Sunday, September 23, 2012

Walt Disney World Mom's Panel... The Adventure Continues

About two weeks ago the recruitment period for the 2013 Walt Disney World Mom's Panel began, and just like last year, I decided to throw my mouse-ears into the ring. 

Also like last year the Mom's Panel was looking for specific areas of expertise (Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Vacation Club, Adventures by Disney, RunDisney, and Disney Cruise Line), and once again I selected Disney Cruise Line. Unlike last year, there was no official start date announced for submission of applications ahead of time. Laura Spencer blogged about it  coming soon in July, but on the Mom's Panel website we were told to check there everyday in September. 

Well the Disney fan community, and Mom's Panel hopefuls especially are really good at sniffing out these kind of things, so eventually it got out that they would open for applications on September 10th, and close on September 14th, or whenever they received 14,000 applications. That was 6,000 less than in years past, so many Mom's rushed to get their applications in as quickly as possible. I took a couple of days to send my final submission, and even though they have not closed it out early in recent years, I was slightly concerned about the applications cap. 

The application process was a bit different this year. In stead of waiting for round 2 to test your knowledge in your specialty area, there was a second page of questions in round 1. The first page was general Disney knowledge, plus an essay (100 words) on helping to plan other people's Disney vacations. The second page had a few pretty tricky questions focused on your specialty area, plus another 100 word essay about planning vacations in that area.    

I gotta tell ya, 100 words is really not that much to show your passion for Disney! Both of my essays had to be almost cut in half after my first draft. There is so much that you want to share, but just not enough word space! 

Last year I progressed onto round 2, where they tested my knowledge of Disney Cruise Line, and I had to make a one minute video about my favorite Disney memory, but I didn't make it to the interview stage. It will be interesting to see what round 2 consists of this year, since they already made everyone answer questions and write essays about their specialty areas in the first round. I'm sure there will be another video submission, but what else does the Mom's Panel have up its pink sleeves? 

The wait begins... 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cars Land to Replace Avatar at Disney World???

In the last couple of weeks the only rumors that I have been actively following have been ones surrounding the new iPhone, and if Apple will introduce a new smaller iPad. But one rumor that perked my ears up was the one saying that Cars Land could be making it's way east on Route 66 to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Things really seemed to be lining up for this, what with Kathy Mangum coming to Florida on assignment and all, but I didn't really buy into the whole Avatar Land dying a slow death... But it appears that where there is smoke there could be fire.

I really try not to get into the whole rumor spreading thing. With Disney there is so much to talk about that is happening, I have never felt the need to fill lines with the hundreds of credible, or insane rumors that pop up like pre-teen girls at a One Direction concert. I'm not connected to any sources at Disney to get comments, and I'm not a reporter who is expected to find leads on these types of stories. I'm a tennis coach who lives in Bucharest, Romania! I'm about as disconnected as you can be, so I rely on the hard work of people on the inside to get me my information! 

One of the people that brings this stuff to light is Kevin Yee. He has written a very good article about how Avatar Land could be shelved in favor of an east coast Cars Land. 

When the Avatar announcement was made, I like many people were taken by surprise. I also had mixed feelings about it, and I wrote about it in a post last September. The concept sounded really cool, and I thought that the Imagineers would do a great job with it, but I just thought it was a bit of a stretch. That combined with the stories of James Cameron being a bit of a pain to work with, kind of scared me that there would at best be delays. As rumors started to spread that Avatar might be downsized from an entire land to a couple of attractions, or even shelved completely, I thought it was just because of the fact that no new news was coming from the project. I shrugged them off thinking they were just a result of an impatient public, or from people that never liked the idea (there were plenty out there) who were looking for any reason to paint it in a bad light.

So how do I feel about this? Overall I am excited. Cars Land in Disney's California Adventure looks spectacular, especially the Radiator Springs Racers attraction. But a part of me thinks it should be exclusive to California Adventure. I for one love that all of the worldwide Disney parks have things you can only see there. It gives me the excuse to go see them all! But once again I trust the Imagineers to make a Disney World Cars Land different enough that people will want to see both. I also know that the designers always "plus" things as they re-imagine them. They learn from the previous attractions, lands, and parks, and tweek them to make them better. I have seen this with my own eyes from visiting the Magic Kingdom in Florida (opened October 1971), and the Disneyland Park in Paris (opened April 1992). There are a lot of improvements there, some little, some small, but if you pay attention you will see them.

