Thursday, November 17, 2011

Port Orleans- French Quarter

I had the opportunity to tour Disney’s Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter during a recent Agent Education Program, and the moment I saw the resort, I said “This is the next resort I want to stay at.” When planning a last minute trip to Walt Disney World for October 2011 there was no discussion of what resort we were staying at. As the official vacation planner of the family, I decided we would be staying at Port Orleans-French Quarter and the topic was not up for discussion.

Themed after the French Quarter Section of New Orleans, the resort makes you feel like almost like you are staying there rather than a resort in Florida. As you enter the main entrance you are greeted by a cast member decked out in Mardi Gra attire handing out beads or doubloon “coins” to be tossed into the fountain in the lobby. The lobby area itself is not large and everything is very easy to find. The food court and Scat Cat’s Club are on one side with registration, the arcade and Jackson Square Gifts on the other.  There are 7 buildings in this resort which has a total of approximately 1000 rooms. The buildings are close together and close to the main building and bus stop so there are no preferred room locations since every building is a great location. The buildings are located along “streets” lined with wrought iron fences, gas lamplights and tiles embedded in the sidewalks with the names. There are gardens and sitting area among all the buildings.

All resort rooms recently underwent renovation and now house new queen sized beds, flat screen TVs and renovated bathrooms. Rooms also include a mini fridge and coffee maker. Access to the internet is available for $9.95 per 24 hour period and data port cords are in all rooms. Also in the room is vanity area with double sinks, iron and board, large shelf and closet area as well as a shelf with hooks in the sleeping area. The vanity area is separate from the sleeping area by a curtain which allows for privacy when family members are still sleeping.

There is only one bus stop area in the resort and is less than a 4 minute walk from any building. We stayed in building 7 in room 302 which is the building and room farthest away from the main building and the bus stop, but to me was closer than several other resorts I have stayed at (including some deluxe resorts).  The bus ride to EPCOT is 9 minutes, 12 minutes to Magic Kingdom, around 8 for Hollywood Studios and about 5 minutes to Downtown. Yes, I timed them.

French Quarter has its own bus to and from the parks. The only time we had to share a bus with neighboring Riverside was to Downtown Disney. You can take a resort riverboat up to Riverside or to the Downtown Disney area. Boat runs every 10-20 minutes depending on the time of day and run from 10 am – 11pm. The boat drops you off at the marketplace entrance at Downtown by Rainforest Café.

The resort has one main pool area centrally located and has spa areas, children areas with some cool slides and a pool bar called Mardi Grogs Pool Bar. Towels are available poolside and the laundry facilities are located here as well.

There is tons of recreation and activities at this resort. There is fishing excursions, Bayou Pirate Adventure Cruises, Boat rentals, bicycle rentals, plain ole pole fishing and scenic evening horse drawn carriage rides. Some activities are at neighboring Riverside resort and is a short walk or you can take a riverboat up to the resort. There are movies shown outside on a big screen every night (weather permitting) and every night behind building 5 you will find a campfire the makings for smores.
There is no table service restaurant at French Quarter but there is still plenty of food. The Sassagoula Food Court has a lot to offer. There are 4 food areas, plus a bakery. You can choose from Pizza, to burgers, steak sandwiches (I recommend these) and some traditional southern food. There is plenty of seating inside and outside. The hours are 6 am – midnight. Some food selections are limited after 10 pm.
Next to the food court is Scat Cat’s Club which is open from 4pm – midnight and features live entertainment Wednesday – Saturday. You can get cocktails here and either enjoy a quiet moment while the kids are at the arcade or bring the drink poolside.
Room service is not available at this resort but you can order pizza from Sassagoula Pizza Express and they will deliver to your room. Service is available 4 pm to midnight.

