Friday, May 30, 2014

Disney Star Wars Jedi Mickey Character Dining

The family and I just returned from attending the opening day of the highly anticipated Star Wars character dining meal! If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll get it…but these are no ordinary Star Wars characters, they are our beloved fab five dressed in Star Wars garb! This makes them a little less scary for the younger crowd. (There is another dining option with Darth Vader and the gang but that it another blog entirely, lol)
Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine, wow that is a mouthful to say, but this was a great dining experience. So let’s dive right in!

When you arrive at Hollywood and Vine, get in line to check in, this dining event was a sell out when it was announced last month, so there will be people, lots of people!  They were running a little but behind so be prepared.  

After you enter the restaurant your first stop is a photo op with Ewok Chip and Dale.

After your picture, your photographer will hand you a special Photopass card just for the occasion: your picture with Chip & Dale is included in the cost of this experience.

After your mini adventure with Chip and Dale, you will be seated and provided with your ‘light saber’ this is a pivotal point which you will choose the dark side or the light side, lol. My youngest son chose both. 

This is a buffet style dinner, which means you’re able to set the pace of your meal and make sure you’re at your table when the characters come your way.  The food was VERY good, there was chicken, salmon, meatballs, shrimp, make your own pasta bar, potatoes, oh so much food, and all of it was DELICIOUS! The even had a lower food bar just for the kids, with chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, tater tots, and my son loved this because he got to do it all by himself, you mothers out there know that stage in their life, lol.

DESSERTS! There was not a shortage of sweets either, the desserts had their own buffet setting. One side was the DARK SIDE of the desserts, the other was the LIGHT SIDE…pssst my favorite was the dark side, yummy chocolate, Darth Vader cupcakes, R2D2 Cheesecake, Wookie Cookies!, a chocolate fountain, red devils cake, brownies, chocolate covered strawberries, the choices were endless…There was also blue ice cream (Aunt Beru’s Blue Milk Ice Cream, made with Tatooine’s famous Blue Milk, of course — just like Luke Skywalker used to drink! The flavor, by the way, was a tasty light blue raspberry, while regular vanilla and chocolate soft serve were also available.) trust me you will not be disappointed.

Now what you’ve been waiting for, the Characters!  They come around to your table so don’t worry about having to get up and run to the character and wait in a line, that is my favorite part, meeting the characters in a more relaxed pace, and not under pressure. This really was a great character dining experience, one of my new favorites!

The cost of this experience is $55.99 adults and $33.99 kids 3-9, or two table service credits for those on the Disney Dining Plan. The event does not accept Tables in Wonderland, and as of the debut night Disney Visa Cardholder discounts were honored (though blackout dates may be applied in the future — it’s best to check with your server upon arrival in case the discount continues to be honored).

By Travel Time Agent Heather

Why Use a Travel Agent?

BY: A Disney Dining Agent and a Travel Agent Trainer

First, I will take a moment to say that sometimes Travel agents are not the most popular callers to make dining reservations at Disney.  Many don't know what they are doing.  Many place us on hold repeatedly without asking to speak with their clients or other random people, they are fast paced and occasionally not patient.

Personally, I love most travel agents and look forward to their calls. If they are knowledgeable about Disney, then they are a true asset to their client and our guests.  I have also trained travel agents for many years.  Some "get it" and some don't.

In this world of internet-everything, the question of “why use a travel agent” may come up.  This blog will deal with why travelers should consider using a travel agent, how to interview prospective travel agents, and how travel agents are compensated.

“How are travel agents compensated, and won’t it cost me more to use a travel agent?”

Most travel agents are free to their clients!  While there are some exceptions (there may be service fees for things like air only assistance), as a general rule you pay nothing to use a travel agent.  Travel agents are compensated by the travel companies they use.  In addition, most travel agents can meet or beat any price.  What that means for you is that you may pay LESS than  you see advertised, but at minimum the same, plus you get an expert on your side for free!

“How do I choose a travel agent?”