So will Jake and Neytiri be moving out to make room for Lightning McQueen and Mater? We'll just have to wait and see! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Resort Review: The Contemporary

I've done it again! Here is another Epinions review on a Disney Deluxe resort! If you would like to see it in it's original form CLICK HERE.

There are a few key memories that I have from my first "real" trip to Walt Disney World. Chief among them is riding through the Contemporary Resort on the Monorail. I remember thinking that there is not a cooler hotel in the world. First of all, it is right next to the Magic Kingdom. Secondly, the freaking Monorail drives right through it! The last thought I had was, "Wow! What kind of rich do you have to be to stay here?" Those thoughts continued to run through my head as we drove back to the Econo Lodge (or something like it) we were staying at in nearby  Kissimmee. 

You can imagine how excited I was when I got to stay at the Contemporary 24 years later! Staying at the Contemporary had been a goal of mine since I was 10 years old. The goal became almost an obsession when I "rediscovered" Disney in 2007. Could a hotel that I had been building up in my mind for 24 years possibly live up to the hype? Yes and no... The Contemporary Resort was built as one of three opening day resorts (along with the Polynesian and Fort Wilderness Campground) at Walt Disney World in 1971. It's A frame design is unmistakable, and it is nothing short of a Disney icon. Another cool fact is that the resort was built similar to how cruise ships are constructed, all the rooms are compartments that were installed into the main building. There is also a Garden Wing that is separate from the main building, and the Bay Lake Tower on the same grounds, houses Disney Vacation Club villas. 

We got a great Annual Passholder rate and stayed for three nights. When we booked the room I was afraid that we would be sent out to one of the Garden Wing rooms, but our room was in the main building, on the 5th floor, with a view of the pool and  Bay Lake. The room had two queen beds and a pull out sofa (that tried to eat my then 2 year old son). There was a flat screen TV mounted on the wall, and the decor was very modern. The bathroom's were equipped with big flat square sinks, and doors that slid inside the walls when they were opened. It was a really cool room, in a really cool hotel! 

No other resort at Disney World can make the claim that it is walking distance to the Magic Kingdom. It is so close that my daughter and I were able to walk from Space Mountain Tomorrowland, back to our room in just over 15 minutes! If you want to take your time, you can hop on the Monorail, and get off at the next stop. Coming back is a little more time consuming because you have to make stops at the Grand Floridian and Polynesian. If you are travelling with small children who nap in the afternoon, there is no better resort on property. 

Even if you aren't staying at the Contemporary, there are three restaurants and a food court that you can visit for a bite to eat. 

At the top of the resort is the California Grill. This is one of Disney's Signature restaurants, and although I haven't had the opportunity to dine there, it gets great reviews! This is fine dining with a great view! If you're lucky you might be able to snag a reservation for dinner during the Magic Kingdom fireworks. 

Chef Mickey's is one of the toughest reservations in Disney World. Here you can enjoy a breakfast or dinner buffet, with the Fab 5 of Disney, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. We have had breakfast here a few times, and it has never disappointed in terms of food or character interaction. It;s a bit pricey, and incredibly loud, but when you see your kids meeting their favorite characters, you forget about everything else! Another cool thing about this restaurant is that it is located just below the track of the Monorail, in the Grand Canyon Concourse of the hotel. 

The third restaurant in the Contemporary is The Wave... Of American Flavors. The good news is that it is pretty easy to get a reservation here, that is also the bad news. The menu here has a big focus on healthy, sustainable food. I'm all for that, but the quality just doesn't cut it. Kevin Klose, the restaurant reviewer for for the Dis Unplugged Podcast described the restaurant as "beige", and I can't think of a better way to describe The Wave. The food is just ok. The decor is just ok. Even the service was just ok. We probably would not have eaten here had we not been staying at the resort. I have heard that the breakfast is quite good here however, and the wine list is very extensive! 

