Top of the World Lounge Review

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Top of the World Lounge is a bar in Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort that offers sweeping views of Walt Disney World comparable to those of California Grill. It’s more or less exclusively for Disney Vacation Club members, although there are some exceptions to that “rule.” In this post, we’ll take a look inside the Top of the World Lounge, and share some thoughts and photos of their light menu.

The requirements for admission to the Top of the World Lounge are shrouded in mystery. Basically, you show up to the downstairs check-in desk, are asked a series of questions to test your wits, and are allowed up if deemed worthy by the guardian of the sacred order of the Disney Vacation Club. Well, sort of.

The official word on gaining entrance to Top of the World Lounge is this: Disney Vacation Club Members staying at any Disney-owned-and-operated hotel at Walt Disney World Resort (whether they booked with vacation points or cash) may enjoy access.” Blockout dates apply, and are basically the evenings when there are 360-degree fireworks shows (New Year’s and Independence Day, plus the days before) and whenever else special events are planned. This rule has been relaxed a couple of times already, probably due to the fact that the Top of the World Lounge is almost never even remotely busy. I’ve gained entrance to Top of the World Lounge every single time I have tried by showing my Disney Vacation Club Member ID, and that includes the Fourth of July. Your mileage may vary.

With that said, is it worth the effort to head up to this ghost town of a lounge? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Tanabata Days at Tokyo DisneySea

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Last week we covered the Tanabata Days festivities at Tokyo Disneyland, and now it’s time to take a look at what Tokyo DisneySea has to offer. As a bit of a refresher, Tanabata Days or (七夕) is the traditional Japanese Star Festival that is held annually at both parks June 24 through July 7. During the special event, there are decorations, Tanabata greetings, special menu and merchandise items, and Wishing Places in each park and at the monorail stations.

At Tokyo DisneySea, there’s also a special hard ticket event called Tanabata Wishing that is held in the Broadway Music Theatre after Big Band Beat performances have concluded for the day. Tickets for this show are available only via the Japanese Tokyo Disney Resort page, or at kiosks located around Tokyo (in places such as Lawson’s convenience stores). We’ll cover that in this post, along with the other aspects of Tanabata Days at Tokyo DisneySea.

For starters, Tanabata Days is one of the shortest celebrations at Tokyo Disney Resort, immediately following Disney’s Easter and lasting only two weeks until the traditional July 7th date of the Tanabata. This post will be shorter than the Tokyo Disneyland Tanabata Days post, mostly because I’m not going to rehash the significance of Tanabata Days in Japanese culture or the mythos of the festivities.

What does Tokyo DisneySea do for the Tanabata? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings

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This post ranks & reviews the best and worst hotels near Disneyland, with pros & cons for each. Room photos, average prices, parking & WiFi charges, breakfast info, walking distance to the parks times, and other info is also included. Basically, my opinions on the hotel, plus all of the important objective details that will matter most if you’re planning a vacation to Disneyland Resort. Think of this as the ultimate guide to determine which hotel you should pick once you’ve determined whether you want to stay on-site or off-site during your trip to Anaheim.

These rankings are based upon my firsthand experience through actual stays of at least 1-night at the hotels. I think this is the only guide on the internet that ranks so many Anaheim hotels from the perspective of one individual who actually stayed at them. Every other resource like this is crowd-sourced (and thus lacking consistency) or cobbled together by someone with indirect experience (meaning they visited the hotels but didn’t stay there, or are basing their ranks on second-hand info).

I note this because I’m–frankly–pretty proud of this guide. A lot of time was spent staying at these hotels and putting this together and I think it will be pretty helpful. But maybe that’s all just my ego talking. For what it’s worth, I’ve been working on this for a while, and it is still a work in progress with more hotels on my list of places to review and to stay. However, if I keep putting off publishing this until I stay at and review “enough” places, it’ll never be done. I think it’s a pretty useful resource now even as a work in progress.

