Sunshine Seasons Review

Sunshine Seasons is a counter-service restaurant in Epcot’s Land Pavilion.  The restaurant serves a variety of options, operating as a food court of sorts.  Sunshine Seasons takes part in the Disney Dining Plan as a counter-service credit.  They don’t accept a Tables in Wonderland or Annual Pass discount.  We recently had dinner at Sunshine Seasons and this review will cover that meal.

Sunshine Seasons sign

If you’ve been in the Land Pavilion at Epcot before you have definitely seen Sunshine Seasons.  In a way, the restaurant sticks out like sore thumb.  The Land Pavilion has some beautiful rides inside of it but it’s hard to ignore the actual interior of the building is somewhat outdated.

The environment here isn’t anything to write home about.  Sunshine Seasons is somewhat like a food court in that you order and go sit in a big open area without much of a decoration or motif.  It’s not that the environment of this restaurant will ruin your meal, it’s more like you won’t remember the environment at all because there isn’t much of one.

Sunshine Seasons ceiling

On the bright side (literally), there are these things hanging from the ceiling.  In all honesty, I like the big windows letting in natural light.

Fortunately, Sunshine Seasons food outshines the ho-hum interior.  There are four ordering bays (for entrees) inside the restaurant that all offer different types of food.  Here’s a link to the menu and then a picture of all four of them.

Sunshine Seasons menu chicken

Sunshine Seasons Tuna salad

Sunshine Seasons menu Asian

Sunshine Seasons fish tacos menu

As you can see, there is no shortage of options.  In case the photos aren’t great or you don’t want to stare at photos of menus the four different areas are Asian, Grill Shop, Sandwich Shop, and Soups & Salad.  From what I saw, everything looked really fresh.  There is also a kids zone with a few different options.

All of these options make Sunshine Seasons is a logical place to go with a bigger, indecisive group.  With about 20 different entree options and several types of food everyone should be able to find something that interests them.

Sunshine Seasons Mongolian Beef

I ended up settling on the Mongolian Beef with Vegetable Fried Rice for dinner.  The beef was tender and the sautéed vegetables had good flavor while still tasting fresh.  The dish had a nice spice to it but nothing overpowering.  The Vegetable Fried Rice was tasty and cooked well.  With that being said, the Mongolian Beef was definitely the star of the dish.  I would absolutely recommend this.

Melissa had macaroni and cheese as well as potatoes.  It was a weird meal and I think she actually ordered it from the kid’s menu.  Strange ordering tendencies aside, she did say that the food was fresh and tasted good.  While Sunshine Seasons has the appearance of a food court, none of the food seemed like it had sat under warmers all day.

Oreo Cheesecake Sunshine Seasons

Another place Sunshine Seasons excels is in their desserts.  They have many desserts made daily and there’s not a shortage of options either.  I tried out this Mickey Oreo Cheesecake and I was largely disappointed.  I liked the Oreo crust on the bottom but there wasn’t much of a cheesecake taste to it and the red top (frosting?) was very bland and had a strange texture.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Melissa ordered was much better.  The cookie was fresh and baked perfectly.  She definitely made a better choice than I did.  There were a plethora of other options that looked delicious.

Chocolate chip cookie Sunshine Seasons

Overall, I enjoyed our meal at Sunshine Seasons.  The counter-service restaurant is like the old stand-by restaurant you go to at home.  There are other exciting options that you can try, some will be great and other won’t.  Sunshine Seasons will just keep plugging along with good and consistent food.  The value is pretty good as entrees are generally $10-$15.  That’s a good price for an entrée that is better than some table-service restaurants.  The environment isn’t great but the food easily makes up for it.  As is, Sunshine Seasons is one of the best counter-service options at Disney World.

Overall Rating – 9/10

– Andrew

Have you eaten at Sunshine Seasons?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages.  You can do both of those things on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading our blog, we really appreciate it!

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The Theme Park Summer Begins!

Memorial Day has become an unofficial start to the theme park summer and that’s especially true this year as many attractions, areas and parks all open for the first time to the public today.  Here’s a quick breakdown of what has opened and how it may affect your visit.  I’ll add a few brief thoughts where I see fit, although I try not to lay out any judgments on attractions without experiencing them first hand.  We’ll have reviews of most of these attractions by the end of the summer.

Wishes yellow green

Pandora – World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)

The opening I’m most excited about has to be the newest Animal Kingdom land.  Based on the film Avatar, this land was met with skepticism six years ago when it was announced.  Although the construction time was the butt of many jokes, the time passed may have relieved some of the cynicism about the source material.

Pandora has been open to Annual Passholders and a few other guests for the past few weeks and there aren’t many negative reviews of the land as a whole.  While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers and photos, what I have seen looks absolutely beautiful.

Elephant ToL

Pandora features 2 rides, 1 E-ticket thrill ride and a slow boat ride, a counter-service restaurant, meandering paths and a few other areas to spend some time.  I think this land could add anywhere from 3-6 hours to your Animal Kingdom itinerary, especially if you go this summer.  Speaking for myself, I plan to see the park both first thing in the morning and at night as the experiences will likely differ.

Volcano Bay (Universal Studios Orlando)

While I don’t typically bring up Universal Studios much on the blog (not because there isn’t quality areas and attractions there but because this is a Disney theme park blog), I think Volcano Bay merits mentioning due to a few factors.  Volcano Bay is a new water park at Universal.  From what I know and have seen, the park looks very impressive and has top of the line slides and technology.  Saying that Volcano Bay may change the landscape of top-tier water parks is probably true.  Do I think you should skip Wizarding World of Harry Potter to do it?  Probably not.  But, the issue becomes if you’re planning to go to a Disney water park is Volcano Bay superior and by how much?

Typhoon Lagoon boat

I’m a big fan of Typhoon Lagoon (and Blizzard Beach to a lesser extent) but to think that Volcano Bay won’t top those parks is naive.  Depending on how much water parks matter to you, Universal may be able to steal a day away from Disney vacationers if the park draws rave reviews.  I’ll be curious to follow this story and see what kind of reception Volcano Bay gets over the summer.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (Disney California Adventure)

Over on the other coast Tower of Terror gives way to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout.  If my excitement for Pandora is a 10/10 my excitement for this attraction is probably 4/10.  Reviews are starting to pour in saying that the attraction is great but my problem with the rethemed attraction lies elsewhere.

For the sake of debate let’s say the ride is great… Then the park still has the problem of having a building that looks nothing like Hollywood in the middle of a Hollywood themed land.  I don’t like the looks of the outside of the building and it draws away from the park’s Californian theme.  In a few years this could all be okay if the area is made into a Marvel Land and the old-time Hollywood is done away with but until then it could be somewhat awkward for California Adventure.  I hope I’m wrong!  Maybe I’m just annoyed about the punctuation in the title.

For your touring plan, I imagine this will have long lines for a while and FastPass would be advised.  It shouldn’t really change much about your touring plan altogether though.

Hollywood Studios Adds 2 New Nighttime Shows

These shows are somewhat minor additions compared to the 3 listed above and that’s why I put them last on the list.  The Music of Pixar Live! is a symphony show at the Beauty and the Beast theater in Hollywood Studios.  I think this is a great idea and I’m excited to see live music being in such a prominent role for a new show.  Hollywood Studios definitely needs more things to do and this is showing 3 times a night throughout the summer.  If it’s popular, I imagine the show will continue past summer.  As far as touring goes, I would definitely try to make it to a concert (set aside an hour) especially if you don’t have kids as it’s a pretty long time to sit and listen for young ones.

