Disney 2016

 

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Matching t-shirts with your mommy?  Creepy!  Matching t-shirts with your awesome mommy at Disney?  Super cool!

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I start ordering shirts and outfits as soon as I have the resort and dining booked.  Custom shirts can take several weeks, especially around the holidays.

Click here for a list of the best places to find super cool matching family Disney shirts.

I also start gathering tiny trinkets for what I call ‘The Disney Fairy’.

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Quick explanation:

When my girls were very young, I started placing Disney themed items near the sinks at our resort each night as a surprise for the next morning.  (little things from the dollar store)

It helped cut down on the “I wants” as we toured the parks.  It became a tradition and I still love surprising them!

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As my daughters have gotten older, the trinkets have evolved, of course.  If I get the chance to sneak away and shop while at Disney, I might even pick up something I saw them eyeing earlier.  It’s kind of like the Santa thing…they never ask about the Disney Fairy…they believe so they receive.

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How do I book Fast Pass+?

Guests staying at a Disney resort can book Fast Pass+ starting at 60 days out from the check-in date.  Fast Passes are free–3 per person per day and after the 3rd one is used, an additional Fast Pass can be added, and so on until the park closes or until there are no more Fast Passes.  I can write a post dedicated to Fast Passes later.

Leading up to my 60 day window, I discuss rides with my family.  Are there any new rides?  What are the must-do rides for each person?  If there are any concerns (height requirements, drops, scary scenes, darkness, etc.), I look up the rides on YouTube and read the attractions section in the Unofficial Guide.

Guest staying off property can book Fast Passes at 30 days out.

At my 60 days window, I book my Fast Passes for each day we are in the theme parks.  Fast Passes can be booked online or on the MDE app.  My family and I are firm believers in arriving at the theme parks at rope drop, which is just a fancy way of saying, “when the parks open.”  Because we get there early, we ride important rides first and use our Fast Passes later in the day when the traditional lines are typically longer.

Planning Note:  Be mindful when booking Fast Pass times.  Make sure the ride times do not conflict with dining reservations or parades that you want to attend.

Planning Note:  Book Fast Passes for lunchtime and mid-day, when the parks are at their peak crowd levels.  Get to the theme parks early, ride important attractions first and then use your Fast Passes later.

Planning Note:  Fast Passes can also be used to meet characters.

 

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Reserve a Fast Pass for Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios

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Once the Fast Passes are in place, planning is complete!  WOW!  I never thought I would get to this part of this post.  YIIIPPPEEEE!  Finally!

 

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These Disney fireworks represent my celebration (and probably yours, too!)

 

Magic Bands will arrive about 3 weeks before departure.  Historically, they arrive in an unmarked box, so be on the lookout.

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I start packing about 3 weeks before we plan to leave.  I create a huge packing list in my handy dandy notebook and I make enormous piles on the floor of my bedroom.

Click here to see a not-so-obvious Disney packing list.

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I tag the outfit piles with the date and theme park or restaurant.  I pack the piles with the sticky notes on top so I can organize once we arrive at our Disney resort.  Some *might* call that crazy (like my husband) but I like to call it GENIUS.

 

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Outfits tagged with the date, theme park or restaurant.  Genius.

3 weeks before check in is a great time for last minute things, like autograph books (which my daughters outgrew, unfortunately).

Planning Note:  Online resort check-in is available through the My Disney Experience account, too!

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I also buy my beloved rain ponchos.

Click here to read why you MUST pack rain ponchos for your Disney vacation!

And garbage bags.  For real.

Click here to read why garbage bags will save your life at Disney!

A few weeks out is also when I plan travel activities–plane, train or automobile.

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And finalize the budget for souvenirs and snacks.

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Mickey Ice Cream bars are super yummy!

 

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Buying an oyster with a pearl

 

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I have to budget a lot of $$$ for Dole Whips.

 

 

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Sugar rush anyone?

 

 

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Lots of snack options in Epcot!

Decisions about strollers need to be made before a Disney vacation, too. This does not apply to my family any longer, but over the years, we took 1 stroller, 2 separate strollers and we have also rented a double stroller from Disney.  Lots of options.  Lots to consider.

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The double stroller we rented from Disney

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Disney’s double stroller

WOW–my brain is FRIED!  How about yours?!?

I hope this helped a little and didn’t make things worse.  Once I recover, I will write some more.

Let me know if you have any questions.  I am always happy to help!

And I can talk Disney all day.

DUH.

A quick reference guide summary of this marathon-long post can be found here.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge-A Review Of My New Favorite Resort

 

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Do you dream of studying the fascinating wildlife found on an African savanna?  Is a late night safari, exploring a private animal preserve on your bucket list?  Would you (and your children) jump at the chance to see hundreds of animals and birds in a 43 acre habitat?

