Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: May Calendar Shot

Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop...

This week's theme: May Calendar Shot

May 2010...this is when she fell in love with WDW.


Thanks to Deb @ Focused on the Magic  for hosting the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop! 

If you hopped  over, I invite you to check out my other posts, and please consider joining the blog or following on twitter.

Check out all the other Wordless Wednesday links, and remember to share some comment love...

Focused on the Magic

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dining at Disney: When a Vegetarian Becomes a Pescetarian...

What happens when a Disney dining fan starts to eat in a whole new way? 

I spent 25 years of my life as a vegetarian. Almost all of my Disney trips have been as a vegetarian. One of the great things about Disney is the variety of dining options, including vegetarian choices- pretty much wherever you go. Sure, sometimes it's just one menu option, but many places have a host of veggie delights to choose from. There's always something, and there's also always the ability to talk to a chef and see what kind of special dishes can be arranged. Disney is an easy place for a vegetarian to eat, and as vegetarians well know- you can't say that about many places.

Well... for a variety of reasons (too many and too off topic to get into here), this long-time vegetarian started incorporating seafood into her diet this year. As I was planning my most recent trip- a long weekend away with my sister- I suddenly realized that for the first time, I'd be experiencing Disney Dining in a whole new way. After being a vegetarian for decades- and a park veteran who has pretty much only eaten vegetarian at WDW- I was about to take my first trip to WDW as a pescetarian.  This was going to open up a whole new world of dining possibilities for me! 

I decided to chronicle this sampling of seafood from around the world, and I wrote a review article based on my experience. I tried to include of variety of spots, including both counter service and table service, with park locations as well as resort dining. Since this was a short trip, several of the hot spots had to be left out due to timing and logistics. (Hopefully,  there will be a part II of this review where I get to visit some of the places still on my wish list!)

I was thrilled beyond belief when I found out my article would be featured on the Disney Food Blog- one of my favorite websites, and widely considered to be the fan authority on all things Disney Dining! 

I invite you to visit Disney Food Blog, and check out my featured article by clicking below...

Have you sampled any of these seafood dishes? Do you have any favorites to recommend? Have you ever experienced a change in eating habits that lead to whole new way of dining at Walt Disney World? Tell us about it in the comments!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Disney Parks Wild Side

Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop...

This week's theme: Disney Parks Wild Side

They call this "The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness"....

...but I think this one is much wilder!


Thanks to Deb @ Focused on the Magic  for hosting the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop! 

If you hopped  over, I invite you to check out my other posts, and please consider joining the blog or following on twitter.

Check out all the other Wordless Wednesday links, and remember to share some comment love...

Focused on the Magic

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Animal Kingdom!

April 22- Earth Day- is the birthday of Disney's Animal Kingdom. At fifteen years old, it's the youngest of the parks in Walt Disney World. I admit it- there was a time, way back, when I was one of those people who thought of Animal Kingdom as a "half day" park. It wasn't until my sister and her family visited and told me stories of all the amazing things I'd been missing that I made a point to take my time here. In the years since then, my love and appreciation for this park has grown immensely.

The majestic Tree of Life

The level of detail is astonishing, beyond any of the other parks. You can stop just about any place in Animal Kingdom, look around you, and experience amazing thematic immersion- details that go unnoticed when you're sprinting between headlining attractions. From the intricate carvings of the iconic Tree of Life, to the foreboding and beautiful Expedition Everest in Asia, to the museum replica Dinosaur preshow, and the markets of Harambe in Africa- the beauty is in the details. The theme of conservation and preservation is rooted in everything, and reminders of our intricate balance abound throughout Animal Kingdom.

A photo celebration of some of my favorite things from this amazing park...

Intricately carved stone slabs at the base of Expedition Everest, honoring the 
living things found throughout the park...

The gorgeous DiVine

The Dino Institute flashes me back to 8th grade science field trips...in the best way.

This guy, just because.

Always remember: look up!

Stopping for a photo of a snoozing tiger, on the Maharajah Jungle Trek

A carved stone wall, Maharajah Jungle Trek

There's nothing like coming upon dinosaurs on lush fern-lined pathways...

The coolest bus around...

The river. Were any of you lucky enough to take a boat ride in the early days?

How many animals are carved into the Tree of Life?

A gorilla on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Caravan Stage, home to the Flights of Wonder aviary show

The Dawa Bar...a tasty respite from the heat in Harambe.
 Care for a Safari Amber, a glass of Excelsior, or perhaps a Dawa Colada?

