Resort Walk: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Topiary swans grace the courtyard of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Victorian elegance meets the Magic Kingdom? At Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, that’s exactly what the marketing copy promises. And while the original ambience of the staggering five-story open lobby atrium is overshadowed somewhat by the hordes of cartwheeling toddlers in princess gowns and dozing parents waiting for their airport transportation or dinner reservations, the resort itself, from its flawless grounds to its genteel lodging houses, is still a Disney experience like no other.

Topiary swans grace the courtyard of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Topiary swans grace the courtyard of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Disney’s flagship resort since its opening in 1988, the Grand Floridian overlooks the Seven Seas Lagoon from an enviable position just southwest of Adventureland. Sit out on your balcony, and you won’t even need to pay for a theme park view room to know exactly where you are: the toot of the Liberty Belle’s steam whistle as she sails around the Rivers of America, the passing steam trains, and even occasional wafts of parade music and pops of fireworks drift over the water from the Magic Kingdom.

The tall cupola marks the five-story lobby of the Grand Floridian. Around the atrium, the top three floors are Club Level, with their own lounge and perks.
The tall cupola marks the five-story lobby of the Grand Floridian. Around the atrium, the top three floors are Club Level, with their own lounge and perks.

But the resort grounds are as peaceful as the theme park pace is frantic. Stop here for cool breezes off the water, rustling the tall palm trees and scattering azalea blossoms over the lawns. The sparkling courtyard pool splashes with fountains, and is lined with a popular pool bar–it’s easy to while away a sunny day here. Lawn games like croquet and early-morning yoga are offered on the silken green grass.

This pink-flowering tree at the corner of the resort's central lawn is a spring spectacle, blooming every February.
This pink-flowering tree at the corner of the resort’s central lawn is a spring spectacle, blooming every February.

When it’s time for the Magic Kingdom, there’s no walking path, despite popular rumors to the contrary–the necessary bridge over the canal that holds the Electrical Water Pageant floats has never been built (or even planned, as far as I know).

The Grand Floridian is the last stop before the Magic Kingdom on the Resort monorail line.
The Grand Floridian is the last stop before the Magic Kingdom on the Resort monorail line.

The fastest route to the Magic Kingdom is the resort monorail, which stops here last on the way around the Seven Seas Lagoon. It might be full and your princess may have to stand up in her sparkly heels, but at least you’re just two minutes away.

The walk to the boat launch dock might be the most unassuming spot at the entire resort, but its unimpeded views of the Magic Kingdom offer amazing fireworks viewing at night.
The walk to the boat launch dock might be the most unassuming spot at the entire resort, but its unimpeded views of the Magic Kingdom offer amazing fireworks viewing at night.

On the way back, the resort launch is the most direct route. These lovely leisure launches make a triangular sailing from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian, then on to the Polynesian before returning the theme park entrance. They get busy late at night (you might well check to see if a bus is running back to the Grand Floridian, rather than facing the long loop of the return monorail–ask a Cast Member if one is running and check the board in front of the bus loop for the stop number) but during the day they’re usually uncrowded enough to let you choose the spot you want, close to the water and offering panoramic views of the resort.

The view from the Grand Floridian boat dock is all Magic Kingdom.
The view from the Grand Floridian boat dock is all Magic Kingdom.

The Grand Floridian is undeniably expensive, but when rooms go on sale, the location and amenities can make it a splurge-worthy experience. It’s great for littles because it’s so close to the Magic Kingdom, but you could just as easily make this lovely resort, with nightly fireworks over the Seven Seas Lagoon, and first-class dining inside, a staycation unlike any other.

Disney's Wedding Pavilion is adjacent to the Grand Floridian Villas.
Disney’s Wedding Pavilion is adjacent to the Grand Floridian Villas.

It’s also home to Disney’s Wedding Pavilion. Even if you’re not invited to a wedding, you can slip over to the pavilion’s entrance loop for some eye-popping views–on any given day you might see the bride and groom depart in Cinderella’s glass coach, drawn by six white ponies, or the Grand Floridian’s signature vintage car, looking like they’re heading to East Egg for the reception. Check the board inside the hotel lobby for the day’s wedding times–there are often as many as three on a single day.

