Monday, December 26, 2011

Walt Disney World Hotels -Shades of Green

If you are active duty military/retired, civil service, prior service, or certain DOD contractors,  a great hotel to stay on Disney property is the Shades of Green.  I have never stayed there before so we tried it and liked it very much.  The hotel is run by a customer service oriented staff who are very friendly and helpful.  You can make reservations at and there you will find all the eligibility requirements including parking, room rates, etc.

Self parking is $5.00 but valet is only $10.00 so we'll go that route next time we visit.  The hotel is situated just west of the Polynesian Hotel and not on the monorail route.  Not to worry because they have bus schedules from the front door to the Disney main entrance and all the parks to include Blizzard Beach which is currently under renovation.  Our room was a standard room because there were no suites available but it was roomier than most Disney rooms with a sitting area a, a balcony, and a couch that pulls out like a futon.  The room amenities are refrigerator, hair dryer, cleaning service, coffee maker, and double sinks with separate toilet and shower.

Room service is available from 6:00am til 11:00pm.  If you want anything after that you have to settle for vending machines or go off site.  We didn't care for that very much because going out of the park is a bit of a drive.  What we did find is a Hess gas station on the way out of the park with a very good assortment of hot food, drinks, desserts, and snacks.  We bought some stuff there and returned to the hotel and it was right down the street so we were fine.

The hotel is sprawling and I don't know how many rooms but a good guess is about 500.  It consists of several wings of five floors and resembles a northern lodge with lots of wood, fireplaces, high ceilings, and outside chalet-style sitting areas.  There are two pools, and an outside bar but remember this is a family-oriented atmosphere so everything is quiet by 11:00pm.  The beds and pillows are of good quality and the sheets have a clean smell to them.

So what were the negatives?  Very few actually.  The room keys were very difficult to use and we had the keys issued twice but they failed more often than not.  They are the card type and,no, I didn't put them near my credit cards or car keys.  I kept them in a pocket by themselves.  The lack of food service after hours is not good but the front desk explained they used to have this service available but it failed to produce any revenue so they discontinued it.  Can't really blame them on that one.  The shower was so difficult to turn my kids couldn't do it so I had to pull the handle with both hands myself.

  Other than those things it was a very enjoyable stay and we will certainly return. It was a very nice stay.  I give the hotel an "A" rating and if you visit I believe you'll be pleased.  Thanks.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom at Christmas

As far as I'm concerned Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is the place to be at Christmas time.  The only other place that has as much magic or charm at this time of year is New York's Rockefeller Center.  Disney rolls out the lights and light shows like nowhere else on earth and this year has been no exception.

We noticed the crowds are a little lighter than in past years but we know the economy has kept more folks closer to home.  The people were there, however, in droves but you could actually move around a little better and the longest we waited for any one ride was 45 minutes (Space Mountain) which is exceptional at this time of year.  Most ride waits were 15-20 minutes which is very good.

This is a view of Space Mountain from the entrance to the Grand Prix Raceway that your kids are going to love.  We went on all the big rides:  Space Mountain, Grand Prix Raceway, the Haunted mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.  The wait was a little longer for Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Splash Mountain.  The day was great.

I never did it before but we posed for a photo in front of Cinderella's Castle.  The photographers are everywhere and they give you what looks like a credit card with a code on back.  You can stop in at any of the photo kiosks at any of the parks and view your shots.  There's no hurry to buy the pictures.  You can even return home and go to, create a log on, and view your shots from home.  Then you can order them from your PC if you like them.

There are tons of eateries and we always get the fast food stuff because kids aren't that interested in eating but we know they have to.  Disney has mastered the efficient fast food counter.  They serve hundreds of customers an hour in all their cafes and you don't wait too long.  The hard part is getting a seat.  Split your party up and have some secure a table while the others go to the food order line or you can end up walking around looking for a table while your food gets cold.

The weather in Orlando has been between 72-82 degrees this week with sunshine so for those from up north it's perfect for you.  It's usually in the 40's or 50's this time of year so you should love it while we in Florida wait for a cool down.

