So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

I’ve been running this blog for 5 1/2 years, and have loved every question, comment, and interaction. But it feels like my mission has been fulfilled. I started this blog to help big families (like our family of 5) navigate a quad-centric Disney World. In that time, the needle has moved. Disney is now much more accommodating of more-than-four.

This may seem like an odd time to give up Disney blogging, what with Pandora – the World of Avatar about to open at Animal Kingdom and Star Wars land due in 2019, but it’s time to stop obsessing over picture-and-note-taking and just enjoy all that Walt Disney World has to offer.

If you have any Disney questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments here (I’ll still get notifications) or to contact me on Twitter. Thank you for coming along on this wild, magical ride! May all your wishes come true!

heather's castle

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Boardwalk Villas

We have two DVC contracts that we purchased on the resale market – one at Bay Lake Tower and one at Boardwalk Villas. Recently, we had our very first visit to our newest home away from home, and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Boardwalk!

Let’s take a quick photo tour. The lobby is charming and very welcoming.

Boardwalk lobby

Boardwalk lobby

Our recently refurbished studio was lovely!

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The couch pulls out, and the table hides a Murphy-type bed, so the room sleeps up to 5 people. It’s nice to have another option for big families!

The pull-out couch.

The pull-out couch.

The cute little murphy bed!

The cute little Murphy bed!

The view from our balcony was not what we expected. Although it was considered a pool view room, a tree almost completely blocked our view of the pool. It also seemed to dampen the noise from the pool, though, so it worked out just fine.

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Our first morning, we grabbed coffee and pastries from the Belle Vue Lounge before heading to the parks. Although this is convenient, it wasn’t exactly the best coffee on Disney property. Other Boardwalk-area restaurants that we visited during this trip were the ESPN Club (good) and Flying Fish (excellent).

The Boardwalk Villas is a Disney Vacation Club property. Even if you’re not a DVC member, you can book it directly through Disney or, much more affordably, rent DVC points to stay here. Have you stayed at the Boardwalk Villas? How was your experience?

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Our favorite Disney restaurants: Flying Fish

We absolutely loved our first visit to the recently refurbished Flying Fish. Located in Disney’s Boardwalk area, this signature restaurant is perfect for special occasions, or any time you just want to treat yourself to an amazing meal!

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We started with wine flights – red for Rich, white for me.

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For my entree, I had the sustainable fish of the day, which happened to be grouper. Atop a layer of roasted vegetables and finished with a light, creamy sauce, it was delicious!

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For dessert, we shared “Under the Sea.” It was so good!

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Have you been to Flying Fish? What did you think?

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Epcot International Festival of the Arts

We booked our January 2017 trip to Disney World in order to visit our new DVC property for the first time. What a happy coincidence when we found out that the inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts would be happening while we were there! Here are a few highlights:

The Food

Food studios were set up around World Showcase. Here are just some of the offerings that we sampled:

Smoked salmon & caviar, sidecar with a chocolate twist, and triple chocolate mousse with gold leaf from Masterpiece Kitchen (near the Canada Pavilion).

Smoked salmon & caviar, sidecar with a chocolate twist, and triple chocolate mousse with gold leaf from Masterpiece Kitchen (near the Canada Pavilion).

Deconstructed Reuben and Deconstructed breakfast (Chai tea with Bourbon cream) at E=AT2. The BLT and Cobb salad at this studio were excellent, as well.

Deconstructed Reuben and Deconstructed breakfast (Chai tea with Bourbon cream) at E=AT2 (in Showcase Plaza). The BLT and Cobb salad at this studio were excellent, as well.

Savory croissant doughnut sandwiches, Neapolitan beer flight, and pomegranate mule at The Painter's Palate (in the Odyssey Festival Showplace).

Savory croissant doughnut sandwiches, Neapolitan beer flight, and pomegranate mule at The Painter’s Palate (in the Odyssey Festival Showplace).

Roasted pork roulade and coffee-flavored wine at The Artist's Table (at The American Adventure).

Roasted pork roulade and coffee-flavored wine at The Artist’s Table (at The American Adventure).

Seared red snapper, a Rioja, and a beer (I don't remember which one) at Cuisine Classique (near the Germany Pavilion).

Seared red snapper, a Rioja, and a beer (I don’t remember which one) at Cuisine Classique (near the Germany Pavilion).

Venison, ceviche, Popping Bubbles cocktail, and a pop't art cookie at Pop Eats (in the Showcase Plaza).

Venison, ceviche, pop’t art cookie, and Popping Bubbles cocktail at Pop Eats (in Showcase Plaza).

The Art

There were tents selling art all around World Showcase. At most of them, artists were available to sign their work for you.

Our signed piece!

Our signed piece! I don’t want to take it out of the plastic wrap until we have time to frame it 🙂

In the Odyssey Festival Showplace, work by Disney Legends Mary Blair and Herb Ryman were on display. This may have been my favorite part of the whole festival!

