Regular readers will know that I adore a Walt Disney resort hotel (click here to see my top five) and there’s much excitement in Orlando at the moment as there’s a new hotel opening very shortly. This one’s a bit different as although it’s placed within the boundaries of Walt Disney World, it’s actually a Four Seasons. The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort to give it its full title (bit of a mouthful, admittedly) is shaping up to be an absolute beauty.
So yesterday I had a very special date with a certain Mr Mouse at a Disney drinks party at the beautiful new Ham Yard Hotel in Soho. Of course I had to ask Mickey if he had any juicy gossip to share. Here are a few of the things I heard:
One of the new experiences I was most looking forward to during my recent visit to Walt Disney World, Florida, was getting my hands on the new MyMagic+ system. Disney have rolled out some seriously good WiFi across all their parks and resorts, and, quite apart from the fact that it’s ridiculously useful for Instagrammers *cough*, the accompanying technology is pretty mindblowing.
Ratatouille is one of our favourite films. For some reason it’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition – we adore Rémy, and feisty Colette is so fab – I always get a bit teary when she falls in love with Linguini (I know – I cry at everything)…
New Fantasyland is fast becoming one of my favourite places at the Magic Kingdom. Last time I was there it was for the official opening, and last week, I was over in Florida again for the official press event to celebrate the imminent opening of the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We were lucky enough to get exclusive access to the ride during a fabulous party at Epcot (there’s NO party like a Disney party!) where we hung out with the likes of Elsa, Anna and Olaf!
So if you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (and frankly, why wouldn’t you? There’s cake, beaches, ships and the lunatic whippet of mass destruction makes the odd appearance too), you’ll know that I’ve been visiting Walt Disney World, Florida. I have loads to tell you – there’s news of the opening of the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a review of the frankly beautiful Disney’s Wilderness Lodge resort, and masses of food, fun and breaking Disney news (Avatar!!).
So I’m very lucky to be here in Orlando at the moment. I’ve got all sorts of amazing new things to share with you very soon, but last night I went to the Rock Your Disney Side party at the World ShowPlace at Epcot. The party was absolutely amazing and the venue out of this world. Check it out…
I’m a huge Disney Cruise Line fan, as you know. We were on the Disney Magic last year cruising around the Mediterranean and it was just absolutely magical. Of course, the Magic has now had an incredible revamp and is ready, all sparkly and new, to set sail along with the Fantasy and Wonder for new destinations in the summer of 2015.
Oh, it’s a tough question. I’m not sure that I could ever choose my favourite Walt Disney World resort. I’ve often said that it’s gorgeous Animal Kingdom Lodge as I love the African styling, and the fact that you can see giraffes wandering outside your window. But then there’s the glorious Grand Floridian, and the quite incredible Contemporary Resort, and oh, I can’t have just one. I have to have at least five! Read more
So as you know, I’m a huge Disney fan. I adore Minnie Mouse, regularly weep over my ancient Beauty and the Beast DVD and could walk you around Walt Disney World blindfolded telling you all about my favourite rides. I love the films, the characters, the parks, the food (Disney dining is second to none, but cupcakes are my speciality – ask me anything). The boys have grown up with Hercules, Toy Story, Stitch and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney has been a part of all our lives for as long as we can all remember.
This summer we were ridiculously excited to be invited for an amazing trip aboard the Disney Magic as it cruised around the Mediterranean for one of the last times before heading to dry dock for a spectacular new makeover and with an 18 year old and a 15 year old in tow, I was interested to see how we’d get on.
Let’s be clear: there are as many different types of teens as there are holidays. You’ve got your adventurous ones, your quiet ones, your sociable ones, your ‘not talk to anyone at all’ ones… So what’s the best way to choose a holiday that will suit your teenagers AND the rest of you?
1. Involve them in the choice of holiday
As I write about travel, we tend to go on holiday a lot. My teenagers have been on all sorts of trips but the ones that are the best received are always the ones where they’ve had some choice in the matter. Make it a treat: head out for a burger (this is our standard meeting place as it guarantees at least a few minutes of silence where I can get my point across) and flump a big pile of brochures on the table (obviously you can tip the odds in your favour by adding in your favourites). Arguing will no doubt ensue, but you’ll also be able to gather who wants what from a holiday.