French Quarter to me is one of the best kept Disney resort secrets. I truly enjoyed the intimate layout of the resort, the overall theme and the fact that everything is so close. No one wants to get off a bus from a resort at the end of a very long day and then have to walk a distance to their room. The resort itself was quiet and you felt like you were on vacation, on your vacation. I have recommended this resort to several of my clients and I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. I would definitely stay here again and would have to say that it definitely moved up to one of my top favorite Disney resorts that I have stayed at...and I’ve stayed at a lot of them.
I would definitely suggest this resort to anyone who is looking for a moderate category resort and wants a quiet, homey setting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort

As you check into California Grill in the second floor lobby you can tell that this is going to be one special evening. Once you have been checked in and your reservation is confirmed you are taken into an elevator up to the 15th floor of the Contemporary.
When you step off of the elevator you are immediately immersed in the excitement of this incredible restaurant! You are greeted by the host or hostess at the front desk, once officially checked you are given your pager, you are told that there are three walkways that extend outside of the restaurant and that you are more than welcome to go out and explore them. After being given permission go ahead and explore do it!
The views from the walkways are amazing, you can see everything from downtown Orlando to the inside of the Magic Kingdom. No place else can you get these views.

Once the pager goes off you are escorted to your table I personally recommend a seat next to the Kitchen, the open kitchen is a sight to see, the chefs hustling to produce the food for all of the hungry customers is very entertaining especially if you have young children. Soon after being seated the waiter or waitress will come over and take your drink order, the wine list is suburb and has a great selection of California Wines. After you receive your drinks the server will ask if you to place your appetizer order, the sushi and flatbreads are to die for. After you order the starters you will be asked if you are ready to order your meal.

You cannot go wrong with any selection on the menu. However I would recommend the oak wood filet of beef. After placing this order you then wait for your meal to come it may seem like it takes a minute to receive your dishes but trust me the staff at this restaurant have the timing of the evening down to a science. After your appetizers and main courses have arrived your server will ask you to place your dessert order, again you cannot go wrong but the cheesecake is excellent.

As you are waiting for your dessert the lights will begin to dim and the music for wishes (the firework show at Magic Kingdom) will begin. Your server will ask you if you want to go outside and watch the show and trust me you do! This is a magical experience and by far the best place in the "world" to watch fireworks from. After the show is done you may see your server setting your table with the dessert (perfect timing). This restaurant is truly amazing I personally feel that no trip to Walt Disney World is complete without a stop at California Grill.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Last Resort I Stayed At: Bay Lake Tower

Let me start off by saying this was my 15th visit to Walt Disney World! I was 2 ½ on my first trip with my parents back in 1976 and while each trip after that was memorable, I knew this particular trip was going to be the most magical. Why? Well, because it was my 2 ½ year old daughter’s first visit to Walt Disney World! I wanted her first trip to be special, not just in the parks, but at the resort as well.
The question was…which resort? My parents were joining us on this visit and I knew a villa resort would be perfect for us. We chose Bay Lake Tower (BLT) at Disney’s Contemporary Resort because of its close proximity to Magic Kingdom (approximately 8 – 10 minute walk) and for the infamous Monorail – “Disney’s Highway in the Sky”.

Check-in was at the front desk of the Contemporary Resort and I must say it was quick and painless. We were assigned to room number 7935 – a one bedroom villa with a Bay Lake view, located on the 9th floor. The cast member checking us in made sure to tell us to bring our room key wherever we go because that key is the ONLY way to access the building, room and pool area.
I was quite impressed when we entered BLT. The first thing I noticed was the “new” smell it had even after opening on August 4th. The lobby was so clean and I loved the classy, modern décor.

We finally made it up to our room – and what a room it was! The size, layout and amenities were perfect for 4 adults and 1 child. I think having two separate bathrooms really made a difference in our stay. It was so convenient! Even the washer and dryer were helpful (yes we did do a load or two)! We stocked the full sized kitchen with breakfast cereals, snacks and beverages. My parents raved about
how comfortable the queen-sized sleeper sofa was in the living room. It had a memory foam mattress and they felt like they were sleeping on a standard bed!
The king sized bed in the Master bedroom was like sleeping on a cloud. Words cannot describe how much I looked forward to crawling into it after a long day at the parks. It was so comfortable I didn’t want to get up when the alarm went off in the morning!! While my daughter loved taking baths in the jacuzzi tub (who wouldn’t), I enjoyed taking a “rain” shower in the Master bathroom. My husband
enjoyed his daily morning cup of coffee out on the balcony, which had a beautiful view of Bay Lake and the pool area.
Here is a photo from the balcony at night!

