Happy summer!

Rapunzel sun

I’ll be busy with my boys for the next few months, so I won’t be around here much. Wishing you a beautiful, magical summer with your loved ones!

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Rooms for Five (2016 update)

*This is an update to my May 2014 post.*

For the past few years, it seems that Disney World has been coming up with more options for families of five. Let’s check out the current selection.

The Values:

  •  All-Star Music family suites: Before we became DVC members, this was my favorite WDW hotel, specifically because it worked so well for our family. If you have three kids, and they don’t like to share beds, this option is perfect. However, if you can get them to share, the suite does sleep up to six. You have a master bedroom, a living room (with a pull-out couch, pull-out chair, and pull-out ottoman), a small kitchen, and two bathrooms. See my review here.
The living room in an All-Star Music family suite.

The living room in an All-Star Music family suite.

  • Art of Animation family suites: I’ve yet to stay here, but have done a walk-about of this beautiful property. These suites sleep up to six, with a master bedroom, living room with a pull-out couch, dining area with a convertible bed/table (kind of like a Murphy bed), small kitchenette, and two bathrooms.
Lion King dining room - the table converts to a bed!

Lion King dining room – the table converts to a bed! (photo courtesy of Paul D. Smith)

The Moderates:

  • Port Orleans Riverside, Alligator Bayou section: These rooms sleep up to five people (if one of them is small) in two queen beds and a bench that turns into a Murphy-type bed. The Murphy bed is rather small, about 65″ long, but my son slept on it comfortably up to age 12. You can find my review of Riverside here.
The Murphy bed in a Port Orleans Riverside Alligator Bayou room.

The Murphy bed in a Port Orleans Riverside Alligator Bayou room.

  • Caribbean Beach: Similar to Riverside, here you can find rooms that have two queen beds and a small Murphy bed (about 64″ long).
  • The Cabins at Fort Wilderness: The cabins sleep up to six, with a double Murphy bed in the living room, plus a double bed and a set of bunk beds in the bedroom. There is only one bathroom, as compared to two bathrooms in the family suites at the Value level, but you get a full (though small) kitchen area. I haven’t stayed in the cabins since the 1980s, and they’ve changed quite a bit. My brother and his family stayed there in 2013. You can find his review here.

The Deluxes:

  • Deluxe Resorts: Rooms featuring two queen beds plus a day bed (and thus sleeping up to five) can be found in: the Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the Boardwalk Inn, the Beach Club, and Yacht Club. Of these hotels, I have stayed at the Beach Club, the Contemporary, and the Polynesian. They’re all, as expected, quite lovely. At Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge, the rooms only sleep up to four, but the Club Level suites have space for bigger groups.
A standard room at the Beach Club.

A standard room at the Beach Club.

  • Deluxe Villas: These are Disney Vacation Club (DVC) properties, but can be rented like any hotel room. They come in studios, one-bedroom villas, two-bedroom villas, and three-bedroom grand villas. At one point, the studios only slept four, though this is changing. The DVC studios at the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, and Boardwalk sleep up to five people. However, the fifth person is in a small-ish Murphy bed (around 72″ long). The Beach Club Villas are currently undergoing a refurbishment that adds a Murphy bed to these DVC studios. Beyond studio-sized accommodations, the DVC properties that sleep up to five people in a one-bedroom villa are at the Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House and Kidani Village), Bay Lake Tower (located at the Contemporary), and Old Key West. The DVC properties that only sleep four people in a one-bedroom villa are Boardwalk Villas, Beach Club Villas, Wilderness Lodge, and Saratoga Springs. I have stayed at Saratoga Springs with a group of seven, and we were quite comfortable in a two-bedroom villa.

Keep in mind that, for more space, you can always book two rooms that sleep up to four, and request that they are connecting. However, I understand that while Disney World does their best to accommodate these “connecting room” requests, they can’t guarantee them.

