Spring Break on the Disney Fantasy – Part 1

We’d originally planned on staying home over spring break this year, but as the date got closer we started rethinking that plan, realizing that with our daughter graduating college this year, family getaways like this would probably be few and far between. With that in mind, we started casually checking out a few cruise options in January. After a bit of a search we narrowed it down to a couple of different itineraries, one on the Crown Princess and another on the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam. As we were headed down to see visit her at school in early February, that quickly changed. I was getting a little work done in the car and happened to check Disney’s travel agent rates, and sure enough, they had availability on the Fantasy the week we were looking at, and even better, it was a Star Wars Day at Sea sailing! In the blink of an eye, our minds were made up!

One thing to call out before I get started with this, it won’t be a day to day account like some of our posts are, as a lot of what we experienced was similar to our Disney Dream sailing last year. Think of it as more of a multi-part summary, which will also compare our experiences this year to the positives and negatives I laid out in my final post from that sailing. Frankly, I was surprised at how wrong I was in some of my perceptions last year, but we’ll get to all of that.

First, I’ll admit to breaking one of the big packing rules for any warm-weather vacation: Never forget your bathing suit. Yea, I forgot it. Even though my packing list is somewhat out of date, it still includes at least one bathing suit, but with all of the cruises we’ve been fortunate to do over the past few years I’ve grown a bit complacent when it comes to packing and didn’t even check my list. We were about two hours in when I realized I’d forgotten it, so I ended up stopping at one of those large beach stores to pick one up. You know the type of place, large store full of cheap beach crap that might hold up for three or four uses if you’re lucky. Oh well, the one I got worked fine.

On the day of our sailing, my ego slightly bruised from the bathing suit incident the day before, we got up and prepared to head to the port. We once again stayed at the Radisson right near the port, and while we could have used their included shuttle service, decided to grab a Lyft to the ship, as I’m all for not dealing with the crowds that come with hotel shuttles if I don’t have to. We’ve read stories online of others who claim it’s hard to get a driver that wants to deal with the port, but having now used both Uber and Lyft to get to and from Port Canaveral, we have yet to experience issues. Our driver arrived at the hotel about 5 minutes after we requested one, and after a short ride to the port, we headed inside! It was around 11am at this point, check in was pretty smooth with no real wait in the Castaway Club line, and with boarding number 17, we settled in for a bit of a wait.

Boarding itself moved along pretty steadily, and if I recall, we were on the ship by around 12:15. No major issues, but every time we get on a non Oasis-class ship, I’m reminded of just how efficient Royal is with the boarding of those things. They run a tight ship (pun intended) and keep things from getting crowded or bogged down along the way. Back to the Fantasy, as soon as we boarded we split up and headed two places: Bayley and I to guest services to see about Frozen gathering availability, and Jen went to line up in front of Animator’s Palate to see about Palo brunch reservations. Both worked out flawlessly. Bayley was easily able to get tickets for the Frozen gathering on the first sea day, and Jen able to get us brunch reservations on the same day. With as much amazing food as Palo offers, doing it on the earliest day possible is recommended (they only offer it on sea days). I can’t imagine trying to enjoy that spread after stuffing myself during the 5 days leading up to that second sea day.

Boosted by our early successes, we headed for lunch in Enchanted Garden, the same place we had our first meal on the Dream. This time we somehow managed to score one of those circular booths you see as you walk in!

After devouring some tasty eats, complete with the first Disney sundaes of the week, we headed to the room to drop our bags. For this trip, we went with the cheapest option available, an inside, specifically cabin 9023. It’s been 7 years since I’ve been booked in an inside cabin, and I admit I was a little worried about not having a balcony to relax on. I did miss it a few times, namely in the morning when I’d wake up before the rest of the family, but overall this was a cool little room, complete with Disney’s magic portholes, but more on that later when I get in to the room review. This first visit to our room also¬†gave us an opportunity to show off a little surprise to Bayley. Her birthday fell in the middle of the cruise, so we decided to have the room decorated. In addition to the decorations, the spa had also left a $50 gift card on the door!

We hung out there for a little bit to relax, and during that time before the muster drill, all of our suitcases arrived, which seemed pretty fast! The rest of day 1 was filled with typical stuff, the sail away party, muster drill, an activity or two, and the first show of the week, which was a comedy juggling thing with Jeff Civillico. We really enjoyed all of Jeff’s events the two days he was on, frankly we wish he’d been on longer, and you’ll hear more about his activities in the next post. We also boarded on St Patrick’s Day, which meant a themed trivia event in O’Gill’s. Maybe it was the whisky, but the questons in this trivia session were stupid hard, a theme we encountered during the other one or two trivia events we attended. Pretty sure we gave up halfway through (as did a few other tables) as we’d answered only one of the first 10. Still, a glass of Irish whisky on St Patrick’s Day hit the spot!