Sailing the Seven Seas Lagoon from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Sailing the Seven Seas Lagoon from Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

So don’t be spooked by the stuffy-sounding theme… or the children’s shouts echoing off the white marble in the Grand Floridian’s lobby. The heart of the resort, tranquil and serene as a Victorian seaside resort should be, is outside that imposing lobby building… and it’s a beautiful place to stroll, stay, or play.

Europe Vacations: Guided Tours versus Self-Driving Tours

Sometimes, the toughest decision about your Europe vacation is if you should go the guided tour route or the self-driving route. If you’re visiting a place with limited rail options, or want to experience landmarks outside of major cities, traveling by car or bus is often your best option. So how do you choose: guided tours versus self-driving tours?

Lonely roads and mountains along the Ring of Kerry.
The winding roads of the Ring of Kerry make keeping your eyes on the road a frustrating challenge!

Here’s what I learned about what guided tours can offer while I was on a self-guided Ireland road trip.

Country roads, take me home. Please. Immediately.

Here’s what they don’t tell you in the brochures: driving country routes in Ireland is scary. It’s not just that you’re driving on the left-hand side in Ireland. That’s fine. The motorways are fine. Irish drivers seem very polite and capable. It’s the rural roads that you have to watch out for.

These can be extraordinarily small, twisty roads. Often hedgerows or stone walls or even houses are right up against the pavement, with no shoulders to speak of. Passing through towns offers a whole new challenge because cars can park half on sidewalks, half on the street, narrowing busy thoroughfares to one lane. And street signs can be non-existent. The situation is similar in England and Scotland.

During our Ireland road trip we quickly learned the difference between N and R roads, and took our navigation suggestions accordingly. R roads can literally be farm tracks through forests, or take winding climbs up mountainsides with a deep stream along one side of the road. Please don’t ask me how I know this; I really don’t feel up to sharing that story yet!

The person driving the car misses the show

You can see so much scenery when you’re not driving… and almost nothing when you are. A great example of this is the twisting scenic route through Killarney National Park. Everyone knows the Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s single-greatest must-sees, right? It’s a drive through ancient mountains, and gorgeous wilderness where only sheep live, and past deep, brooding lakes of unimaginable beauty. Many travelers consider the Ring of Kerry one of the world’s great beauty spots. And if you’re the one driving, you’re going to miss most of it.

Pulling over to the roadside for a better look in Killarney National Park, Ireland
Pulling over to the roadside for a better look in Killarney National Park, Ireland

That’s because this well-traveled road is narrow and sinuous, threading its way through valleys and up mountainsides and sometimes, memorably, through one-lane blind curves carved through a rocky archway. Tour buses take this route daily, and coming around a turn to find yourself face to face with a motor coach is… well… let’s just say I had to ride in the backseat, because my nerves couldn’t take the windshield view.

My husband, who was driving, would have enjoyed that trip a million percent more if someone else had been behind the wheel. It’s the kind of drive where you need to press your nose against the window and take it all in, gasping periodically at the wild beauty of the countryside — not be forced to concentrate on the road.

“Tourist Attraction” isn’t a bad word

Tourist attractions are usually tourist attractions for a reason: they’re places worth seeing. Especially if you’re on your first trip to a country like Ireland or the United Kingdom — you’re going to want to see Galway, or Bath, or Stirling. You wouldn’t skip them just because they’re full of tourists. So whether you’re driving or a bus driver is handling the road, you’re going to be at the same tourist attractions as the folks who took the guided tour. The only difference is how you got there, and how you’ll be leaving.

The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland
We walked The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland alone for a few minutes, then a small tour bus pulled up. Whether you drive or take a tour, you’ll probably visit many of the same places.

Sure, there are times on a self-guided vacation when you’ll be all on your own, and have experiences you couldn’t get on your average tour. For example, we opted to visit the south side of the Cliffs of Moher, rather than the extremely busy north end where the visitor’s center is, and where the tour buses go — and it was amazing: wild and isolated, with hardly anyone around, and no sounds but the crashing of waves against the cliffs and the cries of seabirds. Afterwards, we went to a quiet restaurant in the nearby town of Liscannor and ate platters of delicious fish and chips.