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mary-blair-art

herbert-ryman-sign

herbert-ryman-art

Art seminars were also taught in the festival showplace. This was a painting class:

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Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to any of the Disney on Broadway concerts, but I’m sure they were fantastic! We did, however, take advantage of several festival photo ops. Here’s one:

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What do you think of this new festival? Does it sound fun, or is Disney getting too festival-crazy?

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Caribbean Beach Resort

Our most recent Disney trip was kind of spur-of-the-moment. There were no DVC studios available, but we managed to get a nice Annual Passholder discount at Caribbean Beach Resort. I’d never before stayed there, and its rooms sleep up to five, so we took the opportunity to do a little recon for you.

First, the Magical Express dropped us off at the Custom House. This building has resort check-in, airline check-in, and that’s about it! For most Disney resorts, other amenities (such as restaurants and shops) are found in the same location as the check-in area, but not at Caribbean Beach.

Custom House

Custom House

Front desk

Custom House interior

So basically, we had to go through a quick registration process (I’d done the online check-in, but hadn’t received our room number via text, so we still had to go to the front desk for this info), and then get on the resort’s internal shuttle to get to our room location. This seemed like a much longer process than what we’ve become accustomed to at Disney resorts.

Our room was in Trinidad North, one of six different sections at Caribbean Beach. It was a great location, very close to Old Port Royale (which is where the restaurants, gift shop, and main pool are located).

Trinidad North

Trinidad North

Our room was quite lovely. Being a corner room, we had lots of natural light, plus a water view.

Our room

Our room

The bench turns into a small Murphy-type bed.

The bench turns into a small Murphy-type bed.

The Murphy bed isn't very big, but I think our 13-year-old would still fit on it.

The Murphy bed isn’t very big, but our 13-year-old would still fit on it.

The bathroom was typically tiny, but the vanity area was plenty spacious for both of us.

The bathroom was typically tiny, but the vanity area was plenty spacious.

Pretty standard "closet" area.

Pretty standard “closet” area.

Having a corner room with two windows made the room feel bigger.

Having a corner room with two windows made the space feel bigger.

The view was quite nice!

The view was quite nice!

One of the mornings of our trip, we decided to walk around the central lake, Barefoot Bay. Here are the sights along the way:

A cute hammock area

A cute hammock area

The feature pool. Each of the six sections had its own "quiet" pool.

The feature pool. In addition to this, each of the six sections had its own “quiet” pool.

A splash area was located right next to the main pool.

A splash area was located right next to the main pool.

We stopped by the Old Port Royale food court for coffee.

We stopped by the Old Port Royale food court for coffee.

Shutters, the table service restaurant, is only open for dinner.

Shutters, the table service restaurant, is only open for dinner.

According to Walt Disney World's website, pirate cruises and fishing excursions leave from this dock.

According to Walt Disney World’s website, pirate cruises and fishing excursions leave from this dock.

This boardwalk was located between the Barbados and Aruba sections. It was lovely!

This boardwalk was located between the Barbados and Aruba sections. It was lovely!

We stopped to rest in this gazebo located on a tiny island between The Aruba/Jamaica sections and Old Port Royale.

We stopped to rest in this gazebo located on a tiny island in Barefoot Bay.

Overall, I liked this resort. The one thing I didn’t like was the bus service. The resort is so sprawling, the necessity of having an internal shuttle made every journey seem to take longer than at other resorts. However, once headed out of Caribbean Beach property and to a park or Disney Springs, the travel time wasn’t too bad. If you stay here, it would be nice to have a car, though it was definitely do-able with Disney transportation.

On a positive note, I’d read about the Murphy-type beds at this resort, and was happy to see them in person. It’s wonderful that Disney World is making more accommodations for big families!

Have you stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort? What was your experience like? Would you stay there again?

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My (updated) Disney Packing List

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote about my Disney packing list. As our family grows and changes, so too does our packing list. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I try to pack as little as possible. I don’t like to lug tons of stuff around “just in case.” I’d rather pick up a random item at an exorbitant Disney price than pack everything we might need under every possible permutation of what could possibly occur while we’re there. Also, the fact that we have become Disney Vacation Club members has impacted what we pack, as you’ll see.

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Disney packing list

Suitcases: Make sure to use Disney’s Magical Express luggage tags!

  • outfits for # of days (Note that we don’t need extra outfits since our 1-bedroom DVC villa has laundry facilities right in it!)
  • pajamas
  • swimsuits
  • flip flops
  • toiletries for each of us, 2 travel-size bottles of shampoo & body wash, 1 travel-size conditioner (DVC doesn’t provide daily housekeeping, so we now bring extra shampoo, etc.)
  • sunscreen
  • ponchos & umbrellas
  • fuelrod
  • air mattress, pump, sheets (Our 1-bedroom villa sleeps up to 5 people in 3 sleeping spaces. My wild-sleeper boys each need their own space!)
  • any special items, such as Halloween costumes

Carry-on: This is for me; the boys each pack their own carry-on.

