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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dining Reservations For Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex Cafe Can Be Had By Calling Restaurants

“You know where you want to eat six months from now?”  Not only do we know where we want to eat, but approximately what time of day and that makes planning Advanced Dining Reservations for Walt Disney World easy.  Most of the time, our travel agent makes our dining reservations for us.  But after adding an extra day to our upcoming July 2013 trip and extra dining reservations, I decided to give making our own ADR’s a go.

The goal was to make a dinner reservation for Rainforest Café at the Animal Kingdom location and a lunch reservation at T-Rex Café in Downtown Disney.  I phoned 407-WDW-DINE and made my way through the voice navigations only to discover that late dinner times were available for our selected date for Rainforest Café.  Not ideal.  I hung up the phone without even trying for T-Rex Café or speaking to an agent.

I then found the phone number for Rainforest Café at Animal Kingdom and called the restaurant directly.  A human answered the phone—bonus!  After a few questions, no credit card to reserve our time slot, and asking if we were celebrating a special occasion, we had dinner reservations at our preferred time slot! 

That was so easy; I did the same for T-Rex Café, calling the restaurant directly.  Again, success!

I learned that calling the restaurant directly is the best way to go for these two restaurants, and most likely the Rainforest Café at Downtown Disney.

While we have eaten at T-Rex Café at Downtown Disney previously (click here to read more), we have yet to try Rainforest Café locations in Orlando.  We have dined at Rainforest Café at the Mall of America several years ago so we are looking forward to dining there again.

The question that we are still wrestling with is whether or not to join Landry Restaurant’s Select Club prior to our trip.  Membership is $25 with a credit of $25 after your membership is activated and then opportunities to earn points after that.  Joining prior to our trip would allow for the membership to be activated rather than joining while at the restaurants themselves (Landry is the company that owns/operates both T-Rex Café and Rainforest Café along with several other restaurants).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure on Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay

 Our Holiday Disney Cruise on the Disney Dream made two stops at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas.  We decided to reserve a spot at Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure on our first day on the island.  We have participated in this shore excursion before--click here to read more--but it was great to do it again!
The fenced in area is the home of the stingrays.

Our time was 10:00 am and we knew we would need to give ourselves time to arrive.  The Stingray Adventure is located near Gil's Fins and Floats.  We wanted a spot on the beach at Pelican Point, the second tram stop and expanded section of family beach after Pelican Plunge was added to the island.  So, we took the tram to Pelican Point and scouted out our spots on the beach.
Reserving our beach chair at Pelican Point.

After playing for a bit, we walked past the Family Beach on a lovely path with great signs towards the Stingray Adventure.  It was about a 10 minute walk.

We bumped into some characters at Mt. Rustmore and decided to say hello!

Then, it was time to head to Castaway Ray's.  We had our shore excursion tickets with us and gave them when we checked in.  We were given snorkel gear, directed towards bins where we could put our belongings, then donned parts of our gear for the introduction provided by a naturalist on the island.

Having done this before, we knew some of the answers to the questions about stingrays.  We were also reminded about the stingray shuffle when entering the water, moving about, and exiting the water so as not to step on a stingray.

After the opening information, the larger group was divided into smaller groups and assigned to various stations in the water, each "manned" by a Cast Member.  We "shuffled" out to our stations and gathered around the U shape floating dining table for the rays that are conditioned to look for the Mickey shape and get fed.

The boy did not like the squid.
Everyone in the group got to feed the stingrays at least once by hold the food between their fingers and placing their hand on top of the Mickey shape in the U shaped dining table.  The rays then swim over your hand and eat the food from your fingers--it is more like sucking the food.

We also got to pet and observe the rays as they made their way into the U shaped dining table.  Some of the rays were carrying their young in little bumps along their back.

After feeding time came exploring time where guests could snorkel within the area with the rays.  The husband took the underwater camera and captured some great photos.
The boy got bit on his finger by one of the little fish circling around our legs.

The boy loved being with the rays and other fish that had made this area their home.  He ventured farther out and away and soon I heard the lifeguard blowing their whistle as someone was on the rocks.  Yep, knew it was the boy and I yelled his name and directed him to move. (My voice was louder than the lifeguard's. . . hmm.. .)

The excursion lasts for about an hour and there is plenty of time to explore.  There are containers labeled to return the snorkel gear at the end and a water station nearby to get a drink of cool water.

We walked back towards our spot on Pelican Point.  Lunch on the island starts at 11:30 am, so it wasn't quite time for lunch, but the ice cream machines were working!