Surprise!  Guess what?!?  You don’t have to travel to Africa to experience all of these things!  Believe it!  These adventures and so much more are available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Who knew?!?

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Quite honestly, for so many years this resort totally flew under my radar.  My family LOVES the Polynesian Village Resort and historically, we have spent most of our vacations enjoying the tropical setting and easy access to the monorail system.

I never considered Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) mostly because of the lack of transportation options. (Buses only)  But, I made reservations for my two daughters to have lunch with an animal specialist, which is hosted at AKL. (Read a review of that awesome experience here!)

I booked one night at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort to avoid driving home after the lunch experience. (Laziness CAN pay off sometimes!)

 

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Walking from the parking lot to the resort lobby at Jambo House

 

So, our “accidental” visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge was in January of 2017.  Upon entering the breathtaking lobby, I was immediately transported to a far away continent.

The Lobby:

The soaring ceiling, authentic African artwork, beautiful tribal prints, ornate wood carvings and enormous glass windows kept my eyes darting around the lobby area.  My daughters and I were completely mesmerized!

I instantly wondered, “Why haven’t we visited this place before today?!?”

 

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Lots of comfortable seating, African prints and authentic artifacts

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A cozy indoor fireplace with large rocking chairs

 

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The soaring thatched-roof ceiling and enormous, unique light fixtures

 

The Check-In:

We arrived early, around 10:00 A.M., because we checked out of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort that morning.  It took about 15 minutes for me to drive to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in my car.

Under the assumption that our room at AKL would not be ready at 10:00 a.m., I packed a “day” bag and checked our other luggage in with the concierge.  But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was in fact available!  The front desk cast members were friendly and very helpful.

I returned to the bag check area, got our luggage and headed up to our room.

The only hallway leading to the elevators was pretty tight for guests checking in or checking out and everyone was wrangling bags, suitcases and children.  I noticed guest rooms along that hallway and instantly reminded myself to never stay on the main floor.

We found these awesome African artifacts displayed near the elevator and spent a few minutes admiring them.

 

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Look at the awesome animal print carpet!  Can you find a hidden Mickey?

The Rooms:

Our resort room had a savanna view on the 3rd floor of Jambo House.  As soon as I opened the door, my girls made a bee-line to the balcony, where there was a small table, 2 chairs and an animal identification guide.  They immediately got to work, identifying each species and making note of the animals’ habits.

 

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Small balcony overlooking the savanna

 

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I thought my 11-year-old was never going to come back inside!  I took this picture and sent it to my husband.  He immediately knew I had stumbled upon a magical, new resort!

 

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The view to our left

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The view to our right

 

The room was beautifully decorated in full African theme motifs, complete with faux mosquito nets and tribal wood carvings.  Standard rooms sleep 4 guests plus 1 child under the age of 3 in a crib.  Though a typical room at AKL is only 344 sq. ft. and among some of the smallest in the deluxe resort category, we never noticed.

My daughters would love this room even if it only had canvas tents for sleeping!  Luckily for my back, that was not the case.

 

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The view of our room from the door.  Bathroom on the left, closet on the right.  Beds on left, television on right and balcony straight ahead.

 

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The beds were comfortable, with plenty of blankets and 4 fluffy pillows.

 

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African-themed wood carving on the headboard and plenty of light placed near both sides of the beds.  A nightstand was in between the two beds.

 

Room amenities included a decent size mini-fridge, flat panel TV, desk, ceiling fan, small table and two chairs, coffee maker, hair dryer, complimentary Wi-Fi and room service is available.

 

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The flat screen cabinet had 2 dresser drawers, a DVD player, and a large storage shelf on top.

The bathroom featured two sinks with plenty of counter space and ample storage underneath.  There were two drinking glasses, but I prefer new, unused and wrapped plastic cups.  Disney facial soaps and shampoos were available, as well as a hair dryer and trash can.

 

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Two sinks with counter space and a large mirror

 

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The water closet was separated from the sinks by a sliding pocket door.

The shower and water closet area was fresh and clean and decorated with the same African-styled prints.  The arched shower curtain bar made the space inside the shower appear larger.  There were enough towels for three people, but the room sleeps four and I expected a few more bath-sized towels.

The Resort:

The hotel is the most secluded of the Walt Disney World deluxe resorts and was built in 2001.  It is home to approximately 200 hooved animals and 130 birds, which roam freely among the 3 separated savannas.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort consists of two main buildings, Kidani Village and Jambo House.  Kidani Village is connected to Jambo House by a relaxing 1/2 mile walking trail lined with tall reeds, waving grasses and colorful, blooming bushes.  Guests can walk between the two buildings or ride in a shuttle van.

 

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The walking path between Jambo House and Kidani Village.

 

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Beautiful flowers

 

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Bright and colorful bushes

 

There are 972 rooms available in Jambo House and 324 units in Kidani Village, which is part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC).  Guests of either section have access to all amenities offered in both buildings, including restaurants, fitness center and swimming pools.

