Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How to Meet as Many Characters as Possible at Epcot

When most people want to meet Disney characters, the first place that usually comes to mind for meet-and-greets is the Magic Kingdom. While the MK is a great place to meet lots of characters, especially the Disney Princesses, it can often be difficult to actually meet the characters with ridiculously long wait times. Some of the meet-and-greets are treated like other attractions, complete with Fast Passes and timed queues. What many people don't realize is that Epcot plays host to quite a few characters as well, including some otherwise hard-to-find characters. With characters strategically placed all along the World Showcase, it can often be easier to meet some of your favorites at Epcot than anywhere else at Disney World. Here are some tips for maximizing your Epcot meet-and-greets:

1. Map it out
Think about where in Epcot you want to start your day, take a look at the park map and times guide, and plan accordingly. You don't necessarily have to base your entire day on character meet-and-greet times, but keep them in the back of your mind as you tour the World Showcase. Focus on the characters you want to meet most, then start your "journey around the world" at Mexico or Canada based on your character priorities. And don't forget to check for any meet-and-greets in Future World as well!

2. Arrive early (but not too early!)
No one wants to waste their entire day waiting in line to meet a character! But as with anything at Disney, a little waiting is required at each meet-and-greet. Characters in the World Showcase generally meet guests for a 45-minute period, take a break for about 15 minutes, and then return for another meet-and-greet session. My advice is to jump in line as soon as you see characters leaving their designated spot for their break. Most guests leave the area when the characters do, so joining the line at that time will usually put in you right up front. I've never had to wait more than 20 minutes to meet a character with this strategy (compared to wait times upwards of 60 minutes for the princesses at the Magic Kingdom--and make that 120 minutes for Anna and Elsa!).

3. Don't stress!
If you get too busy enjoying the shops, food, and scenery at one of the countries in the World Showcase and miss a character meet-and-greet, don't sweat it! Characters in the World Showcase usually have several morning appearances and several afternoon appearances. They routinely take short breaks between appearance times, and the character you missed will most likely be back in about 15 minutes. If you are trying to make your next character meet-and-greet, check your time guide for a later appearance time and circle back around. This works especially well if you start as soon as the World Showcase opens in the morning, giving you plenty of time in the afternoon to make any character appearances you may have missed earlier in the day.


4. Check out Character Spot
Tucked away in Future World at Epcot is a designated (and queued) character meet-and-greet area called Character Spot. While Fast Passes are available and sometimes necessary to meet the characters housed at Character Spot, there are times during the day when lines are exceptionally low and wait times are under 10 minutes. My husband and I reserved Fast Passes last year for later in the day and didn't even need them--the queue was only 5 minutes! Character Spot usually plays host to Mickey and friends, but has seen other characters pass through. Rumor has it that Joy and Sadness from Inside Out might be heading to Character Spot in the near future!

5. Consider Character Dining
If you want to meet even more characters and have a slightly more personalized visit with them, consider character dining. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion offers the chance to meet several Disney Princesses during your meal. Instead of waiting in line, the princesses make their way around the restaurant to greet each table, take pictures, sign autographs, and share a brief conversation. Just be careful which characters you meet throughout the day if you plan to dine at Akershus. You wouldn't want your child to be confused when Snow White in Akershus doesn't quite look like the Snow White she just met in Germany!

Below is a list of all of the characters I have personally seen at Epcot along with their locations, followed by a list of other characters currently at Epcot.

Characters I have seen at Epcot:
Mary Poppins - UK
Marie (Aristocats) - France
Aurora- France, Akershus
Belle - France, Akershus
Beast - France
Aladdin - Morocco
Jasmine - Morocco
Snow White - Germany, Akershus
Mulan - China
Mickey - Character Spot
Minnie - Character Spot
Goofy - Character Spot
Ariel - Akershus
Cinderella - Akershus

Other characters currently at Epcot:
Alice - UK
Baymax - Character Spot
Daisy Duck - Friendship Ambassador Gazebo
Donald Duck - Mexico
Pluto - Legacy Plaza

Leave a comment below with any other tips, tricks, experiences, and observations regarding meeting characters in Epcot!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why the Grand Floridian is My Absolute Favorite

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is one of the most famous hotels at Walt Disney World. It has been featured on many television shows, and I remember, when I was young, falling in love with the whole look and feel of the hotel when it made an appearance on Full House. Let's not forget the scene when DJ is walking down the main lobby stairs and sees Steve, who has surprised her by making the trip to Disney World after spending a few agonizing days apart during which she thought she saw him everywhere she looked, including as Indiana Jones and Aladdin (the character he actually voiced in the animated film). I have had the opportunity to stay at the Grand Floridian twice, and while the other Disney World hotels that I have experienced have been top notch, here are 8 reasons (in no particular order) that the Grand Floridian is my absolute favorite:

1. Atmosphere
As a Deluxe resort, the Grand Floridian is especially immersive. From the moment you drive onto the property, you are surrounded by the luxurious, Victorian atmosphere. From timely cast member costumes to exquisite hotel room furnishings, the resort makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time to a more simple yet elegant era. The atmosphere of the hotel invites you to relax, take a stroll around the grounds, and enjoy the beautiful Florida sunshine. Even after a long, busy day of running around the parks, the Grand Floridian truly allows you to unwind and rest up for your next adventure.

2. Architecture
I absolutely love taking the ferry back from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian and admiring the gorgeous white buildings and red roofs that populate the resort. The view from the Seven Seas Lagoon is breathtaking, and the architecture is just as beautiful up close, adding to the overall grandeur of the resort.

3. Music
Nothing says "Deluxe resort" like live music in the hotel lobby every evening, and the Grand Floridian is the most deluxe of them all. Whether it's the pianist on the main floor playing familiar Disney songs or the big-band style ensemble playing a variation of tunes, the live music sets the Grand Floridian apart from all other resorts I have visited.