Our tips for getting the most from Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure:
  • If you can, reserve an earlier time during the day.  You won't feel rushed and the sand will still be somewhat settled for better underwater photos.
  • Give yourself some time to get to the location.
  • Bring a camera suited for underwater photos.
  • Have questions and ask them.  Since the barbs on the rays are filed, I imagined a "to do" list of sorts--file barbs today, so I asked about the frequency--every three months or so was the answer.
  • This shore excursion becomes more economical when you combine it with float rental, bike rental, and snorkel gear rental for you day on the island.  Consider bundling for the Extreme Getaway Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure for more bang for your buck. 
  • Have fun!
We enjoyed this shore excursion so much that we have done it twice.  But no matter what you choose to do, your day on Castaway Cay is going to be great!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Walt Disney World Vacation Shopping List

How many lists do you have when planning a Walt Disney World vacation?   There’s the “to do” list keeping track of all the must do’s and at various times prior to a trip.  The “packing list” allows for the necessary items to get into suitcases and carry-on bags.  ADR lists, attraction lists, park hour lists, etc.  But what about the shopping list? 

Let me begin with the fact that I don’t enjoy shopping.  Shopping is not a sport for me like some of my kind.  When I find something I like, that fits, and is a good price, I’m likely to purchase multiples in various colors as it saves time later.  Mix in the fact that paying full price for anything physically pains me along with having worked at a “big box” store earlier in my life and watched folks dole out huge amounts of cash on large shopping trips pre-vacation.  I am going to avoid that huge shopping bill like the plague but that being said, there sometimes can be necessary pre-vacation purchases. 

Let’s check the shopping list. . .

  • Clothing:  Depending on when you are traveling to the World, and your child’s most recent growth spurt, there may need to be some purchases, such as shorts or a lightweight jacket.  A friend planning a summer trip said she has two pairs of shorts that she washes and wears throughout the warm months.  This means she will either be doing laundry while at the world or will need more shorts.  I noticed that kids shorts have already been on sale at a “mart” store (think middle of the alphabet) and a bull’s-eye store.  Yes, it is only February, but those traveling during spring break/Easter will most likely want those items, not to mention warmer weather approaching in the southern states.

  • Shoes:  Walt Disney World veterans know that a pair of comfortable and broken in shoes is your best friend while traveling to the magical destination.  The husband’s birthday is coming up and he is getting a new pair of shoes—which gives him enough time to break them in before our trip.

  • Accessories:  This category can include things like park touring bags, umbrellas, ponchos, misting/fan water bottles, trading pins, lanyards, autograph necessities, camera SD cards and batteries, etc.  Spending in this category can add up fast.  To keep costs down, we reuse and re-pack many of the same items we had already purchased.  The same compact umbrellas return trip after trip, along with our stash of ponchos.  A backpack that was our stateroom gift on our Disney cruise will become our park touring backpack, but almost any bag will do.  Did you snag a free backpack during “back to school” time?  If so, re-designate it as your park touring bag.  We also bring our own “glow” items rather than purchase at the parks.  I just purchased some “laser fingers” on Amazon for $0.88 each including shipping!  Those will be fun to play with during the nighttime hours!

  • Toiletries:  Include sunscreen in this category and stock-up.  What I don’t spend money on are travel size toiletries.  Walt Disney World resorts offer guests soap, shampoo/conditioner, and depending on your resort, body wash and/or lotion.  We use those items and pack regular size hair products, deodorant, shave gel, toothpaste, and contact solution—in checked luggage of course.  We also receive many trial size offers in the mail and those are great for packing in your carry-on back if needed.  I grab a multi-pack of toothbrushes at the dollar store to take, use, and throw away.

  • Luxury items:  These items are not necessary yet make a trip a bit more luxurious and comfortable.  One item that we enjoy and appreciate is a minty foot cream to use at night.  I apply and put on a pair of cozy socks before bed leaving my feet to feel refreshed in the morning.  There is a product at a bath shop we use and I just received a gift card to that store and had a discount coupon—the foot product was in my shopping cart!  Our “pocket seats” would be considered another luxury item—click here to read more.  These inflatable cushions come in handy at shows or while watching parades.  Some might pack a robe for the resort or large beach towel—neither item is a necessity.  We also pack a pillow case from home for the boy—another luxury item.

For me, I make the shopping list when making the packing list, as I can immediately see what we have and what we need.  Then, I consider when and where those items might be available and/or on sale.  I then spread out the purchases prior to our trip taking less of a chunk out of the budget rather than one huge pre-vacation purchase.  Also, some of the vacation items might make great gifts between now and your family’s vacation.

Items on my shopping list include new shoes for the husband (a birthday gift), Disney trading pins (would make a great anniversary gift!), and shoes for the boy.  Other than that, I think we are set!