The Restaurants:

The Sanaa restaurant is located inside Kidani Village and offers an exotic African and Indian fusion menu.  The food is unique and wonderful and the view of the savanna is spectacular.  Sanaa serves lunch and dinner and is considered table service.  Order the Indian-style bread service with accompaniments.   Read a full review of the Sanaa restaurant here.

Boma–Flavors of Africa is an enormous buffet that serves breakfast and dinner.  Both meals feature traditional dishes as well as African-inspired offerings.  We enjoyed the Simba waffles, creamy grits, fire roasted tomatoes, charred asparagus, and the plentiful varieties of soups and salads.  This restaurant provides many vegan and vegetarian options and is considered table service.  It is located inside Jambo House, one floor down from the lobby.  Read a full review of Boma–Flavors of Africa here.

 

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The delicious food of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Jiko–The Cooking Place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s signature table service restaurant located inside Jambo House.  Jiko only serves dinner.  It is a beautiful and romantic restaurant, but our experience was less than stellar.  The top two menu items (the beef short ribs and the lamb) were not available on the evening we visited and the service was painfully slow even though the restaurant was not full. The tiny portions of our dishes were bland and we left unsatisfied and disappointed. The menu was recently redesigned so we hope to give Jiko–The Cooking Place a second chance soon.

The Mara is the quick service restaurant on property and is located inside Jambo House.  It has indoor and relaxing outdoor seating that overlooks the pool area.  The Mara serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and even offers late night dining.  Dishes include traditional American and African favorites, like fried egg sandwiches, oatmeal, muffins, chicken nuggets, burgers, flatbreads, African stews and pitas.  It was clean, efficient, and is one of the best resort quick service restaurants for vegans and vegetarians on the Disney property.

Disney restaurant menus are seasonal and change often, so check for current menus on the Disney website.  All menus are available under the dining tab or choose “dining” through the My Disney Experience app.

The Pools:

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The beautiful Uzima Springs Pool

The Animal Kingdom Lodge features two main pool areas–one surrounded by the rooms of the Jambo House configuration and one pool is close to Kidani Village.

 

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Complimentary life jackets and towels are available, as well as lounge chairs, umbrellas and covered tables.

Uzima Springs Pool is an 11,000 square foot oasis that faces Uzima Savanna and is closest to the guest rooms in Jambo House.  It has a zero-entry point, a 67 foot waterslide and a lounge bar connecting to the pool’s deck.  There is also a children’s wading pool and two whirlpool spas nearby.

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Samawati Springs Pool is near the Animal Kingdom Villas-Kidani Village.  It holds 118,138 gallons of water and offers an 128 foot waterslide and zero depth entry.  Uwanja Camp is a children’s water playground with three different zones for varying ages.

Lifeguard stations are posted at both pools, but check for hours of operation.

All Disney resort pools are heated and can be used year-round.  We visited in early January and it was exceptionally cold, but my girls were still swimming!

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The only person in the pool was my daughter.

 

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Pic of me wearing several cozy layers and a thick jacket, while my girls enjoyed the hot tub

 

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Walking around the pool area

The design of the resort pool area is breathtaking.  The pathways are lined with jungle foliage and tropical plants, creating a relaxing and peaceful environment away from the crowded theme parks.

 

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View of some of the Jambo House rooms from the pool area

The Activities:

The Hakuna Matata Playground is near Jambo House and the Uzima Springs Pool.  There is a bench, a drinking fountain and lots of shade.

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The Hakuna Matata Playground

 

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Another view of the Hakuna Matata Playground

While walking around the pool, we discovered several savanna viewing areas, interesting boulders, beautiful water features and a flamingo habitat.

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My daughters enjoyed a game of ping pong.

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The most popular and featured activity at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is viewing the exquisite African savanna wildlife in a large, realistic-looking habitat.  There are multiple public viewing areas, some with benches and communal fire pits.

Once the sun goes down, you can use complimentary night-vision binoculars to find exotic animals on the dark landscape.

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On several occasions, my daughters and I encountered African cast members stationed around the savannas.  The cast members were very knowledgeable and willing to share stories and answer any questions about their homeland.

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Over 30 species of African wildlife occupy the Animal Kingdom Lodge savannas.

 

During the check-in process, I was given a calendar of the resorts upcoming activities.  Multiple cultural programs and nature based activities were available and my daughters chose to enjoy a free cookie decorating lesson and a free cake decorating class.

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Decorating cakes near the entrance of Sanaa

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A cookie from the cookie decorating lesson

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A cookie from the cookie decorating lesson

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge also features several safari excursions for additional costs.  The Wanyama Safari is a private safari followed by dinner at Jiko–The Cooking Place and there is an one-hour long nighttime safari.

Call 407-939-8687 for additional information and to make reservations.

