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.



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Perspectives on the Caribbean Beach Construction

THE BASICS OF THE REFURB AT DISNEY’S CARIBBEAN BEACH RESORT

Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort is undergoing a major redo.

Nine accommodations buildings have closed and are surrounded by construction fences.

Closed are all six buildings of Barbados, and the three northern buildings in Martinique. The other three buildings in Martinique used to be priced as “preferred,” but are not anymore.

All rooms at Caribbean Beach were refurbed recently, and many had a fifth sleeping spot added. The furniture for this fifth spot is being taken out of the rooms in the closed nine buildings and added to the 18 remaining queen bed buildings.

What this means is that in the remaining queen rooms (that is, in all villages except Trinidad South), it will be much easier to get a five person/three bed room.

The nine closed buildings are gone from the map, and are expected to be demolished and be replaced by a new DVC resort–although as usual, this has not been announced. The absence of these ~562 rooms—more than 25% of Caribbean Beach’s pre-construction capacity—has already reduced crowds on the buses and at the main pool.

Construction is also happening at the Custom House area, including the addition of a large temporary building (the image shows its short side). This building has not been widely discussed, but while it could be the office for the new construction, it seems poorly located for that and to be too large to be anything but a temporary replacement for the Custom House…

The shops, concierge services, table service restaurant, quick service restaurant, and other amenities at Old Port Royale are closed. They will be rebuilt near the same area but along the water. What this means is that the remaining buildings in Martinique will have demolition and construction at both their northern and southern ends, and should be avoided.

The bar was also expected to be closed and replaced, but at least as of my mid-May visit, it was still open, accessible through the pool.

Temporary replacement for the gift shops comes from a shopping truck near the main pool…

…and also from small “Island Markets” in converted rooms in one each in Martinique (2509), Jamaica (4308), and Aruba (5524). (The first two digits of the room number indicate the building number.)

Concierge services are still available in the Custom House, and also in a converted room in Trinidad North, room 3109.

There’s a couple of replacements for the closed dining—current dining options at Caribbean Beach are covered in great detail here.

  • The Island Markets have a narrow selection of breakfast supplies, cold sandwiches/wraps/salads, and snacks
  • A food truck by the main pool offers breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • An air-conditioned tent offers breakfast and dinner buffets with somewhat limited menus
  • A second food truck may be outside the quiet pool at Trinidad South
  • Pizza delivery to the rooms is also available

THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE REFURB AT DISNEY’S CARIBBEAN BEACH RESORT

There’s three major issues that come with this refurb:

  • Visual blight from construction
  • Noise from construction, once demolition kicks off
  • Limited dining options until the new venues are built and running

The visual blight is inescapable, as it is present along the bus routes and, if you have a car, at the main entry. That said, this sort of thing happens at Disney World all the time and doesn’t matter a lot unless you are staying in Martinique.

Construction noise during demolitions, and to a lesser extent construction, will be particularly a problem in Martinique, quite minor in the distant Pirate rooms in Trinidad South, and present elsewhere. Noise will be limited to the day, but may interfere with afternoon naps, or otherwise intrude into an otherwise peaceful afternoon in the main pool.

The limited dining is probably the most acute issue. While it could be made a little better with more options at the buffets, and the expansion of the breakfast and dinner buffet offerings to include a lunch buffet as well, unless that happens Caribbean Beach will not be a great choice for those planning more than one or two lunches or dinners at the resort.

To be clear, dining at Caribbean Beach is NOT a disaster—it’s not a lot worse than that at Port Orleans French Quarter, there’s still more counter service than at the Epcot resorts, and one no more should pick a Disney moderate based on dining than one should pick a spouse based on sock color…

…but the current state of dining, when combined with the noise and visual blight, makes it hard to recommend Caribbean Beach when for just a little more money one could book one of the other Disney World moderates—especially Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside (Coronado Springs is also seeing construction, though with no dining implications).

