Everything Walt Disney World

Parks, Food, Resorts and More

Author: Chris (page 3 of 58)

Last Night for the Osborne Lights


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.

Continue reading

Quick Bites: Red Velvet Cupcake from Starring Rolls.


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.


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?


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?

Spring 2016 Disney Discounts


Planning your next Disney vacation? You can now save up to 25% off on select Walt Disney World resort hotels this spring.  Here are the details:

  • Available April 14-June 11, 2016 when you book by March 31, 2016.
  • Other discounts are available for stays most nights Feb. 22-April 13, 2016.
  • Plus, you can receive 1 more ticket day FREE when you upgrade to a room and ticket package with a minimum 4-day Magic Your Way® Ticket.
  • This offer excludes the usual suspects:   campsites, 3-bedroom villas, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – The Little Mermaid Standard Rooms and Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows.
  • Length of stay requirements may apply.

But wait, there’s more: Book your vacation with me and in addition to my expert travel planning advice and inside tips based on my monthly visits to Disney World and I’ll throw in a Disney gift card and an adorable monogrammed tote for use on your trip for all vacations valued at $1800 at the time of travel. Just mention this article when you email me at chrisw@pixievacations.com.  Gift card amounts are based on total trip value.

As always, there’s no charge to you for using my services. After your $200 deposit, you may make payments if you like or pay the final amount at 30-days prior to travel. Easy peasy!

About me:  I’ve been a Disney World travel planner for over five years, based out of the Atlanta area. The agency I work for, Pixie Vacations, has over 60 expert travel planners from across the United States.  I’m also a member of the Mouse Chat podcast team.  I can be reached via the email above or by calling 919-889-5281. Thanks!

What’s Right–and Wrong–With MyDisneyExperience and Fastpass+


It’s been over two years since Disney unveiled MyDisneyExperience (MDE) and Fastpass+ and the $1.5 billion system has had it’s ups and downs. Guests love the ability to put everything on their MagicBand, including room keys, credit card, park tickets and fastpasses. On the other hand, the entire Fastpass+ system has been a mixed bag.  Here’s what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of the new system.

Continue reading

2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

September2015WDW 1419

I was lucky enough to go to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival this year the day before it opened and was rewarded with non-existent crowds and, you guessed it, great good. Here’s a quick rundown of what I saw that first day.

Continue reading

Brunch Now at Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian.


Who doesn’t love Sunday brunch? It’s a great excuse to slow down, nosh and talk about the day’s plans. Well, now you can do just that during your Walt Disney World vacation at Narcoossee’s, one of Disney’s signature restaurants at my absolute favorite resort, the Grand Floridian. Here’s the scoop from Disney:

Beginning Nov. 22, Guests will be able to enjoy a Waterfront Brunch at Narcoossee’s on Sundays from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.. It will feature a prix-fixe menu priced at $69 per adult and $41 per child.

All dining plans, discounts, and dress code that apply for dinner will apply for Waterfront Brunch. Guests wishing to use the Disney Dining Plan will need to use two Dining Plan meal entitlements per person for the DDP and deluxe plans and one Dining Plan meal entitlement per person for Premium and Platinum plans.

Effective Sept. 16, Guests are able to book online and through the Disney Reservation Center.

Don’t worry about the dress code–you can dress up, and that’s part of the fun, but as long as you’re wearing neat, tidy clothing that and no t-shirts with offensive content (and you wouldn’t, of course, because you are awesome), then you’re good to go.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Disney Dining Scalpers


You’ve probably heard by now that unscrupulous businesses have found another way to make money off of Disney by “buying up” reservations at the 180 day mark and selling them to guests.  This isn’t any different than those folks who were selling their Guest Assistance Cards (GAC) last year to buyers who wished to use a disability “pass” to get front of the line access to Disney attractions, although it probably doesn’t have the visceral sting of hiring a person in a wheelchair to help you bypass long lines.  However, just like with the GACs, Disney now has egg on its face through no fault of its own and you can be assured that they’re working on a way to stop it.  So what’s going on?