The Transportation:

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is secluded, which means transportation is limited.  The only Disney transportation available to travel to the theme parks from AKL are Disney busses.  There are two main bus stops, one at Jambo House and one for Kidani Village.  Digital screens are posted at the stops and display expected bus arrival and travel times.  We used our personal vehicle while onsite.

Self parking lots at Jambo House are slightly far from the lobby.  Valet parking is available for $20-25 a night.  Complimentary valet parking is available for those with a disability parking permit.

The parking lot at Kidani Village is a large, covered parking garage.

There is a shuttle van that runs between Jambo House and Kidani Village approximately every 20 minutes.

The Location:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas is located at 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 32830-8410.  It is closest to the Animal Kingdom theme park.  If you want to travel the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort from another Disney resort, just board a bus to the Animal Kingdom theme park and then board a second bus headed to the AKL resort.

For more resort information, call 407-938-3000.

What We Loved:

  • Both the breakfast and dinner buffets at Boma–Delicious!
  • Lunch at Sanaa
  • Lots of vegan and vegetarian options
  • Lunch with an animal specialist experience
  • The warm and inviting lobby
  • All of the educational opportunities and knowledgeable cast members
  • The beautiful Uzima Springs Pool and waterslide
  • The view from our savanna view room, watching the animals from our balcony

If I Had A Magic Wand, I Would Change:

  • The resort location and transportation options.  Because this is a deluxe hotel, I expected either additional modes of transportation or triple the amount of busses.
  • The volume of the music played at the Uzima Springs Pool.  We had to shout at each other while having a normal conversation.
  • The tiny corridor that leads to the elevators.
  • There are no character meals offered at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

 

Why We Want To Go Back:

  • We hope improvements have been made at Jiko–The Cooking Place and we are looking forward to eating at the other restaurants again!
  • We are craving the bread service and dips from Sanaa!
  • I would like to enjoy the resort pool area during warmer weather.
  • There is nothing like waking up to a view of an African savanna!
  • We want to experience some of the safaris and night-time excursions.
  • Every cast member we encountered was friendly and helpful.
  • This is our new favorite Disney resort.

Must See:

  • Spend lots of time checking out the 3 different savannas because different animals inhabit each area.
  • The two waterslides

Must Do:

  • Free educational events
  • Look at the African art and crafts

Do Not Miss:

  • The bread service at Sanaa
  • The Simba waffles at Boma

Friend-to-Friend, I want you to know:

We enjoyed our night at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge so much that we booked a second night and delayed our plans of returning home!  My daughters (ages 11 and 12) loved this resort!  Through a series of unfortunate events, my husband was not with us during our 2 night stay at the awesome Animal Kingdom Lodge and my girls can not wait to show him around!

Dining reservations are open to everyone at the 3 impressive, table service Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants. You do not need to be a resort guest to dine on property.  I highly recommend advanced dining reservations for all of the table service options, especially Boma–Flavors of Africa.

If you have dining reservations, you can park your personal vehicle in the self parking lots free of charge.  You can also use valet parking for $20-$25.

The AKL restaurants accept the Disney Dining Plan.

All resort guests enjoy complimentary parking at the Disney theme parks.  Resort guests can also have park purchases delivered to their resorts for free–restrictions apply, so ask for specifics at the gift shop.

The Zawadi Marketplace is a large gift shop located inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It carries African themed statues and kitchen gear, swimsuits, toiletries, snacks and beverages, souvenirs, keychains, cough drops and many other items.

There are laundry facilities (pack quarters!), dry cleaning and valet laundry services available.

Victoria Falls is the bar and lounge area inside Jambo House.

A limited spa and fitness center is also on the Animal Kingdom Lodge property.


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Top 10 FREE Things To Do At Disney (when you don’t have a theme park ticket)

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I LOVE Walt Disney World!  And, HEY!  Guess what?!?

There are FREEEE things to do at Disney!

Below, you will find a list of super awesome things to do at your resort or on property–and they are all FREEEE!  You are welcome.

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What can you do for FREEEEE?!?

Check out this list below of the top 10 super awesome and FREE things to do that do not require a theme park ticket. And, click here to see a list of 10 MORE super cool things that do not require a theme park ticket, but cost a little $$$.

  1. Pool Day At Your Resort!  Disney resorts have some pretty amazing pools and a day of swimming, lounging and relaxation just might be what the Mouse ordered.  2 tiny things you MUST know: (a.) All Disney pools are heated, so you can swim year-round. YIPPEEE! (b.) Disney resort pools are for the enjoyment of resort guests.  You can visit any resort, but you can only swim in the pool at your resort.  And yes, they scan your bands.  And, yes that is true.  Please follow the rules, my friends.

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Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

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Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

2.  Take everyone to check out Disney Springs!  All Disney resorts have free transportation to Disney Springs (DS), which is an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment marketplace.  The complex sits next to the peaceful Sassagoula River and has four main areas:  The Landing, Marketplace, Town Center and West Side.