2. Teenagers need freedom
Cruises are perfect for families. Think about it: there’s buckets of fun for the little ones, plus the teenagers can’t really wander off and there are a gazillion activities for them to do. You can stay by the pool, head to the beach or sightsee on shore days, watch the latest Disney films (either on the amazing ‘Tunnel Vision’, an outdoor screen, or in a proper cinema), catch a show (the shows are INCREDIBLE – I always cry), play a game of basketball or table tennis… a Disney cruise is like 10 holidays in one and their kids’ clubs are amazing.
3. Which brings me to a word about kids’ clubs
Teen Clubs are really hard to get right. It helps if the age groups are well thought out (young teens and old teens is the best split: no 17 year old wants their style cramped by a 13 year old) and the leadership needs to be friendly and non-patronising. ‘Teen disco’ tends to strike fear into the heart of any teenager, but generally by day four or five they’ll be there, hanging about looking like they don’t really want to be there, but actually enjoying themselves. By day seven, they’ll be cruising around in a huge pack, annoying everyone. Teen clubs also allow them more access to the facilities: Charlie wanted to go into the gym, but it’s over 18s only. Turns out the teen club organise group visits to the gym. Result: happy Charlie.
4. Think outside the box
Our Disney Magic cruise took us to Spain, Italy and France, but maybe you fancy going further afield, or you’ve ‘done’ Rome already? No problem. Disney Cruises go to the most amazing places: cruise the Caribbean, or swoosh along the California coastline. Next on my list? Alaska!
5. Compromise compromise and compromise a bit more
Want to schlep around Pompeii on your shore day but have kids who want to lie by the pool plugged in to their iPhones? It’s all about the compromise. There are some absolutely amazing shore excursions – you don’t have to spend hours in a coach or traipsing round cathedrals. Let them choose what they want to do – I wanted to see Monaco, so we chose a trip with a visit to the Top Car Museum in Monte Carlo, which suited all of us. Also, maybe consider splitting up. We find this works well: I might head off on a trip with one, leaving Dad slobbing on the deck with the other.
6. City breaks can be really cool
We weren’t looking forward to our last day in Barcelona. We were disembarking at 9am and had all day to kill before our evening flight. We were lucky to team up with friends we’d made who knew it inside out and showed us around some really cool places. It turned out to be one of our favourite days.
7. Disney is part of everyone’s past
Some of our favourite moments were really unexpected. We bumped into Stitch – a huge favourite from their childhood, and one evening we sat and watched Hercules up on the deck, singing along to our favourite songs from the film and reminiscing about when it was their favourite film (‘nice catch, jerkules!’). Lovely moments to share.
8. Consider doubling up
Know another family with kids a similar age? Think about holidaying together. Not only is it fun to have a Disney adventure with friends, but it’s a lot easier walking into that kids’ club on the first day if they’re doing it with someone they know. It also means that you have more adults to mingle with too!
9. Everybody loves the pirate party
Trust me: nobody is ever too old for pirate night. Everyone on the ship dresses up as pirates (whole families bring their costumes with them), there are pirate themed dinners and then a massive party on the deck afterwards, with the best firework display ever and then a DJ until the early hours. There is nothing better than dancing to amazing tunes out on the deck at ridiculous o’clock in the morning under the biggest sky full of stars you ever saw.
10. Disney’s for everyone
Think Disney’s just for young ones? Think again. One of my happiest moments after we came back from the cruise was overhearing Sam talking to a friend describing the cruise: ‘I’m going every year if I can, mate, you can’t beat Disney’. Nothing makes me happier than to know I’ve passed my love of everything Disney onto my children.
7-night Disney Magic Mediterranean Cruise from £949 per adult and £699 per child. Virgin Holidays Cruises offers seven nights onboard Disney Magic from Barcelona, calling at Villefranche (for Nice, France), Pisa, Rome and Naples, including flights from London Gatwick and transfers. Prices are per person based on two adults and two children travelling and sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis. Based on a departure on 30 August 2014. Offer is subject to availability and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.
To book: Visit www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk, call 0844 573 4398 or visit one of our stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
So as you know, August was a busy one for me. First of all we whizzed around Brittany for two weeks in our lovely (borrowed) Honda CR-V, and then, with the most ridiculous timing known to man, we got home on the Friday night at 11pm and had to be at Heathrow at 5am the next morning to grab a flight to Barcelona to meet up with the Disney Magic, Disney’s wonderful cruise ship.