But we got there via torturous one-lane roads (some lined on both sides with stone walls, so we had to pray no one else would drive down them), walking a mile up a muddy lane and climbing over stiles in fences, and at one point we found ourselves part of the local St. Patrick’s Day parade. Yes, this happened. There was a llama being led in the parade, then us. People lining the road waved to us. It was strange.

Local Color

Half the fun of traveling through new countries is meeting the locals, hearing stories, and learning about places from the people who live there. If you’re not good at striking up small talk with the bartender or the couple sitting next to you, you might never get those conversations. Ask me how I know.

One of my favorite parts of our Ireland trip was a jaunting cart ride, with a local tour guide sharing gossip and great stories.
One of my favorite parts of our Ireland trip was a jaunting cart ride, with a local tour guide sharing gossip and great stories.

Tour guides have relationships with local business owners, which turns into personalized experiences for you. So while you might think that being on a tour is impersonal, or maybe you’re an introvert and think it would be awful to be surrounded by a group — the opposite is actually true. Here’s a first-hand example:

Recently, I went on a guided tour of England’s Great West Way, and we stopped in a small town called Hungerford for Sunday lunch. The restaurant had a really strange name (“The Tutti Pole”) and old photos on the wall that had us all in stitches guessing what was going on — why were so many men in suits kissing women, and was that man getting shod like a horse?? Then the chef came around to tell us the history of The Tutti Pole, which is a flower-bedecked stick you can see in the restaurant’s front window, and Hocktide, the holiday involving the Tutti Pole, the Tutti-Men, kissing women, oranges, and shoeing the newbies. He told us how members of his family were involved in the ceremonies, and even pointed out some of them in photos.

It’s the kind of half-insane, half-wonderful ancient English tradition you want to discover during your trip… but unless you’d had a connection to the owners of the restaurant, you might never have gotten the story! Sure, you could have Googled it… but it was much more fun getting the story directly from the people who live these traditions.

Now, don’t get me wrong — there are lots of great attributes to traveling independently and I’ll some of those stories and points in articles here as well. But if you’re on the fence about a guided tour, or just have never considered them before, these are some angles you might not have considered.

The biggest takeaway we brought home from our Ireland trip was that we do not like driving vacations. Even if the roads weren’t frightening, the driver just misses too much during scenic routes. And if you plan right, all of your routes are scenic. We need to go back to Ireland, perhaps on a specialty tour itinerary, where we can just focus on the views and not the roads.

Our next vacation is to Scotland, and we are taking trains and busses, rather than driving. We are also taking a guided tour to the Isle of Skye while we’re there, because we couldn’t find a good train route that matches up with the rest of our trip. I’m looking forward to leaning my head against the window and absorbing the beauty of the Highlands while a guide tells me about the history of the land and towns we pass. And also checking out where they suggest we go for lunch! After all… the locals know best.

Spring Events at Walt Disney World Resort

Spring is my favorite season at Walt Disney World! With the lush beauty of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, the rich blue skies of March and April, and the prospect of at least a few cool evenings to enjoy the parks before the hot days of summer set in, spring at Disney is filled with beautiful scenery and fun times.

Here’s a preview of spring events at Walt Disney World Resort coming in 2019.

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Spring Beauty at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Spring Beauty at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Get ready for #FreshEpcot on social, because the year’s most floral festival is back for a record-setting run this year! Running March 6 to June 3, 2019, the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is celebrating longer dates and more entertainment in its 26th year. The festival’s free concert series, Garden Rocks, expands to seven nights a week, with performances by bands like Berlin, Lonestar, Night Ranger, The Smithereens, and A Flock of Seagulls.

Expect new delicious light bites from the Outdoor Kitchens, too, which are scattered throughout World Showcase and Future World. This year, I’m looking forward to trying the new Arbor at the Gardeners Terrace, which will be offering fried green tomatoes with a blue crab salad, and a mixed-berry buttermilk cake with apple cider sorbet. Yum! And I’ve got to try the Islamorada Beer Company’s Coconut Key Lime Pie Ale, on the menu at The Citrus Blossom.

