What’s almost as fun as going to Disney World? Reading about other people’s trips! Here is a trip report from Chuck. Enjoy reading about his trip!
Our trip, which included me, my wife, (Janice) and our daughter (Erin) and son-in-law (Nate), was two years in the making. It included planning, reserving, and putting up enough cash to pay for the whole thing, with enough Disney Dollars from our Disney Chase Visa Card to pay for any overages and souvenirs. In doing so, we eliminated the number one worry of most vacations– spending too much money.
When we checked into our two rooms at the Boardwalk Inn on Saturday, September 7th, 2013, our whole trip was already paid for. We got the free Dining Plan, so even our food was pre-paid.
We opted for a 7-day Park-Hopper ticket, with 7 nights at The Boardwalk, with a water view. The Boardwalk is a fantastic hotel, but unless you pay more for the water view rooms, you are defeating the whole purpose of staying there. That purpose is to be in the middle of everything, 24 hours a day. With our 2 rooms with balconies that overlooked the boardwalk and lagoon, we felt like we were in the action even when resting in our room. The boardwalk is a cornucopia of activity, with the people strolling by, the boats that carry you to the Epcot and Hollywood Studios parks gliding smoothly over the lagoon, and the street performers at night entertaining the crowds. All this can be seen from your balcony, or even your bed, if you feel the need to stretch out for an afternoon nap to re-charge for the evening’s activities.
To optimize our stay and get the full advantage of all 7 days, we decided to drive down to Orlando (a 4-hour drive from our home on St. Simons Island, Ga) the day before and get a room for one night on International Drive. For this, we chose the Courtyard by Marriott, a no-frills but very nice and comfortable hotel at a reasonable price. Upon checking out of the Marriott the next morning, we drove the 12 minutes over to The Boardwalk and checked in there at 9 am. They had both of our rooms ready, so we quickly got our luggage taken to the rooms, and then went back out for the day at Epcot. We were in the park by 9:30 on that Saturday, and our rooms for the week were already secured.
Once in the park, we discovered that the reason for choosing this particular week was justified, which was, the crowds would be minimal due to the fact that the summer vacation season was over. Most school systems were back in session, and it was early enough in the sessions that breaks would not happen until later. On this brilliantly sun-shined Saturday, we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for any ride or show. That trend would continue the whole week, which made the trip especially enjoyable and let us pick and choose which rides we wanted without considering the wait factor. Now, instead of describing the trip in diary-like form, detailing each day, I think I will highlight the dos and don’ts and hits and misses of our adventure. I’ll do this in two parts, the food and the rides, beginning with the food.
At our 180 day out limit where you can make the dining reservations, I made all 7 of them. We chose based on past experience, reviews, and menus posted on allears web site. The 7 restaurants we booked were Rose and Crown, Coral Reef, Tony’s Town Square, Boatwright’s in Port Orleans, Sci-Fi Dine-In, Via Napoli, and Nine Dragons. We also booked a breakfast at Kona Café in Polynesian Resort. For counter-service lunches, we did Sunshine Seasons in Epcot (The Land), Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom, Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, San Angel in Epcot, and The Boardwalk Bakery.
Before I go on with my reviews for the food, let me explain that I tend to be overly critical because at home we have a diner with a chef that is so talented, he could knock any of the Food Network Stars off their perch. So I judge by his standards, because knowing that he can create such masterpieces, I see no reason why other chefs can’t do it. Okay, I’ll start with our one sit-down breakfast and go on to the counter service lunches, and finally the dinners.
The breakfast we had at Kona Café was in a beautiful, lush tropical setting inside the Polynesian Hotel, but that was the main highlight. The food was average at best. We had the Tonga Toast, The Big Kahuna, and Blueberry Pancakes. The Tonga Toast—the signature dish—was a huge thick piece of toast stuffed with bananas with a cinnamon crust and strawberry compote. The edges of the toast were hot and crispy with the sugary cinnamon dusting, but the inside of the toast was a doughy mess, with very little taste. You could barely taste any banana at all, and the strawberry compote was too thick and dense. The Big Kahuna breakfast was mistakenly prepared for the Seven Little Dwarfs, as the serving sizes were those of miniscule proportions. Either that, or it reminded you of Glenn Manning—the Amazing Colossal Man—eating a normal size breakfast, but looked tiny because of his great size. Finally, the Blueberry Pancakes were as tasteless as any cardboard pancakes you can get at a free Hampton Inn breakfast. The one saving grace of the whole meal was the beverages. The superior Kona Coffee and delicious Lilikoi Juice– an orange, passion fruit, and guava blend—were as good as any two breakfast beverages I’ve ever had. On the whole, a nice experience because of the setting and ride over on the monorail, but one we will skip next time because of the food.