My advice? Well, unless effective prices go down or dining options are strengthened

  • If you have any qualms, change your resort. The potential for you to second-guess yourself is too high.
  • If you are one of the seven people worldwide who chose Caribbean Beach specifically for Shutters or the food court, change your resort.
  • If you never felt strongly about staying at Caribbean Beach anyway, change your resort.
  • If you picked Caribbean Beach for its tranquility, consider how construction noise might affect that.
  • If you plan more than one or two lunches or dinners at the resort, consider changing your resort

WHAT MIGHT BE NEXT AFTER THE REFURB AT DISNEY’S CARIBBEAN BEACH RESORT

The traditional issues with Caribbean Beach have been the number of bus stops, the distance of most of the resort from the check-in area at the Customs House, the distance of two villages—Barbados and especially Trinidad South—from the central services and pool, and the somewhat awkward layout of the quick service dining here.

This refurb holds the promise to fix almost all of this—particularly so if the a. the main lobby is moved to join the other central services in Centertown and b. in addition to the elimination of the Barbados (and Custom House) bus stops, the three stops serving what are now six accommodations buildings at Martinique, Centertown, and Trinidad North are combined into one.

Note that there is also much rumor of a gondola system that, among other things, might connect Caribbean Beach with Epcot and Hollywood Studios via a station between Jamaica and Trinidad South.

While this would require another bus stop (or maybe moving south both Jamaica’s and Aruba’s bus stops), the combination of Caribbean Beach’s current loveliness and playfulness and its great main pool with a gondola, new waterfront dining, fewer rooms, and a net smaller number of bus stops, would really make Caribbean Beach stand out among the moderates.

I have invented the material on the map below to show the potential here:

Even if there’s no gondola, there’s great promise here. But at least until dining options—or effective room prices–improve, I would advise most who plan more than a lunch or dinner or two at Caribbean Beach to stay elsewhere.

Have you stayed here since the refurb started?  Let me know what you think in the comment form below!

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May 23, 2017   3 Comments

Dining Options at Caribbean Beach During Its Refurb

The counter service area and Shutters table service venue in Centertown at Caribbean Beach closed earlier in May for replacement.

I’ll have more to say about the dining alternatives after my multi-night stay at Caribbean Beach in early June, but during an unexpected trip in mid-May I checked most of them out, including three meals—although not any breakfasts.

Here’s the initial version of the scoop with more to come after my June visit. I’ve also supplemented my own experience with info from a ton of helpful posts on the disboards.com Caribbean Beach thread.

THE CENTERTOWN FOOD TRUCK

The principal substitute venues are temporary fixtures just south of the main pool, between the pool and Trinidad North.

All day dining is available from a food truck. You order from the kiosk on the right above…

…and pick your food up at the truck itself. You can then eat outside, bring it to your room, or enter the air-conditioned buffet tent and eat there.

The menu is limited (click it to enlarge it)…

…but the burger was much better than most Disney food court burgers. The sliders and fish tacos look good, too.

I have no image of the breakfast menu, but you can find it here.

The food truck serves breakfast from 7-11.30a, and lunch and dinner (same menu) from 11.30a to 9p.

THE CENTERTOWN BUFFET

The main option, however, is the buffet. It’s open for breakfast and dinner. The breakfast menu is here.

Here’s the dinner menu. Frankly, there’s a little less here than meets the eye, so I strongly suggest that early on a stay at Caribbean Beach you go inside and inspect the actual offerings, so that if you later decide to have dinner here there’s no surprises.

You pay for the buffet at the same area where you pay for the food truck. Prices are $20.99 for those ten and up, and $11.99 for those 3-9 years old, or one quick service credit.

You then get an wrist band, which is what allows you into the buffet line—and allows the buffet tent to also serve double duty as an air-conditioned area for eating off the food truck, and/or filling your refillable mugs.

Here’s a couple of views of the buffet tent, which seats on the order of 250-300 people.

The buffet is all-you-can-eat if you dine in, and you can dine in or do it as a takeaway. However, you can’t both do a sit-down all-you-can-eat buffet meal and then also fill up a to-go plate. One or the other, bucko.