Tinker Bell Topiary at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Tinker Bell welcomes guests to the butterfly aviary at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Of course, even if you’re not interested in gardening (and all of the amazing seminars and classes available during the festival) just walking around Epcot during what is definitely its prettiest season is a delight in and of itself. The topiaries of Disney characters, the lush new gardens, and the incredible floral mosaics planted around the Future World Lagoons are must-sees. I can’t wait!

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival with monorail
A few clouds can’t take away from Epcot’s spring charm!

Magic Kingdom After Hours

The Magic Kingdom at night with Cinderella Castle and the carousel
The Magic Kingdom is just better at night!

One of the most fun ways to experience Magic Kingdom? After dark! Maybe I’m biased–when I started working at Splash Mountain in 2005, Magic Kingdom routinely stayed open until 3 o’clock in the morning for Extra Magic Hours, and I often worked entire shifts after sunset. I got to love Magic Kingdom by flickering lamplight, as you can experience in Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, and parts of Fantasyland.

Now, on certain nights, Magic Kingdom ups the nighttime fun with a special event including favorite attractions, free ice cream novelties, popcorn, and some bottled beverages, and a limited number of tickets — meaning fewer crowds, shorter lines, and more late-night fun! The event is three hours long, but your ticket gets you in at 7 PM, making the latest events in spring a very good deal. These event nights start at 10 PM and last until 1 AM:

Thursday, March 21, 2019
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Thursday, April 11, 2019

This is a specially ticketed event you’ll want to add to your vacation package!

All three parks offer After Hours events, so if you’re looking to stay out late, ask if any events overlap with your vacation dates!

Mother’s Day Shopping at Disney Springs

Mother’s Day 2019 is May 12th — where will you be? If you’re heading to Central Florida for a Mother’s Day weekend, put Disney Springs on your must-do list. The shopping and entertainment district at Walt Disney World Resort is promising great sales, complimentary gifts, and fun activities to celebration mom’s special day. With so many one-of-a-kind shops and high-end boutiques to explore at Disney Springs, seems like a can’t miss.

Atlanta Braves Spring Training at ESPN Wide World of Sports

Is this really the final season? The Atlanta Braves continue their twenty-year tradition for one more spring training season at ESPN Wide World of Sports, located near Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Catch a game while you’re here! The season runs through the end of March. See the calendar.

With the last cool evenings before summer is upon us for another five months, spring is a bright and beautiful time to get outside at Walt Disney World Resort. With all of these spring events coming, you’ll have some great additions to your next vacation! See you real soon!

Disney Secrets: Crew’s Cup at Disney’s Yacht Club

When people ask me for some of my favorite “Disney secrets,” I tend to think of food first. I know, I know! But Disney theme park food is such a crazy, trend-hopping experience, and everyone seems to have their own very serious opinions on churros and Dole Whips and popcorn.

But come on, those are fun snacks and all… but if you’re serious about your Disney food, you want to know where the real flavors are hiding. So here is where you’ll find of some of my favorite Disney secrets: Crew’s Cup at Disney’s Yacht Club.

Where is Crew’s Cup?

First off, let’s talk for a moment about Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. These sister resorts are located just past Epcot’s International Gateway — that’s the World Showcase entrance to Epcot — and overlook Crescent Lake. Across the water from them, you’ll find Disney’s Boardwalk, plus the pathways to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin.

The lighthouse at Disney's Yacht Club, overlooking Disney's Boardwalk.
The lighthouse at Disney’s Yacht Club, overlooking Disney’s Boardwalk.

These are all awesome resorts to visit in their own right, and Boardwalk gets most of the attention because it has so many eateries, shops, and entertainment options placed right out on the waterfront boardwalk. By comparison, Yacht and Beach Club hide their dining options within the resort, behind the sprawling pool complex called Stormalong Bay. It’s easy to walk right past Yacht and Beach without ever seeing what’s hidden within, even if you decide to poke your head inside their (beautiful) lobby areas.

But head inside Yacht Club’s lobby, turn right and follow the winding passage to the right of Ale & Compass Lounge. After a few turns around the restaurant here, you’ll find a small boat guarding a small doorway with an even smaller sign, reading “Crew’s Cup.” You’re here.

Interior: Crew's Cup Lounge at Disney's Yacht Club
Dark wood and golden lanterns give Crew’s Cup Lounge a cozy feel.

