Disney Dining – Round 2

With everything going on the past couple of months, I haven’t had time to cover our Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, so it’s time to fix that. First up, our experience with the Plus Dining Plan, which gives each person on the plan 1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal, and 1 snack for each night of your stay.

This is our second time using the dining plan, but the first using one that included table service. As mentioned in my June post, I was iffy on getting the dining plan again, as I felt that I ended up eating a lot more unhealthy food than I would have without the plan, but the decision was made to go with the higher level plan this time around to see what we could get out of the table service meals.

We did a lot of planning for this, and I mean a lot. Jen was on the dining site nightly for several weeks trying to get our table service schedule just right, and in the end it paid off. We ended up with several character meals, including one for Thanksgiving dinner! Here’s a quick look at where we used the table service credits:

Be Our Guest: This was actually done as a quick service meal, but it was so much better than the first time that I wanted to include it. We were scheduled for an 8:00am breakfast here on our first day, the same time the Magic Kingdom opened. The nice thing about making dining reservations for that early is that you end up in the park before everyone else. There’s a separate line for those with dining reservations, and if I recall, we got in to the park about 7:50am to make our way back to the restaurant. They do have cast members along the way keeping an eye to be sure no one’s headed in a direction they shouldn’t be, but getting in the park that early is awesome. Here are a few shots of the (mostly) empty park I took along the way to the restaurant:

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Additionally, we were second in line at BoG, so we got through ordering pretty quick and were able to easily get a table in the West Wing near the rose. The food was decent, too. I had the croissant doughnut, which was very tasty.

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Donald’s Dining Safari Thanksgiving Lunch at Tusker House Restaurant: This was (obviously) our Thanksgiving lunch, scheduled for 2:45pm. We’d had an awesome day already at Animal Kingdom, having done the Wild Africa Trek first thing that morning (I’ll cover that in my next post). We got to Tusker House around 2:30 and checked in, and maybe waited 5-10 minutes to be seated. The buffet itself did have some changes to it, with traditional Thanksgiving items laid out in addition to some of the normal menu items. One note here: the dessert table isn’t well placed, as it always seemed to have a line, and that line runs in front of the table that holds things like the South African preserves, Tabbouleh, and Hummus, which my wife was disappointed to discover only after she was full since she never saw those items until she went for dessert. Still, it was a fun Thanksgiving lunch, complete with Donald Duck and Friends!

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Fairytale Dining Breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table: Yea we did, and you should too! This isn’t an easy reservation to get, but Jen’s perseverance with the Disney Dining site paid off. Also note that this counts as two table service credits per person. We had a 9:05am reservation, and checked in slightly before that. After a short wait outside, were taken in to the lower waiting area where you meet and have your picture taken with Cinderella. After another wait for your name to be called, you’re taken upstairs to your table. The entire place is well done, with attention to detail in every aspect of it. Just like every other character meal, as you eat, the various princesses make their way around the dining area and stop at each table for pictures and autographs.

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Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare: We did this the same day we did Cinderella’s Royal Table, so it was a princess-heavy day. We were second in line at 1900 Park Fare when it opened for dinner, and for those with little ones, I highly recommend being there for the dinner opening. The little girl in front of us got to help them open the doors. Here, that means saying the magic words, and having Cinderella and Prince Charming open the doors, welcome her in, and lead her and her family to their table. I can only imagine how much that meant to her, so for other parents who want a shot at this for their kids, opt for the 4pm reservation and be there early!

Food-wise, it was the best buffet we had. The meat on the carving station was perfectly cooked, and everything else I had, including the mashed potatoes, was excellent. As we ate, Cinderella, Prince Charming, the step sisters, and the wicked stepmother made their way around. The sisters and mother were hilarious, too, as they were perfectly sarcastic to everyone they talked to. Case in point: when the red-headed step sister came over, she took one look at Bayley’s red hair and said: “Look at your hair color, it’s like we’re better than everyone else!”. At one point, one of the step sisters passed a crying baby a couple of tables over and loudly said: “Stop crying, you’re fine!”. Really funny stuff, everyone we saw was eating it up!

