My runDisney Experience

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

Are you thinking about participating in a runDisney event?  In 2016 I experienced several runDisney events. My goal for 2016 was to run my very first Half Marathon events and earn my Coast to Coast Race Challenge medal. I wanted to get a feel for the runDisney race experience before I jumped right into the qualifying events to earn my Coast to Coast Race Challenge so I started with the Princess 5K at Walt Disney World Resort in February then moved up to the Star Wars Dark Side 10K in April, also at Walt Disney World Resort and finished my year with the Disneyland Half Marathon in California in September and the big finale was the Wine and Dine Half Marathon back at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida! Each event was so different yet had similarities and it was an amazing year of runDisney!

runDisney events are held on weekends, typically beginning on Thursday, ending on Sunday. There is always an Expo for each event and I recommend going to the Expo as early as possible as I found that popular items sell out quickly. You will also receive a t-shirt for each race you are registered for and a finishers medal for each race you complete. Also, runDisney will provide you with a course map prior to your event date. Each race has a bit different course due to the length differences.

With my first event, the Princess 5K at Walt Disney World Resort, we met at Epcot at 5 am and it was a very chilly morning for Florida. I had a little time before heading to my corral to enjoy the pre-party with DJ and character photo opportunities. I ended up in corral B so I had a quick start once the race got underway.  The course took us around Epcot’s parking lots on surface roads and then through some backstage areas before moving through the World Showcase and then Future World, finishing near the Start line in the parking area. It was pretty magical to run through Epcot in the dark without the crowds and it was a great introduction to the runDisney events!

For my second event, the Star Wars Dark Side 10K at Walt Disney World Resort, we met in the parking lot at Epcot again. This time the course took us through Epcot and then out the International Gateway and around the Boardwalk before heading over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finishing at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Again, it was very magical to experience this side of Disney! There were, once again, DJ’s, character photo opportunities and entertainment before and after the event as well as on the race course – this time Star Wars themed! This was a tougher course with some unpaved roads and paths near the end. I was happy it hadn’t or wasn’t raining as then we would have been running a ‘tough mudder’ and, well, that’s not what I signed up for… Disney provided buses to return us to our resorts or cars parked at Epcot. The bus lines for this event were very long and I waited approximately one hour for a bus. Even though this was a bit more challenging course, I did enjoy it more.

Now, for my Disneyland Half Marathon, this was my first experience back at Disneyland in California since June of 2004 so this was going to be a pretty amazing and magical experience for me even without the half marathon experience! Again, Disney offered pre and post-race entertainment, character photo opportunities and DJ’s as well as on the course. The course took us through both parks, Disneyland and California Adventure, and I must admit, I did become a little teary-eyed when running through Cars Land in California Adventure as this was my first experience in that new Disney land. It was so spectacular and I just took it all in!! This was a very easy course and we had amazing California weather! The course took us through the streets of Anaheim and we even ran through the Angels Stadium. There were locals on the sidelines cheering us on during the entire race, it was so wonderfully overwhelming how they came out to support us! The locals even cheered us on with their participation in a car show through an extensive part of our run which concluded with a Lightning McQueen look-alike. Bus service was provided for all participants and the only snag I experienced with this event was the huge backup at security as Disneyland only offered one security checkpoint at the main entrance to the “Disney areas” and runners and general guests were all trying to get through the same security checkpoints. Needless to say, these lines were very long! My goal for this race, which was my very first Half Marathon, was to finish in 3 hours and I finished just under! This was a great course and experience and I highly recommend it for anyone thinking about a runDisney event.
And, for my big finale, I completed the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and earned my Coast to Coast Race Challenge medal! As usual there was ample entertainment, DJ’s and character photo opportunities before after and during the event. The course took us through all of the Disney parks except Magic Kingdom and we also ran on Disney owned surface streets and backstage areas. The entertainment was varied with many different Disney characters and musical entertainment. Our 4 am morning did start out a bit cool but we enjoyed exceptional weather, without the usual Florida humidity, so that helped to make this race a bit easier to get through. This was the first year this race was held in the morning, they have always held this race at night but have experienced inclement weather the past couple of years. In Florida, it tends to rain or storm at night but our mornings are usually nice so, my guess is, that is the reason for the time change. With the good weather, I had a great run for my second half marathon and finished in 2 hours and 48 minutes!

