Epcot International Festival of the Arts 2017 – Overview Plus Full Menus With Prices

Entrance - Epcot International Festival of the Arts 2017

Who’s ready for the Epcot International Festival of the Arts?!!

By way of introduction, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but my very first visit to Walt Disney World very early in our marriage occurred with a complete lack of preparation. On our first day we even showed up in the early evening at the Magic Kingdom only to learn it had already closed for the day. (We hadn’t even checked the park hours in advance!)

One my goals in creating RideMax is to help *you* be better prepared for a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World than I was, as I’ve learned that the line between an *enjoyable* visit and a semi-miserable one can be fairly thin — and a little preparation can make all the difference between the two.

I’ve noted before that RideMax plans include some important tips to help you navigate the park, and sometimes these tips are critical to a successful plan (like if your RideMax plan has you visiting the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first thing in the morning).

Sometimes though, the space for those tips in your RideMax plan just isn’t large enough to cover a given topic, and that’s where this blog comes in handy. It’s certainly the case with the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The Festival is new this year, and just opened today, running Fridays through Mondays, from today through February 20th.

My goal here is to give you a quick overview of the festival so you’ll know what to expect, and to help you decide if you want to include the festival as part of your visit. I’ll also provide here a list of the unique food items available especially for the festival, complete with full menus and prices. I haven’t sampled all of the menu items, but will give a brief review of those that I have tried, along with pictures of several that I haven’t.

Continue reading Epcot International Festival of the Arts 2017…

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I’m Baaaack! Plus Low Labor-Day Week Crowds at Animal Kingdom, New Food Items at Nomad Lounge Review

OK, it seems like every summer I end up crazy busy, and this summer was no exception. And you may have noticed that the frequency of blog posts over the summer has suffered. Between a large extended family reunion at Disneyland earlier in the summer, an out-of-state high school reunion, and helping our daughter prepare as she headed off to live in Cambodia for an extended period of time (she’ll be back early 2018), it’s been pretty crazy around here.

But with the fall comes more time, and with more time comes more frequency posting here. It’s a fairly short post today, so let’s dive in!

Primeval Whirl No Line - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

As a Disney “expert,” something I’m often asked is when is the best time to visit Walt Disney World? And my normal response is that the days right after Labor Day are hard to beat. All the schools are back in session, and none of the fall school breaks have started up yet, leaving the park very uncrowded.

The picture above sort of tells the story. This was the scene at Primeval Whirl on Wednesday, September 7th, at just before 10:30am. No waiting here.

Expedition Everest Short Wait - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

Same story with low crowds at Expedition Everest, just a few minutes later.

Kilimanjaro Safaris Short Wait - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

And… well, you get the idea. This was at 10:44am.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself something like this:

“Wow! I’m visiting next month! Hopefully the crowds will stay low until my trip!”

Sorry to disappoint, but no, you likely won’t see crowds this low in October. At Disneyland, you have all sorts of fall breaks in Arizona and Utah, and fall breaks abound here in the east as well. The Food & Wine Festival, which starts tomorrow at Epcot, also serves to draw guests into the parks. So, if you’ve been visiting the parks over the last week and a half, enjoy it while it lasts!

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

In Animal Kingdom news, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail has been renamed back to its original moniker, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Personally, I think this was a good move, as it should help guests know immediately what to expect as the “star attraction” on this trail.

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail - New Sign - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

Another new sign outside Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Nomad Lounge - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

Somehow, Liesle and I had never made it to Nomad Lounge, so we decided to stop in for lunch before Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival starts consuming most of our discretionary eating time, beginning tomorrow. We arrived to a completely empty lounge right after Nomad opened for the day at 11:30am, though a few groups of guests did arrive later as our lunch progressed.

For those who don’t know, Nomad Lounge shares its kitchen with Tiffin’s, which is the Animal Kingdom’s newest restaurant, located near what will someday be the entrance to Avatarland (or on the way to the old Camp Minnie-Mickey, if that helps).

Nomad Lounge Small Plate Menu - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

As usual, you can click on any image here for a larger view. We were mostly interested in the Small Plate Menu, which listed a couple of new offerings. These two didn’t appear on Disney’s app yet — the Sustainable Fish Tacos and the African-Spiced Wagyu Beef Sliders. (These have replaced the Fish Balls and Beef Skewer, respectively.)