In fairness, there is something to be said for crowd-sourced reviews. While I don’t put a ton of stock into TripAdvisor due to selection bias and because the general public can be unreliable (I guess that’s a polite way of saying that some people on TripAdvisor have bad opinions), it’s a useful baseline. Equally as important, it offers a consensus and different perspective. Like anyone, I have my personal preferences, and there’s always the possibility that I’ll fixate on something in a review that wouldn’t matter to you. To that end, I’m including the TripAdvisor rank as one of the items mentioned in my review.

The other info below the synopsis in each review is pretty self-explanatory. Parking, WiFi, and breakfast status are all key factors for many booking a hotel near Disneyland, and whether each of these things is free varies from hotel to hotel, and can turn a good value into a great value, or make it not-so-good.

What probably isn’t so self-explanatory is “Hotel Tonight” status. I’ve been plugging this app a ton in my reviews of the hotels that are typically featured in the Hotel Tonight app (download the app here), and that’s because it’s the most economical way to book any of them. Unlike Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, and other price-slashing options, you actually know which hotel you’re getting with Hotel Tonight–which is important to me since the “zones” on the blind-booking sites around Disneyland are so large that you may not get a hotel within walking distance.

The “catch” or downside to Hotel Tonight is that you can only book up to 7 days in advance, with the best deals coming 1-2 days in advance. Still, I’ve used it to book and review 12 of the hotels in these rankings. I highly recommend it if you’re comfortable waiting until the last minute (there is always availability for hotels within walking distance, so you’re not going to end up without a hotel if you wait), and you can save $25 on your first booking with my referral code: TBRICKER1.

I think that about covers it in terms of background. Let’s check out the rankings… (more…)

Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage: Still Awesome.

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In breaking news out of Japan, Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is still awesome. Yep. Stop the presses. I hype this attraction up a lot, and for good reason: it is epic in scale with a ton of Audio Animatronics…and unfortunately feels like the kind of original, non-IP attraction we are unlikely get in the US parks.

I already have a huge post that goes into excruciating detail as to why I think Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage is one of the best modern Disney dark rides anywhere, so I won’t rehash that. What I do want to reiterate is general “awareness” that something of this caliber exists.

So, for anyone who has gone on the Little Mermaid dark ride and thought it was “good enough,” here’s the type of dark ride Walt Disney Imagineering could create if given the budget and creative latitude. Even if you’ll never visit any park besides the ones in Florida for whatever reason, I think basic awareness of what else is out there is a good thing.

Unfortunately, none of the ride-through videos I’ve seen really do justice to the scale and scope of the attraction–understandably so given the sheer number of Audio Animatronics on both sides of the boat in many scenes. So, to draw the attention of more Disney fans to the excellence of this attraction, I decided to do a 180-degree fisheye ride-through video. Shooting video is absolutely not my thing so the quality and camera work is a bit suspect in places, but I hope it is at least a little more demonstrative of what this attraction has to offer.

Enjoy… (more…)

Tanabata Days at Tokyo Disneyland

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Tanabata Days or (七夕) is the traditional Japanese Star Festival and is held annually at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea June 24 through July 7. During the special event, there are decorations, short Tanabata greetings in each park, special menu and merchandise items, and Wishing Places in each park and at the monorail stations for guests to write Wishing Cards and hang them on posts in the parks. This post features some photos from Tanabata Days at Tokyo Disneyland, as well as thoughts on the event.

Tanabata Days is one of the shortest festivals at Tokyo Disneyland, immediately following Disney’s Easter and lasting only two weeks until the traditional date of the Tanabata, on July 7. Because the celebration is so short, there really isn’t a ton to it. It’s just one of those nice little touches that is cool to see, and probably not a reason to book a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort (at least not for a visitor traveling from overseas).