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Princess Storybook Dining Lunch at Akershus Royal Banquet HallOkay, maybe we went a bit overboard on the princess-themed character dining, but we really wanted to try Akershus. It’s similar to Cinderella’s Royal Table in that after you check in and have your name called, you have your picture taken with a princess, which in this case was Belle. After being seated, it’s the typical “eat while characters come by” setup. The food was pretty good, too. The appetizer portion of the menu is buffet style, with it being a “Taste of Norway” setup with meats, cheeses and seafood, among other items. There are two sides to the buffet table, with both sides being identical. This isn’t clear at first, and results in people walking the whole thing, slowing down the line as they cut in to see what’s on the opposite end. Somewhat annoying, but oh well. From the entree menu, I had the Traditional Kjøttkake, which is Norwegian meatballs on mashed potatoes. D-e-licious!

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All of the table service meals were great, as was the Be Our Guest breakfast using quick service credits. Our other quick service meals were at places we ate last time, including Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs (still the best value for quick service, imo), Pizza Planet, and Contempo Cafe. All good stuff, I just didn’t feel the need to cover them again. We were disappointed in the specialty cupcake selection this time, as Pizza Planet only had a Thanksgiving-themed pumpkin spice cupcake (left pic), which was just okay. Contempo did have a few more options, including the creme filled cupcake I got (the chocolate one below). Mmmmmm.

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In the end, I felt the same way about this dining plan as I did in May with the Quick Service plan, that it’s not something I feel it necessary for us, but it may very well be a good option for a larger family. After everything was calculated, we’d saved close to $300 total by getting the dining plan (vs paying for each place we went outright), but then again, it’s highly unlikely we’d have done this many character and quick service meals, or even gotten as many snacks as the plan offers, so who knows if we would have even spent as much on food as the dining plan cost. I’d say that in both cases, the dining plans just “enabled” us to eat at more of the park options than we would have otherwise. I did enjoy it more this time, due in large part to the table service choices we made.

Random Disney Thoughts

I’m a bit late getting this done, but I wanted to get one last post in from our trip to talk about some of the things we hadn’t done on previous visits to Disney. The entire trip was a blast as usual, but a couple of the items below really helped make it even more memorable.

The 10-Day Pass

This is the first time we’ve done more than 5 consecutive days at Disney, and going in I was sure I was going to be sick of the parks half way through the trip, but can admit now that I was dead wrong. Normally we feel like we have to get everything done at whichever park we’re visiting the day we choose to be there, but having so many days on our hands, there was never any pressure to rush through the parks like we normally would. We went with a much more relaxed schedule where we’d head to a park whenever everyone work up, ride some rides, maybe head back to the hotel for a while, and later on either head back to that park, another one, or in a couple of cases to Downtown Disney for the rest of the evening. We had a general idea of which park(s) we wanted to visit every day based on the crowd calendar at EasyWDW.com, which we found to be pretty accurate. We did deviate from our plan a few times, but that was the nice thing about having so many days, as we felt like we had more flexibility in the schedule. If we had the time and extra money, it’s a pass we’d buy again.

We did make use of the ‘water parks fun & more’ option on our tickets, too, using them to gain entrance into DisneyQuest for a few hours the last Saturday we were there, before heading back to Hollywood Studios for one last park stint. For a Saturday, DisneyQuest seemed empty. I ended up sitting and relaxing most of the time we were there, as I wasn’t feeling that great (the heat was finally getting to me), but the kids had a blast.

Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekends are something they only do from mid-May through mid-June if I recall, and it was kinda cool. In addition to the existing Star Wars stuff they have at DHS (Star Tours, Jedi Academy, etc), they have a lot of characters on hand for autographs and pictures, and even some special celebrity appearances. We didn’t partake in the celebrity appearances, so I can’t really comment on what it entails, or how you get access to it. The characters were aplenty, though. Just about everywhere we went there were lines for various characters. Chewbacca, Luke, Lea, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, and many, many more. It wasn’t just the kids who were in line either, there were plenty of adults, in some cases sporting Star Wars shirts, replica helmets they wanted signed, and a lot more. No judgement here, I have no leg to stand on, as I’m known to frequent autograph lines at races we attend :). Bayley got in on it too, taking pictures with a couple of characters. She was all too happy to wait 45min to get a shot with Chewbacca:

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One of the coolest things about Star Wars Weekends were the fireworks. They have a special ‘Symphony in the Stars’ fireworks show at 9:45pm each night of Star Wars Weekends with the fireworks shooting off to music from the movies. It was one of the best fireworks shows I’ve ever seen, to be honest. I have a few clips of it, but they’re nowhere near as good as the multi-angle video of the show that the WDWMagic guys have on their site. If you’re a fan, I highly recommend sitting through the whole 6+ minutes. Better than the nightly fireworks at Magic Kingdom, in my opinion.