So, what is on your shopping list?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Whiskey Tasting on the Disney Dream

Editor's Note:  Guest post written by the husband about his experience with a Whiskey tasting event held for guests 21 and over on the Disney Dream.  He read about the event in the Navigator and called Guest Services to reserve his spot.

The Williams Family always seeks to indulge in the many activities that DCL offers that falls within our current budget. One of the best deals I discovered on our last cruise was whiskey sampling. I called Guest Services and they told me that it was only $20 but limited capacity. So I signed up. The place, the Meridian Lounge, on Deck 13 right between Palo & Remy. There were only 20 spots available and I felt lucky to get my reservation.

I walk in at the Meridian Lounge at 9:55 pm and found this nice upscale lounge vacant with the exception of one other customer, the bartender, and a waitress. I was told that the wine, beer, & margarita sessions are almost always full where the whiskey and cognac was anybody’s guess.

Now to be honest with you some of the details get a little fuzzy at this point. 1. Since there were only two of us we got to sample more whiskey. 2. The quantity was a little more. Normally recipients receive 6 half shots of various whiskies. Steve, the other guy, and I had 8 shots a little more than 2 thirds full. 3. Been a few years since I had whiskey. Don’t worry I didn’t do anything that would sully this fine blog.

As we were sampling, the bartender, was giving us a history of whiskey throughout the ages. We learned about the Guild of Surgeon Barbers, malt whiskies, grain whiskies, blended whiskies, the importance of oak barrels, & the successful distillers of whiskey. I had sipped Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark, Johnnie Walker – Blue, Jameson, a Swedish whiskey that smelled like a pleasant wood smoke, & some out of this world Irish whiskies.

This took about 45 minutes. Bob, the bartender, had to set up for the cognac tasting. He did leave us with a joke. A man walks into a bar and joins his fellow office workers. There are eight in this party. The man starts buying drinks for his group several times but keeps checking his wallet. The bartender asks if the man can pay. The man pulls out a money clip thick with hundreds and says yes I can pay. The bartender apologizes and commented about the man checking his wallet. The man says that there is a picture of his wife in there. The man then says he knows he has had enough to drink when his wife starts looking good.

I would like to say my wife looks great all the time.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Plans For Walt Disney World Vacation Are Shaping Up

Our boy and Goofy's boy--Max

Plans for our next magical Disney vacation are getting into shape.  This week we added another dining reservation to our plans for late breakfast at Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom.  While I want to say I’m done making ADR’s, I don’t think I am and have one more in mind—Rainforest Café.  Now, to decide if we will eat there while at Downtown Disney or make plans for dinner on our day we tour Animal Kingdom.  A Disney dilemma!

Also this week took care of a park-n-fly hotel stay at our departing city.  The husband prefers staying at Embassy Suites, not for the room, but for the nightly Manager’s Reception.  I enjoy the free breakfast with made to order omelets.  And, the boy enjoys the pool, elevators, the space in our room, and the omelets.  You should see him place his order!  I called both the hotel directly and central reservations to get the best price and made sure to ask for a AAA rate.  We did get a great rate and between free breakfast, the Manager’s Reception, and parking the car there for almost two weeks, we will come out ahead.  Did I say that the shuttle to and from the airport is free?
Our new shirts--Monster University is being released in June!
The Disney shirts we ordered arrived this week, too, from Disneystore.com.  While they were normally almost $20 each, the site had a sale of $15 each when purchasing 2 or more and over President’s Day week-end an additional 25% code was available.  I went to Ebates.com first and got “Cash Back” for my purchase.  Bargain!  The shirts are ready to be packed.

More things checked off on the “list” include the pet sitter and person to mow our lawn while we are away.  Check and check!

I told the husband the other day that this was the first time I had planned a trip in less than 6 months which is something I never envisioned myself doing, but it definitely can be done.  I’m sure many others plan trips with even shorter windows of time successfully.  And, speaking of shorter time windows, we also plan to have this trip paid in full almost four months prior due to a special offer through AAA, our travel agency.  The offer provides a cash back incentive for meeting the deadline of the offer.  More savings!

The anticipation and excitement continues to build!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Afternoon At The Contemporary Resort

Can you enjoy Walt Disney World without going to the theme parks?  What?  Not going to the theme parks?  Yep, not going to the theme parks.  During our December 2012 Walt Disney World stay, after our holiday Disney cruise on the Dream, we decided to purchase only one park ticket day and to enjoy a day at Walt Disney World without going to the theme parks. 

While our morning was spent dining at our resort and visiting Downtown Disney, after lunch, we decided to catch a bus to the Contemporary.  Actually, I was on a quest to find and purchase a 2013 Disney wall calendar and after searching all the stores at Downtown Disney thought I might try my luck at the shops at the Contemporary.

