TOP TEN Places to Enjoy Ice Cream at WDW


1.  GhirardelliWithout hesitation, Ghirardelli makes it to the top of our list for the quality of its ice cream and its variety of options.  Located in the center of the Marketplace section of Downtown Disney, this venue entices guests with free samples of chocolate and the smell of cooking waffle cones wafting through the air.  Although more often crowded than not, Ghirardelli provides guests with a quintessential ice cream parlor experience complete with sundae cups and extra- long spoons.  Sundaes, shakes, and floats are all available here as well as a selection of baked goods like cookies and brownies.  Items are available to go or guests may choose to be seated and have their ice cream creation delivered to them.  We prefer the latter as it provides a break from the heat and shopping and prevents us from wearing our sundaes.  If you are feeling adventurous, try The Earthquake, a gargantuan sundae that includes eight scoops or ice cream, eight toppings, and more.

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2.  Beaches and Cream:  Located at the Beach Club Resort on the covered walkway that formers the northern border of the Stormalong Bay pool complex, this fifties-style eatery and ice cream parlor is a step back in time.  Guests can be served by wait staff at tables inside the restaurant or may choose to purchase to-go ice cream creations at a separate walk up counter.  Many sunbathers and swimmers avail of this second option.  Beaches and Cream also serves hearty comfort food like hamburgers, hotdogs, sandwiches, and salads, but the ice cream is the real draw for most.  Not to be outdone by Ghirardelli’s Earthquake sundae, B and C offers The Kitchen Sink, another mammoth sundae with eight scoops of ice cream ,various toppings, and a whole can of whipped cream.  Be ready for some special attention when you order this whopper and dig in before the ice cream melts into a soupy mess.  Staff members here are friendly and keep this busy place efficient.

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3.  Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream:  For us, no trip to WDW would be complete without sharing (or not) one of these ice cream treats.  Rich vanilla ice cream covered in luscious chocolate in the shape of Mickey’s iconic silhouette make this a must have!  Available from many vendor carts and several counter service restaurants, this cool snack refreshes and provides a nice burst of energy on hot days.  Create your own ritual about how to eat it.  Ears first?  Left or right?  Be sure to catch the large sections of chocolate coating which may break off, you would not want to miss a morsel.

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4.  L’Artisan des Glaces:  A recent addition to the France pavilion in Epcot, L’Artisan des Glaces serves up wonderful ice creams and sorbets with plenty of indoor seating.  The real stars of this show are the Ice Cream Martini and the Croque Glace, two unique and distinctly French creations that are luxuriously decadent.  The Ice Cream Martini features two scoops of ice cream, a shot of Grand Marnier, whipped cream, and rum or vodka.  This provides plenty to share and is a decidedly adult indulgence.  The Croque Glace is L’Artisan’s answer to an ice cream sandwich.  Ice cream or sorbet is sealed inside warm brioche bread to make for an extra sweet send up of the traditional ice cream sandwich.  Guests who are purists and select unadulterated ice cream should not miss the Pistachio, Caramel Fleur de Sel, or Coconut White Chocolate flavors.  Each is to die for!

5.  Seashore Sweets:  Tucked in between Kouzzina (soon to be a new dining venue) and the Flying Fish restaurants at the Boardwalk Resort, Seashore Sweets draws young and old alike in for candies, salt water taffy, and ice cream.  The store and parlor itself pay homage to the Miss America pageants of yester year which were brought to the Atlantic seashore to drum up business as early as 1920.  Take a few moments to enjoy the artifacts and photos displayed.  We steer away from the cloying sweet candies and head for the ice cream counter.  Although not outrageously inventive with its flavor offerings, Seashore Sweets offers both hand scooped and soft serve ice cream with a variety of toppings.  A visit here makes an afternoon on the Boardwalk feel complete.

6.  Plaza Ice Cream Parlor:  Located at the extreme end of the east of the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, this now venerable establishment satisfies the thousands of guests who enter its doors daily.  A limited but worthwhile menu makes this a comforting stop.  We love the homemade ice cream sandwich which consists of two huge freshly baked cookies glued together with a generous helping of the ice cream flavor of your choice.  We also love the raspberry sorbet when it is available.  Two scoops can easily cool down two weary park goers.  Although Starbuck’s is a welcome addition to WDW, replacing Disney’s rather lack luster coffee of yore, the Seattle coffee company has taken over what little indoor seating the ice cream parlor had!  We are told that Disney is fast at work on a solution and that outdoor seating adjacent to the parlor should soon mirror the outdoor seating across the street at Casey’s.

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7.  Gelato at the Landscape of Flavors:  The gelato counter at the Art of Animation Resort’s Landscape of Flavors food court has become a food destination for us.  Flavors do change seasonally but many familiar favorites are always available.  This is, hands down, some of the best gelato we have ever tasted.  (We make our own and have been to Italy.)  Flavors like Pumpkin, Dulce de Leche, Coconut, and Pistachio have been our favorites.  The rich chocolate never fails us either.

8.  The FountainThe Fountain is appropriately subtitled “Sweet Treats” and serves as one of the Dolphin Resort’s casual dining venues.  A walk up counter serves a wide selection of ice cream creations in a lively, fun setting.  Located on the first floor of the Dolphin’s lobby and once known by the unfortunate name Tubbi’s, The Fountain serves floats, inventive shakes, sundaes, hand scooped ice cream, and soft serve selections.  All are available in cups or cones and can be enhanced with a seemingly endless selection of toppings.  Seasonal selections like cheesecakes and pies are also on hand.  Spend a lazy afternoon touring the Swan and Dolphin Resorts and reward yourselves with a stop at The Fountain.

9.  Captain Cook’s Snack Company:  Granted, this location is not technically an ice cream strong hold, but it is home to the only Dole Whip soft serve outside of the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.  Located on the first floor of the Polynesian Resort toward the Nanea Volcano feature pool, this counter service restaurant warrants a visit if only for the Dole Whip.  For the uninitiated, a Dole Whip is a soft serve vanilla ice cream and pineapple concoction that is the stuff of dreams.  We are of the opinion that the only thing that could improve it is a generous shot of Meyer’s 151 or Captain Morgan.  This treat is so popular that a cast member is assigned to the self-serve dispenser to fill Dole Whip cups for guests.  For those who have never tried it, do so soon.  One bite will explain “what all the fuss is about.”

10.  Kabuki Café:  This quick service venue rests in the shadow of the pagoda in Epcot’s Japan pavilion.  Although the Café does not serve ice cream, it is home to kakigori, or shaved ice topped with syrups.  Generous portions make it easy to share and flavors like tangerine, melon, and cherry are subtle, not overly sweet, and refreshing.  The tangerine was a revelation for us.  We never miss the chance to enjoy one of these cooling snacks when visiting WDW.

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TOP TEN Places to Get a Cocktail at WDW


1.  La Cava de Tequila:  Situated inside the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, this quaint (although often crowded) venue serves up some killer margaritas and tequila tasting flights.  Carved out of a former retail space to the right of the San Angel Inn restaurant, this snug bar offers boutique tequilas and inventive margaritas.  Try the Blood Orange, Hibiscus, or Cucumber margaritas.  We cannot decide which one is our favorite.  Although they are a bit steep in price, they are delicious.  Cava also offers a limited snacking menu with selections like chips, salsa, and house-made guacamole.  Cava has become extremely popular and long waits to get into this small space are common.  At times, a velvet rope is set up to establish an orderly waiting area.  Waits are even longer then.

2.  The California Grill:  Although it may seem out of the way for some guests, a trip to the lounge at the California Grill affords visitors the best view at WDW.  The lounge and restaurant are squeaky clean and cheery from a recent refurbishment and sightlines throughout the space have been improved.  Check-in for the California Grill sits on the third floor of the Contemporary Resort.  Guests without dinner reservations are allowed up to the lounge if there is space available.  This fairly new procedure is a much needed improvement.  Previously, guests seemed to be permitted upstairs willy-nilly, making for a crowded, unpleasant cocktail seating area.  Once atop the Contemporary, mouth-dropping views from 15 stories up mesmerize guests.  Huge floor- to-ceiling windows frame views of the Magic Kingdom and the resorts on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon.  The monorail looks like a toy train from here and views at dusk are enchanting as lights begin to flicker on blurring the harsh lines of the waning afternoon.  This is our favorite spot from which to take in a sunset.  The full dinner menu is available in the lounge as are the creative cocktails and winning wine selections.  Countless by-the-glass offerings enable guests to try wines that are otherwise quite pricey by the bottle.  We love the flatbreads and the sushi here.  One can make a light dinner of a few appetizers and a drink.  Servers here are very gracious and accommodating. Arrive early, preferably between 4:45 and 5:00PM to enjoy the best views and the least crowded lounge, otherwise, go later.  As you can imagine, California Grill bustles around fireworks time.  If possible, dress the part.  The California Grill is a fine dining restaurant and standard tourist garb ruins the atmosphere.  Make it a special outing and break out a collared shirt or a sun dress.  As the sun slips below the horizon behind the Grand Floridian and you sip a perfect Cosmo or crisp white wine, think of us and raise a glass!

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3.  Belle Vue Lounge:  This lounge makes our list for its sheer charm, light crowds, and welcoming balcony.  Located on the second floor of the Boardwalk Inn, adjacent to the elevator banks, the Belle Vue Lounge wraps guests in turn of the century charm and casual elegance.  Wicker and over-stuffed furniture coupled with wood paneling and rich fabrics make this space feel like a private club or a salon in a decadent house.  A gorgeous wooden staircase anchors one end of the room and a bank of windows and glass doors the other.  The impossibly soft couches and chairs make it hard to resist a nap!  For a wonderful view of the Boardwalk and Crescent Lake, step out onto the adjacent balcony and enjoy your libation.  The courtyard formed by wings of Boardwalk Inn and Villas teems with guests moving to and fro and the toot of the Friendship launches adds a soothing soundtrack to the afternoon or evening.  Try an old –fashioned cocktail like a Gimlet, a Manhattan, or a Side Car and relax.  Stopping in here for a drink makes us feel like we are returning to the home of an old friend.

