Located in the heart of Africa is quick service restaurant, The Mara! OK, so you don’t need to travel that far to enjoy the amazing food this restaurant has to offer…although the scenery within its proximity is reminiscent of African lands. This restaurant is easily located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort.

What makes this hidden gem stand out the most? The taste of course! The Mara is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Your breakfast offerings can range from the traditional fare (like bacon, eggs, and waffles) or you can be adventurous and try something beyond what you’re accustomed to. The bounty platter and Bobotie platter both offer Pap and Chakalaka as part of the meal. I also have never had a breakfast flatbread before, but it sounds amazing with sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, bacon, tomatoes, and cheddar. A perfect twist on traditional breakfast foods.

Lunch and dinner options, again, will offer the traditional foods we can find anywhere (burgers, chicken nuggets, and Caesar salads)…but what about their unique offerings? African Potjie (African stew), Braai Chicken Flatbread, or a Chef’s choice hand carved sandwich with Kool Slaai are just some offerings you will not find traditionally in other areas of Disney World. You may also enjoy a hearty meal like the oak-fired rotisserie chicken dinner that I loved or a filling mixed tomato flatbread if you are less adventurous but still looking for a lot of flavor. Lunch and dinner also offer the ‘soup of the moment’….can I just say, wow! The offerings of soup change daily, which allows you the opportunity to try something new and bold on various visits. I had the chicken corn chowder and it did not disappoint. Daily they offer the amazing butternut squash soup, a staple that is loved by those who frequent the location.

Do not forget dessert! There are a variety to choose from, like zebra cupcakes, Oreo cheesecake, and even Pina Colada cupcakes, but they’re most famously known for their zebra domes. If you are gluten free, there is no need to worry, because at special request, they will make these well-known domes for you to enjoy as well. They are so good, you do not even notice the difference!

Being that this location is in a Disney Resort, you won’t find a Disney bus that will take you from your resort directly here. Simply take a bus from any of the parks to Animal Kingdom Lodge and ensure you exit at Jambo House (not Kidani Village). From the lobby, go to the right and down the stairs and outside to the covered walkway to get there.

This dining location is hands down one of my favorites on property! From the theming inside of the wetlands and grasslands of the reserve to being able to make a 5-minute walk to the outside viewing area of the savanna, stopping here for a bite to eat and relaxing scenery afterward is my idea of a perfect evening in Disney World.

The Mara Menu

Megan Thompson

Travel Specialist

 

Innovation and change is a constant throughout Walt Disney World.  The Edison, recently opened at Disney Springs is the bee’s knee’s!  It is surrounded by 3 other recently opened venues as well.  Each with their own unique offerings, but the focus of this review is the largest of the group!

A larger than life clock tower greeted us as we entered the dining area. There was so much to take in as we were seated.  Even the uniforms of the cast members were reminiscent of a 1920’s Speakeasy!  We were greeted quickly once we sat down and our server pointed out interesting areas throughout the venue to enjoy.  There were tables throughout the upper and lower area of the restaurant.  She quickly pointed out that in the evenings, the lower area tables are removed and that area is used for dancing.  Although families are welcome for lunch and early evening to dine, after 10pm, the venue is an adults only location!  Please note, when visiting this location late night, you may be required to pay a cover charge.  A dress code is also followed: Men may wear slacks, jeans or dress shorts, jackets are optional. No ball caps, sleeveless shirts or flip-flops allowed.

Movies from the 1920’s are playing in various locations throughout the venue.  There is a trapeze apparatus hanging from the ceiling and our server shared with us that a performer will use the trapeze multiple times each evening over the weekend.  A live band will fill the restaurant with classic cabaret tunes and even dancers in their classic 1920’s attire will inspire guests to cut a rug!!!  There are several full service bars throughout the venue with 20’ inspired cocktails!

