Downtown Disney Is Now Disney Springs

February 1st, 2016

As of September 29th, 2015, the shopping and entertainment hub once known as Downtown Disney is officially Disney Springs. This is a huge re-imagination of the area that will almost double the size, add shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

Disney Springs is set up into four neighborhoods

Construction will be complete sometime in the middle of 2016. When all is said and done there will be four separate neighborhoods for guests to enjoy: Marketplace, Town Center, The Landing, and West Side. Each will have unique theming, shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

disney springs view

The Landing

Those familiar with Downtown Disney of yesterday will remember The Landing as Pleasure Island. It’s an outdoor neighborhood and several new restaurants will make their home there: The Boathouse, Tea Traders Café by Joffrey, Morimoto Asia, Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, and STK Orlando. There’s plenty of other nightlife in The Landing, including The Edison, a gothic-style club themed to the 1920s with Cabaret performances.

Several new stores will make their way to The Landing:

  • Art of Shaving
  • Sanuk
  • Vivoli Getateria
  • APEX by Sunglass Hut
  • Erin McKenna’s Bakery
  • Sound Lion
  • Art of Shaving
  • Chapel Hats
  • Havaianas
  • Erwin Pearl

erin mckennas bakery disney springs

Town Center

Town Center is another outdoor neighborhood. There guests will find a mixture of dining and shopping, plus a relaxing promenade guests can stroll down while taking in the beautiful surroundings.

The Marketplace

The Marketplace was part of the original Downtown Disney, but they’re adding a larger World of Disney Store, plus new retailers. At the moment, the Village Causeway is open, which connects one end of the Marketplace, close to the LEGO Store, to the other end, near the Rainforest Café. As guests walk this causeway they’ll find a variety of retailers selling everything from toys to local specialties like Flour & Sugar, a Florida-themed cookie company, and Florida Bath Co.

Dockside Margaritas, while not new, has benefited from a facelift and taken on a bigger menu, which includes local beers, Florida wines, and brand new cocktails. Its location on the waterfront makes it a great place for a casual meal or drink.

dockside margaritas

West Side

The West Side was also a part of Downtown Disney. There guests can check out live entertainment, and elevated spots that offer shade and great views of the entertainment. A new NBA experience will also be added later this year, and will including food, shopping, and interactive activities. It will go in where DisneyQuest used to be.

New parking

One of the biggest complaints about Downtown Disney was the lack of parking. Disney took that complaint seriously and has built two new parking garages, with a total vehicle capacity of more than 6,000. This will be a relief to anyone who’s tried to park there on a Friday night in the past!

There’s no question that exciting things are in store for Disney Springs. From all evidence it looks like it’s shaping up to a be a totally overhaul that will be well worth the wait.

disney springs dining

 

Frozen Ever After Coming To Epcot Spring 2016

January 21st, 2016

Girls and boys around the world – and their parents, too – are anxiously awaiting the opening of Frozen Ever After in Disney World’s ECPOT theme park. Slated for a spring 2016 opening, it will be a part of the Norwegian pavilion in the popular World Showcase area of the park. While final details haven’t been released yet, we do know that it will contain scenes inspired by the film Frozen and the animated short Frozen Fever.

The plans for a Frozen attraction were in the works before the film was even released, but with the incredible, unprecedented success of the film, those plans were accelerated. Some World Showcase fans have expressed concern that it’s inappropriate to create an attraction that’s based on a fictional place within the World Showcase, but Disney says they feel it will do nothing but boost interest in the Norway pavilion and Scandinavian culture – which is what Frozen was based on in the first place.

frozen ever after ride epcot

Those familiar with EPCOT will recognize the location of Frozen Ever After as the previous home of the attraction Maelstrom. In fact, it utilizes some of the same tracks and waterways as its predecessor. Maelstrom was closed for good on October 5, 2014 and construction on the new attraction began almost immediately.

The ride will prominently feature Audio-Animatronics utilizing the latest technology in facial animation, which uses rear-projection technology that makes the characters look much more lifelike. Savvy guests may recognize it as the same technology that was used on the very popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train next door in the Magic Kingdom, and in Ariel’s Undersea Adventure in Disneyland. There are no songs being written specifically for the attraction, but there will be a few songs from the movie with lyrics that have been revised by the original composers specifically for the ride.