If you are considering participating in any runDisney event, we are a preferred runDisney Travel Provider and I hope that you will also consider reaching out to me to help you book and plan your resort stay and participation! Participating in a runDisney race event is truly a magical experience and I think everyone that loves Disney should at least try it once!

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Holiday Dessert Party

written by Sally Portera, Travel Specialist

When I heard in back in October about the new Jingle Bell Jingle Bam! Holiday fireworks show that would be offered at Hollywood Studios, I was a both happy and sad.  I had been looking forward to seeing the Star Wars fireworks show with my son.  I was also excited, though, to see how Disney would use the existing set up of the Chinese Theater and big screens to tell us a holiday tale alive with lasers and fireworks.   I was happy to see that Disney was offering a holiday dessert party with the fireworks show.  My small family is all about enjoying every minute of our visits and do not enjoy having to stake out a spot an hour or two in advance of fireworks shows.  Initially, the holiday party tickets for our dates sold out within an hour of Disney releasing them.  Tip #1: Just like with hard to get dining reservations, I kept checking to see if tickets opened up.  The night before the show, I found two tickets available!

We spent the day at Epcot and ate dinner at Beaches and Cream.  At 6pm, we went to the Beach Club Resort dock to board a boat to Hollywood Studios.  We managed to squeeze on a busy boat and got the Studios around 6:45.  That gave us enough time to head over to Star Wars Launch Bay to look around and take pictures with Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.  Tip #2: The lines in the evening were much shorter than during the day.  We waited five minutes for Chewbacca and one minute for Kylo Ren!  Compare that to 30 minutes earlier in the day.  At 7:35, we headed over to the entrance to the Great Movie Ride to check in for the Holiday Party.  The party takes place in the courtyard right in front of the Chinese Theater.  We were given special wristbands to wear and a pair each of HoloSpex glasses to wear during the fireworks show.   Our glasses turned the bright lights around us into elves.  Other guests had glasses that turned the lights into reindeer.  We then went to the line to wait for the party to open.  While in line, cast members were handing out hand warmer packets to all the guests since it was a “chilly” that night. The temperature was in the 50’s.  Didn’t think I would make use of the hand warmers, but they did come in “handy” for my son and I while we were waiting for the fireworks to start.  Just another little touch that I didn’t expect but appreciate from Disney.

At 7:45, party guests began streaming in.  Now, many of the fireworks parties offer no seating.  Fortunately, this one had seating but not for everyone.  Luckily, we found a mother and daughter with two extra seats at their table.  I asked about sitting with them and they happily agreed.  One of two instances where swallowing my shyness helped me out that night.  I wasn’t expecting as many chairs as there were, so I was quite happy to get a seat.  My son and I then went to grab a drink and some snacks.  There was a good size spread of sweet treats including chocolate peppermint mini-cupcakes with a white chocolate Santa hat, crispy holiday bon bons, lemon meringue tarts, and gingerbread almond chocolate cookies.  There were also many savory options that were specially created for the party.  I elected to stick with the sweets.  I also picked up one of their two signature cocktails, the gingerbread martini.  It was a creamy drink and as Disney usually does; it was strong but tasty.  The signature drink is the apple cinnamon cocktail.  You can also choose from a variety of wines, beers, sodas, tea, fruit punch or water.  After finishing round one of treats, the night’s special guest character, Santa Goofy, came to our table.  We had a very quick photo op with him.  Unfortunately, my son’s eyes were closed in the picture.  After meeting Santa Goofy, we went over to the Liquid Nitro Frost Bite Station and had chocolate mint ice cream.   Both my son and I loved it.  Jacob had two portions, and he is a very picky eater!   I was happy to see that they still had this station.  It was my favorite treat at the Star Wars Dessert Party this summer.  After finishing the ice cream around 8:40, we headed over to the reserved fireworks viewing area.   As we left the party area, we were both given a chocolate dipped gingerbread man with Mickey ears.  It was so cute!  Plus, it turned out to be delicious!  As we were leaving, I saw Santa Goofy standing near us and asked his cast member handler if my son could take another photo with him since his eyes had been closed for the first.  She agreed and I was able to get a cute pic of the two of them.  Tip #3: It can’t hurt to kindly ask for a little bit of extra Disney magic!