Check out the open-area splash pad (bring a towel!) and the Lego Imagination Center, an outdoor play spot with bins full of Legos–totally FREEEEEE!

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3.  Head on over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort!  There are several public viewing areas that overlook the African-inspired savannas, full of interesting wildlife and birds.  Visit at night and use the complimentary night-vision binoculars to see what the animals are up to after the sun goes down!  Oh…and did I mention…it’s FREEEE!

At the time of this post, Disney does not offer direct transportation from resorts to other resorts.  However, you can still travel between resorts on Disney complimentary transportation.  To get to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, just ride a bus to the Animal Kingdom theme park, get off that bus and then board a bus going to the resort!  Easy and FREEEE!

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Zebras on the savanna

4.  Go exploring at your own resort!  Disney resorts have some super awesome hidden treasures!  Find out if your resort has a playground, splash pad, arcade, ping pong tables, hammocks, volleyball courts, benches or walking trails.  Get outside and just go exploring!  You never know what you might find.

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5.  Skip on over to the front desk or concierge at your resort and ask for a calendar of resort activities, which might include super awesome things–outdoor movies, cookie and cake decorating, educational lectures, game night, roasting marshmallows and pool parties–all for FREEEEEE!

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6.  Exercise!  Many Disney resorts have fitness centers, walking paths and running trails.  Burn off some of those theme park calories (excessive intake of Dole Whips anyone?!?) and make your heart happy in the process.  I don’t have a picture for this suggestion because I have never done this.  LOL  It sounds like a good option, though, right?!?  No excuses!  Get out there and sweat!

7.  If exercising on vacation isn’t your cup of tea (or even if it is), I have just ONE word:  MONORAIL!  (See what I did there?  The prefix “mono” means “one”.  LOL  I am so clever.)  Anyway, all Disney resorts offer free transportation to the Magic Kingdom (MK).  Once you get to the Magic Kingdom theme park, walk to the monorail boarding station and hop on!  You can ride all day long if that makes you happy.  You can even get off at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and transfer to the Epcot monorail and ride that one, too!  No ticket required and totally FREEEEEEE!

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8.  Visit other Disney resorts!  At the time of this post, Disney does not offer direct resort-to-resort transportation.  However, that tiny challenge is quite easy to remedy. While you are jet setting around the Disney property on the super awesome monorail system, disembark and check out one of the deluxe hotels near the Magic Kingdom (MK).  You can also ride a Disney bus (or boat, if available) to a theme park and then transfer to a bus going to ANY resort you want to scope out.

Each resort has an unique theme and super cool things to see!  You do not have to be a resort guest to look around!  Just ask a cast member or concierge what is the quickest way to get where you want to go.

My recommendations, you ask?  I already mentioned the cool things to do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  But, I also recommend:  Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR), Wilderness Lodge (WL), the Grand Floridian (GF) and the Polynesian Village Resort (Poly).  You can even walk from the Poly to the GF.

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9.  Ride some ferry boats!  Disney resorts have multiple forms of transportation:  bus, monorail and/or boat.  There are boats that stop at multiple resorts, theme parks and even Disney Springs.  Hop aboard one of these and see where it takes you!  Some of the ferry boat routes to enjoy:  Magic Kingdom to Fort Wilderness to Magic Kingdom.  Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian Village to Magic Kingdom.  Disney Springs to Saratoga Springs to Old Key West to Disney Springs.  Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Boardwalk Inn and Villas to Beach Club Resort, to Yacht Club to the Swan to Dolphin back to Hollywood Studios.

Disney transportation changes often, so ask a cast member or the concierge to share the best way to get to a boat dock.  Feel free get on and get off at your leisure–the ferries run approximately every 45 min-1 hour, depending on route, crowd level and weather, of course.

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10.  Fireworks!  Fireworks!  Fireworks!  You don’t have to be inside the Magic Kingdom theme park to enjoy a spectacular nighttime fireworks show.  Head on over to any of the resorts serviced by the monorail (Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower, Polynesian Village and the Grand Floridian).

I recommend the Polynesian because it is directly across Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom.  Find a cozy bench and wait for the magic to happen!  This is also a great option for people who want to enjoy the show without the loud noises, explosions and booms.

Extra Hint:  You might get the added bonus of experiencing the Electrical Water Pageant, which appears on Seven Seas Lagoon at varying show times throughout the year.

All. For.  Free.

Yep.

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BONUS:

11.  Eat a Pineapple Dole Whip!  (Or 2 or 3–no one is counting)  Ok…so, this isn’t actually free…unless you can get someone else to pay for it.  But, it is my favorite thing to do.  So, to make this a money-free splurge, I suggest you make a friend and celebrate that new friendship by allowing said friend to purchase you a tasty treat!  Or Plan B–Eat someone else’s Dole Whip when they are distracted by a camera!