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Dining with Character: 1900 Park Fare

1900 Park Fare, located at the Grand Floridian, is home to Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner. This meal includes a buffet (not great, but not bad) and the best character interaction we’ve ever experienced! Cinderella and Prince Charming were pleasant and, well, charming.

Prince Charming

But the real fun began when Lady Tremaine and her daughters came around. First, Drizella decided that our oldest son would be her new butler. She renamed him Jeeves.

Drizella

Her mother quickly showed up and got in on the action, draping Jeeves’s arm with a napkin and piling it high with sugar packets – so many that they fell over, and she tossed the surplus packets across the room.

Jeeves in training

Not wanting to be left out of the action, Anastasia came over to pose with “Jeeves.”

Anastasia

When I asked Lady Tremaine if we could have our portrait done together, as I’m a fan of hers, she taught me how to stare daggers.

Lady Tremaine

She then invited me to a hush-hush card game at Gaston’s Tavern. “Ladies only!”

So, the food is just all right (fortunately, they have lots of gluten-free options), but the meal is totally worth it – at least once – for the awesome characters!

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Why We Went DVC

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 10.06.57 PM

About a year ago, we decided to join the Disney Vacation Club. This decision was years in the making (see my 2012 post debating the issue). In the end, here are the things that mattered most to us:

  1. Proximity to the parks. Magic Kingdom is, by far, our favorite park. Hence, our DVC “home resort” is Bay Lake Tower, the only resort that is walking distance to MK. Our secondary home resort, where we have a smaller DVC contract, is Boardwalk Villas. This resort is walking distance from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Why is choosing the right home resort so important? You can book your home resort 11 months before the start of your vacation. You can book other DVC resorts 7 months before your trip. With DVC villas in high demand (and showing no sign of slowing down any time soon), it’s important to have that home resort advantage.
  2. Staying at a deluxe resort for a fraction of the deluxe price. Disney deluxe resorts are crazy expensive. For example, a room (not a suite) at the Contemporary starts at $393 per night. A 1-bedroom suite at Bay Lake Tower (the DVC property attached to the Contemporary Resort) starts at $655 per night. So, for a 6-night stay, the room is a minimum of $2358, and the suite is at least $3930. If I take my initial DVC investment, divide it by the number of years on my contract, and add in the yearly maintenance fees, that comes to $1558/year. I have enough “points” on my DVC contract to get a 1-bedroom suite at Bay Lake Tower for six nights, with a few points left over to use the following year. This is far less than the $3930 rack rate. Furthermore, it’s less than the $1800 or so we were paying for a 6-night stay at All-Star Music family suites (a Disney value resort).
  3. An awesome excuse to keep going back to Disney, over and over and over! Yup, I’ll admit it: Disney World is my absolute favorite place. Now that we own a piece of it (at least until our Bay Lake Tower contract expires in 2060), we have to keep going back in order to get our money’s worth. And if circumstances prevent us from going, our family or friends can use our membership that year. The way I see it, that’s a win for everybody!

I’m fairly new to the DVC lifestyle, but if you have any questions, I’d be happy to do my best to help.

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The Rose & Crown Pub

Wow, I’ve been talking a lot about food and drink around here! Let’s do one more🙂

We adore the Rose & Crown Pub in Epcot’s UK Pavilion. On our last trip, we stopped in for one of our favorite snacks at Disney World, the Scotch egg.

The Scotch egg - golden-fried hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, with mustard sauce.

The Scotch egg: golden-fried hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, with mustard sauce.

To go with the egg, Rich surprised me with a glass of Scotch. Why was this such a surprise? Because he opted for the $29 glass of Scotch!😀

Scotch

The Macallan 18-year.

Fortunately, the bartender gave us a generous pour, much more than the 2 ounces listed on the menu. And, I have to admit, the Scotch was quite nice (and I’m not all that partial to Scotch).

Have you been to the Rose & Crown? What’s your favorite Disney snack (or drink)?

