Monday, March 17, 2014

The Great American Roadtrip

If you talk with the average American over the age of thirty, and ask them about any family trips they may have gone on as a kid. About 90% of them will say they went on a road trip/car trip. These trips usually had a main destination that they were trying to get to such as YellowStone National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Niagra Falls, the Grand Canyon, or Disneyland/Walt Disneyworld, but would also wind you through a lot of smaller destinations that at least one person in the car wanted to see such as Dodge City, Gettysburg, The Redwood Forest, Carlsbad Caverns, and the like. In some cases they also included kitchy roadside attractions like a large likeness of Paul Bunyan, buildings shaped like food/animals/or sports equipment, or the worlds largest something (ball of twine, deepest hole in the ground, etc.). Most people remember these trips very fondly even though they also remember their brother getting sick in the car, they ran out of gas, that they had to relieve themselves behind a cactus, or other weird troubles that come about while you are traveling hundreds, or even thousands of miles in a packed car with children and a spouse.

It was with this in mind when my wife and I started to discuss what our main vacation would be this year. My son is almost 5 years old and has definitely shown interest in some things that would lead to a spectacular road trip (mostly a huge desire to be a paleontologist). He wants to see fossils, and dinosaur digs in the worst possible way and thanks to a wonderful PBS kids cartoon called Dinosaur Train he knows we live just three states away from a place that is famous for their dinosaur fossil discovery. That place it Utah. I did a double take when we were discussing this years vacation and my sweet little boy piped up with Utah as his destination of choice for the family vacation. Wanting to make sure that he really wanted this as a vacation we offered up other destinations like Hawaii, Jamaica, Disneyland. But no he heard that they have dinosaur fossils there and that is what he wants to see.

After a long discussion between my wife and I that involved research on what there is to do in Utah (honestly, we didn't know much about it other than Salt Lake City and the National Parks), we decided that it would be more cost effective, and more of a creative vacation if we turned it into a driving vacation from Washington State to Utah's Dinosaur National Monument. We had discussed one of my families road trips through the desert southwestern United States and my wife has always wanted to do one. Even though we both had National Lampoon's Vacation rolling through our head we decided to do it. We will go see dinosaur fossils for my son, drive through picturesque scenery for me (an landscape and portrait photographer), and someplace that she (my wife) has never been. This will also help check off some states for our goal of seeing all 50 states before my son turns 20. In the next few posts I will cover our planning of where to go, what to see, where to stay, as well as what is accessible to a wheelchair. So pack up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, and lets ride!!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Epcot Food and Wine

Every October Epcot has their international food and wine festival. In addition to the international cuisine available in Epcot's World Pavilion, there are addition offerings at special kiosks sprinkled through the park. Each of these kiosks offer a full meal, but also a small sample of several foods native to the region or countries. It is a nice way to try food that you might not have readily available to you.
There are also different cooking demonstrations that take place throughout the festival showing how some of the food are prepared. Now if you have a little kids who may not be as adventurous with their dining don't worry. They still have plenty of options park wide for them (This is still a Disney Park after all).
Now if you live in an area that has a diverse population where you can get foods from exotic locals like Vietnamese, India, or Ethiopia. You may find that the offerings are not as exotic as it could be. In fact we actually found that we could get foods just as good if not a little better near our home. However if you live in an area that doesn't have as many diverse eateries you should definitely give it a shot, because it is a real treat to be able to try so many different cuisines in one spot.
All in all if you often find yourself at local food festivals near your home, you should consider attending this event. You will get all the benefits of the food festivals plus the added fun of Epcot and the other WDW parks. With that I wish you Bon Appetite!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tusker House

Tusker House is located in Walt Disneyworld's Animal Kingdom Park. It is tucked away to the side of the walkway in the Africa portion of the park which has some very amazing and realistic theming (my wife has been to Ethiopia and has stated on both of our WDW trips that this is very close to how it looks architecturally).
We went to a character breakfast which you will need to make reservations for in advance. The food is what you will get at any of the other character breakfasts (waffles, pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc) so if you are expecting any exotic food you will be sorry. However the character access at Tusker House was incredible. We had our family picture with Donald (which they print at the restaurant). We were visited at the table by Daisy, Micky, Minnie, Goofy, and one more that escapes me at the moment. The characters move from table to table so that every kid and adult gets some special time to take pictures, get autographs, or just give a hug. Then the fun starts. The kids are recruited and given an instrument to play and march around the restaurant with to African music (this is very loud so if you have any members of your party who doesn't do loud very well or young infants they may want to step away). This was a blast for my son to start his morning in one of his favorite parks, and be there before it officially opened.

