By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



Category — q. Reviews

Review: The Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom

Hall of Presidents was one of the initial attractions in the Magic Kingdom. Always a show that combines a stirring narration, period images, and audio-animatronics of the U.S. presidents, it has been frequently updated, and came out of a major update in December 2017.

I had the chance to see it in January 2018, and thought a President’s Day review would be appropriate.

The short version is that new images and a new emphasis in the narrated story make it very much worth a visit, although it will continue to be enjoyed most by adults and patriotic Americans, and be dull for most kids.

REVIEW: HALL OF PRESIDENTS IN LIBERTY SQUARE AT MAGIC KINGDOM

Hall of Presidents was designed to be the East Coast counterpart to Disneyland’s groundbreaking Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, expanding the scope to all presidents and the history to the not just the Civil War but also the sweep of the American experiment.

The initial show was largely unchanged other than the addition of new presidents as they emerged until 1993, when a major update to the show, spurred by Columbia history professor Eric Forner, was implemented. In 2008-2009, the show closed for 8 months for a major upgrade to the audio and video systems, and Morgan Freeman became the narrator.

The Hall closed again in January 2017 for a major re-do of the show, re-opening about 11 months later. As always, the new president was added, with the traditional speaking part of the Oath of Office and a new brief homily about the American people.

More significantly, the script, narrator, and images have all largely changed. The theme, now, is a little less about America’s struggles and presidential responses—although that material is certainly there—and more about the importance and challenges of the office of the presidency itself. Washington still highlights the beginning, but his story is now less about the Revolutionary War and more about the limits that Washington by his actions imposed on the power of the presidency.

Andrew Jackson is out, and the major bits that follow are Lincoln (more narrowly focused, on the Gettysburg Address), Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, all of the presidents in a roll call, Washington again, and finally President Trump.

The new imagery and story work just fine, building on the traditions of this attraction while making it fresh and new. Those who loved the old Hall of Presidents won’t find much here to disappoint.

One new element is the presence of security guards in the performance space. Disney has not found it useful to say why they are here, but some have speculated that they are present to disincent roving bands of Franklin Pierce fans and their “We’re Number 14!” chants.

I’ve always enjoyed Hall of Presidents—while thinking that The American Adventure in Epcot covers much of the same terrain much more effectively and with a better pace. You won’t find Franklin Pierce in it, for example. Those on shorter visits might skip the Hall and see The American Adventure instead.

The show continues to be on the hour and half hour.  Arrvie near show-time and you ought not to need to wait much. But do check on the schedule of The Muppets Present: Great Moments in American History… showing just outside, as it’s fun to see one, and then the other.

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February 19, 2018   No Comments

Review: The Epcot International Festival of the Arts 2018

Epcot’s International Festival of The Arts arrived in 2017 and returned for 2018. The 2018 Festival of the Arts is largely unchanged, except that most of its offerings (with the notable exception of the Broadway singers) happen all week long, rather than the Fridays through Mondays of 2017.

It began 1/12/18 and runs through 2/19/2018. I had the chance to see it last week, and here’s my report.

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, 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, especially on weekends

EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS DINING

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 of any Epcot Festival. Waits can be 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.

In 2018 I had a chance to try the Charcuterie Palette from the Masterpiece Kitchen…

…the Roast Pork Roulade from the Artist’s Table…

…and the deconstructed Reuben from Deconstructed Dish. All were terrific, and detailed reviews and more specific recommendations of the best  dining of the Festival are on co-author Josh’s site easyWDW.com.

EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS SHOWS AND GALLERIES

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

In the Odyssey Festival Showplace, you’ll find Disney attraction posters from theme parks around the world.  This is a let-down from last year’s exhibitions of the work of Herbert Ryman and Mary Blair, but those two set a very high standard…

Some of the posters.

More of them.

The posters are on both sides. One side has a little shop with books…

…and the other side has a little shop with festival merchandise.

I needed a hat…

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

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EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS INTERACTIVE OPPORTUNITIES

There’s lots of opportunities for simple play.

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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…

…and scattered through World Showcase are opportunities for you to join famous works.

More of these.

 

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.

EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS SEMINARS AND SESSIONS

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Also in the Odyssey Festival Center is 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 from last year is above…

EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS MUSIC

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

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…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.

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I saw in 2017 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.

The schedule for the rest of the Festival:

  • February 2 to 5: Performers Kissy Simmons and Alton Fitzgerald White doing songs from Tarzan, The Lion King, Aida, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid
  • February 9 to 12: Performers Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland doing songs from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Newsies and Frozen
  • February 16 to 19: Performers Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland doing songs from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Newsies and Frozen

Passholders and DVC owners can get priority seating, which you are supposed to do ahead of time. Pick up wristbands at the American Adventure.

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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!

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January 31, 2018   5 Comments

Review: Disney After Hours in 2018

What I used to say about Disney After Hours, after my 2016 and 2017 experiences with it, was that it is a separately-ticketed “opportunity to be in the Magic Kingdom with next to no one, and for three hours to ride the best rides (not all are open, but most are) with next to no waits.”

