Flower and Garden FestivalEach year Walt Disney World in Florida hosts is International Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot.  Beautiful displays of widely colored flowers are planted throughout Epcot. Topiaries depicting many different characters from Disney movies are grown, styled and then arranged throughout Epcot.  As you stroll through the park, there are many picturesque places to capture those special Disney moments.   Whether you’re posed by a princess or ready to go standing next to Lightening McQueen, your backdrops will be full of color.

Flower and Garden Display

During the festival, special dining, entertainment, and gardening seminars are available at Epcot.  The Garden Rocks Concert Series hosts well-known bands on the weekends at the American Gardens Theater Stage.  Gardening seminars are also available on the weekends at the Festival Center. 

A few flowery facts about the Flower and Garden Festival, which runs from typically from March  through May.  There are approximately 30 million blooms  —  240 floating flower planters  —  700 gardens  —  100 Disney character topiaries  —   30 flower towers

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To enhance your enjoyment of the festival, Disney has developed a topiaries scavenger hunt.  Be sure to print your own scavenger hunt page before you go.  Whether you’re riding rides or dining at Epcot, the International Flower and Garden Festival is an added delight to your experience at this park. You’ll see never before topiaries, enjoy entertainment, dine on delectables all of which are tantalizing to your eyes, ears and taste buds.

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Roxanne Genovese

Travel Specialist

10534554_10203535864509187_6516400041245116232_nNo Disney Fan’s adventures would be complete without a trip to Walt’s boyhood home of Marceline, MO!  Nestled about an hour and a half north of Columbia, MO, this quaint town exudes charm and Disney History around every corner!

Take the Disney tour of Marceline – the Walt Disney Hometown Museum containing personal letters, photos, and other Disney artifacts – guided by volunteers who met and housed Walt himself on his numerous visits “back home”. See where the Original Midget Autopia from Disneyland Park was relocated to a10552408_10203529406627744_2518622247901539035_nt Walt Disney Municipal Park. Currently, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum is campaigning to restore this attraction – follow the link above to find out how to help!

You can then visit the Disney Family Farm and the Disney Barn…as well as see (what’s left of) Walt’s Dreaming Tree – where it’s said that Walt dreamed of being a cartoonist.

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In the barn, leave your legacy by signing the interior walls, and bask in the wide open spaces of the surrounding farm.

Next, walk down the original “Main Street USA” and see the theater where Walt himself premiered the movie The Great Locomotive Chase to eager Marceline children – you might even be able to catch a movie there yourself!

Marceline’s Disney attractions are open roughly April 1 to October.  In September, Marceline celebrates ‘Toon Fest’ where cartoonists and artists from all over the country come to visit, teach, create, and gain new inspiration from the greatest dreamer of all.  Walt’s boyhood home is unique and very special to everyone who has visited.

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A weekend trip is plenty of time to see all that Marceline has to offer, as well as all the history the Walt Disney Hometown Museum has preserved.  I highly recommend staying at The Marceline Inn – a former Main Street USA store, renovated as a small condo, large enough for a family of 5 – boasting a living room, full kitchen, full bath, laundry, 1 bedroom, flat screen TV’s – all in the heart of Main Street USA.  There is also a ‘mom and pop’ run motel outside of town, or other hotel options about 20 minutes away.  But the Marceline Inn was a lovely choice for our stay!

I know you’ll have a lovely time in Walt’s Boyhood Home. You’ll understand why Walt had such a connection here and why he did so much for them. Contact your Me and The Mouse agent to help you plan your trip to Marceline!

Amy Sowinski 

Travel Specialist

Some people are lucky enough to travel to Disney World more than once in their lifetime.  If you are so lucky, you may find comfort in doing the same things you enjoyed from past trips on your current trip, like staying in a resort you loved, eating at the same dining locations, riding your top attractions, and even planning your days to be just like they were on your last trip.  Sometimes it is hard to step out of your comfort zone and make different plans.

I more than excited for my next trip!  Why?  Because I am going to break tradition and add some new things to my itinerary that I’ve never done.

