Friday, February 14, 2014

OUR FIRST VISIT TO DISNEY'S WILDERNESS LODGE RESORT

   Guess where we just got back from.  Yup, another great WDW trip is in the books, and just like all of the others, it was fantastic!
It's not the "Fab 5" but they look ready for fun!

   As any good Disney nut knows, no matter how often you go, there is always something new to see and do in this vast world of exploration.


The Wilderness Lodge Villas:  We did a "Split Stay" which started with 2 nights at Pop Century, and then we moved over to the Wilderness Lodge Villas for 5 nights.  This was our first time staying at the Wilderness Lodge, and it was great. 
Welcome Home!

We always wanted to stay here!
   The room was comfortable, and the 4th floor view was so pleasant.  From our windows and balcony we could see the trees and lake - that's it.  It was like we were at a lake in the mountains or something, no sign of Walt Disney World in sight.  As if we were transported to another place just by entering our room.  Actually, there was 1 reminder of where we really were.  Each night at about 9:30 we would hear the music and look out to see the Electrical Water Pageant out on the lake.  We could see it with just a few trees in our view, but we would step out onto the balcony and take in the short spectacle.  The Water Pageant is one of those little WDW touches that we appreciate, both for the actual color and novelty of it, but also for the historical significance of it, since it is something that has remained from the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971.
Everything is better on a boat
Getting there was a big part of the fun!










   Something that we really enjoyed about staying at the Wilderness Lodge was the transportation via boat  between the resort and The Magic Kingdom.  I don't know if we hit it just right, or if it's always that way, but we never had to "crowd" onto the boat.  It was very relaxing to cruise the waters and glide past the other beautiful resorts with the Magic Kingdom in sight. 

   The pool was so much fun.  We spent an afternoon at the main pool and just like all of the pools at the Disney resorts, it was pure fun.  Grabbed a BBQ Pork & Slaw Sandwich with Chips and a Coke from the Roaring Fork with my Son-in-Law and kicked back at a poolside table before hitting the water.  Looking up at the Lodge itself, with the flags waving lightly in the breeze was just a beautiful moment in time, and writing about it here makes me want to experience that again soon.

The lobby of Disney's Wilderness Lodge is stunning

   Wilderness Lodge is everything I thought it would be, and like I was telling my Daughter - Which is my favorite DVC resort?  It seems like whichever one I stayed at last is my "new favorite".  They have all been awesome, and Wilderness Lodge is no exception.

For more on this awesome Disney resort, check out this website: wildernesslodgesite.com


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

THE PLAZA RESTAURANT

When it comes to descriptive words for this place, a few come to mind quickly! ...Location, Simple, Charming, and Yummy are 4 words that I see to describe this place.





Location is at the end of Main Street U.S.A. near the hub.  If you are seated near a window, it's a great place to people watch, with Cinderella's Castle making a great back drop.  As we ate lunch, we could see the parade going by and really enjoyed all of the excitement that goes along with it.  We didn't have a clear view of the parade as much as we could see the whole scene with the crowd enjoying the event itself.

A beautiful place to eat!


The colorful and busy location can't be beat!

We loved it because it made us feel like we were part of the "Main Street U.S.A. scene".  It is such a colorful spot with the beautiful landscaping surrounding the immediate area, just steps away from entry to the different lands of The Magic Kingdom.


The grounds around the Plaza are beautiful

Simple is a word that comes to mind because the seating is not fancy, just tables and chairs.  It has the feel of a counter service eatery, except that you are given menus and served.  It's a basic dining room with ornate mirrors on the walls.

The menu is also very simple.  Salads and Sandwiches are offered along with a Meatloaf Meal and Desserts.

Hmmm.... Meatloaf meal or Grilled Reuben?