First a little background. There are two different types of sites. The first site messages you when a dining reservation comes up. You’ll pay $8 or more for the privilege of logging into your own MyDisneyExperience account and then making the reservation yourself. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get the reservation; it’s more of a heads up, but you’ll pay for the notification just the same.  I personally don’t use or recommend these sites, but they aren’t technically selling a reservation, they’re just letting you know when one becomes available.

The second type of site is the real issue. This company books reservations at 180 days out using, I would assume, some type of gift cards to hold the reservation (at a penalty of $10 per head for no-shows). They then offer you two options:  1) You buy a reservation for $6 or more and then set up a “chat” with someone from the site who will then cancel and you will, the theory goes, immediately book, your desired reservation; or 2) you purchase a guaranteed reservation where you’ll pay $15 and simply go to the restaurant as “John Doe” or whatever other fake name they give you.  The company says that they use “John Doe” each time but I would imagine they are smarter than that give that it wouldn’t take cast members long to smell a scam, so I assume that they actually use some other aliases.

Since there’s no guarantee on that the first option will work since you have to get the timing just right, and frankly there’s no guarantee that reservation even exists in the first place,  it behooves you to book the more expensive option and check in under an alias. In fact, this company is telling you that their cheaper system really won’t work for more popular reservations. And guess what? Everything they’ve got is popular.

You may think that this doesn’t effect you, but let me assure you, it effects all of us. Here’s a good example: this website has 27 Be Our Guest reservations available for October. This means that, at a minimum,  27 families who searched for the most popular restaurant on Disney property 180 days prior to travel did not get that reservation. But for a price, you can purchase it.

So you’re scrambling at 180-days out to get that reservation and you can’t.  And the problem is, this is just the tip of the iceberg. At a certain point, with more revenue and a bigger website, they can book just about everything out there.  All they really need is have a small amount of capital available to hold these reservations and a courtesy hold on a room (which falls off automatically, no questions asked, if you don’t pay the deposit) that they use to get the on-site advantage of booking 180-days plus 10 (as opposed to guests who stay off site). These people are, frankly, screwing all of us over. And not just Disney guests, but locals who come to dine as well.

Even if you’re tempted to use a company like this, why would you? Can you really trust someone who makes a living so unscrupulously? Who’s to say these “non-guaranteed” reservations even exist? It’s quite easy for someone to pay for the $8 option for 1900 Park Fare, for example, go into chat with the booking agent and have them release it, and then not have it show up? Who’s to say it didn’t show up because someone else didn’t get there first? You can’t. You don’t have access to their MyDisneyExperience account and Disney Dining won’t let you verify a confirmation number unless you have all the main guest’s information–and they just booked this reservation under an alias!  And so you’re out $8 and you’re going to have to keep looking.

Here’s the thing. At some point in the very near future, Disney will figure out a way to stop this. And trust me, it will be more work for cast members and also come be at a cost to you.  And again, this isn’t Disney’s fault. But if Disney makes it mandatory that the reservation holder must show ID in order to check in, that means that you can’t run your littlest one to the bathroom while your spouse checks in for you.  And that’s just another rule that you have to follow on a vacation that’s already asking you to make dining 180-days in advance and fastpasses 60-days out!

Meanwhile, you can do your part by not helping these businesses take something from you that was intended to be free.  People have always found a way to make a buck off of the Mouse, but this time, it effects all of us in a very tangible way.

Sorry, I did not link to the main offender because I didn’t want to send them any traffic. If you’d like the link, feel free to email me.

The Boathouse at Disney Springs: The Part Where I Take a Bullet for You.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 2026

Friendly staff and big tables full of families.

Before I start, I should be clear about one thing: I’ve never been a huge fan of Downtown Disney, that monolithic Disney-fied outdoor shopping space selling merchandise you can find in just about any mall across the country. It never made sense to me to come all the way to Disney World to shop when there are four amazing parks where you can’t possibly see everything in one trip.  Add to that the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find a parking place and always crowded, and it was never a draw for me. Still, when Disney announced plans to revamp the space a couple of years ago, I was intrigued.  Recently, one of those new additions, The Boathouse, opened up and I decided to try it the first chance I got.  Reviews of this restaurant, which is a high-end mix of seafood and steaks, were reasonably good, but to be honest, I was unsure how reliable they were: A lot of reviewers appeared to be “invited” by the management. I wanted to hear from regular guests or try it myself before I decided.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 2031

The view really is spectacular.

