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Will There Be a Soft Opening for Pandora?

Caveat: this post is based on good old-fashioned conjecture. I welcome your thoughts as well. 

Disney is opening an entirely new section of Animal Kingdom on May 27. It’s called Pandora: The World of Avatar, and as the name suggests, it’s themed after the movie Avatar. Now that we have an official opening date, what about those guests who are visiting before Pandora official opens?  Will they get a chance to experience this new attraction or will they have to wait until their next visit?  The good news is, they probably will get a sneak peek.  Historically, Disney has opened attractions and lands up to two months prior to the official opening.  They call these previews “soft openings” and Disney understandably loves them. Here’s why:

It’s What Disney Does.

In recent years, individual rides such as Toy Story Midway Mania, have opened well in advance of the official opening date. For example, the new Fantasyland Expansion officially opened on December 6, 2012, but soft openings started on October 12.  Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the second part of the Fantasyland Expansion’s opening, officially opened on May 28, 2014, with soft openings starting on May 21.  The shorter time frame of the latter was due to the many issues the ride experienced leading up to the opening, but we haven’t seen those issues cropping up in Pandora, at least not regarding the actual rides.

Soft Openings Make Sense.

Think of soft openings as a sort of dress rehearsal, a way to work out kinks before the big opening day. You’ll usually get a heads up a day or two prior to the first soft opening, but Disney can close it at any time if there are major issues that need to be addressed. Keep an eye on social media for updates of closures so you can save yourself the disappointment of going over specifically for that reason.

Because soft openings allow for closures at any time, they just make sense. You can’t exactly close an entire land after opening day, but it’s easy to close for a day or two during the soft opening phase. In fact, this happened a lot during the Fantasyland Expansion. One day you would go to the Magic Kingdom and the new section would be open. The next day, you’d see a cast member tasked with the unfortunate job of turning away forlorn guests.  Keep in mind also that closures may occur any time during the day. Openings for that matter, as well.  While I don’t recommend hanging around the gates of Pandora waiting for it to open, plenty of people did it for the new Fantasyland.

Keep in mind that Disney has a media event scheduled on May 25 (incidentally, the same day Universal opens Volcano Bay–pretty clever, right?).  In fact, the actual media event already happened earlier this month, when the major ABC shows previewed the rides and attractions for their viewers. In the coming weeks, pictures will be leaked, tweets will be tweeted, and excitement will build as guests are gradually let in. There will be no actual surprises, as far as the actual attractions are concerned, on the day of the media event. Everything will be out by then.  And that’s fine, because all this build up is good business.

Why it won’t be as early as The Fantasyland Expansion.

I’m torn on this one. As noted above, with the Fantasyland Expansion, soft openings started two months prior to the actual opening.  This means that a soft opening could conceivably be as early as right now! When you add to that the fact that major media outlets have already been admitted into that section of the park, that means that the major attractions are ready to go, leaving one to presume that nothing remains but a few finishing touches.  Here’s the problem with that line of reasoning however:  Fantasyland soft openings happened during some of the slowest weeks of the year, excluding Thanksgiving.   The weeks before and after Easter are one of Disney’s busiest travel periods.  You don’t soft open a new attraction when the parks are at their most chaotic.

The folks over at Animal Kingdom took a major hit with its nighttime show, Rivers of Light, last year. You may recall that Disney scheduled a media preview for late April 2016 and ended up having very little to show guests during that event. In fact, the show just opened in February, although cast member previews started in December.  These previews gave cast members a brief look at what to expect, but were plagued by mechanical failures. Sporadic soft openings are fine, we saw these during the Fantasyland Expansion, but not during busy periods when you can potentially fail in front of huge crowds.  Rivers of Light was a hard lesson learned.

What makes more sense? Cast member previews starting after Easter. Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member previews and annual passholder previews starting after that.  Right now, Disney is heavily pushing DVC ownership, not just because they’re continually adding to inventory, but also because it’s DVC’s 25th anniversary. By throwing DVC members the proverbial bone, they keep them happy and generate interest among non-owners who follow Disney-oriented social media outlets–non-owners who already love Disney but haven’t yet taken the plunge and bought into its timeshare.

So When Will It Happen? 

If Disney follows their usual schedule of cast member, DVC, and passholder previews, where does that leave everyone else? I would imagine, and keep in mind that this is just conjecture, that you’ll see soft openings starting in early May. Crowds are low and more manageable during this time period, allowing Disney to fix any potential issues prior to the May 25 media event and subsequent formal opening. It also, as noted above, allows them to close the attraction down at will with minimal complaints from guests. A “soft opening” is just that: you shouldn’t expect it but it’s an awfully nice perk if it happens for you.