Yes this is an extra cost (as are all character breakfasts), but if you do an early seating you can be fed and in the park and headed to your favorite rides before most people have made it through security.
My overall review of the Tusker House character breakfast is this. Food is basic breakfast fare, service is great the cast members are very helpful and friendly (not in a phony way), character access it the best I have encountered, and theming is great. So if you are planning to do a character breakfast, do this one it was really fun

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tokyo Dining

We visited Tokyo Dining in Epcot's Japan pavilion because I thought we might need a little bit of food we have available from home. I do love the different foods you can get in Walt Disney World but after a while you want to give yourself something that you are used to. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, we have an abundance of authentic Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai,and Japanese food available to us.  I live in a small city where just off the top of my head I can think of 10 different restaurants with Asian cuisine (and that doesn't count the two noodle houses or the Asian groceries). I say all this because even though I am not of Asian decent, I do know my Hui Tiu from my Won Ton Soup.

You enter the restaurant and the very friendly hostesses get you settled into either Tokyo Dining, or Tapan Edo (similiar to Benny Hana's). Tokyo Dining has a minimalist decor of white table clothes and simple water cups waiting at the table. Our server was very traditionally dressed young lady from Okinawa who was very attentive to my wife and I but also my son (making sure that he had crayons and a coloring sheet, as well as training chopsticks that she assembled at the table). Her courtesy was impeccable and she knew the menu extremely very well. My wife had a noodle dish with a side of Stir-fried vegitables which were flavored in a oyster/and soy sause and carnashed with those wonderful crispy noodles. I had a fried rice dish with pan fried vegitables (the cabbage was really great). while my son stuck to a teriyaki bento box (a good choice for kids because the food is seperated, and they can get an egg role, or fried dumpling, rice, chicken, and a salad all in a serving that isn't to much for a kiddo). The food was good, if not just a little under seasoned for our taste (they are after all cooking for a wide variety of pallets). What I did like is that even the food that was fried didn't show up at our table all greasy (which isn't something you can say about all the food in WDW). Also if you are hankering for some authentic sushi this is where I would feel safe doing it.

The lunch pace we had was very leisurely, our food was given to us as if they were watching to see when we were done with the previous course. It was nice and cool inside, with a nice view of the lake. While we were there there was more of a crowd in Tapan Edo so we could enjoy a conversation without raising our voices to be heard.

I recommend this place if you have a kid that likes teriyaki, or is an adventurous eater. The food was good and filling (even healthy), services was efficient and non bothersome. Most importantly it was an oasis from the crazy of the park (and the smell of greasy German and polish food) on an 90 degree day). If you can get reservations I do believe that you should give it a try. It will surprise you

Monday, December 30, 2013

Coronado Springs

A lake view of Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, lit up in the evening
Coronado Springs Resort is a moderate level resort located in the lower end of the Walt Disney Resort complex. It's main theming is colonial Spanish and native Mexican decor. It has brightly colored rocks, cactus, and great stamped concrete paths that with coyote, horse shoe, and a grand Mayan pyramid next to a pool. Basically it was a Howard Johnson's with Disney theming, not over the top fancy, but there was no mold growing in the showers either (unlike my last experience in the Port Orleans Riverside). They didn't have an accessible room that slept three so they comped us the adjoining room which was really nice for my son who had an earlier bedtime than my wife and I (also I didn't have to watch any Disney JR).

 A little warning is this place is spread out. I mean that it was a mile from my room (building 6) to the main building were the restaurants, store, and other amenities were. We had an entire lake between us and the main building. This wasn't all bad because we were at one of the first bus stops going to the parks (first on, first off), and we got to avoid the conventioneers that had a tendency to drink to much and have some colorful language around small children (really you can't see the 3,4, and 6 year old in front of you while you are talking about how wasted you got last night? Oh yeah this is a family vacation destination so you do need to watch your language and subjects on the bus.). All in all the positives outweighed the negatives and I would stay there again.

The rooms were a good size and my wheelchair could navigate easily in both rooms. The bathrooms had a built in shower seat, and a raised toilet with grab bars. The beds were comfortable and at a good transfer height. We didn't have a super amount of theming in the rooms which was nice after a day in the parks. If you are looking to dive into nonstop Disney this isn't the place. If you are staying for an extended amount of time they have laundry facilities located on property (bring quarters), and a small fridge in the room for keeping juice, fruit, or pastries for breakfast in. There is room service but it is not the best. We ordered a pizza after one long day in the park and were brought a sparsely cheesed tortilla with a small amount of spaghetti sauce on it (worst pizza I have ever eaten). We did eat it because after 45 minutes and being hungry how can you not.

 The main pool has a cool Mayan pyramid with a water slide that they show movies at during the evening. It has a nice little snack bar that closes around 9 or 10 p.m. (depending on the night). I have been told that they are going to be adding pool lifts sometime next year to all of the property's pools to assist wheelchair bound folks like myself . One last feature was that they had a designated bus line for Coronado Springs that didn't stop at any other resort. You still had to wait for the bus at times but it was a shorter trip to and from the the parks than if you would have been stopping at several hotels.