The other show Hollywood Studios has added is a projection show that plays before the Star Wars fireworks at the Chinese Theater.  This show is called Disney Movie Magic and showcases some of Disney’s live action films.  In a change, Disney kept this a secret until last night when the show debuted.  I don’t think this will add anything new to your touring plan but it’s a little something extra to keep guests busy before the fireworks.

Star Wars light sabers

That about does it for what’s opening today.  There are minor changes here and there, and the Magic Kingdom fireworks have already debuted to rave reviews.  Get there early for that!  Later in the summer Disneyland’s Rivers of America will open back up and we’ll be sure to give a quick update on that when the time comes.  For now, let us know if you have any questions and we look forward to reviewing the above items more thoroughly in the coming months.

If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages which you can find on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

– Andrew

Is Knott’s Berry Farm Worth A Day Of Your Disneyland Trip?

A trip to Disneyland can be far more than just a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.  As we’ve covered before, California is a beautiful place to visit with options for nearly every interest.  One of those options is more theme parks!

Along with Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm is the biggest theme park name in Southern California outside of Disneyland.  Knott’s Berry Farm is one of the oldest theme parks around and has earned a place along side of Disneyland and Universal.  Most people who go to Disneyland are interested in theme parks (if you do go to Disneyland but aren’t interested at all in theme parks then you are a very confusing person).  With that in mind, a question that comes up fairly often is if Knott’s Berry Farm is worth going to on your Disneyland vacation.  That’s what we’ll cover in this post.

Knotts train

I’ll break this down into various categories that I think will be of some interest or use to people.  The first few will talk about Knott’s Berry Farm itself, and some of the unique things the park offers.  Then I’ll get more into convenience and value.  All of this is coming from the thought of people already being in the area on a Disneyland vacation because this is a Disneyland blog.  If your question is should I go to Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm then I would definitely recommend Disneyland.

I should say before we begin that Knott’s Berry Farm does offer a water park.  I won’t be including that in this post as I haven’t experienced it.  The water park gets decent reviews on TripAdvisor and other similar sites but I’m not sure I’d make a special trip there for the water park unless you just really love water parks.

On to the post!

History

The Knott’s family sold berries in the Anaheim area and in 1934 they opened their restaurant that served the famous fried chicken dinners.  In 1940 the family began constructing the famed Ghost Town and intermittently added attractions over the next few decades before charging admission to the park in 1968.

Knotts chicken

That history is part of what makes Knott’s Berry Farm so interesting, alluring and charming.  There’s a story of Walt Disney and other company executives going to the Knott’s Chicken House for a celebratory dinner one night while on the verge of acquiring some land to build Disneyland.  Their plans were overheard while at dinner and, in short, this drove up the cost of the land and they had to find a new place to build.

Also of interest is that Knott’s Berry Farm was nearly sold to Disney in the 90’s.  Ultimately, the Knott’s children ended up selling to Cedar Fair (another theme park company) and they still own the park to this day.  There are little trinkets and stories throughout Knott’s that up its value for theme park history buffs.

Another aspect of this history is that it’s hard not to see how Knott’s Ghost Town help inspire Disneyland’s Frontierland.  Both take on a western theme with an old-time feel. Both lands main attraction is a wooden roller coaster.  Sure, there are definite differences but to think that they didn’t inspire each other is naive.

There is more history here than just how it relates to Disneyland and guests can delve however deep they want to in that.  Funny enough, how interested you are in Disneyland’s past will probably correlate to how interested you are in Knott’s.  For some it won’t be a big deal but for others Knott’s Berry Farm will be a rite of passage due to it being one of the first theme parks in the world.

Knotts stream

Roller Coaster Junky? 

On the other end of the spectrum, Knott’s showcases a ton of roller coasters with varying degrees of thrill.  This helps balance the park out for those that aren’t interested in the history.  I’m far from a roller coaster expert.  In fact, I’m terrified of many of them so I won’t pretend to offer a lot of insight here.  What I do know is that Disney’s roller coasters are fun but tame for the most part.  Knott’s offers roller coasters that are far more intense.  Six Flags, if you have ever been to one of those parks, type roller coasters are a decent comparison to what Knott’s Berry Farm offers.  Outside of Magic Mountain in Southern California, Knott’s Berry Farm probably has the most thrilling coasters for those interested.

Quality of the Theme Park

This category is probably the most objective on the list.  Everyone looks at theme parks differently and people enjoy different aspects of it.  While I tried to make this post more about your preferences and seeing if Knott’s fits into YOUR Disneyland vacation, this category is more my opinion on the park.  As I said, yours may differ completely.  With this in mind, I will try not to speak to any of the motifs behind the lands or backstory but simply what I see walking around Knott’s Berry Farm.

Knotts Excelerator

To put it simply, I love about half of Knott’s Berry Farm and dislike the other half.  Ghost Town and most of the surrounding are all well done to varying degrees.  Ghost Town itself is heads and toes above every other land in the park and is worth spending quite a bit of time in.  The quality, theming, and detail in that area is on par with most lands in Disney Parks.

Frankly, the further you get away from Ghost Town the uglier Knott’s Berry Farm becomes.  The Boardwalk area is the worst offender, looking more like something you’d see at a local fair as opposed to a boardwalk or a theme park land.  There is a lot of pavement and bad sight lines throughout the park.

Does the good outweigh the bad?  I would say yes.  Much of your opinion will depend on what you think of the old west theme that Knott’s best lands are formed around.  This isn’t your local amusement park although some areas may look like it.  As long as you can live with those areas, or enjoy the roller coasters in those areas, then Knott’s Berry Farm passes the quality test.

Knotts fountain

Special Events

Knott’s Berry Farm did Halloween events before Halloween events at theme park’s were cool.  Knott’s Scary Farm has been operating since 1973 and is a big draw for those who like to celebrate the spooky holiday.  The Scary Farm turns the park into a big haunted house with quite a bit of live entertainment around.  Although it’s slightly more family friendly than it used to be, the Scary Farm is more intense than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  If you’re a fan of Halloween, I don’t think you’d be disappointed in Knott’s Scary Farm.

The other annual event that I find interesting is the Boysenberry Festival the park has every April.  While 2018 would only mark the 5th annual festival, assuming it happens, the Boysenberry Festival is a nice nod to the park’s roots.  They offer special food items around the park, similar to Food & Wine at Epcot and California Adventure.  If you’re already considering a trip to Knott’s in April maybe this would put you over the top?

Convenience from Disneyland

If your trip is centered around Disneyland a main point to consider for other locations is how easy it is to get there.  Getting stuck in Los Angeles traffic isn’t ideal for a vacation and luckily Knott’s Berry Farm won’t be much of an issue here.  If you’re driving then Knott’s is about a 20 minute drive, with limited miles on I-5.  Knott’s is just north of Disneyland and doesn’t venture into LA.

Knotts Carousel

Taking a shuttle or bus is also pretty simple as there is actually a bus that runs from the Disneyland shuttle area to Knott’s Berry Farm.  The cost is minimal (under $5/person) and the ride is quick and easy.

No matter your mode of transportation, Knott’s Berry Farm is one of the easiest Southern California attractions to travel to if coming from the Disneyland area.  Universal Studios, Hollywood or anything else in LA is significantly more time-consuming.

Value of going to Knott’s Berry Farm

Just to get it out-of-the-way, Knott’s Berry Farm is cheaper than going to Disneyland or Universal Studios.  A single day ticket (and I wouldn’t advise going more than one day) can be as low as $45.  That’s a good price and a good value, as you can easily spend 6-8 hours in the park.  Where this starts to get tricky is when you factor in taking a day away from Disneyland to do Knott’s.  If you don’t know, the more days of a Disneyland ticket you buy the cheaper the price per day is.  Buying a 1-Day ticket to Disneyland is around $110, 2-Day tickets are $99/day, 3-day is $90/day, 4-day is $72.50/day, and 5-day is $61/day.  The longer you go the more value you get is the point here.  But at what point does the value no longer matter because you have seen everything?  That’s the tricky part of the equation and where Knott’s Berry Farm can factor in.

