One of our favorite restaurants at Disney World in Florida is the Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot. It is eligible for the Disney Dining Plan, but you can also make a reservation to eat there without the plan. While there are no characters at this sit down meal, there is still plenty of ambiance to take in. The seating is tiered like a theater, so that guests can view the massive aquarium filled with sharks, turtles, rays and a huge assortment of fish. While you are eating, these sea creatures swim in and out of view, creating excitement for the kids while you wait for your food. You literally feel like you are under the sea. Additionally, people pay to scuba dive in the tank, so it is quite likely that you will see a human while you are eating, who may or may not come to the glass and give a smile and wave. While all of this makes the Coral Reef restaurant a great place to eat, there is still more, the food! The food is terrific. Of course there are a variety of seafood selections, but for us we love the steak and they serve a great steak. The service is usually good and the food delicious. As with all dining plan meals, you gt a drink, entree and dessert. The desserts at Coral Reef are also spectacular. All in all, when you leave Coral Reef you feel as though you have visited the Great Barrier Reef and filled your tummy along the way. It is an amazing place to eat! For menu and pricing information please visit http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/dining/diningdetail.cfm?Restaurant.ID=80.
All the seating has a view of the huge aquarium.
The last time we went to Disney World in Florida we stayed at the Pop Century Resort. Disney has four levels of resorts; Deluxe Villas, Deluxe Resorts, Moderate Resorts and Value Resorts. Pop Century is one of the Value resorts but it has a lot to offer. We have stayed at three levels of resorts, Deluxe, Moderate and Value and found all of them to be great. I will talk about the higher level resorts we stayed at another time but for today I will stick to Pop Century. It is a large resort with over 2800 hundred guest rooms. The resort is themed for the different decades and has a lot of incredible features. For example, there are bowling pin stairwells, a giant Mickey Mouse telephone, a large scale Foosball game, a computer-themed pool, yo-yo stairwells, lots of large Disney characters and much more. It is a great place. The main building includes the check-in area, an arcade, a large gift shop and a counter service restaurant called Everything Pop. The counter service restaurant seemed to be constantly active all day long, but never so busy that we had to wait very long for the food. In the morning my kids ate chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, fruit and yogurt. In the evenings you could get meatball subs, pizza, vegetarian lasagna, grilled fish sandwiches, cheeseburgers, nachos and much more. There is pizza delivery at this resort and Mom’s night out specials each day of the week. These include; buttermilk chicken, roast turkey and BBQ pork. It is a great place to eat. Other great features of the resort are the pools. There are three pools and each has activities for the kids every day if you want to have a relaxing day outside of the parks. Another nice feature of the resort is that at night, there put a blow up screen outside and show a Disney movie by the main pool. My wife would take our youngest son to watch the movie at the end of a long busy day, to settle and get ready for bed. It was a nice touch and a great way to end the day. The rooms in the resort were clean, we had no problems in ours and we had two of them. We were able to do laundry when we needed to, although it was little busy at times. It was perfect for what we wanted, a place to relax, swim, eat and sleep after having a great time in the parks. So if you are looking to go to Disney World on a budget, Pop Century may be the place for you.
My quick answer is definitely yes…but I guess there are some conditions. If you are planning a short trip, maybe 5 days or less, I would not get the park hopper and would just pick a park each day and stay there for the day. I would reserve any sit down dinners for the park you are planning to stay in all day and then there is no time lost in travel. But if you are planning to stay longer then the park hopper pass is a must. This allows you to go to any of the parks multiple times in a day. The way we did it was to book our sit down lunches or dinners with characters months in advance and then when we got to Disney World we would go to one park for most of the day, then go to the park where we were having dinner for the evening, have dinner and then enjoy that park. For example, on one occasion we went to Animal Kingdom from about 9 AM until about 3 PM. This allowed us to go on Expedition Everest, Dinosaur and Kali Rapids, as well as seeing the Nemo and Lion King shows, before boarding a bus for tickets and transportation and a monorail ride to Magic Kingdom for dinner at Crystal Palace Buffet, where we ate with Winnie the Pooh and friends. After dinner we went on Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan, It’s A Small World, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor and more if you can believe it. All before watching the fireworks at 10 PM and heading back to the hotel for a swim. Pretty full day I know, but it was amazing, all because of some simple planning and the park hopper pass. It is essential that you go to Disney World with a plan. Plan where you will eat, plan what parks you are going to, check the park hours beforehand to maximize your days. Failure to do so can result in lost time, and a lot of frustration. By planning where you will eat and where you will go, the day will be more relaxed and you will less pressure to hurry through things. I know for us many of the places we wanted to eat were at the Magic Kingdom so we would start our days somewhere else, have dinner at Magic Kingdom and then enjoy the many rides in that park, as well as the fireworks and parades. You can really cram in a lot of fun things if you plan properly. Part of that planning should be the Park Hopper pass. With what the trip costs already, adding a couple of hundred bucks for the hopper is really nothing.
