Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Great Movie Ride - Disney Hollywood Studios - Orlando

The Great Movie Ride at Disney Hollywood Studios is a 22 minute excursion through the golden years of movie making.  A slow moving trolley shuttles you through a series of movie sets such as Dirty Harry, Wizard of Oz, Indiana Jones, Alien, and more.

It's hard to take pictures in this one because of the motion and the no flash policy.  I was able to get some good ones and some of my favorite characters and movies such as "Casablanca" were fascinating in life size and remarkable detail. The vehicle winds through the sound stage that has the front facade of Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.   There aren't great lines for several reasons.  The ride is a continuous one where the

cars hold 40-50 people at a time.  Also, the ride is on the lot directly behind the stage in the middle of the park.  We went there several times before we realized it was even back there.  Lesson 1:  Always get a park map as you enter the park.  They are printed in English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, etc.  So you can get lost in any language you like! No excuse unless you forget - which we did.

This is one the kids may not ask to go on but our kids loved it.  Even though many of the movies were made before they were born I was surprised that they knew almost all of what they saw.  They really found it entertaining and it's good to tear them away from the roller coasters for a while and mix it up a bit.  Look for this one when you visit.  I think you'll love it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Walt Disney World Hotels - Florida Resident Special Offers

Disney has a variety of offers for Florida residents to stay this summer.  There are a lot of on-site hotels to choose from and the prices vary depending on what you're looking for.  All the resorts fall into 4 categories: Value Resorts, Moderate Resorts, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas.

The Value Resorts range from $104 to as low as $70 a night in late summer.  Moderate Resorts are in the range of $143 - $273/night and $123 - $127/night in late summer.  Deluxe Resorts range from $228 - $379/night and $252- $379/night in late summer.  If you really want luxury you can get a Deluxe Villa for about $249/night  and $231/night, late summer.

There are the other charges that are never mentioned.  First is the parking fee.  Most hotels charge for self parking and also have valet.  Then there's the state resort tax and sales that add on to the nightly cost of the room.  Add-ons are extra and, like any tourist venue, there are incidentals that can rack up your costs so be careful.  I believe if you add $40-$50 to each room night you have your average cost per night.

Visit for all the current room rates.  The deals are there if you do the research.  Also, when you arrive for check-in always ask for a free upgrade.  They never offer them but sometimes they will accommodate you just for asking.  Don't be afraid to ask!  They already have your money so be bold and enjoy your visit!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fulton's Crab House - Downtown Disney

Fulton's Crab House has been in business at Downtown Disney since the early 1970's and has been one of their landmark eating establishments.  Always heralded as a casual but fine dining room I always wanted to go there but couldn't afford it.  So today I went there for Father's Day and assumed it would be awesome.

The place is built into the sandbar of the lagoon like an old Mississippi paddle wheeler.  It has several bars and you can stand outside on all decks to enjoy the view.  This place is one photo shoot after another and really cozy to be inside.  The employees were casual and friendly.  We were seated on time and had a great view of the shopping area from the stern dining room.  Our waiter was cordial and energetic taking our order in quick time.

Since we were dining at a place where the menu ranges from $22 to $89 I'm looking for everything to be perfect but it wasn't.  My dinner, which was a seafood platter came out cold and soggy due to water settling on the bottom of the plate.  Our waiter came by just as we were served to ask how it was but naturally everything looked fine since we hadn't taken a bite yet.

My wife sent her entire order back to be heated and by the time he returned to do that I had already eaten about half my dinner and didn't think it was appropriate to complain.  The window we were seated next to had numerous tiny flies buzzing around.  I stood in the window for about five minutes killing flies so my daughter could eat in peace and not one employee or manager came over to solve the problem.

To be fair, my kids had Fillet Mignon and baby shrimp pasta and said it was very good. My wife and I had the same dinner and both were unsatisfying.  There were no supervisors or managers in sight to say anything to.  I could have asked for one but chose not to.  At the end of dinner our waiter brought the check with some story about the credit card swipe not working properly so if I could tip him in cash he would prefer that.  If you're an experienced diner you know that speaking to customers about tipping is taboo in nice restaurants.  This is also a bit of a scam since anybody working for tips prefers cash on the table instead of money in the paycheck next week but it should never be brought up by employees.

