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!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Cruisin’ Along – Why You Should Book a Disney Cruise NOW!!

Do you love Disney’s attention to detail, customer service and all-encompassing feeling of magic?

Do you also wish sometimes you could experience all of that without the crushing crowds and heat of being inside a Disney park?

Then Disney Cruise Line is the place for you!
Disney Cruise Ship

I was skeptical at first, too.  As Walt Disney World vets, I wondered if we’d still feel that Disney magic if we weren’t in a park?  Would my kids be bored? Would my husband and I actually get to RELAX?  What if we get seasick / hate being on a boat / have bad weather / can’t find anything to do in port? My list of reasons “why not” to do a cruise was endless. But now that we’ve done it, I can’t believe we waited so long! 
Picture with Captain Mickey before boarding

So let me tell you all the reasons WHY…..!

Rotational Dining
Rotational dining is a feature unique to DCL.  You will select either main or late dining when you book your cruise, and this will be your assigned dinner time during your cruise.  While the times can vary by itinerary, main dining is usually around 5:45 and late is around 8:15.  Each night, you will be assigned a different Main Dining Room for your evening meal.  Your table guests, table number and servers will remain the same every night, even as you move restaurants!  By keeping the same servers night after night, they really get to know you and your family, and will have soon learned your favorite drink, how you like your meat prepared, and which kid will only eat plain noodles and broccoli!  By the end of the cruise, your servers will definitely feel like part of your family, and can help make your dining experience truly exceptional.  Loved the dessert you had last night in a different dining room?  They can get it for you!  Don’t know which appetizer to choose?  They’ll bring them all!  Kids are done eating and bored?  Ours even did magic tricks for them!

Activities for All Ages
Traveling with kids? There are four distinct Youth Clubs are located on each of the 4 ships, with activities and events tailored to specific ages as follows:
·         Oceaneer Club – ages 3-12
·         Oceaneer Lab – ages 3-12
·         Edge – ages 11-14
·         Vibe – ages 14-17

Kids' Clubs
The Oceaneer Club and Lab are connected, and children are able to move freely between the activities offered at both.  While the Lab focuses on learning while having fun, the Club is pure Disney fantasy, including performances, storytelling, dress-up opportunities and arts and crafts.  (Note that children must meet both the 3 year old age minimum AND be fully potty trained to participate in the youth activities.)

Each ship also offers the “it’s a small world nursery” for those aged 6 months to 3 years (or ages 1-3 on Transatlantic, Hawaii and Panama Canal itineraries).  Only the nursery requires reservations, and carries an additional cost.  Access to all other youth clubs is provided free of charge, and kids may come and go as they please.
No kids? No problem! There are also several “adults only” areas on each ship, including nightclubs, lounges and pools. You can also choose to pamper yourself at the spa or take part in beverage tastings and mixology classes! Each ship even offers adult-exclusive dining options (available by reservation and with an additional cost).

Broadway Caliber Shows
Live productions are performed 2 times each evening, to accommodate the dining schedules.  Main dining will watch the second show; late dining will watch the first.  Snacks and beverages are available for purchase outside the theater – and the ships even offer a refillable popcorn bucket, just like the parks!

You can also watch full length feature films in the Walt Disney Theater on all 4 ships, including PremEARS that are released during your sailing!

Special Events
All cruises include Disney’s top of the line entertainment, activities and character experiences.  But you can also experience themed and seasonal offerings on select sailings:

·         Pirate Night –where the servers, characters and guests don their favorite pirate gear and enjoy the “Pirates in the Caribbean” Deck Party, complete with an industry first…fireworks at sea!  Offered on all 4 ships on most Bahamian and Caribbean sailings.
Pirate Night

·         Star Wars Day at Sea – including galactic activities, guest speakers, costume celebrations and epic character experiences.  Currently available on select 7-night Caribbean sailings from January 2018 through April 2018.
·         Marvel Day at Sea – which includes action packed activities and shows as well as heroic character encounters.  Currently available on select 5-night Western Caribbean cruises from Miami in early 2018.
·         Halloween on the High Seas – Experience thrills and chills at sea, including eerie entertainment and not-so-scary parties.  And don’t miss Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing and Scream!  Offered on all 4 ships on most itineraries departing during September and October.
·         Very Merrytime Cruises – Seasonal fun includes themed crafts and activities, story time with Mrs. Claus and jolly holiday décor around every corner, including a life-sized gingerbread house and 24-foot Christmas tree!  Even Castaway Cay is transformed into a Winter Wonderland during these sailings! Offered on all 4 ships on most itineraries departing mid-November through Christmas. 

