And so, after my big 2016 roundup, let’s move swiftly on to 2017, shall we? What does this year have in store? Lots of happy times and adventures I hope. As you know, I’m a huge Disney fan: I adore everything from the theme parks to the beautiful cruise ships. It’s such an exciting year for Disney magic, with so many new Disney travel adventures to choose from. I thought you might like a sneaky peek at a few of the things I’m really looking forward to in 2017. So if you’re planning adventures for next year now, I hope this helps give you a few ideas too:
If you follow me on social media, you’ll be well aware that Charlie and I spent a wonderful week last week at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida. We were out there for the Awaken Summer press event and I have SO MUCH news to share about all the new and incredible things that are now open or coming up at Walt Disney World, including a sneaky peek at the gorgeous new evening shows and activities at Animal Kingdom, the new Frozen Ever After attraction coming to Epcot, lovely Disney Springs, and lots of fab new Star Wars stuff too. First things first, though, I thought I’d tell you about the delicious BoardWalk area.
I’m off to Florida in just two weeks’ time and I’m RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED. I’ve been promising my gorgeous niece, Amy, that we’d take a trip together, and when this one came up I knew it would be perfect for some quality auntie time. We’re heading off with a couple of really lovely friends including my homie Liz to possibly my favourite place in the world, Walt Disney World, for a couple of days of theme park fun (and to visit the new Disney Springs area, which has been on my list – more of this in a minute), and then we’re off to the Bahamas on Disney Cruise Line’s beautiful ship, the Disney Dream for some relaxing, a bit of pampering, and a bit of beach time on Disney’s heavenly private island, Castaway Cay. If you haven’t planned your holiday yet, here are five fantastic reasons to visit Walt Disney World Resort, Florida this year:
One of my favourite things to do at Walt Disney World Resort Florida is to take a sunny walk around World Showcase at Epcot. The best smelling part, bar none, is the amazing Karamell-Küche in the Germany pavilion, the home of Werther’s Original, where you can sample all sorts of yummy treats made with the famous caramel: cookies, fudge, and – my favourite – salted caramel brownies.
Oh, the Disney Dream. The delightful, delicious, delovely, delectable Disney Dream. Regular readers will know that I adore all the Disney Cruise Line ships, but there’s something about Disney Dream in particular that makes my heart sing. I think it’s because my first ever Disney Cruise was on board the Disney Dream. I just love everything about it – the restaurants, the fabulous AquaDuck water coaster, the gorgeous restaurants, the gorgeous cocktail bars, the sumptuous spa… So, if you’ve ever wondered what a cruise holiday on board a Disney Cruise Line ship is like, wonder no more. Sam (my oldest son) and I kept a diary during our cruise trip last week, and here’s part one.
Our lovely visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando seems such a long time ago now. I’m already pining for the sunshine, for Anna and Elsa, and, more importantly, all that amazing food.
Once upon a time (see what I did there?) I think most people thought that all you could probably eat while you were at Walt Disney World parks and resorts was junk food, or maybe Mickey-shaped ice creams. Now, people are starting to realise that Walt Disney World features some of the best dining in the world, whether you’re after a snack, quick-service, grab and go option, or proper fine dining with table service.
So what can you expect?
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.
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!
1 Meet Puck at Seaworld’s new Antarctica
Seaworld’s brand new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction is now open. Visit the frozen South Pole with Puck the baby Gentoo penguin, who is ready to tell you all about penguin life in this brand new area complete with icy winds, icebergs and hundreds of penguins in the largest artificial penguin habitat ever built. A new 8 seater trackless ride whooshes you through this frozen land.
2 Feed the giraffes on the Serengeti Safari at Busch Gardens
You might be in Florida, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a proper African adventure. Book the Serengeti Safari and you can travel in an open truck across the 65 acres of Serengeti Plain, spotting zebra, ostriches and all sorts of other wildlife. There’s also an opportunity to hand feed the giraffes – one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.
3 Drink butter beer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
A visit to Florida isn’t complete without a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, one of two areas that make up Universal Orlando Resort. Stop and grab a butter beer at the cart before charging off to choose your dragon on the Dragon Challenge coaster, or wander through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the magical ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ ride.