First, the Boathouse is bright and airy with a nautical theme–as one would expect being called the Boathouse and all–and exceptionally loud. More so when the band, which played 70s easy listening tunes that were bad then and worse now, started playing.  However, every person who spoke to us was super friendly, right down to the person who brought us our water and left a small pitcher behind, a nice touch.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 2024

More of the view. If you go, ask for a waterside table.

I was able to get a walk-up at around 6:30 (on a Wednesday night) and had my pick of tables; about 30 minutes later, the place was packed, so they’re not hurting for patrons. Our server showed up about 15 minutes after we were seated and flashed one of those perfect smiles that no doubt make up the dreams of orthodontists everywhere and which, unfortunately, did not immediately allude to the fact that she was terrible at her job.  So terrible in fact that I tipped low, something I haven’t done in ages.   Friendliness only goes so far.  It’s called The Boathouse, not Hooters.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 2017

Nondescript rolls and cold butter.

Some time after our initial introduction, our server brought us a basket of soft rolls and it was well, it was bread, which is to say that the 8-year olds at the table thought it was absolutely divine but I can tell you, because you’re a grownup and have discerning tastes, that it was essentially a basket of disappointment that looked buttery and yeasty but was simply bread. And cold.

When you order a steak here, you’ll order just that: A steak. You’ll pay extra for any sides and when I say you’ll pay extra, think in the $9 to $20 range, so you’d better like your steamed broccoli a lot is all I’m saying.  Same for the basket of fries which, in our case, was delivered cold. This in addition to a steak that will set you back around $50.

I’d spent most of the day driving from Atlanta by myself with three children in the car who alternated between feuding and laughing and wanting to kill each other, so at this point, I was not only hungry, I wanted a little bit of comfort and I was hoping that this steak would deliver. Sadly, this wasn’t the case.  Overly charred on the outside and unevenly cooked on the inside, this steak was over-seasoned and tough in places. I could almost forgive the fact that the temperature was inconsistent, ranging from well done to rare when I’d ordered medium rare,  if the meat itself had been edible, but the cook was so heavy-handed with the seasoning that I ended up cutting off pieces of the outside and giving the well-done parts to my eight-year old.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 2032

I know, that doesn’t look like a $58 hunk of meat to me either.

The kids meals were also lacking, with one child not being served at all.  The menu is pretty typical: Burgers, fries, and a side, for around $10. My daughter ordered a burger which resembled a tiny hockey puck.  She’s a good eater but she barely picked at it. My older son got some over-cooked nuggets. Those were ignored as well. Both kids also received a microscopic side order (or was it a garnish?) and perhaps owing to the cuteness factor, they actually liked those.  In the end, the kids were still hungry after their meal, especially the kid who never got his order in the first place.

At this point, I don’t think The Boathouse is undergoing growing pains. I think it’s actually just a substandard restaurant in a long line of not so great Downtown Disney–excuse me, Disney Springs–establishments. I’d had high hopes for this place, but I’ve had better (and considerably cheaper) steaks at Chefs de France or Grand Floridian Cafe, both non-signature restaurants, to say nothing of really standout steaks at Disney’s signature restaurants like Yachtsman Steakhouse

My advice: Skip The Boathouse and save your money. Go with a Disney-owned steakhouse if you have a craving for a steak.

If you must:  We were told that The Boathouse only offers a few tables per night for Disney’s online reservation system, so if you can’t find a spot online, call the restaurant directly.  Expect to pay around $80 and up per adult.

The Top Five Reasons a Disney Cruise Should be Your Next Vacation.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 1185

The Disney Magic in Norway.