I took these pictures on December 23rd and you can see nobody's  wearing sweaters.  If you make it here you'll be pleased. My next post is about Disney hotels so stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disney Hollywood Studios - Orlando

We went to Disney Hollywood Studios over the weekend and had a blast.  This year we went on the annual pass which gives you all four theme parks unlimited visits for the year.  The cost of the pass is $362/person for over 10 years old for Florida residents and a little higher for out of state visitors.  To offset the cost is the 12 month payment plan where you put down the cost of one pass and make 12 installments of the balance which helps for families.  There is the Premium Pass which is the Annual Pass plus the water parks.  There are also less expensive passes that are all inclusive but have blackout dates.  You may have access to some clubs that offer discounts such as AAA, military MWR, Kennedy Space Center employees, credit unions,car clubs, etc.  Check with your employer as well.  Many major corporations and companies get theme park group rates for their employees.

Hollywood Studios is similar to Universal Studios in that it is a real working movie studio.  They tape Disney shows there and there's a great concert stage where they put on some awesome shows at various dates throughout the year.  When you enter the park the streets are like Hollywood set in the golden age of films.  The store fronts are real and there are a wide variety of eateries.  Most of them are fast food, on-the-go style.  There is a Brown Derby like the one in Beverly Hills which is identical to the real one which has  more high-end fare.  The prices are comparable to any of the other theme parks but the food is all very good.

One of the main attractions is the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, an indoors rock blast of Aerosmith music that accelerates from 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds!  You're not ready for this as it catapults you into the dark at high speed and continues to pound you with loops and rolls while you rock out to the band.  It's a unique ride much like a cross between Space Mountain and The Rip Rocket at Universal Studios.

I think the whole ride lasts about 60 seconds but when you get off you feel like you hit a new experience in roller coasters.  It's one of Disney's newer rides, built about 7 or 8 years ago so the technology is among the newer stuff.  I think you will really enjoy it. It's a real ride but not as rough as some coasters I've been on so don't worry if you don't like the real monster rides. It's fun but not too violent.

The other big ride is the Tower of Terror (pictured at the top) .  It towers menacingly over the entire park and is gloomy even on a sunny day.  You enter the tower at the base and wind your way through the old hotel when you get on the car and take a tour of the hotel to the top.  Once there, the doors open out into the park and you can see how high you really are.  I won't ruin it for you but when you take off you won't be able to hold back the screams.

The Toy Story Midway Mania is a great fun ride where you sit in cars and tour through a gallery of familiar characters from Toy Story.  It's a shooting gallery interactive game where you shoot at objects similar to old-fashioned state fair shooting galleries (plates, bowls, etc.)  The shooter keeps score and at the end everyone gets to see how they stack up against everyone else.  My kids love to see themselves beat me at these games!

The stage shows are superb.  They have really talented dancers and performers who put on as good a show as you see anywhere.  We saw the Beauty and Beast Show and loved it.  The professional choreography and costuming is very impressive.  Even though the kids get impatient they will enjoy the show. 
We were only there for the afternoon so we didn't get to see everything because we went at the spur of the moment but there are other things to see and do at Hollywood Studios.  We'll be going back over the Christmas Holidays so when I learn more I'll put out another post.  Hopefully there will be useful  information.  Email me with any questions and I will get the information while I'm there. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

T-Rex Restaurant Downtown Disney

When you visit Disney Village another cool place to eat is the T-Rex Restaurant.  It's design is similar to the Rain Forest Cafe which I wrote about in a previous post.  While the Rain Forest is about wildlife and Saving The Planet, the T-Rex is devoted to the Jurassic and paleolithic periods in earth's history and is based on dinosaurs. 

When you enter you are greeted by a life-sized T-Rex standing commandingly in the middle of the place.  He moves and makes noises.  The kids will love it and parents will find it fascinating as well.  The bar is to the left is colorful and full of atmosphere topped by a giant octopus.    We don't sit at the bar but go to the dining room which is filled with dinosaurs of all kinds.  My kids are getting into the teen years and still enjoy the atmosphere.  It's always a great show when we go there and I think I'll like it when I'm old.  The food is always good.  The prices are similar to the Rain Forest Cafe and the service is always topnotch.

