Aulani – Disney’s Hawaii Resort Trip Report

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Our Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa Trip Report covers our first visit to this resort in Ko Olina, Oahu. The report covers our thoughts on the resort, photos from the visit, and random tidbits. For this particular visit to Aulani, we stayed 3 nights, spent a lot of time at the resort, ate at every restaurant, lazied in every river, slid in every water slide, and drank at every bar…ALL IN THE NAME OF RESEARCH! ;)

We’ve had a lot of questions about Aulani from a variety of different (for lack of better term) “demographics,” and we think this is because it’s a resort with a lot of depth thanks to the work of the Walt Disney Imagineers in creating an authentic environment that would celebrate Hawaiian culture and history, while also being a luxurious destination that would appeal to both families and more ‘typical’ tourists to Hawaii seeking a romantic getaway. All of this flowery language probably sounds like a press release, but really it’s just meant to explain why we think there’s so much interest in Aulani. In a way, it breaks the mold on the formula of the resorts on Waikiki Beach, and there’s a lot of curiosity about what Disney has done in Hawaii.

Hopefully, this report will provide some insight into the things about which you’re curious. Accompanying the rambling text that will more likely raise more questions than it answers will be hundreds of photos from Aulani, including lots of food, spa, lazy river, and other photos. Besides the typical vibrant landscape photos that are common on our blog, we will also share photos of the details that make Aulani a worthwhile place to visit in Hawaii, whether you’re a Disney fan or not!

The first installment of the Aulani trip report goes live March 4! Stay tuned… (more…)

Disney World Deluxe Resort Rankings

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This post ranks all of the Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World, the highest tier of hotels there, based upon execution of theme, value for money, amenities, location, and other factors that might impact quality. The Deluxe Resorts are for guests visiting Walt Disney World for whom money is no issue, or those really looking to splurge on a hotel. It’s a tier with hotels that are easy to love…so long as you don’t get sticker shock.

All of the Deluxe Resorts are nice, high-end hotels, and each bring something unique and special to the table. This makes it difficult to rank them, since the rankings really can vary based on what you need or want. Due to this, it might make sense to group the hotels by areas (Epcot Area, Magic Kingdom Area, and Other Area) and first determine if you want to be close to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot and go from there. It also means which might be right for you depends more upon what type of theme appeals to you, which amenities matter most, and the “style” of your vacation.

It’s been over 2 years since we wrote our Deluxe Villa/Disney Vacation Club Resort Rankings and Moderate Resort Rankings, and there’s a reason for that: the Deluxe Resorts are really difficult to rank. This is something we’ve discussed between the two of us from time to time in the past, and we have never really been able to agree on anything. Worse yet, our rankings seem to change from day to day.

This fluctuation in our own opinions of the Deluxe Resorts depending upon our priorities for a given trip or the tone of it has caused our hesitation to post such a list in the past, but ultimately enough readers have sent us questions asking about the Deluxe Resorts and we thought it would be an interesting discussion-piece, so we’ve decided to put together the list. You will probably find more value in parsing the descriptions to see what matters to you than simply looking at the numbers and using those as a hard guide with your own planning.

We’re also hopeful that others share their experiences with these Deluxes in the comments, so you might look to those for a range of opinions if you’re trying to plan a Walt Disney World vacation and are wondering at which Deluxe Resort you should stay. (more…)

Tokyo Disney Restaurant Reviews


Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea have some excellent restaurants, in terms of both theme and cuisine. We’ve dined at most of the restaurants in the parks, and have reviewed many of them in posts on the blog. Each of these reviews features food photos, our thoughts on ambiance & food quality, plus comments about everything from service to value for money, and more.

If a Tokyo Disneyland restaurant that you’re considering is absent from the reviews below, feel free to ask about it in the comments. We’ve thus far only reviewed a portion of the restaurants at which we’ve dined, with many more reviews to come.

Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea restaurants are scored on a scale of 1-10, with the score being based solely on cuisine and ambiance. Unlike other parks where service can be inconsistent, service is consistently excellent at Tokyo Disney Resort’s restaurants, which is definitely a cultural thing.

As for the scores, they should be viewed like letter grades: 10/10 is an A+, 8/10 is a B-, 6/10 is a D-, (and so on), with any score below a 6/10 being varying degrees of failing. Any restaurant that gets a 8/10 or above is one that we’d recommend. If the restaurant’s score is below that, we’d recommend skipping it.

The reviews here are just for Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea in Japan. We have reviews for Disney restaurants around the globe, including Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Resort, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Check out our “Disney Dining Reviews Index” page to find them all.

