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The Worst Meal in the World!

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Well, Walt Disney World, that is.

I’m one of those people who think that food is a big part of your Disney vacation. In fact, I truly believe food can make or break the trip, even if you’re not a “foodie.”  Think about it: Eat the wrong thing and you feel sluggish. Spend your expensive dining credits at the wrong restaurant and you’ve wasted your hard-earned money and will probably end up spending money out of pocket elsewhere.  Miss out on that all-important character meal and . .. well, okay it’s not the end of the world but it’s sort of a right of passage for kids (and adults too).

I eat at a lot of Disney restaurants because of my job as a travel agent and because I live fairly close to the Mouse. Fortunately, most everything on property is good.  Some of it is even great. Occasionally however, you run into a meal (I’m looking at you, Chef Mickey’s) that’s just so-so, but that’s not the norm by any means.  And for Disney to be able to consistently turn out satisfying food, even in a theme park, is impressive. But, there are the exceptions.

The Diamond Horseshoe in the Magic Kingdom is one of those exceptions. Here’s all you really need to know: I’ve eaten in an Army mess hall set up in a tent in the Honduran jungle and the food was better. That’s right, I said in a tent. And while it would be tempting to think that Army cooks are just that good, the truth is, The Diamond Horseshoe is just that bad!

Guests 10  and up will pay $35 for the pleasure of eating at the Diamond Horseshoe; kids ages 3 to 9 are a mere $21 and those under 3 are free.  In other words, this isn’t a cheap meal. You can get a lower priced entree at the California Grill for less or an entire meal at Via Napoli, for around $30 and that meal will have you thinking about it for days!

Your meal is served family style, starting with a wilted, over-dressed salad composed of some sad iceberg lettuce interspersed with the occasional shred of carrot and maybe a spinach leaf. Now, if you’re spending $15 at the Golden Corral with grandpa on Sunday after church, you kind of expect that, but you’re spending $35 here and at the very least, the salad should actually contain, you know, something that seems like a salad! You’ll also be served cornbread. This was actually okay. In fact, it was the best part of the meal, although that’s not saying much.

Next up, the entrees.  The macaroni and cheese, pictured above, looked like someone had plated it and then sat on it before serving it to us. It was dry and tasteless. You’re also given a meat plate with beans, sliced beef and gravy, turkey, and sausage links.

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The beef was tasteless and stringy and the gravy was a gelatinous mess; you could almost taste the cornstarch they used to thicken in. The turkey was the same turkey they serve at Liberty Tree Tavern, although it was drier. This was fine. Not $35 per person fine. But it was edible at least. Finally, the sausage. Well that was just plain awful, dried out and tasteless. No one took more than a bite.

Let’s not forget dessert. This is a campfire brownie.

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Marshmallow fluff and a blowtorch do not equal dessert, my friends.

There’s actually no entertainment at the Diamond Horseshoe, unless your dining companions enjoy complaining Statler and Waldorf-style about the food (which we do), but there is a stage. I’m not sure entertainment would have improved the food.

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The room is also pretty and airy.

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Finally, it must be said that the service was excellent. This is not the case where the manager wasn’t present and the staff didn’t know what they were doing. In fact, the manager was pitching in with the wait staff, picking things up, running around from table to table; she was good and we felt sorry for her because she could only do so much to make up for the food. Kudos to the cast members here for living up to Disney’s high standards and having some of the best wait staff anywhere.

Bottom line, this food isn’t up to Disney’s high standards. Skip it. You’ll be better off eating at Cosmic Ray’s or anywhere, really. Even an Army mess tent in the middle of the jungle.

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Did you try to get free dining today and fail? Maybe you got it–congrats. But if you’re a travel agent and you’re fortunate enough to have dozens of clients whose reservations you’re hoping to turn over, you probably had a pretty rough day.  Here’s what I think is happening, using the example of Pop Century.

First, there are very few discounted rooms available at Pop Century for September under free dining, which is HIGHLY unusual, in part because this is a massive resort. This isn’t because people jumped on at 4:30 in the morning (which is when I was up) and booked it all–it’s because it wasn’t released. We saw this happen last year, which I’ll come back to later. What is available is an offer called “Back to School Savings” (or something similar–there are a couple out there).  From what I’ve seen with my clients, it gives you about 40% of the savings you’ll get from free dining. Not bad, but certainly not the savings we’re used to during the fall.