After my January 26, 2018 experience with Disney After Hours, I’d modify that a bit, to an “opportunity to be in the Magic Kingdom with very few other people next to no one, and for three hours to ride the best rides (not all are open, but most are) with in most cases next to no waits (but expect minor waits at Peter Pan and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train).”

Above is Fantasyland in 2017.

And here’s about the same space at about the same time in 2018.

Remaining dates for Disney After Hours in early 2018 are

  • Tuesday January 30: 8 to 11p
  • Thursday February 8: 8 to 11p
  • Thursday February 15: 9p to 12MN
  • Thursday March 1: 9p to 12MN
  • Thursday March 8: 9p to 12MN

Those with the special tickets (buy them here for $89 to $119/person) are allowed in around 7p, and, after the event starts, are the only people permitted to ride the open rides.

Two things were different for 2018.

  • First, instead letting people in at the traditional 4p time, Magic Kingdom enforced much more sharply the 7p opening.
  • Second, more people attended than were at either of my prior visits.

Both of these have the effect of reducing the value of the event–although not enough to annoy me.

In general it’s good to plan out what you want to see in advance–all the major rides except those closed for refurb will be open, and most of the minor ones–and to plan your evening to go Adventureland–>Frontierland–>Liberty Square–>Tomorrowland–>Fantasyland.

You do it in this order because, as usual, the best approach to reducing waits is to figure out what most other people will be doing–which is starting their night in Fantasyland or Tomorrowland–and do the opposite.

This order also lets you put the Jungle Cruise at a time when other people will be riding–it’s the only ride where you want your ride vehicle full, as it’s more fun that way!

On my 2016 Disney After Hours I tried to see as many rides as I could, and on my 2017 experience of Disney After Hours I tried to mimic what the typical family would be able to do.

For 2018, I took a plan of seeing all the headliners, and then seeing how much time was left over for re-rides or other rides.

I began at Jungle Cruise, where I had to wait one boat. Above is the Jungle Cruise waiting area.

Then I walked on to Pirates of the Caribbean. Above is my boat and the boats ahead of me.

My last sight of the redhead in her current role…whom I first met in this role in Disneyland in the late 1960s.

Next was Big Thunder Mountain (Splash Mountain is having its usual January closure).  A hundred or so people were ahead of me in line, but the ride loaded (using both sides) just about at our walking pace, so I had to wait for only a train or two to board.

Next was the Haunted Mansion, where I walked right into the ride.

I then got a free Mickey Bar and bottle of water in Liberty Square (your ticket includes free ice cream, popcorn, and drinks) and walked over to Tomorrowland.

There, I had to wait a couple of rocket ships at Space Mountain, but walked right on to Buzz Lightyear.

The worst waits at the event will be for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan. The later you ride these, the lower the waits will be.  I got to them about mid-way through the event, and waited 17 minutes for Seven Dwarfs and 8 minutes for Peter Pan.

I completed all these headliners by 10.10 pm–so would have had 50 minutes left for Splash Mountain (once it re-opens), re-rides, or non-headliners. Instead, I left.  Those who leave right when the event closes will find, as usual, that doing the same thing everyone else is doing will lead to lines at transportation.  Leaving a few minutes before the end of the event, or half an hour after, will have an easier trip back to the parking lots, or, via shared buses, to their Disney hotel.

Disney After Hours is expensive, and with the reduction in time in the park before 7p, and the increased attendance, its value has gone down.  But especially for returning visitors who know their way around Magic Kingdom and want to nail a lot of rides, it can be well worth it.

 

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January 29, 2018   4 Comments

The Pools at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

For the first page of this review of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, click here.

THE POOLS AT DISNEY’S GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort has two pools and a kids splash area.

The principal pool at the Grand Floridian, the Courtyard Pool, is among the accomodations buildings.

It’s the only principal pool at Disney World not aimed at kids, and is marketed by Disney as “tranquil.”

The Courtyard Pool at night.

There’s also a hot tub here…

…and a pool bar…

Pool Bar Menu Disney's Grand Floridian Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

…with an extensive menu. See the current menu here.

On the far east side of the resort is a more kid-friendly pool/water play area. There’s an Alice in Wonderland-themed water play area here.

The play area at night…

…and also a second pool, the more kid-friendly the Beach Pool…

…with a slide…

…and another bar. The menu for the Beach Pool bar is here. I particularly recommend the Crab Cake Sandwich.

The Beach Pool in the evening.

The actual beach here.

A fire pit in the beach area is used for making S’mores in the evening.

Movies on the Beach at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Movies are shown on the nearby beach most evenings.

Most of the deluxe resorts have a better suite of pools than these, but they function perfectly adequately for a visit.

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January 22, 2018   No Comments

Dining at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

For the first page of this review of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, click here.

DINING AT DISNEY’S GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort has the best adult dining of any single Disney resort, some fun options for kids, and easy access to even more great dining via the monrial at the Polynesian Village and Contemporary Resort.

All but one of the table service options is in the main building.

Cinderella and Her Court 1900 Park Fare from yourfirstvisit.net

On the first floor is 1900 Park Fare, where at breakfast you can find Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, and at dinner Cinderella and her homies–Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, Drizella, and the Fairy Godmother.

