Category Archives: Walt Disney World

Afternoon Tea at The Grand Floridian–A Review

My mother and I have a favorite Tea Room. It is about two miles from our house, filled with mismatched china and doilies…and it is closing.

We’ve celebrated most major life events–birthdays, graduations, holidays–at this tea room. So it made sense to me, when I realized we’d be in Walt Disney World over Mother’s Day–to make an afternoon tea reservation at the Grand Floridian’s Garden View Tea Room.

I didn’t tell my mom what her surprise was for the day, but I did give her one hint while on the monorail heading toward the Grand Floridian. I asked her where we’d go for mother’s day if we were at home. Upon exiting the monorail she checked out the sign posting the various offerings of the Grand Floridian. As soon as she saw the words ‘Tea Room’, she knew where we were headed.

Mom entering the Grand Floridian

We approached the hostess stand maybe eight minutes before our reservation. Big mistake. We were asked to come back at our designated time–they wouldn’t even take our name until exactly 2:20, the time of our reservation. The woman was also not very nice about it.

After stealing some electricity for my iPhone at an outlet near the stairs, we returned to the hostess table and were seated at the first table inside the door. It was a smaller room than I’d imagined, but very comfortable. My mom took the sofa-esque bench that ran the length of the wall–I took the chair. There were pillows available for the sofa-area and I think this was the most comfortable my mother was all week. Thus, the Garden View Cafe earns an A+ for decor and comfort.

Pretty setting

I chose the Grand Tea and my mother chose the Buckingham tea–the only difference was that mine came with pate (which my mom ate) and champagne (which I drank, of course!) The ‘meal’ was served in three courses–first, scones with jam and cream, second, several tea sandwiches served with an onion tart and pate, and finally the dessert options–a choice of two pastries.

The food was nothing to write home about, but it wasn’t awful either. I don’t recall what was in each sandwich, but I know that one was pear and blue cheese (quite good), one was cucumber and cream cheese (good) and one was a curried chicken salad (very good). There were two other sandwiches the likes of which I do not remember, but that likely just means that they weren’t fabulous. Perhaps one was shrimp?

The onion tart was excellent–one of the best things I ate during the entire trip (though it was only two small bites.) I liked the flavor of the pate but not the texture or how it looked–and I’ll eat almost everything. Oddly, my picky eater mother at most of it for me.

The scones were good, as was the cream, but the fruit tart that accompanied it was almost too sweet to be edible–I only had a small bite. Dessert was good–but when isn’t dessert good, right?  I did, however, feel a little badly eating the swan.  It was almost too cute to consume…almost.

The best part of the meal was being able to leave the craziness of the Magic Kingdom and sit somewhere air conditioned, comfortable, quiet, and beautiful. For that reason, I’d recommend this experience. If you are looking for fine dining–this isn’t it–though we both left comfortably full.

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How a Europe Trip is like a Disney Vacation

The fake Eiffel Tower, Epcot.

When I tell fans of European travel that I didn’t likeParis, a common reply is something like ‘Well then you should stick to Disney World’.  This is, in European travel fan speak, an insult.  But as I walked around Epcot on day four of my last Disney trip, I began thinking about how similar the two types of travel really are—and not just because I was approaching the little fakeEiffelTowerin Epcot’s World Showcase pavilion. 

Of course there are glaring differences—Disney is, in many ways, the antithesis of any real world location; Disney is an extremely controlled sanitized version of life.  This is why people can accurately use it as an insulting reference.  But the similarities may surprise you.  As I can’t call Europe a ‘destination’—it is clearly an entire continent—I will compare aParis trip to a Disney vacation.  But really, you could substitute in any European city or multi-city itinerary.  

-In both Disney World and Paris you will need to become accustomed to standing in lines.  Whether you are waiting to board a boat on Pirates of theCaribbean or waiting to enter the Louvre, you will be in line.  And in that line there will be cranky children, smelly people, and loud tour groups. 

-A working knowledge of the public transportation system and a good pair of walking shoes are indispensable in both Disney World and Paris.  You will be walking a lot and transporting yourself–without the aid of your own car–farther than you ever would in your day-to-day life. 

-On both trips, if you’re anything like me, you will find yourself setting your alarm every morning, possibly earlier than you do to get up for work.  And if you don’t, you will suffer similar consequences in both locations.  Sleeping beyond 8am will result in a very long line for the Notre Dame tower; doing the same in Disney World will result in a very long line—and a possible lack of fastpasses—for a number of attractions.

-It is very easy to over-plan a Disney Vacation or a Paris vacation (as is evidenced by the insane plan I made before ourParis trip last summer!)  If you are not careful, you’ll find yourself running from one attraction to the next—be it from Space Mountain to Splash Mountain or Sacre Coeur to Notre Dame—without actually appreciating the in-between time.  I learned to take Disney slowly by burning out inParis.  I wish I’d learned this lesson in the reverse order, as a return trip to Disney World is much easier (and cheaper) to do!

