Hi everybody! I just spent the last two weeks down at Disney and Universal with my family. It really is a magical place. I think this was our 6th trip there, so we thought we had the drill down, but they’ve changed so much since our last visit, like 6 years ago. If you’ve never gone, you should totally rectify that!
*How* magical is it? Here’s a little story from the end of a wonderful and exhausting day at one of the parks…. We were so tired but ran to Downtown Disney for a few last things the kids wanted. I looked down and the pocket I keep my phone in was unzipped and my phone was gone. We tried Find My IPhone but there was no signal. It’s such a crowded tourist area that it has to be popular with thieves because bumping into people and having someone’s hand brush against your handbag is so common that it would dull any red flags. I was so upset thinking all the photos of the kids and my niece were just gone. A security guard on a bike asked if everything was alright. I explained and he asked if I wanted his help. Absolutely sure that there was nothing he could do, I <as politely as I could but skeptical or even cynical is an understatement> asked if that ever works. He took down a report and then walked us across all of Disney Springs, slower than turtles stampeding through peanut butter. About a block from guest services, he told me he was hopeful because there was no signal. Their procedure is to turn them off before turning them in. If there’s a signal on find my IPhone, they know they don’t have it. I thought it could also be explained by my power running out. He walked up to a guest services person and they ducked into a locked room and walked back out with a phone. Yeah, the opening picture is of Alex and Kat ten years ago in front of a Mickey topiary making mouse ears with little closed baby fists. I started crying and tackle hugged the security guard. He was beaming. I actually think fixing our problem made his day, too. Only at Disney, right?!
Off the beaten path stuff that we adore…
We rented a pontoon boat at the Polynesian resort. It’s a fabulous experience. You can turn up the radio and take a super chill ride past the Magic Kingdom monorail area (the castle’s visible!), Discovery Island (Big attraction for the teenagers because there’s all kinds of legends and stories about this abandoned island. No, you’re not allowed to set foot on land there.), the Grand Floridian resort, and the Fort Wilderness resort. It *should* be just chill, but my hub, who very correctly identifies as Stitch, likes to cross very fresh wakes, and that splashed half the boat. There were only 4 of us but I think it can seat 6 (or maybe 8). It’s $45 for 30 minutes, but you don’t have to watch the clock. We were out for 45 minutes and they charged us for that, not an hour. You have to be 18 to drive it. They had little 2 person boats that you only have to be 12 to drive. I think those were $30/half hour. The Polynesian has a great gift shop with high end Hawaiian shirts, and there are speakers playing Hawaiian music everywhere – even the parking lots. There’s a Dole Whip stand there, too. If you don’t know what that is, pineapple soft serve (twisted with vanilla if you like), and you can get it on top of pineapple upside down cake or floating in pineapple juice if you like. There are other locations to rent boats, but this is our favorite so far. <We got to jog about a quarter mile back to the car in a downpour, but I don’t think they can guarantee that little experience on command. 🤪>
Surrey bikes. What?! Yeah. It’s a 4 person bike vehicle with a roof. There’s a little basket on the front that our youngest used to LOVE riding in when she was tiny with a bell for them to enthusiastically ding. There’s no gears, so you get a mighty fine workout going uphill over two bridges for each lap you do. We rented one down in the boardwalk area. I think it’s like $30/half hour. If you like to get in a vacation-y workout while you’re on holiday, I totally recommend it! The boardwalk also has boat rentals, beach yoga, a running trail, and a bunch of boardwalk restaurants.
The new Avatar flight ride at Animal Kingdom is the best thing at an amusement park ever. Really. I bet you think that’s subjective, but it’s totally factual. And satisfactual. They send you in with a warning page when you enter the line. I’m afraid of heights <not too bad, because there’s nothing I wont ride at a Disney park> so I was concerned. Are they actually ziplining us all? My bet was on no because they couldn’t efficiently get through a line of people like that. Will it be like Soarin’ and just strap us in a big porch swing as images go by? Probably not. I reminded myself that Disney was in the business of delighting people, and I would probably be delighted. I’m so glad I did! I worried for nothing. You climb on what looks like a Star Wars speeder bike. You are secured in place by safety gear wrapped around your abdomen and your lower back like a big hug, and more holding the back of your legs against the bike. Then you put on virtual reality goggles. Images and wonderful smells whiz by as you’re just sort of tilted about. But it all feels so real! I looked sideways at one point and saw that there are so many rows and columns of the bikes, kind of like the wall of doors in Monsters Inc.
The Slinky Dog coaster at Hollywood Studios actually feels like you’re riding a slinky at one point. They speed you up like you’re on a hot wheels track at the middle. It’s too fun! It’s kind of the perfect starter coaster because it decelerates on the droppy parts. Yes, that’s a technical term.
