Sunday, July 1, 2018

Disney’s Vero Beach Resort – A Hidden Gem on the Treasure Coast

When most people think of a Disney vacation, they imagine visiting the theme parks, or maybe taking a cruise.  They picture a trip full of activities, characters and attractions, with very little time left for rest and relaxation.  While amazing and magical, these trips can also be exhausting, and I often arrive home needing a vacation from my vacation!

But did you know that Disney also owns two beach resorts?  That’s right, you can get Disney’s world-class customer service and amazing attention to detail in a quiet, relaxing setting.  With an abundance of recreation options for the entire family and plenty of dining options (including Dole Whips!), all you’ll be missing are the crowds! Sound about perfect?  It is!
Disney's Vero Beach
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is located just 2 hours south of Walt Disney World, on the Atlantic Treasure Coast, sharing space with the nesting grounds of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. And five hours north of Walt Disney World, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort can be found on the picturesque coast of South Carolina, fashioned after a 1940s hunting and fishing lodge, and featuring 12 miles of heavenly beaches.  Though both resorts are Disney Vacation Club properties, both can be booked directly with Disney by non-DVC members.  Both resorts are very small, however, with Hilton Head having less than 150 units (ranging from studio to 3 bedroom layouts) and Vero Beach just under 250 (including 132 DVC layouts and 112 rooms in the main building, or “inn”), so advance planning remains a must, just like with any other Disney vacation!

Welcome Home Sign for DVC Members
My family got the opportunity to visit Disney’s Vero Beach Resort this past June.  We did use our DVC points to book this trip, and when we wanted to tweak our dates we struggled to find the availability we needed, and had to move our room type in order to accommodate the change in plans.  And by the time we travelled, there wasn’t a single available room in any room category for our trip dates. Having never had a problem booking the resort I wanted at Walt Disney World, even for last minute trips or during holidays, I was a bit surprised by how quickly this resort filled up, even given its small size.  But now that I’ve experienced it for myself, it’s very easy to understand why this resort is in such high demand!

Resort Property

Beach at Resort

Let me begin by saying that while beautiful, this resort does not “scream” Disney.  There are several subtle (and some not-so-subtle) touches throughout the resort that let you know you are on a Disney-owned property, but you won’t see characters roaming the grounds or hear Disney music being pumped throughout the common areas.  You will, however, get the same level of care and customer service that you have come to expect from Disney Cast Members.  And just like other Disney resorts, you have all the amenities you need right at your fingertips, with no need to leave the resort if you don’t want to!

Resort pictures
The resort itself is situated right on the beach (unlike Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, where you must take a shuttle to the beach) with beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas available for rent (you can also bring your own).  They also offer body boards, kayaks and surf lessons on the beach, all for an additional charge. 

Body Boarding
Fishin' Time!
Back up at the resort there is also a large pool with a water slide, and plenty of pool games going on throughout the day.  A 9-hole miniature golf course surrounds the pool, and there is also a ping pong table and activities center right outside the pool gates.  The activities center houses different crafts and programs throughout the day, some free of charge and some for a nominal fee.  My kids made shark tooth necklaces one day and did a fishing excursion another (the best part about this activity was that the price included their own rod and reel that we got to bring home!). Needless to say, for those kids who don’t know how to RELAX (like mine!) and need some extra stimulation, they won’t be bored!
Miniature Golf

And during sea turtle nesting season, you can reserve your spot on a guided sea turtle night walk.  This event is currently offered select nights in June and July to those ages 8 and up.  The walk begins at 9 p.m. and lasts 2-4 hours, depending on how quickly a nesting turtle can be found.  Scouts will search for sea turtles while you enjoy a presentation on the nesting process, and once a nest is located you’ll be provided with night vision goggles to watch the turtle lay her eggs, cover the nest and return to the sea.

Destination Signs

There are several dining options at the resort.  The Wind & Waves Market is a quick service location, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also carries some groceries and to-go items.  Also, if you purchased the refillable mug (yes, they have those here, too!), this is where the drink station is located.  (Pro Tip: If your trip to Vero Beach follows a resort stay in Walt Disney World, the mug you purchased at WDW will still work in Vero.)  This is also where you will find the Dole Whip station!! Wind & Waves Market is situated right outside the pool gates, next to the Wind & Waves Bar.

The Wind & Waves Grill is a sit down restaurant, open for breakfast and dinner.  Located just off the lobby and steps away from the pool and beach, the Wind & Waves Grill has a small, hearty menu, with dinner specials that change daily.