We are always excited to try a new dining location, and that is what drew us to enjoy The Edison on our spontaneous shopping day!  The menu is very succinct, yet intriguing.  I was thankful to have a dining partner who was agreeable to sharing, as I could not decide what to order.  Ultimately, we chose to enjoy the Organic Tomato soup and grilled cheese, as well as the Edison burger  with a side of fries.  The grilled cheese was indulgent and oozing with cheese, with a wonderfully crispy bread.  The burger was a mix of ground sirloin, short rib and brisket meat.  Flavorful and juicy, covered with a delicious cheddar cheese, with an onion ring, bacon and the standard lettuce and tomato.  We requested to have the “special sauce” on the side.  It appeared to be similar to Thousand island dressing.  Despite feeling ravenous when we were seated, we were unable to finish the entrée’s.

My daughter was connecting topics she had learned in school to various details throughout the venue.  Although, this is an in demand adult only location in the evenings, do not hesitate to enjoy this venue with your family into the early evening!  The food was delicious, and if you are an appetizer person, they offer candied bacon and dancing corn dogs. Unfortunately, we were wet blankets and were too full to entertain the idea of ordering dessert.

What are you most excited to experience at The Edison?

Missy Zolecki

Travel Specialist

 

 

When I’m vacationing at Walt Disney World I like to find time to decompress and escape into some of Disney’s more relaxing activities. For me one of the those ways to enjoy the world class amenities and services that Disney World offers is to spend a few hours on the golf course. I’m sure some of you are now saying you don’t golf or you are a bad golfer. Well, then this blog is for those you know who like to golf and the great news is Mickey doesn’t care how good you are.

I must first say that the courses spread throughout Disney property are fantastic. They offer a way to break from the crowds while taking in some amazing views. The many times I’ve played one of the courses I’ve seen players ranging from great to those who look like they’ve never swung a club before. These are high end courses that welcome all players. For me that is a nice feeling. I can golf with my dad who is far from good but don’t have to worry about looking out of place.

There are four courses to choose from. Palm, Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista and Oak Trail. All four have their benefits. If you want to feel a little more removed from the rest of property try Palm or Magnolia. These two courses are nestled in the trees near the Polynesian Resort and Grand Floridian. They are beautiful, laid out well and offer holes that are fun to play whether you are a long time golfer or newbie. Near Palm and Magnolia is Oak Trail is a par 3 nine hole course. It’s a family friendly course that doesn’t take a long time to play.

Now to my favorite course on property. That is Lake Buena Vista. Located at Saratoga Springs this course offers great views Disney Springs, Old Key West Resort and Port Orleans Resort. Playing this course offers a view of these properties that you can’t see while at the resorts or Disney Springs. You see Disney all around you but feel you are in a separate world. One of my favorite aspects of this course is you get a up-close view of Disney’s Treehouse Villas.

The prices of these courses vary depending on the time but range from $39 and up. For a few hours of amazing scenic views and peace I believe they are well worth it. To get the most from your golf outing I recommend speaking with your Me and The Mouse Travel Specialist to see how you can fit in to your schedule and the best time to play.

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

 

 

I am a true believer in loyalty points whether it is a credit card with rewards, airline frequent flyer miles, or a store loyalty program, and the Chase Disney Visa is no exception.

First, have fun selecting one of several cute Disney designs for your new card!  Choose a classic Disney character, like Sorcerer Mickey, Cinderella’s Castle, or a favorite Star Wars character.

Next, select a card with or without an annual fee. For a card with no annual fee, you can receive 1% in Disney Rewards Dollars on all your purchases. Upgrade your card to one with a $49 annual fee, and you can earn 2% in Disney Rewards Dollars on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney locations; earn 1% in Rewards Dollars on all other card purchases.

By using this as your primary card for all your purchases, you will be surprised how quickly the points add up! It is possible to pay for a Disney vacation in Rewards Dollars by simply putting all purchases onto the card (and paying off monthly so as not to accrue interest) and save up the Rewards Dollars. You can use Rewards Dollars to pay for a Disney World or Disneyland resort vacation, park tickets, a Disney cruise, and even to use while shopping and dining around the parks.