A foggy path under the Tree of Life

One of my favorite photo spots

What are some of your favorite spots in Disney's Animal Kingdom? What do you look forward to seeing here as Animal Kingdom enters its next phase? Tell us in the comments...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Favorites on Friday: Souvenirs

From time to time on Fridays, we feature various favorites from Disney Parks- favorite foods, favorite attractions, favorite spots, and more. This time, we're talking souvenirs...

Do you have favorite souvenir, something you get each time you go on vacation? For some it's a t-shirt, or maybe a new set of Mickey ears. Others swear by the snow globe, or maybe a keychain.

For my favorite souvenir, we once again visit the Japanese pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. This is the second visit back to Japan for Favorites on Friday, the first being the scrumptious Okonomiyaki.

Some of the best shopping in Epcot can be found in the Japanese pavilion. Mitsukoshi Department Store is home to one of the most varied arrays of souvenirs found anywhere. From Hello Kitty to traditional Japanese calligraphy brushes, fine jewelry to anime hair clips, authentic kimonos to books and toys- it can all be found in this spacious shop, stretching the length of the pavilion. A Pick-a-Pearl station is found near the front of the store, and the far end houses an assortment of packaged Japanese snacks and candy that I can only describe as... well, indescribable.

Just before you get to the snacks, you’ll find a room full of the souvenir I can never pass up: ceramic sushi bowls. Bowls and plates in all shapes and sizes, all colors and patterns, each one a beautiful piece of art. The bowls range in price, but most are from $4.00 to $9.00 each. At least a few of these come home with me, every time… 

Have you ever visited Mitsukoshi? Do you have a favorite WDW souvenir? 

Tell us about it in the comments...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Flora, Fauna, Fantasy 15

Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop...

This week's theme: Flora, Fauna, Fantasy 15!

Happy 15th Anniversary, Animal Kingdom!


Thanks to Deb @ Focused on the Magic  for hosting the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop! 

If you hopped  over, I invite you to check out my other posts, and please consider joining the blog or following on twitter.

Check out all the other Wordless Wednesday links, and remember to share some comment love...

Focused on the Magic

Friday, April 12, 2013

Favorites on Friday: Disney's Magical Express

Todays' Favorite on Friday is one of my favorite Disney services:  
Disney's Magical Express.

Disney's Magical Express is a complimentary bus service that shuttles guests between Orlando International Airport and their Disney Resort. When you use Magical Express, your checked luggage can also be delivered to your room, directly from the airport- no need for you to retrieve it yourself from the baggage area! A few weeks in advance of your departure, you'll receive a Magical Express envelope in the mail. You'll get a booklet with airport and baggage information, and a yellow Magical Express tag to put on your luggage. The tag has your name, as well as the resort name and resort area code. You'll say goodbye to your checked bags at your home airport, and the next time you see them, you'll be in your resort room! (You may also opt to retrieve and transport your luggage with you on the bus, if you prefer.)

Booklet and luggage tag. "EC" indicates that this bag is going to an Epcot area resort- specifically, Boardwalk.

Once you touch down in Orlando, simply follow the signs down two levels and head for the Magical Express Welcome Center. Cast members at podiums will scan your booklet and direct you to the proper line. Each line serves several resorts.

Depending on the time of day and the day of the week you arrive, you may have a short wait until it's time to board a bus. Which bus you get will vary- sometimes it will be branded with the Magical Express name, and sometimes you'll get a Disney Cruise Line bus. (During busier times, you may actually end up with a third party bus. Hopefully that won't happen- it's a little less...magical.)

Even though I'm usually in a hurry to arrive at my destination, I like when we make stops along the way- it gives me a chance to catch a glimpse of other resorts! Ride times vary, but you can usually count on about an hour between the time you arrive in Orlando and the time you check in to your resort. Once the bus is on the highway- a short ride out from the airport- the welcome video starts to play! Favorite characters greet you and give an entertaining rundown on what you're about to experience. Classic Disney animated shorts then play for the remainder of the trip, until you arrive at your resort destination.

I was surprised when I learned that some people don't like to use the Magical Express service. They prefer to have a car with them at Walt Disney World. They don't like waiting around for buses or boats, they want to be able to easily go offsite, they want the freedom of coming & going as they please. I'm definitely not one of these people! I love not having to drive, not having to park, not having to navigate traffic, not having to worry about having a few adult beverages as I stroll the parks and resorts. Not having to deal with airport rental counters? Also great. I'd rather leave all aspects of the driving to someone else.

Yes, the Magical Express to Walt Disney World is one of my favorite things. Do you know what's NOT one of my favorite things? Do you know what's actually one of the worst things ever?