Boathouse

Here are some things you can opt to do to switch up your Disney trip to keep the fun and excitement fresh if you are a frequent visitor to the Disney World Resort:

      1. Stay somewhere new.

We all have a favorite Disney Resort and we       have the underlying fear of “what if I don’t like a new location?  I’m       comfortable with where we have stayed.”…But what could be amazing is,       you could find a new favorite?  It is worth the risk, don’t you think?

      2. Try a split stay.

Stay at one resort for one half of your trip and then switch to another for the second half.  This will work well when referring back to number 1.  If you put the new resort as your first resort and then a family favorite as the second part, you get the best of both worlds. 

Some guests really want to stay at a Deluxe Resorts as well, but the price can sometimes be intimidating.  With a split stay, guests can enjoy a Value or a Moderate Resort for the first part of their stay and then move to a Deluxe for the last half or couple of days.  This way you get the experience of the Deluxe without a big price tag for the entire trip!

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      3. Try new dining locations or times.

 If you are use to going to dinner at a particular       restaurant, why not change it up and make a breakfast reservation instead?  The change may even allow you to have a different experience in the park as well.  Imagine being able to eat breakfast and then have the entire day free and clear of any time commitments…or vice versa. Both are great ways to spend your day!

Dole Whip

      4. Drive vs Fly….yes you heard me!

Why not try a whole new experience  and drive to Florida for an added experience with your family?  You can always mark places you would like to stop and visit along the way.    Always keep in mind that driving can add time to your vacation and if you are limited to the amount of days you have to spend in Disney. If you can get the extra days to drive down, you will be able to enjoy the excitement of a road trip before you arrive to your destination!

      5. Stop and watch a street performance, parade, or show that you may not have ever taken the time to see.

These forms of entertainment are all free to you when you are at the park!

      These entertainment acts are what make the park more than just a theme park, they make it a wonderful experience! Check out the times guides when you visit. 

      6. A day of NO dining plans!

Oh no!!  What??  Yes, you heard me right. If you are on the plus dining plan, you will get one table service meal per night stay per person in your party.  This doesn’t mean you need to enjoy a sit down restaurant per day!  You can choose to enjoy two meals       in one day (a breakfast and a dinner) or maybe one signature dining  restaurant which will use two table service credits.  Either way you choose to do it, you will free yourself up for no reservations for an entire day!!  There are quick service restaurants throughout the parks and resorts to keep you well fed, but it’s nice because then you’re on your own schedule.  I say it’s the best of both worlds!  You get the luxury of the dining plan and enjoying the AMAZING locations Disney has to offer, but you get a food rest day too, which for those who have been to Disney more than once knows you may definitely need!

There are so many more things you can do, these are just a few. Ask you Me and The Mouse agent what they recommend to switch up your travel plans!

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What will I be doing on my trip? 

  • We will be staying at two resorts during our stay, the Pop Century Resort and the Port Orleans French Quarter, both of which I have never stayed at.  While staying at Pop Century, we’ll explore the grounds and enjoy the fun filled décor it has to offer.  We’ll also visit the Art of Animation Resort and visit their food court, Landscape of Flavors.  Port Orleans French Quarter will be a quiet and laid back setting for me and my family.  I have always wanted to visit there and now it will be one step closer to staying at all the Moderate Resorts.   
  • We will be enjoying Ohana at the Polynesian for Breakfast instead of Dinner.  I have never eaten here for Breakfast, but know I will love the experience just as much as I love their dinner menu.  PLUS we get to eat with some of my favorite characters!
  • We are also enjoying two NEW restaurants I have never tried, Le Cellier in the Canadian Pavilion at Epcot and The Boathouse which is one of the newest restaurants in the new Disney Springs area.  Both are signature dining!
  • Taking three days to have NO dining reservations booked.  How am I accomplishing this?  We are eating at a breakfast and Signature dining in one day and another signature dining restaurant later in the trip.  Doing this frees up some time for us to have open days with limited plans other than fastpass reservations.  This will make my husband VERY happy and I think I will enjoy this change as well!
  • Some little things we will also do is pin trade, autograph books (yes, I was that mom who didn’t do the books, but will now that my children are older), and try the famous Dole Whip!  I have never done any of these things, but to enhance my trip, I am ready to add a little bit of extra fun!