You need to be choosy when you pick a travel agent.  Find a good one, and you have the benefit of an expert on your side for life!  Find a bad one, and that trip you spent your hard earned money on may be at risk.  Things to look for:

1.  Experience.  Nothing beats hands on experience, especially with Disney.  Going on one trip does not an expert make.  An expert will not only have hands on experience but extensive learned knowledge through training.
Knowledge.  Want to take a cruise?  Ask these questions:
·       Ask about embarkation and debarkation processes
·       Ask their opinions on dining and cabin location

Want to go to Disney?  Ask:
·       How does Fast Pass work, and how much does it cost? (and yes, that is a trick question)
·       What is their favorite restaurant? And do they handle all your dining reservations for you?

Want to go somewhere exotic, like Italy or Egypt?  It is VITAL you find someone that knows the destination.

If you enjoy the planning process, find an agent that you will enjoy planning with, and that will follow your lead.  Want the agent to do everything?  Make that clear.  Want to be included in everything?  Make that very clear.  You want to choose someone comfortable with the type of trip you are planning, and someone that you enjoy.  

2.      Credentials.  Ask what certifications an agent may hold, and/or what accreditation's their agency holds.  IATAN is an important accreditation because it is difficult to obtain, and requires things like minimum agency bank balances and recommendation letters from travel vendors.

3.      Find someone you like. Make it a policy to work with people you like!  It makes planning trips much more enjoyable, and it can enhance a client experience.  Often in life we don't have a choice in the people we deal, you can CHOOSE to work with someone you like.

I can't stand pushy agents..."please book with me."  That smacks of desperation.  Find someone laid back about "landing your sale" but aggressive where it counts (Be Our Guest, anyone?).  If they sound desperate, they probably are.  There is plenty of business to go around...choose an agent untouched by that nonsense.

4.  Referrals.  Getting a referral from someone you trust is like finding a $100 bill!

“Why use a travel agent?”

First, let me start by defining people that may be happier without a travel agent:
·       Do you micromanage your trips?
·       Do you do exhaustive research?
·       Do you re-price things often and change reservations accordingly?

If you answered yes to most of those, a travel agent might not be for you, unless they are a perfect fit with your personality.

Benefits of using a travel agent:
·       Matched pricing or better pricing
·       Knowledge of destinations, and contacts such as hotel managers and tour guides
·       No need to search dozens of sites, a good travel agent knows exactly where to go!
·       Special perks like itinerary planning, restaurant assistance, gifts or upgrades
·       Even if you enjoy planning, having a travel agent on your team can make sure your trip is as magical as possible!
·       Help if you experience a problem during your vacation

Don’t pick a travel agent based on onboard credit only, or rebates.  A good incentive is awesome, but in the midst of your excitement at finding a good OBC offer, make sure you also pick a good individual agent.  They key is SERVICE…don’t sacrifice that for a few dollars.  You are spending a lot on your vacation, but you get what you pay you really want to sacrifice your hard earned trip by nickel and diming everything? There is spending your money wisely, and there is cheap.  There is a huge difference between the two.

Finally, don’t contact a travel agent, use them to price out dozens of vacations, and then book on your own.  Travel agents are compensated only when you book through them.  If it is a matter of price, ask them to match.  If it is a “just because” matter and you decide to book on your own, that is the equivalent of you getting paid zero at your job.  Do you enjoy going to work, doing your job and doing it well, and then being told "we decided you aren't going to get paid even though you did the work".  Most travel agents do not charge fees for their time, and earn their living only when people actually go through them to book their trips.  No one likes to work for free!

A good travel agent/client relationship can be extremely beneficial.  Vacations are an investment…protect them!

By Lucy

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Is it the New & Improved Disney's Polynesian Village Resort?

If you have spent any time recently at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, you know that there are lots of changes going on over there. There is a complete re-imagining of the beloved resort underway! But instead of modernizing with the changes, they’re taking it old school! The resort is slated to resume using its original, opening day name — Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort!
To see our little tribute to the Poly of the Past, click HERE

 The biggest news is soon, we will enjoy Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Walt Disney World!
The brand new spot will be based upon Traders Same Tiki Bar at Disneyland Hotel, one of the favorite hang outs there!