So that’s it, then… my Week of Walt is nearly finished. I couldn’t end, though, without giving you a little whisper of some of the biggest Disney secrets going, snaffled during my week in Florida at the launch of New Fantasyland especially for you!
There are TONS of things in the pipeline at the moment for Disney Parks… with New Fantasyland now open, they’re concentrating on getting the last couple of bits ready (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train that I mentioned as well as the Princess Fairytale Hall where you can meet all your favourite princesses). There’s also new Limited Time Magic – a new concept which will see exclusive themed surprises for every week of 2013 – whether they be special character meet and greets, exclusive Disney merchandise, or experiences (for example, Valentine’s week will see special romantic dinner menus and photoshoots with famous Disney couples).
Cars Land is now open at Disney California Adventure. The colossal 12 acre site brings good ol’ Radiator Springs to life, and includes the incredible Radiator Springs Racers – a high speed driving attraction where you can race each other through Radiator Springs! There’s also been a lot of refurbishment in Buena Vista Street (California’s answer to Main Street). My cousin Deb visited recently so I’ll be leaning on her hard to give us a review!
Disney’s beautiful Aulani Resort in Hawaii (very high on my bucket list) is also being improved and expanded. Next summer there’ll be a new grotto pool and a brand new splash zone.
Disney’s Cruise Line (do have a look in my travel section for reviews and information from my trip on the Disney Dream) have introduced new routes for 2013 – cruises now depart from Galveston, Texas and there are also a huge choice of Mediterranean cruises with destinations including Croatia’s Dalmation Coast, Venice and the Greek islands.
Adventures by Disney might not be as well known as either the parks or the cruises, but these incredible holidays take guests on amazing adventures, from China to America and from South Africa to Scotland, where you can relive Disney’s Brave by having your own Scottish adventure!
Lastly, but by no means leastly, the most exciting news of all is that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are hard at work with none other than James Cameron in the designing and planning of a whole new land to go into Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are no fixed dates as yet, but the rumour is that we could see the gates to the new Avatar Land open at about the same time as Avatar 2 hits the box office (2016?). I absolutely can’t wait to hear more news about this Avatar-themed adventure, and rest assured you’ll be the first to know if I hear any news!
A surprising amount of people planning a trip to Walt Disney World Resort, Florida, and the surrounding areas often miss out by thinking that they can’t afford to stay in in a ‘proper’ Disney hotel. The luxury resort hotels are phenomenal – the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa springs instantly to mind, as does the eye-popping Animal Kingdom Lodge – but there’s a whole host of other Disney properties at all price ranges and to properly immerse yourself in the Disney experience, you can’t beat staying at a Disney resort hotel.
Disney have several ‘value’ options when it comes to accommodation, the newest of which is the Art of Animation Resort where I stayed at Christmas. The resort is HUGE, with giant characters dotted everywhere. It’s split into four main wings: there are three family suite wings: a Finding Nemo themed wing, a Cars-themed wing where we stayed, and a Lion King wing, plus there is also a wing with standard rooms, with a Little Mermaid theme.
The styling and attention to detail in all of these areas is frankly enough to take your breath away. We were drawn to the ENORMOUS Crush (whom I love, with a passion – don’t miss ‘Turtle Talk with Crush when you’re visiting Epcot – you can have a full-on chat with the cool surfer dude. It’s totally AWESOME, duuuuude!) and the Cars themed wing where we stayed had huge, lifesize Cars characters and a complete recreation of Radiator Springs. Mindblowing!
The staff are, as you’d expect from Disney, absolutely wonderful and go above and beyond the call of duty, especially with the little guests. We were late to meet up with the others on the trip one day as we were transfixed by one of the gardeners who was showing a group of children how to draw Disney characters with a brush and water on one of the baking hot sidewalks.
Inside the family suites, the incredible theming continues – there are two proper bathrooms, a kitchen area, a dining area that magically transforms into a pull-down double bed at night time, and another leather sofa, themed like the rear seat of a car, that also folds out into a double bed. It’s all such good quality, you’d never believe they call this a ‘value’ resort.
The reception area is absolutely fabulous, with different lights as you go down the row of desks, and iconic framed artist sketches of the characters on the walls, and the pool area is frankly magical, where you can actually hear the Disney tunes being played UNDER THE WATER!