Crew’s Cup theming probably won’t blow your mind, unless you really love rowing. There are some rowing trophies scattered around, and a boat suspended from the low ceiling. The dark, cozy atmosphere of the lounge is unfortunately at odds with the three large televisions tuned to ESPN, but at least they’re on mute. That’s okay. The star here is the food (and drink, especially if you love a good wine list).

What to Order at Crew’s Cup

Technically, Crew’s Cup is the lounge for the signature restaurant Yachtsman Steakhouse, meaning they share a kitchen and, when Yachtsman isn’t too busy, you may be able to order off that venerable restaurant’s menu. Yachtsman specializes in premium steaks, and if you enjoy watching a master butcher cutting steaks, look for the table on the right that looks into the meat locker. You’ll get a master class in chopping up beef.

Even if you’re there on a busy Saturday night and the Yachtsman menu is off-limits, you’re in luck. Because the lounge menu is where my Disney secrets reside!

February, 2019 menu at Crew's Cup Lounge, Disney's Yacht Club
Menu for Crew’s Cup Lounge at Disney’s Yacht Club – February 2019

Lounge menus are an opportunity for chefs to play with concepts, so you’ll find the menu’s entrees and appetizers are subject to change throughout the year. However, these three items tend to be the constants:

Yachtsman Signature Bread: sourdough baguette, pull-apart onion rolls, roasted garlic, butter ($7 at time of publication)

Baked Cheese Dip: manchego and gouda, house-made chorizo, peppers, artichoke hearts, and pretzel bread ($13 at time of publication)

Classic Crew Burger: Mr. Tractor Honey Mustard, miso bacon, house-made ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, bread and butter pickles, onions, cheddar cheese, and hand-cut fries ($20 at time of publication)

Of these three items, the ones I vouch for as my favorite Disney secrets are the bread, and the baked cheese dip. (The Crew Burger is good but not as good as it used to be, I’ll explain later).

If you love cheese, the baked cheese dip will make your heart sing. The manchego and gouda blend is served hot, with a sprinkling of green scallions and sliced olives on top, and a few juicy artichoke hearts swimming within. The fluffy cheese spreads beautifully on the sliced pretzel bread roll served with it.

Baked cheese dip appetizer at Crew's Cup Lounge, Disney's Yacht Club
Pretzel bread and baked cheese dip – divine! At Crew’s Cup at Disney’s Yacht Club.

Make it last longer by adding the Yachtsman signature bread to your order. The pull-apart onion rolls do pair perfectly with the head of roasted garlic and salted butter served alongside, but those sourdough rolls can go straight into the cheese dip as far as I’m concerned! Delicious.

Rolls and butter appetizer at Crew's Cup Lounge, Disney's Yacht Club
Roasted garlic and salted butter are the perfect complement to fresh-baked rolls.

As for the Classic Crew Burger, this used to be Disney’s best burger, and you’ll still see reviews calling it as such. Your mileage may vary. The last time I ordered it, it had gone from one thick patty to two thin, diner-style patties. They still use premium meat from Yachtsman’s butcher to make the burger, and the generous toppings and fries served alongside are all top quality, but I do question the $20 price now. If you’re happy to drop the money, it’s still great to split alongside the baked cheese dip — you can dip the fries in the cheese too, yummm!

Drinks at Crew’s Cup

With the New England yachting theme of the resort, you can expect some dark liquids stored in dusty bottles on the shelves, and I did hear a bartender saying something about a port flight. Still, the bar menu is the standard Disney bar menu. However, they do have an extensive wine list, courtesy of the signature restaurant next door of course.

As of this writing, they’d added a 22 oz. stein of draft beer to their Florida craft beers on tap for much less than buying two regular beers, which is a really nice option when you’re stopping in for a leisurely drink and some salty cheese! The options were Cigar City Jai Alai IPA (a standard local IPA offering around Walt Disney World, with a really nice caramel-touched bitter flavor), a Crooked Can kolsch from nearby Winter Garden, and another pale beer which escapes me now.

If you’re looking for an escape from a busy afternoon or evening at Epcot, Crew’s Cup is a fantastic option. Seating can be limited, so you might have to borrow chairs or wait a few minutes to make it work, but I think you’ll find it’s worth your time.