Because there’s really not a ton to this, I feel compelled to pump up the word count of this blog post with a drawn out story of the origin story of the Tanabata that I’ve pieced together from several highly reliable sources, such as Wikipedia and random unvetted Japanese blogs. This site is nothing if it isn’t where you all come for your daily dose of knowledge. 😉

Let’s start with that, and then cover some of what Tokyo Disneyland has to offer for Tanabata Days… (more…)

Disneyland Good Neighbor: Desert Palms Hotel & Suites Review

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Desert Palms Hotel & Suites is a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel right behind Disney California Adventure and across from the Anaheim Convention Center. This review includes photos of the hotel, plus thoughts about our experience of staying here.

One of the most important considerations when choosing a hotel near Disneyland might be location, and even though Desert Palms Hotel is slightly farther than the hotels right across the street on Harbor Boulevard, it has a solid location at the corner of Katella and Harbor, right by 7-11 and the CVS Pharmacy, making Desert Palms a solid option if you don’t mind a 10 minute or so walk to the Esplanade between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Desert Palms Hotel & Suites is a Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels, and is classified by Disney as “Suites,” which is interesting given that Desert Palms has suites, but is mostly normal hotel rooms. It’s probably better classified as a “Moderate”, as is the case with most of the off-site hotels. You can get an idea of how Desert Palms stacks up to the competition, plus our overall comparison of the benefits of staying off-site versus on-site in our Where to Stay at Disneyland post.

Desert Palms Hotel & Suites is one of those places that doesn’t leave a strong impression either way, but it’s still a perfectly fine hotel… (more…)

Cookes of Dublin Review

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Cookes of Dublin is a counter service restaurant in Disney Springs at Walt Disney World. It’s probably best known as the companion dining option to Raglan Road, an Irish pub that has gained tremendous popularity among Disney fans. The menu here has a ton of options, from Irish pies to fish & chips and more. In terms of money-saving info, it participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit counter service restaurant, but does not accept the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount.

As with Raglan Road, Cookes of Dublin is similarly highly-regarded with Walt Disney World guests, and this is in large part because it serves unique cuisine, with a few items that you can’t get elsewhere. This is also due to its exceptional value on the Disney Dining Plan for a few menu items. It probably also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the few counter service options at Disney Springs, which is mostly known for its table service offerings.

I note all of this acclaim because it’s only fair to point out that a lot of people really, really love Cookes of Dublin (at least if “the internet” is any indication) before I offer up a fairly critical review. Maybe this is one of those, Dear Cookes: it’s not you, it’s me reviews… (more…)

Aulani Waikolohe Valley Pool Tips

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Waikolohe Valley is the pool area at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Oahu, Hawaii. This post offers tips for the various pools, lazy river, water slides, and hot tub. If you’re thinking that a post like this is pointless because the only things you really need to know are to put on your swimsuit before you get in the water and put on plenty of sunscreen, well…uhh…shut up. Actually, you are under-estimating the expansive pool area at Aulani, and its many ins and outs that can make the experience better.

The first piece of wisdom I want to impart with this post is that you should put on your swimming suit before getting in the pool. That’s definitely step 1. Some people might mistakenly think you get in the water first, but that’s a huge faux pas. Also, put on sunscreen before you head into the water, because the sun can bounce off the water and stuff, and really burn you. Seriously, these are really goods tip that will help you a lot. You’re welcome.

Kidding aside, I will share my biggest tip up front, and that’s to watch sunset from the Ka Maka Grotto (while wearing your swimsuit), and then race over to the Waikolohe Stream lazy river at dusk and enjoy that for as long as you can before it closes. For whatever reason, Aulani closes the lazy river in the early evening just after sunset. This is really unfortunate, as the lighting in the lazy river makes the water glisten and gives a nice moody glow to the foliage overhead. Floating down the lazy river at dusk is a really delightful experience, but unless you’re quick to get in the river after sunset, it’s an experience you may not be able to have. Not as good as my ‘wear a swimsuit’ tip, but hopefully still worthwhile.

Let’s move on to overviews of the different pool areas, plus some insight and advice for each… (more…)