4.  Rix Lounge:  Located between the lobby and the Pepper Market at the Coronado Springs Resort, Rix’s Lounge has an edgy, urban, eclectic vibe not found at other Disney watering holes.  It is, in fact, the closest thing Disney has to a night club.  Rix’s often fills up with conventioneers, but we have never found ourselves without a seat here.  In fairness, many of the conventions that come to Coronado cater to a more sedate crowd.  On one visit, a Tupperware convention had the resort at capacity, but Rix’s was still inviting.  Floor to ceiling curtains form virtual walls, defining the space and creating a necessary scrim to hide the dining area of the Pepper Market.  The small groups of chairs and sofas scattered throughout Rix and copious bar stools make it easy to find a spot.  Two of the sofas are actually hung from the ceiling, suspended by chairs that make them feel as if they were the nightclub version of a front porch swing.  If you are craving the feeling of really “going out on the town,” then stop by Rix’s, order a glowing cocktail, and soak it all in.  Rix’s also features a light “bites” menu which includes items like sliders, hummus, dips, and fried calamari.  If you are craving a happy hour feel, Rix’s is the place!

5.  Crew’s Cup Lounge:  We are hesitant to include this lounge on our list because, selfishly, we want to keep it a secret.  Practically unknown to many WDW guests and even to a few experts, the Crew’s Cup serves drinks and food from early afternoon until midnight.  Tucked into a small space steps from the Yachtsman’s Steakhouse at the Yacht Club resort, this location evokes the boathouses of the Ivey League with a crew boat suspended upside down from the ceiling and other accoutrements of rowing rounding out the space.  A row of booths on one side of the room is balanced by a window into the meat preparation room of the steakhouse.  Chairs, sofas, and cocktail tables reside in the center of the room with a gorgeous wooden bar on the north wall.  Guests can enjoy regional brews or selections from the full bar here as well as meals.  The Crew’s Cup begins serving sandwiches, appetizers, soups, and salads right around the time the Captain’s Grille closes.  This lounge has saved the day for us on several occasions when we found ourselves hungry between the lunch and dinner offerings at other restaurants.  (Table service restaurants located in Disney resorts generally stop serving lunch at 2:00PM and reopen for dinner at 5:00PM.)  Not to be missed here are the fried rock shrimp, Buffalo wings, and truffle fries.  Admittedly, we would eat cardboard with truffle oil on it, notwithstanding, the truffle fries here are heavenly and go so well with a drink.  Hand cut and sprinkled with truffle oil and parmesan cheese, these fries are the stuff of legend.

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6.  The Wave:  The bar and lounge at The Wave on the ground floor of the Contemporary Resort would make the list merely for its hours were it not for the fact that staff here are exceptional.  One of the few lounges open from lunch and straight through dinner, The Wave has a neighborhood bar feel from about 2:30 to 5:30PM when most other bars are closed.  Guests waiting for their Magical Express pick up, resort guests, and those taking a break from park touring congregate here.  Although we wish The Wave had windows, the large bar here is lively and airy and service is both friendly and efficient.  There are venues with more commanding views and better locations, nevertheless, the service and generous operating hours of The Wave vault it onto our list.

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7.  Fulton’s Crab House:  The bar and lounge on the first floor of Fulton’s Crab House is charming to the ninth degree.  Located in the bow section of this re-creation of a paddle-wheeler, this U-shaped room is lined with wood-framed windows and high top tables that offer excellent views of the water and skyline of Downtown Disney as well as vistas of the Saratoga Springs Resort.  Wood furniture and a select mix of sea-faring décor surround guests and add to the nautical feel here.  The bar serves refreshing drinks and a wide selection of microbrew beers and wines by the glass.  The full menu is also available at the bar.  We usually make do with items from the raw bar or a soup and salad if hungry.  A welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of shopping at Downtown Disney, Fulton’s makes you want to linger.  We love hiding out here to avoid a fast-approaching afternoon rain shower.  Nighttime views are equally appealing, with the lights of the Westside and Saratoga Springs flickering not far away.  We also love the Portobello Mushroom Fries as a bar treat. Fulton’s is home to the best fried calamari on property.  We know their secret, but we are not telling.

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A view from the outside of Fulton's wonderful first floor bar.

A view from the outside of Fulton’s wonderful first floor bar.

8.  T-Rex:  The bar at the T-Rex restaurant in Downtown Disney makes the cut as one of our favorites.  A refreshing respite from the sometimes unbearable heat and crowds of an afternoon spent shopping, the bar here surrounds a huge salt water fish tank brimming with tropical fish.  This cool, inviting bar serves great cocktails and appetizers and offers giant frozen drinks for kids.  Served in large plastic cups, these colorful, Slurpee-inspired drinks are only $4.99 and could easily please two children.  Staff here are friendly and know the menu and drink offerings well.  We often sit here with a draft beer and snack to escape the rain or heat.  Beer here is the coldest on property.

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9.  Mizner’s LoungeMizner’s Lounge feels to us a bit like your grandmother’s secret tree house decked out in Victoriana.  Located directly behind the bandstand on the second floor of the Grand Floridian’s expansive lobby, Mizner’s serves perfect Martinis and classic cocktails.  Large windows offer views of the interior courtyards and pools of the Grand Floridian as well as the Seven Seas Lagoon in the distance.  Full grown trees stand sentinel outside the windows and many branches reach out to almost touch the panes of glass.  This makes us feel like we are in a very refined tree house!  A live band plays big band standards and Disney songs during the cocktail hour.  Mizner’s does fill up quickly, and at times guests wait quite a while to be seated.  Impeccable service and quintessential cocktails bring us back often.

10.  Victoria Falls Lounge:  Cantilevered between the lobby and the ground floor restaurants of the Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House, the Victoria Falls lounge is a destination for us, even when we are staying at another resort.  Framed by pillars and intricate railings this lounge is graced by soothing African drumming and music.  The smell of the wood burning fireplace nearby coupled with the savory smells drifting up from Boma rub all the rough edges off of your day.  Both the lounge and the lobby itself make alluring use of materials, textures, and colors to truly transport you.  Columns covered in a series of textured and colored paper and a tranquil waterfall welcome guests to Victoria Falls.  African-inspired appetizers are available here to complement your cocktail experience.  Guests may choose to sit at the bar or in the ample seating area filled with cocktail tables and chairs which afford views down to Boma and its reception area.  Although staffs here sometimes seem annoyed by the fact that they have to come out from behind the bar to serve guests in the lounge area, they are certainly still friendly and courteous.  Sample a South African wine and a flatbread and dips appetizer here as you let yourself be calmed by the peaceful, elegant surroundings.

11.  Top of the World:  We know, we know, it’s a top ten list!  We would be remiss if we did not include the Top of the World Member Lounge at Bay Lake Tower on our list.  We do not cover it in the top ten because it is only available to Disney Vacation Club members and those staying with them as their guests.  Perched high atop Bay Lake Tower, this lounge rivals California Grill for its views.  Named the Top of the World in honor of the cabaret-style nightclub that once crowned the Contemporary, this open and light-filled space provides views of the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom, Bay Lake and downtown Orlando, as well as Epcot and the Tree of Life in the distance.  A glass-enclosed bar and lounge serves cocktails and a limited snack menu.  Modern décor and a retractable scrim behind the bar pay homage to the Contemporary and the monorails which glide through it.  Surrounding the bar and lounge, an enormous open-air rooftop patio offers bird’s eye views of WDW and beyond.  We do wish Imagineers had raised the bar and lounge a few feet above the rooftop deck so that seated guests could see over the heads of those on the patio, but this is a minor hiccup for an otherwise stellar cocktail experience.


TOP TEN Counter Service Restaurants at WDW

1.  Landscape of FlavorsThe Art of Animation Resort’s answer to the food court reigns supreme as our first choice for the best counter service venue on site.  This locale totally revolutionized the way Disney does food court-style dining at its resorts.  Adjacent to the gift shop with floor to ceiling windows offering views of the Finding Nemo themed pool, Landscape of Flavors literally has something for everyone.  Featuring a gelato bar, Indian food station, make-your-own pasta section, pizza, a burger and sandwich section as well as a create-your-own salad station, this eatery offers variety and quality.  Drinks are paid for with food and then guests use self-serve drink dispensers once seated.  Diners also enjoy real silverware and plates here, making the experience feel less quick service and more like a sit down meal.  The Tandori chicken or shrimp with acorn squash and a side of spinach and paneer cheese is always a hit with us as is the Surf and Surf Burger which features a crab cake “burger” topped with popcorn shrimp and remoulade sauce.  Gelato makes the list as our favorite dessert option here.  Guests who buy gelato have their receipts stamped and may return for gelato within two hours of purchase.  This avoids having to eat soupy gelato.  Cast members are friendly and work hard to keep the bright, cheery dining room clean.  Musical selections from the films featured in the art work throughout the room play as diners enjoy their meals.  Landscape of Flavors serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and also serves as a quick shop spot as well with countless reach-in refrigerators stocked with prepared salads, sandwiches, hummus, fruits salads, and myriad desserts.  If you would like to visit Landscape of Flavors, hop on a bus to the Art of Animation Resort from Downtown Disney or the nearest theme park.  Your journey will be well-worth the effort.