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Epcot Wine Walk

The Epcot World Showcase Wine Walk is an actual thing, even though I can’t find any mention of it on the Disney World website. For $20 a person, you can get samples of two wines from each of three pavilions – Germany, Italy, and France. What a bargain! Once Rich and I heard about the wine walk, we just had to try it out.

Epcot wine walk sign

Start at any of the three pavilions listed, go to the wine shop (Weinkeller in Germany, Enoteca Castello in Italy, Aux Vins de France in – you guessed it – France), and pick up your… passport? Ticket? Paper thingy? I don’t know what it’s officially called, but it’s how the Cast Members in each wine shop keep track of where you’ve been (because someone has to).

We started in Germany with two sweet white wines. I adored them.

We started in Germany with two sweet white wines. I adored them.

Next up was Italy, where the red and the white were both quite sweet. These I adored, as well.

Next up was Italy, where the red and the white were both quite sweet. These I adored, as well.

Ah, France. A red and a white, both drier than these others on the wine walk. Not heavy, just very nice.

Ah, France. A red and a white, both drier than the others on the wine walk. Not heavy, just very nice.

After visiting all three wine shops, we decided to stop in at the Rose & Crown Pub in the UK pavilion for a bite to eat. Rich had finished his French wine, but I still had my red left, so I took it into the pub with me. At the Rose & Crown, we had… oh, that’s a story for another day🙂

Have you done the Epcot Wine Walk? Which wine was your favorite?

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Our favorite Disney restaurants: Sanaa

Ah…Sanaa… This lovely restaurant located at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village overlooks the savanna and its animal occupants. We had a late dinner here, and thus couldn’t see the animals through our window-side table, but it was still a wonderful meal in a charming atmosphere.

We started with drinks in the lounge while waiting for our table. I had the African Starr Mojito (Starr African rum, Van der Hum tangerine liqueur from South Africa, fresh mint, and lime). It was quite tasty. (I can’t remember what my husband had. Something on the rocks, I think.)

African Starr mojito

I’d long heard amazing things about Sanaa’s bread service. Not familiar with this? It’s pretty much a wooden board full of heavenly flavors. There are five different types of naan (Indian bread): traditional, garlic-ginger, spiced naan, onion kucha, and paneer paratha. You can choose three accompaniments, or pay a little extra and get all nine – cucumber raita, roasted red pepper hummus, mango chutney, tomato-date jam, tamarind chutney, coriander chutney, garlic pickle, red chile sambal, and spicy jalapeño-lime pickle. You should definitely get them all. My favorites were the cucumber raita, coriander chutney (which I called cilantro chutney), and red chile sambal. Actually, the three mixed together were quite nice.

Sanaa bread service

For our entree (we split it because, well, bread service), we had the braaivleis – a South African sampler platter with boerewor (South African sausage), a lamb chop, and pork tenderloin with veggies and maybe some potatoes? I’m not sure. We failed to photograph it. I think our minds were still on that amazing bread service. Not to diss the sampler platter – it was delicious! Our excellent server recommended South African wines to go with our meal, based on our individual preferences. Mine was a bit lighter, my husband’s more bold. They were both very good.

Have you dined at Sanaa? What’s your favorite bread service “accompaniment”?

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Kidani Village – so relaxing

Animal Kingdom Lodge is divided into two sections, Jambo House and Kidani Village. Jambo House is bigger and has more amenities, while Kidani Village has a cozier vibe. The path between them makes for an easy walk, though there is also a shuttle that runs between the two halves of the resort. We chose Kidani Village for our first DVC stay as DVC members because, well, by the time our purchase went through, our home resort of Bay Lake Tower was booked up for the holiday weekend visit we had planned. I’d really wanted to stay at BLT on this first official DVC vacation, but ended up being very pleased with Kidani. The lighting is warm and low, the finishes are gorgeous, and the theming is done to perfection. All in all, I found this to be a very relaxing, soothing place to stay. I look forward to future visits to Kidani Village.

Kidani entrance lanterns

The warm, welcoming environment embraced us as soon as we entered the lobby.