There you are, going about about your vacation, having the best experience ever, and then...it happens. One morning you wake up, and slipped under your door you find...this:

The dreaded return envelope. This is the harsh smack back to reality: vacation is ending. The paperwork inside tells you what time you need to meet the bus the following day. It's always way earlier than you think it should be. The Magical Express schedules you for bus departure approximately three hours before your flight time, to make absolutely sure you'll be to the airport and through security with plenty of time to spare. If you're flying with a participating airline, you can even check your bags and get your boarding pass right at your resort- extremely convenient.

The return trip to the airport when vacation is over is one of the saddest trips you'll ever take. Many a tear has been shed on these return buses. Sadly, this is where the Magical Express becomes known as the Tragical Express. I have no idea who first thought of that play on words, but it was no doubt someone who was headed back to the airport after an amazing Disney vacation...

Have you used Disney's Magical Express? What do you think of the service? Or, are you one of those people who prefers to drive yourself when you're on vacation? Tell us about your experience in the comment section!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Our very first GIVEAWAY!

That's right, it's our first giveaway- just a small token of thanks for everyone who has helped make Plus the Magic so much fun over the past several months. Since this is my first attempt at running a giveaway, I'm starting out small. If this goes well, I have a few bigger ones in the works!

This giveaway is for one Around the World Reusable Tote, featuring Mickey & Minnie! It's from Disney Parks merchandise, and each side features our friends in a variety of settings around the world:

a Rafflecopter giveaway I'm also tossing in a Disney lanyard with Mickey head and plastic card holder, just for fun!

I hope this first giveaway is a success- I'm not really sure what to expect. Good luck to you!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: The Letter J

Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop...

This week's theme: The letter J

Have you visited the Joy of Tea stand in Epcot's World Showcase? 
Have you sampled their signature drink, "Tipsy Ducks in Love"?


Thanks to Deb @ Focused on the Magic  for hosting the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop! 

If you hopped  over, I invite you to check out my other posts, and please consider joining the blog or following on twitter.

Check out all the other Wordless Wednesday links, and remember to share some comment love...

Focused on the Magic

Monday, April 8, 2013

I visit Enchanted Tales with Belle...and become part of the show

Tucked away as you enter the New Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom is a cozy little cottage- Maurice's Cottage. It's here, set back along a winding path, that you'll find Enchanted Tales with Belle.

photo coutesy of Disney Parks Blog 

When you first enter the cottage, there's no mistaking who lives here. We see charming little provincial touches all around- from the stone hearth, to family portraits, to markings on the wall charting Belle's growth over the years. Belle's books are everywhere, as are Maurice's blueprints and drawings. 

This is a small room, and visitors are packed in quickly. There's not enough time or space to take in all details, before a Cast Member is ushering us to the next room: Maurice's workshop. We see all kinds of parts and plans, models and works-in-progress. Notice anything familiar about those gears on the ceiling?

Ah, but there's one thing that looks a bit out of place in a workshop-
an ornate gilded mirror.

What happens here is perhaps the most incredible special effect I've ever seen. Right before our eyes, this mirror stretches and grows, becoming a doorway- a gateway to the enchanted castle. I can't begin to grasp how this effect is achieved, just a few feet from where we're standing. Impressive, to say the least. 

We walk through that doorway, and we're magically transported to Beast's castle. We're greeted by Madame Wardrobe, who tells us we're going to surprise Belle and put on a skit acting the night Belle and Beast fell in love. 

She asks for volunteers, and a Cast Member passes out parts and props. My hand went up! The CM was definitely focused on the kids first, but she saw me with my hand up and made sure to give me a part before she finished casting. Hooray! I am Featherduster. Time to move on to the next room...

The library! It's here we will await the arrival of Belle, and the fun begins. This is a beautiful room, with books as far as the eye can see. And Lumiere! He's is in full Audio-Animatronic glory on the mantle, the focal point of the room.

If you're interested in taking pictures, be aware that the lighting is a bit odd inside the attraction. It's muted and dim, particularly in the library. My amateur skills made it hard to get any clear shots, but someone with better photography equipment and know-how would likely have more success capturing the moments. 

Did I mention I was the only...tall...volunteer? Look how close I am to Lumiere!

A quick skit is performed, and we march around the room. Once it's over, each volunteer gets a few seconds with Belle, where she gives us each a special bookmark.

A PhotoPass photographer snaps a few shots, and the attraction-specific PhotoPass card is given to participants on their way out. The card can be used to view the photos online and purchase prints. 

This is a fun show, with one quick but incredible special effect, definitely worth seeing. The interactivity is great, and the Cast Members did a nice job of drawing in and supporting some of the younger and shyer volunteers. The younger set is the target audience here, so keep that in mind if you have older children. Head here first thing, because the waits are some of the longest you will find in Walt Disney World.

Have you visited Enchanted Tales with Belle? What did you think of that mirror effect? Did you volunteer for the show? Tell us about it in the comments...