Crew’s Cup: definitely one of my favorite Disney secrets!

10 Delicious Ways to Use a Disney Snack Credit

Ready for a real treat? If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, you’re going to find yourself with a lot of snack credits to use during your vacation — two per person, per night of stay, with the regular dining plan! And while they’re great for things like breakfast pastries, letting you save those meal credits for bigger and better dining occasions, you’re at Disney World — you’re going to want to splurge on some delicious treats!

Delicious Disney Snacks
Yum! Minnie and Mickey Rice Krispy Treats can’t be beat.

Go beyond popcorn and ice cream with these delicious ways to use your Disney snack credits. There are even great ideas here for using your snack credits to take treats home!

Mickey Rice Krispy Treats

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Top them with sprinkles, top them with chocolate chips, top them with crazy icing, or just eat them with their gooey marshmallow goodness: Mickey Rice Krispy treats are the signature Walt Disney World treat! Get them on a stick with plenty of toppings, or pick up a pre-wrapped one just about anywhere at the parks and resorts. Pro tip: use up your leftover snack credits on these yummy treats and save them for your flight home, gifts for friends, or a little touch of Disney after you’ve gotten home!

Tinker Bell Ice Cream (Magic Kingdom)

The key lime Dole whip, white chocolate wings, sugar cone and green cotton candy dusted with edible glitter is everything a pixie dusted-dessert should be. The gorgeous fluffy halo of the most popular Instagram pics might not appear on every cone — it’s very difficult to get cotton candy to stay airy and photogenic on a humid Florida afternoon! — but we think the magic is still there! Get it when it’s on the menu at Storybook Treats in Magic Kingdom, right next to The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Zebra Domes (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge)

If you’re dining at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s vast buffet, Boma, you’ll be able to help yourself to piles of delectable Zebra Domes — a weighty little sugar-bomb of Amarula Cream Liquor mousse and white chocolate. But if not, stop into the Lodge’s counter-service restaurant, The Mara, or Kidani Village’s merchandise shop, Johari Treasures, and look for these pre-packaged four-packs of Zebra Domes. But be warned: these sweet favorites sell out!

Poutine (Epcot)

It’s gravy! It’s cheese curds! It’s french fries! It’s hard to go wrong! Grab some poutine at the Refreshment Port, located in World Showcase near Canada. When you want a savory flavor for a snack credit, poutine delivers the goods.

Citrus Swirl (Magic Kingdom)

They say there are two kinds of Disney person: Citrus Swirl, or Dole Whip. I’m happy to claim to both: give me either one and a spoon, and I’m a happy Disney girl. Citrus Swirl is definitely a Walt Disney World original, with a blend of soft-serve vanilla ice cream and frozen orange juice slush that’s been around since the early years of the Magic Kingdom. My tip: make sure every bite is half vanilla and half orange. The two pair together perfectly; separately, the sweet profile of the vanilla can make the orange juice taste bitter. Get it at Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland, across from the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse.

Dole Whip Float (Magic Kingdom)

There are Dole Whips… and there are Dole Whip floats. Now, look, I’m a fan of pineapple soft serve as much as the next person… but I advise you to get the Dole Whip swirl, with vanilla, just to take the fruity edge off. Better yet, get the Dole Whip Float – and ask for the Vanilla/Pineapple swirl in that. Once the pineapple juice and ice cream hits your tastebuds, you’ll understand why. Get your Dole Whips and Dole Whip floats at the Magic Kingdom (Aloha Isle – Adventureland), and Disney’s Polynesian Resort (Pineapple Lanai). You’ll also find Dole Whip options at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and assorted other locations with an optional rum topper. It really keeps showing up in new places all the time!

Peter Pan Float (Magic Kingdom)

Another Storybook Treats entry is the delicious (and beautiful) Peter Pan Float! Key lime ice cream, Sprite, and a red chocolate feather make it both refreshing and utterly Instagrammable.

Maleficent Cone (Magic Kingdom)

So, Storybook Treats apparently has all of the lime ice cream in the park, and so when you have things you want to make green for thematic reasons, that’s where you put them. In this case, it’s to celebrate the return of Maleficent, the fire-breathing dragon, in the the Festival of Fantasy parade. This cone is usually available during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, too. So look for it — you never know!

Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)

Satu’li Canteen, in Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, gets rave reviews for its bowls, which include your choice of proteins like chicken, beef, or chili-spiced tofu; and some other original items like steamed cheeseburger buns. But for snacks, everyone agrees on the futuristic curves of the blueberry cream cheese mousse with passionfruit curd.

Starbucks (All Theme Parks & Disney Springs)

Hot or cold, night or day, Starbucks is here to save the day. For just a snack credit!

All of these items were on Walt Disney World menus and part of the Disney Dining Plan at time of publication, but menus do change without notice, so be sure to look for the purple DDP logo before ordering. Generally, you’ll find single-serve items for $6 or less are available with Disney snack credits, although there are exceptions to that rule. When in doubt, ask a Cast Member! They’ll be happy to show you snack credit menu items.

Do you have favorite ways to use your Disney snack credits? Comment with your best tips!

9 Reasons to Visit Disney World in 2019

Because you’re always looking for some good excuses to visit Disney World, right? Here are nine practically perfect reasons your next Disney vacation should be this year!

1. Mickey and Minnie’s Surprise Celebration

Magic Kingdom is always party central!
Magic Kingdom is always party central!

We are all about a good Magic Kingdom celebration, because they always bring the triple crown of Disney parties: great music, great meet-and-greets, and great treats! And since it’s Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday, you can bet this one is special. Mickey and Minnie’s Surprise Celebration has everything: an all-new dance party on Main Street U.S.A. with the awesome name Move It! Shake It! MousekeDance It!, surprise characters to meet and mingle with in Town Square, and delicious new eats making cameos all over the parks.

I have my eyes on that Minnie Kitchen Sink sundae from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor… and I’m weirdly tempted by the burger with macaroni and cheese over at Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland!

2. Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Have you been here yet? Toy Story Land is the addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios we’ve all been waiting for… well, if you’re more of a Pixar fan than a Star Wars fan, anyway (don’t worry, Star Wars fans, your time is coming).

Everything great about Disney theming comes to play in Toy Story Land, with towering toys and backyard scenes to make you feel like you’re toy-sized yourself! After you’ve ridden Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers, get a yummy snack from Woody’s Lunch Box, where you’ll find fun new treats like the chocolate-hazelnut lunch box tart — hint, it looks like a Pop Tart! Plus, old favorite Toy Story Mania! is open, with a great new themed entrance.

3. More Brand-New Pixar Fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Time flies — because Toy Story Land opened last year. 2019’s new Pixar fun includes an Incredibles spin on the area formerly known as Pixar Place, and an all-new show coming in Spring featuring Lightning McQueen.

First there’s Municiberg, the transformation of Pixar Place, with Super Hero fun like a dance party featuring The Incredibles and Frozone, Edna Mode’s Super-Suit Gallery, and a fun search for Jack-Jack. Great details around Municiberg include mid-century style posters, some of which echo classic Walt Disney attractions posters.

Nearby, Walt Disney Presents is now home to a monstrously fun new meet and greet with Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan — that’s “Sulley” to you. Mike and Sulley are happy to hug, take pictures, and maybe, if you’re lucky, give you a (tiny) scare!

Finally, the Sunset Showcase theater is welcoming an all-new show, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, beginning around March 31, 2019! Featuring Lightning himself, along with his good friends from Radiator Springs and some of the racing buddies he’s made on the circuit, this show promises to be a lot of fun as the Piston Cup Champion tries to share his racing wisdom via his new high-tech simulator. Hopefully everything goes according to plan for Lightning… we’ll see!

4. Hakuna Matata Dance Parties at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Here’s the thing about dance parties: kids love them. So if you’re ever wandering around the parks and hear a bass beat start to pump, watch those kiddos follow the music wherever it leads them. Luckily, at Walt Disney World, it leads them straight to some pretty fun animal friends! The new Hakuna Matata Dance Party features Timon, Pumbaa, and some other Disney pals, dancing worry-free at the Discovery Island stage.

It’s an awesome chance for parents to unwind and take some great pictures while the kids get their groove on — unless the music is so infectious, you have to join in too!