-Speaking of cheaper—both vacations can end up being extremely expensive.  I’ve written before of my friend who took her family to Disney World for a week and spent more than we did in Europe for a month.  Disney is very good at relieving visitors of their money.  Similarly, a flight to Europe is not cheap and the exchange rate can be painful.  But in both cases there are things you can do to cut costs dramatically.   

-Finally—and most importantly—the trip will only be as successful as you make it, no matter where you go.  If you stand in line for Pirates of theCaribbean or for a taxi at Gare du Nord and freak out and stomp your feet…well, you won’t have a good time.  Trust me.  I’ve done both.  But if you go in with an open mind and a flexible attitude, you’ll have a great trip.  I promise.

Chosing Laundry over Writing?

It’s Tuesday afternoon.  I returned home from my last trip on Sunday evening.  I have not written one single word about my trip.  I’ve uploaded my photos and even done the laundry.  Since when do I choose laundry over writing?  What is wrong with me?

My new theory is that I don’t know how to go about writing about this last trip–a combination Disney and Universal Orlando trip–because it wasn’t really a trip.  It was a vacation.  And I’ve not gone on one of those in a while.

I did not go to Orlando to learn anything, to research anything, or to attend anything.  But I did have a great time for a number of reasons, and I do have a lot to share.  To make the sharing easier, I’m going to employ my most favorite writer’s block fix–I’m going to make a list.  That way I know what I’m writing about, you know what you’ll be reading about, and I’ll avoid one of those five thousand word posts including every detail of my trip.  You’re welcome!

In the posts to come, I will share…

-Photos from Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Wanyama Safari Tour, which included dinner at Jiko.

-Reviews of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Universals’ Portofino Bay Resort.

-The story of how and why my mom vaulted herself across a parking lot and over a fence.

-A comparative analysis of Walt Disney World vs. Universal Studios vs. Las Vegas.

-A review of Mother’s Day Tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden View Cafe.

-My new favorite attraction in Walt Disney World, which is in my ‘least favorite’ park.

-Tips on how to enjoy Disney Dining with a picky eater as a travel companion.

-A first-timer’s experience in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

-The story of how I lost my hair on The Hulk.

-Dining reviews for the flagship restaurants in each Universal Orlando Resort: Tchoup Choup, The Palm, and Bice

…and, likely, several other posts I’ve not discovered yet! 

The Full Mickey–A Disney Re-Do for My Mom

Four weeks from this very minute, I’ll be in Walt Disney World–and yet I’ve not written much about my plans.  The reason?  I am trying to keep everything a secret from one specific person–my mom.

This sounds strange, I know, but hear me out.  You see, my mom is coming with me on this trip.  It is to be the Disney World trip she never had, after I had a complete OCD-induced nervous breakdown on our family Disney trip twenty-one years ago and ruined the entire vacation.  So this trip is intended to make up for that trip, and as such, I’m hoping to work in many surprises for my dear mother.

Fortunately, she assured me that she won’t read this post.  Mom–if you’re reading this–stop now!

I’ve been planning this trip since last Thanksgiving–one week after I returned from my first ‘real’ trip to Disney for the NCTE convention.  Much to my surprise and shock, I really enjoyed Disney World and, despite a rather rigorous convention schedule, I managed to make it to The Magic Kingdom for a day, Animal Kingdom on my own for a morning, and Epcot for one long night of drinking around the world.

Additionally, I’ve been back to Walt Disney World one time since November, as part of my research for both my in-progress book and my educational travel blog.  While I didn’t write about that experience on this blog, you can read my trip report HERE.

But this trip will be different.  This trip will be a vacation.

The theme of this vacation–because every vacation needs a theme–is ‘The Full Mickey’.  What does that mean?  To me, ‘The Full Mickey’ is the most quintessentially Disney experience imaginable, complete with character photos, pin trading, fireworks, Mickey bars, and It’s a Small World.  Additionally, I’ve managed to work in at least one special experience per day.

We will be staying on-site, because that’s what you need to do for a Full Mickey trip.  My mother selected Animal Kingdom Lodge as her resort of choice, and we’ve decided to forego a rental car and use Disney transportation the entire time.  I tried out Disney’s Magical Express on my last trip and determined that it was, in fact, both magical and express.

On our first full day, we will be going to Hollywood Studios in the morning, and ending our day on Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Wanyama Safari tour, which includes dinner at Jiko.  Day two is a very special day–it’s Mother’s Day!  We didn’t plan it like this–in fact, we didn’t realize we’d be there over Mother’s Day until after we booked the flight.  So even though all of the planning websites advise against it, we’re going to The Magic Kingdom for Mother’s Day.

I’m not concerned about crowds, however, because we’ll only be in the park until around 2pm, at which point surprise number two occurs–I’ve made a reservation at the Tea Room in the Grand Floridian Resort.  This is possibly the thing I’m most looking forward to for the entire trip, as my mom love tea rooms–and I can only imagine the one at the Grand Floridian will be, well, rather grand.

