Christmas at Walt Disney World

img_4147Christmas at Disney is one of the most magical times of year. I recently spent a weekend at the happiest place on earth during the full blown Christmas season. If you’re planningimg_3882 on visiting Walt Disney World anytime soon or planning a visit for next year, read on for some helpful tips on navigating your way through the hustle and bustle of the parks.

The day that I visited Magic Kingdom there was an estimated 80,000 people at the park. This trip included a lot of happiness, magic and crowds. The trick to planning your trip during this time of year is to PLAN AHEAD. If you want to ride some of your favorite rides- like Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, try to arrange fast passes about a month in advance. img_4158It is unlikely to score any fast passes on the day of your visit during this time due to the increased amount of visitors. Once you have purchased your tickets, made your hotel reservations (see our post on Epcot here for hotel recommendations), and obtained your fast passes, it’s time for park day! If you’re looking to save a little, like many of us are this time of year, I suggest eating breakfast at a fast food place, nearby restaurant, or even your hotel’s continental breakfast. This will save you money and time. Yes, Disney food is delicious and awesome, but who really wants to stand in a 30-minute line for an overpriced meal when you’ve got the whole park to explore!? Our go-to is always a Chick-fil-A just before I-4, which is quick and convenient. If you’re not a fast food person, Disney allows you to bring your own snacks and food into the parks. Make sure to check out their rules and regulations before packing your bag.

img_4151If you’ve decided to visit Magic Kingdom during your trip, you will not be disappointed by the sheer amount of Christmas decorations and cheer. After catching the ferry or monorail, you’ll arrive at Main Street USA. Main Street looks beautiful at this time of year- check out those fun holiday decorations! img_4171Magic Kingdom is the most popular park, so it will see the highest crowds. Once you’ve meandered through Main Street and if you’ve got some time before your first fast pass, I recommend starting the day in Adventureland. A lot of people will veer to the right and start in Tomorrowland. Starting out in a less crowded section will save you some time waiting in lines. Speaking of lines, expect to wait at least an hour sometimes two without a fast pass in the stand-by lines for the popular rides like the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and The Jingle Cruise.

If you’ve got some time or just want a break from standing, hop on the People Mover or the Walt Disney World Railroad. You’ll be able to sit back and relax as you cruise throughout the park.

Another tip that I was very appreciative to learn of is that you can get free water cups at any Disney quick service restaurant. Walking all around the park in the Florida heat can be exhausting. If you need a quick water break, walk into any quick service restaurant and politely ask for cups of water, a cast member will happily oblige. Make sure to catch the Festival of Fantasy Parade that happens at 2:00pm in December. You’ll be able to see all your favorite characters aboard their colorful parade floats. I love this parade because it’s a great place to see all your favorite princesses and characters in one place.

As you end your day make sure to stick around and watch the castle light up with it’s festive Christmas lights. They also have a fireworks show that begins at 9:00pm.

Other exciting extra features that are available at this time of year include Extended Park Hours or Magic Hours. Magic Kingdom is open until 11:00pm during the month of December. Make sure to consult Disney’s calendar since Magic Hours vary for certain days of the week. If you would like a little extra fun, check out Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This exclusive event is an additional ticketed event where you’ll get to see Mickey and Friends in their holiday best. Visit the official site here.

Happy Holidays and enjoy your trip at the Happiest Place on Earth!



Fun at Food and Wine 2017

Orlando is only 144 miles from Jacksonville. Just a short 2-hour drive down I-95 South and you will be greeted with the words, “Have a magical day!” from a cast member as you enter through the gates of Epcot upon attending the 2017 Food and Wine Festival. Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival runs for a couple of months every year, this year the dates for the festival are August 31st – November 13th.

You will find 35 marketplaces representing a variety of countries in honor of Epcot’s 35th birthday. Those booths are:

  • Islands of the Caribbean
  • Chocolate Studio
  • Wine & Dine Studio
  • Africa
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Brewer’s Collection
  • Canada
  • China
  • Craft Beers
  • Desserts & Champagne
  • Farm Fresh
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hawaii
  • Hops & Barley
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • India
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • New Zealand
  • Patagonia
  • Scotland
  • Spain

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Of course, you’ll also be able to travel around to all the classic 11 countries in the World Showcase:

  • Mexico
  • Norway
  • China
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • The U.S.A.
  • Japan
  • Morocco
  • France
  • The United Kingdom
  • Canada

This year enjoy celebrity chef demonstrations, the Back to Basics series, special book signings, the Eat to the Beat concert series, a culinary scavenger hunt with Remy, and a Festival Passport. All of these awesome activities are included in your admission to the park and they do not disappoint.