I just visited Norway on the Disney Magic and it was simply perfect. Everything  Disney does, they do well, but they really exceed expectations on Disney Cruise Line.  Still, I’ve found it’s very difficult to get my clients on a Disney ship–they’d simply rather go to the parks, and I don’t blame them!  Still, there are some good reasons to cruise. Here are a few of my favorite:

5. No surprise costs.

A lot of cruise lines charge extra for (non-alcoholic) drink packages, childcare, crafts, and games.  With Disney, nearly everything is covered.  Expect to pay extra for shore excursions, alcohol, infant childcare, spa treatments, and of course, tips at the end of your cruise, which are a nice way to thank your servers. Otherwise, your wallet can take a rest.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 001

4.  A private island.

Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, may very well be your favorite part of the trip. With immaculate beaches, excellent food (which is included), and plenty of (no cost to you) activities, you can’t beat this experience.  Because it’s Disney’s beach, you’ll find plenty of space for everyone to relax and play and there’s even an adults-only beach.

3.  It’s more “adult” than you think.

Sure,  DCL is great for kids, but lots of couples and singles sail with Disney as well. Each ship has nightclubs and grown up shows, plus a private pool and spa area for adults. There’s also two adult-only dining experiences, Palo (on all four ships) and Remy (on the Fantasy and the Dream) for a small upcharge ($30 and $80 respectively).

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 1104

We were encouraged to get up early each morning to see the fjords as we went into each port, a process that could take a couple of hours. Each time, this was before the dining rooms were open but cast members were up too, passing out breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

2. Excellent food, pristine ships, wonderful service.

I’m a foodie and I’m picky about what I eat: I figure if I’m going to be eating a lot of calories (which is part of the fun of a cruise), I might as well eat something that’s worth it. DCL has great food, from the never ending buffet, to the dining rooms in your rotation, to say nothing of Remy and Palo, where you’ll receive unbelievable food and great service.  And personally, I can’t stay away from the poolside ice cream machines that run day and night. It’s like that dream you had when you were a kid, except it’s real and not only do they have chocolate and vanilla, but you can get it swirled too. And no grown ups to tell you when to stop!

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 796

Okay, I just got away from myself.  But it’s not just the food, of course.  The staterooms are designed to maximize space, so there’s plenty of room to store your things (including a handy space under the bed for your luggage).  The bathrooms are split, so you have a separate toilet/sink combo and a separate tub/shower and sink in the other room.  This is super handy when you have a bigger family getting ready in the morning.  You’ll have a television in the room so you can relax at night and a fridge–although to be honest, you’re not going to spend that much time in your room. But when do, you’ll sink into a comfortable queen-sized bed. Heavenly.

Europe2015&DisneyWorld 1206

Hot chocolate awaits you after a chilly excursion off the ship.

And the service?  Your servers will move with you to each dining location, so you get to know them and they get to know you, your likes and dislikes.  Our kids loved the impromptu table side “entertainment” that our servers provided, with trivia and magic tricks. And you’ll find that same attitude everywhere on the ship, right down to your room steward.

1. It’s the easiest vacation you’ll ever take.

We traveled to Norway with four adults and six young children between us. And you know what little kids don’t like? Europe. Okay, I’m being silly here, but the reality is that most kids will tire pretty quickly of castles and battlefields and all the great stuff adults can’t get enough of.  And you know what? That’s okay. Because you can do some quick touring with them in the morning and then they can enjoy the kids’ clubs, which you’ll have a hard time keeping them out of.

But it’s not just the kids clubs that make it an easy trip. I loved lounging by the pool with the kids, swimming, eating great dinners with my family and our friends. It was just so . . . well, it was so easy  on so many levels.  And when you’re not constantly checking your phone or bothered by something absolutely fascinating on Facebook that needs your immediate attention, well, you can unplug and relax. And in the end that’s what a vacation should be. And that’s what it’s all about on DCL.

I know the price can be steep and I know that it most likely means not seeing the Mouse at Walt Disney World that year, but think about DCL for your next Disney trip. Chances are good you’ll absolutely love it.

Thinking about a Disney cruise? Please email me for a no-obligation quote at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com.  In addition to excellent service and years of experience, I offer substantial onboard credits as my gift to you.

Older posts Newer posts