The bus drops guests off near the entrance.  We proceeded past the check-in desks to the escalators for the ride to the fourth floor, where the shops, arcade, food court, and Chef Mickey’s is located.

We were greeted by a giant gingerbread Christmas Tree and took a time out to savor the aroma and capture a few photos.

The husband and son decided to try out the arcade.  Our travel package included a voucher for arcade points and we had the voucher with us, so it was off to the arcade for some free play while I scoured the shops only to come up empty handed.

All that playing and shopping made us hungry and thirsty.  We used our snack credits in one of the shops to purchase some decadent sweet treats and then whipped out our refillable mugs and filled them at the food court where we found a table and took a break.

Since we had a dinner reservation “next door” at the Wilderness Lodge—click here to read more—we decided to take the boat launch.  Back down the escalators to the 2nd floor and out onto the pool/marina deck.  A short, yet scenic walk to the pier was followed by a wait for the boat launch to Wilderness Lodge.  Soon enough we were on are way and enjoyed the boat ride in the afternoon sun.

So, can you be at Walt Disney World, not at a theme park, and still have a good time?  Yes!  The answer is yes!  This day gave us a chance to explore, take our time, and take advantage of Disney transportation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Touring Senses Spa on the Disney Dream

 During our first afternoon on board the Disney Dream, I decided to take at tour of the Senses Spa and Salon on Deck 11 Forward.  The husband and boy went to a port shopping session where the boy scored a free bag while I was scouting out the spa for photos, information, and an opportunity to enter my name in a drawing for prizes--must be present to win.

After walking in and being greeting by the friendly Cast Members, I was first struck by the smell.  Ah, what a relaxing aroma.  Since the tour was more of an "open house" each group of people that walked in were greeted and then taken in small groups throughout the facility.

A portion of the spa and salon is dedicated to men--shave and a haircut, but definitely more than two bits.

 Want to brighten your smile?  Teeth whitening is available.  Basically, you could come on a Disney Cruise, spend your time (and money) in the spa, and come out a different person--hair, teeth, nails, skin, even your cellulite can be  minimized--if you have any of course.

 This is the manicure/pedicure section of the spa and salon.  There was a guest getting their nails done but the view could have been better while out to sea or in a tropical port of call.  The pedicure chairs also face the window.

 There are signs posted at the various stations featuring the treatments and their costs.  Don't worry about the candles, they are flameless--as open flames are not allowed on ships.
 A portion of the spa on the Disney Dream is dedicated to younger cruisers--the Chill Spa for youth meaning under 18.

 The fitness center is also a part of the spa.  Guests 18 and older can use the fitness center any time it is open for no charge.  Special classes that are offered may have an additional fee.

This is where the drawing for great door prizes was held and there is a ritual for the drawing that really means you must be present to win.  I am waiting to enter and win next time!

 I was very curious about the Rainforest room with the various showers, shown above, and the lounges shown below.  I got to try one of those lounge chairs--they are heated, contoured to your body, and even though they look like they would be hard, my body instantly melted to the contour and relaxed.  The tour went on but I was a bit behind as I lingered here for a few moments.  If I had one of these lounges at home I would be warm and relaxed all winter.  (This is something I am hoping the husband reads!)
 A hot tub/spa is also a part of the Rainforest Room.  As I understand, only a certain number of passes to the Rainforest Room are sold each cruise and the passes entitle the holders to use the Rainforest Room as often as they like throughout the duration of their cruise.
 Various massage rooms, all with windows facing the outside, are a part of the spa.  There are single and double "treatment" rooms some of which we couldn't see as they were being used.

 Interested in a Couples Treatment?  Special treatments include massages, special soaks for your feet, complete with rose petals.

 And of course, some hot tub/spa time, along with relaxing on a double chaise lounge on your own private balcony with tea or champagne and chocolate covered fruit.

 One thing I had heard about and read about were the "dressing" rooms or bathrooms in the spa and how the showers were much larger than the staterooms showers and that guests could use these facilities at any time.  So, I wanted to check it out.  There were lockers available to store gear, 3-4 showers, towels, toiletries, and  hairdryers.  And, yes, guests can access this area regardless of whether or not they are having a spa treatment just like accessing the fitness center.

 The Senses Spa and Salon is certainly relaxing and potentially rejuvenating.  After I got over sticker shock, I began to hear some of the embarkation day specials--book now and get so much off the treatment.

I also eye-spied the "secret" staircase that goes between the Concierge level rooms on Deck 12 and ends in the middle of the Spa--giving Concierge level guests the opportunity to whisk themselves into the spa without having to go through any "public" parts of the ship.

While I'm not ready to reserve my spa treatment just yet, I was glad that I took some time during our first afternoon on board the ship to tour the spa, salon, and fitness center and highly recommend the same to other Disney cruisers.