The Green Cabin Room can be found on the second floor of the resort, with sweeping views of the ocean from its patio.  The Green Cabin Room serves a full selection of beer and wine in addition to specialty cocktails.  There is also a small menu of appetizers available.  It’s a great place to unwind with a drink before heading to dinner.  The Green Cabin Room is also host to several after-dinner activities for the over 21-crowd, like trivia contests (Disney-themed, of course!) and karaoke.

Lastly, in true Disney fashion, the resort does offer two character meals – Goofy’s Beach side Breakfast (offered seasonally on Saturday mornings) and Pirate Night Dinner (offered seasonally on Monday nights).  This is the ONLY place to see characters at the resort, and both meals include appearances by Goofy and Donald.
Goody's Beach Side Breakfast

Guest Services
One gift shop is located off the lobby of the inn, Island Grove Packing Company.  This shop sells a variety of Disney themed apparel and souvenirs, in addition to groceries and sundries, and even provides DVD rentals.

Parking is available in an underground garage, adjacent to the parking lot.  There is no overnight parking fee for resort guests, but you will be required to display a pass on your dashboard for the duration of your stay.

The resort also has a spa, onsite laundry and dry cleaning services, fitness center, tennis courts, bike rentals, outdoor grills and childcare options.

Offsite Activities
While you certainly don’t have to leave Disney’s Vero Beach property for a single minute during your vacation, there are a variety of things to do in Vero Beach and the surrounding area if you choose to venture out.  Delicious restaurants line the coastline, offering every type of cruise – from seafood to steakhouses, Italian and American.  For the golfers, there are several courses in the area.  You can also schedule airboat rides or take a private boat tour.  My family did a personal tour of the Sebastian Inlet with Capt. Christy Lenz Casual Cruisin’ and it was a definite highlight of our trip.  We got the chance to view dolphins, manatees, stingray and a variety of other fish and birds up close and personal during our 2-hour tour.  It was truly amazing!
Dolphin sighting
Manatee Sighting
So for those of you that are looking for a relaxing vacation, without all the hustle and bustle of the theme parks, but with the legendary customer service you’ve come to appreciate from Disney – look no further than Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.  After just one stay, my family has decided this needs to be an annual trip for us.  We paired our days in Vero with a few days in Walt Disney World prior, and it was the perfect mix of theme park fun followed by pure relaxation.  And I actually came home from this trip refreshed, which was definitely a Disney first! This resort is truly a hidden gem, just waiting for you to discover all it has to offer.  Call your travel agent today to book your stay at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort – I promise you won’t regret it!
Family Cruisin'

By: Alyssa Gates Schreiber

Let us make your vacation even easier!  We'll help you plan from the start and can advise you and handle your arrangements, including dining, fast passes, room requests, discount application, and celebrations.  We are the same price or less than if you book on your own, and you get us for FREE!  Have an expert on your side at zero cost to you and contact one of our agents today!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pandora, the World of Avatar: Dining Review

Pandora, the world of Avatar, is located within Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It features breathtaking floating mountains, two technologically advanced new rides, and a unique menu unlike any other within the Disney theme parks.
The new world of Avatar area brings with it two innovative and very distinctive dining options; Pongu Pongu, a drink stand, and Satu'li Canteen, a dining hall with an extensive menu. 

Floating Mountains of Pandora

Beautiful View from Pandora

Pongu Pongo

The Night Blossom is the most popular drink in Pandora and can only be found at Pongu Pongo.  It’s also good to know that this frozen specialty is the only nonalcoholic beverage available at the stand. The Night Blossom blends the very punchy flavors of limeade, apple, and desert pear and is then topped with passion fruit Boba Balls, a common thread throughout Pandora.
Snack Credit Night Blossom

I loved this drink; I put it up there on my list with the Gaston’s Tavern’s La Fou’s brew located within the Magic Kingdom. The Night Blossom is very vibrant, tangy and a bit sweet. The colors of this frosty beverage are extremely eye-catching with bright hues of fuchsia and lime, topped with an orange garnish of Boba Balls. 
Night Blossom in collector cup with glowing seed ice cube
The Night Blossom can be purchased currently for $4.99 or the use of a single Snack credit on the Disney Dining plans; if you forgo the famous Disney souvenir mug and glowing cube (or seed as is referred to in Pandora.) The cup with the glowing cube seed is only $19.99. You not only receive a tasty drink but also a unique souvenir from your Avatar adventure.