My main issue with the buffet is how limited the options are. Frankly, for a quick service credit, it’s nicely priced if you can find meal items you are in the mood for, but the adult cash price is high for the range of options available.

The first station combines some kids offerings with what the menu calls the “Pasta with a Selection of Sauces.” You’ll find here chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, meatballs, sausage, pasta alfredo, and pasta marinara.

Next are a couple of soups—on my visit, tomato and Island Conch Chowder. I had the chowder—it was very mild.

The salad section has precisely one greens option—mixed lettuce, mostly garden variety—well you know what I mean, it’s exactly the opposite of the variety of greens in our salad garden—six dressings, mixed fruit, and a couple of slaw-style options.

The entrée station includes the carving station—at my dinner, it was carved turkey. Other options include roast pork, jerk chicken, and shrimp curry. No beef—even though beef is common at carving stations at moderate and value food courts. If you want beef, get a burger at the food truck.

The turkey and the pork were dry—though the turkey gravy helped with that. However, I had some of the first turkey and pork of the evening—I arrived just after opening—and logistics needs may have meant that these were “older” and thus drier than what would be served later. I’ll check that out in June.

The image is of my second run through the buffet—my first plate was turkey, pork, jerk chicken, mashed potatoes, a roll, and salad. My second run included the chowder, shrimp curry, rice, and collard greens. All these were delightful, expect for the greens, which were far too sweet.

Vegetables available my visit included broccoli, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, rice, and collard greens.

There’s also a bread service area that I did not photograph adequately even by my low standards, and a dessert selection.

Off to the side is the beverage station, which is also accessible to those with refillable mugs. (You can get the mugs in the Island Markets, covered next.)

Service is incredibly attentive—I must have had three cast members ask me how the food was, and two others ask if they could get me a drink. Others have commented on nightly live music here as well—such was not playing during my early dinner, but I’ll keep my eye out for music on my June trip, likely to avoid it.

An expansion in offerings would make me not hesitate to recommend this buffet. Another pasta, another soup, one or two more leaf salad leaf options, some salad toppings, a beef entrée and one or two more “casserole” or sauced entrees, and a couple more vegetable options would round it out nicely.

But without that, unless what’s on offer works exactly for your group, it’s more of an emergency option than something I’d count on for a nice dinner at Caribbean Beach.

The buffet is open for dinner from 5-10p, and for breakfast from 6.30-11.30a.

THE ISLAND MARKETS

“Island Markets” are in three converted rooms—one each in Martinique (2509), Jamaica (4308), and Aruba (5524). (The first two digits of the room number indicate the building number.)

They offer

… ice cream (above, in the box at left), pastries, coffee and tea, cereals and pop tarts (with a microwave above)…

… drinks, yogurt, fruit, salads, sandwiches and wraps…

… and refillable mugs, bananas, and snacks.

The wraps/sandwich/fruit/salad choices are thin, and have sold out at times by early evening. I expect that problem to be largely fixed shortly as Disney learns more about patterns of demand.

Regardless, the offerings of these spaces work better for snacks and for breakfast supplies than they do as a place to grab lunch or a light dinner—unless you are thinking very light.

The Island Markets are open from 7a-10p.

THE FREESTYLE COKE MACHINES

Refillable mugs can be refilled in freestyle coke machines—where you get to design your own drink, like my favorite, peach Sprite.

These machines are available in one or two buildings in each village, replacing in those buildings the old-style Coke machines—which remain in the rest of the buildings. Find the right building, then follow the signs for Ice and Vending.

Buildings with the freestyle machines are marked on the resort map–note what I’ve circled in red.

THE TRINIDAD SOUTH FOOD TRUCK

The overview of dining at Caribbean Beach Disney provides does not include a food truck at Trinidad South.

But on my mid-May visit, one was there, on the parking lot side of the quiet pool…

…specializing in gyro and pita sandwiches (click the image to enlarge it).

I quite enjoyed my lamb and beef gyro. Lots of sauce…

I imagine that the absence of it being listed means you can’t count on it being there.  But if it is, it’s a handy option for those staying in the otherwise distant-from-food Pirate Rooms in Trinidad South.