***There is only one place outside of the theme parks to find Dole Whip and that Heaven-on-Earth location is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  Make a friend.  Be a friend.

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I hope you enjoy some FREEEE fun at Disney!

Click here to read about 10 Not Free Things to do at Disney that don’t require a theme park ticket !

Click here to read a complete list of every character and princess meal at Disney World!

Click here to read 12 reasons you need to pack garbage bags for your next Disney vacation!


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Disney Character Dining (No Princesses)– A Quick List

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Character dining at Walt Disney World is a must for most families traveling with children.  It is also a great opportunity for people of all ages to meet and interact with favorite characters without standing in long lines.

Character dining can also be overwhelming and knowing which meals to book is confusing and daunting at first.

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My quick disclaimer:  If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.

Click here to learn how to plan a Disney vacation like a pro!

Click here for the most important Disney information!

Click here to become a Disney Dining Plan master!

More character dining information is at the bottom of the post, so read it all my friends.

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***Here is a complete list of all Walt Disney World character meals (minus princesses)–for those who want to skip interactions with royalty.

I am going to make this as quick and painless as possible.  You are welcome.

{Restaurant name, location, the meals that offer characters, known characters that visit}

Character Dining, the quick list:

1900 Park Fare.  The Grand Floridian Resort.  Breakfast/Brunch:  Mary Poppins, Pooh, Tigger, Alice and the Mad Hatter.   Read a full review of this character meal here.

Be Our Guest.  Magic Kingdom.  Dinner:  The Beast.  Visit him inside the library on your way out after dinner.  Read a full review of this character meal here.

Cape May Café.  Disney’s Beach Club Resort.  Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast:  Minnie and friends.

Chef Mickey’s.  Contemporary Resort.  Breakfast, brunch and dinner:  Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.  Read a full review of this character meal here.

Crystal Palace.  Magic Kingdom.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner:  Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet.  Read a full review of this character meal here.

Garden Grill.  Epcot, Future World.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner:  Chip-n-Dale, other characters. (Mickey and Pluto usually)

Garden Grove.  Walt Disney World Swan Hotel.  Dinner:  Any combination of Pluto, Goofy and Chip-n-Dale.  Good Morning Breakfast Events on Saturday and Sundays:  same characters.  Call for dates.

Ravello Restaurant.  Four Seasons Resort Orlando.  Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and Pals. Breakfast on Thursdays, Saturdays and some Tuesdays:  Goofy and Pals.

Hollywood & Vine.  Hollywood Studios.  Breakfast and Lunch:  Disney Junior characters, possibly Doc McStuffins, Sofia The First, Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Handy Manny.  Seasonal Dinner Dining:  Minnie and friends, Daisy, Donald and Goofy.

‘Ohana.  Polynesian Village Resort.  Breakfast:  Lilo and Stitch and possibly other friends.

Tusker House Restaurant.  Animal Kingdom.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner:  Safari Donald Duck and friends.

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Character shows and special events:

Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.  Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.  Dinner Show:  Mickey, Minnie, and friends (Usually Goofy and Chip-n-Dale).

***Characters are always subject to change.  It is Disney’s prerogative.

 

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***Call Disney to verify any information.  To book advanced dining reservations, visit the Disney website, download the My Disney Experience (MDE) app or call 407-939-3463.

I HIGHLY recommend advanced dining reservations (ADR) for all of these character meals and experiences.

Remember:  Character meals ALWAYS cost more than regular table service meals.  You are paying for the time and interactions with the characters.  If you have children or if you love Disney like we do, book character dining!  It is soooooo much better than waiting in lines at the theme parks to meet your favorite movie figures and the character interactions aren’t as rushed.

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Extra hint:  While dining at character meals, the characters COME TO YOU.  There is a pattern all characters follow, visiting tables in a certain order.  Your party is free to enjoy the meal, as the characters make their way around the restaurant.  Every character will eventually get to your table.

If you have a concern, ask the wait-staff for assistance.  It is very much so frowned upon if you send your child over to a character during a character’s interaction with another table.  Wait your turn, my friend.  That is just good character dining etiquette. ***Be Our Guest is a little different.  The Beast is available after dinner on the way out of the restaurant.

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A theme park ticket is required for any character meals that take place inside a theme park.  If the restaurant is inside of a Disney resort hotel, you do not have to be a guest at that resort to make dining reservations and you do not need a theme park ticket.

If you have advanced dining reservations (which you most certainly should), and your character meal is at a restaurant inside of a resort, you can park your vehicle in complimentary self parking lots or use valet parking for $20-$25.

Character dining takes time.  Schedule at least 1 hour for travel to a character meal and at least 1.5-2 hours for dining.  If you are in a hurry to get to the theme parks or to catch an airplane, I do not recommend a character meal.