Knotts Calico Saloon

Speaking out of personal preference, I would do at least 3 days at Disneyland before considering Knott’s Berry Farm.  I think the quality of the product is much higher and the experience is more enjoyable.  Once you get past 3 days though, I think Knott’s becomes a decent option and you’d still be saving a little bit of money by going to Knott’s Berry Farm for a day instead of Disneyland for a fourth or fifth day.  I would definitely consider this if you have never been to Knott’s before and one of the categories above interests you.

The other question to consider is whether other Southern California attractions are more interesting to you than Knott’s Berry Farm.  Spending a day at the beach is almost as easily accessible as going to Knott’s and much cheaper (bonus tip: sitting on a beach is free!).  Likewise, walking around LA Live, Hollywood or other areas of the city may interest you more.  There are countless things to do in Southern California that are cheaper than Knott’s Berry Farm if the park doesn’t appeal to you.

Knotts flower tree

For the theme park fans though a big portion of this decision will likely come down to Knott’s or Universal Studios.  If you’re staying at Disneyland, Universal Studios is a pain to get to and doesn’t offer nearly as good of a value but is likely the superior option.  Knott’s wins in convenience, roller coasters, and history.  Universal Studios has some incredible rides and an amazing environment in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and is overall a better park although the race is closer than you might think if you haven’t been to either.  Which park you decide on will likely come down to money and if you don’t mind the long drive from DL to Universal Studios (maybe get a hotel by that park for the night if you decide on that).

As I’ve already been to Knott’s Berry Farm, my likely choice for an off day (from Disneyland) in Southern California would be spending the day at a few different beaches and then the evening at a Dodgers game, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl or the Griffith Observatory.  That day would be significantly cheaper than a day at one of the theme park’s and offer some of California’s most iconic landmarks.

The catch to that is if you are a big fan of theme parks and have never been to Knott’s Berry Farm, you should probably go.  Not because the quality will top Disneyland but because of the history that the park offers.  Read up on the area before you go and you’re likely to enjoy your experience there even more.

Knotts waterfall

If you have any questions or thoughts about Knott’s Berry Farm or Disneyland please leave them in the comments below!  If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages which you can find on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

– Andrew

April 2017 WDW Trip Report – Part 3

If you missed parts 1 or 2 of this trip report just click on the corresponding number to catch up!  

Friday morning arrived early, as we were Melissa, my mom, and I were off to walk the Star Wars Dark Side 5K.  I already wrote about that experience here, so I won’t rehash that early morning too much.  To reiterate my feelings on the 5K, I did enjoy it but I wouldn’t do one again by myself or just with Melissa.  I didn’t think the price matched the actual experience.  With that being said, I will look back fondly on that morning for years to come.  I’m very proud of my mom for finishing her first 5K.  Not to mention, being in Epcot at sunrise is pretty special.

IMG_0984

After we finished the race, it was off to Olivia’s Cafe for breakfast.  One of my runDisney rules is always have a meal planned for when you’re done because food is more enjoyable than running.  Our breakfast this morning was a little more spur of the moment as we rode back to Old Key West and ended up meeting my dad at Olivia’s.  Here’s my review of our somewhat disappointing meal.  Even with the food being average, we had a nice time relaxing and watching others walk in with their 5K medals on.

IMG_1013

For those not keeping score at home, I was still sick.  Not to brag.  Turns out the ‘sleeping 5 hours each night and walking 12 miles a day’ plan doesn’t instantly relieve having a cold.  So, after breakfast we headed back to our room for a nap.  Eventually, Melissa and my parents got up and headed to Epcot while I stayed behind and slept a little longer.  I woke up feeling much and better and headed to park in time to snap a few photos and enjoy our Frozen Ever After FastPass.

Mickey Epcot Topiary

I’d never been to Epcot for the Flower & Garden Festival.  That morning during the 5K was actually the first time I’d seen it.  We didn’t stop to look at much that morning, so I was eager to take photos that afternoon.

Figment topiary wide

In possibly the most obvious statement of all time, the flowers really brighten Epcot up.  The Flower & Garden Festival makes Future World much more inviting, while also enhancing World Showcase.

Monorail flowers

After stopping every 30 feet to take a new photo, I eventually ended up at the Norway Pavilion in time for our FastPass.

My opinion of Frozen Ever After remained mostly unchanged after our most recent ride through.  I will say that the attraction looks really nice now that they have worked most of the kinks out.

Anna Kristoff

I like the blue lighting throughout the attraction and I think the screens are utilized well.  The face projection on the animatronics still weirds me out to some extent.  I can see why some would think these projections are an upgrade to a more standard animatronic, as the face can show more emotions.  On the other hand, with the incredible audio-animatronic being showcased Pandora, the figures in Frozen Ever After seem a little bit lazy.  I lean towards the latter viewpoint, but that’s not enough to ruin the attraction for me.  Oh, and Frozen Ever After still doesn’t fit in the Norway Pavilion.  That won’t change unless Frozen 2 is about Elsa throwing Anna a Bachelorette Party where they sail to Norway and explore the culture over a long weekend.  I’m guessing that won’t happen although it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had.

trees spaceship earth

After our ride we headed out of Epcot and boarded a bus to Fort Wilderness.  It was time for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue Dinner Show!  We arrived at Fort Wilderness and instead of hop on the internal bus-service that the resort offers, I made my family walk over a mile in 90 degree heat for no good reason.  I didn’t realize how far it was from the Fort Wilderness bus stop to Pioneer Hall, which houses the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.

Chip Dale sign Fort Wilderness

If conditions had been different (say, 15 degrees cooler and not in a hurry) I would have really enjoyed the walk.  The Fort Wilderness grounds are really beautiful and worth exploring.

As for the show, it was fantastic.  I’ll have a review of Hoop-Dee-Doo  but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and thought it was something very different to do at Disney World.  We learned our lesson and took the internal bus back to the bus stop.  Before we knew it, we were back at Epcot.

Pluto Spaceship Earth

Back in Epcot, we saw that Living With The Land had a short wait time and headed there.  The show scenes here could use an update but I love the greenhouse section.  The whole Land Pavilion could use a refresh with more color and exploration like Living With The Land showcases.  Maybe the whole pavilion is a commentary about our planet being a little dark but if you explore or wait long enough (Soarin’ and Living With The Land) you can find something beautiful.  Not really, I think it’s just outdated.

Dandelion Fantasia end monorail Epcot

We were headed towards the butterfly garden before getting sidetracked by my favorite topiary at Flower & Garden.  I’m a sucker for anything Fantasia and thought this scene was really elaborate and colorful.  As is customary in Epcot, I needed to stick around and wait for a monorail to pass by.  My wife and parents are too patient with me.

pink flowers butterfly epcot

The butterfly garden was beautiful and one of my favorite aspects of the festival.  We spent about half an hour in there and could have easily spent more time.  I appreciated that there were hundreds of plants in there that were almost as interesting as the butterflies themselves.

Epcot American Adventure Japan sunset water

We were about an hour from sunset at this point and I was hoping for some good light to take photos around World Showcase.  We were off to France, but took a pretty slow pace as we soaked in some of the areas of Epcot that we hadn’t seen yet.

Peter Pan topiary Epcot

The Peter Pan topiary was also one of my favorites.

France Epcot sunset

The sunset was mostly a dud, save for a few interesting clouds.  If I had been more patient and took my tripod out I might have caught something more interesting.  As is, the photo above was my favorite of that time but I don’t love this.