As we had last year, we were assigned late seating for dinner on this cruise. Normally we’re not big fans of eating that late, but there seemed to be fewer kids in second seating last year, so we decided to stick with it. Our first dinner aboard the Fantasy was set for Animator’s Palate, our favorite main dining room on board.

For those not familiar with how rotational dining on a Disney ship works, the short version is that you rotate between 3 main dining rooms all week, with your servers following you along the way. You can find a longer write-up on it here. For our first night, we were alone at our table for 6, as our table-mates had dinner at Remy to celebrate a birthday (as we found out later). Dinner was delicious as usual, with most of mine consisting of pasta, followed by another delicious sundae. In fact, aside from having a pasta dish instead of steak as my entree, my meal was identical to what I had last time! I covered Animator’s Palate pretty well in that last post, so I won’t repeat it, but suffice to say, it was another outstanding meal aboard a Disney ship, filled with the fun of watching people chat with Crush along the way!

Following dinner we caught the Match Your Mate show in The Tube, one of the adults-only venues back in the nightclub area at the aft of the ship. Good stuff, but already being a little tired, and with a full week of fun ahead of us, I was happy to get to bed. We did end the day with a little treat, as we called room service for some Mickey bars before bed. I do love that these are included at no additional cost ūüôā

Next up: Palo, characters, and all-around fun as our Disney Fantasy series continues!

 

 

Sailing With Disney – Let’s Get This Party Started!

I’ve mentioned before that embarkation day is a love/hate thing for me. Going in to this boarding day, I was excited enough to not care how painful boarding would be, but we still decided that we weren’t going to rush to the port, instead opting for a slightly later arrival in the hopes of avoiding some of the crowds. Well that didn’t really work, as in our excitement we still left a little too early :). Around 11:30, after moving our cars over to the cruise parking area at the hotel we’d stayed at, we grabbed a Lyft and headed to the port. For anyone who’s familiar with the area, it took all of 5 minutes to get from our hotel, the Radisson, to the port. So much for a more relaxed arrival time that would allow us to walk on with little wait!

After passing through security, we headed for check-in. For non-concierge folks, there are two possible lines you end up in, either the first time Disney cruisers line, or the Castaway Club line. Being our first Disney cruise, we obviously landed in the former. It moved pretty quickly, and start to finish I think it might have been 10 minutes before we had our cabin keys are were off to wait for our turn to board. Not too bad! Part of that check-in is getting your boarding group number, which in our case was 25, about 22 from where they currently were. No biggie, we decided to get in line for a picture with Minnie prior to boarding, which definitely killed some time, as they were all the way up to group 17 by the time we finished.

 

After wandering the boarding area for another 20 minutes, our boarding group was called, and it was time to get things rolling. One of the cool things about boarding on Disney is that as you walk on to the ship, you’re welcomed on board by name:

Once on board, we headed for Royal Palace, as we wanted to try and get reservations for the brunch buffet at Palo, and hadn’t been able to prior to sailing. Having boarded at 12:55, we only had 5 minutes before they opened the room to allow passengers to come in and request dining changes like this, so we jumped in a line that was surprisingly short, with only 5 or so groups in front of us. As you’ll see in a later post, we did manage to get the reservation, so that little victory behind us, we headed to lunch. We’d decided ahead of time to eat our first meal in the Dream in Enchanted Garden to avoid the buffet crowd. Not a bad call, other than somewhat slow service. The dining staff were very friendly and quick to respond to whatever you needed, but it seemed like there were too few of them in a space where there are too many tables crammed around each other. The sundae at the end of the meal made up for it, however. Amazing. That proved to be a common theme on the cruise, as their ice cream is delicious!

 

After lunch, we headed to the room. We were booked in cabin 7004, a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Porthole (OV) all the way forward on deck 7. It’s a fairly spacious cabin with plenty of storage with a porthole that overlooks the front of the ship. One thing I really like about the room’s design is the split bathrooms. One bathroom with a sink and toilet, the other with a sink and bathtub/shower combo. Having another bathroom with its own sink separate from the shower allowed more than one person to be getting ready for dinner at the same time. So nice :). My only gripe about the room was the slanted front wall, due to that being the front of the ship. I intentionally chose that side of the bed (power outlet and USB ports in the alarm clock FTW!) and ended up hitting my head more than once. Really, that’s all I’ve got in the complaint department where the room is concerned, I really liked it. Here’s the 360 shot of it, take a look around!