Charming comes to mind because of the simplicity of the whole experience.  It is a less expensive place to eat in the Magic Kingdom, and it's a place where you feel very comfortable sitting down and enjoying a meal while wearing your WDW today podcast, or Mouise Junkies T-Shirts!  I guess "Charming" and "Simple" go hand in hand but both words came to mind when I thought of The Plaza Restaurant.

A very casual place to enjoy a meal
Yummy is the key word here.  We booked our ADR for 11:00 am, right when they opened and we were ready for an early lunch to fuel us up for the rest of our park touring day.

The Grilled Reuben was a masterpiece!

I had the Grilled Reuben, and it was a winner.  Generous portions of Corned Beef on a marbled Rye bread with Sauerkraut and Swiss Cheese, one of the better Reuben sandwiches on property.







The Mrs. went with the Tuna Salad sandwich and it was another hit!  It could have used a little more Tuna salad, but it was delicious.
The Tuna Salad sandwich
We kind of cheated and had our "dessert" WITH our meal... Chocolate Milk Shakes just sounded too good to wait for, so we had them along with the sandwiches.
Why wait for Dessert?

Overall, it was a great part of our day at the Magic Kingdom.  I agree with those that say this would not be a wise choice if you are on the Disney Dining Plan, since the entrees are so much less expensive than the other park eateries.  But for a "Simply Charming Yummy Location"... THIS IS THE PLACE!

Information for The Plaza Restaurant




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Walt Disney World Side Trip: GATORLAND? ...GATORLAND!



   When I was a kid, growing up in the southeast Los Angeles area, we would often go down to Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park.  One thing that sticks in my head is the memory of driving past a place called "The Alligator Farm" (or something like that).  It was across the street from Knotts, and I always planned to go check it out, but never made it.  Now, many years later while searching around for things to explore on our Walt Disney World trips, I found a place in Orlando just 20 minutes away from the WDW "City Limits" with all of the Gators you can handle!

   We hopped in the rental car with our 2 dear friends that were spending the trip with us, and headed out to breakfast before moving on to Gatorland.  When we pulled into the parking lot, it looked like nobody was there.  I thought, "Oh this poor little sideshow will be easy to see in an hour or two, and we'll be on our way."  THINK AGAIN!  About 4+ hours later, we were heading out the door to a pretty full parking lot, and already talking about the fantastic things we saw there.

We were ready to explore!
   
    We walked in and were immediately thrilled by Gators... everywhere!  There were gators swimming, sunning, sleeping and we were drawn into their world right away.  Little gators, big gators, they are such fascinating creatures I could not help but to think of them as small, modern Dinosaurs.
Here come my "Little Dinosaurs"!

    Gatorland is not some backyard sideshow, but is actually a 110 acre park.  Not too shabby when you consider that Disney's Hollywood Studios is only 25 acres bigger at 135 acres!

  There is plenty of space to stroll your way around the exhibits.  Pick up a map/guide and check out the different shows.  The Gator Jumparoo show was a hoot,  They send out whole raw chickens on a line and the huge Gators actually jump up out of the water to snag a meal!
The "Gator Jumparoo" show.  These guys actually enjoy their work!
 
Kids, don't try this at home!
No Flying Elbow Drops or Spinning Body Slams, but Gator Wrestling was still fun!
   The other can't miss show is the "Gator Wrestling" show.  It's a small arena with a Gator pit and the handler does some daring feats including resting his chin on the open mouth of an Alligator!  Again, this one was a hoot.


We rode the "Gatorland Express" train, walked the Swamp walk trail, checked out the breeding marsh, and had lunch which included Gator Nuggets.
Everyone loves a train ride
A walk on the wild side


Gator nuggets from the smokehouse

   There are White Gators which are not albinos, but are actually white Alligators , they must be kept in a covered area because they can get a very bad sunburn due to their lack of skin pigmentation.



 And it's not just Alligators.  There are Giant Tortoise, Florida Panthers, Turtles, Birds, Pythons and Snakes of all kinds, even some Deer and other critters.