The open area for fireworks viewing was unbelievably crowded.  If I had not already known where the reserved viewing area was, I would have had a very difficult time finding it.  We showed our wristband to enter the area and passed a table with bottles of cold water for us.  Why not take one or two, right?  About 25% of our private viewing area was full.  I found a good spot where thought my son would be able to see the show well.  We played with our HoloSpex glasses, chatted with another family and before we knew it, the show was starting.  It was a cute show with characters from Prep and Landing and the Nightmare Before Christmas.  It was hard to follow at times though.  I enjoyed the holographic projections and laser lights over the Chinese Theater, multiple big screens, and surrounding areas.  My favorite part of the show was, of course, the fireworks, but…surprise!  They made it snow!  We missed the snow on Main Street at the Very Merry Christmas Party, so we were tickled to see it snow at Hollywood Studios.  They continued the snow from about midway through the show through closing of the park at 9:30.  I live further north now, but I grew up in the south and anytime it snows, I become a kid again.  I loved it!

Overall, I enjoyed the Jingle Bell Jingle Bam! Holiday Dessert Party and the show.  The party area did appear full but not overloaded.  We never waited more than a minute or two at a station for food or drinks.  I liked the gingerbread Mickey and HoloSpex glasses (they work at home!) much better than the Chewbacca stein from the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party.  I was also happy to see Disney incorporated a photo op and that they add this element into fireworks dessert parties in the future.  If you have thought about attending a dessert party, this one was definitely worth the cost to me and my family!



Debi’s visit to Aulani

Photos from Debi’s visit to Aulani

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Review of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando®

written by Sara Toerner, Travel Specialist

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Sapphire Falls Review 

“Impressive. Inviting.  Photogenic. Grand but relaxing…” these are words I jotted in my notepad while exploring the freshly-painted passageways of Universal’s newest on-site resort: Loews Sapphire Falls.

Read on, as I share with you tips and tricks to help make your decision to stay at Sapphire Falls a confident one. As always, contact me directly to book the Universal vacation experience of your dreams and I’ll share my full list of useful Tips with you!