When riders first enter the queue for Frozen Ever After they’ll arrive in the summer season in Arendelle. They’ll celebrate the Winter Festival, pass through Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, and go on to board their boats where they’ll find Sven and Olaf preparing for the festival.

On the ride itself, Grand Pabbie narrates the story of the meeting of Kristoff and Anna, the boats come around a turn to show Anna, Sven, Kristoff, and Olaf enjoying a winter scene, then on to Queen Elsa in her ice palace, through Marshmallow and his friends that were introduced in Frozen Fever, and finally to a return to Arendelle through a dramatic cloud of mist. In the final scene riders will experience an incredible fireworks finale and a send-off from Anna, Elsa, and the whole gang.

frozen ever after coming spring 2016

The Norway pavilion will also be home to a Royal Sommerhus. This historic Norwegian log cabin will house Anna and Elsa while they greet guests, snap photos, and sign autographs.

How far did the team at Disney go to ensure their attraction would be authentic? They traveled all the way to Norway to study both the country and its culture. No matter how guests feel about the movie, about closing Maelstrom, or what they see as a significant change to the World Showcase, there’s no question that this will be a unique experience.

Skull Island: Reign of King Kong Opens Summer 2016 at Universal Orlando

January 14th, 2016

Universal’s first ever King Kong themed ride, King Kong Encounter, opened in Universal Studios Hollywood park way back in 1986. The seven ton, 30 foot-tall King Kong was a massive success and it’s no wonder that Kongfrontation was ready on opening day in Universal Studios Florida. That ride has been closed for over a decade, but fans of the movie monster are about to get something even more impressive. Skull Island: Reign of King Kong opens in Universal’s Islands of Adventure in summer of 2016.

According to the ride creator, everything about this ride is going to be big. Just consider the ride vehicle: it’ll be a full 40 feet long. Or consider the length of the ride: an average theme park ride is just under four minutes long while this one will be just ten seconds shy of six minutes. Guests can enjoy a long ride through an impressively immersive environment.

skull island universal orlando

While many details of the ride are still being kept under wraps, we do know a few things. First, guests will enter off the main promenade of Islands of Adventure. They’ll pass the marquee and walk through the main entrance, which is an archway topped with a huge stone King Kong skull. They’ll then be surrounded by a dense jungle and plants that appear to have seen better days. As they continue on, they’ll be faced with crates, supplies, and other items that will suggest their expedition has made it to Skull Island.

As guests work their way through the queue area they’ll wind back and forth through the base camp and get the full Reign of Kong backstory through a radio broadcast. In fact, it’s an actual 1930s NBC news broadcast, complete with musical interludes from the NBC Orchestra.

After the base camp guests will see ruins of an ancient temple, and will eventually enter those ruins. As they go deeper they’ll have a sense of the native presence on the island. They’ll meet a few characters from the expedition who will fill in some of the blanks on the backstory, and then they’ll finally make it to the load area.

The whole time guests are making their way through the queue areas they’re moving from large, open spaces into tight, confined spaces. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Universal: they’re establishing a tone and creating tension.

universal orlando reign of kong

When guests get to the load area they hear a final radio broadcast. Somewhere deep in the jungle comes a broadcast from the base camp. The purpose is to let the driver know where they need to go when they get into the field, but it also hints at what guests can expect to encounter when they get on the ride.

Guests take their seats and their enormous ride vehicle roars out of the ruins, along a crumpled road, and then makes a hard turn. As it approaches the Great Wall drums are beating, flames are flaring up, and a set of massive temple doors open.

What happens next is anyone’s guess, as Universal has not released the details of the ride itself. What we do know is that everything is big and overwhelming. We know that Universal expects to amaze and delight guests on the ride.

10 Advantages to Renting a Vacation Home

November 9th, 2015

As you plan for your next trip, one of your first decisions will be where to stay. There are numerous advantages to choosing a vacation home, including the following ten benefits.

1.         Laundry facilities

Having laundry right in your vacation home saves you money on baggage fees because you can pack less, offers optimal convenience, and saves time by eliminating the need to visit a local laundromat.