Not just Gators
No, it's not the Enchanted Tiki Room


  

   If you ever get out to Gatorland, be sure and find "Chester".  Who is Chester?  Well, he's a 13 foot, One thousand pound Alligator that was rescued.  He had eaten several dogs (he seems to favor German Sheperds) in the wild, and was caught, but Gatorland took him in and gave him a home.  He doesn't get along too well with the other Gators, so he has his own special place in Gatorland.  Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of ol' "Chet", but here is a 1 min. video of the big guy:

video  

   It was a solid half day experience, and while it doesn't qualify as "Disney World's fifth gate", it is a very fun place with lots to see and do.  I never made it to the Alligator farm in Buena Park, California and now that place isn't there anymore.  But I found Gatorland, and I'm already looking forward to our next visit!

This guy loves to use Turtles for pillows!


 For more information visit:    GATORLAND WEBSITE

Thursday, July 4, 2013

THE ROYAL ROOM

   It's going to be a little while until we return to WDW.  Things are still in the planning stage, and we have our resort all set, ADR's are lined up, flight is booked, AP vouchers in hand,  We are set.  The countdown is on.

   Now, I'm thinking back to the last time we were there, and it was a great time.  We stayed in one of the "Royal Rooms" at Port Orleans Riverside.  POR is one of our favorite WDW resorts.  This was our 3rd time to stay there.  It was the place we stayed for our first time at WDW back in 1994 and we have a special place in our hearts for the Riverside.

The marina at Port Orleans Riverside is a beautiful place





   I usually make notes on our trips for trip reports, and just to remember things.  But this time I didn't.  Looking back at the pictures jogs my memory and brings some really good memories up!


   I remember our arrival evening, we were hungry and went down to the food court.  I remember getting a turkey dinner and taking it back to the room.

Turkey dinner from the food court was a nice way to start
    The room was really nice. Lots of nice details including a "welcome letter" from Princess Tiana herself.  We kept remarking about how much our Grand Daughter would have enjoyed staying in a "Royal Room" as guests of Tiana, but this time it was just the two of us, and we were loving it.




   The decor is beautiful.  Royal trimmings on everything, pictures of characters from the royal courts, fixtures and even the headboards on the beds were something special, they have a button that makes the entire headboard light up with "fireworks".  It's like the headboards at the rooms in the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.






  



   We lucked out with the room location.  It was a corner room, and we had windows looking out two different directions.









Now you might be asking yourself "What's the deal with two old Grand Parents staying in a Royal Room without kids?".  That's what the Disney Fountain of Youth is all about.  WE ARE THE KIDS (this time)!  Some trips we are the "Guides".  Some trips we are the "Friends".  One trip we were the "Parents".  But for this trip we were the "Kids".  Just enjoying being "guests" of Princess Tiana and her friends.









Thursday, February 21, 2013

THE DISNEYLAND EXPERIENCE


   The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA has changed much in the last few years!  All I can say is WOW!
   Of course "Disneyland" itself has evolved so much since I was a kid growing up in Southern California, and making regular visits to the park.  Gone are the Chicken of the Sea - Tuna Sandwich boat, and Skull Rock.  No more Skyway between Fantasyland & Tomorrowland.  The gigantic parking lot is now Disney California Adventure theme park.  I mean even the streets around the Disneyland resort look different.  After spending so many trips flying east to Walt Disney World near Orlando Florida, it's really fun to head out west and visit the old Home Park and enjoy the different experience.

Fantasyland still looks vaguely familiar


   We just returned from our 3rd visit since 2002, but I would estimate this to be my 16th visit since I was born. I now see Disneyland as a "Resort" rather than "Just a Park".  We spent 6 nights at one of the Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels, and could have easily spent a few more.  With 4 day Park Hopper tickets in hand, we made our plans for the week, and went with a Monday-DCA, Tuesday/Wednesday-Disneyland, Thursday-DCA strategy for park touring.  Monday was an eye opener for this old Disney theme park vet.  The changes to Disney California Adventure park left me amazed.  What was once considered the Ugly Step Sister of the Disney park lineup is now ready to go toe-to-toe with any Disney Park for pure fun.  It has something for all age groups (our group had ages 3, 29, and 53 x 2).  After entering the park, the march down Buena Vista Street (Kind of the "Main Street" for DCA) was sparkling.