What do you think? Heard any good gossip about when Pandora might soft open?

Cinderella’s Royal Table is a Huge Waste of Money. Here’s Why You’ll Go Anyway

Last month, my 9-year old daughter and I had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. For the uninitiated, CRT, as it’s commonly known, is located in Cinderella (adding the “S” is a faux pas among Disney fans) Castle. It’s one of the most coveted reservations on Disney property. It’s also one of the most expensive and one that, quite frankly, will leave you feeling a little bit ripped off. Here’s what to expect and why you’ll go anyway.

One excited kid.

You can’t talk about CRT without first mentioning the cost. You’ll pay around $60 for breakfast for guests ages 10 and up. Kids 3 – 9 are around $35. Keep in mind these prices are a few dollars higher during busy holiday periods like Christmas. Lunch and dinner is around $74 per adult and $48 per child. Children under 3 are technically free in that they may eat off of another member of their party’s plate; of course you can also order a meal for them. Your set price includes a drink, entree and dessert. Breakfast comes with a plate of pastries–the same pastries you’ll get at breakfast all over property.  Your price includes gratuity as well.

No matter how you try to sell it to yourself, this is an expensive meal, and for an expensive meal, you expect great food, right? Well, lower your expectations, because you’re not really here for the food, you’re here for the experience. Sadly, the experience itself is somewhat lacking, but more on that later.   Kids meals are a bit skimpy for kids on the higher end of the “kids menu” age range.

My daughter ordered the standard kids’ breakfast, which came with a scoop of eggs, two slices of bacon, and a Mickey waffle. It’s not a huge amount of food, but since the characters are coming at you less than three minutes apart, your child won’t have time to eat it anyway. I ordered the spinach and eggs with steak. It was good, but it was overpowered by a large scoop of boursin cheese.  Cut that in half and it would have been much more enjoyable.

Since you’re not really here for the food, or at least you shouldn’t be, let’s get down to the real reason for your visit:  Seeing Cinderella Castle and meeting the princesses.  No matter what you’re age, if you were raised on Cinderella and Disney, going into the castle is a big deal. There are really only two ways for regular guests to go inside the castle: One is to make an appointment at Bibbity Bobbity Boutique for a princess makeover (and sorry, if you’re over 12, no makeover for you!) and the other, of course, is to have a meal in the castle. You’ll check in at the desk at the entrance and then wait a few minutes before you’re admitted into a large meet and greet area. Cinderella is there to say hello and for a photo.

After that, you’ll go upstairs to be seated. We didn’t see Cinderella this trip, but my daughter was so excited as we went up the staircase, she didn’t really care. And that’s the magic of being a kid and going into Cinderella Castle. We were seated on the edge of the circular room with a great view of the entire area.

Service is friendly and efficient, but to say that it’s also brisk is really an understatement: we received our drinks and food almost immediately. Characters came and went so quickly that we barely had time to take a few bites. This didn’t bother my daughter at all, inexplicably happy with the sparkly blue wand she received with her meal. She took a few bites and then BAM–another princes. She couldn’t have been happier. I couldn’t help but feel that we were being rushed.

As an adult, it’s difficult not to think about how much money you’re spending. The food is just okay. The character interaction is probably the worst on property. But just as I was about to stifle yet another eyeroll, my daughter looked up at me at said “Thanks mom for taking me here.” And that’s when I realized that it was worth every penny. Because they’re only little once, right?

And you can bet she carried that sparkly wand with her everywhere that day.

FYI, when you make a reservation for CRT, you’ll pay in full unless you’re on the dining plan, which uses two table-service credits. 

Rivers of Light Opens February 17: Dining Packages Available

Animal Kingdom’s newest nighttime show, River’s of Light, is opening February 17! Fastpasses are not yet available (UPDATE: You can now book Fastpasses), but you can book a dining reservation at the following restaurants and get priority seating:

Tiffins Restaurant. This is Animal Kingdom’s signature restaurant. It’s pretty adventurous, but like most places on Disney property, they can customize an entree for those with more sensitive palates. It’s gorgeous inside. Try the lobster bisque. Prices for lunch or dinner start at $67 for adults and $26 for children, ages 3 to 9. This is a two credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan.