Epcot across WS SSE

World Showcase was really lovely that night and not overcrowded.  I’ve probably done a little too much complaining about Epcot over the last week.  While it surely needs help, a stroll around World Showcase in the evening covers up a whole lot of warts.  It is still one of the best experiences at any Disney Park in the World.

After completing our FastPasses for the day, Melissa made the wise decision to get an available FastPass for Illuminations that night.  I underestimated just how great the viewing area for Illuminations is.  The area is in the front of house (the start of World Showcase) and was not very crowded this night.  The ground was sloped up so everyone could see the lagoon easily.  I wouldn’t opt for an Illuminations FastPass over Soarin’ or Frozen Ever After but I think it may be more valuable than Test Track.

Illuminations streaks Epcot

All this to say, it was one of my favorite viewings of Illuminations.  This is still my favorite nighttime show at Walt Disney World and a great viewing spot can really enhance that.

After Illuminations, we probably should have headed towards the exit but instead got out of the FastPass area quickly and headed straight to the back of World Showcase near Japan.  Even after park closing, security will let guests linger in World Showcase as many people are still in the restaurants.  I spent the next hour taking photos moving from Japan to Mexico.  Here are a few of my favorites.

SSE night across water Epcot

Pagoda and SSE Epcot night

Germany Epcot night

China dragon Epcot night

Melissa and I had a great time that night, as my parents went back to the hotel after Illuminations.  Even after closing, walking around World Showcase is a perfect way to end the night.  If you are able to stay out late, then an after-hours stroll is one of those quaint Disney Park experiences that keep people like me coming back.

We stumbled back to the hotel, exhausted and fell asleep before long.  The next morning after sleeping in to a reasonable hour we headed over to Animal Kingdom.  It was Earth Day and also the park’s 19th anniversary.

Everest close AK

We started our day on Expedition Everest.  One of my biggest regrets of the trip is not riding Everest at night.  Next time!

After narrowly escaping the Yeti we took a relaxing walk to Africa.  Melissa hadn’t had a cinnamon roll yet this trip and it was past time for that.  While the anticipation of buying a cinnamon roll will drive some of you crazy, that’s where we’ll leave off this installment.  The next installment will feature that cinnamon roll, Festival of the Lion King, and a surprising safari.

stream AK

Let me know what else you’d like to hear about from our trip, I’d be happy to share! If you enjoy what you’re reading please like our social media pages which you can find on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

– Andrew

Question of the Week (5/21/17)

Every few weeks our writers get together and answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answers!

Question of the Week: On a scale of 1-5, 5 being the most excited, how excited would you be for Disney or Universal to make a Lord of the Rings Land in some fashion?

Leslie – 5 billion. I would love to see Disney do something in this capacity. After seeing pictures and videos of Pandora I have no doubt in my mind that Disney could pull off the scale and quality a Lord of the Rings Land would require. I would love to see the land first hand (I know Hobbiton is in New Zealand, but I’d love meet and greets and rides). Thus I would love to see something like this come to be.

Pandora mountain

Cassie – I would say 3. I’m not a huge fan of LOTR but definitely appreciated the films and books. I think a Hobbit land would be pretty awesome, especially if they modeled it after the films exactly (like Cars land.)

Cozy Cone Cars land night

Andrew – I’ll be the negative one and say 2. I do really enjoy Lord of the Rings (I don’t like The Hobbit films but the book is great) and some of the areas they could create would be incredibly beautiful. With that said, I wouldn’t be very excited for two reasons. One, I think Lord of the Rings time may have come and gone. It’s not nearly as popular now as it was 15 years ago, and the source material would be pretty important to enjoying the land like Wizarding World of Harry Potter and unlike Pandora – World of Avatar.

My other reason is that I’m getting a little tired of IP-specific lands. I think theme parks are putting themselves in a corner when it comes to building these areas. I also think it diminishes the art of storytelling in theme parks, as the lands rely too much on people already knowing the story as opposed to telling the story themselves. Obviously this reason isn’t about Lord of the Rings specifically, but just about building more lands that only fit in one story. With all this said, I wasn’t very excited when Pandora was announced and now I’m counting down the days until I go so I’m sure I’d be very excited once the land was complete.

DSC_7849

Melissa – I would say 4. I really like franchise areas…mostly because I like the franchises. I like that you get to enter yourself into a world that you’ve only imagined before. I do get Andrew’s point though that as time moves on, these areas become less significant with new generations. But I would love it!

Chinese Theater DHS

Would you like a Lord of the Rings area in a Disney (or Universal) Theme Park?  Let us know in the comments.

If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney, please subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email on the right side of this page.  That is also where you can find our social media accounts as well.  If you ever have any question about any of the Disney Parks, please let us know in the comments!  I’ve included the same poll from our previous question of the week, as we try gauge interest in other outlets for this blog.  You can vote for up to 3 and any input is appreciated.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

Olivia’s Cafe Breakfast Review

Olivia’s Cafe is a table-service restaurant at the Old Key West Resort in Walt Disney World.  The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Olivia’s does accept Tables in Wonderland and Annual Pass discounts.  We recently had breakfast at Olivia’s and will be reviewing that meal.

Olivia's menu

Olivia’s sits in the center of Old Key West, just past the hotel’s lobby.  The river and pool are just down a walkway.  The restaurant is named after a fictional character who lived along the river.  Passers-by would smell her food and want some so she built a restaurant there.  The back story is somewhat flimsy and unneeded but it does maintain the easy-going theme of the Old Key West Resort.

Fresh Fish sign Olivia's

The inside of the restaurant did have a charm to it that you might find in a local diner.  Artwork, antiques, and other trinkets adorn Olivia’s walls.  While I wouldn’t call the environment anything extraordinary, it was nice enough.  There was a good natural light in the building due to a good amount of windows.

Olivia's fans

I liked these fans.  They fit the resort.  You can also see amount of ‘stuff’ above the windows.  These decorations made the feel almost like a cute, little antique shop.  I imagine that quaint feeling was what the designers were going for.

For dinner, Olivia’s serves seafood and other American fare.  The breakfast menu is full of typical breakfast dishes.  Here is a link to the menu, in case you don’t want to squint at the one above.  As you can see, all the entrees are in the $12-$16 range.  These are pretty fair prices, even compared to some of Disney’s counter-service breakfast options.  I would hardly ever recommend eating at a counter-service place for breakfast, while a table-service place can have some value to it if you find the right place.

Biscuits gravy Olivia's

Is Olivia’s the place to get that value though?  Well, let’s take a look at the food.  I ordered the Biscuits and Gravy with ham and eggs over-easy.  As you can see, the portion size was pretty large.  I did like the biscuits and gravy.  The biscuits were flaky and freshly made and the gravy had a decent amount of sausage in it.  I don’t think there was a ton of flavor in the dish but it was still pretty good.  The ham and eggs were cooked well but nothing out of the ordinary.  I feel like it might be hard to make ham and eggs special.

pancakes eggs Olivia's

Melissa ordered the pancakes, which we both thought were average.  They were cooked well and everything but, again, nothing stood out about them.  the sausage and eggs were fine.

Looking back at the menu, I’m curious why one of us didn’t try the Banana Bread French Toast.  That looks like the most appealing dish on the menu.  The Crab Cake Eggs Benedict also looks interesting.  I was pretty tired and probably just ordered something that I knew I’d like.  If I went again I’d definitely try one of the more original dishes.

Olivia's light

Overall, Olivia’s was a really nice place to have a meal, especially a relaxing breakfast.  Unfortunately, when factoring in the food, Olivia’s Cafe doesn’t rank so favorably.  There was nothing that stood out about the dishes and, while the prices were pretty decent, I don’t think I’d recommend the breakfast here unless you’re staying at Old Key West and really enjoy having a hearty breakfast.