Now personally, I have never seen Pop full in September even with free dining. This leads me to believe two things:  One, that Disney is truly trying to wean people off free dining. We already know this is true and they’d be crazy not to, but over the last couple years, finding a discounted room has become more and more difficult.  Could this be the year? Possibly, but I like this next option better. It’s a bit more nefarious and also more fun to speculate about.

Disney is a business, let’s not forget that, and what Disney wants is for you, for example, to book a room in February for a  September stay. They want you to book all your dining and Fastpasses. And then they want you to happily wait for your trip, go to Disney World, and have a great time. What they do not want you to do is realize that there’s a big fat discount available for your travel dates and have you book under that. Because that’s just bad business, right? And while Uncle Walt may have wanted nothing more than for you to skip happily through the park eating that free Mickey bar, Bob Iger wants you to pay for that Mickey bar because he has to answer to his shareholders and Shanghai Disney just happens to be a big blight on his legacy.  He needs the money, in other words.

But wait. While “forgetting” to apply a discount might work for some guests, it doesn’t work for all of them. You’re a smart consumer. You’ve followed all the blogs and online message boards. Maybe you have a travel agent. Whatever the case, you’re on the ball. So discounts are released and there’s no free dining for your dates. What do you do? Well, you’re lucky, because there are a couple of other discounts out that meet your needs and you book those.  And while it’s less than half of what you’re used to getting, you’re happy to just get something and you go on your merry way.

But does that fill up a resort like Pop Century during the slowest month of the year? Probably not.  But by this point most consumers have forgotten about free dining. They’ve got a discount. It’s as good as they’re getting. I  mean, you were fine with marrying the prom queen’s sister–why complain about this? It’s almost as good!  And that’s when more rooms are released. Because, and you know this, free dining really works best when it brings new bookings not when discounts are applied to existing bookings. I mean, those people are probably going anyway, right?  What they want, understandably, is to bring in new guests. And you can’t do that during many parts of the fall without a discount. So the spur of the moment guest–that’s the one who gets the discount. Not the guy who booked back in February and just saved $200 off a $5000 package.

Last year we saw rooms being released over a period of 2 to 3 weeks after the initial free dining discount was released. Now, some of those were probably rooms that went back into inventory after holds fell off. Last fall, that was 7 days after they were made. But that doesn’t account for discounted inventory that popped up 2 weeks after the initial discount was released. Last fall I couldn’t get free dining for a number of clients on day 1. By day 14, I had free dining for all of them. So did most agents at the agency where I work–we have 75 or so, a number which provides a pretty good sample of what’s going on as far as booking trends and availability are concerned.

Okay, of course all of this is conjecture. I could be completely wrong.  Also, I love a good conspiracy theory, so there’s that. But what do you think?  I’d be happy to hear in the comments.

Disney Early Morning Magic to Debut in the Magic Kingdom

 

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If you’ve ever gone to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party, you know how great it can be to experience a less-crowded park full of extras like special meet and greets and shows.  Disney’s newest option for guests plays off this idea, but with a twist:  While there are no additional shows or experiences, you will get breakfast at Pinocchio Village Haus and have access to three favorite attractions in Fantasyland: Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and of course the real draw, Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, all for $69 per adult and $59 for children ages 3 to 9, roughly the same price as one of the parties.  Is it worth it? I think it depends on your perspective–and wallet.

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Five Things Your Travel Agent Wants You to Know.

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I’m a travel agent. Okay, I’m also a blogger and a podcaster, but my job description is simply this: travel agent. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what we do as well as some things that travel agents wish their clients–or perspective clients–knew about them and their job.  In fact, if you sat in a room with 100 travel agents, there’s a pretty good chance we’d all say some variation of this theme:

  1.  We don’t get (most) trips for free. Yes, it’s true.  We pay for most of what you see us do. Now, the fact is some of it’s tax deductable (oh god, please let it be, because if not, well . . . ), but it’s still coming out of our own pocket. But a good agent needs to  know her product well and has experienced it herself. This is especially true when it comes to Disney, which changes frequently and is truly one of the most massive products an agent can sell.  You need to be in the middle of it.
  2.  Referrals are one of the most important parts of our business. When you call an anonymous phone line and book a trip, that agent has one goal in mind: To make sure you buy the most expensive vacation possible. They’re never going to see you again, so “upselling” isn’t going to come back to haunt them. But for me, I need to make sure you’re happy.   If I sell you a park hopper and you have two-year old twins, you might think I don’t know my job because that hopper will probably end up gathering dust. And then you don’t come back and you don’t refer your friends. It’s as simple as that. I would rather earn your trust than make a big commission and never see you again.
  3. If you don’t travel, we don’t get paid. That’s a risk we take and it happens often enough that most of us don’t even blink an eye.  And really, it’s okay. Cancellations happen. A good agent isn’t going to berate you or make you feel bad because you aren’t traveling.
  4. Our job is hard. Many of my clients tell me they wish they had my job and I’m not going to lie: it’s fun, a lot of the time. Especially when it comes to Disney, a travel agent gets a real opportunity to make magic.  I’ve been privileged to be a part of big family gatherings, of honeymoons, and those bittersweet trips people take to celebrate being free of something big that’s been effecting their lives, like sickness. But it’s also 6:00 o’clock mornings making dining reservations and missed dinners because your client has a tight schedule and needs a 6:30 call with you. And it’s worth it. I could do another job, no question,  but I do this because I truly love it. But it’s still work.
  5. Okay, do you want to hear our number one beef? It’s this: We understand shopping around for the best price. We also understand working with someone and deciding they just aren’t the agent for you. But please know that when I put work into a quote and we exchange emails back and forth and then you tell me you just booked on your own, when I’ve been providing you service all along, that kind of hurts. Because you’ve just taken time away from my clients who need me. Or my family. Or heck, even sleep. Sleep is nice.  Of course you are under no obligation to book. But if you’re going to book on your own after we’ve helped you, for goodness sakes, don’t tell us!

Okay, here’s one more and it’s probably the most important. When you book with a travel agent from an agency like mine, you are helping a small business. The money that Disney or another vendor gives to me and other agents isn’t staying in the Mouse’s pocket (and the cost isn’t being passed onto you either), it’s going back into your community and helping people rather than a huge corporation. Now, it’s pretty obvious, I happen to love that huge corporation probably as much as you do, but still, I kind of like to help the little guy. That’s why I’d rather go to a locally owned Italian place rather than Olive Garden.  So when you’re looking to book a Disney trip, or any other trip, think about that.

Thanks for reading. I love my job. It’s a rare day that I don’t think to myself how lucky I am to have it.  I just want to share a bit of insight.

Skipper Canteen Review

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The Jungle Cruise is a funny thing:  you either love it or hate it. The same can be said for the Skipper Canteen, the Magic Kingdom’s newest table service offering. Themed after the Jungle Cruise, the restaurant, which is located in Adventureland across from the Swiss Family Treehouse, echoes the theming of the long lost Adventurers Club in the former Downtown Disney.  If for that reason only, it’s bound to be a fan favorite among a small, niche group of Disney fans, but what about the menu? That’s the tricky part.  Let’s take a look.

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Technicolor Disney Treats.

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Craving a snack that’s bright and . . . well, bright, on your next vacation? Disney has you covered.  Next time you’re in the park, feast on these treats for which “colorful” is an understatement:

These Cookies.

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Disney loves white chocolate, but do you  know what they love even more? Food coloring. They’ll take white chocolate and food coloring and slater it on an old boot if they get a chance. While these cookies don’t exactly taste like an old boot covered in white chocolate, they come awfully close.

The Pinkest Cupcakes You Have Ever Seen.

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There’s a variation of these cupcakes just about everyone on property where desserts are sold and you know what? I like them.  There’s a good frosting to cake ratio, which is to say, you don’t have to wade through a mountain of frosting to get to the cake.  I even like the pink frosting. In fact, there probably should be more pink food in the world. There. I said it. Give me pink food. And yes, I am a grown up.

The $12 Mickey Head Apple.

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You can find these Mickey head apples in every Disney-fied incarnation, including Cinderella’s carriage:

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Incidentally, white chocolate in action . . .

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Mickey Head Cake Pops.

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Cake pops dipped in white chocolate (again!) and rolled in sugar? Of course you want one.

This Pink and Red Cake Cup.

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In the Magic Kingdom? Stop by the Cheshire Café and get a Queen of Heart’s Strawberry cake cup. Especially nice if you like frosting. A lot of it.

Mickey Macaroons.

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Disney jumped on the Macaroon craze with their own, delightfully neon, version.

Candy Covered Rice Krispy Treats.