When we weren’t visiting one of the four theme parks or sleeping, we enjoyed our time at the pool. BLT’s pool was zero entry, heated and had two water slides - corkscrew type for adults and a short, gradual slope slide for the kids. There was also a Mickey-shaped kiddie water play area, which my daughter loved! They even had some great interactive poolside games to pass the time!
Transportation to and from BLT are shared with the Contemporary’s monorail, bus and boat services…all were convenient and timely.
Views of the fireworks at night were spectacular from the connecting bridge to the Contemporary or even the North and South elevator lobbies. You could even catch a glimpse of the nightly Electric Water Pageant on Bay Lake from your balcony or the stairwells located at each end of the hallway on every floor. While there are no restaurants in BLT itself, we enjoyed the Contempo Café for quick service meals, Chef Mickey’s for character dining and The Wave for a sit down restaurant - all
delicious and all located at the Contemporary Resort.
So yes, this trip WAS magical! Magical not only because I was at my favorite place on Earth or that it was my daughter’s first visit or the fun times we shared in the parks, but because of our fabulous stay at BLT!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Having a Ball at 1900 Park Fare

On our last Disney trip, we decided to do a character meal that we had never experienced before. Since my mother’s favorite character is Cinderella, I chose dinner at 1900 Park Fare. 1900 Park Fare is a buffet dinner with Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine (aka Cinderella’s evil step-mother), and Anastasia and Drizella (aka Cinderella’s evil step-sisters).

Located at the Grand Floridian Resort, this restaurant is just a short boat ride or Monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom. The cost is currently around $43 for adults and $21 for children ages 3-9 (depending on the time of year). 1900 Park Fare is on the dining plan and takes 1 sit-down credit. The price includes the buffet, non-alcoholic drink, and, of course, lots of character interactions.

While it is not the only Cinderella meal at Disney World (there is another one inside the Castle at the Magic Kingdom), 1900 Park Fare consistently gets very high reviews from guests. I decided to test those reviews – both on character interaction, as well as quality of food.

Character Interaction
As soon as we entered the restaurant, we were escorted by our server to our table. He assured us that the characters would be along shortly and that each one would be announced when they entered the dining room. About ten minutes after we sat down, Prince Charming entered the dining room. He stopped for a while at our table and gave us the chance to take plenty of pictures.

Shortly thereafter, Cinderella entered the dining room. Prince Charming stopped where he was and went over to greet her. Cinderella then greeted each table and posed for a long time with pictures. Since she was the “star” character for my family, we made sure to get LOTS of pictures with everyone. Cinderella was gracious with her time and waited until we were happy with the pictures. The character interaction was definitely living up to the hype.

Approximately 15 minutes later, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella entered the ballroom. They also spent plenty of time at the tables, interacting with guests. When teasingly questioned by several members of my family, these outstanding actors never broke character once. This led to an even more humorous and enjoyable experience for my family.

The culmination of the evening came when Prince Charming invited Cinderella to dance with him in the middle of the dining room. He bowed to her, she curtseyed, and they began to waltz. The moment
was spectacular, but it got even better when they invited young guests to join them on the dance floor. Prince Charming’s smile could be seen across the room as his much shorter dance partners’
eyes illuminated while they danced. When it comes to character interaction, this restaurant surely gets a 10 out of 10!