Overall Rating – 7/10

If you have any questions about Olivia’s or anywhere else at Walt Disney World please let us know in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney, please subscribe to the blog on the right side of this page.  That’s also where you can find links to our social media accounts, as well.  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Epcot’s Midlife Crisis

Young and innocent, Epcot Center came bursting to life October 1st, 1982.  A project more ambitious than any other theme park created to date, Epcot was barely ready for opening thanks in large part to some of that ambition.  As chronicled in Building A Better Mouse, American Adventure, the centerpiece to the beautiful World Showcase, was still in the midst of tests as Walt Disney World’s second park opened it’s gates.  Many of the other attractions were in a similar situation.  Even with these issues most saw Epcot’s early days as a roaring success thanks to the park’s innovation and ingenuity.

American Adventure mountain

At the park’s dedication Card Walker said about Epcot:

“Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.

May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.”

And this mission held true for many years.  World Showcase was not only a beautiful place to spend an evening but a place to learn about culture.  Future World showcased breaking technology as well as an entertaining look into the scientific fields.  Inspired by Walt Disney’s idea for a utopian city, Epcot was truly informative, inspiring and entertaining in one swoop.

Over the next few years, Future World would keep adding to their attraction and pavilion lineup with soon-to-be-classics like Journey Into Imagination, Horizons, The Living Seas and Wonders of Life.  World of Showcase was not to be left out, adding the Norway and Morocco Pavilions in the decade after opening.  Epcot Center had not only became a quality theme park but one that brilliantly matched its ambitious theme.

Figment topiary wide

***

Changing names doesn’t really change much.   While Epcot Center was mostly succeeding, some guests and executives saw the park as not entertaining enough.  With an emphasis on informing, many guests came to the park expecting a typical Disney experience (which at this time was Magic Kingdom or Disneyland) and left disappointed in the lack of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters.  While not everyone complained about this, in fact I’d say more people raved about the park, the complainers somehow caught the ear of someone high up in the Disney executive chain.  This combined with a drop-off of in park investing, as much of the money was going towards other areas of Disney World, combined to make the park appear a little dated or less thrilling than some wanted.

In fairness, this on-the-brink-of-tomorrow theme involved in Future World (or Tomorrowland, for that matter) in which the area is supposed to showcase upcoming technology and innovation is something Disney has never quite figured out.  Frankly, the never-ending investing that would have to be done to stay ahead of technology in the last 40 years is simply unrealistic for a theme park.  That’s not to say the company couldn’t have done a better job.  They surely could have and that problem started in Epcot Center way back in the 90’s.

China dragon Epcot night

Instead of investing in more modern attractions, or updating areas to make them more futuristic, Disney took the easier route and… uhh… changed the name of the park?  First, it was Epcot ’94 in the year 1994.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I think the belief was that the signage updated would make the park feel more current.  After Epcot ’94 came, you guessed it, Epcot ’95 in 1995.  This was the cheap way out and simply not a good idea.  With that being said, it does feel like a classic ’90’s idea.

As I said, funds were already being stretched across the resort so Epcot was running on a somewhat limited budget.  But possibly if the funds hadn’t been sent to changing the park name 3 times in 3 years then that money could have been invested elsewhere into something that would have actually benefited Epcot.  As is, I only count 3 major changes in the park from 1988-1999: Illuminations added to World Showcase, a 3D show called Honey I Shrunk The Audience, and Communicore changing to Innoventions.  All three of these new options were replacements (albeit Illuminations is a great replacement) instead of expansion.

In 1996, the park’s name was changed to Epcot.  These name changes were made to make the park feel modern but in retrospect they are a symbolic start to a break from the original park theme.

Flower beds monorail

***

The awkward years.  The 20+ years since that name change have been awkward and less and less hopeful that the park will ever find its original theme.  Epcot started as a place that was proud to not have any Disney movie characters inside of its gates, now it seems as if they can’t fit them in fast enough, cohesive theme be damned.

The first misstep was changing Journey Into Imagination into Journey Into YOUR Imagination.  The ride was rethemed to fit the movie (Honey I Shrunk The Audience) in the pavilion.  The original Journey is loved by almost all, the new Journey was hated by about the same amount.  After a few quick years, the ride changed to Journey Into Imagination With Figment.  Unfortunately, the Imagination Pavilion has lacked imagination and quality attractions since the original change.

A few years later, The Living Seas Pavilion turned to The Seas with Nemo & Friends.  The Three Caballeros, Lion King and a few meet & greets notwithstanding, Finding Nemo was the first Disney (Pixar) animated film to put a large footprint into Epcot.  The difference between Finding Nemo and the Lion King or Three Caballeros characters being in the parks is that the latter characters are in attractions that actually fit the theme of the area.  Finding Nemo was simply put in because there was an aquarium and Disney had a film with a bunch of fish in it.  The pavilion was subsequently dumbed down.

Meanwhile, other areas of Future World or have since been shut down.  Wonders of Life, The Odyssey Restaurant, and Horizons are no more.  Innoventions is all but shut down and not really worth anyone’s time.  Ellen’s Energy Adventure has aged poorly as have several other minor attractions.  A lack of investment has made Future World feel bland and behind the times.

Snowball

World Showcase is still a success financially but even the theme of experiencing different cultures is deteriorating.  Frozen Ever After moving into the Norway Pavilion has been discussed ad nauseam but is a clear break from all other World Showcase attractions.  Character meet & greets are in nearly every country.

Festivals in World Showcase were once an extension of experiencing different cultures.  Now that there are more dates with festivals than without, they seem (notably) like a blatant money grab from the company.

There are rumors of more character integration over the next few years and it would be a surprise to see something different.  Attractions with original characters, what once made Epcot Center different and thrive, are not in vogue right now at theme parks.

France Epcot sunset

***

Where do we go from here?  Epcot is now at a crossroads.  With recent announcements that the company will be investing and changing the park, it’s hard to know which direction Epcot will go next.  While a change back to the park’s original theme and mission seems unlikely, there are ways to integrate characters to match the old Epcot’s vision.

Some of those ideas that Epcot wasn’t entertaining enough were right.  If you’ve been to World Showcase with kids for an extended time, then you probably agree.  That area needs more attractions that appeal to a younger age.  What else appeals to kids?  Disney characters.  Maybe you even enjoy Finding Nemo and Frozen Ever After in Epcot.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  But, there’s a wrong and a right way to use characters in a pavilion.  I want Disney to utilize a good plan in where to put characters and where not.

Really, my hope comes down to a cohesive theme.  Future World now is a mixed bag with a loose science theme and empty buildings.  With whatever renovations are coming to that area, I hope that those changes bring the area to life and connect the pavilions in an intellectual way.

Pagoda and SSE Epcot night

***

I recently spent an afternoon in Epcot.  After a ride on Living With The Land, seeing the interesting and innovative ways the Resort is growing and using plant life, I walked over to World Showcase.  I sat down in between Norway and Mexico with a snack and drink I grabbed.  Shortly, two vikings came out and interacted with guests in the Norway Pavilion.  They would sneak up on guests or share some physical comedy.  Meanwhile, on my right, a mariachi band had come out to serenade passers-by in the Mexico Pavilion.  The area bustled with energy and guests enjoying themselves.  If you catch World Showcase at the right time, there is live, cultural entertainment everywhere, mixed in with the lines for meet & greets and Frozen Ever After.  There is a happy balance and interesting theme somewhere in there, Epcot just hasn’t consistently found it yet.