Having fun with Grandpa on Luigi's Flying Tires in Cars Land
 

   We stayed at the Best Western Stovall which is on Katella Blvd. right across the street from Disney Drive which leads to Downtown Disney.  It was an easy walk for us, and we would just cut through the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel and step right out into Downtown Disney then a short walk to the esplanade which is basically a common area where the entrances to the two parks face each other.  That is one of the big differences between the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World.  I mean, can you imagine having The Magic Kingdom just steps away from Disney Hollywood Studios and being able to simply turn left for one park or right for the other, and just walk across a few yards from one park to another? 

Eating at Disneyland is another experience that is very different from Walt Disney World.  Since so much of the attendance is based on locals, the eateries don't seem to require the fanatical 6 months ahead reservations that drive much of the WDW trip planning.

   Being the "Off Season" and having a bit of a plan makes 2 days at each park a good way to see pretty much everything on the check list of attractions.  Of course, more days is always better! 
  
DISNEYLAND
   Even though Disneyland is similar to The Magic Kingdom in Florida, there are plenty of things that are exclusive to the West Coast version.  The Indiana Jones ride is one of the marvels of the Disney universe.  It has thrills, and just seems so grand, so big, you drive into those caverns and caves, and just think... "Wow, Disney has come a long way from the plywood cutouts and black lights!" (That's exactly what my Daughter and I were saying to each other as we walked the exit queue from the ride).  The Matterhorn is just a classic coaster ride, and I don't see how any visit to Disneyland would feel complete without a ride (or two) on The Matterhorn Bobsleds.  The Nemo Subs, Pinocchio's daring journey, Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad's wild ride, and Casey Jr. Circus train, are just a few of the many rides that you can only find at Disneyland in Anaheim.
If you are a WDW Veteran, be ready for "Castle Shock"
   One big difference is in the castles of Disneyland and WDW's Magic Kingdom.  My Daughter who had not been to Disneyland in a bit more than 10 years, just couldn't get over the difference.  Cinderella's Castle in Florida is over 100 feet taller than Sleeping Beauty's castle in California.  Almost twice as tall, if they were side by side, Cindy's castle would soar over Sleepy's.  There is one advantage that California's castle has over her bigger rival, and that is the Walkthrough attraction where you can actually walk through scenes of the sleeping beauty story inside the castle! 

   Things are a little tighter in California.  There is so much packed into a smaller area at Disneyland.  With 22 less acres to work with, you may feel the crowds a bit more at Disneyland.
I LOVE Toontown!

   Something that Disneyland has which can not be found in Florida is Mickey's Toontown.  Home of Gadget's Go Coaster, and Roger Rabbit's Car-toon Spin.  It's a crazy and colorful place.  At just around 3 acres, it's crowded and full of little adrenalized Gremlins running wild (and having the time of their lives).  If you are adults without kids in tow, you might not spend much time here, but if you have a little cutie who is looking for a trip making experience, then this is your place! 

Everybody eats good at Blue Bayou!
Bring on that Montecristo!


   Another high point of the trip was lunch at The Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square.  To step inside this dark and relaxing place is to find yourself transported away from the park for just a bit.  With boats from the Pirates of the Caribbean floating gently by, crickets chirping, fireflies over the water, and some delicious food served in very generous portions, if you can get a reservation here, I would highly recommend it.

