Howard Jones at Epcot!

Humor me if you will for a moment. I am one of those 40-somethings who is still living in the 80’s. At least when it comes to my music. Much to my kid’s disgust, I sing along in the car anytime a Depeche Mode song comes on. (And I found a good radio station, so it’s a lot more then they deserve. Not many people hear me sing for good reason). So you can imagine my utter delight when I found out that Howard Jones will be performing at the Eat To The Beat Concerts October 22nd and 23rd when we will be in Disney for the Pixelmania weekend!

Howard Jones (opening for The Thompson Twins) was my first-ever concert in 1984 at the Garden State Arts Center (now the PNC Arts Center) in Holmdel NJ. Oh how I wish I still had my t-shirt! Now my i-pod has only The Best of Howard Jones, alas my Dream into Action and Human’s Lib cassettes are long gone, but I still know all the words to the songs. (Sorry kids, October will seem like it will never get here!)

As if a trip to The World wasn’t enough to look forward to, now I can also appease a bit of my high school nostalgia. Howard Jones will be performing at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase October 22nd and 23rd at 5:15pm, 6:30pm and 7:45pm. The concert is free with Epcot admission. Stay tuned for my review and pictures! (And I will try not to embarrass Dave too much if I decide to dress like Cyndi Lauper for a day!)

Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper

Disney Free Dining promotion for 2011!

Disney has released another free dining promotion! As of April 28th, Disney Visa cardholders can use their visa to book a “Memories Vacation Package”. (See below if you do not have a Disney Visa card.) You must book at least a three night stay with at least a two day base admission ticket. The package includes a Disney PhotoPass Book which does add about $100 to the price of the package. Guests staying at a value resort will receive the quick service meal plan at no charge. Guests staying at Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas will receive the regular dining plan at no charge. This offer is valid for stays most nights 8/28/2011-9/24/2011.

This deal will become available to the general public on May 5th, 2011.

2011 Disney World Free Dining Pin Code

Select Disney World fans are receiving the opportunity to book free dining by using a special pin code that they receive by email. This offer is valid for arrivals most nights 4/23/11-8/13/2011. Book by 4/30/2011. Value and moderate resort bookings include the quick service plan for free, Deluxe and Villa resort packages receive the standard dining plan.

No word yet on if this will become available to the general public. We can only hope!

Update! Free Dining Announced for 2011!


Kids Stay and Play for Free!

Disney has announced its Kids Stay and Play for FREE! package to for 2011.

Book a non-discounted room and ticket package with a minimum 4 night stay and children age 3-9 get theme park admission FREE. Book by February 13 for stays most nights February 17 to April 16, 2011. Book by March 27 for stays most nights April 28 to June 14, 2011 and August 14 to October 1, 2011.

The title of this offer is a bit misleading since children under 17 can always stay at a Disney Resort  for free with their parents. Also, the tickets are base tickets, without the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun and More options. Regardless, these ticket savings can be significant.

For more information, check out Mousesavers or the Disney Web Site.

Planning for our first Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Although I have been fortunate enough to visit the magical world of Disney four times over the past three years, I have yet to experience this wonderful thing they call the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. This is a perfect combination of my three favorite things! I grew up with a mother who took cooking classes from the Culinary Institute of America, James Beard and Richard Grausman, the American Representative for Le Cordon Bleu. We currently live in the New York Finger Lakes Region which boasts some of the finest up and coming wines like Riesling and Pinot Noir. And it’s all at Disney! I feel as if they created this festival just for me!

As soon as this year’s festival map was out, I printed myself a copy. Before the festival even started I was highlighting the food I wished to try. I tried to get the kids excited, but my son, who has food allergies and a picky appetite, was only interested in the German booth’s offering of the Sausage in a Pretzel Roll. My daughter, who is a bit more adventurous, was at first turned off by the “wine” reference, but as soon as she saw sushi on Japan’s menu, she was hooked.