This was my first time attending the event and I absolutely loved the theme they chose. The character Remy, the mouse from Ratatouille, is the mascot of the event this year. You can find him perched on the Eiffel Tower, made of faux blocks of cheese, or atop an exclusive Food and Wine booth, showcasing unique dishes for each country. If you are looking for a good breakfast option to start your day, I would recommend Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie, a quick-service restaurant located in France. This restaurant is near the beginning of the World Showcase and has a variety of yummy breakfast choices to get you in and out and on your wat to exploring the park, some option include the Quiche Lorraine and Brie aux Pommes, a fruit and cheese bread dish. This restaurant is fairly priced with each food option around $4.00-$9.00.

Our first stop was in Italy at the Via Napoli Pizza window for lunch. We just had to try the pizza, when in Rome right!? This slice of pizza wasn’t super saucy, which I happened to like. The cutest little pepperoni slices adorned the top of this pizza, making for a satisfyingly crunchy bite. For dessert in Italy, you must try the gelato! We chose a scoop of cookies and cream and a scoop of chocolate. The cookies and cream was a little watery, nothing too spectacular, but the chocolate was out of this world, amazing! I’ve never been to Italy, but I’d have to guess that this was as close to authentic gelato as it comes. The chocolate had a very rich flavor with a lot of depth. If you are looking for more of a sit-down option for lunch, I would recommend the Tutto Italia Ristorante. This restaurant can give you a break from the heat by providing a full-service dining experience with authentic Italian cuisine. Dishes range from $15.00 – $35.00 per person.

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One of the exclusive booths for the 2017 Food and Wine Festival was The Chocolate Studio. It’s located on the walkway that leads to the World Showcase. By this time, it was late afternoon and I was craving something chocolate-y. If you haven’t been able to tell already, I have a bit of a sweet tooth. Upon approaching the booth, something on the menu caught my eye, The Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle served with Warm Whiskey Caramel. The name alone, I mean you have to try it, right?! It did not disappoint, it was extra cold from the liquid nitrogen, the almonds sprinkled on top gave it a complex texture, and might I mention that it is also gluten free. Next up was the Sweet Dark Chocolate Raspberry Torte with Whipped Cream and Raspberry dust. This vegetarian dessert holds the perfect combination of sweet and tarte. I am not one for tarte things, but I still enjoyed it. If you are looking to end your day with a great dinner option I recommend the San Angel Restaurante in Mexico. Dine under the perpetual twilight as you munch on the authentic Mexican cuisine. You’ll be able to watch passengers from your table embark on the Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros as they begin their journey into Mexico, searching for Donald Duck. Prices for dishes here range from $15.00 – $35.00 per person as well. After dinner you’ll be able to shop in the Plaza de los Amigos. Artisans come directly from Mexico to craft authentic gifts for visitors to take home from their trip in this country. Take home souvenirs ranging from sombreros to glassware and decorative gifts!
Apart from the amazing food offered at this event, the rides and atmosphere are just as wonderful. Some of my favorite rides include Soarin’, Spaceship Earth, and Frozen Ever After. We were also able to experience the Eat to the Beat Concert Series. Every night of the Food and Wine Festival, there is a concert. On the night that we were there Everclear, known for their hits ‘Santa Monica’ and ‘Wonderful’, gave a great concert with high energy and a nostalgic feel that took you back to the 90’s!

In addition to Magic Kingdom and Epcot, Walt Disney World also contains two other parks, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Exciting additions like Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom and Star Wars: A Galaxy’s Edge, in Hollywood Studios are must-sees if you can make it during your stay. Speaking of stay, Walt Disney World has a plethora of hotel options for you and your family. If you are on a budget, like many of us are, the value priced Disney All-Stars Resorts are the lowest priced options at $96.00/night. These resorts are located in the Animal Kingdom area, shuttles provide the ultimate convenience, ready to take you to any of your park destinations. A moderately priced hotel suggestion would be the Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort priced at $166.00/night. This tropical themed paradise is built around a quiet bay where you‘ll be able to relax and “island-hop” around the grounds. If you are able to spurge for your stay at the parks then I highly recommend Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Located on The Boardwalk, you’ll be close to exciting shopping, entertainment, and dining options. An extra bonus for this resort is that it is in close proximity to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. You can walk from the BoardWalk Inn directly to Epcot, how convenient! Rooms are priced at $417.00/night.

Don’t fret if you missed traveling to Epcot for this event this year! Food and Wine occurs every fall at Epcot, so keep your eyes and ears open around July-August of every year to find out the specific dates.  Don’t forget to use these tips to plan your next visit to the International Food and Wine Festival!