2.         Cooking at home

Cooking in your vacation home saves you money and makes it easy for the entire family to sit down and share a meal every night.

orlando home rental kitchen

3.         Extra space

Perhaps the biggest advantage of renting a vacation home: everyone has plenty of privacy! Why pack into a hotel room when you can all spread out?

4.         Affordability

This one is a shocker for many people, but the reality is that renting a home is often more affordable than staying in a hotel. For example, you can rent an Orlando vacation home starting at just $99 per night.

5.         Community

Most home rentals are located in communities with other homes for rent. You’ll have a great mix of people who know the area well and others who are experiencing it for the first time with you.

6.         Lots of variety

You can stay at vacation homes year after year and never stay in the same one. You’ll have different décor, amenities, and more.

gameroom orlando vacation home

7.         All the comforts of home

When you rent a home you’ll truly feel that you’re at home! You’ll have comfortable living quarters, your own bedroom, and all the create comforts of your home.

8.         Privacy in spades

The extra room you have in your vacation home translates to tons of privacy! You can put the kids to bed and stay up late watching movies with your sweetie without worrying about waking anyone up.

9.         All the technology you need

Vacation homes will vary by location, but generally speaking you can expect to have wireless internet, cable TV, and other technology. Feel free to bring your laptop and get some work done, or snuggle down on the couch with the family and watch your favorite TV shows.

flat screen tv orlando vacation home

10.       Less crowded

Why fight crowds to get to a pool when you can stay in a home with a private pool? Why fight crowds to get to your car when you can pull up right into your own driveway? Private homes are only as crowded as you make them!

5 Airport Tips for Parents of Special Needs Kids

November 6th, 2015

Traveling with your special needs kid doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking experience. There are many things you can do to make flying simple. These five tips will get you started on your planning.

1.         Call the TSA

The TSA has a helpline specifically for those with special needs. You can call them at 1-855-787-2227 with any questions you have about their procedures, screening policies, and anything else that will make you more comfortable at the security checkpoint. When you call, a representative will either give you the relevant information you need, or if you need specialized assistance they’ll refer you to a disability expert at the TSA. They recommend you call at least 72 hours in advance so they have the time they need to coordinate support at your checkpoint if necessary.

airline travel special needs

2.         Bring plenty of small bills

From taxi rides to airport shuttle drivers, there will be numerous people who help you out on the trip. You want to get from one spot to another as quickly as possible, so be ready with singles and five dollar bills. This allows you to simply tip and move on without waiting for change.

3.         Check in ahead of time

Skip the lines in the airport by checking in ahead of time. You can print your boarding pass with almost all airlines, and most will now let you show your boarding pass on your phone. However, keep in mind that in some cases boarding passes must be loaded individually on your phone. This can cause hold ups when it’s time to board the plane, so it may be worth it to print them out and have them on hand.

4.         Backup plans can save you

It’s great to plan and it’s great to be prepared, but that preparedness should include backup plans. You might have car trouble on the way to the airport, you may miss a connection, or your flight may arrive late. Make sure you have plans for each of these scenarios: one-hour delays, multi-hour delays, and total cancellations.

airplane travel with child

5.         Breathe deeply and smile!

You’ll spend months planning and preparing so you can have a lovely vacation. When the day finally arrives, don’t forget to take a deep breath and smile! You want to enjoy this special time with your children and your family. Don’t get so caught up worrying that you forget to be present for your trip.

 

Traveling with Teens: Minimizing Angst and Maximizing Thanks

November 5th, 2015

You’re excited about your upcoming trip to Disney World but you’re worried that your teen won’t have the time of their life. Many people, teens included, are under the mistaken impression that Disney is just for kids. The truth is that there’s something here for everyone to enjoy. Let’s consider some tips to maximize fun!

Give your teens space and privacy and watch them flourish

Teenagers need space – it’s simply the reality of the situation. You can give it to them by renting a vacation home instead of a resort. In a vacation home they’ll have a room to themselves, yet you’ll be in the room next to them so you can keep an eye on them. Giving them space and privacy at night and in the mornings will help them recharge and be more involved in family activities during the day.

teens bedroom orlando vacation home

Keep them involved

A successful trip to Disney World involves plenty of planning. If you have everything planned out with no input from your teenager, they’re likely to bristle at the idea of having no control. On the other hand, if you ask for their help choosing restaurants, deciding which FastPass+ reservations to make, and which parks to spend the most time in, then they’ll feel involved – and they’ll be much more excited about the trip as a whole.