Other great perks of the card:

  • Certain Disney vacation purchases can be financed for six months with zero interest. These will be separated on your monthly statement.
  • In the parks, you can save up to 10% on select dining locations or merchandise purchases when you use your Disney Visa with a minimum purchase.
  • As an extra incentive, you might receive a statement credit with a minimum purchase on the card during the first few months from account opening.
  • Enjoy special cardholder character Meet and Greets in both Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
  • Receive special offers for booking a Disney World or Disneyland vacation package.
  • and more!

If you use a credit card, you should be using it to your advantage by earning rewards for purchases you are already making.

* Offers and conditions may change without notice. Visit Chase Disney for more details.   

Nancy Wideman

Travel Specialist

 

“This will be so much fun”, “Let’s see if my sisters, brother and parents want to go too.”  Planning a group trip can be so exciting and at the same time overwhelming!  Whether you are taking your larger than “average” immediate family, friends, or a multi-generational Disney trip I have some great tips that will help in experiencing Disney as a large group.  

Timing

When planning to go to Disney as a large group I try to go during a discounted or off peak travel time (if you have any flexibility in your travel dates).  Going during an off peak travel time can help save  money as well as help you go during a less busy time of the year.  Some off peak travel times to consider include:

-Mid January – mid February

-First 3 weeks in May

-Late August and September

-First 2 weeks in November and First 2 weeks in December

The downside of going during an off peak travel time is that this may be the time Disney uses to do refurbishment work on some attractions.  You can talk with your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist to inquire about any attraction closures during your travel dates.

Resorts

I prefer to stay on property.  I love that I am close to everything and if one of the little ones in our family needs to go back and take a mid-afternoon nap we can do that without any inconvenience.  Disney has many resorts that will accommodate families of all sizes.  If you have a child the age of 2 and under,  a pack and play can be requested, and they are not counted in the max number of individuals in the room.

If staying in multiple rooms, requests can be made for rooms near each other or rooms that are adjoined by a door.  Disney does their best to honor requests but they are not guaranteed.  

Another benefit to staying on Disney property is that when you fly into Orlando International Airport you can take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express transportation to and from the airport.  For more information on all the benefits of Disney’s on-site transportation and how it would benefit your group click the link.

Dining

Disney has different dining plans for nearly every budget and taste.  A perk of the dining plan is that you will get a discount on the meals by pre-purchasing the dining plan versus paying for your meal the day of service.  I also like how adding the dining plan onto your package gives it an all-inclusive feel.  

When traveling as a large group it is important to make your dining reservations as close to the 180 day mark as possible!  You may need to be flexible with your seating preference as some restaurants may need to split your group between different tables.  

Make sure to show up early to your dining reservations.  Since you are dining as a large party you want to give yourself plenty of time to get get where you need to go.  

Also, keep in mind that when you are dining with a party of 6 or more gratuity is automatically added onto your bill.  

Memory Maker

If this is a large group trip to Disney I highly recommend getting the Memory Maker Photo package.  More often than not these are once in a lifetime trips and by adding the Memory Maker Photo Package you will have wonderful photos, with everyone in them, to remember your trip!  When going in a large group only one person needs to purchase the Memory Maker  but everyone in the group can get linked via the My Disney Experience app and use the Memory Maker.  

Be Flexible but Organized

When you are traveling with a large group unpredictable things can happen; kids need naps, some in your group won’t like certain rides, others may want to go back to a different park.  It is very important to talk before you go about your expectations.  Are you expecting that all of you will do everything together?  Are you okay with splitting up and meeting for meals or rides that you have a fastpass for?  If you are splitting up make sure you are very specific on where and when you are going to meet up.  Also, if splitting up make sure everyone has a cell phone and a cell phone portable charger  to help in the event you need to change plans.

Your Me and the Mouse travel specialist will be able to help in creating an itinerary that will best benefit your group.

Fastpasses

I touched on fastpasses above but make sure to pre-pick out your fastpasses.  Fastpasses can be picked out 60 days before you travel if you are staying on Disney property.  If you are staying off  Disney property they may be chosen 30 days before you go to Disney.  You are able to split up fastpasses so if some in your group would prefer to use their fastpass allocation on thrill rides and others would prefer a slower pace that can be done!  