I have to see what is good here.  The atmosphere and aesthetics were lovely.  The employees were polite and reasonably efficient.  I could tell the fish, scallops, and shrimp were of  high quality but either ill-prepared or left out too long before being served.  I know this seems like a negative report but when you read my other posts you'll see I rarely say bad things about places I write about.  I want my readers to get my honest opinion about everything.  Your experience may be better but for me this place fell far short of my expectation for what seems like such a classy place.  I give it a "C-" for the day.  Hopefully, if you decide to dine there you are luckier than I was.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Disney Hollywood Studios - Orlando

Disney Hollywood Studios is a slightly smaller park than Magic Kingdom but it's packed with a lot of thing to do.  One of my favorites is the Rockin' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith.  This high speed thrill will catapult you into darkness to the sound of Aerosmith and hurl you through the Hollywood Freeway amidst twists and turns that last for about as long as you do.  the whole ride is like a Space Mountain rock concert because you can't tell where you're going next.

If that isn't enough and you like being scared go to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  This is an old spooky Hollywood hotel where you go up and come down at breakneck speed  The artistry is unbelievable and it's great if you go at night or on a stormy day.  Adds a lot of scare to it.

For the slightly younger crowd wander over to Pixar Studios and enjoy attractions such as Toy Story Mania and the Beauty and the Beast live Show.  If you like shows there's also Disney Junior Live on Stage. The kids can see all their favorite characters perform.  Nobody does it like Disney when it comes to live shows.

Newer on the set is Star Tours, a 3-D experience where you can ride with all your favorite good guys and bad guys through the galaxy.  It's awesome and all ages will like this one.

There are many other attractions but I'll talk about them in future articles.  Dining is plentiful from formal character dinners to fast food options.  Explore the Disney Dining Plan and make reservations either by checking in with Guest Services as you enter the park or get the mobile app for your Verizon Wireless phone.

I hope you have fun on your visit and enjoy our great weather.  Just remember to drink a lot of water and use sunscreen.  Those from up north and Europe keep in mind this is the hottest time of the year and our heat is tropical heat so it can creep up on you.  Stay safe and have a good time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Star Wars Weekend - Disney Hollywood Studios

Star Wars Weekend just ended at Disney Hollywood Studios, Orlando, but it was totally cool.  We went last Saturday night and enjoyed it immensely.  In addition to the regular park activities there were all the well known characters roaming the streets and several times during the day there was a stage show that was great.

They billed it as a dance off between the forces of the rebellion and the empire that started with a hip hop version of the emperor and his bad guys.  Then Chewbacca (the best dancer there) came out with the Ewoks and two versions of Princess Leah.  They danced a great show for about 45 minutes and at the end the crowd got to cheer for the winner.  It was like any outdoor show.  You could see from where I was standing there was a tremendous crowd. I had to raise my camera to get anything and we got there 30 minutes before showtime.

The weather hampered the street contacts with the characters a lot that day but other than that it was a great show.  Check out the entire show on YouTube.  A lot of folks have filmed it over the past month so you will enjoy it.  At the end of the judging Darth Maul comes out and does a routine with his double light saber.  He is totally bad and the kids love seeing this guy.  I was very impressed with the dance routines and music.

Star Wars Weekend was very entertaining and we loved the whole thing.  Can't wait to see what they do next year!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hollywood & Vine Buffet - Disney Hollywood Studios

We visited Star Wars Weekend at Disney Hollywood Studios last weekend.  While there we always try to discover somewhere new to eat and found ourselves in 1950's Hollywood.   This place has the bustle of the era and the food was quite good.  Reservations are definitely recommended which you can make at guest services or over your phone at 1-407-WDW-DINE.  We were seated promptly and our waiter, Jonathan, provided great service.  The bar which is probably over 60 feet long includes chicken, rice vegetables, salmon, and teriyaki chicken.  They also have macaroni with cheese that has large chunks of lobster in it.  I don't eat mac-n-cheese but this was awesome.