The Seven Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom is a really fun kiddie coaster. I love the safety bars on it. You know how on some rides, there seem to be predetermined clicks, and you’re trying so hard to get it to click down one more? Not on this. It’s somehow more personalized, so when you pull it down, it exactly fits you. Nice. We waited a torturous three hours to get on (they estimated 1 ½), so if you want to ride it, maybe head straight there from the gate.
We always loved the Norwegian boat ride at the Norway pavilion at Epcot, so we were a little sad to hear they were giving it a makeover for Frozen. Nah, it’s awesome.
The Kilimanjaro Safari ride at Animal Kingdom has been updated to be so much more informative (super yay!), but they killed off the whole “Simba 1! Simba 1! There are poachers in the area!” (Boo!)! Three of us were sad, but my youngest thinks they’ve completely ruined it.
The Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor at Magic Kingdom. Okay, this was only slightly modified, but it’s my personal amusement. They select a bad guy in the audience each time. He used to be called “That guy”, and now he’s called “Sullivan”. My husband gets picked every time. Not even kidding. The last 4 trips. He did this time, too, and my sweet little niece got picked as the monster’s helper! Day made!
Disney does food so well. On our first night there, we headed to Bongos, Gloria Estefan’s Cuban restaurant at Disney Springs. The bacon wrapped plantains appetizer was amazing. The steak with chimichurri and fufu (mashed green and sweet plantains) was fantastic, and I had a tropical cocktail that was fabulous. They have live music in there, and people dancing, and it’s just buckets of fun. In terms of your pocketbook, it’s in the category “all your money”.
At Epcot, we ate at Le Cellier one day and Coral Reef another. Le Cellier is at the Canada pavilion. The filet mignon over the mushroom risotto is absolute perfection, and my personal fave at Disney. We got reservations this time, but on trips where we couldn’t get the reservation we’ve wanted at Epcot, we’ve had good luck running straight to the restaurant we wanted right when the world showcase opens. It seems to be the best shot of them squeezing you in. <The three pictures of my hub and his bro are the result of a game you should try. My niece started a pass-it-on game, but instead of saying something, she blew in someone’s ear and said pass it on. Yeah, it got magical when it got to the adults. 🤣> At Coral Reef, we had the salmon, and it was to die for. I had the mahi mahi on another trip and that’s glorious if you are in a tropical mood. They’re both in the in the “all your money” category. <My daughter and bro-in-law got caught Pokémon bonding. Poke-bonding seems super appropes at a seafood place, no?>
At Magic Kingdom, we always eat at Tony’s because my kids think the doggies sharing the spaghetti plate in Lady and the Tramp is the most romantic scene in movie history. I think it might actually be the almost kiss in It’s a Wonderful Life, but the kids have let me know exactly how wrong I am on that one. By the way, the ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta there is fabulous. Most of your money.
<Leaving space here in case Disney lets me share the spaghetti and meatball recipe from Tony’s! Because delicious, but mostly so you can eat *the* spaghetti and meatballs while you watch Lady and the Tramp.💖😍💖😍💖>
The second day at Magic Kingdom, we found a restaurant we’d never noticed before, Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. If you can’t get enough of the cheesy jokes on the jungle cruise, this is the place for you! We adored it! It’s as corny as can be and the food was great, too. One kiddo had a pineapple tofu dish, I had A Lot at Steak Salad, my hub had a whole fried hogfish, and our other kiddo had the sustainable fish of the day. All were super yummy. Most of your money. There are two cheap super-popular-for-a-reason treats at Magic Kingdom that you really need to consider there: Dole Whip and Orange Bird. They are both fruity soft serve deals right before you get to the Enchanted Tiki Room or Pirates ride, and will give you delicious distraction while you’re in line.
At Hollywood Studios, we ate a Mama Melrose’s. Nice Italian food. Most of your money.
We love Yak and Yeti’s at Animal Kingdom. Fantastic stuff. I had chicken tikka masala, my hub had Korean fried chicken and waffles, one kiddo had honey chicken, and the other had a shrimp and scallop sriracha mac and cheese. The sushi starter was nice, too. Most of your money. There’s a Dole Whip stand at Animal Kingdom between Africa and Asia where you can get a shot of dark rum or coconut rum poured on top. All the yes!
We headed back home. On the drive, we realized our favorite Po’ Boy in New Orleans would only add 30 minutes to that 19 hour drive. So worth it. I think we’ll stop for beignets on the drive there next time.
Onto a week or two of health food to atone for vacation. We bought a new sake set at Epcot, so I think I’ll get busy making sushi! Happy week, and let me know if you need any Disney recommendations! 😀 ~Jen