The Contempo Cafe is the quick service option at the resort. By food court standards I found the food to be pretty good. Nice sandwiches, and a good selection. You place your order here at a self serve kiosk, and then take the printed receipt to the kitchen counter. The food is prepared fresh and comes out hot. I had no complaints about the meals we ate here. This is also where you can purchase and put to use your Disney refillable mug.

In addition to the restaurants and food court, there is a coffee bar at the resort. Contemporary Grounds serves up your favorite latte, tea, frozen coffee, and pastires. My wife says that this is the best coffee on Disney property (not a high bar to clear), but with Starbucks coming to the parks soon, we'll see where it stands! 

The pool complex is behind the main building, and was a bit of a disappointment. Considering that this is one of the most expensive resorts to stay at on property, the pool just doesn't compare with other deluxe resorts. There is a water play area for the little ones, and a lack luster slide but that is about it. Our kids actually preferred to just play in the sand by the lake. The pool at Bay Lake Tower next door is much better, but you can only access it if you are staying in the villas. In addition to the pool there is a marina where you can rent boats for tooling around in the lake, or if you are feeling adventurous, book para-sailing. 

Surprisingly enough, the Contemporary Resort did live up to the 24 years of anticipation. I would love to be able to hop in a Delorean and go back to 1986 and tell 10 year old me, "one day you will stay here!" Or maybe I'd still keep it a surprise...   

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Resort Review: Wilderness Lodge

The following review is another review that I have written on If you would like to see it in it's original form CLICK HERE.

If your idea of "roughing it" is pretending to be in the great outdoors, but actually being in an amenity rich resort, then you are a lot like me! If you enjoy the idea of a vacation at a national park, but would prefer a theme park, then have I got the place for you! Disney's Wilderness Lodge resort! 

The Wilderness Lodge is themed like the great lodges of the Pacific Northwest, and the themeing is amazing! Whenever I visit this resort, I feel as if I have been transported from central Florida, to a land of towering trees, bubbling brooks, and thundering waterfalls. 

Just walking into the lobby of this gorgeous resort is an experience. As soon as you step foot through the doors you hear sweeping songs from the west. You look around and see totem poles, big comfortable rocking chairs, a gigantic fireplace, and enormous animal skin (no buffalos were harmed in the construction of this resort) chandeliers hanging from the several stories high ceiling. In the distance you might see a wooden bridge that crosses an indorr creek that flows outside to the pool. You forget you are at Walt Disney World, until your eye catches a few of the well integrated hidden Mickey's, and until you are greeted by a friendly cast member ready to help you find your room. 

The Wilderness Lodge is one of Disney's Deluxe resorts, located near the Magic Kingdom theme park. By deluxe resort standards it isn't in the most convenient area, but it is just a short boat ride to the Magic Kingdom. In some ways this is a big advantage. Because it is very slightly off the beaten path, the Imagineers were able to really go big on this resort. An example is the geyser that lies just past the swimming pool overlooking the lake. While you can't see the Magic Kingdom from the Wilderness Lodge, you are close enough to hear park's opening ceremony in the morning, and the fireworks at night. 

There are several different types of rooms, but we stayed in one of the rooms facing the woods (and a kind of sad pond) with a queen bed and a set of bunk beds. The kids loved the bunk beds, so much so that they never tried to sneak into our bed! The room was not as large as other rooms in the deluxe category, but it was still very roomy and very comfortable. The beds are made to look like they have been built from trees, and the colors are dark woods and American Indian inspired designs. A flat screen TV mounted on the wall gives it a feel of modern comforts, and there is a small refrigerator to keep your drinks cold. 

Outside of the room there is a lot to do! One of my favorite things to do is explore the resort. The theming is so immersive that they offer free tours of the lobby just to tell the stories behind the design elements! Check at the concierge desk for times. The pool is more aesthetically pleasing than others on property, but otherwise it is about average. The water flowing in from the lobby over the rocks is really cool though. There are a couple of hot tubs at the back of the complex close to the geyser, but unfortunately, like most hot tubs at Disney they are very crowded. 