Day three takes us to Animal Kingdom, a park my mother is looking forward to because she loves animals, and I’m looking forward to because I love Expedition Everest.  I’m hoping to get her to ride with me–but we shall see.  If not, there’s always the single rider line!

Post-Animal Kingdom, I have yet another special experience planned–dinner at California Grill to watch the Wishes fireworks show.  Of all of the restaurants in my Disney Guide Book, my mom selected California Grill as the one she’d really like to visit.  She has good taste, if I do say so myself!

While I hate to put my favorite park off until the last day of the trip, it makes the most sense for us to visit Epcot on day four.  The special event planned for this day?  The Segway Around the World tour followed by lots of shopping in World Showcase.  I’m pretty confident my mom will love Epcot as much as I do.

Our last day together is only half of a day, as her flight leaves at 2:30 in the afternoon.  I say ‘her flight’ because, well, I’m not leaving!  I’m staying in Orlando for an additional four nights with my husband, who is arriving later that night on the same plane my mother flew out on.

But I will be leaving Walt Disney World–for the ‘other’ Orlando Resort and Theme Park–Universal Orlando.  I’ll be staying at Royal Pacific Resort, walking distance from the main thing we are looking forward to–The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

My husband and I plan to spend four days and nights drinking butter beer, utilizing our on-site hotel front of the line passes, soaking up the sun at the resort pool, and drinking the evenings away at City Walk.  It will be a very, very different type of vacation than the previous four days with my mother–but hopefully it will be equally fun.  Have I mentioned that I can’t wait!?!  Only 27 more days…!!!

I Think I’m Going to be Sick

For whatever reason, it seems I’ve subconsciously deemed this week as ‘the point of no return’ week in regards to the whole ‘I’m going to write educational travel books’ thing.  On Tuesday I told my boss I’m taking a year-long leave of absence.  On Wednesday I told my team (they didn’t look thrilled).  Thursday was a wash, as it was a snow day–thought I did get a lot of work done on the marketing section of my book proposal.  Friday I talked to the head of HR.  And today…today I purchased not one but two different annual theme park passes.

I think I’m going to be sick.

To be fair, it makes financial sense (am I the only person in the world who can say that after having just spent almost $800 on amusement park admission?!?)  I knew I’d need the Disney Annual Pass all along, and it was technically a birthday gift from my mother anyway (thanks mom!)  But having actually ordered it makes it more…real.  I’m taking a year off and researching and writing this book.  No.  Matter.  What.

The other Annual Pass is for Universal Orlando.  Yes, I just bought an annual pass for a place I’VE NEVER EVEN VISITED.  Why?  In the interest of saving money.

You see, my husband and I are going to Universal for a long weekend in May, attached to the end of my mother-daughter Disney trip.  There’s no undoing if this, no matter how much I may want to undo it–his heart is set.  To Universal we shall go.  I figured out that the difference between the 4-day pass I’d be buying for just that trip and an annual pass was $80.  I then called to see what the AP rate was for the room we’ve booked–and of course they don’t have the ‘basic’ room we booked available at an AP rate.  They did have a ‘better’ room available, and it was still a savings of over $100 from our original booking.  So I changed it–and bought the pass.

To be fair again, to write the Universal Chapter, I have to go back to the parks.  And I would have had to pay for admission, which would have been anywhere from $150-$200.  Instead, I’m saving $20 on our next trip and getting in for free for however many days I need for said research.   If that’s not ‘financial sense’, then I don’t know what is.

So then why am I still feeling moderately ill?

My Calling

For years I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  Sadly, those years started after I’d already grown up.  Fortunately the thing I ended up doing–after giving it VERY little thought back in college–turned out to be something I’m rather good at and frequently really enjoy–teaching.  I can’t see myself doing it for the next 25 years, but the last eight have not been so bad.  In fact, several of them were pretty stinking awesome.

But recently I realized a way to ‘do it all’, if you will.

What are the things that I love?  Learning.  Writing.  Travel.  Teaching.  I also love research, organization, and meeting new people.  Helping people is up there, too.  How can I do all of these thing at once?  I’ve figured it out–I’m going to write a book.

So why am I posting this here, on my travel blog?  If it is not already obvious, the book is going to be a travel book.  A travel book written by a teacher.  A travel book on how to make your trip to ‘fill-in-the-blank’ educational.  Fill-in-the-blank shall be filled in with a number of destinations–as such, I should really say ‘I’m going to write books’–not ‘a book’, as I have plans for many, many such books.  The title?  The World is Your Classroom.

This is also the title of the website I’ve started.  Please click and visit.  Soon there will be a forum where visitors can share their travel-related learning experiences.  I could not be more excited.

Please note, in keeping with the informational nature of this blog, my website sells nothing.  As it is a paid site–meaning I pay for it to exist–it is completely, 100% ad-free.  I do not promise it will stay that way forever, but for now and for quite some time, ad-free it shall be.