Consider giving them a night to themselves

Depending on the age of your teens, and their maturity level, you may consider giving them a night to explore on their own. Obviously you won’t hand them the keys to your rental car and encourage them to drive around Orlando by themselves, but you can travel to one of the parks together, give them a little pocket money for dinner, and let them go off on their own. For security sake, check in with them via phone every hour or two and give them a clear curfew.

teens island of adventure universal orlando

Set a budget and stick to it

You do want your teens to have a good time, but you don’t want to bribe them to do so. To avoid arguments over souvenirs once you’re in the parks, set a budget before hand – and stick to it! You could give them a prepaid gift card with a specific amount on it and tell them they can spend it as they’d like, but once it’s gone it’s gone, or you could set a daily allowance and let them know what it is. No matter how you decide to do it, make a plan and follow through with it.

Group Travel Packing Tips

November 4th, 2015

As the person in charge of your group trip, it’s up to you to make sure everyone is on the same page. The good news is that you don’t have to pack for everyone going on your trip, but the reality is that if someone leaves something important behind you’re the one they’re going to turn to when they need it replaced. To avoid issues, share these tips for group travel packing.

Have everyone get scanned copies of their essential documents

Whether your travelers are coming from outside of the U.S. and need passports, or they’re traveling domestically and simply have state IDs, it’s essential that they have backup documents in case something happens to the originals. Have them scan photos of each and then store them in their secure email accounts. If something happens, they’ll have access to all the details they need to get replacements right away.

orlando split up valuablesSplit up the valuables

It’s wise not to carry credit cards, cash, and other valuables in the same place. Imagine that you have everything in a single pocket and the worst happens – you lose it. When it’s all in a single spot, or within a single wallet or purse, you’re increasing the chances of losing it all. Instead, instruct travelers to keep most of their valuables in their vacation home or hotel room and bring only the cash or credit card they need for each adventure.

Pack a backpack the right way

Did you know that there’s a right and a wrong way to pack a backpack? The best tips are to put lighter items at the bottom and heavy items on top. This makes backpacks feel lighter because the pack will now rest on the lower back. It’s also smart to place items you need most on top. This allows travelers to just grab what they need without removing everything from their backpack.

Cut down on clothing when possible

Baggage fees are getting out of hand, and lugging many suitcases along can be a pain. Instruct those traveling with you to try and cut down on the amount of clothing they need. One great tip is to pack multi-purpose items. For example, pajamas may also be used as a swimsuit cover.

orlando travel packing tips

Wrap up those shoes

This tip is something people rarely think about but it can make a big difference: pack extra shoes in plastic bags. Why? Because they can stink – especially after they’ve been worn at Disney World for a week.

5 Tips for Traveling with Senior Citizens to Disney World

November 3rd, 2015

If you want to take grandpa and / or grandma on your next vacation to Disney World there are some special factors to consider. The Points Guy recently posted a great article called 11 Tips for Traveling with Senior Citizens. There were some great tips in there, and our favorite five are listed below.

1.         Book non-stop flights whenever possible and avoid regional jets

Non-stop flights are much better than connecting flights for several reasons, including minimizing the chance of missing a connection and reducing the total travel top. Sometimes it can be worth it to pay more for a non-stop flight, and it may also be worth it to travel further to an airport that offers non-stop flights. Smaller jets like the Embraer ERJ or Canadair CRJ series require passengers to climb a flight of stairs, which can be challenging for seniors.

senior citizen flying tips

2.         Be careful with senior discounts

Some airlines claim to offer senior discounts but they can be misleading. In some cases they are the exact same price as a regular ticket, and in other cases they are real discounts but they only work on specific flights. Be sure you’re not paying more for the rest of the family to fly just so you can save a few dollars on one senior ticket.

disney world breaks senior citizens3.         Be mindful of flight times

Grandparents may not have the energy they used to, and traveling early in the morning or later in the evening can take its toll. Talk to the grandparents to learn what their preferences are, but generally mid-morning or early afternoon departure times will work well for everyone.