On the whole when my family goes back I believe we may try to stay at one of the deluxe resorts only for the ease of transportation with a little kid. But if you do not have that issue I recommend the Coronado Springs Resort as a good base of operations.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mickeys not so scared Halloween party

One definite up-sell I would recommend is Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. This is a pre-ticketed event that was worth every penny when I saw my sons face as I told him we were trick-or-treating the Magic Kingdom. First off everyone gets to dress in costume if they want (mom and dad too although we didn't this time). You are greeted at the gate and given a special bracelet to show that you are indeed with the party. You are also outfitted with a candy bag for each member of your party. Then the fun really begins.

There are special meet spots for Disney characters in their own Halloween costumes where you can have your pictures taken and autographs signed. Special shows featuring Villains at their best happen in between trick or treat candy stops.

When you are ready to take a break there are special treats only sold during the Not So Scary Halloween Party that you and your family will love. My favorite was the spider cupcake. You can sit and enjoy a snack while watching all the people walking around in their costumes (some of these people take this super serious folks, almost better than the costumes that are park made).

There is a special parade and fireworks display designed specifically for this event, and as true to form are breathtaking. Although my son managed to sleep through the fireworks my wife and I were mesmerized (like we were 12 years old). The cast members seem to have a pretty good time being at the event which always makes a big difference. The really nice thing about the MNSSHP is that there are a limited number of people in the park so you can get on the rides without the three hour long lines. Yes it is expensive but it is also something you and your family will remember for a long time.

Monday, December 23, 2013

DCL Disney Dream

The Disney Dream is the third ship in Disney Cruise Lines 4 ship fleet. It entered service in 2011 and is currently sailing mostly 3 and 4 day Bahamian cruises. All the amenities that you have come to expect from DCL are included in this ship, and because the Dream and her sister ship, Fantasy, also have some things that the Magic and Wonder don't. Along with water slides the Dream has a Disney first, the Aquaduck. The Aquaduck it a water roller coaster which has a portion go over the side of the ship (this is also clear so you can look down, although I am not a fan of no                            thanks). 

It's Oceaneer's kids club has a space for every type of kid from those who like to do arts and crafts, dress in costume, play computer games, dance and move, or hang out in Andy's Room or Monsters Inc. play areas. I am not going to lie, I was quite jealous that my son got to go there because it looked like a ton of fun. The kiddos even get to enjoy meals there if they choose to dine away from mom and dad. There is also a tween, and a teens club that offer both those are brackets the newest tech areas to hangout in and make some new friends.I am excited about this because it means we can cruise Disney for a long time to come without my son getting bored.
Just because this is Disney don't think that they forgot about the adults. There are adult only areas on the ship that are secluded away from the hustle and bustle of family life. There is an adults only pool complete with bar and snack service, the Vista Spa (which is wonderful and a total splurge), and an area called the District that is full of night clubs, bars, restaurants, and other entertainment that would have children yawning with boredom or embarrassed because dad and mom are busting a move on the dance floor (that's right I said bust a move, what is your point). My point is even if you are child free you will have a blast on this ship (and most of the time you will not even realize how many kids are on this ship).  
The food choices are wonderful. Along with the three main restaurants Animators Palate, Enchanted Garden, and Royal Palace. There are two more that you must pay a nominal fee Palo, and  Remy that have exquisite gourmet food prepared lovingly by master chefs. If it is a quick service you are looking for they have that covered too with Flo's Cafe, and Cabanas to get your craving for a slice of pizza after a swim. Add that to all the ice cream self serve areas and drink stations and the glutton or the foodie in you will be sated.

Do yourself a favor and don't miss the night time shows. My wife and I hit two of the three and were pleasantly rewarded with wonderful singing and choreography that challenges anything you will see on Broadway. I am not normally a musical kind of guy but this was fun and didn't take itself to seriously, in essence brain candy. We also managed to see a special showing of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" on 3-D that had some, surprises, that I won't spoil for you. If you like movies they have you covered with first run movies in a state of the art theater, or sit by the pool and watch sports or Disney classics on the funnel-vision (like I said they have you covered).

Basically what I have described above just scratches the surface and doesn't even count your stops, excursions, Castaway Cay day, or cruise demonstrations (they had a cooking one when we went), also during the holiday times they have special events then too. Is a Disney Cruise more expensive? Yes, it is. Is it worth the extra money? Yes it is. They have the largest standard rooms at sea, and with only four ships in the fleet I would say they are better maintained than the larger cruise lines. My only complaint was that I wish that Disney restricted one of their elevators for mobility impaired folks as a convenience because it can take some time to get where you are going. Try it out, I think you will like it.