Unfortunately this year our trip starts on the next to the last day of the festival. No matter, that will give me plenty of time to research the reviews so I can plan accordingly. Daily I have been reading the Disney Food Blog and the AllEars websites for updates and pictures. I have been highlighting my map in different colors, what I wish to try, what looks good, what people recommend, etc. I have been noting pricing too, since we are traveling during a “free dining” promotion, I want to get the most out of my snack credits. (Did you know you could use your snack credits towards the sample plates? How awesome is that??) So far, the best deal looks like the $7.25 Lobster Roll available at the Hops and Barley Marketplace. And it looks delicious too! Most plates are very reasonably priced from $2.50 to $5.00 for a more than adequate sample.

But this festival is more than just food; it’s also wine, and other beverages, both adult and kid friendly. The beer selections don’t interest me as much. I like good beer, (you won’t catch me drinking a Budweiser) but I want to focus more on drinks that I couldn’t get at my local bar. I had a harder time finding reviews on the drinks being offered. (I would think after about 3 drinks you could hardly walk straight much less form a cognitive opinion!) And unfortunately they are not considered a “snack” and although the wine seems to be reasonably priced, the mixed drinks tend to be substantially more expensive than the food.

Let’s start with the food. I have 10 “definite” booths I would like to try, 12 items total. The top of my list includes that Lobster Roll, Japan’s Tuna Sensation and Argentina’s Grilled Beef Skewer. And I will have to try France’s Escargot Persillade en Brioche. (My kids probably won’t even walk near a booth that serves snails!) And Belgium’s Steamed Mussels look heavenly. It was really hard to narrow this list down! I have 9 “maybe” booths, food that had mixed reviews or just doesn’t look as appetizing in the pictures. And I originally had 7 “skips” until I read more reviews and two of those booths had inexpensive items that came highly recommended. (Poland’s Pork Stuffed Cabbage and Puerto Rico’s Medianoche Sandwich each for only $2.75) And we’ll only be there for the last two days!

Now the drinks. I think that wine will be my beverage of choice for the most part. There are 18 booths that have wine (including South Korea’s Rice Wine and Ireland’s Honey Wine). I have tried wines from some of these countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand even South Africa and Chile, but I have never had Italy’s sparkling Prosecco or a Moroccan Sangria. A Chardonnay from China? Yes, I’m going to have to try that one. Glasses of wine seem to start at only $2.50 each (although I have no idea what the pour size is, it is difficult to judge in some of the pictures and they may vary from booth to booth) and the most expensive is Canada’s Ice Wine at $5.75. Alright, I’ll admit there are a couple of other drinks I may have to try; Poland’s Vodka Strawberry Balsamic Chiller just sounds interesting. And how can anyone pass up a Godiva Chocolate Liqueur Iced Coffee from Belgium?

And although it may be hard to think about after all that, there are still some desserts I would like to try too. 13 of the 27 booths are offering something for the sweet tooth, including one that is exclusively Desserts and Champagne. Belgium’s Waffles seem to be a big hit in the reviews and they are one of the less expensive choices at only $2.75. I’m a sucker for a bread pudding (Boma and Tusker House have the best) so I will have to try the Pecan Bread Pudding from the Hops and Barley Stand. (Actually, I may end up using all my credits at Hops and Barley. Now if they only sold wine…) And even though we live pretty close to Canada, I have never had the famed British Columbian Nanaimo bar and from the sounds of it, this one is pretty good.

So does anyone else have a plan of attack for the Festival? Have you already been there and can offer suggestions or tips? Any idea if in past years, booths would “wrap up early” towards the end of the festival and we might miss out on anything? I would love to hear from you to help make the most out of those last two days. And if nothing else, I’m sure it will all be a learning experience for the hopefully longer trip we can plan for next year!