2.  Riverside Mill Food Court:  This food court-style venue at the Port Orleans Riverside resort wins for the charm of its setting and the variety of its offerings.  Nestled alongside the resort’s check in and shopping complex and adjacent to Boatwright’s table service restaurant, Riverside Mill offers pleasant views of the waterways meandering through the resort as well as a giant waterwheel on its north side.  Guests dine in an old mill, complete with wood works and wheels that add to the homey feeling.  Mismatched chairs and giant wood framed windows welcome and sooth guests.  Despite the soothing effect of the warm wood, this venue can get frenetic at peak meal times.  Eat at slightly off times for the shortest waits and best quality food.  Riverside Mill is home to one of our favorite sweet temptations, the Magic Bar.  A sort of brownie ratcheted up to the ninth degree, these confections feature nuts, coconut flakes,  chocolate chips, and other morsels all baked into a brownie like treat that easily serves two.  Top them with vanilla ice cream for an extra extravagant indulgence.  The Mill features our favorite create-your-own pasta bar on site, a salad station, a grill featuring burgers, fries, chicken fingers and the like, and a carving station.  The dinner menu is augmented by a hot selection like roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans, or pot roast and veggies.  This hot selection usually changes nightly and is always quite good.  Soups of the day are crowd-pleasers as well.  The create-your-own-pasta can easily be shared and portions here are generally quite generous.


3.  Wolfgang Puck Express:  While there are two Wolfgang Puck locations at Downtown Disney, soon to be Disney Springs, the WP Express in the Marketplace is, hands down, our favorite.  The red brick and arts and crafts architecture coupled with big windows and the smell of roasting chickens emanating from the kitchen make this a must visit!  Do not be fooled, WP Express can get quite busy, especially now that guests on the Disney Dining Plan have realized that WP Express is undoubtedly the best quick service dining value on property.  Guests order at a counter and are given a number to place on their tables.  Servers deliver food in a timely, friendly fashion.  Guests can chose to be seated in either the open kitchen area or one of the main dining rooms framed by expansive windows.  Diners chow down on delicious food in comfort while watching the hustle and bustle of the Marketplace outside.  Try the flavored, fresh-brewed iced teas with your meal.  Not to be missed are the signature Chinois Chicken Salad, Roasted Vegetable Wood Fired Pizza, Butternut Squash Soup, Half Roasted Chicken, and the Oven Roasted Salmon.  The Crème Brule here is also stellar.  Consider splitting a pizza and a salad.  The Spaghetti Bolognese is a hearty choice that never fails to please.  If you know you won’t have room for dessert and it’s included on your meal plan, take home a wrapped brownie or a fruit salad for a quick snack or breakfast.

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4.  Earl of Sandwich:  Perhaps the least expensive dining option on site, Earl of Sandwich, offers great food at even better prices.  Right next door to the kitchen goods store in the Marketplace, Earl serves inventive, filling sandwiches in a casual setting.  Seating affords views of the Marketplace stores, shoppers, and cheery landscaping.  While our favorites are The Original 1762 (fresh roasted beef, cheddar and creamy horseradish sauce) and The Chipotle Chicken Avocado (Grilled chicken, bacon, sharp cheddar, avocado, lettuce and chipotle sauce), guests rave about The Holiday Sandwich, a winning combination of roasted turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.  Once only offered seasonally, our understanding is that this creation is now a permanent fixture on the menu.  Hearty sandwiches, salads, and savory soups fill hungry bellies without breaking the bank!  DVC members and Passholders may enjoy discounts here.

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5.  Sunshine SeasonsThe Sunshine Seasons food court in The Land pavilion at Epcot is certainly the best quick service option in the parks.  With a now healthy and often macrobiotic selection, this counter service option is a clear front-runner.  Located on the first floor of The Land pavilion, this venue offers an expansive seating area that rests between Soarin’ and the Living with the Land attraction.  Guests sit under a huge atrium that features natural light from skylights.  Yellow and orange swaths of fabric represent the sun and four hot air balloons, each representing a different season, float overhead.  Essentially a very nice food court, Sunshine Seasons is divided into different service areas that each feature different types of food.  “The Grill” features rotisserie chicken, grilled fish, and a slow-roasted pork chop while the “Asian Noodles” section Mongolian Beef, Sweet and Sour Chicken, and Spicy Cashew Chicken.  “Asian Noodles” is home to one of our favorite items, the Garlic Udon Noodles, which are available as a snack credit.  We often share an order or two as a midafternoon healthy snack if we have late dinner reservations.  “Soups and Salads,” “The Bakery,” and “Sandwiches” round out the offerings here.  Honestly, we have never had a bad meal here.  The Mongolian Beef, Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad, Oak Grilled Vegetable Sandwich, and Rotisserie Chicken stand as our favorites.  An abundant selection of desserts satisfies any sweet tooth.


6.  Flame Tree Barbecue:  Located in the Discovery Island section of Animal Kingdom, Flame Tree offers fair portion sizes, great food, and wonderful seating areas, some with views of Expedition Everest and the Discovery River.  The restaurant, awash with sunset orange, teal, and blue paint, invites guests to sample excellent barbecue and refreshing drinks.  In keeping with the predator seeks prey subtle theming, the marquis sign features a crocodile (or alligator) making a snack of a fish.  Not to worry, this theme is so understated, most small children do not even notice.  A series of shaded pavilions set on a winding trail between the service counter and the river provide an abundance of seating in the shade.  Many of these sit directly on the water or adjacent to reflecting pools and fountains that attract small birds.  This, together with the lush landscaping, make the seating areas at Flame Tree feel like a temporary escape from the heat and even the crowds.  Portions here are so ample that two pre-teens or two adults who are not big eaters could easily share.  Stick with the barbecue offerings here.  The half slab of ribs, half chicken, and the rib and chicken combo are all excellent and are accompanied by baked beans and coleslaw.  Beer and wine are also featured.  Sample a Safari Amber brew.  Although we are ardent fans of Flame Tree, the desserts here need work.  Choices are limited to either Key Lime or Chocolate Mousse, neither of which is a homerun.  Crowds here can be over-whelming so, as we often suggest, try to dine at non-peak hours.  Remember that most counter service restaurants at the Animal Kingdom offer a discount for Tables in Wonderland members.

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7.  Katsura Grill:  The setting at the Katsura Grill in the Japan pavilion at Epcot enchants guests and beckons them to linger.  Nestled behind the pagoda among the stepped terraces of a Japanese garden complete with koi pond, the outdoor seating at Katsura Grill transports guests to another time and place.  Large red umbrellas and strings of white and blue lanterns punctuate the serene setting of the garden.  Although only steps from the main thoroughfare of World Showcase, the Grill feels worlds away.  Indoor seating is also available for those who prefer it.  Along with the ever popular Udon, guests may choose a series of Teriyaki combos that include chicken, beef, or salmon.  Teriyaki dishes are also offered as combinations.  Several sushi and tsukumen salad combos are also excellent.  Kirin beer, plum wine, and sake round an excellent meal here.  Please try the green tea ice cream.  We love green tea, but the flavor of the ice cream may be too strong for some.  In that case, opt for the strawberry ice cream.  Somewhat annoyingly, cast members here insist that guests on a meal plan take their ice cream with their meal, resulting in melted ice cream.  Even a manager failed to see the silliness of this plan.  If not on a meal plan, wait to purchase your ice cream until the end of your meal.

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8.  Contempo Café:  This location holds a special place in our hearts, probably because it was once the Concourse Steakhouse, one of our favorite WDW eateries.  Now the quick service venue for the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower resorts, Contempo Café offers good, solid food in an exciting and storied setting.  Housed on the fourth floor concourse of the Contemporary, Contempo offers soaring views of the mainframe atrium and the kinetics of monorail trains passing through the lobby.  Guests also have a great view of Mary Blair’s mosaic installation on the outside of the elevator structures.  If visiting, be sure to look for the five-legged goat, although it is not visible from the Contempo Café dining area.  One of the first venues to offer self-service touch screen ordering kiosks, the Café’s best dishes include the Steakhouse Salad and Spice Crusted Mahi sandwich.  In fact, the Mahi sandwich is rated the best quick service fish sandwich on property be a member of our team.  Opt for the Multigrain Turkey BLT or the Honey Lime Chicken sandwich instead of the lack luster burgers here.  We have never had a burger here that did not feel like it had been sitting under a heat lamp for too long, even if it had not.  Guests procure their own drinks and desserts here.  The soft serve ice cream is a hit with our group.  As an escape from the sometimes oppressive heat and crowds at the Magic Kingdom, hop on the monorail and head over to the Contempo Café.  Food here is made fresh and is often better than some in park venues and guests enjoy the added benefit of a less crowded dining experience.  Then explore the shops in the lobby before heading back to the MK, refreshed and full!

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9.  Anandapur Local Food Café:  (Yak and Yeti Counter service) Although this location seems to have an identity crisis in terms of its name in park literature, it certainly has no trouble turning out decent food at fair prices.  Located between the Yak and Yeti table service restaurant and the walkway to Kali River Rapids, this quick service location is a hit with guests of all ages.  Anandapur serves better Asian-inspired food than does the Nine Dragons restaurant in Epcot.  Both the egg rolls and the Chicken Fried Rice make excellent afternoon snacks.  The Honey Chicken and Beef Lo Mein are the best bets as we find the sandwiches a bit dry and lacking in flavor.  Most of the entrees here are large enough to be shared.  Table seating areas are well themed and are interspersed between the shops and landscaping adjacent to the eatery.  Consider sharing a larger table with other guests, as bigger tables abound here.  Beware that shady tables are in demand so either be patient or be willing to brave the sun.  Grab a frozen lemonade with your meal to help cool you down.