My only negative, if you can call this a negative, is that personally, I wasn’t massively keen on the dining area, which is huge and a bit complicated to negotiate. Still, if you’re staying in the suites it’s far easier – and cheaper- to self cater and just pop in occasionally to treat yourself to breakfast (with nice coffee) before you head off to the parks.
There’s a fact box below with an example of pricing, but as always, if you’re planning a trip and need any help or advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch via my contact form. I’ll be able to help (or if I can’t, I’ll know someone who can!).
Seven nights in Orlando from £935pp
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 3V Disney’s Art of Animation Resort on a room only basis with car hire included. Price is based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures in March 2013.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport… Adults £20, Kids £12
Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected
To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859 or visit one of our 100 stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores nationwide.
I recently made a promise to myself that I would stop taking pictures of food in restaurants. My husband hates it (especially when I slap his hand away from his plate) and I’ve lost count of the times my friends have sighed as I snap away at their plates, trying to get the best angle by practically sitting in their laps. Annoying, much?
But it’s SO hard. I did, for example, break my rule for this AMAZING starter at one of my favourite Disney fine dining restaurants, the Flying Fish on Disney’s Boardwalk
So, as Roz would say in Frasier, I must attempt to ‘use my words’. So here goes – my all-time top ten Disney dining experiences (so far):
Disney do breakfast REALLY well. If you’re heading to Florida, make sure you book at least one character breakfast where you get to meet some of Disney’s stars up close and personal. My favourite character breakfast is at Tusker House at Disney’s Animal Kingdom resort. The setting is amazing – you can just imagine you’ve stopped for a quick break from your African safari – and the food is just fabulous. As well as all the usual breakfast choices – Mickey waffles (my personal favourite), bacon, eggs, etc, there are some traditional African choices to try (Bobotie for breakfast? Why not?) and don’t forget a yummy glass of Jungle Juice to wash it all down.
Another favourite of mine, both in terms of the resort itself and in particular The Wave restaurant, is Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The setting is great – a brief monorail ride straight into the parks – and, as the name suggests, the resort is modern and very classy. I’ve had both dinner and breakfast in the stunning Wave restaurant and can’t decide which I like best, but the delicious cheese and bacon grits and sweet potato pancakes both take some beating in the morning. They also serve a range of addictive smoothies too.
Onto lunch then, and this is often a case of grabbing something at one of the many quick service dining options. If you get the chance, though, do try and stop off at the iconic Hollywood Brown Derby based at the Hollywood Studios park. I know I’ve talked about the Brown Derby before, but its Cobb salad (it’s enormous – order one between the two of you) – a chopped salad made from avocado, blue cheese, turkey, tomatoes, bacon… you name it, is an absolute must, and the setting, based on the original Vine Street Brown Derby in Hollywood is proper old school glam. The waiting staff are amazing and although you can wander in dressed in your cut off shorts and t-shirt, half way round Hollywood Studios, you’re always made to feel really special.
If you’re grabbing lunch on the run at the Magic Kingdom, pop in to Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café in Frontierland and stuff your face with one of their scrummy barbecue pulled pork rolls. You add your own salad at the little salad bars, which I really like too.
Disney excel at fine dining. I’m finding it really hard to pick my favourites here, but Citricos at the utterly beautiful Grand Floridian resort has to be experienced to be believed. The service is absolutely faultless (the waiting staff know EVERYTHING about every dish and even change your white napkin for a black one if you’re wearing dark colours and don’t want to risk getting any white lint on your outfit), the cocktails are exquisite and the wine list is incredible. The panadas, a starter of delicately spiced beef in a filo pastry shell with a sweet/sour tamarind dip were crisp on the outside and rich and meaty in the middle. The braised short ribs entrée is one I’ve had a couple of times and is always meltingly tender. Their steaks are always amazing and cooked perfectly, and don’t you dare eat so much that you miss out on one of their intricately decorated decadent chocolate desserts.