 Here’s what it looks like in Disneyland…

…and here’s some concept art for the new location.

For now, I am banking on it being as awesome as Trader Sam’s in Disneyland Hotel.
Trader Sam’s location: I’m assuming this decision will be driven by the resort’s food and beverage execs and will be closely tied to what goes on with the Great Ceremonial House shops and restaurants. It could go in the old Tangaroa Terrace building, which now contains meeting space and the Neverland Club child-care facility. This would be ironic since Trader Sam’s in Disneyland is adjacent to a counter service restaurant called Tangaroa Terrace. There is a chance that Trader Sam’s will actually end up in the Great Ceremonial House, perhaps in a redesigned ground-floor area. Keeping all food and beverage in one building would make more logistical sense. Perhaps Trader Sam’s could share space with a redesigned casual eatery to replace the popular but small and limited Captain Cook’s Snack Co. On the second floor, I would hope that Kona Cafe and ‘Ohana will remain in some form or another, perhaps tied together by a redesigned Tambu Lounge. This iconic Tiki bar, which dates back to the Polynesian’s 1971 launch, deserves a bigger and better space than the small area outside Ohana. 
Sadly, one feature that may not survive is the grand atrium’s giant waterfall and koi pond. For many, this lush tropical garden that greets you when you enter the building is one of the resort’s most iconic elements. The most updated plan calls for most of the work to be done in the next two years and be completed by late 2015 or early 2016. This will involve several major projects.
A redesigned pool with something other than a volcano slide will be built. While the pool closes, guests will be given access to one of the nearby Grand Floridian Resort’s pools.
The renovation of the Great Ceremonial House, including removal of the existing skylights and waterfall. In addition to maintenance and safety issues, Disney apparently may be seeking a lobby design that more closely resembles Aulani. This means an unencumbered view of the beach and beyond when you walk into the lobby. To do this, they must remove or drastically scale back the water feature. “Some new water feature will go in somewhere in the lobby but allow the view from the front to look out the back toward the pool and beach without being obstructed,”. This is why the renovation will be done in stages.
Capt. Cook’s is the Polynesian’s Quick Service option — famous for Tonga Toast in the morning, and Pork Sandwiches and Nachos in the afternoon into the evening (more on their also-famous Dole Whips later in the post).
Well, its original location is currently closed for refurbishment from now until later this summer. I am definitely looking forward to the new-and-improved digs, but in the meantime I thought I would fill you in on the temporary location.

If you head to the original location for Captain Cook’s, you’ll see signs directing you to the temporary location. From the original space, it’s just to the right of the set of stairs that bring you to the Tambu Lounge.

The first thing to greet you is the main seating area

Past the seating, you see the food area.
The kitchen space appears roomy.

Still for a temporary space, I think they’ve done a really nice job making it as comfortable as possible, and have kept things nice and bright despite the lack of natural light from windows.
Looking at the menus, many of those Polynesian favorites remain.

Breakfast Menu

Yep — you can still get your Tonga Toast!!

                                                                     Tonga Toast with Bacon

And I am glad to see some of those lunch and dinner favorites as well.

Lunch and Dinner Menu

Alas, no Dole Whips at the Poly until the original location reopens later this summer.  You’ll have to hop on the monorail and get to  Isle in the Magic Kingdom for your fix.

I will say WAY TO GO to the Cast Members at the Polynesian for keeping things operating so smoothly in light of the changes! I am already looking forward to seeing what’s next for Capt. Cook’s when it reopens in a few months.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Perks of Staying at a Monorail Resort

There are three Deluxe Disney resorts located on the monorail track, the first to open was The Contemporary Resort, and then The PolynesianResort in 1971.   In 1988 The GrandFloridian opened its doors.  The monorail is on a loop that makes 5 stops: Ticket and Transportation Center, The Polynesian, The Grand Floridian, Magic Kingdom, and The Contemporary Resort. 