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10.  Be Our Guest:  Although a tried and true favorite of ours, this venue did not make the top of our list because it is quite frankly too challenging to get seated here.  Disney underestimated the popularity of this restaurant, although in fairness to them, its location limits its size due to the utilidors underneath.  We understand that the Be Our Guest kitchen cannot be expanded to accommodate quicker service and more guests.  That being said, this is an excellent option for a quick service meal.  Guests will undoubtedly have to wait, but once inside, the experience is as soothing as it is imaginative.  Cast members do their best to move guests through quickly and make the outdoor waiting area bearable by providing large umbrellas to shade the sun and small cups of water to refresh.  Guests cross a moated bridge before entering the Beast’s castle.  A set of armored guards stand watch over guests as they enter and menus are cleverly displayed in cases.  Heraldry flags and wood work make guests feel like they have truly stepped inside a castle.  Guests are directed to one of many order kiosks where they select their meals.  A transponder shaped like a red rose allows servers to deliver food on domed trollies efficiently.  Drinks are self-serve, but all other selections are delivered to the table.  Both the Potato and Leek and the French Onion Soup are delicious and both can be purchased with a snack credit.  The Tuna Nicoise Salad, Braised Pork, and Carved Prime Roast Beef Sandwich are among of favorites here.  Vegetarians should opt for the quiche over the quinoa salad which we find to be a bit under-seasoned and uninspired.  Desserts here are either cupcakes or puff pastries filled with cream.  While we would love to see a killer chocolate mousse and a Tarte Tartin on the menu here, desserts satisfy and a few are notable stand-outs.  Try the Triple Chocolate or the Lemon Meringue cupcakes.  Be Our Guest is worth the wait as the setting and food are mesmerizing.  Guests seat themselves in the ballroom or West Wing at lunch.  The ballroom’s scale and attention to detail are a welcome respite from the hot Florida sun.  Large, curved windows  frame a snowy scene complete with falling snow and a perpetual twilight sky.  The West Wing, somewhat more foreboding and dark, is equally well- themed with framed portraits slashed by the Beast, tattered curtains, and the famed rose sheltered by a glass terrarium-like dome.  Gargoyles and pillars frame both rooms and enormous chandeliers grace the ballroom.  All of this adds up to a very special experience, especially for a quick service restaurant.

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TOP TEN Touring Tips


1.  Get there early or stay late.  Len Testa and the staff at the Unofficial Guide are all giving us a virtual high five right now!   Perhaps no other piece of advice is more useful.  Parks are most crowded from 10:00AM until several hours prior to closing time, so an early arrival or a late stay can make all the difference.  Notice that we do not recommend getting there early AND staying late, unless you really like caffeine and don’t mind cranky kids.  Many of our readers complain about the idea of an early start on vacation, so we advise getting up early on a few days of your trip and on others not.  This is especially true for the Magic Kingdom.  Early arrival allows guests to experience headliner attractions like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain with minimal waits or to explore Fantasyland without crushing crowds.  Early arrival is essential if touring the Magic Kingdom with little ones who will want to enjoy all that Fantasyland has to offer.  Arriving early also enables you to take a break midday, when the crowds and the heat are both at their peak.  (See tip number three.) Even though it seems counterintuitive, avoid any park the morning of Extra Magic Hours (EMHs).  For guests who are night owls or can fake being so with a good afternoon nap, staying late can be a great way to enjoy a park with shorter wait times.  We have found that Extra Magic Hours are especially helpful at the Magic Kingdom.  The later it gets, the more guests give up and head for the relaxation of their hotel beds.  When the Magic Kingdom has EMHs, be prepared to stay until the park closes, sometimes as late as 2:00 or 3:00AM.  Crowds thin considerably with each passing hour and guests can often enjoy multiple rides on the same attraction with no wait.  The teens in our group once rode Space Mountain 11 times in the hour and a half just before EMHs ended.  Extra Magic evening hours at Epcot and Hollywood Studios are not as useful as those at Magic Kingdom as the headliner attractions at each park still have long waits and not all attractions are open.  For example, the World Showcase shops and attractions are closed during Epcot EMHs.  If you decide to take advantage of EMHs at Epcot or Hollywood Studios, experience rides like Test Track, Soarin’, and Toy Story Mania earlier in the day with Fast Passes. Then use your EMH time to visit shops and less in demand attractions.  Spoil yourselves by sleeping in the day after a late night in a park.


2.   Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.  Nothing puts a damper on a fun day like wet socks, a blister, or aching feet.  Be sure to wear comfortable, broken-in shoes and consider bringing a change of socks.  We stress “broken-in.”  Do not wear your new sneakers for the first time on a whirlwind tour of Epcot.  This is a proverbial recipe for disaster.  If you wear high heels to a theme park, well, good luck.  Furthermore, listen to the weatherman and your own instincts.  It will rain most afternoons in Florida from May to October, so be prepared.  Soggy feet and dripping hair are no fun on an air conditioned ride!  Buy or bring along ponchos and an umbrella.  Even if you think you do not need one, an umbrella keeps the drone of rain from drenching you.  Despite being from Minnesota or Alaska, bring a jacket, gloves, and a hat when it’s cold.  We so often see guests wrapped in towels and blankets they have purchased from Disney gift shops because they did not dress prudently.  The Central Florida cold sticks to you; it is a wet, damp cold that seeps into any spot that is not covered.  Drop the tough guy or gal shtick and dress for comfort.


3.  Take breaks.  Breaks are a must even if they are just inside the park you are touring or at a nearby resort.  Most of us are not accustomed to being on our feet for ten hours a day, so an hour off our feet and away from over-stimulation can be manna from heaven.  Plan a snack break in a shady spot and talk about what you’ve liked best so far about your day.  Play “I Spy” from the cool comfort of a window table in a restaurant.  Jump on a bus, water launch, or the monorail and head over to the closest resort for a meal and some window shopping.  Ideally, go back to your own resort and nap and/or swim if it is warm enough.  Kill two birds with one stone by planning a leisurely meal experience in the middle of the day, close to 3:00PM.  Linger over your late lunch, cool down, and relax.  If you are travelling with kids, breaks will save us all from inevitable meltdowns.


4.  Hydrate and use sun protection.  The humid, hot climate of Central Florida is no joke, and Midwesterners and native Hawaiians are equally at risk.  First and foremost, hydrate.  Refill your used water bottles if you must and keep in mind that all Disney counter service venues will provide guests with free courtesy cups of water.  Restrict your caffeinated beverages as they are dehydrating.  Consider a Propel or Gatorade in the late afternoon when your energy and electrolytes are likely to have fallen.  Wear hats, sunglasses, and make use of sun screen even if you normally vacation on the sun.  Hot is hot and UV light is UV light.  A sun burn suffered in one of the parks makes a subsequent day at the resort pool painful.  You do not want to be the one stuck under the umbrella poolside with a towel over your shoulders.  Visit shows and long theater-style attractions at the hottest part of the day.  Incorporate a break when the day is hottest.  Know when to call it quits.  No attraction is worth heat stroke.


5.  Know your limits and those of your group.  We so often want to intervene when we see a three-year old being dragged along behind a group of park commandos.  Make use of strollers for little ones, even those that normally do not need them.  Little legs simply cannot keep up with adult strides.  The same is true for the elderly or those in your party who can normally keep up but may need breaks or a mobility device.  According to one source, the average WDW guest walks between 4.5 and 6 miles a day.  Many people are not prepared for this amount of walking.  Use your common sense.  When your group needs a break, take it.  Consider the needs and wants of everyone in the group.  Consider splitting up and then meeting later.  For many people, a trip to WDW is your vacation.  Be realistic about what you can do in the time you have and remember to pamper yourselves a bit with afternoons at the pool, a resort hopping trip, or lunch and a movie at Downtown Disney.  Sometimes it is perfectly all right to do nothing, even at WDW.


6.  Stop to smell the roses.  You can do this literally.  The rose gardens at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot afford you this opportunity.  Relish in the details and the theming at WDW.  No design element, song, smell, or sign at Disney made it into existence without thoughtful and careful planning.  If your resort offers a tour of its lobby and grounds, avail of it.  Sit on a bench or a lakeside table and absorb all that is going on around you.  Read the placards and take time to examine the art and artifacts that are part of so many WDW attraction, resorts, and restaurants.  Chat with cast members about Disney and their own home countries or towns.  Enjoy the countless critters that live at Disney—from afar.  Rabbits, ducks, deer, fish, turtles, geese, squirrels, cranes, egrets, and river otters can all be spotted at WDW.  Breathe and de-stress!


7.  Take a day or a few mornings or afternoons away from the parks.  We love Disney theme parks, but even we need a break from a sometimes hectic park touring schedule.  Discuss possibilities with your travelling companions and plan to spend a day or some large chunk of time away from the parks.  An afternoon at the pool?  Bowling and a movie at Downtown Disney?  A fishing excursion?  A monorail and boat tour of the resorts on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon?  A morning spent in a hammock reading?  A leisurely 11:00AM breakfast? A round of miniature golf? The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.  Your feet and your group will thank you.


8.  Make use of the FastPass systemFastPasses make touring much easier and ensure that you will get to experience the attractions that are top priority for your party.  While this does take some pre-planning, scheduling FastPass times builds some breathing room into your schedule and cuts down on wait times, giving you more time to notice the details and relax.  FastPass + allows guests to pre-schedule more than one FastPass and road map their entire trip before arriving.  If you do not use FastPass+, secure FastPasses early in the morning at any park you are touring and then enjoy less crowded attractions at your leisure.