Click here to check out a super fun list of FREEEEEE things to do at Disney!

Click here to read about my obsession with rain ponchos!

Click here for a list of all princess dining available at Walt Disney World!

 


2 Comments

Disney Princess Dining– A Quick List

 

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Princess dining at Walt Disney World is a big deal.  It is a must-do, no-way-are-we-skipping-this event for most families traveling with children.  It is also a great opportunity for people of all ages to meet and interact with famous royalty without standing in long lines.

Princess dining can be soooooooo overwhelming for parents and knowing which meals to book is confusing and daunting at first.

 

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I am here and happy to help.

More princess dining information is at the bottom of the post, so read it all my friends.

 

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I am going to make this as quick and painless as possible.  You are welcome.

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{Restaurant name, location, the meals that offer princess dining, known royalty that visit}

Princess Dining, the quick list:

1900 Park Fare.  The Grand Floridian Resort.  Dinner:  Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine and the wicked step-sisters.  Read a full review of this character meal here.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.  Epcot, World Showcase, Norway.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner:  Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Aurora, Ariel (These princesses are on a rotation. Not all guaranteed).

Cinderella’s Royal Table.  Magic Kingdom.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner:  Cinderella and other princesses.

Trattoria al Forno.  Disney’s Boardwalk.  Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast:  Ariel, Prince Eric, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider.

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Princess special events:

Perfectly Princess Tea.  Grand Floridian Resort.  Garden View Tea Room.  Princess Aurora.

Tiana’s Riverboat Party.  Magic Kingdom.  Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen.

***Characters are always subject to change.  It is Disney’s prerogative.

 

 

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My quick disclaimer:  If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.  Just so you know, princess dining changes often, which is really quite awesome! (Just in case you need a reason to go to Disney again!)

***Call Disney to verify any information.  To book advanced dining reservations, visit the Disney website, download the My Disney Experience (MDE) app or call 407-939-3463.

I HIGHLY recommend advanced dining reservations (ADR) for all of these princess meals and experiences.

Remember:  Princess meals ALWAYS cost more than regular table service meals.  You are paying for time and interactions with royalty, my friends!  If you have children or if you love Disney like we do, book princess dining!  It is soooooo much better than waiting in lines at the theme parks to meet your favorite movie figures and the princess interactions aren’t as rushed.

 

Extra hint:  While dining at princess meals, the princesses COME TO YOU.  There is a pattern all royalty follows, visiting tables in a certain order.  Your party is free to enjoy the meal, as the princesses make their way around the restaurant.  Every princess will eventually get to your table.

If you have a concern, ask the wait-staff for assistance.  It is very much so frowned upon if you send your child over to a princess during an interaction with another table.  Wait your turn, my friend.  That is just good princess dining etiquette.

 

***The two princess meals that do not require a theme park ticket are 1900 Park Fare and Trattoria al Forno.  A theme park ticket is required for any princess meals that take place inside a theme park.

If you have advanced dining reservations (which you most certainly should), and your princess meal is at a restaurant inside of a resort, you can park your vehicle in complimentary self parking lots or use valet parking for $20-$25.

Princess dining takes time.  Schedule at least 1 hour for travel to a princess meal and at least 1.5-2 hours for dining.  If you are in a hurry to get to the theme parks, use a fast pass or to catch an airplane, I do not recommend a princess meal.

Click here to check out a super fun list of FREEEEEE things to do at Disney!

Click here to read about my obsession with rain ponchos!

Click here for a full list of all Disney character meals!


6 Comments

A Review of Boma–Flavors of Africa

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL) is the most secluded of the Walt Disney World deluxe resorts.  It is a breathtaking safari-themed hotel with approximately 43 acres of African savanna inspired, natural looking landforms and home to 200 animals and 130 birds.  Read a full review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort here.

Jambo House and Kidani Village are the two main buildings on property.  The buildings are connected by a half-mile walking trail lined with tall reeds and flowering bushes.

Located in Jambo House, Boma–Flavors of Africa, is the most popular and only buffet-style restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Boma–Flavors of Africa is two floors down from the Jambo main lobby.  Elevators are available as well as a beautiful grand staircase.  At the base of the stairs, is a calming, rocky water feature and the entrance to Boma.

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On our first visit, my daughters and I had advanced dining reservations for dinner and checked in at the hostess stand.  The entire area was very crowded and there were only 2 small benches for seating.  Most guests were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the large, open walkway, which prevented others from checking in comfortably.

We stood in the noisy crowd until the hostess texted my cell phone and we were seated at our table.  Even though the restaurant was jam-packed, our little table for 3 was off in a secluded corner and offered some reprieve from the chaos and chatter.

The floor at Boma is painted to look like dirt, mud and rocks, while the décor is reminiscent of a bustling African marketplace.  Patterned fabrics, tribal paintings, wood carvings and draped, colorful prints fill the large and open dining room.