  • MagicBands
  • light jacket (I get cold on planes)
  • shorts (if it’s cold here and warm in Florida)
  • my little umbrella (fits in my purse – love it!)
  • 3 each: gallon bags, quart bags, sandwich bags, snack bags, plus bag clips
  • kindle
  • wipes (for wiping down airplane tray tables)
  • quart bag with travel size: sunscreen, hand sanitizer, lotion
  • ziploc bag with any needed meds
  • Magical Express tickets
  • Boarding passes
  • Print-out of our Disney schedule (I create a word document to keep track of things in case the MDE app gives me trouble.)
  • Disney purse containing: earbuds, reading glasses, sunglasses, band-aids, chapstick, oil absorbing sheets, powder mineral sunscreen, ID, credit card, DVC card, Annual Passholder card, Tables in Wonderland card, AAA card, health insurance card, a little cash for tipping, phone & charger.

For cruises, make sure to have:

  • passports
  • magnets to decorate door (no names brands except Disney)
  • fish extender
  • pirate attire
  • fancy attire
  • make sure the bag I carry onto the ship has our swimsuits, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and any needed meds

That’s it! Having a list tailored to your needs makes for simple and easy packing. So, what do you pack? Are you an over-packer or a lean, mean packing machine? And how far ahead to you do it?

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The Rose & Crown Dining Room

We’d been to the Rose & Crown Pub several times, but had never been to the dining room portion of this establishment in Epcot’s UK Pavilion. On a whim, and without a reservation, we decided to give it a try. To our surprise, they were able to seat our party of five with very little wait. It was a wonderful meal!

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Rich and I started with adult beverages:

A Black & Tan and an English Rose.

A Black & Tan and an English Rose.

The boys tried everything from the cheese platter to the fish & chips to the English trifle. Here’s what Rich and I shared:

Scotch egg, loaded Yorkshire pudding, bangers & mash, and mushy peas. Delicious!

Scotch egg, loaded Yorkshire pudding, bangers & mash, and mushy peas. Delicious!

Sticky toffee pudding. Yum!

Sticky toffee pudding. Yum!

Our server, Natalie, was fantastic! This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable meals of our trip. We will definitely be back!

Have you been to the Rose & Crown? Do you prefer the pub or the dining room? And how do you feel about mushy peas?

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Disney Must-Do: Soarin’ Around the World

We were so excited to try out the new version of the classic ride Soarin’ that we ended up riding it three times! Soarin’ Around the World takes you on a “hang-glider” ride all over the world – rather than just over California, as in the previous version. The nice thing about the updated ride (other than the fact that there are no longer “fuzzies” all over the screen) is that they kept the same music (though I heard that it was re-recorded for the new ride). Oh, and Patrick Warburton is still your chief flight attendant. Yay!

Here are a few quick shots that my husband took during the ride:

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I thought the new Soarin’ was fantastic, though depending on where you are seated in your hang-glider, your view of some of the monuments may be skewed. This was, admittedly, a bit distracting. I didn’t mind it too much, but it seemed to bother my photographer husband. I guess it all depends on your point of view, so to speak.

Have you experienced Soarin’ and/or Soarin’ Around the World? Which version do you prefer?

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California Grill lounge

We absolutely love the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort, but didn’t have the foresight to make a reservation there for a recent trip. Never fear! They have a lounge! The California Grill Lounge opens daily at 4:30pm. Seating is first come, first served (we got there right at 4:30). The full California Grill menu is available at the lounge.

Non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri in the back (all 3 boys had these), Remy Martin XO cognac, and a Santa Monica cider.

Non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri in the back (all 3 boys had these), Remy Martin XO cognac, and a Santa Monica cider.

The delicious peach salad. This is actually just a half-portion. Rich and I split the salad, and the kitchen was kind enough to plate it separately for us.

The delicious peach salad. This is actually just a half-portion. Rich and I split the salad, and the kitchen was kind enough to plate it separately.

Pork tacos (gluten-free!)

Pork tacos (gluten-free!)

We had so much fun in this lounge! The food, service, and views combine for an experience that absolutely cannot be beat.

Have you tried out the California Grill lounge? What’s your favorite menu item?

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Gluten-free with Chef Mickey!

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This was our first trip to Chef Mickey’s since Cale’s celiac disease diagnosis. I was delightfully surprised by their attention to gluten-free details. First of all, we were given a pamphlet specifying which brunch buffet items were safe for which specific food allergens. (Not that celiac disease is the same as a food allergy, but this resource told us which foods were safe for people who cannot have gluten.)

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chef-mickeys-allergy-guide-inside

Secondly, the chef came out to see if Cale had any questions about the menu. He also offered to bring out anything Cale wanted from the kitchen in order to avoid buffet cross-contamination. We gladly took him up on this! He brought out so much food that our server boxed the leftovers up at the end of the meal. We took it back to our room in Bay Lake Tower (just a short walk from Chef Mickey’s), and ate it later in the trip. It’s wonderful to experience Disney’s attentiveness to special dietary restrictions!

Have you eaten at a Disney buffet with special dietary restrictions? How was your experience?

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