You will sit in one of several dining room settings to include the bar area, the Ice Cave, or the Savannah Room.  I like the Ice Cave the best because it actually presents a cool atmosphere and the walls change color from blue to red to white. Nonetheless, all the seatings are good and there's not a bad seat in the house.  You and your young ones are encouraged to walk around the restaurant and see everything because the architecture and characters are worth seeing.  The staff is friendly and well-versed in customer service so you will be well taken care of while you are there.  Check out the Disney Dining Plan while you are there if you buy into these things.  It comes out to about a 10% savings after multiple trips.  Some folks like these deals but I usually don't get into them.

And don't forget the gift shop.  You can't walk into anywhere in Orlando without exiting through a gift shop!  It's more interesting for the tourists than the locals because you find gift ideas you don't find back home.

Dinner for four was about $100.00 out the door so not cheap but it's worthwhile to do it from time to time or if you know you won't be back til next year.  I can tell you with confidence that you will enjoy the experience.  Thank you till next posting!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Cheesecake Factory

We go to the Cheesecake Factory as often as we can.  It's along the lines of a New York diner with sandwiches, entrees, fish, steaks, etc.  The place has a full service bar with all the trappings and 38 different types of cheesecakes. They also have desserts for those not in love with cheesecake.  My favorite, however, is the raspberry truffle and I don't as a rule eat cheesecake. 

My kids usually get burgers, pasta, or grilled cheese off the kids menu.  Sometimes we let them get the gourmet burgers from the adult menu which are always delicious.  My wife likes the triple cheese pasta with grilled chicken and I seem to have settled on the jambalaya.  It's excellent but, even though they call it spicy, it's rather mild for those who aren't afraid of cayenne pepper.

The service was perfect.  We had a waitress who was so warm and friendly it was a great pleasure to tip her.  You know how sometimes you feel really good about tipping?  This was how I felt with her.  She was great.

The Christmas Tree here has nothing to do with the place but it's right outside the door in the mall and I thought it was massive and beautiful so I would have to share it with you.

Cheesecake Factory is located in Orlando at the Millennia Mall on Conroy Road.  This is just off I-4 west of the Orlando City limits.  If you're familiar with Orlando this is just before you arrive at Kirkman Road (SR535) which is the exit to Universal Studios.  There are a number of locations for the Cheesecake Factory around the country.  We visited the one in Miami Beach when we vacationed there this past June and it was every bit as good.  We will definitely go there again.  The average we pay for dinner for four is $85-$100 including tip.  For those from up north that doesn't impress you but it's a little more high end for Florida so plan on a totally decent meal.  Thanks again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Universal Studios - Jaws Ride Closing 2012

As you may have heard by now Universal Studios is shutting down the Jaws ride forever on January 2, 2012.  Universal spokespeople cite the ride has run it's course and it's time for an "out with the old -  in with the new" approach. 

The Jaws ride is one of the original attractions from when the park opened in 1990 and will be missed by many of the Spielberg fans.  I suppose it's a good move since there hasn't been a new Jaws movie since the late 80's and none of the sequels was nearly the blockbuster the original was.

Speculation on Twitter and among theme park goers is that the ride will be replaced by part of the Harry Potter expansion.  As soon as I learn more I'll post it.

12/6/11:  Okay, so I've checked with all the back channels I know and nobody knows what will replace the Jaws Ride but most of the park insider bloggers agree.  We think it will be something to do with the announcement made just today regarding the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  When it first opened in 2010 the attendance at Universal Studios increased by 50% and that's for just one attraction!  Speculation by park watchers is that they are making room for some Harry Potter magic at Universal Studios as well to boost ticket sales there and it's probably a safe bet.  We could all be wrong but the theme park business in Florida is a multi-billion dollar enterprise.  If you follow the money as with any business it seems to fit.  So, we'll see what announcements they make in the next several months.

Update - January 3, 2012:  It's official, the Jaws ride has closed forever as of last night.  Apparently, Universal Studios is going to build in it's place another Harry Potter attraction with a train ride, predictably called "Hogwarts Express"  connecting the new attraction from Universal Studios to the Harry Potter area in Islands of Adventure.   Going to miss the amity Island theme but Harry Potter is what's in right now and Universal always does a superb job with new attractions so it should something worth looking forward to.