Mariachi band Epcot

– Andrew

What are your current thoughts on the current and future state of Epcot?  Let us know in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney, please subscribe to the blog on the right side of this page.  That’s also where you can find links to our social media accounts, as well.  Thank you for reading!

April 2017 WDW Trip Report – Part 2

If you missed the first installment of our April trip report, here’s a link.

After enjoying the Country Bears and their charming ways, we headed towards Main Street to find a place for the fireworks.  We were a little earlier than usual because I realized it would be the last time we would see Wishes in the park.  I picked out our usual spot, up the Main Street incline and just behind the Partners Statue.  The show was great and slightly emotional, knowing that it would be the last time we saw it.  As I detailed in my post about Wishes last week, this is the only Magic Kingdom fireworks show that we have known.  We spent some of our favorite nights together watching that show and, in that aspect, I’ll miss it.

Wishes Tinkerbell

With that said, I’m very excited for Happily Ever After.  The good reviews after it debuted last week combined with updated technology have me very excited to see the show in a couple of months.  There are times when Disney replaces things that shouldn’t be replaced, but this isn’t one of those times.

Wishes purple pink

After Wishes we stuck around the hub and waited for Once Upon A Time.  I like when Magic Kingdom shows Once Upon A Time after the fireworks, it alleviates some of the crowds and makes viewing much easier.  We were up pretty close to the castle for Once Upon A Time and really enjoyed it.

Once Upon a Time BatB

With Happily Ever After relying on projections, I wonder if Once Upon A Time will feel a bit redundant in Magic Kingdom.  I hope that’s not the case, as the show is really good and a major improvement over the previous projection show.

After we enjoyed the shows, it was time to get busy.  Late nights at Magic Kingdom have become somewhat of a tradition for us and on this night the park was open until 2 AM for resort guests.  I think Extra Magic Hours have lost a little bit of their value due to the resort being so busy and guests always going to where the magic hours are.  The one exception I’ve found is to arrive at Magic Kingdom for the evening when they have really late hours.

PotC buddies

We started off in Adventureland and headed back towards Tomorrowland, stopping at whatever attractions we pleased.  After about midnight, lines over 10 minutes become rarities. The longest we waited on this night was 15 minutes for Peter Pan’s Flight.

Haunted Mansion Axe lady

I don’t pride myself on the amount of rides I can fit in anymore.  I like to go on things I haven’t experienced and then my favorites.  On this night though, we just went on as many as rides as we could.  My dad loves theme park rides and I think he really enjoyed being able to go on anything we wanted without much standing in line.

Casey Jr. Splash

Storybook Circus is especially empty around 1:30 AM.  We went on The Barnstormer and the Cast Member said we were the first people they’d seen in 10 minutes.  We went on the ride a couple of times without having to get off.

A little after 2 AM we exited the park and headed back to our hotel.  This isn’t the smartest way to get over a cold but if you take enough cold medicine, Advil and caffeine joy is the main feeling.  Well, joy mixed with a little bit of dizziness.

Caribbean Beach hammock

The next morning we slept in until about 9:30 and then walked around the Caribbean Beach Resort a little bit.  I’m not sure I’ll review the hotel for a while as construction will make the experience much different. I was really impressed by the grounds and also liked our room quite a bit.  We ate breakfast there that morning before heading off to the runDisney Expo.

Caribbean Beach lighthouse

I’d never been to a runDisney Expo at Disney World and therefore had never been to ESPN Wide World of Sports.  It’s a really impressive complex.  I could only imagine how much fun I would have had as a kid playing in a tournament of some kind there.  I know next to nothing about how well that portion of the resort does financially.  I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to get people to come play there, as long as the cost wasn’t too outrageous.

As far as the expo goes, the organization is always impressive.  Picking up our running bibs was an easy process and then we shopped for a while.  With the benefit of space, the expo made you walk around a little more than was necessary.  That’s not a big deal for us but I felt a little bad for my dad who has ankle problems and was mainly there just because we were.  Outside of that and me still feeling sick, the expo was great.

After a couple of hours there, we dropped off the rental car near Magic Kingdom and hopped on a bus to Animal Kingdom.  It was nice to have a rental car to go to the beach and to the expo, otherwise I find them to be completely unnecessary if staying on property.

Tiffins green tea cheesecake

Returning the car was a quick, easy process and thankfully so because it was nearly time for our lunch reservation at Tiffins.  We’ve already reviewed the restaurant and this trip only solidified my opinion.  Tiffins is the best theme park restaurant that I’ve ever been to.  We tasted a few new items this time, all of which were delicious.  The green tea (lime?) cheesecake and the duck were our favorite new items that we tasted but the Wagyu Strip Loin is still my favorite item on the menu.

Tiffins journal

Somehow the service at the restaurant is equal to the food.  Both times we’ve gone to Tiffins we’ve received gifts from the staff there.  The first was a print of one of Joe Rohde’s drawings.  This time around they gave us almond bark as well as a card.  The wait staff is all very knowledgable about the restaurant and are happy to share tidbits about whatever they can.

Kangaroo ToL gardens

We had a little bit of time before our FastPass for Expedition Everest came around so we explored the Tree of Life Gardens for half an hour.  While it’s hard to beat the immersive environments of Harambe and the Maharjah Jungle Trek, these gardens are becoming my favorite area of the park.  The kangaroos are wonderfully positioned in front of the tree as well as hundreds of carvings and streams.  We spent at least an hour here over the course of our trip and I would have enjoyed staying there even longer.

Bear ToL wide

Pointing out animals carved into the tree is a fun family activity to do in the parks and could last all day if you’re in the park.  This bear is one of my favorite carvings and is incredibly detailed, not that the other carvings aren’t.

Maharajah door

After we left the gardens we headed to the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  I would walk this path even if there weren’t animals on it, as this is another beautiful area.  Unfortunately, they were doing some work and the tigers weren’t out for guests to see.  While I love the path, tigers are a pretty big draw and I was a little disappointed when they weren’t there.

Tall bird Maharajah

This bird helped me get over any leftover disappointment though.  It was nearly time for our FastPass so we walked from the Jungle Trek through the rest of Asia, heading for Everest.  We stopped to see a few of the details around, my favorite being this sign.

Sleeping sign AK

I have no idea if it’s serious or a joke.  I assume the sign is a joke but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if people have been trying to sleep in the Rivers of Light Theater.  You gotta do what you gotta do.

Going up Everest AK

Finally, it was time for Everest.  This queue is underrated and has some of the better details around, including this beauty.

Beware of Buffalo rock

I’ve looked to find a connection to the buffalo rock everywhere else in the Everest queue and have no clue what it’s referring to.  Maybe I’m missing something obvious or another detail.  Maybe it’s as simple as buffalo inhabit parts of Mt. Everest?  I don’t know but I love this rock that is just in the outdoor section, in one of the more boring parts of the queue.

The ride itself is great and someday I hope to see it with a working yeti animatronic.  Maybe that’s next on the docket now that Pandora is finished.  I can dream, right?

Gorilla AK

After Everest, we headed over to Africa and walked the Gorilla Falls trail.  Normally I prefer the Maharajah Jungle Trek but with no tigers on this day, Gorilla Falls was superior.  Here’s some math to further my point: Tigers>Gorillas>No Tigers.  Don’t forget to tell your friends about this very educational blog.

Rhino safari water AK

To further our animal viewing, we hopped aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris which we had FastPassed.  As usual, we had a great experience.

Hippo tree safari AK

This hippo is terrible at playing hide-and-seek.  The birds think so too.

Flamingos safari AK

Ever since seeing the flamingo scene in Planet Earth 2, I’ve never looked at flamingos the same.  My favorite part of our safari this time around was towards the end.  Our truck had stopped to see some rhinos up the hill and all of a sudden, they started running towards our truck.  Really, they were running at something else by us but it was a blast to see them galloping.  Also, really hard to photograph Rhinos running when you aren’t prepared for it.