Tusker House: Probably the best character meal on property to see (most of) the “Fab Five.”  Breakfast is standard fare, with a few African inspired dishes. It’s probably their most popular meal, in part because the food is also familiar to most guests. Prices for the buffet start at $39 for adults and $23 for kids ages 3 to 9. Lunch and dinner sees the introduction of more African-inspired dishes, but there’s still something for everyone. Kids will love the Mac & Cheese and corn dog nuggets. Prices for the buffet are $52 for adults and $32 for kids ages 3 to 9. This is a one credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan.

I generally don’t think that priority seating through these types of dining packages is a necessity, but since this is a new show–and since it was supposed to open almost a year ago–it’s going to be immensely popular. Spend the money this time and get those guaranteed seats. You can book here.

Pandora: World of Avatar to Open May 27

Have you been to Tiffins, Disney’s newest signature restaurant, in Animal Kingdom? If you have, you got a little (very limited) peek into the World of Avatar right outside the terrace area.  Well, if you’re visiting this summer, you’ll get to see the  entire, glorious thing: Pandora opens May 27:

This new land will transport guests to the visually stunning world of Pandora. Here, guests will wonder at floating mountains and bioluminescent plants, and can join the Na’vi on two excursions that take adventure to the next level.

First, the family friendly Na’vi River Journey will send guests through a bioluminescent rainforest. Their journey will end in an unforgettable encounter with a Na’vi Shaman, a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora. And second, Avatar Flight of Passage will offer guests the jaw-dropping experience of exploring the world of Pandora atop a Banshee.

Guests will also be able to dine at Satu’li Canteen, grab a drink at Pongu Pongu or shop for Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits, and more at Windtraders.

If you’re like me, you’ve been waiting and are ready to go: I just made a reservation for that night! I’ll have tons of pictures and details later, so stay tuned and if you’re planning on going too, let me know in the comments section.

Photo and quoted text courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Holiday Events at Epcot

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If you like Christmas, this really is the most wonderful time of the year in Walt Disney World. Though the Magic Kingdom and the beautiful life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian usually gets the most attention, there’s plenty to do at Epcot. Here’s a list of our favorite (Epcot holiday) things to enjoy this time of the year:

Walk around the World Showcase and enjoy the cooler weather while you visit Holidays Around the World,  highlighting traditions from 11 countries. Kids love the story of Santa Claus in Germany but there’s plenty music, food and fun in each country. Schedules for these events are available when you enter the park.

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You can snack around the world on holiday specialties starting on November 25 from locations in the World Showcase.  Here’s just a sample of what you’ll find:

  • Prost! in Germany (artisan cheese plate or sauerbraten with red cabbage and spätzle)
  • American Holiday Table in American Adventure Pavilion (slow-roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce)
  • Alpine Haus between France and Morocco (cheese fondue in a bread bowl with fresh steamed vegetables)
  • Seasonal Southern Delights near World Showcase Plaza (blackened catfish with white cheddar grits with okra)
  • Feast of Three Kings Feast near World Showcase Plaza (Three Kings Bread)

Personally, I’m all about the bread and cheese fondue.

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Of course, the big draw is the Candlelight Processional, which also begins November 25, a retelling of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, complete with a mass choir, a 50-piece orchestra, and a celebrity narrator. This years schedule has a few surprises as well as some old favorites:

  • Nov. 25-27 – Steven Curtis Chapman
  • Nov. 28-Dec. 1 – Neil Patrick Harris
  • Dec. 2-3 – Whoopi Goldberg
  • Dec. 4*-6 – Edward James Olmos
  • Dec. 7-9 – TBA
  • Dec. 10-12 – Robby Benson
  • Dec. 13-15 – Meredith Vieira
  • Dec. 16-18 – Jim Caviezel
  • Dec. 19-21 – Joe Morton
  • Dec. 22-24 – Ming-Na Wen – NEW!
  • Dec. 25-27 – Jodi Benson
  • Dec. 28-30 – Cal Ripken, Jr. – NEW!

The processional is performed three times per night (5:00, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m.) during the holiday season at the American Gardens Theater. You’ll need to line up early for seating or you can book a dining package which will guarantee you a spot. Make sure you book as early as possible since availability is limited.

Finally, take time to enjoy  Epcot’s beautiful holiday decorations that reflect the culture and traditions of each World Showcase country. These backdrops make for great holiday photos.