Food Quality
The other aspect that I wanted to examine while visiting 1900 Park Fare was the food quality. I had chosen this restaurant over Cinderella’s Royal Table inside Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic
Kingdom because it reportedly had much better food variety and quality. After a glancing overview of the buffet table, it was clear that there was an excellent variety to choose from. After tasting it, the food was also very delicious. There was a nice selection of entrees, including chicken, prime rib, turkey, and salmon. Also, there were plenty of sides and vegetables to compliment the main course.
For the little “princes” and “princesses” – or even the older ones – there was also a kids’ corner with chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, pasta, and pizza. One of my favorite parts was the chilled
strawberry soup. I had heard wonderful things about the soup and it is absolutely not to be missed!

Just like the character interaction, the food also exceeded my expectations. My one criticism was the lack of variety in the desserts offered. While they did include typical desserts, such as ice cream,
cookies and brownies, they also had a few small fruit tarts and bread pudding. However, there was such a small quantity of those that those plates were frequently empty. Yet, the staff continued to
overflow the cookies and brownies plates repeatedly. Aside from that, the food at 1900 Park Fare gets a 9 out of 10.

Overall, this restaurant may be a little pricey if you are not on the dining plan (which is one of the reasons the Disney Dining Plan is a good deal!). However, the food and experience that you get far outweighs the cost. Disney World is about making memories with your family and if you have fans of Cinderella in your family, this restaurant is NOT TO BE MISSED!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Seeing is Believing

If for one minute you ever lost the Magic of believing you will never again after seeing “Believe”.
This Broadway caliber show will more than knock your socks off. Tinker bell introduces this show with special effects that will leave you wondering just how she does it for days after you return home from your vacation. I have always held a special place for Tink knowing her magic was real, however seeing is believing and you will never doubt again the magic of Tinker Bell. The show kicks off with Dr. Cornelius Green-away focusing on the everyday frustrations of providing for his daughter Sophia, forgetting about the magic that is in everyday life. The show continues with an unforgettable birthday wish from Sophia that will bring the Genie from Aladdin to the stage along with many of your favorite characters not only from today but from childhood memories as well. The show will leave you wanting for more, it is not one to miss. The special effects from set design, lighting and costumes not to mention the phenomenal talent will have you going back to watch the second show, skipping dinner. The only difficult thing about writing a review of this show is not wanting to give up the secrets that await you, every character that appeared came with a gasp of the audience, children and adults alike. The story takes a turn into the unexpected that will not leave a dry eye in house, reminding us that time goes so fast and that every magical memory counts…….you will not leave this show without rediscovering the magic you can find in every step you take on and off the Disney Dream.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!" at WDW

If you’re visiting Disney World during the holidays, and are wondering “is there anything to do for FREE during Christmas time at Walt Disney World?”....then here are a few ideas you’ll love…and yes, they’re FREE! First, take in all the festive sights and sounds at each one of the parks! It’s the most wonderful time of the Walt Disney World! Tons of decorated Christmas trees are found all throughout the parks and in shops. Twinkling lights, miles and miles of garland, poinsettia balls are everywhere you look. There are Cinderella’s Castle Dream Lights and Cinderella’s Holiday Wish Stage Shows at Magic Kingdom. There is also a 65 ft Christmas tree at the entrance of Main Street at Magic Kingdom .

Second, visit the resort’s lobbies. A gingerbread house, 16 ft high, made of thousands of gingerbread pieces, is displayed in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Guests actually walk inside the gingerbread house. There is also a life-size carousel made from chocolate and gingerbread in the lobby of Disney’s Beach Club Resort. And the Animal Kingdom Lodge has a gigantic Christmas tree in its lobby. You can spend time just “resort lobby hopping” to take in all the holiday magic.

And last, but definitely not least, visit Downtown Disney! Disney does an amazing job decorating Downtown Disney. You can meet and greet Santa in front of The World of Disney Store. Christmas carolers, jazz ensembles, and street performers are feature events at Downtown Disney as well.

So as you can see, there are many free things to do during Christmas time at Walt Disney World! You’re sure to find Disney holiday magic everywhere you look!