Be Our Guest
Of our counter-service lunches, the most overrated was the Be Our Guest Restaurant at Magic Kingdom. Located inside the Beast’s Castle, the restaurant strives mightily for an ambiance worth remembering, but no matter which dining area you choose to eat in, you can’t escape the feeling that you are still eating in a counter-service area. The self-service drink refill stations and the touch tone ordering system are a constant reminder that you are not sitting inside a fine dining area. The food on the lunch menu doesn’t come close to being anything special. I ordered the signature item, the Tuna Nicoisse Salad, and the French Onion Soup. Both dishes were more tasteless than anything on the McDonald’s menu. The Tuna was bland and not seasoned, and the soup was surprisingly light in the broth, with no beef flavoring whatsoever. Janice, Erin, and Nate all ordered different versions of the sandwiches on the menu, and all were rather dry and bland. Don’t let the ridiculously long lines here fool you—this is definitely a place to avoid next time.
The most underrated location of our counter service lunches was the Sunshine Seasons inside “The Land” Pavilion at Epcot. Here you get a number of choices of serving stations that offer food healthier and tastier than the normal cheeseburger/chicken sandwich/french fry selections you get at most other lunch locations. My favorite was the Oriental Station, which was so good, I went back a second time for lunch on another day. I had the Mongolian beef and Spicy Cashew Chicken entrees, which were both served with a fresh and flavorful vegetable fried rice. Both were very satisfying without making you feel bloated by devouring a cheeseburger and fries. I highly recommend this restaurant. I have just one more observation about the counter service lunches. At most locations, you will be offered a choice of side item to go with your sandwich or entrée. This choice will be for the most part fries or chips or a cucumber salad. I heartily endorse the cucumber salad. I tried it once and I was hooked. It is a simple salad of cut up cucumber and onion pieces in a light vinegar based sauce. It is awesome in its flavor and lightness. My only complaint is that it comes in a very small little cup, when I could actually eat a large bowl of it. If you want to make an entire lunch just from this, you will have to get 3 or 4 cups. But you have to try it.
From our dinner locations, the most overrated was the Via Napoli in Epcot. They offer a menu that is heavily authentic Italian dishes, with no respite such as a good steak, for the less than enthusiastic Italian cooking fans. If you don’t want the pizza, there is not a lot to choose from on this menu. I ordered the Veal Parmagiana, which wasn’t bad, but nothing special either. For ambience, the main dining area is kind of neat, with views of the 3 huge ovens and the busy hustle bustle of the kitchen staff. But, we were instead seated in a side area that reminded me of eating on someone’s enclosed porch, and were the only diners in this rather large area, which gave the feeling that you are not eating in a popular spot. Good reviews did come from my other party members, who all 3 ordered the pizza, which came in individual sizes and featured thin, bubbly crust and hot, tasty toppings. But, all in all, this restaurant was a disappointment and won’t be on our list for the next trip.
The most underrated dinner spot was the Coral Reef Restaurant in Epcot. This place is inside “The Seas” Pavilion and features views of an enormous fish tank aquarium that surrounds the dining area. The ambiance is pleasant, cool, and dark, with the lighted tank giving the impression that you are eating under water.
The service here was exceptional, and the menu offered choices for any type eater. We got a Sriracha Shrimp appetizer for the table and everyone had the Chocolate Wave for dessert—both huge successes. I got the Braised Beef Tips, which came with perfectly cooked broccoli and mashed potatoes. The beef was well-seasoned and fork tender. Nate ordered the New York Strip Steak and Janice and Erin the Lobster Mac n Cheese. Both got rave reviews, particularly the pasta dish, which came loaded with fresh lobster. This restaurant is definitely a keeper for next trip.