4.         Bring medications in carryon bags

This is a tip that’s as relevant to everyone in the party as it is to seniors, but it’s important enough to highlight: never put medications in checked bags. They can get lost or delayed, and getting ahold of your doctor to have them reissue a prescription can be a pain. The better option is to put medications in small pieces of carryon luggage or even a large handbag. It’s also smart to bring a list of medications and dosages in the event a doctor’s visit is necessary during your trip.

5.         Plan but don’t overplan

A trip to Disney World will be more successful if you have a plan, but don’t overplan either. Your grandparents are slower than they used to be, and your plans should account for their need to take frequent breaks. You may want to plan one activity before lunch and one after.

5 Anniversary Activities in Orlando

November 2nd, 2015

You want your anniversary to be extra special, which is why you’re traveling to Orlando. Here are five incredible activities you can plan to ensure you have a truly memorable trip to Orlando.

orlando balloon ride couple1.         Go up, up, up for the time of your life

Orlando Balloon Rides depart every day, when the weather is cooperating, of course. Depending on the conditions on the particular day you decide to book your balloon ride, it’ll last between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. They can cruise just above the trees or soar thousands of feet! No matter how high they go, or how long you’re up there, you can expect to get a truly unique, romantic view of the theme parks, beautiful Florida wilderness, orange groves, and more!

2.         Truffles & Trifles

This is a true foodie dream come true. Truffles & Trifles has been operating for more than 30 years and offers unique, romantic cooking classes with themes including Caribbean, gluten-free, and desserts and wines. Just remember that these classes fill up fast! You’ll pay $135 for both of you, which includes your food. You can bring your own wine for a delicious treat.

3.         The Orlando Eye

One of Orlando’s newest attractions, the Orlando Eye, is taller than the statue of liberty. Located in the I-4 corridor, you’ll enjoy a trip up in a climate-controlled capsule where you can see the entirety of Florida’s Atlantic coast. Each capsule can hold up to 15 people and the entire ride takes about a half an hour. However, you can also book a private capsule for your special anniversary date.

orlando eye attraction

4.         Step back in time at The Courtesy

For couples who love nothing more than a good cocktail, The Courtesy has much to offer. There you can enjoy a night themed around Prohibition. With incredible hand-crafted cocktails, homespun punch, and tons of draft beers, well drinks, and wine, there’s something here for everyone. They also have cocktail classes twice a month that give couples the chance to learn the history of various drinks while they learn the art of creating them.

5.         Disney fireworks

Don’t overlook one of the most time-honored romantic traditions in Orlando – the Disney fireworks. There are incredible fireworks displays every night of the year – weather permitting. Be sure to snag a spot early as it can get quite crowded during peak times. It’s well worth the wait though – you won’t see better fireworks anywhere in the world.

disney world fireworks for couples

Cinnamon Roll and LeFou’s Brew at Gaston’s Tavern

October 30th, 2015

Located near the Beast’s castle in the Magic Kingdom, Gaston’s Tavern has quickly become a must visit counter service food stop for those in search of the now famous Cinnamon Roll and LeFou’s Brew. The tavern is not hard to find since there is a statue just outside just as large as Gaston’s ego to welcome guests to this French village pub.

gastons tavern magic kingdom

The cinnamon roll has become the most popular in the park and diners need to be aware this sweet treat is extremely large! While not as gooey as some cinnamon rolls this one is loved by many who feel it is moist enough. Some diners do wish for more icing on their roll, but if you ask the tavern will add more maple sweetness on top for you.

cinnamon roll gastons tavern

To wash it down there is nothing quite like LeFou’s Brew. This no sugar added frozen apple juice drink has a hint of marshmallow and is topped with a all-natural passion fruit-mango foam. You can get your brew served in a souvenir stein or goblet for just a few dollars more so you can have the perfect vessel to try and recreate this Disney World treat at home.

lefrou's brew gaston's tavern

Both the cinnamon roll and LeFrou’s Brew are served all day, so you do not have to make this your morning stop. You can visit anytime during the day for a snack while you are in the Magic Kingdom.