4 Watch the fireworks at Epcot
One of my favourite parts of any Florida trip is watching the beautiful IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show at Disney’s Epcot. The show is a 14-minute extravaganza of fireworks, lasers and water effects that melts even the hardest of hearts. The show takes place every night at the World Showcase area.
5 Spot gators at Myakka River State Park
Of course Florida is so much more than just theme parks. Sarasota boasts stylish shopping, fabulous white sandy beaches and the Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s oldest state parks, stretching across 57 square miles of woodland, wetland and prairie. The area is great for camping, fishing and cycling, but my top tip is to take one of the amazing boat trips where you can see alligators, eagles and all manner of wildlife. Entry to the park is just $6 a car.
6 Go circus crazy at the Ringling Museum
While you’re in Sarasota, don’t miss the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Don’t be fooled by the title, the Ringling is the most incredible place, with 20 acres of gorgeous Sarasota seafront, the most beautiful, breathtaking mansion, an interactive Circus Museum and a breathtaking model circus.
7 Segway around St Pete’s
St Petersburg is located on a peninsula curling out into the Gulf of Mexico and is attached to Tampa by a causeway. One of the best ways to see this beautiful area is to take a Segway tour. Tours are suitable for families (but children need to be minimum 75lb) and will take you both into the city and along the pier.
8 Visit historic John’s Pass Village
While you’re at St Pete’s take time to visit John’s Pass, a beautiful old fishing village where you can shop ‘til you drop, go on a boat tour or even hire jetskis. If you’re lucky enough to visit in October there’s a wonderful seafood festival (October 25/26/27, 2013), but at other times, get your seafood fix at the iconic Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
9 Encounter Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center
Over on the Space Coast there are more incredible beaches, plus the Kennedy Space Center. Take a guided tour, indulge in some astronaut training, watch an entire launch countdown re-enacted in an actual mission control centre, and from later this month you can visit Space Shuttle Atlantis which is going to be permanently exhibited at Kennedy, jam packed with interactive encounters, simulators and exhibits. A once in a lifetime experience.
10 Surfs up at Cocoa Beach
While you’re on the space coast, take time to spend a day at beautiful Cocoa Beach, visit the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop to kit yourself out, then hit the surf! Later on, take a wander along historic Cocoa Beach Pier for dinner and drinks as the sun goes down. Heaven.
For more information, click on Visit Florida.
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!
I was having a conversation with my Disreputable Dad recently about crying. ‘Oh I well up all the time’, he said. ‘Watch out, it gets worse as you get older’.
This can’t be good, as I seem to cry plenty already. Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to be invited to Florida for the grand opening of a brand new section of the Magic Kingdom: New Fantasyland. I seem to have spent most of this trip either choking back tears (happy tears, I’ll explain later) or wiping away proper big fat ones (again, all happy – there’s just no room for sadness at Disney World). But who can blame me – who WOULDN’T blub in a place where there are princesses (and a staff member who asks tiny princesses-for-a-day for their autographs), where you can get a hug off Mickey Mouse and there are fireworks with light shows and pyrotechnics that take your breath away. Add whizzy rides, Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, a kiss from Woody the Cowboy and… if you go at Christmas there is snow – REAL SNOW! – on Main Street… it’s no surprise that I was a wreck.
In fact, there’s SO much fun, and SO much stuff to tell you that I’ve decided to take the whole week to tell you all about it. Brace yourself. There’ll be roller coasters, Belle and the Beast, scrummy food, waterslides, motor boats, wonderful new themed hotels and loads of news of fabulous new Walt Disney World rides and attractions – secrets that I’m going to share only with you (shhh!).
To give you a little taster of what’s to come, here’s a video of my amazing New Fantasyland week. Make sure you keep popping back all week. WARNING: I might say ‘gorgeous’ and ‘fabulous’ quite a lot!:
- Weekend wishlist: scented Christmas candles November 18, 2017
- Slow cooked beef and red wine stew with dumplings November 16, 2017
- Alcohol Awareness Week: my Drinkaware Challenge November 15, 2017
- Battling the common cold (with a little help from Olbas) November 14, 2017
- Weekend wishlist: the new hush winter 17 collection November 11, 2017