With that said, here are our reviews, organized by park… (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 4


Alright, time for the final installment of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report. I wanted to start with some overall thoughts about Hong Kong Disneyland in what will otherwise be a photo-heavy installment.

Hong Kong Disneyland has been criticized by Disney fans since even before it opened, with the park justifiably–at least to a degree–having a reputation as being a cheap Disneyland clone when it opened. While Tokyo DisneySea was my holy grail even before we were able to make the trip there, for a while Hong Kong Disneyland didn’t much interest me, and this was in large part due to that reputation.

A lot of this criticism remains valid today, as there are too many cloned attractions in Hong Kong Disneyland, and a lot of the park looks very similar to Disneyland. To Hong Kong Disneyland’s detriment, it doesn’t have that same charm and character that Disneyland has attained by virtue of nearly 60 years in operation. Hong Kong Disneyland also, in some places, feels slightly hollow as compared to Disneyland. This is somewhat difficult to fully articulate, but think of modern reproductions of antiques. The reproductions often look the same, but there’s something missing–a certain je ne sais quoi. In the case of Hong Kong Disneyland, this can be things as little as marquees on Main Street that don’t have the same depth and dimensionality, or as big as a Fantasyland that simply lacking in substance and that inviting feeling.

However, a lot of that criticism is no longer valid–or never was valid. Hong Kong Disneyland’s setting, surrounded by mountains, is incredibly unique and gives the park its own personality. Its Tomorrowland is more of a sci-fi land with an eye-catching aesthetic. Adventureland there feels like an extension of the subtropical environment outside the park. As a whole, the resort was well-designed and is beautifully maintained. The fountain out front is stunning, as are the paths to the two (soon to be three) on-site hotels.

All of this is before even mentioning the three new lands, each of which bring something unique to the table, and further distance Hong Kong Disneyland from the reputation of being “Disneyland-lite.” Toy Story Land isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it fits the environment really well, and is a big draw for the bulk of guests visiting the park. Grizzly Gulch is a new twist on the Frontierland concept, with its own wrinkles and a top tier attraction in Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Then there’s Mystic Point and its flagship attraction, Mystic Manor.

What can I say about Mystic Manor that I haven’t already said? Not a whole lot. It is the pinnacle achievement of Walt Disney Imagineering in at least the last decade, perhaps longer. It is arguably the best modern attraction in any Disney theme park. It, alone, catapults Hong Kong Disneyland into the realm of “bucket list” places for crazed Disney fans like myself. Mystic Manor is the gamechanger that Hong Kong Disneyland needed, and with it, the remaining valid critiques of the park don’t seem so important.

To be sure, Hong Kong Disneyland still has some growing up to do… (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 3


This trip report covers our second–and final–day in Hong Kong Disneyland from our first visit to the park. It’s been a while since the second installment of this trip report, so by way of quick recap, the previous day, we spent a lot of time riding and re-riding the amazing Mystic Manor. We also did Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Other stuff happened. (It’s amazing how each of these posts is like 3,000 words, but I can do a succinct <100 word recap.)

My apologies for delaying so long between installments of this trip report. Between the relative lack of interest in the first two parts of this trip report and having limited time to spend on trip reports, finishing it just sort of got lost in the shuffle. However, in a recent ‘feedback’ post, some of you indicated that more trip reports would be nice. So, for all 4 of you who have been sitting on the edges of your seats waiting for the conclusion of this trip report…here it is!

Since writing the last installment of this trip report, we’ve actually returned to Hong Kong Disneyland. We were there for halloween, which–unlike Christmas–was an incredibly cool holiday there. I won’t be writing a trip report about those days in Hong Kong Disneyland, but if you check out my posts on Haunted Halloween at Hong Kong Disneyland and the debut of the Disney Paint the Night Parade, you pretty cover the salient points of that visit.

Now let’s start the second day of our first visit to Hong Kong Disneyland… (more…)

Scenes from Disney Parks: “Sea of Dreams”

It’s been a while since my last ‘Scenes from the Disney Parks’ post, but one of my favorite songs started playing in iTunes the other day while I was editing photos, and this idea just struck me. The result is this set of photos and another advertisement post begging you all trying to convince you to visit Tokyo DisneySea. Before we get to the photos, I implore you: please watch this video:

That is the commercial for Tokyo DisneySea’s 5th Anniversary, along with the anniversary theme song that I referenced above (here’s a higher quality, Japanese version of the commercial). For me, this commercial fully encapsulates the spirit of Tokyo DisneySea, and why it’s such a special place. I think this commercial will resonate with old school fans of Walt Disney World, especially EPCOT Center, and you’ll probably see why Tokyo DisneySea reminds me a lot of EPCOT Center, despite being very different thematically. If this commercial doesn’t make your eyes water a bit or make you want to visit Tokyo DisneySea, there’s really nothing I can write or show you that will convince you otherwise. (YOU ARE SIMPLY SOULLESS! ;) )

My goal with this set of photos was to capture the romanticism of Tokyo DisneySea in a similar manner as what’s conveyed so eloquently in that commercial. I know that my normal vibrant style of photography doesn’t smack of ‘romanticism’, but hopefully the photos offer scenes you feel you could step inside with a loved one, feeling the glow of the sun or the warmth of the lights during an evening in the park.

All photos in this post were captured with my Nikon D810 DSLR–check out my full Nikon D810 Review for more details about the camera. I also have more sample photos from the D810 here. You can click on each photo to view it in high resolution and a larger size in my gallery (please do that–WordPress compresses photos and they really lose some of their impact) and to see EXIF data on it.

If you’re a casual reader not interested in photo jargon, hopefully you still enjoy this new set of photos from Tokyo DisneySea! (more…)

Steakhouse 55 Breakfast Review


Steakhouse 55 is a fine dining restaurant in Disneyland Hotel at Disneyland Resort. This review features food photos of breakfast served at this dining spot, along with some tips, and thoughts on the ambiance. Steakhouse 55 is open for breakfast and dinner, and is one of the more expensive dining options at Disneyland Resort for the latter, but seemed fairly priced (to us) for breakfast–certainly cheaper and less chaotic than the nearby Goofy’s Kitchen. The restaurant offers discounts for Annual Passholders, too.

It’s technically a “Signature Restaurant” at Disneyland, and is definitely one of the more refined dining options at the resort. If you question this classification, there are a slew of awards on the wall, including one slightly comical one from Zagat that’s similar to the one they have posted online: “Walt Disney would still be proud” of this “special-occasion” chophouse in the Disneyland Hotel offering “cooked-to-perfection” cuts and “great wines” in a “beautiful” setting where “the children are usually well behaved”; service is “terrific” too, so “make a reservation as this place fills up.”

Okay, first of all, what’s with all the random quotations? Is Zagat actually quoting someone, or is Zagat mocking someone with air quotes? Second, the line about children differs from the restaurant version, which almost reads as a tongue-in-cheek knock of Steakhouse 55 (I wish I would’ve taken a photo of it). Regardless, the restaurant has been praised by real critics, not just random bloggers like me who don’t really have “refined palates.”

Let’s take a look at the ambiance and food… (more…)

Top 10 Epcot Counter Service Restaurants


This post ranks the best quick service restaurants in Epcot at Walt Disney World, including both World Showcase and Future World. Rankings are best on overall quality, with factors such as quality, uniqueness, menu variety, and more all taken into account. There are also photos of some of our favorite food items from each location, which might help you visual folks make the decision a little easier.

Epcot has long been regarded as one of the best dining options at Walt Disney World, with World Showcase in particular viewed as a culinary highlight. It should thus come as no surprise that we view Epcot as having the best counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World. There are a couple of things that probably will surprise you, though. First, this reputation is largely predicated upon its top 2 dining options: Sunshine Seasons and Tangierine Cafe, both of which are also near the top of our Top 10 Counter Service Walt Disney World Dining list. Second, there actually are not a lot of good counter service options in Epcot that have “full” menus as compared to Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Given that a lot of the spots that could be considered counter service restaurants around Epcot have very limited menus, and since I’ve learned from my mistake of ranking every counter service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom (including the Starbucks Main Street Bakery and seasonal places that are seldom open), I’m limiting this to a top 10. This means that some small stands aren’t on this list at all, which is either a product of them not being noteworthy, or of us just never having tried them.

All in all, we think that Epcot is a fairly straightforward park when it comes to counter service, with the good choices being undeniably good, and the rest being varying degrees of decent. There are a couple of surprises, particularly with restaurants we’ve previously criticized that have since improved. It is also worth noting that most of the options in World Showcase are highly dependent upon what you think of a particular regional cuisine. Namely, if you don’t like it at all, you likely won’t like its Epcot counterpart, and if you are used to highly authentic versions of a particular cuisine, you might find the Epcot versions overly Americanized or bland.

We’ve separately reviewed many of the Epcot restaurants in this post, so if you want to know more, those thorough reviews are the way to go. To read our full reviews and see additional food photos of each spot, click the restaurant name (if it’s not click-able, we have yet to review it).

Let’s get started with the Epcot counter service rankings…