By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor

Category — q. Reviews

Photo Tour of a Refurbed Standard Room at the Disney World Dolphin

For the first page of this review of the Disney World Swan and Dolphin, see this.


Rooms at the Dolphin are being refurbed, and this photo tour is of a refurbed room. The main elements of the refurb are a simplified bath, new dresser and table, and different fabrics and finishes. Refurbed rooms have kept the full beds and single sink that make Dolphin rooms less family-friendly.

For a photo tour of an un-refurbed Dolphin room, see this.

The room layout is traditional with a bath on one side of the entry and a closet on the other.

The closet is large but not as engineered for capacity as are those in Swan rooms.

Next to the closet is a small station with a coffee service on top and a shelf below. The mini-fridge that used to be here has shifted into the main room.

The divided bath has a single sink in an outer space…

…with some amenities in shelving between the studs.

Sink Disney World Dolphin from

This layout adds simplicity and space to what used to be an angled sink and vanity area.

Beyond the sink area you’ll find in their own space a toilet and tub/shower combo.

Deeper in the room the bed side offers two full beds. Note the easy chair beyond them.

Here’s the beds from the back.

Between them is a small bedside table.

The other side of the room has a dresser, TV, and a table and chair.

This side of the room from the back. The table can serve as either a dining or games table, or a desk.

The dresser has four medium-sized drawers.

At one side of the dresser you’ll find this mini-fridge

Dolphin rooms have a variety of views, and most don’t have balconies.

Our room did have a balcony, and from it I could see glimpses of the Hollywood Studios Star Wars fireworks!


This review continues here!
The 2017 easy Guide

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April 11, 2017   No Comments

Review: Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom


Rivers of Light is the new, much anticipated evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It opened in mid-February 2017, and I had the chance to see it in early March.

Combining floats, boats, colors, water, lasers, fire, music and song, Rivers of Light is not as dramatic as the evening shows at the other three parks, but much lovelier, and I consider it a must see.

It is currently showing four times a week—Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On April 8, it shifts to being on every night–at least through the summer–and some evenings will have multiple shows.

Start times vary depending on the time of sunset. Over the next few months and the summer they range from 7.15 to 9.15p. The second show, when available, begins 75 minutes later. A delightful pre-show begins 15 minutes before show start.

It occurs in a lagoon between Expedition Everest and Dinoland.

While there are a few small areas from which you can get off-center views elsewhere in the lagoon, the best views and all seats are in a dedicated amphitheater that Disney has built along the shore here.

The amphitheater seats about 5,000 of the 30,000 people in Animal Kingdom on an average day—a number that will likely go up quite a bit this summer after Pandora: World of Avatar opens.

Half of the amphitheater (on the Expedition Everest side) is dedicated to FastPass+…

And a fair proportion of what’s left goes to those who have booked special Rivers of Light dining packages at Tusker House or Tiffins.

As a result, even on nights with two shows, fewer than 5,000 people will be able to see Rivers of Light via the stand-by line. So FastPass+ or the special Rivers of Light dining package (which guarantees you nice seats on the Dinoland side) will be by far the best choice for most.

Those on a one-day visit to Animal Kingdom—especially after Pandora opens in late May 2017—will be best served by buying the dining package.

This is because you can’t add FastPass+ until after you used all the ones you pre-booked, and you will use your FastPass+ for Rivers of Light so late that little or nothing will be available after it ends.

Those with two days in Animal Kingdom should get a FastPass+ for Rivers of Light.

My co-author Josh has more info on the dining packages for Rivers of Light—plus much better pictures of the show—on his site here.

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March 9, 2017   2 Comments

Disney After Hours for 2017

Disney After Hours 2017 from yourfirstvisit.netDisney After Hours, an expensive way to see a bunch of Magic Kingdom rides with hardly any waits, has returned for 2017.

Not something I’d recommend for first-timers, this event is well worth it for returning visitors who can afford it and can stay up through it.

It’s currently on the calendar for most (but not all) Thursday nights into early March—specifically, February 2, 9, and 16, and March 2 and 9.

It “begins” at park close–the February dates are 8-11p, and the March dates 9p-12MN–but ticket holders can officially enter at 7p, and unofficially, I believe, can enter at 4p.

Prices for most people are $119 per adult or child. There’s also a deal of $89 per Annual Passholder/Disney Vacation Member adult or child (plus tax for both). The general price of $119 is about 20% less than last year’s price.

The number of tickets sold is quite limited. As a result, you can enjoy a number of Disney World rides with almost no wait.

It’s hard to communicate just how empty Magic Kingdom is.