From The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

More on 1900 Park Fare is here.

Between breakfast and dinner, 1900 Park Fare hosts the Wonderland Tea Party.

This event, only for children 4-12 (parents leave after drop-off), includes fun with Alice in Wonderland characters, decorating cupcakes and such.

Around the corner is another of the resort’s five table service restaurants, the Grand Floridian Cafe. Alone among the Grand Floridian table service offerings, there’s nothing special here, so it can be a quite easy reservation to get.

From The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

Tea Room Menu at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Centered at the back of the lobby is the Garden View Tea Room with its Perfectly Princess Tea Party, which is I suppose a steal at $333 for a parent and a princess–or more specifically (there’s more fine print to this offer than any other Disney World thingy) one guest 10 or older, and one guest 3-9 years old:

I will have to borrow a princess (and $333) and do this someday.

At the back center of the second floor is the bar Mizner’s Lounge. On the lobby side of Mizner’s you’ll commonly find a band in the evenings.

Victoria and Alberts Disney's Grand Floridian Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

On the left is the stunning Victoria and Albert’s–some of the best dining you’ll ever enjoy.

From The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

(Find even more details in this review)…

…and further back, Citricos, a two-credit signature dining venue. From The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

Downstairs, outside, and around the corner you’ll find one of the best counter-service venues in a deluxe resort, the Gasparilla Island Grill. (Menu here.)

Gasparilla Grill has both indoor and outdoor seating, and the outdoor seating is popular during the Magic Kingdom fireworks.

Narcoossees from yourfirstvisit.net

Near the boat dock is the remaining table service restaurant, the two-credit Narcoossee’s.

Narcoossee Menu from yourfirstvisit.net

Among the three top dining options at the Grand Floridian–Narcoossee’s, Citricos, and Victoria and Albert’s–Narcoossee’s has the most familiar menu and the hardest name to spell. From The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

There’s more dining at each of the pools.

THE POOLS AT DISNEY’S GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT

This review continues here.

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January 22, 2018   No Comments

Photo Tour of a Studio at Bay Lake Tower

(For the first page of this review of Bay Lake Tower, see this.)

STUDIOS AT BAY LAKE TOWER

Most Disney World studios put the kitchenette on one side of the entry hall and the bath (and sometimes the closet) on the other.

However, at Bay Lake Tower studios, both the bath and kitchenette are on the same side of the room, and the kitchenette is rotated 90 degrees from its more common layout.

 

This yields wasted circulation space in the kitchenette, and a quite short living area, making these rooms hard to live in when the sofa bed is unfurled.

In this view of the entry to a Bay Lake Tower studio, the bath and kitchenette are on the left, and the closet on the right.

Here’s the closet.

Note the large safe. My book is six by nine inches, and you could easily fit half a dozen in there–and probably should.

Across the hall you’ll find the bath, which includes a small sink…

…and all the usual other stuff, all in one space.  There’s another sink just outside in the kitchenette, so it functions almost as well as a divided bath.

The U-shaped kitchenette has all the basics on one side.

A closer view of the coffeemaker, toaster, and microwave.

Below all this are storage drawers…

…and the mini-fridge.

The other side of the kitchenette has storage shelves and a mirror. We don’t need to go into why there’s a blank wall to the left of the shelves and mirror–suffice it to say that it’s the relic of another design error, but one that Disney was able to fix.

Deeper in the room you’ll find the living space, with a queen bed and fold-out couch on one side.

This side of the room from the back.

A closer view of the queen bed. Note from the last two images how tight the bed is to the wall and couch, and how tight the couch is to the curtains.  This space is 30 inches or so too narrow for what it is trying to pull off.

A closer view of the couch…

…which folds out into a full bed that I measured as 54 inches by 76 inches with a four inch thick cushion. The room is so cramped with the couch unfurled that you’d be best off booking just three in it, if the third is short enough to sleep lengthwise on the un-opened couch.

Balconies are at the end of each studio.

Bay Lake Tower rooms come with three views–Standard, Lake or Theme Park. The Lake and Theme Park Views are of Bay Lake or Magic Kingdom. Standard views are either of something else, or are so low that they can’t be defended as having a specific view.

I’ve had higher floor Bay Lake and Magic Kingdom views at Bay Lake Tower, and the views at both were terrific.

Here’s an upper floor Bay Lake view.

My November 2017 studio was a second floor standard view room, and the daytime view was indeed weak.

However, I actually had an OK view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.

The other side of the room has a dresser/TV thingy and table and chairs.

The TV side from the back.

A closer view of the dresser and (small) TV.

There’s six large drawers below, and shelves next to the TV.

Back in the room you’ll find this table and chairs.

Some Two Bedroom Villas are made up of a One Bedroom and a Studio via the connecting door near the entry, so we’ll look at a One Bedroom Villa next.

PHOTO TOUR OF THE LIVING/DINING/KITCHEN AREA OF ONE AND TWO BEDROOM VILLAS AT BAY LAKE TOWER

This review continues here.

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December 18, 2017   No Comments