Kidani lobby

Our studio was beautiful, as well.

Kidani studio

Kidani wardrobe and dresser

Kidani bed

Kidani kitchenette

Kidani vanity

Kidani bath

We had a “standard” view, as it costs fewer points than a savanna view, and we intended to spend most of our time in the parks. Though we couldn’t see any animals from our balcony, the view was still quite lush.

Kidani view

The animal viewing area, just off the lobby, was really great. At one point, there were giraffes standing so close to us, we felt like we could reach out and pet them. (Though, of course, we didn’t!) I was so into the animals, I forgot to take any pictures. I highly recommend checking out this viewing area if you get the chance.

The bus service to and from Kidani Village was excellent. We never had to wait more than a few minutes for a bus, and the longest drive was 20 minutes (to Magic Kingdom). The buses typically stopped at Kidani first, then Jambo House, then went to the parks. However, on occasion, we would board an empty bus that would take us directly to the park without stopping at Jambo House.

This might not seem like an option for a big family, as the studio only sleeps up to four, but Kidani Village has one-bedroom villas that sleep up to five, as well as two-bedroom villas that sleep up to nine. For photos of the larger accommodations at Kidani Village, visit the Walt Disney World official site.

Have you ever stayed at Kidani Village? What did you think of it?

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Thirsty River Bar & Trek Snacks

Thirsty River Bar & Trek Snacks – I was really excited to try this new “food place” on our last Disney trip. Located right next to Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, this grab-and-go spot helps round out this corner of the park.

Trek Snacks

Trying to kill time before our Expedition Everest FP+ window opened, and hungry because we’d not yet had breakfast, we moseyed up to Trek Snacks around 10:30 in the morning. I wanted to try the Banh Mi (a Vietnamese sandwich of roasted pork, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and Sriracha on a roll). Sadly, it wasn’t listed on the menu. I inquired with the Cast Members, and was told that they were still on the breakfast menu. The lunch menu started at 11 am. “Oh,” I said sadly. “But,” they said cheerily, “we have the sandwiches! We can sell you one!” Yay!

Now, my husband and I love us a good banh mi. We’ve even perfected the concoction at home. Although the Trek Snacks version of a banh mi was a decent, quick bite to eat, it wasn’t a true banh mi.

Trek Snacks banh mi

The Thirsty River Bar half of the establishment didn’t open until 11 am, so we used our Expedition Everest FastPass+ before returning to the bar for a tasty beverage.

Khumbu Icefall: Cruzan Guava Rum with coconut and raspberry pureé.

Khumbu Icefall: Cruzan Guava Rum with coconut and raspberry pureé.

Have you tried this new, quick spot? What did you think?

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Star Wars stuff at DHS

If, like me, you’re anxiously awaiting the impending Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or whatever the park will be renamed), you need some sort of Star Wars in-park fix to tide you over. That’s where Star Wars Launch Bay and Star Tours (both at DHS) come in.

SW Launch Bay

At the Launch Bay, you can watch a 10-minute behind-the-scenes movie, view replicas of props/costumes/models from the Star Wars movies, meet Chewbacca or a bad guy (Darth Vader while we were there, now replaced by Kylo Ren), play Disney Infinity 3.0 (which is pretty Star Wars-heavy), and, of course, buy stuff. You may even see Storm Troopers and Jawas roaming around. My favorite part was meeting Chewie🙂

Chewbacca

Chewie and us

Over at Star Tours, the ride has been revamped to add in a scene from The Force Awakens. It was very cool!

There are lots of other Star Wars things going on at DHS, from Jedi Training (for your younglings) to Symphony in the Stars – a fireworks show I’ve yet to see, but hear is out of this world. (Sorry!) For info on even more Star Wars stuff coming to DHS soon, check out this post on the Disney Parks Blog.

Have you enjoyed the expanded Star Wars offerings at DHS? What do you hope to see in Star Wars Land? And what do you think the park should be renamed?

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