Nomad Lounge Kiama Mamma - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

We first ordered the non-alcoholic Kiama Mamma, which was basically watermelon-flavored Sprite, complete with a wedge of the fruit. It was a refreshing beginning to the meal.

Nomad Lounge Cocktail Menu - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

You can see the some of the other drink options listed above.

Nomad Lounge Wagyu Beef Sliders - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

These are the Beef Sliders, which we both very much enjoyed. The sandwich had a nice tangy taste to it, and was cooked just right. The vinegared potatoes were a pleasant surprise here, offering a very unique taste. Our server, Adriana, who was very knowledgeable and helpful with the menu, explained that the potatoes were first boiled in a water-vinegar mixture, and finished off with a vinegar salt. My only complaint here is that we could have used more of the potatoes — they were just very good.

Nomad Lounge Sustainable Fish Tacos - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

The Fish Tacos were also delicious. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but these are served in soft corn tortillas, and the overall flavor and texture profile is very well balanced, with the mellowness of the corn tortilla and the fish combining with the tanginess of the charred pineapple and other garnishes to create a very nice overall effect.

Nomad Lounge Dessert - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

We also couldn’t resist the Taste of Tiffin’s dessert, which consisted of a dark chocolate ganache topped with various flavorings, including hibiscus meringue, Sri Lankan chantilly, passion fruit curd, and Egyptian sea salt. The bowl itself sat in a lime-based liquid that served as a palate cleanser between bites, which added a nice touch to the overall experience. Although the portion size is small here, it’s fairly rich, and Liesle and I both thought it was done just right, and a very delicious way to finish off the meal.

Nomad Lounge Entrance - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

The view of Nomad Lounge from the pathway in front. We look forward to eating here again soon.

Expedition Everest Short Wait - Animal Kingdom Walt Disney World

We left the Animal Kingdom in the early afternoon, when the posted wait for Expedition Everest was still just ten minutes. It looked like Disney may have actually underestimated the crowd at this point though — my guess is that the wait was actually closer to 15-20 minutes. Still not bad for the busiest time of the day.

Liesle and I are both excited to head off to Epcot tomorrow for the opening day of the Food & Wine Festival. Stay tuned for pictures and food reviews!

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Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016 Food Reviews Part III, Dooney & Bourke Disney Handbags, Larger Grouper Portion Size, Garden Rocks Concert Schedule, Downton Abbey Merchandise

Epcot Eiffel Tower in Spring - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

This begins the third and final installment of our Epcot Flower & Garden food reviews, and I thought I’d start and end with some merchandise this time, just to mix things up a bit.

(For those that missed the previous installments, I recommend reviewing our Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016 Part I and Epcot Flower and Garden Festival 2016 Part II before proceeding. Part I is especially helpful, as it contains all of the menus.)

The Dooney & Bourke handbag above was made especially for the 2016 Flower & Garden Festival, and will run you $248 plus tax. As with most merchandise, annual passholders are eligible for a 10% discount.

Continue reading Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016 Food…

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Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016: First Look with LOTS of Pictures, Full Menus with Prices, Topiaries, Food Reviews Part I

Daisy Duck Topiary - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

It’s March, and with it comes the Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot. This year the festival is longer than it’s been previously, running from March 2nd through May 30th.

It’s only two days in at this point, but I’ve both seen and tasted enough of the festival’s offerings now that I wanted to share my initial impressions. I’ll do this with an extensive photo tour of the various topiary sights, pictures of the full menus (including prices), as well as some food reviews of the items I’ve experienced so far.

Donald Duck Topiary - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

As always, the character topiaries on display are always fun. These guys greet guests shortly after entering the park.

(Note that you can click on any picture for a larger image. Just use your web browser’s BACK button to return to this post.)

Sorcerer Mickey Mouse Topiary - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

Further into the park, over closer to the Imagination building, Sorcerer Mickey and his broomsticks greet you as you walk by.

Flower Beds - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

As you get closer to the World Showcase, the flower beds are also quite stunning.

Flowers - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

Explorer Mickey Topiary - Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016

Park Ranger Mickey (if there is such a thing?) greets you on the back side of Spaceship Earth, as you make your way nearer the World Showcase.

Continue reading Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2016: First…

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RideMax Roulette with Sixteen Magic Kingdom Attractions, Rope Drop to Mine Train, Soap Dish Lunch, Missing the Boat

For those who follow this blog, you know that I like to play a little game I call “RideMax Roulette.” I select a list of attractions at random, plug them into RideMax, then take the resulting RideMax touring plan to the park.