9.  Consult experts.  A number of very good websites and fan sites exist (ours included) which offer valuable advice and insights.  Check out WDW menus and resort pictures on Deb Willis’s excellent site  Make use of the excellent tips in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.  Listen to podcasts like Lou Mongello’s “WDWRadio.”  Be sure to read reviews and updates on  Many travel agencies specialize in planning trips to WDW and other Disney resorts and parks.  Their services are usually free and can save you both time and money.  Feel free to email specific questions to


10.  Set realistic expectations.  Talk to your travel companions before you leave.  What are your priorities?  Do you want to enjoy fine dining restaurants and take behind the scenes tours?  Are you planning to ride the roller coasters a dozen times each?  Do you want to visit Disney’s Wide World of Sports?  Do you want a resort that offers monorail service?  Clear ideas about what you do not want to miss at WDW can be enabled by open, honest conversations.  Consider letting each member of the group plan a day or part of a day.  Build in some time for spontaneity, relaxation, and exploration.  You cannot see it all in one trip.  Enjoy what you can and plan to return when time and budget allow.

Reader’s Questions: February 8, 2014

   1.    Where/how can we eat without reservations?

While it can feel daunting, nay, impossible to enjoy all that WDW has to offer in the way of eateries without reservations, there are options.  Having said that, it is a good idea to make ADR’s, Advanced Dining Reservations, for any restaurant you definitely want to experience.  Some venues are always full and others tend to fill up at peak times of the year, like the holidays.  While some restaurants at WDW do offer stand-by lines, the majority have hosts who stand sentinel and utter that much maligned phrase, “I am sorry we are not taking walk-ups today.”  So, if you want to experience O’hana, Crystal Palace, Cinderella’s Royal Table, or Be Our Guest among others, be sure to make a reservation or you truly do risk not being able to dine at your desired venue.  What follows are some strategies we have found work when dining without reservations.

First of all, be willing to eat at off times.  In other words, have a late breakfast and midday snack and head to dinner at 4:00PM.  If you would like to eat at Be Our Guest for example, be there as soon as they open for dinner and be willing to wait.  Let the check-in cast member know that you would like to wait for a table.  In our experience, a fair number of guests will not show for early reservations and/or the restaurant may be able to seat your party.  The closer it gets to the 8:00PM witching hour, however, the harder it will be to get seated as a walk-in.  O’hana now has a stand-by line, but we have found that waits can still be astronomical.  In our experience, smaller parties have a better chance of being accommodated as walk-ins than do larger ones.  Be open to the greeter’s suggestions.  In some cases, we have been offered a table for 915PM for dinner and happily accepted.

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Also, be willing to eat something new or unusual.  Restaurants that offer steaks, buffets, and character meals tend to fill up first, so consider options like Restaurant Marrakesh in Epcot’s Morocco or Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s Japan.  We often notice that greeters for both Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo in the Japan pavilion at Epcot are encouraging patrons to avail of open sittings for dinner and lunch.  Likewise, we have luck as walk-ups at Mama Melrose’s in Hollywood Studios and Yak and Yeti at Animal Kingdom.  Be mindful of the fact that this strategy will be less effective during peak times and does not apply to the Magic Kingdom.  In almost no instance, we would attempt to be a walk-up at a Magic Kingdom restaurant with the possible exception of the Liberty Tree Tavern for lunch.  Which brings us to our next suggestion…

Leave the park!  Hop on the monorail, watercraft, or a bus and head to a nearby resort.  Many of the restaurants in resorts do not fill up for dinner or lunch and are likely to be able to accommodate walk-ins.  The restaurants along the Boardwalk often take walk-ins particularly at the beginning or end of service—5:00PM or 9:00PM for dinner.  The Captain’s Grille at the Yacht Club is a charming little eatery with excellent prix fixe offerings and superb service.  The Wave at the Contemporary Resort and the Grand Floridian Café at the Grand Floridian Resort are seldom full.  Maya Grill at the Coronado Springs Resort invariably has open dinner spots as does the Trail’s End Restaurant at the Fort Wilderness Campground.  Prices and service are often better than table service restaurants in the parks.  Note that this strategy will not work for popular venues like Chef Mickey’s, Cape May Café, or Boma.  Travel off the beaten path to find open tables!  Furthermore, do not forget about the wonderful restaurant offerings at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resorts.  Fine and casual dining experiences abound here ranging from Todd English’s Blue Zoo and Il Mulino of New York fame, to Shula’s Steakhouse, the Fountain, and the Garden Grove Café.  The Garden Grove Café also hosts a very reasonable character breakfast on weekends.

Another possible way to enjoy meals without reservations is to visit Downtown Disney, the Marketplace, and West Side.  Many of the restaurants here, though popular, have seats for walk-ins due to their sheer size and turn over.  Raglan Road, the Portobello Yacht Club, and Paradiso 37 frequently have tables available as do the House of Blues and the restaurant at Splitsville, particularly at non-peak meal times like 2:00PM and 4:30PM. Many of these dining establishments house bars that serve food from the full menu.  We love grabbing a glass of wine or beer and sushi at the bar at the Wolfgang Puck Café before enjoying a movie.  Even more dining options are coming to Downtown Disney as it transforms into Disney Springs.

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Finally, be flexible about where and how you are seated.  Many popular restaurants offer their full menus in their lounges or at their bars.  We have enjoyed many a meal in the lounge at the California Grill, the Crew’s Cup Lounge at the Yacht Club, and the bar at Sanaa.  If the venue is full, ask if you can be seated at the bar or in the lounge.  Bar tenders and cocktail servers know the menus well and can often make excellent suggestions.  Have four appetizers instead of two entrees, you may even save some money.

Do not miss the Truffle Fries at the Crew's Cup.

Do not miss the Truffle Fries at the Crew’s Cup.

For information on dining at WDW, check out our restaurant reviews and Top Ten lists!

2.  Which WDW resorts have the best pools?

While almost every WDW resort has wonderful pools with multiple options for activities poolside, there are several notable standouts.  In the value resort category, the Finding Nemo themed pool and the Cozy Cone themed pool at the Art of Animation Resort are both spectacular.  The Nemo themed pool, spanning a huge courtyard between buildings, sits immediately behind the Landscapes of Flavors food court.  Large, three dimensional renderings of various characters from the film surround the free form pool and transport guests to the big blue.  Giant jellyfish guard the entrance to the pool and a nearby anemone shelters Nemo and Marlin.  The scale and detail of these elements shrink humans down to the world of the film.  Music from the soundtrack of Finding Nemo can be heard in the pool underwater.  The cleverly named and themed Drop Off pool bar is nearby with a good selection of libations and snacks.  A short walk away, one finds the Cozy Cone themed pool in the Cars section of the resort.  Sheltered by guest rooms on three sides, this semicircular pool is surrounded by cone shaped open air cabanas that offer a welcome respite from the sometimes harsh Florida sun.  While the landscaping around the pool has not completely filled in yet, this pool promises to be a cozy and intimate refuge in a huge resort when the trees and other vegetation fill in.  The pools at the All Stars resorts, though not our favorites, are enormous and more than adequate for the number of guests.  These pool areas tend to be a bit loud for us and often over-run by tour groups or large groups of student athletes visiting WDW for a tournament.

The pools at Disney’s moderate resorts are a notable step up from most of the pools in the value category in terms of theming and amenities.  Pools at the moderate resorts feature slides and water features like fountains, sprayers, and jets.  Moderate resorts all have what Disney calls “feature pools” as well as “quiet pools.”  Quiet pools are located throughout the resort and usually do not offer elaborate water features or slides.  Our favorite moderate resort pools are found at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort and the Caribbean Beach Resort.  While the general theming of the Caribbean Beach Resort is a bit too familiar and dated for our taste, the Fuentes del Morro feature pool is brilliantly themed.  Turrets and crumbling fort walls envelop a free form pool.  A slide carries guests through the walls to a splashdown and cannons sprinkle guests with water.  Reminiscent of the El Morro fortress in San Juan harbor, this pool gels well with the Caribbean theming and echoes the pirate theming found in some rooms.  A nearby shallow water children’s play area, offers many water features and a giant pirate ship that periodically dumps water onto guests.  This pool truly transports guests and provides a welcome escape from the heat and midday crowds at the parks.

Ol’ Man Island at Port Orleans Riverside is home to our second favorite moderate resort pool.  Literally set on an island in the center of the Port Orleans Riverside resort, this pool features a lengthy slide and multiple water features which splash guests with cascading water.  Abundant theming and mature vegetation give this pool area a homey, cozy feeling that reminds us of the long gone River Country water park.  Rickety wooden aqueducts and make-shift sprayers drip, spray, and drop water onto guests throughout the pool.  This also seems to be one of the best Disney pools in terms of heating.  We were able to swim here in cold weather with no problems as the heating system actually keeps the pool at a welcoming temperature.  For the record, we find Disney are often way too cold and hot tubs excessively warm.  Cast members assure us that the pools are temperature controlled for our safety, but we remain unconvinced that hot tubs need to be set at 102 degrees when it is 92 degree-weather!  Port Orleans Riverside is also home to five other quiet pools that are surrounded by lush landscaping and adequately themed.  Although none of these quiet pools features a slide or other water feature, they stand ready as serene answers to the feature pool on Ol’ Man Island.  The quiet pools in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort are favorites of ours as they still offer a deep end and trees and bushes shade sections of the pool from the sun.

Pools at Disney’s deluxe and villa resorts rival those of any resort in the world.  We are water babies and regularly spend whole days poolside swimming, reading, and catching some Z’s.  Of no surprise to any Disney fan, the 2.5 acre Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resorts reigns supreme as our favorite WDW pool complex.  Actually a small water park unto itself, this sand-bottomed pool provides a lazy river, an impressive waterslide, a shipwreck, its own bar and quick service restaurant, and a large beach and shallow water play area ideal for tots and toddlers.  Guests could easily spend days here and it is hard to drag kids away even for a trip to theme park.  Four large separate pools are connected by wooden bridges and shaded walkways.  The river pool encircles an island that connects to Hurricane Hana’s Bar and Grill as well as to a pool where in-water volleyball and other games are offered.  A three story tall water slide begins its descent from the crow’s nest of a wrecked ship along the shores of Crescent Lake.  Guests slide over the sidewalk and down, around, and into the activities pool on a fun, decent lengthened ride.  A large windmill marks the hours and several waterfalls tickle the surface of the pools enchantingly.  Stormalong Bay sits alongside a walkway providing patio seating for Beaches and Cream, a very popular fifties-style eatery and ice cream parlor.  A separate counter and line provides access for guests in their bathing suits who would like to order ice cream or snacks to go.  Stormalong Bay lounge chairs fill up early and access is restricted to guests staying at the Yacht and Beach Club or the Beach Club Villas.