I attended the party Friday January 27th and here’s a shot of the area between Peter Pan and the Carrousel during the afternoon that day:


And later during the event:


The boarding area for it’s a small world during the event:


The boarding area for Splash Mountain during the event:


The TTC parking lot about half an hour before event end:


If you know the Magic Kingdom well and are willing to move quickly, you can see quite a bit during the period from when you are let in to event end.

My test of the event last April is here, when basically I saw almost every headliner at Magic Kingdom, plus more.

In my 2017 test of this event Friday January 27, I tried to act less like a power user and more like what I thought the “typical family” might act like—specifically by starting in Fantasyland and going from there to Liberty Square, Frontierland, and Adventureland.

(Note that I don’t actually recommend this approach. You’ll see lower crowds if you start with Adventureland and end your night in Fantasyland. See below.)


Moreover, I intentionally arrived just before the event’s official beginning, as would those who aren’t aware that they can enter the park before the event, and knocked off after about two hours, figuring that I was about 50% more productive than the typical family, who would spend some time bickering outside the restrooms and eating ice cream (you get free ice cream, popcorn, and water and soft drinks at the event).

Here’s my results (times are when I got to the ride):

  • Barnstormer 9p
  • Dumbo 9.05
  • Mad Tea Party 9.14
  • Winnie the Pooh 9.19
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 9.25
  • Under the Sea–Journey of the Little Mermaid 9.32
  • Prince Charming Regal Carrousel 9.44
  • it’s a small world 9.53
  • Peter Pan 10.08
  • Haunted Mansion 10.18
  • Big Thunder Mountain 10.40
  • Splash Mountain 10.50
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 11.10p

Note that if you could have matched my pace, you would still have had time to ride Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, and perhaps, Seven Dwarfs again.


If you want to see a lot of Magic Kingdom rides with low or no waits, it is well worth it. The challenge is fitting it into your already existing plans and budget.

Like most things at Disney World, a successful visit to the event comes from careful planning.

The best strategy is to

  • Do what Josh and I call in our book “Anytime Rides” (that is, rides that typically have low waits all day long) until near the time of the event
  • Do “First or Last Hour Rides” (that is, rides that typically have low waits at the beginning and end of the day, but high waits in between) just before the event, and
  • Do rides that are typically high-wait during the event itself.

Moreover, during the event, target the west side of the park first, then Tomorrowland, then Fantasyland.

Do it this way for a couple of reasons

  • Most people’s first targets will be Tomorrowland or Fantasyland, so you’ll see lower crowds by starting in Adventureland, Frontierland and Liberty Square
  • The only ride where other people are essential is the Jungle Cruise, giving another reason to put Adventureland early
  • Small children at the event will be sinking as the night grows later, so put Fantasyland last

Depending on how you value your time and money and design your visit, doing the After Hours event will either save a hotel night and day of eating (if you are at a deluxe, that itself will pay the extra cost of full price tickets), give you an extra day at another park, or give you an extra day off.


Taking full advantage of the minuscule waits requires the ability to stay up somewhat late, a good plan, sound knowledge of Magic Kingdom, and brisk movement.

For these reasons I can’t recommend it to first timers.

But the After Hours event can be a very good idea for returning visitors who know the Magic Kingdom well and want to grab an extra day out of their trip.


The Disney World fan community, in general, gets enraged by only two things:

  • Things Disney does
  • Things Disney doesn’t do

The After Hours Event, after it was announced last year, enraged many people. Almost all the reasoning behind the enragement was speculation that something, somehow was being taken away from regular park guests and given instead to the rat-finks who could afford the quite expensive tickets for the After Hours Event.

In 2016 this reasoning was comically inept, as nothing in fact was taken away from regular guests.

There’s a bit more to the rage for the 2017 event, however.

Over the relevant weeks in January-March 2017, the Magic Kingdom in fact closed/is closing on average an hour and 17 minutes earlier on event nights than it did on the equivalent nights in 2016 (yes, I’ve corrected this for the changing dates of Presidents Day).

A third of this reduction in operating hours available to the general public (three of the nine fewer hours) is on one night, the Thursday before Presidents Day, when Magic Kingdom was open until 11p in 2016 and is open only til 8p in 2017. Three more of the “lost” hours have already passed—one on January 20th and two on January 27th. The next biggest impact is March 9, open til 11p in 2016 and 9p in 2017.

That said, it seems worth noting that on non-event nights in February 2017 (March 2017 does not yet have a firm calendar), the Magic Kingdom is open, on average, 58 minutes fewer than the same days in 2016…so it’s not only the event nights that are seeing shorter hours…


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January 31, 2017   24 Comments

Review: The Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Epcot’s International Festival of The Arts is a new-for-2017 event happening in Epcot’s World Showcase Fridays through Mondays until February 20, 2017.