Rhino running safari AK

After the safari, it was back down by the Tree of Life but this time on the opposite side by It’s Tough to be a Bug.

Monkey water ToL

After a brief stop to soak in some more details, we headed to Dinosaur.

Dinosaur queue bird AK

I was really excited to ride Dinosaur, as it was closed the last time we were at Disney World.  To my delight, the attraction looked great.  They filled up any blank spaces with a good blend of projections and color.  I really enjoyed the attraction and thought the minimal improvements they made to Dinosaur made a big difference.

After Dinosaur, we had dinner.  I ate at Harambe Market and wasn’t quite as impressed as my previous experience there.  I had the gyro again but didn’t find the beef to be as flavorful.  Still, I wouldn’t say the food was bad.  Harambe Market is a great environment with some exciting different food to try.

At this point in the day, the sun had set and we decided to try our luck on the nighttime safari.  I had originally planned to go on the ride right after sunset but we were about half an hour later than this.  I thought the experience was pretty good.  Our driver said that we were just a few minutes early in seeing the lions, though they were up and looking around.  I’m guessing the best time for an evening safari is right at sunset or at about 9:30 or 10 if you want to see the lions.

Lion night safari AK

We went back up to Discovery Island and watch Tree of Life Awakenings after our Safari.  Tree of Life Awakenings is an absolute treat even with Rivers of Light opening.  I don’t think Disney was prepared for these little vignettes to be as popular as they are.  The area is always crowded with people who want to watch the show.  It’s not much of a problem and is a testament to the great work they have done with this park at night.

ToL Awakenings Jungle Book AK

Finally, it was time to see Rivers of Light.  I reviewed the show a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into detail.  Something I have been thinking about since that review is how the show does match the rest of a typical day at Animal Kingdom.  This day in particular was filled with a lot of looking around and soaking in the different views.  I don’t know if many theme parks are actually beautiful.  Sure, most are extremely detailed and have several beautiful areas but their point isn’t just strictly to be beautiful.  Animal Kingdom does have a point of being beautiful, as the park celebrates nature.  Rivers of Light fully embraces that theme and that is part of what makes the show work.

Lotus fire turtle RoL

All in all, it was a wonderful day at Animal Kingdom, a park that is about to become even more beautiful and intriguing.

I would have liked to stay after the show and took more photos of the park, even though Animal Kingdom had closed.  Being tired and sick (along with an early wake-up time the next morning) got the best of me though so e left the park and headed to Old Key West, where we checked in for the first time and to our surprise were upgraded (for free!) to a 2-bedroom villa there.  I’ll go into more detail on the hotel later but it was a wonderful surprise for some tired travelers!

Tiger lotus fire RoL

That seems like a good place to leave this installment.  Part 3 will pick up the next morning.

Let me know what else you’d like to hear about from our trip, I’d be happy to share! If you enjoy what you’re reading please like our social media pages which you can find on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

– Andrew

Wishes Nighttime Spectacular Bids Farewell

For nearly 15 years, Walt Disney World guests have been greeted nightly by Jiminy Cricket coming over the Magic Kingdom speakers as fireworks burst in the air.  May 11th marked the end of that era, as a new show titled Happily Ever After will make its debut on May 12th.  We’ll have plenty of time to review that show in the following months but before we do let’s say goodbye to Wishes one last time.

Wishes blue gold

Shortly before writing this post I came to the realization that Wishes is the only Magic Kingdom show that I’ve ever seen (outside of the Halloween fireworks).  I’ve seen a few different shows at Disneyland but my Disney World experiences didn’t start until the year 2003, shortly after Wishes debuted.  This realization made me even more excited for what’s to come but also shows the staying power that Wishes had.

Wishes purple red castle

While surely not the most impressive technical display, Wishes was a nighttime spectacular with an emotional punch.  Being exhausted in Magic Kingdom is commonplace but hearing Jiminy Cricket as thousands gathered on Main Street gave the show a personal touch that not many have.  At its best, Disney Parks are a mix of idealism, whimsy, story and nostalgia.  Wishes fully took advantage of the last one and that’s what made it memorable.

Nostalgia is more often a feeling that someone has, whether than a feeling a show gives off.  In fact, if a show tries to bring a nostalgic feeling to the table then it usually becomes too cheesy and not something original.  Wishes managed to both give off the feeling and still maintain the balance of being authentic.

Wishes purple castle

After our last time viewing Wishes about a month ago, Melissa and I reminisced about our favorite parts of the show.  I was somewhat surprised at my own answer being when Jiminy exclaims, “Well I’ll be, it’s the Blue Fairy!” There’s a brief pause right after he says that in the show.  The castle glows a royal blue and shortly the blue fairy will speak up and move the show along.  Those few seconds were right after the Evil Queen section of the show, and our narrator delivers the “it’s the Blue Fairy” line with such hope that I can’t help smile just thinking about it.  That made the show authentic to me and that is surely the moment I’ll miss most as Magic Kingdom moves on to Happily Ever After.

The soundtrack to the show certainly deserves mentioning.  There is a great combination of characters that show up and the final song is a powerful track to match the emotions of the narration.

Wishes streak stars

More than anything, I’ll miss some of the memories that Wishes has brought to me personally.  Melissa and I watched Wishes on the first and last night of our honeymoon.  I remember sitting on the curb, waiting for the show to start and finishing off whatever snacks or meals we had on our dining plan that last night.  Wishes was a perfect way to cap off that trip, as we were unsure of what our lives would be like when we got home.

Because of the emotion behind the show, Wishes seemed to be able to touch everyone no matter their walk of life.  It seems like a simple task for a nighttime show but not many can do that.  With all this said, I’m not too sorry to see it go.  If I had my choice, all big shows like this wouldn’t last more than a decade (closer to 8 years would be my preference) without significant upgrades or a new show coming into replace it.  Technology has moved along and I expect Happily Ever After to be a smashing success because of that.

Wishes yellow green

What remains to be seen is if Happily Ever After can pack the emotion that Wishes did.  I’m not sure that it can, and frankly, I’m okay with that.  For reasons I mentioned above, those type of shows can be hit or miss.  Wishes was fortunate enough to be mostly a hit but Happily Ever After takes a more light-hearted tone then I think it stands a better chance of succeeding.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing and some of that is gone now that the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular Era is over at Magic Kingdom.  The park presses on into the future and the former show left us with many memories.  I’d love to hear some of your favorite memories of Wishes in the comments, no matter how personal, because that was Wishes greatest achievement, being personal for all that watched.  Below are a few more of my favorite photos from the show.  Thanks for reading!

Wishes Sorcerers hat

Wishes Tinkerbell

Wishes bursts

Wishes red

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Guide

Here’s an updated 2018 version of this post for you to enjoy!

The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival showcases beautiful flowers, plants and food around Walt Disney World’s Epcot every spring.  In 2017, the festival runs from March 1st to May 29th.  The festival is running for the 24th year in a row.  While the entirety of the festival is difficult to cover, this post will give an overview of what to expect and our favorite parts of the festival.

Back of Beauty Beast topiary Epcot

Over the years Epcot has become Festival Central.  The Food & Wine Festival and Flower & Garden Festival have each taken up more dates every year.  This year brought the Festival of the Arts in January.  While the festivals started as a nice addition to slow parts of the year, now their reach may be a bit overextended.  I suspect a festival in the summer will come over the next few years.  Aside from huge crowds, this isn’t that big of a deal if the festivals offer something unique.  While I can debate the merits of the Food & Wine Festival (which we’ll cover when the time comes), I do think the Flower & Garden Festival does bring a nice addition to Epcot.