The changes you choose to do, do not need to be completely out of left field.  You can still enjoy many of the things you love while there, but with a little revamping of your plans, a repeat trip can be made to feel like your very first trip all over again!

Megan Thompson 

Travel Specialist

 

We all have that one place we go to no matter what when we visit Disney World.  That place, for me, has been and always will be dining at the Crystal Palace restaurant. 

I have dined here since I was a little girl starting at the age of 5 and have continued to make it a staple with my current trips with my own family almost 30 years later. Crystal Palace Pic 2

What is the Crystal Palace?

This restaurant is a character dining, buffet styled meal nestled in the heart of Magic Kingdom.  Its look was inspired by Victorian Greenhouses of the late 1800s.  It is surrounded by windows to give you that true greenhouse feel and allows you to enjoy the scenery outside.  When you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted by lush greens, topiaries and a glass roof in the atrium.  There is seating on either side of the restaurant.  This helps keep the congestion down going to and from the buffet.  Split sides also helps because while the characters are greeting the other side of the restaurant for pictures and autographs, it will give you and your children a chance to settle in and get your food without the children being too distracted by the characters in the immediate area.

Character Dining

One great benefit about character dining is that you get to meet your favorite characters without waiting in a long line or in the heat and…. BONUS….THEY come to you!  Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet are here to take pictures, sign autographs, and say hello during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  You will at least meet the characters one time while dining, but sometimes you will be able to see them twice.  In addition to taking a photo, the characters will gather the children for a fun parade around the restaurant.  This happens about once an hour.  Not all children want to participate and that is ok, but if they do, you can get fun pictures of them following their favorite characters around! 

Tip:  When you are sat, if your server doesn’t tell you the direction the characters are coming from and what tables they will be visiting before they get to yours, ask.  This is helpful so you have an idea of how much time you have to get to the buffet and back without missing a character greeting. 

Tip:  When you see the characters coming, have your camera and/or your autograph books ready to go!  This makes the meet and greet much smoother and offers less hassle.  If you want your entire family to get in on the picture, ask a nearby cast member for help.  If one is not available, you can offer to help the family next to you by taking their picture in exchange for them to take a picture of your family.    

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Location

The location of this restaurant is perfect!  Located to your left as you pass Casey’s Corner on Main Street, it has a direct view of Cinderella’s Castle.  As you sit inside enjoying your meal, you can see the hustle and bustle of the park, mid-day parades that go by, and in the distance view performances taking place in front of the castle. It is a fun to see the magic around you while you dine!!

Reservations, the Dining Plan, and Price

Reservations:  Reservations for this location can be made 180 days in advance and are recommended early to get your most desired time to dine.  If you will be dining with someone under the age of 3, ensure they are included in the party size even though they will be sharing your meal. 

Check-In:  You will check in for your reservation outside the restaurant at a window located next to the main entrance.  There is a covered porch for you to wait while your table is prepared.  Take this time to park your strollers in the stroller parking directly in front. 

Dining Plan:  If you are on a dining plan that includes table service, this restaurant will use 1 table service credit per person (the quick service dining plan is not accepted here). 

Price:  Character dining is traditionally more expensive since you are paying for the experience!  If you are paying out of pocket, the price will vary depending on the season you are going and the time of day for the meal.  Generally breakfast prices for adults are up to $30/person and dinner prices for adults are up to $60/person for peak seasons, with lunch falling somewhere in the middle of that range.  So if you are on the dining plan, this is an especially wise location to use your credits for dinner as you are paying more for this type of experience. 

Tips:  Your server’s tip is not included in the above price and will need to be paid.  Tips are automatically added to the bill for any party with 6 or more people.  Tips are not included in the dining plan.