The Epcot International Festival of the Arts from yourfirstvisit.netThe Festival kicked off on January 13, and I had a chance to see it this past weekend.

The Festival combines

  • Great, albeit pricey, dining
  • Dozens of kiosks with art to view and buy
  • Interactive opportunities to paint, be photographed into great art, and play with silly living statues
  • Seminars and other sessions
  • Music–some casual, some distinctive presentations from the Disney on Broadway team

Disney calls it a mix of “visual, culinary and performing arts inspired by cultures from all around the world…a global masterpiece.”

That’s a stretch, but with better food than past Food and Wine festivals, and better visual appeal than past Flower and Garden festivals, it is, by far, my favorite among all the Epcot festivals I’ve attended, and I highly recommend it for returning visitors.

First-timers will enjoy it as well, but will find that it adds crowds to Epcot’s World Showcase on the days it is open.


Dining opportunities are particularly concentrated at the entrance to the World Showcase, but are also found in the Odyssey Festival Showplace (between Test Track and Mexico—the Showplace is the centerpiece of the Festival) and scattered through the rest of World Showcase.

The Festival of the Arts offers the best dining ever seen at an Epcot Festival. Waits are long as much food is prepared while you wait, and prices are also high. The value for money is also very high, and with many $7+ items available for a snack credit, the festival provides the single best argument in years for you to buy the Disney Dining Plan.


I had a chance to try the Charcuterie Palette from the Masterpiece Kitchen…


…the Savory Doughnuts and darling Mary Blair Chocolate from The Painter’s Palate…


…and half of co-author Josh’s deconstructed BLT from E=AT^2 (that’s not, I think, a typo). Because nothing says deconstructed BLT better than a poached egg…

Detailed reviews of the dining options are on Josh’s site


Art, fittingly, is everywhere at the Festival of the Arts.


Begin in the Odyssey Festival Showplace, which includes brief exhibitions of the work of Herbert Ryman and Mary Blair.


The Ryman work is stunning. For more on Ryman, see this.


The Blair material is focused on her early South American work.


While mildly fun and historically very important in the life of the Walt Disney Company–and suiting the Festival’s international theme–it is much less interesting than her later work, which you can find here  or, even better, here  .

All over World Showcase are tented kiosks offering mostly Disney-related art to browse through and buy:





There’s lots of opportunities for simple play.


In front of the Future World stage you can find living statues that will mess with you and your kids (check the Times Guide for showings)…


There’s an opportunity to play with a paint-by numbers canvas on the way to Canada…


Scattered through World Showcase are opportunities for you to join famous works…


These folks in France are from the “toxic employee” list.

There’s also some Figment thingy that I paid no attention to, but is a bit of a variant on the Kidcot concept—buy a map and stickers, find Figment-themed picture frames and Figment within them, add the appropriate sticker to the map, and turn the map in for a prize.



Formal seminars happen at the Odyssey Festival Center at 1.30p and 4.30, and less formal sessions happen there during the day–check your Times Guide.


Over in Innoventions East you’ll find The Animation Academy, an animation drawing class, where you learn to draw a Disney character under the tutelage of a real animator.


Some have reported that all will end up with a great drawing, but irl your results will vary.

Winnie the Pooh

My Winnie the Pooh is above…


…and above is Josh’s Winnie the Pooh. No, he was not trying to add Darth Vader elements; this was just the best he could do.



Music at the Festival includes both performances at the Future World stage (see your Times Guide for show times)…


…and a more interesting set of brief Broadway concerts in the evenings at the American Gardens Theater, at 5.30, 6.45 and 8p.

Presented by the Disney on Broadway team, the concerts showcase songs from Disney Broadway productions sung by Broadway stars.


I saw Kerry Butler (who was Belle in Beauty and the Beast) and Kevin Massey (Tarzan) singing songs from Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, and The Little Mermaid.

These two will be returning next weekend, and then the rest of the February dates will see Kissy Simmons and Alton Fitzgerald White doing songs from The Lion King, Aida, Aladdin, and the Little Mermaid.


Passholders and DVC owners can get priority seating, which you are supposed to do ahead of time, but we had no trouble grabbing day of. Your mileage may vary.

The area to do so and/or pick up your reserved badges is in Innoventions East.


Those with priority badges line up on the Japan side of the pavilion. There’s a stand-by line as well, on the Germany side.

As you can probably tell, I love this Festival…and hope it returns next year!

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January 30, 2017   No Comments

Accommodations and Theming at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

(For the first page of this review of Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort, see this.)


Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort from

Port Orleans French Quarter is one of 5 moderate resorts at Walt Disney World:

The moderates have much more room than the value resorts, more amenities, and (except for Fort Wilderness) much better landscaping. See this for what you get by Disney World price class.