4. Landscaping
Walking the grounds of the Grand Floridian after breakfast on a sunny morning or at sunset in the evening is one of my favorite things to do outside the Disney World parks. The grounds of the resort are so meticulously well-maintained, and the attention to detail in the beautiful landscaping really amplifies the luxury of the hotel.

5. Restaurants
The Grand Floridian boasts 6 table-service restaurants (one of which is character dining), 3 quick-service dining locations, and 2 lounges. It is also the proud home to the Four Star/Five Diamond awarded Victoria & Albert's. While the fine dining locations can be pricey, I have found that nothing beats a Mickey waffle breakfast in the bright and elegant (and, thankfully, affordable) Grand Floridian CafĂ© before heading off to the Magic Kingdom. It's easy to use up all of your Disney Dining Plan meal credits at this resort alone!

6. Service Quality
All of Disney World's Cast Members are trained to treat guests like royalty, but the service they provide at the Grand Floridian goes above and beyond. From the moment you step out of your vehicle, you are greeted by friendly Cast Members willing to help direct you, park your car for you, handle your luggage for you, etc. The front desk and concierge are always willing to help with whatever you may need, and we have been fortunate enough to receive a free room upgrade in the past (complete with a gorgeous view of the castle). My family and I have even received a golf cart ride back to our building after a long day at the Magic Kingdom. The staff at the Grand Floridian truly upholds the Deluxe resort designation.

7. Cleanliness
As you might expect, the Grand Floridian, in my experience, is spotless. From the rooms to the lobby to the pool deck, the absolute cleanliness of the resort proves its status as a luxurious Deluxe hotel, making you feel comfortable and right at home.

8. Location
You can't beat standing on the balcony of your hotel room and watching the fireworks explode over Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom! As one of the three hotels located on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Grand Floridian is in a truly magical location. Guests can ride the monorail, take a ferry, or even walk to the Magic Kingdom! The resort is also very close to the Polynesian and Contemporary, so visiting these classic hotels during your vacation is a must. The Grand Floridian is even home to a wedding pavilion overlooking the lagoon with Cinderella Castle in the background, making it the perfect location for that special day!

Friday, March 18, 2016

5 Reasons to Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel

When planning a trip to Walt Disney World, there are an abundance of hotel options in and around Disney World. While booking a hotel in Kissimmee or Orlando might be a little easier on the wallet, there are so many benefits to staying on-site that you can only get at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

1. Quality

Nothing compares to the Disney standard for quality service! Disney pays close attention to every detail and trains all Cast Members (employees) to represent the Disney brand respectably. Whether you're staying at the top Deluxe resort or the most affordable Value hotel, you can rest easy knowing that your room will be clean, the property will be well-maintained, and the service will be friendly and helpful.

2. Convenience

Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel means that you are right in the middle of the action, within close proximity to at least one park and with access to free Disney transportation. Parking at Walt Disney World Resort hotels is complimentary for guests, and you always have option to drive from park to park if you prefer to do so. But why drive and fight the parking lot crowd when you can use Disney's transportation and get dropped off near the park entrance?! All Walt Disney World Resort hotels provide guests with free bus transportation to and from any of the Disney World parks. Three of the Deluxe hotels (Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian) are connected to the monorail, which is a ride in and of itself and can take you to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or the Transportation Center. Additionally, several resorts have access to ferry transportation to select parks.

3. Extra Magic Hours

Disney parks can be VERY crowded, especially during the mid-day hours. But did you know that as a Walt Disney World Resort hotel guest, you can stay in the park after it closes to the general public? Extra Magic Hours are available for select parks on select days to all Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests, giving you the opportunity to experience a much less crowded park for a couple of hours before the park opens or after the park closes to all other guests. I can personally attest to the benefit of Extra Magic Hours, having experienced wait times of less than 10 minutes for rides that consistently had over 2 hour long wait times during regular operating hours. I even rode the Rockin' Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios three times in about 20 minutes!

4. Dining Plan

The Disney Dining Plan is offered as an option with Disney's Magic Your Way vacation package when booking your stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. While not for everyone, the Disney Dining Plan offers a level of comfort and convenience when planning your dining options for your Disney vacation. There are different types of dining plans, but the most common gives you credits for one snack, one quick service meal, and one table service meal per night booked at a Disney hotel. These credits can be used at virtually any Walt Disney World restaurant. Some "signature" restaurants require two meal credits, so making restaurant reservations does require a little research and planning. However, when used properly, the Disney Dining Plan can save you money, especially if you plan to eat at the pricier restaurants or have kids that will want a snack every day! Plus, it's definitely convenient to have your dining pre-paid and not have to worry about budgeting for meals during your trip.

Extra tip: Use your daily snack credit to purchase a muffin, cinnamon roll, fruit cup, etc. at your hotel for a quick breakfast before heading to the parks for the day.

5. Total Immersion

I almost named this point "atmosphere," but that one simple word just didn't quite fully describe what I wanted to say. Yes, other hotels outside of Walt Disney World can provide a fantastic and fun-filled experience with outstanding dining options, themed rooms, and amazing pools and water parks. However, the atmosphere you experience at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, especially at one of the more heavily themed Deluxe or Moderate hotels, truly pulls you in and immerses you in the full Disney experience. Kids and adults alike can appreciate the thrill and excitement of spending every minute of your vacation at Disney World rather than just the park operating hours. From breakfast with the Disney Princesses in a hotel restaurant and evening campfires with Chip and Dale, to the Hidden Mickeys in the carpet and the Disney towel origami left in your room by "mousekeeping," Walt Disney World Resort hotels offer that extra special touch to make your vacation truly magical!