Dining Times

You can eat at this location for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner.  One of the most coveted times is the morning breakfast before the park opens to the general public.  This is something special for guests who want to take the opportunity to dine at the location and have the chance of walking down Main Street USA with quite possibly no one but you and your friends and family.  This is an ideal time to get photos in front of the castle!  Dining starts at 8 AM and goes through 9 PM.  **Hours for this location are subject to change based on park hours of operation.

Menu

Buffets can sometimes make people question the quality of the food and everyone’s judgement is different, but for me personally, I have never had a disappointing meal here.  I favor the crisp salads and fruits and the amazing soups they have to offer in the evening hours.  From a small kids section with traditional favorites (like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese), to oven roasted chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, to turkey, peel and eat shrimp, and some fun dessert options, there is something for everyone. 

Menu options may change without notice, but traditionally here is what is served:    

            Breakfast:  Enjoy traditional pancakes and waffles, seasonal fresh             fruit, assorted  breakfast cereals, freshly baked pastries, scrambled             eggs and omelet station, breakfast meats, and a variety of potatoes             and comfort foods. 

            Lunch:   Mid-day you can enjoy a variety of salads, carved meats,             seasonal fish and vegetables, soup, freshly baked breads, pastas, and             assorted desserts

            Dinner:  Settle in and enjoy fresh salads, carved meats, pasta,             chicken, beef, fish and vegetable creations, spice boiled shrimp, and             delicious house-made sweets and ice cream.

No matter what your preference, there is a wide variety for all guests at this location. 

Tip:  **If you have special dietary needs while vacationing, make sure you let your Me and the Mouse Agent know so it can be noted on your reservation.  Also ensure you tell your server upon arrival to the restaurant, as a precaution.  Depending on your needs, they may have the chef come out personally to guide you through what will be best for you!

No matter what time of the day you choose to dine at the Crystal Palace, it is sure to be a fun experience for ALL ages!  The easy going atmosphere and fun with characters help to keep my boys entertained while my husband and I get a nice bite to eat!  But even for couples or adults only, this is a fun experience all around….and what is the best thing…it is located right in the middle of all the fun and excitement at the Magic Kingdom! 

Dining Tip:  Make sure to bring a light sweater in those warm months!  It may be hot outside, but the air conditioning at the dining locations can be very brisk while you eat.  It is best to be comfortable!

Crystal Palace Pic1

Megan Thompson 

Travel Specialist 

Quick service dining is an often over looked opportunity to have an amazing dining experience.  There are many quick service options that offer selections that most wouldn’t typically expect and are a great way to maximize your entitlements.  By no means is this a comprehensive list, but in my humble opinion some of the very best!

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  1. Resort quick service: Various

The resort quick services offer something for everyone.   All serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snack options. You will find the standard burger, chicken nuggets, hot dog and pizza, as well as resort specific specialties.  For example, jerk chicken at Carribean beach or a variety of Mexican offerings at Coronado Springs.   Your dessert options can be used for a danish, croissant, muffin or a piece of fruit that you can save for breakfast the next day.  You can also select a bag of Disney bagged candies or Mickey rice cereal treat.  Don’t forget your beverage!  If using your refillable mug, you are still eligible to select a beverage (milk, powerade, juice, vitamin water, bottled water or soda).  Cast members will be happy to answer any questions about which items are eligible for a dessert/beverage entitlement. 

  1. Sunshine Seasons: Epcot Future World – The Land

Looking for a grab and go, traditional or a unique breakfast Panini?  This is the dining option for you.  Breakfast items are served from park opening until 11am.  After 11am the lunch/dinner/snack options are nearly endless.  A variety of seasonal salads, soups and sandwiches are available to satisfy your hunger.  There are entrée’s including salmon, rotisserie chicken and Asian inspired dishes.  Make sure to select a dessert from the plentiful and delectable options!