Several other deluxe resorts are home to incredible pools.  For sheer size and escapism, the pool at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House is a winner.  One of the largest pools on site, the Uzima  pool is nestled between two arms of the Animal Kingdom Lodge which add a much-needed architectural frame to the space.  Lush, overgrown vegetation creates areas of shade and seclusion that break the pool deck up into intimate areas ideal for reading or grabbing a nap.  Although the slide here leaves much to be desired, the hot tub is an oasis unto itself surrounded by towering bamboo trees that sway and creak in the wind.  Trees actually form a canopy over the large hot tub.  An afternoon at the Uzima transports you to another world and screams “vacation!”  The excellent Mara quick service restaurant and Uzima Springs pool bar are steps away.  The pools at the Contemporary Resort occupy a favorite spot with us as well.  Although somewhat stark in theming, these pools are huge and offer water features, a slide, and killer views to boot.  The main pool directly behind the Contemporary’s A-framed tower offers a slide and several sprayers and fountains.  One jet shoots water over 15 feet into the air and the falling water attracts adults and children alike.  A series of arched jets create a semicircle of cascading water that forms a tunnel of sorts.  Guests love to stand under the jets for an impromptu head or neck massage as the pounding water provides relief.  Set along the shores of Bay Lake, this pool complex enjoys great vistas of watercraft, parasailing adventurers, and swooping birds.  With the Wilderness Lodge and campground in the distance and trees ringing the lake, a peaceful, uninterrupted view soothes and transports.  The second pool in this complex actually sits in Bay Lake surrounded by a deck.  Although not truly floating in the lake, this circular, deep, and well-heated pool serves as an escape from the hustle and bustle of the main pool during game time.  Views here are equally good with views of Bay Lake and Bay Lake Tower on one side and the Contemporary itself on another.  The main tower of the Contemporary also shades pool goers from the afternoon sun as it sets in the west.

Possibly a surprise to some of our readers, the pools at the Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa make our list of favorites.  Their number, scale, and variety make them constant favorites of ours.  The Congress Park pool affords direct views of Downtown Disney and the Characters in Flight balloon.  This large, plain pool is immaculately kept and seldom busy.  We enjoy reading under an umbrella between dips in the pool and watching water craft go by.  The lap of the waves is soothing as are the antics of the river otters who often make an appearance along the shoreline.  The Grandstand Pool is themed to horse-racing and offers a pool bar and children’s play area with water sprayers.  A nearby BBQ pavilion makes this a favorite with families grilling lunch or dinner.  Adequate tables and chairs and the theming make this pool fun.  The newly renovated Paddock Pool now offers zero entry, a twisting slide wrapped around a water tower, an extensively themed children’s splash area, and its own bar and grill.  This lively pool is a much needed improvement and provides an alternative to the main pool area in the Springs section of the resort.  The Springs feature pool area near the Carriage House check-in complex features a water slide, two hot tubs, a bar, and access to the adjacent arcade, community hall, and quick service venue, Artist’s Palette.  This pool is home to nightly movies under the stars.  Each pool at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa offers guests a distinct theme and experience while staying true to the theming of the resort.

For further information, check out our resort reviews and Top Ten Pools at WDW.

3.  Is it possible to buy things that are actually on sale at WDW?

This is tricky!  Disney has periodic sales that are not announced ahead of time.  These sales are frequently on items that are being phased out or are out of season.  Unfortunately, it is almost impossible on the consumer side to predict when these sales will take place.  In our experience, however, bathing suits and related items seem to go on sale in the late summer and early fall when new items are coming in.  Boutiki at the Polynesian resort and the Fittings and Fairings store at the Yacht Club seem to offer the best sales.  In fact, we have found that the resort shops seem to have more sale merchandise.  Sale merchandise seems to go fastest in the theme park shops since they enjoy higher volume.  Sale items are usually marked with a white sticker with red border and usually end in a 99.  Ask a cast member if the store has a sale section.  For example, the northeast corner of Tren-D and the north and south walls of the Mombasa Marketplace at Animal Kingdom often have sale items.  Merchandise with dates on it, like a shirt that says “Epcot 2013,” will go on sale as the year goes on.

Sale items at WDW usually feature this sticker.

Sale items at WDW usually feature this sticker.

The best way to find deals at WDW stores is to avail of the myriad discounts Disney offers.  For example, often during peak crowd periods, Disney will offer a 20% discount on your entire purchase if you use a coupon found on your receipt from select quick service restaurants. Usually, one must use the coupon before 1:00PM at select theme park stores to receive the discount. Disney uses these coupons to incentivize guests not to shop at the last minute as parks are closing.  Anyone who has ever been in the Emporium about 30 minutes prior to park closing knows that it can be a mad house!  We have found this to be the best possible discount. As a point of comparison,  Premium Annual Passholders now only enjoy a 10% merchandise discount.  Check out the forums at in the news and rumors section for updates about when these coupons are being issued.  Additionally, Passholders and DVC members are entitled to merchandise and dining discounts.

The Marketplace Fun Finds store at the Downtown Disney Marketplace offers sale items and promotions like five items for $20.  This is usually a hodge podge of quite random items, but there are deals to be had.  Mouse pads, phone cases, wine glasses, coasters, Christmas ornaments, Hanukah plates, and journals have all been found here.  This is a great option for souvenirs and/or gifts for kids back home.  We found wine glasses here at five for $20 that were still selling for $12.99 at other WDW stores.

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Grand Floridian Cafe Overview

One of many delightful, welcoming cast members at the Grand Floridian Café.

One of many delightful, welcoming cast members at the Grand Floridian Café.


Almost hidden in the northeast corner of the Grand Floridian’s lobby, the Grand Floridian Cafe serves as the resort’s go-to restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the most afforadable table-service prices at the Grand Floridian.  The Cafe evokes Victorian-America with white-washed walls, formal floral arrangements, iced tea spoons, and pastel-colored furnishings.  Its large windows are framed in white wood which adds to the cozy but somewhat formal ambience.  A casual elegance pervades here with homey and familiar choices on the menu.  These include French Onion Soup, Caesar Salad, and Reuben sandwiches.  Cascades of flowers and fabric add to the “ladies who lunch” atmosphere.

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Once home to the best Reuben sandwich and Cobb Salad at Walt Disney World, the Cafe has slipped on our last few visits.  Portion sizes have shrunken.  Preparation and presentation are also slipping.  Service was once impeccable as well, with refills and condiments appearing without being requested, but apparent staff changes and some language barriers have eroded this once seamless service.  The changes are not a deal breaker, but the Grand Floridian Cafe is no longer a must-dine for us.

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The Seasonal Salad appetizer...a generous offering.

The Seasonal Salad appetizer…a generous offering.

The famous Grand Cobb Salad.

The famous Grand Cobb Salad.

Seasonal Cream of Mushroom Soup.

Seasonal Cream of Mushroom Soup.



We are happy to report after numerous recent visits in July, August, September, November, and December of 2013, that the Grand Floridian Café has once again regained its favored place with us.  Service has once again become close to impeccable and food quality and portions are much more even now.  Both the seasonal soup and salad were exceptional.  The salad features a hearty portion of heirloom tomatoes over local greens in a zesty dressing.  Soups highlights included butternut squash and parsnip and the ever-popular French Onion.  The Rueben, although not quite as grand as it used to be, still pleases.  Served along with some of our favorite French fries on property, the Rueben makes a great lunch.  The Cobb and Nicoise salads both serve as a light, delicious lunch.  We have also grown fond of the Shrimp and Grits at dinner.  Back to its former glory, the Grand Floridian Café certainly warrants a visit!

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TOP TEN Things to Do for Free (or almost free) at WDW



One of the charming resort launches that shuttle guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.

One of the charming resort launches that shuttle guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.


1.  Resort HopThe resorts at WDW are among the most intricately themed in the world.  From the flavor of the south seas to an African animal reserve or an Atlantic seaside boardwalk, the WDW resorts transport guests to other times and places.  Lobbies are ideal for people watching and feature opportunites for shopping and dining.  Consider sharing a different snack or treat at each resort you visit.  Everyone gets a bite or two and you literally sample the flavors of each resort.  (Obviously, the snacks are not free!)  Throughout the holiday season, the WDW resorts feature free entertainment and sometimes even free refreshments like Snickerdoodles or roasted chestnuts.  Local choir groups and musicians appear in lobbies during the Christmas season and characters are known to make special appearances in holiday garb for fantastic photo ops.  Take advantage of the Disney decor and shoot the perfect image for your own holiday card.