Here are a few more of the room, including the bathrooms, and one of the couch after it’s been turned into a bed:

 

After dropping our stuff in the room, we gave Bayley a tour of the kids club since it would be the only time she’d be able to go in. As expected, Disney’s got a great setup down there. I posted some pics of it during our tour of it back in December, but to recap, some of the highlights include a Star Wars themed section where kids can fly the Millenium Falcon, Andy’s room from Toy Story, and large video enabled floors where games can be held. As we walked through, there was in fact a game going on at one of them, which Jen and Bayley happily took part in. Jen thinks they were frogs, stepping on the screen to throw out its tongue and catch bugs:

 

After a little walking tour of a few areas, we headed up to deck 12 to take in the sail-away party. Having mis-judged the number of people who’d be attending, and getting there as it was starting, our initial spots weren’t that great, so I moved around a little to get a better view:

 

It’s a good time, complete with a number of Disney characters, so if you want a good view, get there a little early and get up against the rails on either side of deck 12, or up front by the stage on deck 11.

After the sail-away party, we explored the ship a little more before heading to the main show. We’d been assigned late dining (8:15), which we normally don’t like (this trip did nothing to change that), so we were in the early show. The first show of the sailing was the Golden Mickeys, an awards-style show geared towards celebrating Disney’s vast catalog of movies. We do like the Dream’s theater, as it’s fairly open throughout, with excellent sight-lines in most places. They do use the forward balcony boxes in the shows, so the closer to center the better, but we sat on the sides a couple of times and had clean views of the stage itself. Couple that with snack bars just outside the theater by each entrance, and it’s up there as one of my favorite theaters on any ship we’ve sailed. Far better than whatever it is that Carnival decided to do with the main theater in the Vista.

The show is where I really started to appreciate Disney’s ability to provide outstanding entertainment regardless of location. Prior to this, MSC held the title of best entertainment at sea in our eyes, but Disney’s on a whole other level. For that very reason, I still categorize MSC as the best in the contemporary non-Disney class when it comes to original shows. When you factor in Disney’s vast catalog of movies and cartoons that they can pull from for the show (without having to pay royalties), there’s really no way for anyone else to compete, as Disney’s in a league of their own. The show itself was outstanding, with excellent performers and vocalists, a theme that held true all week.

The theater is also where I started to notice and appreciate Disney’s enforcement of the rules. Leading in to the show, they’d warned people multiple times that no photos or video recording were allowed in the shows, and as usual, people didn’t listen. What set them apart from other lines is that they actively enforced it. In Cats when we were on the Oasis of the Seas, a woman a few seats over recorded a large chunk of it fairly obviously (the screen on her phone was large and bright), and none of the staff members did a thing even though we were all warned before the show about doing just that. In here, the ushers quickly spotted those with even the dimmest screen, walked over, and told them to stop. It made for a much more enjoyable experience. I admit I did take one picture, but well before the show started so I could show our viewing angle:

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After the show ended, we still had time to kill before our 8:15 dinner seating, so we headed to D Lounge to catch part of the Family Fusion game show. Good stuff, similar to the Match Game. I didn’t stay in there long, I wanted to get some outside shots as the sun was going down, so I headed out to get a few shots while the girls watched the game:

 

After that quick stroll outside, I headed back in to meet up with the girls so we could head to our dining room for dinner. For those that haven’t sailed Disney, they have multiple dining rooms that you switch between each night, with your dining staff following you. For night #1, Animators Palate was on tap. That’s a really fun venue, and probably our favorite MDR of the sailing. Being that we had 4 nights in 3 dining rooms, one was repeated, and I really wish it had been this one. Beyond the cool decor, Crush is jumping between the different screens talking to various guests at their tables while they eat. If you’ve ever been to Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, it’s very similar, just in a dinner setting.

 

Dinner itself was delicious. From the top left, moving clockwise, I had the Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes, Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup, Ginger Teriaki dusted Angus Beef Tenderloin, and the Cookies and Cream Sundae. Like the sundae at lunch, it was outstanding. I could have eaten sundaes all week and been perfectly happy :).

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Our only complaint with dinner was how long it took. Felt like we were never going to get out of there, taking just over 2 hours from the time we were seated until we were done with dessert. One of the reasons we prefer early dining is that they actually have a set schedule to keep, needing to get people out quickly so they can clean up for the next seating, a deadline that’s just not there with late seating. Our wait staff was great, it just seemed like another case of too many tables for too few staff. It took so long that we missed one activity that started around 10pm or so. Might have been a character meet and greet, but I forgot to note it unfortunately.

Our dinner finally over, we headed to the Quest game show, which was followed by their version of the marriage show. Normally we like to play along during Quest, but getting there so late and being completely full from dinner, I really wasn’t up for it. There weren’t any really convenient seats for running up to the host, either, so we just watched this round. The host for both of these events, Chris, was outstanding. I highly recommend attending the late night stuff he hosts if you’re looking for fun without the kids :). In case anyone from our sailing happens to read this, I’ll close this post out with some shots from those games, including a picture of the marriage show couples. Couple #1 was one of the funniest pairs I’ve ever seen in this type of show, for reasons that should stay on the ship ūüėČ

 

At this point we’d only been on-board for half a day, but were having an absolute blast, and for the most part our Disney cruise was living up to the hype. Next up, the ship makes its first stop. Did we get off in Nassau? Stay tuned! In the meantime, enjoy a few more pics from day 1:

 

Hotel Review – Disney’s Coronado Springs

For our Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, we’d originally booked a room at Pop Century Resort, one we’ve stayed at in the past, but a few weeks out from this trip, we were able to move the reservation to Coronado Springs for a relatively small increase. Having never stayed there, we decided to give it a try.

Check in was pretty easy here. I’d actually checked in online the day before, and just before noon on our scheduled day of arrival, I got a text letting me know our room was ready for us. Upon arrival, we hit the registration counter, got our keys and some basic information. While the main building lookd fine, one thing that stood out were the lack of Christmas decorations. Jen and I¬†ate¬†dinner at Beaches and Cream that night, and seeing both Beach Club and Yacht Club pretty well saturated in Christmas, were a bit surprised that Coronado Springs had yet to get any love in this area, or maybe it was just so subtle we didn’t’ see them.

After checking in, we headed over to our room, located in the Cabanas section (building 9A, specifically). We’d requested a water view, and got just that, as we had a corner room overlooking the Cabanas village pool. Our room itself was pretty disappointing, especially for a hotel classified as a moderate. Disney really needs to gut these rooms and start over, as they feel like they haven’t been touched in 20 years. We never had an issue with it being clean, it just felt worn and dated. Additionally, one thing we really liked about French Quarter back in May was that there were two sinks, allowing us to get ready faster in the morning. Not so here, as shown in the room pics.

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The Cabanas section does have a little beach with a few hammocks hung, which was kinda cool:

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After getting settled, we spent some time walking the grounds. There are some cool views here, but if you’re out in one of the farther building groups, like Ranchos (property map), it could be a bit of a hike to get to the main building. Ours wasn’t too bad, but I’d say that we definitely didn’t fill our soda mugs up nearly as often due to the added distance from the main building (vs French Quarter). In addition to the main building, there’s also a large pool area in the middle of the property, referred to as the “Dig Site”. This is actually kinda cool, with a Mayan theme to it, and it’s complete with a¬†pool, play area, sand volleyball court, and cantina.

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Back on the Christmas decorations, we did notice a tree and some wreaths in the lobby on one of our last nights there, so either we just didn’t see them initially, or they didn’t decorate the place until after the higher-end hotels were done. We’d visited a couple more properties¬†as part of our Disney Dining plan dinners, and all of those were pretty heavily decorated, so it kinda felt like Coronado Springs was an afterthought in this regard. Frankly, it seemed like a number of areas of this resort were worn and needed attention. Case in point, there are automatic gates on the road that surrounds the property. As you turn in to Coronado Springs, you can turn left or right to get to guest areas before you get to the main gate. Our building was to the right, with one of the automatic gates right there. In our case, the gate in was never working while we were there, it was stuck in the up position. Fear not, however, the “out” gate was working fine, just to be sure that no riff-raff were able to escape the property without a short delay to wait for the arm to raise. We did see someone working on the gate on day 2 or 3, but he wasn’t able to fix it, as the “in” gate remained up the rest of our stay.

Overall, if we were presented with the same choice in the future, I’d probably opt to save my money and keep the Pop Century reservation. The added cost for this being a moderate just didn’t feel warranted in my¬†opinion. Disney knows they’re going to get guests staying here since it’s got a convention center, and as such, may not be¬†concerned about renovating it. Maybe I’m wrong, but this just didn’t live up to ‘moderate’ standards for me.

Here’s a quick rundown of the good/bad, along with a few more pictures of the property:

(Note – I can’t speak to any of the restaurants here, as we didn’t try any)

Pros

  • Easy and quick check-in, room was ready 3 hours ahead of time
  • Some great views around the property
  • Our housekeeper took good care of our room
  • The Dig Site’s a great place for families to hang out when not at parks
  • Queen sized beds, a “moderate standard” (also mentioned in the cons list)
  • Had close-able doors between the beds and bathroom area so people could get ready without bothering those still sleeping
  • Bus transportation was pretty good, and the hotel is pretty close to all parks
  • Pretty good gift shop in the main building
  • Landscaping well done and kept up nicely

Cons

  • The rooms need a lot of TLC. They look like they haven’t been renovated in a looooong time.
  • The beds weren’t comfortable at all to me. Felt like someone grabbed a bunch of random worn-out padding and jammed¬†it in a queen bed shell.
  • Some of the other buildings could make guests feel disconnected from the rest of the resort due to distance from the main building, but that holds true at other hotels on property, too.
  • I can see where it could get really busy when the convention center is full utilized

And of course, a few more pics:

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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 Hall:¬†Okay, 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 Kj√łttkake, 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.

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