5 Essential Rules for Pokemon Go! At Disney World – The Parkémon Experience

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Apply these Rules for Pokémon Go! and learn where all the best Pokémon reside at Disney World

While our family is anticipating our yearly pilgrimage to Walt Disney World, there is a new subject abuzz aside from the normal discussion on which pins they’re bringing to trade away or how much Tonga Toast my kids plan to consume. My husband is weighing whether or not a Pikachu nests can be found near the Cinderella’s Castle, and if the crowds at the newly refurbished Planet Hollywood will yield more Horsea.

Pokémon Go! is the theme of our upcoming trip, and I’ve got a crop of Magic Bands labeled ‘Weedle’, ‘Squirtle’, and ‘JigglyPuf’ (that’s me!) to prove it. But we’re going to be smart about our ‘Parkémon’ experience, taking the consideration of everyone’s hard-earned vacations into account.

The following are our rules for Pokémon Go! while in the parks:

  1. Absolutely no Pokémon Go! while walking through the parks. ‘Catch and release’ happens only while waiting in line.
  2. If in line playing Pokémon Go! and your brother talks to you, look away from the phone and have a conversation.
  3. No Pokémon Go! during meals unless all parties consent during a counter-service meal. Hey, there are some great spots where everyone can sit and eat while at a lure and the kids get excited together at their finds. Counter-Service at Be Our Guest is an exception to this rule. (You are in a castle, man!)
  4. No Pokémon Go! while on the monorail, but buses and the ferries are fair game. The monorail is a ride that is over before you know it and way too special not to breathe it all in.
  5. This one should go without saying. No Pokémon Go! while on the rides! There is rumored to be a PokéStops on Pirates of the Caribbean. If the blood pressure I experienced while a lady took flash pictures on The Little Mermaid is any indication, my children will be in the water if they attempt to gather Jack Sparrow’s treasure.

Now that we have the rules out of the way, I’d like to show you where all the best Pokémon are in the parks. The following is my Guide to Pokémon Go! at Walt Disney World for LocalPOV.com:

This Guide to Pokémon Go! at Walt Disney World Covers the Following Locations:

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?

 

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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Brunch Now at Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian.

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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.

Breakfast at Be Our Guest

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Disney began serving breakfast at Be Our Guest this Spring as part of a pilot program currently scheduled to  run through this summer.  At around $20 per person,  including your drink, it’s pretty steep for a quick-service breakfast, but guests have been packing this popular Disney dining destination since it opened on March 20th.  As part of the program, you can make your reservations online but just be aware that those, like those for dinner and lunch, can be pretty scarce. But it is worth it?

I’ll get right to the meat and potatoes (excuse me) of this post:  It was delicious. Our group sampled every entree and there wasn’t a dud in the mix. While you’re going to be temped to order the fried  donut croissant with caramel, bananas, and pastry cream, skip it; you’ll get plenty of pastries at your table regardless of what you order, so you’ll definitely satisfy your sweet tooth.  These pastries are brought to your table and are essentially “all you can eat.  Think mini chocolate croissants and danishes.

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Since you’re already going to be flirting with diabetes after all those pastries, try the creamy eggs Florentine, with just the right amount of spinach, served in a puff pastry square.  For something completely unexpected for American palates, try the cured meat and cheese platter, which ended up being the star of our table.

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Cheesy Croque Madame with bechemal sauce was another standout, though it was very heavy; I might skip it in really hot weather.   The only thing I would not order again was the open faced bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato on a baguette. Yes, it had brie cheese, one of my favorites, and it was good. But you need a chainsaw to get through the bread. You’re better off with more traditional breakfast fare.

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Kids can get bacon and eggs or even cereal, but you won’t find any Mickey waffles on the menu. You’ll also find French toast, crepes filled with yogurt and fruit, and oatmeal. Each kids meal is $11.99.

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Finally, adults who prefer a lighter meal can order scrambled egg whites, chicken sausage, roasted tomatoes and fruit.

Be Our Guest can be impossible to get into, so this is a nice opportunity for those who’ve been unable to get lunch or dinner reservations a chance to experience the gorgeous interior of the Beast’s Castle.   This delicious breakfast, while expensive, is a welcome addition in a park with few quick-service breakfast options. I loved trying this “higher-end,” French inspired breakfast. I’ll definitely be back.

Be Our Guest restaurant participates in the Disney Dining Plan. You’ll pay one quick-service credit for your meal. Tables in Wonderland cards are not accepted.

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