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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more ideas and resources.