Out past the pool there is a rental hut where you can rent bikes and surry bikes,  and a great playground for the kids, right on the beach at the lake! There are also a bunch of lounge chairs on the beach where you can sit, relax, or catch a glimpse of the Electrical Water Pageant each night. There is also a bar where you can grab a soda or your favorite adult beverage! 

Dining is a definite highlight at the Wilderness Lodge. Roaring Fork Snacks is the quick service "food court" at the resort. It isn't very big inside (there is a lot of outdoor seating), but there is a lot of good food to choose from, and it has a fixins bar for your burger or sandwich. We really like the made to order flat bread pizzas. If they are offering it, try the BBQ Chicken flatbread. 

In addition to Roaring Fork, the Wilderness Lodge has two sit down restaurants, Whispering Canyon Cafe, and Artist Point. Whispering Canyon is a loud and rowdy cafe that is great for a fun dinner! Be sure to ask for a large drink, and ketchup! You can order off al a carte, but I recommend getting the all you care to eat family platter! All the ribs, sausage, potatoes, and salad you can eat! This is not a place for a romantic dinner! If that is what you are looking for try... 

Artist Point, one of Disney's Signature restaurants. I have never eaten here, but you can bet that you will get a great Pacific Northwest inspired meal. Their specialty is the Cedar Plank Salmon, and I have heard that it absolutely melts in your mouth! 

With all of these things you may need to extend your vacation by a couple days! 

The only real negative that I see with the Wilderness Lodge is that for a deluxe resort, it is not walking distance to one of the theme parks. The location is good, but not as good as the resorts on the Monorail, or in the Epcot resort area. 

One more thing... If you are planning on visting Disney World during the holidays (mid-November-January 1st), there is not a better resort to stay at for Christmas decorations! The Christmas tree that they put up in the lobby is jaw dropping! It is just a great resort to stay at for a wonderful family holiday, or vacation anytime of the year

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Resort Review: Beach Club

Before I had my own blog to force my opinions on people, I did a lot of writing on Epinions. When the website was started in the late 90's people were making some pretty good money writing reviews on the site. In fact, there was a lot of "dirty pool" by some people to maximize their earning potential! While I never made the big bucks like some posters, I did my fair share of reviews, and was able to gain a little extra spending money for myself. 

Over the years my commitment to doing reviews there has ebbed and flowed. Recently, there has been no flow at all for me at Epinions. Before the review I will post below, I hadn't written anything there in over four years! The site is a good place to find out what real people think of products and services. When I was writing there a lot, most of my reviews were of tennis products, but I think I might start doing some Disney reviews over there. 

Well anyway, I just finished writing a review of my favorite Disney resort the Beach Club resort and I thought I would share it here as well. If you want to see it on the Epinions site, CLICK HERE

We have stayed at most of the resorts on property at Walt Disney World, and the Beach Club is our favorite! It was also the first of Disney's Deluxe resorts that we stayed at, and suffice it to say, it set the bar high! 

Originally I wanted to stay at the Beach Club because of it's proximity to the International Gateway entrance to Epcot, which is only a five minute walk from the resort. Little did I know that the resort would become the benchmark that we would judge all Disney resorts by! The rooms are spacious, the sand bottom pool is amazing, and the service is great, even by the high Disney standards you expect! 

Upon arrival we were greeted at the door by a cast member who showed us to the registration desk. As it turned out she was from the same small town in Ohio where my family comes from. She could not have been more plesant, and check in went very smoothly.   

We stayed in a first floor room that looked out on Crescent Lake, and the sand volleyball court. The room was very nicely sized and our family of five was very comfortable. The light blue beach motif was very comfortable, yet it had a very luxurious feel as well. 

The room was equipped with a flat screen TV, two queen beds, and a day bed/sofa. The furniture was of a high quality, and thanks to a recent refurbishment of the resort, in great condition! There was also a small refrigerator and a coffee maker, albeit with below average coffee, but if you have been to Disney before, this will come as no surprise!