I decided to do this again last Thursday, February 25th, when the Magic Kingdom opened at 8am. These hour-earlier-than-normal openings are great, as they can really give you a jump on the crowds. (This advantage for 8am openings applies at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, by the way.) Add to that the fact that Thursday was a “RideMax Recommended” day for the Magic Kingdom (even without the 8am opening) and it sounded like a great day to get out and take a RideMax plan for a spin.

The list of sixteen attractions I’ll be visiting — and which I plugged into RideMax — are the following, in no particular order:

  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Barnstormer
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Buzz Lightyear
  • Haunted Mansion (twice)
  • Splash Mountain
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Tiki Room
  • Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic
  • Liberty Belle Riverboat
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
  • Tomorrowland Speedway (twice)

Just to show you something of the process I go through when I create a plan with RideMax, I first created the plan without selecting any attractions for FastPass+. Here is the initial plan RideMax created:

RideMax Roulette - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

I’m not finished yet, though, because I’ll definitely want to use FP+ to see if I can reduce the amount of time I spend in line. Because it’s hard to know in advance which FP+ will be available for any given date and group size, you get to decide for yourself which specific attractions you want to use FP+ for when creating your RideMax plan (and the “Tips” inside RideMax itself can help you prioritize if you’re unsure).

In considering where to use FP+, I like to create a plan like the above which uses no FP+, then look at the following:

  • If the plan begins right when the park opens, which attraction is showing up first thing on the RideMax plan? Because the minutes right when the park opens are so valuable in terms of short wait times, if FP+ is available for that first attraction, it’s likely a good candidate to consider using FP+ for.
  • Which attractions in the list have the longest wait times? These are also good candidates for FP+, if available.

Using that first criterion above, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would be a good candidate for FP+ because it’s the first thing on the list and is taking up that very valuable first time slot. Unfortunately, I’m creating this plan just two days in advance of my visit, and FP+ reservations for 7DMT are long gone by now. I’ll just have to bite the bullet and ride this one standby.

So, using the second criterion, I’d look at what are the attractions with the longest wait times, and are there FP+ reservations available for these? In the plan above, the two attractions that stand out the most are the Tomorrowland Speedway and the Jungle Cruise. I typically don’t like to use FP+ for a “show” attraction like PhilharMagic (with 14 minutes just being a conservative worst-case scenario estimate, and where FP+ likely wouldn’t make a bit of difference), so the next one I’d consider using FP+ for is Splash Mountain.

I check these three attractions off on the FastPass+ options screen in RideMax, and have it re-run the plan. I get the following, quite different touring order:

RideMax Roulette Plan - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Note that in this plan with FP+, RideMax has knocked 53 minutes off the original overall wait estimate, and a couple of minutes off the estimated walking time as well, so this looks pretty decent.

FastPass+ reservations were still available for all of the time slots indicated on the plan, so I made those reservations, then took this plan to the park. (And if those time slots hadn’t been available, I could also have specified to RideMax the time at which I wanted to use the FP+ reservations, and it would have planned for these accordingly.)

Monorail - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

I arrived in the parking lot a little later than I had hoped, but I was still on the resort monorail by 7:24am. (The express monorail wasn’t running yet.) As you can see, we were packed in pretty tight here without a lot of elbow room.

Morning Arrival - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Above is the scene that awaited me after passing through the turnstiles (along with my first-ever metal detector security check. That extra lens in my jacket pocket must have looked scary lol). It’s now 7:35am, so I’ve made fairly good time getting here. (By the way, you can click on any image in this post for a larger view, then use your browser’s BACK button to return to the post.)

Even though the above scene may look fairly busy, this is really nothing compared to the crowds you’d see 25 minutes before a 9:00am opening. So again, these 8:00am openings are golden.

Rope Drop - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

In the picture just above, I’ve made my way to the opposite side of the crowds shown in the previous picture, and I’m now standing over near the wheelchair rental area. Especially if I’m heading to Mine Train first thing, I like to get as close to the tunnel as possible, even if it’s off to the right-hand side a bit.

Rope Drop - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Here, I’ve moved into position in an empty spot of concrete nearer the entrance tunnel.

We're OFF - Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

The countdown finishes at 7:45am, and we’re off!

Continue reading RideMax Roulette with Sixteen Magic Kingdom…

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