  • The décor can be described as “modern Caribbean with a touch of luxury,” or “elegance with a beachy twist.” Blue, the color of the deep ocean is throughout, like the deep blue you see peering over the railing of a cruise ship.
  • Resort guests have complimentary Early Admission to Universal’s theme parks – this is a feature of all 5 of the Universal on-site resorts (Sapphire Falls, Royal Pacific, Hard Rock Hotel, Cabana Bay, and Portofino with a 6th resort opening in 2018!)
  • This is NOT an Express Pass hotel: guests of Sapphire Falls must purchase Express Passes if they wish to utilize that feature, as they are not a resort inclusion here.
  • Pool is impressive, inviting, and LARGE, boasting zero-entry areas, a waterslide, splash play fountains for littles, and a few cabanas.
  • Complimentary transport to CityWalk and Universal parks includes a choice between the shuttle bus or the water taxi. The water taxi docks every 15minutes ri
    ght outside and so is the quicker method.  Transportation runs until  2am so you’ll always have a ride back to your room!
  • The grand, expansive lobby boasts high ceilings and natural lighting, an inviting den ideal for relaxed conversation, a vintage rum bar with an impressive collection, convenient car rental counter and a Universal theme park ticket counter, and a sizeable theme park merchandise store.
  • A large meeting and banquet facility is attached, connecting both Loews Sapphire Falls and Loews Royal Pacific and offering space for both intimate and substantial events.
  • Character breakfast are an option nearby: Sundays at Royal Pacific Resort and Tuesdays at Hard Rock Hotel.
  • Universal/Loews Resorts encourages “resort hopping” and openly welcomes guests from any of their resorts to enjoy amenities (POOLS! RESTAURANTS!) at all of their properties. Even guests at Cabana Bay, their most economical resort option, can lounge by the pool at their high-end Italian seaside mansion, Portofino. Hop on a complimentary resort-to-resort bus and grab dinner at Emeril’s Choup Chop at Royal Pacific, Mama Della’s at Portofino, or the Bayliner Diner at Cabana Bay!
  • Impressive features in each guest room: coordinating designer hairdryers and toiletries, Keurig coffeemakers, a shower seat (WOW!!!), a spacious desk with sufficient outlets and comfy chair, strong Wi-Fi (complimentary for up to 3 devices). The individual liquid hand soap at bathroom vanities give a feeling of luxury.
  • Note: I shared a room with two fellow reviewers so we requested additional luxuries after checking in. A funny moment ensued as we were surprised with 6 rolls of toilet paper instead of 3 sets of “toiletries.” –We didn’t receive any additional toiletries the following 3 days, leaving us to wonder if hotels ration shampoo and conditioner these days…
  • Rooms feel spacious compared to comparable resorts in Orlando.
  • Park on the top of the self-parking garage ($22/day) for spectacular views of the hotel’s grand-yet-relaxed entrance which lends to its namesake.
  • The on-site quick-service restaurant opens at 6am and is ideal for grabbing a quick bite to eat or loading your theme park backpack with snacks in route to the parks.
  • The water taxi is convenient to a vast selection of uniquely-themed restaurants and night-spots and runs every 15 minutes, though the on-site resort’s chic full-service restaurant “Amatista” is refreshingly bright and airy, and the menu features savory, freshly-prepared dishes native to Florida and the Caribbean in an expansive open-air kitchen.

  • This hotel oozes newness – you can faintly smell the fresh paint in the interior hallways.
  • The stroll to CityWalk is pleasant, paralleling the water taxi canal and lined with tropical foliage. On several occasions we opted to walk to/from our resort and CItyWalk because of this, and the path took about 15 minutes each way.
  • The waterfall features throughout Sapphire’s exteriors are as photogenic as they are beautiful.
  • Sapphire Falls is designed to be a relaxing tropical oasis, and it succeeds at delivering that impression!

Ready to see Sapphire’s waterfalls first-hand? Contact me directly for FREE planning assistance! Universal Studios, Disney, and Cruise Line destinations are my passion and my specialty, and I’d love nothing more than to share the joy of travel with you!

The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic Dining Package

The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic Dining Package – Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Walt Disney World Resort

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

As I shared in a previous blog, my husband and I recently moved to the Orlando area, primarily to be closer to the magic of Disney that we so love! One of our goals is to try new (to us) restaurants and experiences at Walt Disney World Resort.   We recently experienced the newly released The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic Dining Package at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park which will be available for a limited time.  You can reserve the The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic Dining Package for breakfast, lunch or dinner at Tusker House Restaurant, which includes an all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet [Disney Dining Plan eligible] located in the Africa area of the park, or the newly opened Tiffins for lunch and dinner, which includes your choice of appetizer, entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage [Disney Dining Plan eligible] located in the Discovery Island area.  With either option, you must plan to dine no later than 2 ½ hours prior to your designated performance time of The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic. Typically there are 2 performances each night with the dining package offered for the first performance which begins at either 8:30 pm when there are 2 performances scheduled and 9 pm when there is only one performance scheduled.

We chose Tusker House Restaurant for breakfast for our dining package so that we would have the rest of the day to explore and enjoy the park. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is now a FULL DAY park, staying open until 11 pm most nights with a Kilimanjaro Safaris after dark experience and other new nighttime experiences such as Harambe Parti in Africa and Discovery Island Carnivale, and don’t miss the Tree of Life Awakenings as you leave the park at the end of your day!