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2.  Boat Rides around the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Resorts: Numerous nautical voyages await you at the WDW resort.   From the nineteenth century inspired steam boat -like ferries that shuttle guests back and forth to the Magic Kingdom and the Friendship launches that whisk guests off to Epcot and Hollywood Studios to the “surrey boat” launches that plow Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, there is no shortage of options for free boat rides.  Although you may be required to disembark and reboard to allow other waiting guests to board, a cruise on the Dinsey waterways can prove to be the most relaxing and tranquil part of your day.  For example, hop on a launch to the Fort Wilderness Campground and let the kids frolic on the swing set, play with a giant checkers game, and explore the campground and its pioneer charm.  Then grab a launch back to the Wilderness Lodge for further exploration.  Check out the Old Faithful geyser and be sure to visit the Lodge’s lobby.  From Bay Lake, the Wilderness Lodge is said to look like a bear, with dormers forming his eyes and windows his snout and face.  Board yet another launch back to the Contemporary where a short walk will take you to the Magic Kingdom buses and a short ride to anywhere on property.  The ferry boat ride from the Ticket and Transportation Center is particularly enchanting at night or sunset when the spires of the Grand Floridian and the longhouses of the Polynesian are back lit by the sun setting to the west.  Tiki torches line the shores and the glow of Cinderella Castle beckons.


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3.  Port Orleans to Downtown Disney Boat Ride:  Head over to Port Orleans Riverside resort and enjoy a hearty Magic Bar in the food court before boarding a launch like the Florida Queen to the Downtown Disney Marketplace dock.  This 20 minute long peaceful ride along the Sassagula waterway passes the French Quarter Resort, the Saratoga Springs Treehouse Villas, and countless golf holes.  Listen to the waves slapping the shore line and keep a keen eye out for the occasional river otter and frequent water fowl.  The views upon entering the lake fronted by Downtown Disney are spectacular and are especially striking at night.  Kids marvel at the neon, the Characters in Flight balloon, and the sporadic fiery eruptions of the Rainforest Cafe volcano.  Once on dry land, be sure to make a pit stop at Goofy’s Candy Company where cast members often free samples of Slurpee style drinks.  Mosey over to Ghiradelli for your free piece of chocolate and settle onto a bench to people watch and enjoy free entertainment at the soundstage in front of the World of Disney.

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4.  Spend a Day at the Pool:  Luxuriate at your resort’s pool and melt away the stress.  Give your tired feet a break and let the Disney pool staff entertain the kids.  Pool games and trivia contests will keep the little ones busy while you read a book, catch up on some rest, or sing along to the DJ.  Grab a hula hoop yourself and show your kids how it’s done!  For more action, jump on a water slide, under a waterfall or jet, or into a whirlpool.  Many Disney resorts also feature night time movies and early evening campfires.


5.  Watch Fireworks from Balcony or Beach:  Besides being free, watching the fireworks from a resort beach or your own balcony keeps you out of the crowds and close to the comforts of your room.  Many resorts feature prime viewing areas for the fireworks.  The beaches at the Polynesian and Fort Wildreness Campground afford views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  The boardwalk itself and the beach at the Yacht and Beach Club offer views of Illuminations.  Bring a towel from your room and settle in on the grass or a bench for this classic Disney nightime entertainment treat.

6.  Stroll  Downtown Disney:  Window shop and browse the stores at Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) for a much needed and free break from the parks.  Relish in the live music and entertainment that abound at the Marketplace and West Side.  Places like Raglan Road and Bongos feature music and performers that can be heard and/or seen from outside the restaurants.  Performances also sometimes take place in the courtyard area between Fulton’s Crab House and the Portobello Yacht Club. 

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Spend some time watching the accomplished glass blowers at Arribas Brothers in the Marketplace.

Spend some time watching the accomplished glass blowers at Arribas Brothers in the Marketplace.

7.  Ride the Monorail:  This unique mode of transportation fascinates both young and old and its novelty never seems to wane.  Board the resort monorail and visit the three resorts that ring the Seven Seas Lagoon.  We like to bet on what color monorail will be pulling into the station next.  (For an adult version of this game, the person who correctly guesses does not have to buy the first drink on the “monorail pub crawl.”)  Alternatively, board the Epcot monorail for a late afternoon or evening trip across Disney property and into Epcot.  The monorail actually travels into Future World in Epcot and provides a glimpse of its attractions.  Look out for deer in the trees under the monorail tracks.  Note that you may be required to exit the monorail at the Epcot station and reboard if there are other guests waiting.  Riding the monorail at night or sunset offers a completely different perspective as does riding in the rain.  Time your trip well and you may enjoy Illuminations or the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the train.

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8.  Design your own Scavenger Hunt:  Spend some time designing a scavenger hunt for kids and/or adults in your group.  For example, ask participants to take a picture of particular buildings, signs, or cast members who speak certain languages.  Scavenger hunts where participants must find actual objects can get tricky at WDW.  Younger members of your group can look for animals like squirrels. ducks, egrets, otters, and rabbits.  Avoid tasks where participants have to bother other guests.

9.  Watch a Movie at the Pool:  Most Disney resorts feature movies at their pools after sundown which can be viewed from lounge chairs, whirlpools, or from within the pools themselves.  Bring your own snacks and beverages from your room.  At some resorts, the movies are shown in a courtyard (Port Orleans Riverside) or on the beach (Yacht and Beach Club).  Titles are appropriate for all ages and are Disney films.  Sometimes the selections are even first runs, like the 2013 premiere of Teen Beach Movie on July 19 at Disney resorts.

10.  Search for Hidden Mickeys:  Hidden Mickeys abound throughout WDW.  Several great books and websites are dedicated exclusively to Hidden Mickeys.  Some of these even include searches you can initiate at WDW alone or with a group.  There are searches at all different skill levels.  Ask cast members to at resorts to point out there favorite Hidden Mickeys.  Other guests are a great source for new and difficult to find Hidden Mickeys.

Reader’s Questions: Jan. 31, 2014

1.  Where can I find the best vegetarian meals?

Although all WDW restaurants offer some vegetarian options, there are several locales that we find provide the best vegetarian options.  Sanaa, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, is one of our favorites and has wonderful meat free dishes.  (See our review of Sanaa.)  Bread service and all the accompaniments are vegetarian as are most of the vegetable sides and main courses. (Naan may be made in the same tandoor oven as meats dishes, so check with your server.) Salad Samplers are available here and include refreshing combinations like a watermelon, cucumber, and fennel salad.  The Sanaa Vegetarian Sampler gives diners a choice of two of five vegetarian entrees and a side of Basmati rice or five grain pilaf.  The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary resort reigns as our second favorite for vegetarians.  Although the windowless atmosphere can be a bore when the restaurant is crowded, veggie options here are easy to come by, macrobiotic, and usually organic.  The side dishes are particularly noteworthy here.  Chefs here always whip up hearty, flavorful veggie dishes here which leave our vegetarian guests more than happy.  The Wave does a great job of offering vegetarian dishes that stand up to their best non-vegetarian offerings, not alternatives that are thrown together and feel like an after -thought.

California Grill and Citrico’s both offer extensive vegetarian options on and off the menus.  Again, let your server and the greeter know that you will need vegetarian options.  California Grill nudges past Citrico’s in terms of best veggie offerings, but both are excellent.  The vegetarian sushi at California Grill is one of our favorites.  Selections of rolls and traditional sushi include unique combinations of vegetables.  We often share two orders of vegetarian sushi and drinks in the lounge at the California Grill about 4:45-5:00PM, before the crowds settle in.  Watching the sun slip below the horizon over the Seven Seas Lagoon while relaxing in the Cali Grill lounge is one of our favorite things to do at WDW. Since Citrico’s sources so many local ingredients, chefs here are very adept at creating vegetarian dishes with local ingredients with lots of flavor punch.  One could easily make a meal of the vegetable side dishes at Citrico’s.

Buffets are also an excellent option for vegetarians as they allow for much more choice than table service restaurants.  At least one hot vegetarian option is on each buffet with many sides and salads that are also meat free.  In some cases, servers can request special meat free versions of dishes.  We have had several stir fry dishes made with tofu in lieu of meat.  Always let your server know when seated that you have a vegetarian in the party and note the same when you make an ADR.  Boma is a phenomenal choice for vegetarians as is the Crystal Palace which always seems to have an abundance of offerings.  Although O’hana is not the optimal choice for vegetarians, we have had chefs there make wonderful stir fry dishes, tempura vegetables, and Thai curries for the vegetarian in our party.

Art of Animation is the best option for quick service dining for vegetarians.  This reimagined answer to a food court is clean, welcoming, and bright.  It offers several stations that feature different foods.  Options include Indian food, create your own pasta, and salads.  The vegetarian in our party always finds something she loves here.  Be sure not to miss the pistachio gelato if you’re not vegan!

2.  Where can you see fireworks without going into a park?

Options abound for viewing fireworks without entering a park.  Indeed, having a dinner or a snack and then settling in for fireworks is a low key way to spend an evening.  After fireworks, stroll nearby stores or enjoy the ambiance of a resort lobby.  Except for very busy times of the year where parking is a nightmare and crowds at certain resorts become a nuisance to guests paying to stay there, Disney welcomes guests to visit their resorts.  The Polynesian becomes very crowded around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve and guests may not be permitted to park there unless they have dining reservations or are registered guests.  In some cases, we have seen Disney actually issue wristbands to guests staying on property in order to allow them to view Fourth of July fireworks, but, again, this practice is rare.  Disney has also begun repeating special holiday fireworks displays on days besides just the holiday itself.  For example, New Year’s Eve fireworks are displayed on December 30 and 31 and Fourth of July fireworks often run for several days before and after Independence Day.

Any of the resorts circling the Seven Seas Lagoon offer great views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  Consider making a dining reservation for a few hours before fireworks and then settle in on a beach, bench, or swing to view fireworks.  In some cases, resorts offer grassy shorelines which are perfect for fireworks watching.  Bring a towel to sit on to avoid damp grass.  Remember to be considerate of others when choosing a fireworks viewing spot.  For example, guests at the window tables at Narcoossee’s are often troubled by guests standing in front of the windows on the deck to watch fireworks.  Similarly, do not stand directly in front of someone’s ground floor patio at the Polynesian, effectively blocking their view of the fireworks.  If you are fortunate enough to be staying in a concierge level room, head to the concierge lounge for fireworks viewing when appropriate.  Many concierge lounges offer spectacular views of fireworks from their windows or balconies.