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File this treat under “Stuff Kids Like.” A lot.

What’s your favorite bright colored Disney treat?

 

Summer 2016 Disney Discounts – So Far.

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Disney just released what they’re calling a “tasty offer” for summer.  It’s not something they’ve done before and it’s kind of interesting. Take a look at the details:

  • Value resort clients will get one free quick-service meal per person for each night of their stay.
  • The booking widow is short, Jan. 19-Feb. 29, 2016
  • The travel dates cover most of summer,  May 29-Jun. 30, 2016 and Jul. 5-Aug. 13, 2016

Now, you can almost guarantee that this won’t be the last offer available for summer, even for the value resorts, but depending on how you eat and which location you visit, you could easily save $80 a night for a family of four.  I always tell my clients, you can skip table service meals and save money that way, but you have to eat in the parks, and short of bringing your own food in, you’re probably going to be spending a minimum of $12 per person per meal at any quick-service location. So this isn’t a bad deal for value guests. In fact, considering that a room offer usually saves you around 10 to 15 percent on a value room, this deal is over twice what you’ll save on a standard value room.

My advice: Jump on this deal if you’re traveling during the summer. These deals are always limited, especially when Disney tries something new and they don’t know how guests are going to receive it.  If something better comes out, you can always apply any subsequent offer without penalty (you just can’t have more than one offer at a time).

Looking to book a Disney vacation? Email me at Christina@pixievacations.com or use the quote request form on the upper right hand side of the page. There’s no obligation and my services are free. 

 

 

 

 

Last Night for the Osborne Lights

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For the past twenty years, The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights has been lighting up the Streets of America in Hollywood Studios. Twenty years: That’s a good run, right? Still, none of us wanted to see it what is one of the most beautiful holiday experiences anywhere and certainly, the highlight of many Christmastime trips to Disney World, leave this year.  Unfortunately, with the expansion of Star Wars and Toy Story in Hollywood Studios, this otherwise infrequently used area was an obvious place for the expansion and so the lights had to go. While I’m excited about what’s coming in the next few years, I will absolutely miss the lights.

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Quick Bites: Red Velvet Cupcake from Starring Rolls.

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You can debate the dubious merits of red velvet cake all day long: I mean, is it even a flavor?  Probably not. At its best, it’s a moist, vaguely-chocolate cake colored a rich red and topped–and this is the where it starts getting good– with a thick slab of cream cheese frosting.  Even if your grandmother didn’t make red velvet cake for you, even if you only just discovered it while watching Steel Magnolias late one night on television, there’s a certain undeniably nostalgic quality to red velvet cake that makes it appealing, recalling shiny diners with display cases full of baked goods you’re really not supposed to eat now that you’re a proper grownup.

You’ll find the best red velvet anywhere on property in Hollywood Studios, right inside the Starring Rolls Bakery. Conveniently, it’s in cupcake form, so it travels well, or you could just go ahead and take a seat at one of the many outdoor tables you’ll find outside.  Big enough to share, it’s a bargain at $5 or one snack credit. In addition to a delicious cream cheese frosting that avoids that bland taste that so many commercial cream cheese frostings have, it’s got a thick cheesecake center. It’s also topped with nuts and little bits of chocolate.

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Go ahead: Indulge your retro side.  Just make sure you do it by around 2:00 o’clock. These beauties, and everything else in Starring Rolls, tend to sell out by early afternoon.

Are You Disney Obsessed?

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Think you’re obsessed with Disney? Well, do you do any of the following?

10. You’ve absentmindedly tried to use your MagicBand at Target.

9.  Your kids have a Disney name that has a special meaning like “Ariel” or “Port Orleans.”

8.  You find yourself having to “tone it down” in front of non-Disney people.

7.  People know not to “get you started” on how expensive the new annual pass rates are.

6.  You’ve stopped noticing that Orlando tap water smells funny.

5.  Your kid gives accurate directions to total strangers in the parks.

4. In the real world, you forget that all public toilets don’t flush automatically.

3.  You haven’t used a park map in years.

2.  You notice when they move the pumpkin in the Carousel of Progress.

1.  You know what Disney math is, you use it frequently, and you believe, wholeheartedly, that it makes sense.

Okay, so maybe you’re obsessed with Disney, but there are worse things, right? In fact, I would say what the world needs is actually more Disney nerds like  you and me. Wouldn’t you agree?

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