5. Nonstop Concerts at Epcot

Visiting Disney World in spring? Then you can enjoy the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival!
Visiting Disney World in spring? Then you can enjoy the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival!

Epcot is turning into a serious live-music destination in 2019, welcoming a variety of genres to the America Gardens Theater for free concerts. First off, there’s the Disney on Broadway Concert Series, running as part of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts through February. Stars of Disney on Broadway will be performing nightly seven days a week, a big jump from previous years!

Next, there’s Garden Rocks, part of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Every night from March through June, Epcot will feature performances by bands like Berlin, The Smithereens, Lonestar, and Jon Secada.

When summer hits, it’s time for Guardians of the Galaxy — Awesome Mix Live! to make its triumphant return. Star-Lord, Gamora and a galactic back-up band will be back with their favorite hits from the 70s and 80s.

6. Typhoon Lagoon After Dark

Late-night fun comes to Typhoon Lagoon!
Late-night fun comes to Typhoon Lagoon!

Typhoon Lagoon is one of my family’s favorite places at Walt Disney World… honestly, it might be my favorite park. There’s water, there’s palm trees, there’s an ice cream sundae that comes in a full-size sand pail, complete with shovel — what more does a girl need on a hot Florida day?

How about late-night fun on a hot summer night? Disney is bringing back H20 Glow Nights at Typhoon Lagoon, a specially-ticketed event with a beach bash posted by your favorite pals from Toy Story, special menu items, and more. It will be held Thursday and Saturday nights May 30th through August 24th, giving you plenty of summer to enjoy it in. Talk about a refreshing evening after a day in the parks!

7. A Full 12 Weeks of Halloween Fun

Okay, first I had to get over my disappointment that it’s not 13 Weeks of Halloween Fun. Then I got a hold of myself, because 12 weeks is a lot of Halloween! It’s perfect, though, because Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party has exploded in popularity, and the more people who get to enjoy this amazing night at Magic Kingdom, the better. Once a local’s only-secret, now everyone wants to get in on the party — because it has what most fans consider the best shows, parades, and fireworks of the year, plus free candy!

Tickets for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party are already on sale, making now the perfect time to plan your fall vacation… and by fall, we mean anytime between August 16 and November 1. Costume ideas, anyone?

8. Baby Animals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Maybe this should be number one. But I already numbered it. Anyway, the baby animal scene at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a serious reason to visit Disney World in 2019. First of all, a baby giraffe has just joined the party — he was actually born on the savanna! Disney animal keepers say he’ll be back out on the savanna for guests to see later this spring. If you get there sooner, though, don’t worry — Amira and Aella, born in autumn 2018, are already out on the savanna.

But wait, there are more! Also on the savanna of Kilimanjaro Safaris, you’ll find a baby hippo, born in January 2018, and a baby mandrill monkey, born in August 2018. And at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, you might glimpse a baby Okapi, born in October.

9. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Well, I have to put this one last, because we just don’t have an actual opening date for the newest land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But Disney’s official website says “opening Fall 2019,” and from the looks of things, the construction is ticking along nicely.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will feature an immersive environment that takes you to the planet Batuu, and its two big attractions promise cutting-edge technology and some serious thrills. Titled Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, it’s hard to imagine these won’t be the FastPass+ snags of the year. If you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan, you might want to hedge your bets with a resort booking for late fall.

All of those reasons to visit Walt Disney World in 2019, and we barely talked about food! Crazy, I know. But there’s more to Disney than dining… that’s what they say, anyway 😉

Which events are you looking forward to in 2019? Will we see you here in Florida this year? Let me know in the comments!

Relaxing Places at Disney: The Seas at Epcot

Most people think of Disney World as a bustling, busy place–crowds and lines and hurrying. And while you can certainly approach a Disney park with that “theme park commando” mentality, always hustling to the next attraction, trying to see as much as possible, I like a quieter day at Disney, with lots of stops in peaceful places I’ve fallen in love with over my many years of visiting the parks. For the first in an occasional series on relaxing places at Disney World, let’s look at The Seas at Epcot.  Continue reading “Relaxing Places at Disney: The Seas at Epcot”