Epcot began as a park that, among other things, celebrated the beauty of the world and the ingenuity that would lead the planet into the future.  Flower & Garden showcases both of those ideas and combines them seamlessly.  Using the beauty of blooming spring flowers, Epcot enhances those with topiaries, flower beds, butterfly gardens and, of course, food.  We’ll start with the food.

Outdoor Kitchens

Tenderloin Epcot FG

Like the other Epcot Festivals (notably Food & Wine), Flower & Garden utilizes temporary booths around World Showcase to offer unique food items to guests.  These booths are called Outdoor Kitchens.  Most of these booths are themed to the countries around them.  Here is a complete list of the booths and the menus that coincide with them.  Most of the food items range from 4-7 dollars, with a few outliers.  The alcoholic beverages range from $7-$10 typically and the non-alcoholic drinks are usually around $5.  The portion size is never very large but is comparable to most snacks throughout the parks.  Generally, I think the items at these booths is a little overpriced for what you get but the quality of food usually makes up for that.  I’ve never been very disappointed in what I’ve paid for a snack at Flower & Garden or Food & Wine Festivals.

I didn’t get a chance to sample as many items as I’d like (trying all of them would be ideal but hardly cost-effective) but here are a few of my favorite items that Melissa and I tried.

Scallops Epcot FG

The Northern Bloom booth was a favorite of mine.  Sitting outside of the Canada Pavilion, I tried the Beef Tenderloin Tips and the Seared Scallops with French Green Beans (both pictured above).  These were my second and third favorite items I tasted at the Festival and I can never decide which order.  The scallops were prepared nicely and had a rich, buttery flavor.  I thought the green beans and potatoes paired with them was a nice addition.  My only complaint is that the dish could have used another scallop or two.

Canada menu Epcot FG

The Tenderloin Tips were also delicious and rich in flavor.  The meat was really tender and the mushroom sauce with it was a great pairing.  The mashed potatoes were pretty average but didn’t bring the dish down at all.  I’d happily recommend either of these items.

At $6.25 and $6.50 each, I found the dishes to  be priced accurately.  This was a good way to taste something a little more expensive at a lower price point.

France Epcot FG Crawfish

My favorite item that I tasted was from Fleur de Lys, in the French Pavilion.  This item was the baked chicken with crawfish served over rice pilaf.  There’s a french name for it but I’m terrified of trying to spell it.  This dish was so full of flavor.  The chicken was juicy and the crawfish an incredible compliment.  The sauce was rich and creamy.  I could have eaten about four of these dishes.  At $5.75, I think this is a solid value and a great way to try crawfish if you haven’t tasted it before

Macaron France Epcot FG

Melissa also really enjoyed the raspberry chocolate macaron from this booth.  This isn’t a great value but if you enjoy desserts then I don’t think you’ll regret getting this.

I tried the Carne Asada from the Florida Fresh booth and found it to be good but not great.  Same goes for the Watermelon Juice there, although I did like Watermelon Cucumber Slushy more.

Watermelon cucumber slushy

Melissa also really liked the Lemon Scone the Cider House booth (UK Pavilion).  I missed out on trying that one but she gave it a rave review.  Those were a few of our favorites that we tried and, as I said, I would have liked to try a few more.

Topiaries and Gardens

While the food is good and follows a pretty natural theme, the star of the festival are the topiaries and gardens.  These are spread throughout the park but reside near or in World Showcase more than anywhere else.

Monorail flowers

The gardens are a nice treat that you can happen upon naturally throughout Epcot.  Most of that is thanks to the season and flowers blooming.  Many of these gardens or plants could be found throughout Disney Parks thanks to the wonderful horticulture staff that the parks utilize.  There are exceptions that make Epcot unique though.  My favorite of which are the beautiful gardens that surround the ponds on your way to World Showcase.  If given the chance, entering the park via monorail is a great view of those gardens.

Minnie topiary blur epcot

Another of my favorite gardens were the bonsai trees in the Japan Pavilion.  I enjoyed seeing the different types of plants aren’t typical in our country.

The topiaries are a great treat, that are a little less ‘natural’ than the gardens.  That doesn’t make these presentations any less impressive or beautiful.  These topiaries are most often of Disney characters.  Here are a few of my favorites throughout Epcot.

Fantasia into sun Epcot

Dandelion Fantasia end monorail Epcot

Troll tall Epcot FG

Baby Panda topiary Epcot FG

Timon Pumba Epcot FG

Lumiere Cogsworth topiary

One small portion I was disappointed in is the way the topiaries were lit up at night.  I don’t think the lighting they put on the topiaries was flattering.  Still, this is a minor issue with only a few of the topiaries.

Anyway, Figment gets his own little photo section because he deserves it.

Figment topiary wide

Figment topiary fisheye

Butterfly Garden

One of my favorite aspects of the festival was the Butterflies on the Go exhibit.  This resides in Future World near the between Inventions West and World Showcase.  I could have included this in the Topiaries and Gardens section but I spent a good amount of time in here.  There were an array of different butterfly species as well as plants.

Brown butterfly corner Epcot

pink flowers butterfly epcot

While the garden isn’t very big, we spent nearly half an hour in there snapping photos and looking at all the different plants and butterflies.  I thought it was a beautiful area that was really inviting.

Lots of butterflies

What Else Does the Festival Offer?

The Flower & Garden Festival also features the Garden Rocks Concert Series.  There are plenty of bands that play throughout the course of the festival, mostly on weekends.  While different genres of music appeal to others, I can’t say the concert series interests me that much as most of the bands aren’t huge draws for my taste.  Still, it’s worth checking out the lineup when it comes up every year to see if you want to take the time to watch a 45 minute set from some professional musicians.  The bands always sound good while walking by.

For kids, there is an egg hunt as well as some temporary play areas.  Who would have known, kids don’t really enjoy looking at flowers and eating somewhat experimental foods for hours on end.  While I don’t consider the kid entertainment to be anything extraordinary, it is a nice addition for when the little ones get a little restless.

Tea cup UK colorful Epcot

There are also tours and presentations available to festival goers.  Most of these cost money and I recommend reserving them early.  Here’s a list of those available.

Tea Tour Buttermin Epcot FG

We took part in the complimentary English Tea Garden Tour.  This was free if you sign up on the day of the event at the UK Pavilion.  This tour took us around the UK gardens where tea cups were filled with the plants that make up Twining’s tea blends.  While the tour heavily promoted Twining’s, I found it to be very informative and I thought our guide did a great job.  The tour lasted about half an hour and helped guests understand what goes into making tea.  It also helped me understand what teas I might be interested and vice versa.

Woody topiary night Epcot

Is the Flower & Garden Festival worth making a special trip for? How much extra time will I spend in Epcot due to the Festival?

Above are the two questions I consider to most coincide for those interested in the festival.  There’s no hard and fast rule for this.  If you like and enjoy plants more than the average person then the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival is definitely for you.  Even if you’re not that into plants, like me, then you will still probably find the festival interesting, informative and beautiful.

As for how many hours or days to allot for Epcot when the Festival is ongoing… That answer is even more tricky.  I think you could fill up just a day exploring the Flower & Garden portion of Epcot as well as the World Showcase Pavilions.  More realistically, if you’re planning for a day and a half for Epcot on a normal trip, I’d just make it two full days.  If you have kids, that may be pushing it but I think most adults could easily spend 2 days at the park experiencing Epcot and Flower & Garden.

Epcot UK Peter Pan

If you have questions or comments about the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, please leave them below in the comments.  If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney, please subscribe to the blog on the right side of this page.  That’s where you can find links to our social media accounts, as well.  Thank you for reading!