Disney World Boat Transportation System

Using the Walt Disney World Boat transportation system on their extensive waterways is a relaxing, convenient, and unique way of getting from place to place on Disney property. Since not every location is connected by a waterway, it is simply not possible to use Disney World Boat transportation for all your travel needs on Disney property. However, if their routes fit your itinerary, boat transport can be a peaceful escape from the crowded busses, offering a smoother ride and even a cool breeze off the water. In addition, although they travel more slowly, their routes may still get you to your destination more quickly, especially when bus lines are long and nobody realizes the boat line is empty. Not to mention that there are no traffic lights on the waterways, and for that matter, there is no traffic whatsoever!

Epcot Internal Transport

On your first trip or two to Disney World you may not consider using the boats simply because there is not a lot of readily available info to help you find your way. For my first visit I didn’t even realize that the boats in World Showcase Lagoon in Epcot were open to the public. One runs between Canada and Morocco and the other between Mexico and Germany. Each of those boat rides saves a third of a mile walk. That may not sound like a lot saved steps, and you may be able to do the walk in less time, but after a full day in the parks in the 90+ degree August heat, it is a welcome break. Note that these routes run the Friendship boats which are enclosed and air conditioned. There is also limited open air seating in the back of the boat.

Disney World Boat Transportation in Epcot

Boat routes for World Showcase in Epcot

Epcot to Resorts and Hollywood Studios

Saving some miles in Epcot is just the start. Just outside the World Showcase entrance to Epcot you can pick up a boat that will get you all the way to Hollywood Studios. These are also from the Friendship fleet, offering the same enclosed air conditioned seating. The entire trip to HS will take about 40 minutes, including stops at the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club and the Swan and Dolphin resorts. That may sound like a long boat ride, but if you were already in World Showcase you would have a 15-20 minute walk out to your bus stop, a 5-20 minute wait for your bus and a 15 minute ride to Hollywood Studios. You may also consider walking to Yacht & Beach Club for an ice cream at Beaches-n-Cream and waiting for the next boat headed towards Hollywood Studios. Point is, there are many different ways to utilize the Disney Boat Transportation system to break up the day.

Disney World Boat Transportation from Epcot

Boat from Epcot thru Boardwalk Area to Hollywood Studios

Port Orleans to Downtown Disney

If you are staying at either of the Port Orleans resorts, Saratoga Springs, or Old Key West, you have the option of traveling by boat to Downtown Disney. These boats run to Downtown Disney Marketplace. For Port Orleans, take the Yellow Flag Boats.

Disney World Boat Transportation from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney

Port Orleans resorts to Downtown Disney

Saratoga Springs and Old Key West to Downtown Disney

The Disney World Boat Transportation also runs between Downtown Disney and the two DVC Resorts, Saratoga Springs and Old Key West. From Downtown Disney, take the Blue Flag boats.

Disney World Boat Transportation to Downtown Disney from Saratoga Springs and Old Key West

Old Key West and Saratoga Springs

The walk from Downtown Disney West Side to Marketplace is about 0.6 miles. Later in the day you can avoid this hike by taking the Green Flag Boat, which has a dedicated route between the two ends of Downtown Disney. Note that the Green Flag boats do not run until later in the afternoon.

Magic Kingdom area resorts to Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom has the most extensive options for traveling to and from by boat. There are three docks to catch the four different routes leaving Magic Kingdom. Check the signs to make sure you are waiting at the correct dock. Depending on the time of day, one to three large Ferryboats run back and forth to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). These are the largest boats, carrying up to 600 people on two levels and will accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. There are two dedicated boats for Wilderness Lodge (Red Flag) and two dedicated for Fort Wilderness (Green Flag). There are also two dedicated boats (Gold Flags) that run loops between Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian, and the Polynesian. Note that there is no direct boat from Magic Kingdom to The Contemporary. The only way to The Contemporary via boat would be to go to Wilderness Lodge or Fort Wilderness and then take the Blue Flag boat, which runs a dedicated loop between The Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness.

Disney World Boat Transportation around Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

As you can see, the boat transportation system at Disney World can be somewhat confusing and a bit complex. But once you get it figured out, it can add another dimension to the Disney Magic. It is a relaxing and unique mode of transportation that is sometimes more convenient and possibly more time efficient than other Disney transportation options. Download a Disney Boat Route Map.