Variety of Ports / Itineraries
Disney Cruise Line currently offers sailings to the following destinations: Alaska, Bahamas, Bermuda, California Coast, Canada, Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, Panama Canal and Transatlantic.  Sailings range from 2 to 14 nights, with new destinations and itineraries constantly being added.

Prices are generally the lowest they will be on “opening day” – the date that booking for a particular cruise opens.  The cost will only go up as the ship fills, so the earlier you book the better.  Unlike booking a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation, with the hopes of being able to apply a discount at a later date, DCL rarely offers promotions. They simply don’t need to – their ships are at near-capacity year-round.  While last minute deals can be found on occasion, they are often for military or Florida residents only. 

DCL bookings are currently open through May 2019.  Summer 2019 itineraries will be released in early 2018 and the remainder of 2019 in late spring 2018.  Mark your calendars NOW if you are considering traveling during one of those times to snag an opening day rate!

Castaway Cay

Castaway Cay
Did you know that Disney has its own private island in the Bahamas?  That’s right, Castaway Cay is a private island, with access exclusive only to those on a DCL sailing.  The island is staffed by Disney employees, which means you’ll get the same level of customer service on the island that you are getting on the ship.

All Bahamian and Caribbean sailings include a stop at Castaway Cay as one of the ports.  Some itineraries even offer two stops at Castaway Cay (known as a “double dip”) and believe me, once you’ve spent a day at Castaway Cay, you’ll understand why these cruises are in such high demand!

Castaway Cay is divided into two areas – the family beach and the adult beach (Serenity Bay). The youth clubs also move to the beach on Castaway Cay day - Scuttle’s Cove is for ages 3-12 and the Teen Hideout is available for those 13-17.

You’ll also be served lunch on the island – the family beach offers a barbeque buffet in 2 locations – Cookie’s BBQ and Cookies Too.  Serenity Bay has its own buffet, Air Bar BBQ, which also includes steak and lobster!

Cookie's BBQ

There are plenty of excursions to be found on Castaway Cay, from boating to biking to stingray feedings!  You can even take part in the Castaway Cay 5K (make sure your register for this event as soon as you board!  There’s no charge and every participant receives a medal!)

Castaway Cay also has 24 cabanas that can be rented by the day.  Cabanas are a great option for those traveling with children who may need to nap during the day, or for those that may need a reprieve from the sun for medical reasons.  They are also a great option for those who are simply looking to be pampered or who want to add even more relaxation to their day.  The cabanas come fully furnished, and include snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, towels, sunscreen, beach toys and a safe.  They also each have their own hammock and lounge chairs on the beach, and include free tube, snorkel and bike rentals for all members of your party.  These cabanas go FAST so if getting one is a priority, plan to book one as soon as your online check in window opens.  And if at first you don’t succeed, check back frequently.  I was able to secure one on my family’s first cruise by checking the website several times a day for openings, and it was the best Disney money we’ve ever spent!

Cabanas at Castaway Cay

Land and Sea Options
Worried you won’t be getting enough Disney?  Why not consider extending your cruise with a day (or more!) at Walt Disney World before or after your cruise?  DCL will provide transport both to and from any resort on Disney property, and well as Orlando International Airport (note, however, that unlike Magical Express, which is free, cruise transport carries a one-way cost of $35 per person).

Select sailings out of New York even include a day at Walt Disney World, with a one-day park hopper included in the cost of your cruise!

Awards and Accolades
Don’t just take my word for it, listen to the experts!!!  Disney Cruise Line was voted “Best for Families” by the 2017 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks awards.  They were also voted #1 Top Large Cruise Ship Line by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. The 2017 Cruise Critics Cruisers’ Choice Awards honored DCL with 8 first-place honors, including Best Overall Ship in both the Large and Mid-Size categories. And not only was Castaway Cay named the Best Cruise Line Private Island by the 2017 Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards, but U.S. News & World Report also ranked DCL as #1 on their list of Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean!

So what are you waiting for?  Contact your travel agent to book your Disney Cruise Line experience today!  I promise you won’t regret it!!

By Alyssa
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!