  1. Casey’s Corner: Magic Kingdom

This is a quintessential nostalgic dining location that transports you to the ballpark!  It offers hot dogs, polish sausages and the irresistible corn dog nuggets!!  Casey’s  offers a toppings bar with a variety of classic hot dog “fixings”!  Don’t forget to  complete your order with crispy, salty French fries.  There are dessert options unique to this location, and I must admit, I can’t pass up the cotton candy or Cracker Jack!  There is limited indoor seating and some standing tables, with many outside seated tables.  This is a must do for my family!

  1. Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles France: Epcot – World Showcase

At 11am when the world showcase opens, go directly to this location.  Although this blog is about the quick service meal options, this location offers many amazing snack entitlement options.  Indoor seating is limited, and due to the popularity you may need to request to have your meal “to go”.  Additional outdoor seating/benches can be found throughout the world showcase.   Expect to experience rich flavors of traditional French offerings: Quiche, Croque Monsieur, cheese plates, soups, salads,  Croissant Jambon Fromage (ham and cheese with a yummy cream sauce).  I saved the best for last, the desserts!!!  If your travel party is willing, I highly recommend selecting a variety of desserts to share.  Classic Macaroons, crème brulee, eclairs, tarts, chocolate filled croissant and so much more!!!  Yummmmmm!!!

  1. Earl of Sandwich: Disney Springs Marketplace

 When I am looking for a great place to eat and I see a line 25 people deep it peaks my interest.  This option is open throughout the day, serving breakfast and lunch/dinner.   The salads and sandwiches are made to order.  There are many enticing soup options too!  The desserts are hard to choose from, but I am partial to the cookie and brownie bites.  There is seating both inside and out, but you are welcome to eat on the go too!   Even the pickiest of eaters will find it hard to resist the pizza sandwich from the children’s menu!!    

  1. Smokehouse: Disney Springs Westside

This option is located just outside of the House of Blues.  Trust me, you will be drawn to the amazing smell of the smoked offerings!  Traditional barbeque items can be found here: ribs, pulled pork, brisket and pulled chicken.  The meat has a delicious smoky flavorful spice rub with an accompanying barbecue sauce and coleslaw.  The desserts are standard fare of cookies or packaged candy.  While we dined on our delicious meal, we were fortunate to have been entertained with live music.  This was a wonderful location to recharge from all the hustle and bustle, with a full bar available too!

  1. Flame Tree Barbecue: Animal Kingdom Discovery Island

As I mentioned with the above location, you will most likely smell the aromas from this dining location before you see it.  The portions are more than generous and honestly enough for 2 hungry adults to share!  They offer ribs, chicken, pulled pork, smoked turkey sandwiches and the legendary turkey leg!!  The seasoning on the chicken was one of the most delicious I have ever tasted and there were a variety of sauce options available.  The food was hot and the meat was incredibly tender and juicy.  The ribs, chicken or combo was served with a delicious and generous portion of jalapeno corn bread and baked beans.  We chose to get an order of onion rings and French fries as an alternate selection to the desserts.  The desserts were a standard cheesecake with a strawberry topping or chocolate mouse.  Instead of the standard fountain drinks, we were able to select the mandarin orange lemonade!  It was incredibly refreshing on a hot and humid afternoon!  There was plenty of covered seating available and although this was a very popular dining location the service was incredibly quick. 

  1. Boardwalk Bakery

Of course, this is a great place to grab a quick breakfast pastry and a coffee on your way to EPCOT in the morning or a great stop for an indulgent sweet treat!  However, most don’t realize they offer more than that, a lot more!!  From a unique breakfast cone (eggs and bacon served in a portable waffle cone), egg sandwich, to biscuits and gravy served with fruit.  After 11am, the bakery offers a variety of salads, 2 cheese focaccia, the soup of the day in a bread bowl, and a variety of sandwiches.   My family enjoyed the lobster roll, roast beef and the meatball sub sandwich.    The cast members were incredibly helpful and informed us we could choose from the hummus and pretzels or mixed fruit option as an alternate to the indulgent cupcakes, brownies and my favorite tiramisu!  Don’t forget about your beverages!  We were able to use our refillable mugs and selected bottled water/Powerade to take with us and a refreshing iced mocha!  Seating is located outside the bakery and offers a scenic and relaxing atmosphere!  Don’t forget to leave time to take advantage of renting a surrey bike and work off your scrumptious meal while riding along the boardwalk.