My Disney Experience App  

Make sure those in your group that have a smart phone all download the My Disney Experience App.  This app will link all of your Disney vacation plans into one place.   This app will allow you to make and see your dining plans, fastpass choices, maps of the theme parks, wait times for rides, and more!  Your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist can help so that you all are linked, and will be able to see everyone’s plans!

So to review it is important to be flexible in your days but also very organized taking advantage of Disney’s fastpasses and My Disney Experience app.  Your travel specialist will be a wealth of information with putting all your pieces together for your group’s vacation needs!

Beth Rodgers

Travel Specialist

 

  

In the last 40 years, Walt Disney World has been the reason that millions of families visit Orlando each year.  However, with the full Harry Potter experience and so many additions to Universal Orlando, many families want to do both, but don’t know where to start.  This can get very expensive and overwhelming if you haven’t done your research.

One of the questions I get asked most is “how much time do I need at Universal?”  Several factors do come into play here, but I generally recommend 3:1.  For people doing three days at Disney, add 1 day at Universal and for six days at Disney, add 2 days at Universal.  Of course recommendations can change based on your family’s individual preferences, but it is certainly a good place to start.

Another question asked frequently is “should we get tickets only or purchase a Universal package as an add on?” If you are planning one day at Universal, it might make the most financial sense to purchase the one-day ticket and head to Universal for the day.  However, if you are more concerned about time and getting more accomplished during the day, end your Disney vacation and head over to a Universal resort hotel.  To really increase your time efficiency, stay at a Universal resort that offers the Unlimited Express Pass.  If you are planning two or more days at Universal, definitely stay onsite at Universal.   With a hotel package, you will be granted early access to the parks and be right in the center of the action, definitely getting more value out of the experience.

What about transfers? There are several ways to get to Universal from your Walt Disney World resort hotel.  If you are just going to be a one-day guest at Universal, ask your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist about reserving a private car.  This will not only save you a ton of time, but the personalized car gives you VIP access with a drop off point very close to the Universal entrance.  Without having to pay to park, this option will most likely save you money as well.  If you are doing a split stay with a Universal hotel package, you are eligible for Take 2 Transfers which will provide your family pickup from your Walt Disney World Resort Hotel to your Universal hotel and back to Orlando International Airport.  If you choose to enjoy the Universal part of your vacation first, you will be picked up from Orlando International Airport, taken to your Universal hotel and then on to your Walt Disney World Resort.  Either way, it is incredibly convenient and a huge time-saver.

The split-stay is a great way to make all the Mickey-lovers and Potter-obsessed people in your family totally happy with their Orlando vacation.  Your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist will take all of the intimidation out of this type of experience so contact him or her today!

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I find it fitting to talk about the charming little French bakery that adorns Disney Springs. After a long afternoon of shopping, or even for a fun little date, Amorette’s Patisserie provides the perfect setting to tantalize the taste buds.

While sandwiches aren’t the first thing you think about getting at a French bakery, you absolutely should at Amorette’s. They only have three to choose from, but they are some of the most delicious sandwiches! They have Smoked Turkey on Focaccia, Smoked Ham, also on Focaccia, and a Vegetable Croissant. The first two are both delicious, but it is the Vegetable Croissant that steals the show. I am not a vegetarian at all, but I just couldn’t resist after seeing it in person. It comes on a multi-grain croissant with herb cream cheese spread, zucchini, mushrooms, roasted onions and tomatoes, arugula, spinach and red quinoa. Even though it sounds “healthy,” it’s bursting with flavor. Additionally, all three are accompanied by a salad dressed with a fantastic vinaigrette. The sandwiches are truly the perfect opening act for the vast amount of pastries and cakes they offer.

Now, onto why you are reading this… let’s talk pastries and cakes! There are glass cases filled with different types of pastries. From the key lime tart to the New York cheesecake with lemon curd, blueberries, and Chantilly whipped cream, to the Mickey Mousse (no, that wasn’t’ a typo) which is chocolate chiffon cake with both dark chocolate mousse and white chocolate mousse. Not only are these pastries delicious, but each one is intricately designed. They also offer macaroons, Crème Brûlée, chocolate covered strawberries, and even crepes, just to name a few. You can also enjoy these treats with a latte or some bubbly.