Select an out of the way spot for more pleasant viewing.  The end of the dock at the Polynesian is often uncrowded and affords amazing, direct views of MK fireworks.  Similarly, the fourth floor outdoor lobby on the north end of the Contemporary offers stunning views of Cinderella Castle.  At the time of this post, Disney Vacation Members not staying  at Bay Lake Tower can still access the Top of the World lounge for fireworks viewing at certain non-peak times of the year.  Call ahead for this option.  Parking is not always available at the Contemporary for non-resort guests even though the lounge may be open to all DVC members.  In this case, take WDW transportation to the Magic Kingdom and walk over.  Viewing the fireworks from the resort watercraft is another treat.  Board a launch or cruiser at a resort and catch the fireworks from the water.  Be aware that cast members will ask you to exit and re-board if there is a line at your destination.  For example, if you plan to make a roundtrip from the Wilderness Lodge to the MK, you will have to disembark and re-board for the return trip.

The Boardwalk is an excellent place to spend an evening and enjoy fireworks.  Make reservations at one of the dining locales at the Boardwalk, Yacht, or Beach Club resorts, browse the shops and have a cocktail until fireworks time.  Illuminations can be seen from many locations along the Boardwalk although some of the lower elements of the show are not visible from the Boardwalk.  Holiday shows like those for the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve tend to be launched higher into the air and so are more visible from the Boardwalk.  Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios has pyrotechnic elements that can be seen from the bridge between the Swan and Dolphin and the Yacht Club resorts.  Apart from this, Hollywood Studios does not have a nightly fireworks show.  For holidays, however, Disney presents fireworks at Hollywood Studios to help spread out the crowds and relieve the pressure on the MK and Epcot.  In our experience, New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks are clearly visible from the aforementioned bridge.  Be aware that it may not be possible to park at the Boardwalk, Yacht, or Beach Club resorts at peak times even for guests staying on Disney property.  At busier times of the year, consider springing for valet parking at one of the resorts.  Keep in mind that traffic after fireworks shows during peak times like Christmas week, New Year’s week, Spring Break, and the week of the Fourth of July can be abysmal.  It can take two plus hours to get home from a resort by car or WDW transportation.  Enjoy an after fireworks snack, drink, or stroll to let the crowds diminish a bit.

For a real treat, consider splurging on a fireworks cruise.  Cruises depart from the resorts along Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon as well as the Yacht and Beach Club resorts.  Although pricey, boats accommodate up to 12 people and guests bring their own refreshments onboard.  This is a wonderful option for anniversaries, birthdays, or other magical milestones.  When the price of the cruise is divided by the number of guests, it makes the cruise less expensive for all involved.

3.  Where can I dine without being mobbed by kids?

Keep in mind that Disney attracts families, so kids abound.  In our experience, most kids are happy to be at WDW and well behaved.  That being said, by trade we are teachers, so sometimes a break from the little ones is welcome.  Generally, the fine dining restaurants host fewer children than do other restaurants, especially character meals.  Try Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge or the Flying Fish at the Boardwalk.  In our experience, these two venues seem to attract fewer families than other fine dining establishments.  Additionally, the later you eat, the better chance you have of dining with more adults.  Let the greeters know you would like a more secluded table away from families with children.  Do not be shy about asking to be moved.  At the Coral Reef restaurant, we were once seated on the back wall, right in front of a very boisterous party of 12.  The raucous noise totally destroyed the calm, undersea atmosphere of the Coral Reef so we simply went back to the welcome desk and asked to be reseated.  You may have to wait a bit longer to get a better table, but it can be well worth the trouble.  Counter service restaurants are most crowded at peak hours, from 11:30AM to 1:00PM for lunch and from  6:00PM -8:30PM for dinner.  Consider eating at counter service venues at off times, the later the better.  We have found less kids eating lunch at 1:15PM than at 12 noon.  Also, visit WDW when most kids in the country are in school.  Avoid holidays, summer, and long weekends, especially those in the winter and spring.  The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has spot-on charts and recommendations for when to visit WDW with the least crowds.  They also have wonderful touring plans for adults travelling without children.

4.  Are deluxe resorts really worth it?

In our experience, there is no doubt about it.  This, of course, depends on what kind of WDW vacation you are planning.  We love the additional amenities and services offered at the deluxe resorts and visit them often!  Having worked for years as a travel agent and personal trip planner, one of us knows from experience that people have the best vacations when their expectations are met on the actual trip.  If your party plans to spend every waking moment in a theme park from dawn to dusk, then perhaps the added expense of a deluxe resort is not the best option.  Ask yourself: how much time will we spend at our resort?  If you will spend considerable time at your resort and would like a more elaborately themed pool, better restaurants, a grand lobby,  and spa services, then certainly consider a deluxe resort.  If you plan to be park commandos but have little ones in tow, a deluxe resort stay can be essential and might make the difference between a busy but pleasant trip and a stressful one.  We advise taking breaks no matter who is in your party, but with kids under 12, this is a must.  Therefore, having a deluxe resort nearby to which you can return quickly for a nap and dip in the pool is a blessing.  When the child in our party was younger, we would take a touring break.  We’d procure an umbrella table near the pool and let our youngster nap on a lounge chair in the shade while enjoying the pool, our books, and perhaps a snack or cocktail.  This afforded her a much needed break and saved us from sweltering humidity and midday crowds.

Take advantage of the dining options at a deluxe resort even if you are not staying there.  For example, for a break from the MK no matter where you are staying, take the monorail over to the Cotemporary for a quick service meal at the Comtempo Café or visit Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian.  Then people watch or park it in the shade for a spell while the little ones chill out.  Please note, however, that non-registered guests are NOT permitted to use WDW resort pools.  In other words, you cannot use the pool facilities at the Polynesian unless you are a registered guest there. (We know that there are exceptions for DVC members.)

Again, expectations are the key.  We love the moderate resorts and find the theming wonderfully transporting.  Our favorite moderate resort is the Port Orleans Riverside with its lush, overgrown landscaping, many pools, food court, and meandering paths.  The only drawback of a moderate for us is the lack of a balcony.  In many cases, other guests can see right into your room if the shades are not drawn.  Moderates offer many of the same amenities found at deluxe properties, but not as grand in scale, theming, or number.  For example, a deluxe resort may have four table service restaurants, several bars, and a tea room (Grand Floridian) while a moderate may have one table service, a bar, and a food court (Port Orleans).  The hardware at the moderate resorts constantly improves, with down blankets and duvets added to many rooms and refrigerators in all moderate rooms.

Location should also affect your decision about where to stay.  Would you like to be close to the MK or Animal Kingdom?  Do you want to be in the center of the action?  Port Orleans is a moderate resort but it offers excellent boat transportation to the Marketplace at Downtown Disney and all the shops and restaurants it offers.  Disney’s Coronado Springs resort is central and so equidistant to almost all areas of the World.

Take advantage of deals and promotions being offered.  Frequently, non-view rooms at deluxe resorts are close in price to those at moderate resorts with views.  In other words, a River View Royal Room at Port Orleans Riverside is sometimes not far in price from a standard view room at the Wilderness Lodge or Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Thus, you can enjoy all the amenities and theming of a deluxe resort at moderate pricing!  The Caribbean Beach Resort tends to offer the best promotions in the moderate category followed by Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.  Both of these resorts offer pervasive theming and fun feature pools with great slides as well as several other quiet pools scattered across the respective properties.  Since we live in South Florida the architecture of the Caribbean Beach Resort feels too much like home to us.  You can also spoil yourself at a moderate resort.  The Port Orleans Riverside resort offers Royal Rooms with gold bathroom fixtures and fiber optic elements like fireworks in the head board.  The Caribbean Beach Resort offers pirate themed rooms that are a hit with adults and children alike.  Email us at for more ideas and resources.



Welcome to!

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Welcome! Although our site is new, it is a labor of love that has been over 38 years in the making. Thirty-eight years ago, we made our first trip to Walt Disney World. Our corner room at the Contemporary faced the Magic Kingdom charming us with views of the sleek monorails gliding by with Cinderella Castle and the Seven Seas Lagoon in the background. The landscape was punctuated with the bursts of fireworks and the bellow of the ferries’ horns. Our second trip landed us at the totally transporting Polynesian Village Resort as it was called then. Even though we had floods in both rooms on our first two trips, we have been enchanted with the Walt Disney World Resort ever since. The floods proved to be good omens rather than negative harbingers of things to come. From that first trip in 1975, we were hooked! We have visited the WDW resort at least four times a year for the last 38 years. In the past five years, we have averaged over 50 nights a year at an onsite hotel. In previous years, our average was closer to 30 nights a year. We have stayed at every resort on property, including the Swan and Dolphin resorts and the hotels on Hotel Plaza Boulevard. It will help to know that we live a mere 238 miles away in south Florida, a three hour car ride to the Mouse!

Our site is dedicated to the discussion, review, and celebration of the many dining, lodging, and recreational options at the Walt Disney World Resort. Book reviews and trivia games will be thrown in for fun. A number of incredible sites already exist with threaded discussions, up to date menus, and the latest rumors and news. Among those are and The podcasts of WDWRadio and Touring Plans are also wonderful sources of information and inspiration. People like Len Testa, Jim Hill, Deb Willis, and Jack Spence have paved the way for our foray into cyberspace. We will not attempt to reinvent the proverbial wheel. Instead, we offer our heart-felt opinions and experiences from the perspectives of a 40-something year old man, a 15 year old girl who was weened on Disney, and a 60-something year old grandmother. We look forward to your comments and questions. Enjoy!

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