My final choice (touch and go between this one and the equally fabulous Kouzzina (you can read a previous review here) also on the Boardwalk is The Flying Fish Café. I adore the Boardwalk – there’s nothing nicer than wandering along by the water, watching the sideshows, then after your delicious dinner, wandering back to your hotel under the stars, pausing to watch the fireworks at neighbouring Epcot. Every evening I’ve had here has been magical, and everything I’ve ever eaten has been incredible: crispy sesame calamari, crunchy coated Jonah crab cakes… sea bass, salmon… it’s all perfectly prepared and wonderfully presented. If you’re not massively into fish, don’t despair. They also do a ridiculously tender New York strip steak. Oh and before you waddle out? Force down a slice of the Florida Tequila key lime Margarita Pie. You’ll thank me.
If you’re about to travel to Walt Disney World Resort Florida, or need any help planning your journey, or need more recommendations for dining or park options I’m always happy to help. Drop me a line!
One of the things I love about Disney is that they never stop. There’s always something new and exciting in the pipeline (more of this later in the week) – their teams of designers (or ‘Imagineers’), work tirelessly to keep Disney fresh, new and exciting. At Christmas I was really lucky to be invited to the opening of New Fantasyland – a project that doubles the size of Fantasyland, an area of the Magic Kingdom beyond Cinderella Castle. There’s no party like a Disney party, and stars like Ginnifer Goodwin and Jordin Sparks were on hand to make it go with a bang.
The party was AMAZING – the food was incredible (check out the cupcakes!) and there was an actual, flying DRAGON. If you don’t believe me, check out the video here!
I adore the Magic Kingdom. I sometimes think the perception is that it’s more for the younger guests, but there are some real classics there that every visitor should do: The Haunted Mansion is just fabulous, and Pirates of the Caribbean is probably my favourite ride of all time, it’s just so atmospheric. And I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get off Big Thunder Mountain and want to go straight back on!
We also had the chance to check out the new attractions. As you’ll see from yesterday’s video, I absolutely loved Enchanted Tales with Belle. If you’re a fan of Beauty and the Beast, you’ll love it too. It’s a really lovely experience where guests get to act out a story with Belle, the Wardrobe and Lumiere (an absolute triumph of animatronic technology). The little girl that we saw was so entranced with Belle, her face was a picture. Wonderful. And yes, I cried again.
There’s also a lovely ride called Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid where guests get to ride in a clamshell and see lots of the characters from the Little Mermaid (including scary Ursula), and you can meet Ariel herself in Ariel’s Grotto too.
One of my very favourite rides, Dumbo, The Flying Elephant, has had a makeover and now there are DOUBLE DUMBOS: two rides, one going clockwise and one going anticlockwise, halving the waiting time! There’s also a fabulous big top where you can hang out and get involved in lots of circus activities while you wait your turn.
The Great Goofini is a lovely family coaster ride, and you can pose for photos with the Disney gang at Pete’s Silly Sideshow too – get up close and personal with Minnie Magnifique, The Great Goofini, Madame Daisy Fortuna (Daisy Duck) and The Astounding Donaldo too!
It’s not all about the rides, though, as one of the biggest parts of New Fantasyland is the fabulous Be Our Guest restaurant. We were completely overwhelmed by this beautiful restaurant, themed to look like the ballroom of Beast’s Castle (and it really does – right down to the chandeliers!) – you can even see the enchanted rose, floating magically in its glass case. During the day, this restaurant serves Disney’s trademark fast lunch service menu, but by night, it transforms into a full-service, reservations-required restaurant serving a French-themed menu and, unusually, as the Magic Kingdom is a ‘dry’ park, alcohol at dinner, bringing a much more grown-up feel to this beautiful setting. You can look out of the windows and watch the ‘snow’ as well, which is really quite magical.
Gaston’s Tavern is a more casual experience, but nonetheless beautifully themed and finished, with a roaring fire and an amazing antler chandelier. The food has been specially created for the tavern (it’s mostly snacky, but different – try the roasted pork shank – gnawed straight off the bone!) and there’s yummy LeFou’s brew to drink too. I think it’s a nice place to pop into after you’ve spent the afternoon tramping the park, to sit down with a pastry and a lovely hot chocolate.
The magic doesn’t stop here, though – the Princess Fairytale Hall will be opening this year – a lovely place where you can meet all your favourite Disney Princesses – and then next year, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will finally open – an amazingly clever musical coaster ride through the mine where the Imagineers are attempting to recreate the swinging motion of the individual buckets – and there are rumours of interacting with the dwarfs (Disney don’t say ‘dwarves’) too! I’ll just have to go back for another visit to find out, I guess!
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