IN-ROOM PIZZA

Another option is ordering off of the limited delivery menu, which features, pizza, wings and such. I’ve never had delivery pizza at Disney World, but will try it on my June visit and report out then.

THE VENDING MACHINE IN THE QUIET POOL LAUNDRIES

Finally, a post on the disboards thread noted above reminded me that there’s a vending snack machine in the quiet pool laundry rooms!

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May 22, 2017   No Comments

Fireworks and Evening Shows at Walt Disney World

(This page is one of a series explicating Walt Disney World lingo, abbreviations, and FAQ for first time family visitors to Walt Disney World.)

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

There are currently five routinely-scheduled fireworks or special evening shows at Walt Disney World:

Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom, which shows at varying evening times, from a few times a week in the slower seasons to every night during the most crowded times of the year.

IllumiNations at Epcot, which shows every night, most of the time at 9p.

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which shows almost always every night.

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which shows almost always every night, but may be off the schedule over the holidays, as it was in 2016

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which–so far–has been showing nightly during the busier parts of the year, and four nights a week during the slower parts.

Each of these is a great show, and a don’t miss.

Some of these theme parks also commonly have additional fireworks during the two nights of the year where fireworks are an essential part of American life–New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July!

To check what days and times these shows are scheduled during your trip, check the Disney World calendars:

(Note that it’s common for Disney not to release the schedules for these shows until just a few months out–especially the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios shows.)

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May 21, 2017   No Comments

Review: Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom

HAPPILY EVER AFTER: OVERVIEW

Happily Ever After is the evening show at the Magic Kingdom, and is the best of Disney World’s evening shows.

Debuting in May 2017, it is dominated by fireworks, song and projections, and also features lasers and other pyrotechnics.

It shows almost every night—at a time varying with sunset and park hours—from late December into August, and then several times a week during the Mickey’s party season from September into mid-December.

(During the party season, on the three to four nights a week* when Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are on, no evening show is available to those without party tickets.)

Happily Ever After is themed to the concept of “unlocking the magic within” to achieve dreams

Dreams are grouped into themes: Wishes, Adventure, Friendship, Love, [Overcoming] Adversity, and Triumph.

Each theme vignette presents Castle projections and songs from Disney and Pixar films—mostly from the Little Mermaid and later releases—supporting the theme.

Astonishingly effective, and with the latest generation of firework shapes and colors, projection technology, and lasers, Happily Ever After is also sweet and charming, and a tremendous crowd-pleaser—spontaneous applause followed most of the vignettes the nights I saw it.

Happily Ever After is a wonderful capstone to a Magic Kingdom day. Don’t miss it.

*Except the first week of November and Thanksgiving week.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER: WHERE TO SEE IT

Happily Ever After is designed to be seen with the Main Street railroad station at your back and Cinderella Castle in front of you.

Because of the projections on the Castle—and how fleeting, small and/or subtle many of the images that make them up are—the best results will come from being closer to the Castle.

The ideal position is in the circular hub right on front of the Castle.

(The projections are not shown on the back or side of the Castle).

Positions further back on Main Street towards the station will yield less impact, as the effect of the projections will be reduced.

And positions elsewhere in the park, although they will yield views of the higher fireworks and include the music, will lose most of the impact of the show.
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May 21, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Western River Expedition

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITION AT MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

Western River Expedition was an attraction that would have been built in the area of Magic Kingdom that Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain now occupy.

It was jokingly referred to by Imagineers as “Cowboys of the Caribbean” because of its superficial similarities to the format and layout of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland.

“For some reason, it was thought that because of Florida’s close proximity to the Caribbean, a ride dealing with pirates wouldn’t be as popular in Walt Disney World as it was in Disneyland,” Imagineer Tony Baxter said.

In addition, the Imagineers wanted some attractions that were unique to Disney World and not just a duplication of Disneyland.

Thunder Mesa Mountain would have featured a variety of attractions in addition to Western River Expedition, including a runaway mine train ride, hiking trails, a canoe flume ride, a Pueblo Native American village and more.