  1. Be Our Guest: Magic Kingdom breakfast/lunch only

Yes, this location does offer a table service option for dinner, but that Priority seating reservation can be a hard one to obtain.  However, breakfast and lunch are offered as a priority seating option and it’s a quick service!! Breakfast includes pastries that are to be shared by everyone at your table.   There are unique options including an open faced egg sandwich, a savory meat and cheese platter, and an indulgent croissant donut with a banana-caramel sauce with a chocolate ganache.  Lunch offers a wide variety of French inspired selections including: Braised pork,  tuna nicoise salad, and chuck roast beef sandwich with pomme frites(French fries).  There are too many tasty options to list them all here.  I would be remiss to not talk about the soup options!  You are able to select either the French onion soup or the potato leek soup as an alternate choice for a dessert.  However, if you can’t pass up the chocolate cupcake with the “Grey stuff”, you can use one of your snack entitlements for the soup.  One of the unique features of this dining location is you can pre-order your food!  On your My Disney Experience account, you will see under the priority seating reservation what day you may place your pre-order.  Once you have ordered your food or checked in if you completed a pre-ordered, you can then select one of three dining rooms in the castle, my favorite being the West Wing.  Once you are seated, a server will magically locate you and deliver your food on a beautiful tray.  There are many delicious dessert options that make a wonderful ending to an amazing experience!

  1. Wolfgang Puck Express: Disney Springs Marketplace and the Westside

Elevated comfort food can be found from breakfast to dinner at both locations.  The breakfast options were plentiful and incredibly filling.  The potatoes that accompanied our breakfast were crispy and delicious!  We also enjoyed the lunch/dinner options more than once on our most recent trip.  The pizzas are generous in size, with selections from the standard margherita to a barbecue chicken pizza.  The half roasted chicken, bacon wrapped meatloaf included fluffy mashed potatoes.  There were also a wide variety of soups, salads, sandwiches as well as pasta options.  The desserts included amazing cookies, brownies and my daughter’s favorite, frozen yogurt with a variety of yummy toppings!  They do offer alcoholic beverage options for an additional fee.  Although this is a quick service location, they do have cast members that will help you find seating (both inside and outside available), deliver your order to the table (all items made fresh to order) as well as obtain any condiments and refill your fountain beverage, tea or water.  Please don’t forget to leave a gratuity for their service.  The food options, portions and taste will NOT disappoint.  Make sure to add this to your list!!!

What is your favorite quick service location/meal?

Missy Zolecki 

Travel Specialist

So you booked a vacation package for Walt Disney World. My room, tickets, and meals are all paid for so what do I need to bring money for beside souvenirs?

There are several cast members that you will encounter on your trip that you may want to tip in cash. Anyone that handles your luggage, you should tip $1-2 per bag. This includes curbside check-in at the airport, Magical Express, and bell hops at the resorts. You do not need to worry about tipping the cast member that delivers your bags to the room from Magical Express because you most likely will not be in the room. You should tip for salon services, Mousekeeping ($1 per person per day), valet ($2-5), and boat drivers. You can also choose to tip at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Harmony Barber Shop, and Pirate’s League. If you are on the dining plan, gratuity is not included on table service meals. It is customary to leave at least an 18% gratuity at table service meals. If you are in a party of 6 or more, a 18% gratuity is automatically included. Gratuity is also included with Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop-Dee-Do Revue, Spirit of Aloha Luau, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. These tips can be paid via cash, credit card, or MagicBand.Disney Dollar

Most other Cast Members cannot take tips but you can give them thank you notes or stop by guest relations to leave a compliment.

Lori Steinnerd  

Travel Specialist