Whenever we stay at  Beach Club we build in a resort day to our vacation. In my opinion,  the Beach Club, and Yacht Club (which is attached to the resort) are two of the few resorts on Disney property where you can spend an entire day at the resort, without ever leaving to hit one of the theme parks. The main reason for this is Stormalong Bay, the resorts main swimming complex. I say complex, because just calling Stormalong Bay a swimming pool is like saying that Disney World is just a theme park! One part of the inter-connected swimming area is a sand bottom pool. This is where the smaller kids hang out and make sand castles, and climb on the rocks. The water is shallow, and there are lots of chairs to relax in while the kids play. There is also a more traditional swimming area, and a small lazy river that is deep enough to play dolphin or mermaid! The last part of the complex is a shipwreck themed slide. There is a big slide that starts at the mast of the ship and empties out into the main pool, and a smaller kiddie slide that is in the hull of the shipwreck. You could easily spend a whole day here at this mini water park! Something else that is very nice about Stormalong Bay is that it can only be used by people staying at the Yacht and Beach Club. You must show your room card to enter the complex and get towels, and they put a wristband on you that you need to re-enter. Throughout the day there will be poolside activities and games for the kids as well.

Next to the pool on the Crescent Lake side is Hurricane Hannah's, which is essentially a snack bar. It's a nice place to get a quick burger or a beer, but there isn't anything really special about it. 

On the resort side of the pool there is a large video arcade, and one of the best reasons to stay at Beach Club, Beaches and Cream! Beaches and Cream is an undersized for it's popularity pool side diner that serves typical diner food like burgers, hot dogs, and yummy onion rings. They also have (and you're probably getting tired of me saying this) the best ice cream on Disney Property! My favorites are the No Way Jose, which is a chocolate-peanut butter sundae (big enough for two people), and the Kitchen Sink (big enough for the whole family), which is 8 scoops of ice cream, all of the toppings at the bar, and a whole can of whipped cream! We have tried twice unsuccessfully to finish it. They only allow walk ups, and it is not unheard of to have 2-3 hour waits for a table. There is a walk up ice cream counter where you can get a couple scoops or a milkshake, but not the signature sundaes or non ice cream items. 

There is a sit down restaurant at Beach Club called Cape May Cafe. In the mornings it is a breakfast buffet with character meet and greets. The characters that are usually there are Minnie, Goofy and Pluto, but I have also seen Chip and Dale show up as well. The food is pretty good, but your kids will be too excited to eat. It is one of the easier character meals to get reservations for, and we have always gotten a lot of attention from the characters when we eat there. 

At night the restaurant serves a seafood buffet that they call a clam bake. My wife is allergic to seafood so we have never tried it, but I have heard mixed reviews. 

There is also a quick grab and go market/deli in the resort gift shop, The Marketplace. This is where you can buy and refill your refillable mug, pick up some small grocery items, and of course souvenirs! The shop has a lot of great stuff in it, and a few resort specific items, but we have never had much luck with the food here. 

To be honest, that is the one negative thing about Beach Club. The food options can be limited. It is the smallest of the Disney Deluxe resorts, so it doesn't have as many food options as the larger resorts. There have been a couple times when we have just wanted something quick, but couldn't easily get what we wanted. The other side of this criticism is that you have the larger Yacht Club literally next door, and the Boardwalk Resort a short walk away. Not the most convenient solution, but it's an option. 

One very good reason to walk next door to the Yacht Club is the Yachtsman Steakhouse, one of Disney's signature restaurants! This is probably my favorite Disney restaurant that isn't on a cruise ship! The steaks are great, the service is professional, and while it is a bit expensive, totally worth the price! A couple years ago my wife and I had Valentine's dinner here. She is a recovering vegetarian, and still not a big meat eater, but she loves it to! It's usually pretty easy to get a reservation, and I recommend asking for a table with a view of Stormalong Bay. Try not to rub in the face of the people walking by what a great meal you're enjoying! 

So I think that just about covers it. I wish that the beach vacations that I used to take as a kid was as great as staying at the Beach Club!            

Thanks for reading!