The monorail is the easiest method of transportation to the Magic Kingdom.  It picks you up right out side the resort, or if you are staying in the Contemporary, it picks you up INSIDE your resort.  It runs right through the middle of the building. You are protected from the weather while you wait.  If you have a child in a stroller they can ride roll right in.  There is no need to take the child out, unload your personal items and fold the stroller, as you must when you take a bus or tram.  Guest may remain in wheel chairs or electric scooters on the monorail. 

The monorail will also take you to EPCOT.  You must transfer to the EPCOT line at the Ticket and Transportation Center.


The monorail resorts are only a short ride to the Magic Kingdom.  This makes it fast and easy to return to your room for little ones to nap, or take a refreshing dip in the pool on a hot afternoon.   If you are staying at the Contemporary Resort, you can walk to the Magic Kingdom in about 5 minutes if you wish. There is no walkway from the Grand Floridian or Polynesian Resort.  If you are coming in for a quick weekend for a Halloween or Christmas Party, the monorail resorts make a quick trip even more convenient and simple.  


Because these resorts are the closest to the Magic Kingdom, they have beautiful views of the theme park and its evening fireworks.  The Electrical Water Pageant parade makes its way around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake nightly and can be viewed from the three monorail resorts.  

One of my favorite Walt Disney World memories is from our stay at the Contemporary.  We watched the fireworks from our balcony and then tucked the kids in.  I was lying in bed cuddling with my husband.  He was watching basketball on the TV and I was watching the castle change colors against the black night sky and the monorails go around the track.  The kids were asleep and thus not arguing--that’s magical! 


All three resorts have tasty dining opportunities.  It’s easy to ride to one of the resorts for a meal with Mickey (Chef Mickey's at The Contemporary), with Alice in Wonderland or Cinderella (1900 Park Fare at The Grand Floridian) or Lilo & Stich (O'hana at The Polynesian).  If you are dining at Chef Mickey’s you can watch the monorails come through the building.

Two of my favorite foods can be found at the Polynesian Resort: Tonga Toast and Pineapple Dole Whip!  When I stay at The Contemporary, I hop over to the “Poly” for a breakfast of Tonga Toast at least once during my stay. 


My kids have learned to speak Spanish on the monorail! Ok, not really, but they can all say "Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas."

Never fear, every one is welcome on the monorail.  It’s complimentary for all Disney guests!  You don’t have to stay at one of the three monorail resorts to take a ride or explore the resorts on the monorail line. 

Universal Orlando's First Value Resort: Cabana Bay Beach Resort!

Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the first value/moderate resort on Universal Orlando Resort property, located within walking distance of both parks and Universals City Walk. The theme of the hotel is 1950's-1960's, and the theme really comes through, from the antique collectors cars lining the entrance to the room decor and even retro toiletries.

The resort includes a number of complimentary extras that Universal properties are known for such as early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Complimentary shuttle buses to both theme parks, merchandise delivery of purchases made throughout the resort, resort wide charging using your room key, and complimentary scheduled transportation to nearby attractions- Wet'n Wild, Seaworld, and Aquatica.

Unlike the on property deluxe resorts this hotel does not have access to the water taxis and does not include Universal Express or priority seating at restaurants. 

The resort features standard rooms which include 2 queen size beds, flat screen TV, mini fridge and single serve coffee brewer.

The resort also has family suites which have a bedroom with two queen beds, a sitting room with a pull out sofa bed, a flat screen TV, a large bathroom separated into three areas so multiple people can get ready at once, and a kitchenette.

The resort property has many fun things for everyone in the family to do when you’re not out enjoying the theme parks, from the Galaxy Lanes Bowling Alley, and the Jack Lalanne fitness studio inside, to the massive 10,000 sq. foot swimming pool, and 8,000 sq. foot lazy river courtyard outside.

On site dining options include Bayliner Diner- food court style dining, Galaxy Bowl Restaurant- table service restaurant featuring burgers, chicken wings, and more, 2 poolside bars- Atomic Tonic and Hideaway Bar and Grill, and Swizzle Lounge.

By Agent Melissa
You can contact Melissa for free travel planning assistance at