The place was clean, well-lighted, and very well organized.  The staff was pleasant and presented a nice, professional appearance without being stuffy.  The food was all good with a good salad and soup bar followed by the main dinner bar to include carved chicken breast and sirloin steak. We sat there through a horrific thunderstorm so we had no reason to leave and just filled up!

After several trips we settled on the dessert bar which contained ice cream and toppings, strawberry shortcake, cookies and small confections which I didn't eat so I can't remember what they were -but the kids loved it! Drinks are included in the price of your dinner which is $32.95 for adults and $24.95 for kids 3-9 years old.  It's a little expensive but being all you can eat it's worth it and really not too expensive for a restaurant in the parks. They always cost more.

If you have an annual pass they give you 10% off  your bill and with the Disney Dining Plan you get about 20% off. Just don't forget to mention it when you sit down.  They're supposed to ask you but we don't always get asked so be sure to tell them up front. The entire experience is great as always at the Disney restaurants.  I give the whole experience an "A" for price, service, and punctuality.  Variety could be a little better but it was good.  It's hard to please everybody, especially at these prices but they do a good job of giving you choices.  If you want to get lost in an era then this, like all the Disney restaurants immerses you in the moment but I expect no less from those who made the movies we all grew up on and continue to share with our kids.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Trump International Beach Resort - Miami

I know it's not exactly Central Florida but Trump International Beach Resort in Miami is worth talking about.  Located in Sunny Isles Beach, on Miami's south shore, this beautiful hotel has a stunning view of both the ocean and the Miami skyline.  20 plus stories with rooms and suites and all the amenities.

Trump has two towers and two pools.  There is outside food and beverage and you can rent tubes, boards and wave runners for the ocean.  Parking is valet only  for $28/day.  The restaurant is very good but we only ate there once since there are so many places to eat in Miami.  The service is what one would expect from anything with Donald Trump's name on it and the staff stands ready to make your stay pleasurable.

If you get on the mailing list they send you deals from time to time.  We've stayed there before and they seem to send us deals right about that same time every year so there must be some tracking.  You can get a room for as little as $199 a night but suites are much more.  It's a great place to stay if you want the Miami Beach experience as it's far away from the theme parks and closer to the "money people" if you want to hang out and feel rich!

If you fly into Miami it's about a 30 minute drive from the airport and about 3 hours from Orlando.  There's so much to see in Miami and the South Beach night life is world renowned.  Very family friendly so whether you come a a couple or with the kids Miami is always a vacation worth taking.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nolan's Irish Pub - Cocoa Beach Florida

If you're in Orlando on vacation and head east toward the beaches I recommend stopping for a drink and a bite at Nolan's Irish Pub in Cocoa Beach.  A half block from the ocean, Nolan's is an authentic Irish pub run by your charming hosts, John and Mary Nolan.

As you enter, the bar is to your left adjoining a sitting nook compete with bookshelves, couches, and a fireplace.  Tables are plentiful and there's a bar seating where you can eat and watch the entertainment.  The place is loaded with photos, memorabilia, and autographs, some of which are very old.  I noticed an autographed picture of Eamon De Valera probably in his last years in office.

The menu is not too varied but that's typical for pub fare.  We had Guinness stew, Reuben sandwiches, shepherd's pie, and grilled ham & cheese.  All were very good and served by a charming waitress who was quite affable.  They made us feel quite at home for first time visitors and the place had a relaxed atmosphere but not sleepy.  The patrons were engaged in good conversation but not a rowdy crowd.  We had our teenagers with us and they were quite welcome.

Irish singer Cahir O'Doherty, was there to play at 8:00pm but, although we love his performances, we didn't stay to hear him this time.

The experience was well worth it for my family.  I give the place an "A".  It was clean, well-attended, friendly and clean.  The food, although not a vast menu, was delicious and well-prepared. Prices are what a family can afford.  We didn't drink but the bar was beautiful and had three bartenders working it so service was great.  Altogether, a great experience and I recommend it highly.  A place like this is good for the soul!