Now, back to The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic…  The show was a dazzling spectacle with stunning effects, performers and music, a magical way to spend twenty minutes!   It told the story of The Jungle Book film well, and it was highlighted by over-the-top Bollywood folly. The choreography was fun, the cast was a spectacle in and of itself, and the projections were vibrant and creatively-placed. There are so many things going on at once on the stages! It was a really entertaining way to preview the new on-lake experiences that Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park’s nighttime festivities have to offer. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience!

Overall, this experience was top-rated; I highly recommend The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic Dining Package and hope you choose to experience this dining adventure on your next visit to the Walt Disney world Resort too!

The All-New Wizarding World of Harry Potter

written by Bri Totsch, Travel Specialist

I was fortunate enough recently to have the opportunity to visit the brand-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood. I visited on the 4th day it was officially open, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the crowds weren’t at all overwhelming. If you’re familiar with the Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida, you’ll know that there are two main sections to Harry Potter’s domain: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. In Hollywood, only the Hogsmeade side currently exists. I’m hoping they’ll add the Diagon Alley half eventually, but for now Hogsmeade offers plenty of entertainment for Potter lovers everywhere.

When you enter the Universal Studios park, Hogsmeade is located just a few minutes’ walk from the main entrance. A giant stone walkway welcomes you to the village of Hogsmeade. Immediately upon entering this magical world, you can find a stationary model of the Hogwarts Express, along with a conductor who is there to talk trains and pose for pictures. The famous score from the Harry Potter movies swells as you begin walking further into Hogsmeade.

From there, you can begin to see nearly the entire land as you proceed down the shop-lined main path. You will see many familiar stores: Honeydukes, Zonko’s Joke Shop, Ollivander’s for wands, the Owl Post, Dervish & Banges, Gladrags Wizardwear, Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment, and the infamous butterbeer Cart. The butterbeer is a must-try; you can order it frozen, cold, or hot. You can purchase it in a keepsake mug to recreate the experience at home!

If you want to make some of the magic of Harry Potter come alive for you, I would suggest purchasing a wand. There are a couple of different ways to obtain a wand; you can take in the show at Ollivander’s where there are special wand-choosing ceremonies throughout the day. This Ollivander’s location also serves as a wand shop, but there can be significant waits in line because of the show that comes with it. However, there is also a wand cart right outside Hogwarts Castle. We decided to get a wand from the cart and had no wait.

The major benefit to splurging on a wand is that you will be able to cast your very own “spells” throughout Hogsmeade. The wand will come with a map that directs you to a number of locations where spells can be cast. When you find the appropriate symbol on the ground, stand on it and follow the instructions to move your wand in the right motions. If you’re skilled at spell-casting, you will see your hard work pay off in the form of the storefronts coming to life! I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises, but this is an incredibly fun and interactive touch that I think is well worth it. Plus, the wands can be used on both coasts at each Universal Studios theme park.

Hungry? Head inside The Three Broomsticks for a proper English meal! They serve up such favorites as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, along with pumpkin juice, butterbeer, and more. The atmosphere and theming is that of a proper wizard pub and is just as immersive as the snowy village outside.

As for the rides, there are two. There’s Flight of the Hippogriff, which is a mild, family-friendly coaster (riders must be at least 39 inches tall) that takes you past Hagrid’s Hut as you soar like the hippogriffs do. Then,

there’s the main event: Hogwarts Castle and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The attraction queue for Forbidden Journey brilliantly doubles as a walking tour through Hogwarts Castle. You’ll get to see fan favorites like the Pensieve, Dumbledore’s office, the Potions classroom, the Sorting Hat, the Gryffindor common room, and so much more. Immersive and grand, the castle is almost an exact replica of its counterpart in Orlando. The big difference lies in the ride itself. Once you near the Forbidden Journey ride, you’ll realize that this is not the same exact voyage. You are given 3D glasses, or “Quidditch Goggles”, right before taking off. The entire screened portion of the ride is in 3D which makes some of the images leap out at the rider. It makes the ride even more lifelike and thrilling! Note: riders must be at least 48 inches tall.

Once you’re finished with rides and shopping, you can sit back and relax to some authentic wizarding entertainment. There’s the popular Frog Choir, which has to be seen to be believed. And there’s periodically a Triwizard Spirit Rally, since this land is themed to be occurring at a point in Hogsmeade’s history when the Triwizard Tournament occurs.