The trip was planned for August, 11 days at Disney World in Florida. It was going to be a great trip. Then the unthinkable, my 4 year old son broke his leg two weeks before the trip. We fretted over what we should do. Cancel, postpone, go anyway, we had to make a decision. Many people we know told us to go anyway and said Disney’s legendary hospitality would make it a great trip anyway. We had had great experiences the previous two times we had gone gone to Disney World, so we decided to go. He had to wear a cast from his chest down to his left ankle, making travel uncomfortable for him and very challenging, especially going to the bathroom on the plane, but we pressed on. We arrived late the first night and got a good sleep before heading out the next day to Hollywood Studios. We had rented a wheelchair to move him around in and traveling to and from the park was easy as the bus drivers allowed us to board the bus first. We arrived at Hollywood Studios and tried to go on our first ride and we were told to go in the regular line. After the ride I was taking a picture of my son outside the Star Tours ride on the speeder when my camera broke. What does that have to do with anything you ask? Well a random nice lady stopped and offered to take a picture on her iPhone and email it to me. While she was doing that she asked if I had gone to get the Guest Assistance Pass. I looked at her and responded that I had no idea what she was talking about. She then told me to go to Guest Services at the park entrance and explain what had happened to my son and show them the cast. I did that and I was given a red card that was called a Guest Assistance Pass. We took it and went to the first ride together, Toy Story Mania, a ride with a line queue around 90 minutes on most days. We showed the pass and were immediately sent to a special entrance and were on the ride within about 15 minutes, it was awesome. This was the beginning of what came to be an amazing trip. Everywhere we went we flashed the pass and were able to get onto rides, into great seats for shows and onto buses so quickly that by the 6th or 7th day of the trip the kids had gone on all the rides they wanted to so often, they were actually starting to pass on rides in order to relax more. The famous Disney hospitality was awesome and the trip we were concerned about because of my son’s injury turned out to be one of the best trips ever. So if you are traveling to Disney with a family member who has special needs, look into the Guest Assistance Pass, it might make things a lot easier!
One thing to think about when you go to Disney World is what you will be eating. Disney provides a variety of dining options and often offers the plan for free. This post is about the regular dining plan. This plan includes one sit down meal, one counter service meal and one snack per day, per person. The choice of what plan you want depends on what you are looking for. We had always imagined the sit down meals with Disney characters, allowing you great photo opportunities right at your table instead of waiting in long lines. The sit down dinners are great and there are many options. Of course you could get another dining plan and just pay for a sit down dinner with characters but this can be quite expensive. If you are worried about not enough food with the regular dining plan, don’t be, it is a lot of food. At some counter service restaurants you can get half chicken, a rack of ribs, mashed potatoes and green beans for one food credit! I am a big guy and I shared that meal with my son every time and we were both full. The snacks can be redeemed on a variety if items, but you need to do your homework, a snack can range for a $1 banana to a $5 sundae. I found bringing cash to buy the fruit snacks or other cheaper items worked better than using up snacks that can be much better used on sundaes, smoothies, popcorn or other yummy treats, and believe me there are plenty of yummy treats to choose from. When I say do your homework, I mean it. There are a host of web sites, including http://www.wdwinfo.com, where the menus for the restaurants are posted with the pricing. This way you can plan to get the type of food you want and the most food you can for you dining plan credits. I will discuss some of the great places to eat in the coming days. Suffice it to say the dining plan is well worth it. The sit down meals are a chance to relax, have a great meal, visit with Disney characters and get some great pictures. There are so many great places to eat and once you have ordered the dining plan and booked your sit down meals, you don’t have to worry about making reservations because you can do it months in advance. The regular dining plan is another amazing part of the Disney experience.
One of my favorite quick service places to eat anywhere in the parks is Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe at the Magic Kingdom. It is directly across from Tomorrowland Speedway and it is a very large restaurant. There are three service bays, one serves burgers and hot dogs, one serves wraps and the other serves chicken and ribs. For one quick service meal credit, you can literally eat a half-chicken and half rack of ribs. It is served with green beans and mashed potatoes or the traditional fries if your wish. This is a great place to eat because the food is good, there is lots of seating and you will not leave hungry. In fact, my son and I often shared the chicken and rib dinner and we both were filled no problem. This is great because that means we were able to save his quick service meal for another time (dining plan options will be discussed another day). In addition to the food, the service is excellent. The last time we went my son had a broken leg and was in a body cast. A Disney staff member walked around with us carrying our food tray until we located a seat. A lovely little touch to be sure. Finally one of the most amazing things about Cosmic Ray’s is Sonny Eclipse. Sonny is an animatronic alien who songs and tells jokes while you eat.
It is an amusing thing for the kids to watch and listen to as they wait for the food to arrive, or while they are eating. He sings catchy little songs like “Planetary Boogie” and tells corny jokes. Overall, it is a great place to eat, good food, good value, great ambiance, an amazing place to eat at the Magic Kingdom.
I have often heard friends of mine discuss whether they should stay on property in a Disney Resort hotel or if they should save some money by staying at a cheaper hotel outside the park. There are a lot of different factors to consider on this topic but for today I will focus on just one. I have a large family, requiring more than one hotel room but there is no way I would ever stay in a hotel outside of the park for one major reason that I can sum up in two words…Magical Express. When you book your Disney vacation you can provide flight information to Disney and they will pick you and your family up, along with your luggage at no extra cost. A few weeks before your vacation you receive special tags in the mail to put on your luggage. When you arrive at the airport and check your bags you don’t have to worry about them again, they will arrive in your hotel room sometime after you do. As for getting to the resort, when you arrive in Orlando, you simply head to the lower level of the airport and follow the Magical Express signs to the friendly Disney staff members who will guide you to the bus line for the coach that will take you directly to your resort. No car rental to pick up, no waiting around for luggage, no checking a map or GPS for directions, just hop on the bus and you are off to the resort. The system takes away the stress of worrying about a hundred little details and allows you to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. A quick suggestion…pack essentials in your carry-on bag, swimsuit, a change of clothes, toothbrush, pajamas. camera, etc., just in case it takes them a little while to get your bags to your room. You will have the essentials to get going while your bags travel the rest of their way Magically to your room. Sure staying on property costs a little more, but believe me it is worth the money. The Magical Express is another amazing part of a Disney World vacation!