   If you want a more casual eatery, I can wholeheartedly suggest The Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country.
You have to try the Lemon "Bumblebee Cupcake"!
Featuring Chili-Cheese Burgers, Sweet Poato Fries, A Fried Green Tomato Sandwich (really!), Salads, Desserts, and drinks.  Set by the Rivers of America, it has 2 levels with lots of deck space.  Pull up a chair and watch the Sailing Ship Columbia or Mark Twain Riverboat sail by.  Nestled in the tall pines of Critter Country near The Winnie the Pooh ride, and Splash Mountain.  It's one of our favorites!
A great spot at The Hungry Bear



     DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE 
   This is where the Disneyland Resort experience has really improved.  DCA has taken a lot of criticism since it opened in 2000.  I doubt you'll hear much griping for quite a while now.  With the creation of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, DCA is every bit as fascinating as her sister park across the way.  67 colorful and fun packed acres of something you just can't get at WDW in Florida.
Cars Land comes alive at night!

   Cars Land is just amazing.  I know it's been said many times before, but now I know that it is so true... You will feel like you've stepped into the movie.  The shops, eateries, and attractions are as detailed as anything ever dreamed up by Disney Imagineers.  The big attraction is Radiator Springs Racers, and if you don't want to stand in a gigantic line just to get a Fast Pass, and don't mind possibly riding separated from your group, it will cut your wait time in half and probably more!  In fact,  My Daughter and I did the single rider line twice, the first time, we ended up riding together in the same car, and the second time we ended up riding in different vehicles, but racing each others cars at the end!  This ride has it all, theme & thrill, it is probably in this old guy's top 5 rides in all of Disney.  
Red's Apple Freeze is YUMMY

   I think the most laughs for our group as a whole came out of Cars Land's other 2 attractions.  Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tires.  The lines were short and we rode each of them several times.  These are attractions that both kids and adults can have fun with.  I don't know that I would wait 45 minutes or longer during more crowded seasons, but if the wait looks like anything under 30 minutes, I would say GO FOR IT!
Bug's Land is a hit with the little ones

   Our Grand Daughter had a blast at Bug's Land, Some great little attractions for the kids and this was a big hit with us!  Also, lunch at Ariel's Grotto made our first day complete.  Eating with the princesses was something we won't soon forget, it seems pretty popular, so for this one I would suggest making that reservation as far ahead as possible.
Going for a spin on Francis' Lady Bug Boogie
   The Hollywood Land area is like a mini version of Florida's Disney Hollywood Studios.  The 45 minute stage show of Aladdin was great.  And we enjoyed just walking on to the Monsters inc. ride twice.
King Triton's Carousel is just plain fun

       Paradise Pier is an original area of DCA, but it too has been improved.  Toy Story Midway Mania, California Screamin', Goofy's Sky School, and Mickey's Fun Wheel are just a few of the attractions in this large midway area  set along the water.

   We had an early dinner at Fiddler, Fifer, & Practical Cafe on Buena Vista Street,  It's a neat venue with good food, but I think they may need to fine-tune the ordering system.  There was just a bit of confusion in the pickup area, I think if they can get this perfected, they've got a real winner on their hands!

   The Pixar parade, Boudin Bakery Tour, and Blue Sky Cellar help to round out the offerings of a world class theme park done Disney Style!  Add The pageantry of the spectacular World of Color Show which ends the day, and it's a "10" in my book!


BEYOND THE PARKS 
Another great thing about the Disneyland Resort is the Downtown Disney area which is actually "connected" to the esplanade between the two parks.  Great restaurants, shops and snacks in a fun filled themed walkway.  A Monorail station is located here and it's great if you want to ride the monorail to Downtown Disney, or from DTD back to Disneyland.  Touring the 3 great hotels of the DLR is also a great way to spend some time exploring.
The newly designed grounds of the historic Disneyland Hotel are beautiful



    It's not 43 square miles of wonderland like Walt Disney World in Florida, but it is an amazing place that is only getting better with time.  It's definitely no longer "just a park"!