There’s so much to see, experience, eat, drink, and do at the all-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood. I highly recommend trying to see it for yourself if you’re in the Hollywood/Los Angeles area. If you pre-purchase your park tickets, you will get a discount along with early entry into the park!

Why Use a Travel Agent?

written by Sara Toerner, Travel Specialist

“Why use a travel agent, and how do I find a good one?”

Before you plan your vacation, visit a travel agent because in the field of planning vacations:

  • They are the experts!
  • Their useful knowledge and expert advice is FREE.
  • One vacationer can’t possibly know it all.
  • They want your experience to be as memorable as possible.

Look for one who:

  • Is well-trained. Many have specialized degrees and stay up to date by continuing to complete industry-related training courses.
  • Is well-connected. One agent can’t possibly have seen every destination or know the answer to every question, but a good agent will know where to go for answers. Belonging to a large network of industry experts means they’ll have years of experience to pull from.
  • Is a caring person. The best agents will care about your vacation as much as they care about their own. They want you to pack everything you’ll need, make every one of your connections, experience the finest things this world has to offer, and return with a lifetime of memories.


Time to Get Away!

written by Sara Toerner, FL Resident and vacation specialist

Where?? St. Petersburg/Clearwater, FL!  This stretch of coastline, just 20 minutes from Tampa, boasts easy access and features miles and miles of white-sand beaches and crystal-clear, turquoise water. Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Ft. DeSoto State Park, and Clearwater Beach are popular destinations for sun-seekers. Gulf Boulevard is meant for day and night-time meandering: it runs parallel to the water and is lined with beach-front boutiques and surf shops; sandy playgrounds; lively restaurants; ice cream parlors; and limited service, condo-style, and luxury hotels and resorts. 

Warm Temperatures Year-round: Average April temperatures are 85 degrees which makes for sometimes chilly beach breezes and ocean water but warm afternoons. Summer temps hover in the 90’s and the ocean is refreshing. Fall temps are in the high 80’s. Winter is in the low-to-mid 70’s. Avoid the crowds by visiting while school is in session – you may not get to swim in the ocean on chilly days but you will likely have the heated hotel pool all to yourself. No matter what time of year, Northerners will appreciate an escape to some place warmer.

Have Some Fun: Relax on white-sand beaches watching the sunrise and sunset, then repeat. Dine on fresh seafood. Rent kayaks and coast along pristine water. Explore the coast on beach bicycles, hunting for seashells and sand dollars. Fishing charters, Dolphin cruises, and Pirate cruises are an entertaining way to get out on the water. Browse beach-side souvenir shops and ice cream parlors. Take a day-trip to the theme parks.There is so much to do!

Unique Dining: Fresh Gulf seafood, family-friendly eateries, and beach-side pub & grubs rule here. Our favorites: The Sea Hag, The Brown Boxer, Gator’s Dockside, and Super Scoops Ice Cream. Bubba Gump Seafood Company at John’s Pass, Crabby Bill’s, Middle Grounds, and Sloppy Joe’s are all highly-reviewed local favorites.

Easy Access: It’s just 20 miles to the shore from Tampa. Rent a car from Tampa International Airport or St. Pete/Clearwater International (which services regional air carriers). Allow extra driving time during the busier Summer and Spring Break seasons.

While You’re Here: Venture on over to Tampa for Busch Gardens, craft breweries, and lively festivals. Orlando’s Theme Parks: Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, and Legoland. Also the nearby Space Coast and Kennedy Space Center is a fun and educational day-trip.

Upgrade Your Experience: Splurge on a penthouse suite at a full-service luxury resort: the sunrise and sunset views are priceless. Concierge service will ensure your experience is unforgettable. You just might spend more time in your room than you expected.

Friendly Accommodations: Past clients have spoken highly of the area’s welcoming hotels: Residence Inn by Marriott Treasure Island, Sunset Vistas beachside condos, Treasure Island Beach Resort (New in 2016), and Tradewinds Resort to mention a few.