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Even though the open dining room is enormous, the tables are placed deceptively close to one another.  Because Boma is buffet-style, guests and children are constantly getting up and walking through the restaurant.  The tables can accommodate large and small parties.

The single entrance buffet line was entirely too long, but once we encountered the delicious offerings, my daughters and I did not mind the wait.

A strong African influence is apparent just by the names on the food labels.  While inching through the line, we took turns attempting to pronounce the unique dishes.  I don’t think we were very successful, but it was entertaining.

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The dinner menu consists of a rotation of robust house-made soups, such as butternut squash, Cape Malay Lamb stew, Ghanian oxtail stew, spicy Nigerian peanut soup, and chicken corn chowder.  A large salad selection included watermelon rind salad, Tunisian couscous salad, apple jicama salad, pasta salad and lentil and heart of palm salad.

Main entrées were full of unique African flavors, as well as a few traditional offerings: pap and chakalaka, roasted salmon, hummus with bread, bobotie, pork ribs, beef sirloin, plantain crisps, Zulu cabbage, spiced sweet potatoes and mixed vegetables.  There were multiple vegetarian dishes.

A children’s food section displayed the expected items like chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese.

A large variety of desserts included guava panna cotta, apple cobbler, chocolate chip cookies and zebra domes.

Boma offers a full service bar and has an all South African wine selection.

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Dinner was delicious.  The buffet dishes were fresh, appropriately varied and flavorful.  My daughters and I enjoyed trying the new, exotic dishes.  In fact, we decided to make advanced dining reservations for breakfast the next morning while we were still sitting at our dinner table.

Breakfast was not as crowded as dinner and there was no line for the buffet, which had more traditional and familiar menu items and just a few unique African-inspired dishes.

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The buffet offered African fruit fool, mixed assorted pastries, create-your-own yogurt, spinach-quinoa salad, omelets, pancakes, French toast bread pudding, breakfast ham, sweet plantains, oak grilled asparagus (my fav!) and of course, Mickey and Simba waffles!  (YES!  PLEASE)

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A press pot with Kenyan coffee is served as well as a blend of passion, orange, and guava juices.  Traditional beverages are also available.

Breakfast was top quality, hot and fresh and my daughters (ages 11 and 12) voted it our best Disney breakfast ever.

Ironically, we sat at the same quiet table for both meals.

The service at Boma–Flavors of Africa for both dinner and breakfast was superb and quite possibly the best we have encountered at a Disney buffet restaurant.  Our waitresses were personable, friendly, attentive, and very quick to refill our beverages.

Quick family review for Boma:

Overall, both meals were top-notch at Boma–Flavors of Africa and we plan to make this restaurant a new Disney tradition.

Final Family Boma Suggestion:

Because breakfast and dinner were both delicious and very different, we recommend you try both meals!  Dinner was very crowded and noisy, so avoid peak dining times and ask for a table away from the buffet line.

Breakfast is served 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Dinner is served 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

There is no lunch service at Boma.  For a delicious lunch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, I highly recommend Sanaa.  Read a full review of Sanaa here.

Friend-to-Friend, I want you to know:

I highly, highly, highly recommend advanced dining reservations (ADR), especially for dinner at Boma. Yes, booking meals 180 days before you plan to eat is crazy, but do it.  Just.  Do.  It

Advanced dining reservations are recommended for all table service restaurants at Walt Disney World and can be made online through My Disney Experience or by calling (407)-939-3463.

The current menu at Boma can be found on the Walt Disney World website under the “dining” tab.  At the time of this post, this restaurant does not offer character dining and all meals are buffet-style.

Boma–Flavors of Africa breakfast pricing ranges from $15.00-$34.99 and dinner ranges from $35.00-$59.99.  Yes, prices fluctuate at Disney according to season and crowd levels.  Plan accordingly and discuss such changes with your wallet.

Operating hours for all Disney restaurants can change due to seasonal crowd levels and refurbishments.

Dress is casual.

Boma does accept the Disney Dining Plan and is considered one table service meal per guest.

If you have advanced dining reservations (ADR), you can park your vehicle in the self-parking lot free of charge.

Valet parking can cost between $20-$25.

Boma–Flavors of Africa is located inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort in the Jambo House building.

At the time of this post, there is no direct transportation between Disney resorts.  The quickest and easiest way to travel to Boma from a Disney resort is to take Disney transportation to the Animal Kingdom theme park and then board the Disney bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  You can get off of the bus directly in front of Jambo House.

If you are at a Disney theme park, the best way to travel to Boma is to board a Disney transportation bus that is headed directly to the Animal Kingdom Lodge resort.

A theme park ticket is NOT required.

If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.

For a quick list of every character meal available at Walt Disney World, click here.

Do you love animals? Want to have lunch with a Disney animal specialist? Click here to read my review of that awesome experience!