Magic Kingdom 24-hour event

On May 22nd, the Magic Kingdom was open from 6am Friday to 6am Saturday to kick off the summer, using a Frozen-based theme of ‘Coolest Summer Ever’. We’d initially planned to be heading home that day, but once my wife saw this was happening, we pushed our 7 days at Port Orleans back to accommodate. We really didn’t see much in the way of promotion anywhere for this, as Disney seemed to be more interested in publicizing the 24 hour event going on at the same time at Disneyland, since that park was kicking off its diamond celebration with the 24 hour event. That lack of promotion was quite evident when we arrived on Friday morning for the opening of the park, too. We got there around 5:40am to be there and see the rope drop, and had no problems finding a good spot to watch the festivities.

Once the rope dropped, we headed into the park. We initially headed for the Snow White mine train ride, but seeing that a long line had already formed there, we headed to Tomorrowland. The lack of crowd that early in the morning was evident here, as we were able to ride Buzz Lightyear a couple of times right away with no wait while the kids did Space Mountain twice, followed by a couple of rides in Adventureland, all before 7am. The park really didn’t start to fill up until 9ish, the normal opening time. The place really did fill up, too, with Friday being the busiest day we saw at any park during our trip. An employee we talked to the next day at Hollywood Studios said he heard Magic Kingdom hit a peak of 84,000 visitors at some point during the event. In a couple of the shots below you’ll see quite the crowd at different points in the day. Sorry a couple are blurry, I wasn’t going to stop in front of a large crowd and get run down 🙂

I’ll be honest, we didn’t stay the whole time. About 4pm Friday afternoon we headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit and freshen up. After that, we headed over to the Contemporary early in the evening for dinner before heading back in to the park. I expected we’d see people start to trickle out of the park after the evening fireworks show, but even with the normal mass-exodus that clogged up main street after that, the park was still pretty full all night.

Side note here – we got stuck in the main street crowd after the fireworks show (not the first time we’ve made that mistake), and saw some pretty sad behavior out of the supposed grown-ups. I get that people were tired and didn’t want to be stuck there, but intentionally slamming motorized scooters and strollers into people to try and make them move out of your way when they have no where to go is a pretty poor example to be setting. I even heard more than one spouse tell their significant other they were going to do it. Someone near us mentioned witnessing fights breaking out between parents, too. Truly pathetic.

Back on topic, once we were back in, we stayed until about 4am, riding various rides and watching the 1am electric light parade. For our last ride, we finally sucked it up and waited in line for the Snow White mine train. At 70 minutes it was the longest line we stood in all week, but we were glad we waited, as it was a really fun ride. All in all, the 24 hour celebration event was a blast, definitely something we’d do again! Here are a few random shots from our time at the park that day.

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Character Meal Fun at Disney

Jen’s birthday fell pretty early on in our trip to Disney, so we left the decision on where to hold her birthday dinner up to her. She’d decided she wanted to do a character meal, and after a bit of a hunt on the Disney Dining reservations site, decided on Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom for a Pooh-inspired dinner, since she’s always loved those characters. At the last minute, we also found an opening for breakfast that same day at Ohana’s Lilo and Stitch character breakfast (Bayley’s always been a huge Stitch fan), meaning we ended up bookending her birthday with two separate character meals. How’d they stack up? Let’s take a look…

Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch

As mentioned, this was a last minute reservation made the day before, spurred by my wife noticing an opening for 9:45am that wasn’t available when we’d looked prior. Remember in my last post when I recommended constantly checking the reservations site? That’ll be a recurring theme in this post. If something you want isn’t open, keep checking :). Anyway, we arrived about 30min before our reservation, so we walked around the shops a little. I think we ended up checking in at Ohana’s main desk about 10 minutes before our scheduled reservation, and were seated pretty much on-time, even with the expected large crowd outside the restaurant.