Although the typical moderate rooms, at 314 square feet (the cabins have 508 square feet), look much smaller than the rooms available at the deluxe resorts, differences in hall/entry layout make the living space of the typical moderates much more comparable to many Walt Disney World deluxes than raw square footage would imply. See this for more on square footage and livability.

Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is officially “inspired by the romance and pageantry of the historic French Quarter in New Orleans…” where you can “…stroll cobblestone walkways and gaze down ornate wrought-iron railings as you listen to the smooth jazz backdrop and breathe in the sweet smell of magnolia blossoms in the air.”


Port Orleans French Quarter has 1008 rooms in seven buildings. These buildings are divided into a “North Quarter” and “South Quarter,” but, unlike other separately named sections of moderate resorts, have no difference in theming between them.


Rather, all share the same graceful New Orleans theming, and lovely walkways, gardens  and intimate courtyards.

The three story buildings have vertical sections divided by color, ironwork patters, and roof lines to create a bit of a townhouse feel.


This is successful in some treatments…


…but is mostly too low-contrast to be of much notice.

Most of the landscaping of the North Quarter is more intimate and romantic, with more of a street-scape and private garden feel, while the South Quarter is more open with more of a park-like feel. But this will vary by your room location.

Most rooms sleep four two queen beds, but rooms  that sleep two on one king bed are also available. According to Andre Willey’s invaluable,

“French Quarter rooms come in five category options: Standard (mostly parking lot views), Garden View, Pool View, River View, and King Bed (which are all corner rooms and could have any of the previous view types).”


The river view.

Connecting rooms and and accessible rooms are also available. To the room capacities of four and two you can add one additional child who will be younger than three at your visit and who will sleep in a crib.

Prices for these bed and view categories vary. Search “ Port Orleans French Quarter Room Rates” for the latest.


The floor plan of a standard two-queen room.


…and a shot of it.

These two images come from a detailed photo tour of a two-queen room at Port Orleans French Quarter here.

Among the moderates, Port Orleans French Quarter’s strength for first time visitors is its compactness and ease of getting around. Its biggest negative is its lack of visual kid appeal.

Returning visitors often find Port Orleans French Quarter to be a favorite, particularly if they have stayed before in one of the enormous moderates and therefore appreciate its relatively compact area all the more, and/or fall in love with the romantic setting. It’s my personal favorite among the moderates, and also the most romantic of the moderates.

See this for more on distinctions among the moderates.


This review continues here.

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January 4, 2017   2 Comments

Dining at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

(For the first page of this review of Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort, see this.)


Port Orleans French Quarter has one main dining option, the refurbed-in-2016 Sassagoula Float Works food court, and two minor options–the inside and pool bars.

Scat Cat's Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort from

Across from the main entry hall of Port Orleans Square you’ll find the bar, Scat Cat’s Club…

Scat Cats Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort from

…with entertainment many evenings, and, more to the point, bar food–important as there is no sit-down restaurant here. (Mardi Gras Fritters are the specialty of the house.)


The main food court, the Sassagoula Float Works and Food Factory, was refurbed in 2016 and lost much of its prior distinctive Mardi Gras decorations.

Food Court Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort from (2)

Above is what it used to look like.


And here’s what it looks like now…


It looks better at night.


It retains only the lightest of Mardi Gras theming here…


…and there.

Food Court Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter Resort from

You order and pay for your food in a small area that not only did not get larger in the refurb (above is the old area)…


…but actually lost some space due to a larger central shelving point.

The food quality–most of what matters–improved after the refurb. Josh really liked his catfish rice bowl.

Josh’s post also has images of the menus that were up the night we went there, and you can also see them online here.


I marveled at the new drink dispensers. (Josh’s discussion of them noted that his dad would be confused…but his picture of a confused person trying them was actually of me–it was a kindness of his to not out my ineptness…but I eventually figured them out.)


Peach Sprite, who knew it would be so good?

Port Orleans French Quarter is the only moderate without a table-service restaurant. It used to have one–Bonfamille’s Cafe–but it was shut down in at the turn of the century as a cost-saving move, and has never been re-opened (it’s now used as a test kitchen).

Even so despite the cramped size and long lines I do like the food court at Port Orleans French Quarter quite a bit–especially the beignets, made while you wait, and the barbecued ribs with sides of corn bread, collard greens and mashed potatoes! If I am staying at Riverside I’ll usually make my way here for beignets and greens.


If you want a table service meal, Boatwrights at Port Orleans French Quarter is about a half mile walk or boat ride away. The increasingly great restaurants of Disney Springs are also accessible by boat.

Outside, the pool bar also offers a few snacks:


The online pool bar menu is here.

And speaking of the pool…


This review continues here.

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January 4, 2017   No Comments