To accommodate all of this, a four story show building would have been decorated to look like the orange mesas of the American desert and Monument Valley. The WDW railroad would have gone through the building to offer guests a glimpse.

Imagineer Marc Davis spent five years creating a humorous ten to twelve minute boat trip through a variety of Wild West scenes. It was based on a concept he had developed as early as 1963 about a Lewis and Clark River Expedition for the never built St. Louis indoor theme park Walt Disney was considering.

Guests would have entered through a cave tunnel into the mountain and boarded boats that took them up a waterfall and then onto the winding river. Scenes would have featured comic Native American figures (including a rain dance with disastrous results), stagecoach robbers (where even their horses wore bandana masks), prairie dogs, antelopes, buffaloes, singing cowboys, and can-can dancing saloon girls.

It would have contained over one hundred audio-animatronics figures. A buffalo and prairie dogs were actually built for the attraction and later incorporated into the ranch house scene in the Living with the Land attraction at Epcot.

Davis spent many long months working on the attraction and had the enthusiastic support of both Roy O. Disney and President of Imagineering Dick Irvine.

Detailed sketches were made and models were created. Imagineer Mitsou Natsume even built a detailed model of Thunder Mesa and the exterior of the Western River Shipping & Navigation Company that was displayed for many years in the pre-show area of The Walt Disney Story on Main Street USA.

At one point, color stylist Mary Blair, a good friend of Davis and his wife, was brought in to consult with the color choices including a Painted Desert backdrop. Composer Buddy Baker had the beginnings of a theme song that would repeat throughout the ride.

The attraction was publicized with concept art in the Magic Kingdom guidebooks for 1971 and 1972 since the project was supposed to open with the park, but because of time and budget factors was relegated to the planned Phase 2 that would be completed by 1975.

The project was eventually cancelled because of prohibitive costs (estimated at over a hundred and twenty million dollars at the time), the decrease in popularity in Western movies and TV shows, and other factors including guests demanding the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

Davis still believed strongly in the Western River Expedition and offered a scaled-down version (removing the potentially offensive stereotypically comic Native Americans) with just a boat ride to be placed side-by-side with Big Thunder Mountain that had borrowed his idea of a runaway mine train for Thunder Mesa. Davis’ official retirement in 1978 meant the loss of the attraction’s biggest advocate.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
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May 19, 2017   No Comments

Next Week (May 20 through May 28, 2017) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: MAY 29 TO MAY 28, 2017

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on May 2017 at Disney World, see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20/-5/28/17

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-11p 5/20 through 5/22, 9a-10p 5/23, 9a-11p 5/24 through 5/26, 8a-11p 5/27 and 9a-11p 5/28

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open 9a-9.30p every day

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open 9a-10p 5/20, 9a-9.30p  5/21 through 5/23, 8a-3.30p 5/24, 9a-9.30p 5/25 and 5/26, and 8a-11p 5/27 and 5/28

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/17

Saturday 5/20 Morning:  Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 5/21  Morning:  Hollywood Studios  Evening: none

Monday 5/22 Morning: Animal Kingdom  Evening: none

Tuesday 5/23 Morning: none Evening:  Epcot

Wednesday 5/24 Morning: none  Evening:  Magic Kingdom

Thursday 5/25 Morning: Epcot Evening: none

Friday 5/26 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 5/27 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: Animal Kingdom

Sunday 5/28  Morning: Hollywood Studios Evening: Animal Kingdom

Mickey and Minnie Festival of Fantasy Afternoon Parade from yourfirstvisit.netPARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/2017

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon Festival of Fantasy Parade: 3p every day

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/17

Happily Every After at Magic Kingdom: 9p every night

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p every night

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9p every night

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9.30p every night

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom 9.15p and 10.30p 5/20; 9.15p 5/21 through 5/23 and 5/25 and 5/26; 9.15 and 10.30p 5/27 and 5/28; additional 11.45p show for Extra Magic Hour attendees 5/27 and 5/28

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/17

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

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May 18, 2017   No Comments