The food itself is pretty standard breakfast fare. Your servers bring plates of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, Mickey and Stitch waffles, breads, and a few other things. They’ll bring out more of any of the items, too. Like I said, pretty standard, and nothing special from a taste perspective. Like the other character meals, it’s not about the food, it’s about the characters. Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stitch make their way around the restaurant on a well choreographed schedule as you eat, and we had no problem getting time with any of them, even with a packed restaurant and a break for them to lead a parade of kids around the restaurant. One by one, each of the four characters stopped by for some pictures at various points during our meal:

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Definitely a fun time, and a good start to Jen’s birthday!

Crystal Palace – Winnie the Pooh and Friends

This dinner was initially scheduled for 9:50pm, pretty late by anyone’s standards. When we first started looking a couple of weeks prior to the trip, that was the only time available for a party of 4. We kept checking the site, and were able to move up a few times, eventually ending up with a reservation for 7:45pm. After spending the afternoon at the Magic Kingdom, we headed over to Crystal Palace around 7:30 and were seated pretty much on time.

This restaurant is buffet service, and actually had some pretty good food. The mac and cheese in the kid’s section was pretty good, as were the mashed potatoes and the beef available on the carving station. Going against the diet Jen and I had been on in the weeks leading up to this trip, we both made two (or three in my case) trips up for more food. As we ate, the same well choreographed character visits we’d seen at Ohana were taking place here. Bayley had her selfie-stick with her, so she had fun taking selfies of her and Joe with each of the characters, and we made sure that each knew it was Jen’s birthday so she got a little extra attention. The outstanding service and fun table-side visits from Winnie the Pooh and friends made for a fun birthday, but it wasn’t over just yet.

A few days earlier, Bayley and I had decided to tack on a birthday cake to this dinner, so we’d gone through the process to order one. We did this before Jen and I got down to St Pete to pick up Bayley, so I had Bayley make the call to the folks at WDW Magic Kingdom Cakes (per this site). I was surprised that they didn’t have a way to order online, but even more surprised to find that when Bayley called, she didn’t actually get to talk to anyone. She just left her information and they emailed the info and order form to her. When they did, she forwarded it to me, and after exchanging a bunch of texts with her to figure out what we wanted, I placed the order by filling out the PDF form they’d sent and emailed it to the cake service. For anyone considering ordering one when on property, here’s what they sent me:

The cakes come in 6″, 8″ and 10″ sizes, and while the small would have been more than enough for the 4 of us, it had next to nothing in the way of customization options. No custom text (meaning we couldn’t add her name), and no option to add a character image. We really wanted to do both, as well as mixing it up flavor-wise, so I stepped up to the 8″ chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream icing and dark chocolate mousse filling, with an Olaf image on top. I’d have preferred to get a Pooh character image, but according to the order form, none of them are available for this, which seemed a bit odd. Regardless, I ordered the cake to be included with dinner at Crystal Palace. Not long after we finished visiting the buffet, our waiter brought the cake out, complete with a birthday card for her signed by all 4 Pooh characters. Nice touch! My main disappointment with the cake experience is *how* it was delivered. This isn’t anything against the server, he delivered it and sang happy birthday with us, but even at a regular restaurant in the real world, you usually see multiple employees coming out to deliver the cake and sing. Not here, it was just our server. I completely understand that it’d be logistically impossible to get the 4 characters to all come over for cake delivery, but one of them being there might have been nice, or at least a few more servers. For the money the cakes cost, I think I just expected a little more out of Disney. Oh well, it’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and the cake itself was excellent! I included both a pic of the whole cake and one showing what the delicious inside looked like. My only other issue is one they warn you of pretty clearly when ordering, they will not store leftovers or send them back to your room for you if you’re staying on property. I knew this going in, and is the reason I took a bus ride back to the room to put the leftover cake in the fridge after dinner. I certainly wasn’t going to waste over half of this cake. As far as my overall satisfaction with the cake service, I’m not sure I’d do it again, especially at a buffet-style restaurant where there are plenty of other desserts, but still enjoyed being able to surprise her with it. How often do you get to spend your birthday at Disney, right?

In the end, we all agree that we liked the dinner at Crystal Palace better, especially from the food aspect. Both were fun though, and just goes to show that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a character meal at Disney!

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