Nine Dragons, Sci-Fi
Of the remaining dining spots, we will be going back to every one of them except the Nine Dragons in Epcot. And the dinner there was good. It’s just that with eating Chinese food for lunch more than once gave us plenty of that.
The Sci-Fi Dine-In was great because of the special dining room, eating inside the cars while watching old Sci-Fi movies on the big screen. Watch carefully and you’ll see The Amazing Colossal Man, who I referenced earlier in the story.
The food here was simple but good, with the extra added bonus of the Dining Plan allowing you to select a milkshake as your dinner beverage. Boatwright’s was also a pleasant surprise. The food was delicious—we had the prime rib, voodoo chicken, and crawfish etoufee—but the trip over in a boat from Disney Springs made it into a special afternoon, where we got to explore parts of Disney we had never seen before. Boatwright’s is a plus for next time.
Before starting with the rides and shows, I’ll touch briefly on the Disney snacks. Everyone is familiar with the traditional favorites—the Mickey Bars and Dole Whips, which remain the best in the parks—but on this trip I found two drinks that are worthy of that status but have not yet found the notoriety. The first is LeFou’s Brew, which can be found only at Gaston’s Tavern in Magic Kingdom. This is a delicious apple juice-based frozen drink infused with some marshmallow and other flavors. The second drink is Jungle Juice Slushie, which can be found only at Harambi Popcorn Stand in Animal Kingdom. It is also a frozen drink, a blend of orange, passion fruit and guava juices. Both drinks are fantastic on a very hot day (is there any other kind?) in Disney World. I just wish you could get them at more snack outlets, although they are worth going out of your way for.
Rides And Shows
Experienced Disney vacationers know which rides and shows they like and are loyal to them on every trip. The same applies with us, but we are always in search of a new, better ride or show to come along. Among our favorites, four rides jump out at the very top of the list. They are Test Track, Soarin, Splash Mountain, and Dinosaur.
On this trip, we were very pleasantly surprised to see that Test Track had been upgraded, making an already great ride even better. Now, on the inside of the building, you get more speed, twists, and turns than before, and still get that fabulous fast ride outdoors.
No changes were made to our other three favorites, but they needed none—they are already perfect. As for the shows, the one most in need of an update/change is Captain EO at Epcot. When we exited that show, my son-in-law, Nate, said: “What did I just see?” Okay, he’s only 29 and doesn’t understand how cheesy Michael Jackson could be back in the day, but seriously, it’s time to give Michael a rest. If Disney wants to remain retro, I have a suggestion for the new show replacing Michael. Call it “Saturday Night Fever” and give it a 4-D effect. In the scenes from the dance floor, the giant spinning disco balls could come out and frighten the audience. At the dinner table, when John Travolta’s father slaps him on the back of his head, have a paddle come out from the back of your seat and slap the back of your head. Then, when the kid jumps off the bridge, this time have him jump all the way to the water and when he splashes, water will come down and splash the audience. Done to the tunes of the Bee Gees and Tavares, that would be a great show.
One other show worth mentioning, and definitely the most underrated show at Disney, is the American Adventure Show inside the American Pavilion in the Country Showcase at Epcot. This is a terrific show, but highly unappreciated by the numbers of the sparse crowds it attracts. Presented inside an enormous, beautiful theatre, the show is a 30-minute movie hosted and narrated by animatronics Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
This show differs greatly from the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom in that it celebrates the American spirit of freedom and individualism that molded our country, as opposed to the Hall of Presidents that only celebrates the men themselves that became presidents. Unfortunately, particularly of late, most of these men that rose to being president only see themselves as politicians and hoarders of power instead of leaders of men like our forefathers were. This show is a welcome bit of relief from the politicians of today that will rarely if ever use the words freedom and individualism in their speeches.
A Great Trip!
Well, that is about all I can report on now, except to say that the Boardwalk Inn gave us tremendous service and filled every request we made. On your stay, get to the parks early in the morning (we usually were there for rope drop), and do your favorite rides first, before the crowds get in.
Take advantage of the Fast Pass System, go in the slow months like September, and have a game plan for each day. If you do all that, you will enjoy your stay so much more. On second thought, forget what I just said, and leave all the good stuff for me. Don’t want to ruin all our secrets before our next visit. September 2015, I am counting down on you now, so get out of the way fast.
What is your favorite Disney tip to share?