Call before you book! For personalized, knowledgeable beach vacation planning assistance, call Sara Toerner before reserving your next getaway at (813) 671-1199 or email

New Year’s Eve Celebration at Walt Disney World

Written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

My first New Year’s Eve celebration experience at Walt Disney World

My husband and I, along with family and friends, visit the Walt Disney World Resort often and there is always something new and magical to experience with each visit. We kicked off 2016 with our very first New Year’s Eve celebration experience and it was a Disney experience to remember!

The first and most important planning tip I would offer is to definitely stay on property during this time of celebration and to choose a resort that is closest to your New Year’s Eve Disney park of choice.  For example, we wanted to experience the New Year’s Eve celebration at Epcot so we chose to stay at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn & Villas. New Year’s Eve is a very busy time at Walt Disney World. Parking venues fill up early and getting in and out with your own vehicle can be a challenge, but even if you let Disney do the driving the wait can still be long. Staying close to the park we wanted to experience on that very busy night allowed us the ability to walk to and from Epcot.

The second planning tip I would offer is to book your dining and FastPass+ reservations as soon as your booking window opens. As I mentioned, this is a very busy time at the Walt Disney World Resort and wait times are long for everything, including the restrooms! If you want to experience the rides, FastPass+ is a MUST. For dining, we chose to experience quick service options rather than reserved dining experiences.

We started our New Year celebration on December 30th with a full day at Magic Kingdom Park.  We are typically park hoppers but during this busy holiday, you want to plan to arrive early and stay in one park for the day. The New Year holiday is one of the most crowded times at Walt Disney World and it’s not uncommon for some of the parks to reach capacity early in the day.

On December 29thMagic Kingdom Park closed late morning as it was at capacity so we arrived early on the 30th! Our first stop was to put our name in at the new Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, located in Adventureland.  Reservations were not yet being accepted for this table service experience so it was walk-up only. When it was time for our dining experience, a Cast Member greeted us and gave us a tour of the restaurant before seating us at our table. The theming of the restaurant was unique and it was larger than we expected. The service was quick and the menu offered a variety of distinctive selections. We ordered an appetizer, entrees and dessert; everything was delicious and priced well for the portions. Following our early lunch we headed off to our first FastPass+ experierience. 

Pirates of the Caribbean where the stand-by line was wrapped around several times but the FastPass+ line, even though it looked longer, was a relatively short wait. After Pirates of the Caribbean we caught the stage show of Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial where the little ones can learn to be a pirate like Captain Jack himself!  Then it was off to our next FastPass+ experience – Jungle Cruise (also known as the Jingle Cruise this time of year.) The skippers are always a lot of fun and the holiday decorations made for a festive adventure! Our 3rd FastPass+ for the day was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland. This was our first experience at night and it was magical! And, of course, you can’t experience a New Year’s Eve celebration without fireworks or as I like to call them “pixie dust in the sky”! Magic Kingdom presented both Holiday Wishes New Year’s Celebration at 6:30 pm and Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks at 11:50 pm. Both were spectacular fireworks presentations that could be seen from all around Magic Kingdom Park.