Free Wireless Internet on Disney World Property

There is a lot of different information out there on what is available in the way of free wireless internet on Disney World Property. On our last trip to The World, I brought my iPod Touch with me to see for myself what truly is available. The info I share here is by no means comprehensive, but it is at least correct at the time of this post. On each vacation we take to The World, we will gather more info on any available free wi-fi we find. We will post this info on the blog but will also maintain the Free Wi-Fi On Disney World Property page for a single, convenient place to find the free wireless hotspots offered by Disney.

Truly free wireless Internet connections are rare on Disney property. One place to find it is in the Boardwalk area. Both Big River Grill and Brewing Works and The Wyland Gallery offer free wireless Internet. I talked with Cast Members in each location and verified that these are intentional free wireless hotspots provided for guests. To date, the only other legitimately free wireless I have found and verified is in Epcot, at Innoventions West, where the IBM Thinkplace offers free wi-fi.

In Hollywood Studios, near Star Tours, I found a wi-fi connection that required a login. The login page had a link for Disney employees to create a temporary login for their guests. I can only assume that this is exactly what it sounds like and anyone who is visiting as a guest of a Cast Member could get a temporary login to use this connection. I happen to know a Disney employee and am working on verifying this…

I have read about many other locations to find free wireless at Disney. On this last trip I found that most of them were incorrect but I have personally verified the few places I mention above. I imagine there are other locations but I will not post them until I have verified them myself. If you know of a location to find free wireless, leave us a comment below. I plan on putting more effort in to finding, verifying, and documenting as many of Disney’s free wireless hotspots as possible.

Disney Free Dining Extended through September 2011!!!

Free Disney Dining plan for all of 2011 rumors are TRUE! (well, almost)

Disney has extended the Free Dining Plan promotion for select nights thru September 29, 2011. As in the past, you get the Quick Service plan with vacations at Value resorts and the standard plan with Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts. This Free Dining promotion is valid for most arrival dates 10/1/10 – 10/7/10, 10/22/10 – 10/28/10, 11/12/10 – 11/18/10, 11/27/10 -12/2/10, 12/10/10 – 12/21/10, 1/1/11 – 1/5/11, 1/9/11 – 1/13/11, 1/21/11 – 2/3/11, 2/11/11 – 2/17/11, 2/25/11 – 3/3/11, 5/27/11 – 6/2/11 and 8/19/11 – 9/29/11. Not visiting during these times? Find out if paying for the dining plan is a good deal and if the dining plan is right for you and your family. To be eligible for the free dining offer, you must also stay for three consecutive nights and purchase a minimum two day base admission ticket. Note that most of March thru July is blacked out, with the odd exception of the Memorial Day timeframe in May-June. The biggest restriction is that you must book by 12/20/2010. Get all the details at mousesavers.com.

Disney Dining Plan Pricing for 2011

For 2011, Disney has made a couple of adjustments in addition to raising prices across the board for each of the Dining Plan options. First, when using a Quick Service credit for a breakfast, you are only entitled to an entrée and non-alcoholic beverage, versus the previous years entitlements of juice, entrée, and non-alcoholic beverage. Second, Le Cellier, one of the best dinner values for your dining plan table service credits, [Read more…]

Character Dining at Disney World

Donald's Safari Breakfast

Donald's Safari Breakfast

Character Dining at Walt Disney World is one of the best ways to get the most memorable pictures and a full autograph book. Dining with the Disney Characters doesn’t mean that they literally sit down at the table with you and eat, (kinda tough in some of those costumes!) but that they come out during your meal to greet you and have their picture taken and generally entertain you. It is also never guaranteed that a certain character will be in attendance, Cinderella at Cinderella’s Royal Table is a high probability, but don’t have your heart set on seeing Jasmine too, she may not show.

There are a couple of factors that will determine where you want to do your character meal. [Read more…]