Now you remember when I said it would be a good place for a date? At this point you are probably scratching your head as to how a quick service restaurant would be an ideal date spot, or maybe you just assumed I was a cheap date (ask my husband, I am not…lol). But the reason that I said that is because Amorette’s offers a 90-minute cake decorating experience. In it, you will learn the process of cake decorating from design to completion and also learn how to pour glaçage and coat Mickey’s ears, tail, belt, and buttons with edible paint. Drinks, both alcoholic and non, are included and you get to take your cake home with you after the class. Classes are $149 for two people and reservations are required for the cake-decorating class so if it’s something you are interested in, make sure to talk to your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist to get it set up for you.

If you happen to be at Disney Springs, make sure you stop by the quaint little corner spot and I promise you won’t regret it!

Jen Morrison

Travel Specialist

Many guests visiting Walt Disney World have their favorite resorts, or favorite locations, in which they stay and enjoy their time. One of my first trips to WDW was spent at a Good Neighbor Hotel on Hotel Boulevard – close to Disney Springs (then Downtown Disney). Jump forward to December, and my family took a last minute trip to WDW and needed a place to stay. When all on-property resorts were sold out, we looked to Hotel Boulevard/Disney Springs Resort Area hotels first!

We chose to stay at The Doubletree by Hilton at Disney Springs! The Doubletree by Hilton is a short walk or drive to Disney Springs. As an all-suite hotel, you are sure to find accommodations to suit your party!

Rooms are large, with two to three rooms (depending on your suite needs), containing a kitchenette, living area with pull-out couch, and a bedroom that can be separated by sliding doors. Flat screen tv’s, wifi, and complimentary warm cookies await.  The cookies were very yummy after a late night flight!  Room service and a restaurant is also available!

The bedding was comfortable and in-room amenities were perfect for our short stay. With the exception of being able to hear the next room run their shower, while we were in the bathroom, our room was very quiet and made for a great night’s sleep!  While we didn’t get to enjoy the pool, there is a lovely secluded pool area for guests to enjoy.

With a Walt Disney World Concierge desk in the lobby, they are able to assist with any of your theme park needs. Upon check-in, you get a ‘Disney Springs Resort Area Passport’ that contains tons of discounts and perks for Disney Springs. There are also mini maps of the theme parks with highlights of each to get you excited!

While there is no transport from the airport to this resort, if you choose to drive, complimentary parking for all guests is offered with hotel key access. The Doubletree by Hilton also offers bus service to all 4 Theme Parks and both Water Parks, starting 1 hour prior to park opening, to 90 minutes after park closing – running approximately every 30 minutes. It does NOT drop you at the theme park entrance as official Disney busses do, but rather in the bus lot at each park at the Ticket and Transportation Center.

The BEST part of staying at this resort?? NO RESORT FEE!! Many resorts on Hotel Boulevard charge a per night resort fee at check in, and is often not planned for. Not at the DoubleTree!

In my opinion, this hotel would equate a moderate resort on Disney property. The size of the suites are great, but overall stay, as well as the quality of amenities in-room and on-site, made us feel this was a high end moderate resort. Great for larger families, and budget-minded ones.

As you may or may not know, recently Walt Disney World announced some great perks that now can be enjoyed with your stay at a Good Neighbor Hotel located on Hotel Boulevard.  The hotels on Hotel Boulevard have been deemed Official Walt Disney World hotels. Among these perks only available with a Walt Disney World vacation package, you will now enjoy:

  • Syncing of your vacation package to My Disney Experience
  • 60 day FastPass+ reservations, with a valid theme park ticket
  • Extra Magic Hours

These hotels and resorts have always kept to the standards of Walt Disney World, and have provided a great alternative to staying on property – being within walking distance or a short drive to Disney Springs! All offer unique experiences and can now be booked by Your Me and The Mouse Travel Specialist!  Enjoy the benefits of our services when you allow us to book your vacation package!