As I mentioned above, we chose Epcot as our New Year’s Eve celebration park.  With just a short walk from Disney’s Boardwalk Inn & Villas  we were headed for a magical day celebrating the New Year!  Again, we arrived early and planned to stay all day in the event the park reached capacity. As the largest park, Epcot rarely fills to capacity but, since this was our first New Year’s Eve celebration at Walt Disney World, we weren’t taking any chances!  Even though by the time we arrived at Epcot and World Showcase was already open, that area of the park was fairly empty and we started our day with a leisurely walk around the World Showcase and seeing all of the special kiosks set up for that evening’s celebration.  After enjoying what seemed like quiet time in World Showcase we headed over to The Land for an early lunch at Sunshine Seasons where there is plenty of seating and a wide variety of menu selections for everyone. By this time, Epcot was much busier, especially on this side of the park. After lunch we headed to our first FastPass+ experience of the day – Soarin’. We wanted to be sure to experience it once more before it closed January 4th for refurbishment and expansion (it’s due to reopen Summer 2016). When we arrived, they were rerouting FastPass+ entry outside The Land and through a back entrance. Again, even though the line seemed longer, it wasn’t long before we were seated for our flight!  Our second FastPass+ experience was for Spaceship Earth where the stand-by line had a wait time of more than 100 minutes – I have never seen this long of a wait time for Spaceship Earth! FastPass+ saved the day!! Our 3rdFastPass+ experience was Mission: SPACE  – well, I should say my husband’s 3rdFastPass+ experience…  I try every new ride once and this one was just too intense for me. Although, I should give it another try since there are now 2 levels of intensity to choose from… maybe next time! IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth with the special holiday finale at 6 pm and starting at 7 pm DJ’s were set up around World Showcase and at the Future World Fountain stage. Our year ended with a spectacular New Year’s Countdown fireworks presentation starting at 11:40 pm and the DJ parties continued until 1 am. It was a magical start to our 2016!!

We stayed at Walt Disney World Resort a couple more days after the New Year and the parks were a bit less crowded. We were able to experience Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we had scheduled FastPass+ for The Twilight Zone Tower of TerrorToy Story Midway Mania! and Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, which included updated sequences from the new movie.  We also experienced a special Star Wars Imperial Meet ‘N’ Greet for Chase Disney Visa cardmembers and The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights for the final season and ended our day with, you guessed it, FIREWORKS – Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular.

And, of course, we can’t forget Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park where we had FastPass+ experiences for Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain and Festival of the Lion King  and then went over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch to see ‘It All Started With a Mouse’.  We also checked out the new Thirsty River Bar & Trek Snacks and stopped for lunch at Harambe Market

We enjoyed our Walt Disney World New Year’s Eve celebration and it’s an experience to definitely add to your bucket list. Just plan to set realistic expectations, approach each day with patience and take pleasure in the fact that you are celebrating at the most magical place on earth! Happy New Year!

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

My husband and I recently moved to the Orlando area, primarily to be closer to the magic of Disney that we so love! One of our goals is to try new (to us) restaurants and experiences at Walt Disney World Resort.

We recently experienced the newly opened Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom Park . Located in Adventureland, this table service dining experience is definitely one to try. Even though this is a table service dining experience, reservations are not yet being accepted so it is walk-up only. We arrived before opening time and put our name on the list, then waited for our text notification that our table was ready. When it was time for our dining experience, our Skipper Server greeted us and gave us a full tour of the restaurant before seating us at our table. The theming of the restaurant is unique and it is much larger than we expected, with three separately themed

dining areas. The service was up to Disney standards as expected and the menu offers a variety of distinctive selections, including African, American, Asian, and Latin cuisine. Currently the lunch and dinner menus  are the same so we chose to dine for lunch and were seated shortly after the 11 am opening time.

Upon seating us our server delivered a plate of complimentary Ambasha Bread With Honey-Infused Dip, which is very sweet. We ordered the Falls Family Falafel appetizer to share; this was a tasty and light start to our meal. And while we each ordered different entrées, we did take a little taste of each other’s selection. I ordered the “A lot at Steak” Salad; Thai-marinated Flank Steak tossed with Hearts of Romaine, Carrots, Red Peppers, Cucumbers, Red Onions, and Cherry Tomatoes with Asian Dressing. My husband ordered Skip’s Mac & Cheese, consisting of Spiced Ground Beef, Pasta, and Béchamel Sauce served with Broccoli. Both meals were delicious and perfectly prepared! And I can’t ever pass up dessert, especially with the delicious selections offered… so I chose the Kungaloosh! OH MY… This African-inspired Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Bananas served

with Cashew-Caramel Ice Cream topped with Coffee Dust was oh so absolutely delicious and was actually very light. Just enough for one!
Overall, this is a more adventurous dining menu with a little bit of spice and, as with other Walt Disney World restaurants, there is a kid’s menu for your little ones. I highly recommend Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen and hope you choose to experience this dining adventure on your next visit to the Walt Disney world Resort too!