Satu'li Canteen

Satu'li Canteen
 Satu'li Canteen offers a spectacular environment complete with hand woven décor and art work that reinforces the natural feel of being on this Pandorian adventure.
The menu offers a wide variety of items which includes some of Disney’s healthier options as these two Pandora only favorites; a Vegetable Curry and a Cheeseburger pod.

Vegetable Curry Pods

Cheeseburger Pods

The Cheeseburger Steamed Pod is what I sampled this trip; it is filled with ground beef, ketchup, mustard, pickle, and cheddar cheese. I was most excited to try this menu item, and I am looking forward to going back in October to enjoy it again. The ground beef is tasty, and the blend of condiments really made this a “cheeseburger “in my book.

Yum, Cheeseburger!

  Both pods also come with Root Vegetable Chips and Crunchy Vegetable Slaw. The Root Vegetable Chips were nice, lightly salted and cooked to a crisp texture. I also appreciated tang of the slaw with its Pandorian Boba Ball yogurt salad topping.

Vegetable Chips and Slaw
In my opinion, the true highlight of Pandora’s dining is the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse This unique and Instagram worthy dessert includes whipped blueberry cream cheese mousse, passion fruit curd, whipped cream, and a sliver of white chocolate. When combined, all of the fruity flavors are simply magical. It truly tastes as good as it looks. The blueberry mousse is creamy and sweet while you get that punch of acidity from the passion fruit to create a harmonious bite of epic proportions. I could go on all day about this dessert! 

Blueberry Cheesecake Mousse

It's even pretty on the inside
The World of Avatar surpassed my expectations in sights, sounds, and tastes. I highly recommend Flight of Passage; the floating mountains are beautiful and enjoyable to view from every imaginable angle, and the food is out of this world! Yes, pun intended.
Newest member of Pandora
 If you are looking for something fun to try, eat, or Instagram while at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, look no further than Pandora! There is something for everyone!
By: Kris Floyd

Let us make your vacation even easier!  We'll help you plan from the start and can advise you and handle your arrangements, including dining, fast passes, room requests, discount application, and celebrations.  We are the same price or less than if you book on your own, and you get us for FREE!  Have an expert on your side at zero cost to you and contact one of our agents today!


Sunday, April 15, 2018

My “Go to” Restaurants at Walt Disney World

Going to Walt Disney World can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first time there.  Although I am a travel consultant for Travel Time, I am also a seasoned veteran when it comes to visiting Walt Disney World.  You see, I have gone there at least once every year since it opened in 1971.  One time, I only got to spend 28 days there.  It was heaven.  I am an annual passholder, even though I live in Ohio and I am also a Disney Vacation Club Member.  I look for every opportunity to get to the parks.
Have you noticed that as soon as you mention the fact that you are considering a trip to Walt Disney World that everyone must tell you what you must do on your vacation?  I have even been told by my clients that some of their friends have even tried to plan every minute of their trip for them because they enjoyed their trip so much that my client must do the exact same thing.  What I tell my clients is that only you know your family as good as you do.  I also tell them that this is their vacation and that they should listen to their friend’s ideas but plan the vacation that is right for them. 
There are few restaurants that I not have tried.  I am a very picky eater so keep in mind that when I look for a place to eat I look for a restaurant that has a variety of menu items to offer.  When picking these restaurants, I took into consideration what I like but also what my family enjoys.  I have broken the restaurants by park or locations.

Magic Kingdom
Believe it or not, you will hear Cinderella’s Castle or Be Our Guest, as the place to go to, but they are not my favorites.  Yes, the food is good, but you go there more for the experience than the food.  I like the look of both places and they each offer something unique but when I start thinking of a place to go, they are not on my list of my top choices.
My first choice is Crystal Palace. 

Family with Eeyore
I pick this place because I think they have some of the best tasting food, as well as a variety of choices.  There is something for everyone.  

The restaurant is divided in half.  Each side has plenty of seating, but the best part is that each side of the restaurant has their own buffet.  Because of this I never feel like I am in a herd of cattle going through the line.  Yes, there might be someone in front of me or behind me, but I find myself traveling from table to table instead of going “through the line” to get my food. 
For the children, they have their own special bar.  It has everything that most children like.  There are chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese as well as spaghetti.  The menu of offerings can be different, but they usually have the standard fare.  Although I am an adult I visit this bar on each visit as well.  I may not take anything, which is rare, but I always must see what my choices are.

The adult bars offer many options.  There is a bar for salads and there are many types to choose from.  You have the lettuce and toppings, or you also have other types of salads.  Then you have the next bar that offers all of the side possibilities you can think of.  Then of course, the main dish which is the type of meat they are offering.  Again, there are many choices to choose from.  

I am not sure about you, but I like to choose what I plan to eat around the type of meat I am going to choose.  So, my first stop is to check out the children’s buffet, then my next step is to go and look at what the meat options are for.  I have not put anything on my plate yet.  Then I start to go through the line.  I think this might be one of my favorite things I like about this buffet as well.  Usually when you go through a buffet one or two sides are open but there isn’t much room to wander about the bar to see everything there is to choose from.  However, at the Crystal Palace, the buffet bar is in a wide-open space giving you lots of room to walk around and see all your options before you begin to fill your plate.  I even check out the dessert bar and ice cream stand before making my choices.

The other reason I like Crystal Palace is the atmosphere.  The theme of the restaurant is that you are visiting Winnie The Pooh and his Pals in the 100 Acre Wood. The inspiration for the restaurant is a Victorian greenhouse setting from the 1800’s. The atmosphere is light and airy. Although it is a character restaurant you can choose to signal to the characters that you are not interested in seeing them and they will move onto the next table. Or, if there are children in your family, pictures and autographs are a must.  Then if you are like me, I have to get their picture with my family each and every time.

Finally, it doesn’t matter when you go, the food is delicious, the atmosphere is terrific, and the buffet is awesome.  There is something for everyone.

Hollywood Studios

This is a hard decision for me to make. 

I would recommend several restaurants and for different reasons but every trip for my family must include 50’s Prime Time Cafe.

The atmosphere takes you back in time to an era when every kitchen had Formica tables and vinyl chairs.   You are sitting in “Mom’s” kitchen.  There are even TV’s at every table so that you can watch of what they would have seen in the 1950’s. 

This restaurant was chosen because they offer classic American food that was offered and cooked the way they cooked it in the 1950’s.  The food is cooked the way I was raised.  It is seasoned just right and again, there is something for everyone.

The fun for this restaurant also includes learning a little table etiquette. For example, don’t be surprised if they remind you that elbows do not belong on the table. I have heard people to be told to sit up straight.  It is all about the table manners as if you are a child sitting at your Mom’s kitchen table.

When I go there, I cannot go without getting their fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn.  It is the best.  I have tried to order different items, but it always comes back to this.  I think about this fried chicken often, even when I am home and how delicious it tastes.  My husband on the other hand, has tried almost everything on the menu and has enjoyed every meal he has ordered.
50s Prime Time Cafe Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

I won’t go into detail on my other two choices, but I can’t go without saying something about them.  My first of the other two choices is Sci-Fi Dine In Theatre Restaurant.  I chose this restaurant because it is a place to go to get a sandwich and it offers a unique dining experience.  This restaurant takes you back to a time of drive-ins where you stayed in your car and watched a movie on a big screen.  This is what you are doing here.  If I had to say a con about this restaurant is that to pull off sitting in a car only two people can sit on a seat so there isn’t an opportunity to sit down with your family for a conversation.  I would still recommend it.  Save room for dessert.  

My other “go to” restaurant at Hollywood Studios is Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano.  They offer a wide selection of Italian food but most importantly, they also offer a wide selection for the children.  I enjoy going there.  The restaurant is large, but they have managed to give you a personal setting by using dividers in the restaurant.  The atmosphere takes you believe that you are sitting in an Italian restaurant in Italy.

Animal Kingdom
My choice for the Animal Kingdom is the Rainforest Café.  I realize that this is a restaurant chain, however, where else can you eat where you feel like you are in the middle of a safari.  The animals come to live every 10 minutes or so to enhance your experience.
I like to choose my visit to this restaurant at the end of the day close to the park closing.  I do this because the restaurant is located at the entrance to the park.  You can visit the restaurant from inside the park or by entering the restaurant directly in the front without entering the park.  This saves on taking time once inside the park to make my way back to the entrance.

Again, I like this restaurant for the selection of items on the menu.  There is something for everyone.  I usually get a burger here or sometimes just an appetizer, but I don’t think my husband has gotten the same thing here twice and has enjoyed every meal.

If you are looking for a place for a character meal then I would recommend Tusker House.  Although the buffet restaurant consists of African food, they also serve a children’s buffet bar that consists of the standard American food for children.

There are two other places I like to visit while in the park that are fast food.  The one is Pizzafari.  I like to go there because they are quick.  There is not much of a selection to choose from but you can get an individual pizza of cheese or pepperoni.  The pizza fills you up and it doesn’t take much time to eat so that you can continue on your journey through the park.

The other place I enjoy visiting is the Flame Tree Barbecue.  This is also a quick service location.  Of course, a barbecue sandwich is the selection for me, but you can also get ribs and chicken.  Their portions are large and they give you plenty to eat.


The Garden Grill Restaurant is one of the hidden gems in Epcot.  This rotating restaurant is a family sit down restaurant that brings the meal to the table for you to serve yourself.  If you run out of a certain food just ask and they will deliver more.  The meats consist of turkey, pork, and pot roast.  Of course, the perfect salad and sides come with it.  This restaurant is also the place where you can find Mickey and Minnie but also Chip and Dale. 

Visiting with Chip at The Garden Grill
Farmer Mickey saying Hi at The Garden Grill

In addition to The Garden Grill you also have the Chefs de France and Le Cellier.  Both places excellent places to eat.  

LeCellier is a steak house.  It is pricier than the others but well worth the price.
Don’t be fooled by Chefs of France.  Many see this restaurant and see the white linen tablecloths.  Just remember that each restaurant at Epcot is a themed restaurant themed from the county it is representing.

If I had to choose a park that offered the best restaurants I would have to choose Epcot. 

I say this because you can pick a country for the type of food that you want to try and you can gain a new experience in the process.   

For example: Teppan Edo which is located in the country of Japan. This restaurant brings the Japanese culture to you.  While visiting this restaurant you can not only eat your food but experience a skilled professional cooking show in the process. 

Another fun thing to do is to eat your way around the world.  You can pick the countries that you would like to try and then pick an appetizer or two to share.  This allows you to try a little of something in every country.  If you choose to do this be careful not to have reservations for a large meal.  You will be too full.

Outside the Parks

Many people think that you have to experience the restaurants inside the parks.  However, there are just as many worth mentioning outside the park.  For example, while visiting the Magic Kingdom park you could hop on the monorail and get off at the Grand Floridian.  While there you can eat a meal at 1900 Park Fare.  
1900 Park Fare

If you choose to attend a dinner meal you will be met by Cinderella and her entourage.  Here you can meet Prince Charming but what I enjoy more are interacting with the Stepsisters. Should you choose to attend a breakfast meal then you could team up with the cast of Mary Poppins.  Either way, the food here is terrific.  Again, it is a buffet meal with plenty of food to offer.
Meeting Cinderella at 1900 Park Fare

Anastasia Saying Hello at 1900 Park Fare

Another diamond in the rough is Beaches and Cream Soda Shop.  Located in the lower level of Disney’s Beach Club Resort this soda shop is a great place to slip in for a burger, hotdog, fries or just some of the best ice cream sundaes.  The décor takes you back in time to the old ice cream parlors.  Reservations are a must and they go quickly so be sure to book early.  I like to visit Beaches and Cream Soda Shop while at Epcot.  When I get through the United Kingdom, head up the bridge then keep going straight to the resort.  There is an entrance in the back of the park so you will be able to get back in.  Then when I am finished I go back into the park and head on over to France.

The Boathouse at Disney Springs also has a variety of menu choices for the entire family.  In addition, the service and the food are excellent.  While you are there you can also sign up and pay for a boat ride in a car/boat.  That is another unique experience that you could check off your bucket list.

 Walt Disney World has over 370 restaurants so there is something for everyone.  The restaurants listed in this blog are just a very small few of the choices available.  To determine what is right for your family consider your taste buds.  Ask yourself “What types of cuisine do I enjoy best?” then look for the restaurants offering those cuisines.  Do not go out of your comfort zone.  If you want to try different cuisines, think about eating around the world when you visit Epcot.  Walt Disney World’s eateries include sit down restaurants where reservations are strongly recommended, counter service, pool bars, lounges and various types of snack counters so there is a little something for everyone and a variety for everyone’s appetite.  As the French say, Bon Appetite.  

By:  Cynthia Lohstroh 

Let us make your vacation even easier!  We'll help you plan from the start and can advise you and handle your arrangements, including dining, fast passes, room requests, discount application, and celebrations.  We are the same price or less than if you book on your own, and you get us for FREE!  Have an expert on your side at zero cost to you and contact one of our agents today!