*Note, these perks are not extended to those booking on Hotel chain points or who book with the hotels directly. Perks are only available when booked through a Travel Specialist or through Walt Disney World.  

Amy Sowinski

Travel Specialist

 

 

When you begin planning your next trip to Walt Disney World, what thoughts come to your mind?  Princesses?  Mickey Mouse?  Cinderella’s castle?  Is the newly re-opened Hall of Presidents on your “Must Do” list?  Legacy, history and patriotism is what comes to mind when I think of the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World.  On a recent visit to Magic Kingdom, I had the privilege of enjoying this classic attraction for the first time in over a decade!

Having grown up in Springfield, IL, the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, Presidential history was a constant throughout my education.   Perhaps, it may have caused me to lack the appreciation for the Hall of Presidents.  Over the last 20 years,  I had only visited this attraction less than 5 times.  This attraction has been closed for renovation for nearly a year, and honestly, absence makes the heart grow fonder!

We entered the attraction and were informed that the next show would take place in approximately 20 minutes.  The waiting area rotunda included A carpeted area that had the Great Seal of the United States on the floor.  There were many display cases throughout the waiting area with nostalgic pieces from past Presidents.  What I found incredibly interesting, was how engaged guests of all ages were in visiting all of the displays.  My children asked very interesting questions and even added additional information that they had learned in school.

Once the doors opened to the theater, we anxiously awaited the presentation.   This show included life like animatronic figures of all 45 Presidents of the United states.  The show also included music and video presentation on a 180 degree panoramic screen. Although, we all mentioned after our visit that many historically significant moments were featured, yet done in an entertaining way!!!  It was a major parental win!

Make certain to add Disney’s Hall of Presidents to your “Must Do’s” on your next trip.  Only through the vision of Walt Disney, could historical education and entertainment be seamlessly blended!   I have a new found appreciation for this attraction and I am sure this will be frequently enjoyed by my family!!!

What President are you most excited to see?

Missy Zolecki

Travel Specialist

 

 

When planning Disney World vacations I’m asked many questions. What is the Magical Express? How do I use my MagicBands? Where can I eat dinner with the Princesses? And then there is the question that usually leads to a lot more questions. What is the FastPass?

So what is a FastPass? Well, as I like to say it’s a magical way you can get more out of your Disney Vacation by reserving a time for your favorite attraction, show or character greeting and bypassing the standby line. That is a simple answer to a somewhat complex thing. Today, I will share with you the basics of the FastPass+. I must note that this a basic overview of FastPass+. To get the most out of this free time saving service Disney offers it is best to have a conversation with your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist. The one thing we all have in common on this team is getting the most out of your Disney vacation and FastPass+ definitely will help do that!

FastPass+ is a free service that allows guests an opportunity to reserve a time to many of the attractions, shows and character greetings. FastPass+ is available to both Disney guests staying at a Disney Resort and for those not. For this blog we will make the assumptions all guests are staying at a Disney Resort. FastPass+ service is, in my opinion better for those staying on property.

Here is how it works.

  • You can begin making your FastPass+ reservation at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time 60 days in advance of your visit.
  • To make a reservation in advance of your trip either log onto your My Disney Experience mobile app or on the website.
  • Once logged on you can select up to three FastPass+ experiences you would like for the park you are visiting on that day. You will be guided through your options and times and simply select what you would like. For example, at the Magic Kingdom you could visit Mickey Mouse at 10 a.m. and ride Space Mountain at noon and reserve a spot for the fireworks at 10 p.m.
  • You can make selections for each day you have tickets on your vacation.
  • The FastPass+ selections are automatically loaded onto your MagicBand.
  • Once you arrive at the park a Cast Member scans your MagicBand at the attraction, show or character greeting at your designated time and you are in.
  • You can make changes to your selections in advance or even the day of by logging onto your My Disney Experience mobile app.

So that is a basic understanding of how it works. Like I said there are many other features and little secrets to get even more out of this amazing free service. To find out more of the advance features of FastPass+ contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialists. They will help you by explaining how to book additional FastPasses once you’ve used yours for the day, what rides you should try to get a FastPass for and much more!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist