Chefs de France Review

chefs-de-france-night


Les Chefs de France is a table service restaurant in Epcot’s France pavilion at Walt Disney World. This review covers the dinner menu at Les Chefs de France, and includes photos from one of our meals at the restaurant. Chefs de France participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a one credit table service meal, and accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount for lunch only. If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, it is an exceptional pick for dinner because of several pricey entrees, making it one of the top restaurants for maximizing your bang for buck on the Dining Plan.

How do you say “meh” in French? Well, my French is a bit rusty, but I’m thinking it’s something along the lines of les chefs de france. We’ve been to Chefs de France a couple of times in recent years, and both times the experience was roughly the same. Overpriced, so-so food and alright ambiance together culminating in a restaurant that is sort of French. It’s not that Chefs de France is a bad restaurant. It’s really not.

Like about half of the World Showcase, it’s just an ‘okay’ experience. You might walk away having had a pretty decent meal, but it’s probably nothing that will knock your socks off, and it’s not the kind of highly authentic experience that will make you ‘lose yourself’ in the theming of the World Showcase. I think Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles and certainly the former Bistro de Paris really succeeded in these regards and are/were two of the gems of not just Epcot, but the entirety of Walt Disney World. Given that, I’m not sure if with Les Chefs de France it’s just my bad luck, or if it just is an okay restaurant.

So what’s the deal with Les Chefs de France? Let’s take a look… (more…)

Scenes from Disney Parks: Week 1

Welcome to a new, possibly recurring photo-sharing post here on DisneyTouristBlog! Back when I started this blog, photos were a key component, with “photo of the day” posts being the most common posts here. Over time, I noticed that those photo of the day posts weren’t popular compared to the meatier, text-driven posts. This was both surprising and unsurprising: my photography is probably what brought a majority of readers here when the blog started, but most people probably don’t want to read a full blog post about a single photo.

Photos remain a key component of the blog, but mostly now in that they are sprinkled in throughout posts on particular trip planning topics and in photography reviews. After receiving messages from readers asking where I “found” a particular photo and “who took it?” I thought it might be time to get back to my roots and highlight some photography here on the blog. I do take photos of more than just cupcakes and corn dogs, and I feel like there’s something wrong with the fact that I often find myself editing photos of random food and hotel rooms right after trips, while the “good” shots gather dust.

The idea with this new series of posts is to highlight some of my recent, new photos from a particular Disney destination in a single post. Doing a single post with several photos means less hassle for you seeing multiple photos in a single post instead of a single photo of the day post, and allows me to share some photos that aren’t necessarily “home runs” in themselves, but work well to round out a set of other shots. This also helps encourage me to make editing my more artistic photos a priority.

After each photo I’ll try to share a few thoughts on the photo, as well as some technical stuff like which lens I used for the photo. 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 larger in my gallery and to see EXIF data on it.

Hopefully casual readers enjoy seeing new sets of photos, and hopefully the photographers find my technical info useful. My goal is to do this about once per week as long as I have enough new photos to do it, and as long as you all find it interesting. Oh, and to answer those reader questions…I found the photos on my memory cards and I took them. ;)

Let’s kick this off by taking a look at some of my late-summer, early-fall photos from Walt Disney World… (more…)

Festival of Fantasy Parade Tips & Photos

Festival of Fantasy Parade is the newest Magic Kingdom parade that debuted with New Fantasyland’s opening at Walt Disney World. This post has viewing tips plus photos of the new parade, and my quick review.

Honestly, when the Festival of Fantasy Parade was announced, I wasn’t all that excited. I thought it was a good idea to tie-in with the conclusion of the New Fantasyland expansion, but other than that, I wasn’t all that enthused. At the time, I often said I was “not a daytime parade person,” an opinion that was largely the result of not having been particularly enamored with any daytime Magic Kingdom parade since I was a kid in the mid-1990s. Also as a result of that, I didn’t make a huge effort to see the Festival of Fantasy Parade following its debut on our Memorial Day Walt Disney World trip.

With that said, I really enjoyed the Festival of Fantasy Parade. Actually, I downright loved it. Unlike almost every Magic Kingdom parade in recent memory, this parade actually feels ambitious, and large in scale and scope. The parade floats are all large, detailed and have a lot of substance to them. The float that has captured everyone’s attention is the steampunk-esque Maleficent float, and this is understandable because it breathes fire, but the Brave, Tangled, Peter Pan, and Monstro floats don’t garner nearly as much attention, despite being quite well done.

Add to this performers in costumes that have a lot of detail and are, in some cases, a bit darker and more interesting than the ‘fantasy fluff’ you’d expect to find in a Magic Kingdom parade, a catchy soundtrack, and a great energy, and you have a parade that’s a real winner. In terms of overall quality and appeal, I’d put Festival of Fantasy Parade up there with the parades I’ve seen at Tokyo Disneyland, and the park sets the gold standard for daytime parades.

With that said, I don’t think the Festival of Fantasy Parade is entirely perfect… (more…)

Visiting Disney World in November 2014

November is a very good month to visit Walt Disney World due to mild weather, low crowds (except Thanksgiving week), and the start of Christmas season! This month also sees the continuation of Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, another runDisney race, and the standard mix of events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Oh, and did we mention the start of the Christmas season? It’s our favorite time of year at Walt Disney World and the parks (minus Animal Kingdom) go all out for it. This post will cover what you need to know for November at Walt Disney World, and it has our latest Walt Disney World hotel-stay giveaway at the end of the post!

In terms of crowds, most of the month of November remains off-season, with low crowd levels until the week of Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving week, they spike tremendously, and this entire week through the Saturday after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World. If you can avoid this week, November is still a good month to visit for low crowds (check out our When To Visit Walt Disney World post for the best and worst months of the year). Expect wait times to mostly be low, although you will encounter throngs of people at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (albeit fewer people than you’ll encounter closer to Christmas) and weekends at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival will be busy. Because of the lower crowd levels, you can expect park hours to have earlier closings throughout the month of November (except Thanksgiving week), but early closings and light crowds are something we’d take any day of the week over heavy crowds and extended hours.

Weather at Walt Disney World in November is unpredictable. On paper, if you just go by historical averages, November is a great month to visit. In reality, the weather you experience likely won’t be a historical average, and packing can be tricky because you might experience weather in the high 80s or you might experience a cold front with frosty mornings. Because of the potential for cold weather, our favorite Walt Disney World water park, Typhoon Lagoon, actually closes for the season at the end of October (one downside to visiting in November). We recommend packing for a wide range of weather conditions and paying close attention to the extended forecast before your trip.

I still “fondly” remember our late-November/early-December trip a few years ago when I packed all shorts and polos and we unexpectedly had lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s. Purchasing new outfits from The Emporium is neither fun nor cheap! More likely than not, you’ll have pleasant weather, but let that serve as a cautionary tale…

As a result of all of the above, November is a solid pick for visiting Walt Disney World. I know, I know…we’ve only done 3 of these monthly posts so far, and we’ve praised September, October, and now November as solid months to visit. Spoiler alert: we’re going to say the same thing about December and January, except with some caveats for both months. You’re probably wondering if we’re going to just say that about every month. No, definitely not. Just wait until we get to the spring and summer months.

Let’s take a look at what else is going on at Walt Disney World in November, and how you can make the most of your November visit…
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Liberty Tree Tavern Review

Liberty Tree Tavern, photographed with a special infrared converted camera.

Liberty Tree Tavern is a Thanksgiving-style and table service restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, with a colonial American theme. By Thanksgiving-style, I mean that dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern is served family style, and the foods served in the “Patriot’s Platter” are what was consumed for the first Thanksgiving. (Didn’t know the Pilgrim’s had Coca-Cola! ;) )  Liberty Tree Tavern is a fairly popular restaurant, and a top choice for guests around the holidays who want to have a family meal for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Liberty Tree Tavern participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a one credit table service meal. It also accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount. Unfortunately for guests on the Dining Plan, Liberty Tree Tavern is not a good value on the Disney Dining Plan (click to see top restaurants for maximizing your bang for buck on the Dining Plan). Not that it’s an awful value on the Disney Dining Plan, it’s just not great, thanks to its generally middle of the road menu prices. However, that does typically make it a good value when paying out of pocket!

One caveat about this review is that I’m not really sure how to approach it. It’s really more of a story than it is a proper review. Sarah and I last dined at Liberty Tree Tavern for dinner a while ago (back when it had characters!) and had an excellent time. So much fun, along with a solid meal, that I’m not sure why we hadn’t made it back in so long. Perhaps bitterness over the lack of characters.

We had reservations during our recent May trip, but we had to cancel because she wasn’t feeling well. Then, I went down for a weekend solo trip in August, and decided to eat here by myself on a whim when I saw an empty lobby and was told I could be seated within 5 minutes. My plan was to get a full meal, and then return with Sarah on a future trip so we could have enough of the menu to allow us to fully review the restaurant.

Suffice to say, after my meal here, I will not be back anytime soon. Rather than just not review it due to only trying a couple items, I thought I’d at least share the experience with an anecdotal review…. (more…)

1-Day Tokyo DisneySea “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If you’re visiting Tokyo Disney Resort, it may be part of a greater Japan trip, and you may only have one day for Tokyo DisneySea. This plan covers our “perfect day” at Tokyo DisneySea, focusing on everything we would do in one day if that’s all of the time we had. Note that in our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning Guide we recommend 3 days at Tokyo DisneySea if you have the time (with a Disney fan being able to spend even more time there), so you necessarily will have to skip some things if you only have one day. Since Tokyo DisneySea is so much more than a series of attractions, this post covers how we recommend enjoying the ambiance, restaurants at which you should dine, and of course, attractions you should do. This post continues our series of single-day itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We call this series our “Daily Trip Blueprints,” or DTBs for short…a corny nod to our website name!

These Daily Trip Blueprints aren’t touring plans or strategy guides for doing as much in a single day at Tokyo DisneySea as possible. If you follow this guide, you won’t do every single attraction in the park. The thing about racing from attraction to attraction at Tokyo DisneySea is that it totally misses the point of what makes the park so special. Don’t get me wrong, it has a stellar attraction lineup, but its theming “lineup” is out of this world, and much more impressive.

It’s truly a park where you should slow down and take it in. So this guide tries to find a way to allow you to slow down and enjoy the experience…while still experiencing a lot. Most park strategy guides focus solely on number of attractions, and totally ignore the great things that make Disney Disney. If you’re only after our ride ratings and reviews of each attractions so you can put together your own checklist of attractions to complete, read our comprehensive Best Tokyo DisneySea Attractions & Ride Guide post.

This guide assumes a couple of things, both of which should be strongly noted: first, that you’re visiting during a weekday at a moderately-crowded time of year, and second, that no seasonal events are occurring during your visit. The first assumption is of the utmost importance. Unless you’ve been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland on a major holiday, you probably have never seen the kind of crowds the Tokyo parks get on weekends or during busy season. If you visit when it’s busier, you will wait in long lines for everything, including to get into the park. The second assumption is for the ease of writing this guide. I would say that over half of the year there is some sort of seasonal event going on at Tokyo DisneySea, and most of them have some entertainment worth seeing. Plan to pencil this into your schedule as time permits.

If budget is no issue, you’re going to want to stay at Hotel MiraCosta for your 1-day in Tokyo DisneySea. It is the only hotel in the world that is located–get this–inside of a Disney theme park. Just as importantly, staying here (or any of the three Disney hotels) gives you the “Happy 15″ perk, which is 15 minutes of early entry into the park. You might scoff at only 15 minutes of early entry, but don’t underestimate its importance. If the MiraCosta is out of your budget, we recommend the Hilton Tokyo Bay (read our hotel review), which is an official partner hotel, and located on the monorail loop. Make sure to book it early or check rates regularly, as prices fluctuate.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, eat breakfast, and then get started on your day… (more…)

Nikon D810 Sample Photos

Those who read this site for photography know that I recently upgraded from my Nikon D600 to a Nikon D810. In my Nikon D810 Review, I wasn’t short on praise for the camera, calling it “possibly the most well-rounded DSLR ever” and saying that “it’s a camera that exceeded my high expectations and I feel is a very worthy upgrade for many serious photographers, even at its price-point. I can already tell that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Well, I’ve had the camera for a couple of months now, so I thought I’d report back on how I feel about it. First, the bad. The files are huge. There are ways to deal with this and use some of the smaller size settings (as I touch upon in the review), but I’ve been afraid to use them. They would be perfect for mundane photo tasks like taking photos of food (don’t exactly need a 36MP photo of a churro), but I’m scared that I’ll forget to switch back when I have to take “important” landscape photos.

The only other downside, if you want to call it that, is that Nikon recently announced the Nikon D750, a “lower” level full frame DSLR that has a tilt screen, which would be great for me since I take a lot of photos at ground level. Looking at that feature plus the more conservative MP count, plus lower price actually makes me want to try out that camera. (Why couldn’t Nikon include the tilt screen in the D810?!) On the other hand, the controls on the Nikon D810 are better plus dynamic range, image quality, durability, and a number of other things are all better on the Nikon D810. Even though I love the Nikon D810, if both were announced at the same time, I think I would have opted for the Nikon D750 and $1,000 in my pocket. It would be a tough call.

The upsides? Literally everything else. Dynamic range is great, the controls are great, image quality is exceptional, and, in addition to several other things, the camera just flat out performs and is fun to use. Maybe it’s a good thing both the Nikon D750 and D810 weren’t announced at the same time, because I have no regrets about buying this camera, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t go the cheaper route. Your mileage may vary on whether it’s worth the money–for many people the D750 (or models even lower than that) will be more than enough camera. I understand that most people do not need a professional-grade DSLR, so this post is relevant to only like 2% of you, but hopefully it’s helpful to that 2%!

Since that first post only really had boring photos of my pets, the city of Indianapolis, and random junk around my house, I thought I’d follow up on that post with some real world images that I captured at Walt Disney World to demonstrate what the camera is truly capable of accomplishing. Keep in mind that–for the most part–since I’m trying to show how the camera performs when pushed to the limits, these aren’t going to be your standard “pretty” photos (most of my tripod night shots don’t really challenge the camera). Below each photo I’ll provide some technical details.

If you are not a photographer but are a Walt Disney World fan looking for some photos, you can scroll past all of the jargon and simply enjoy the pictures… (more…)

Tips for Buying Discount Disneyland Tickets

Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets by Buying from Authorized Third Parties (AAA, Costco, etc.)

Looking to save money on your trip to Disneyland? Given the ticket prices following the most recent Disneyland ticket price increase in Summer 2014, this is a rhetorical question–we doubt anyone wants to spend more money than necessary. Lucky for you, discount Disneyland tickets can be found through a variety of vendors, including online, at Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels in Anaheim, AAA, Safeway, Costco, online, and authorized websites. If you live in SoCal (and proof of residence), special offers are sometimes made available to SoCal residents during times when attendance is predicted to be light. So if you’re a local, you might be in luck.

AAA, Safeway, and Costco have small standard discounts of a couple dollars per ticket. From time to time, Costco stores on the West Coast will offer a gift card with purchase (this is never offered online and was last offered in-stores in March 2013). If you live on the West Coast and this is available when you’re planning to purchase tickets, it’s by far the best deal. Currently, for the best deals we recommend buying safely and securely from Park Savers, an authorized seller of Disneyland tickets with the best prices that we’ve found (for an authorized seller).

Where you shouldn’t buy tickets is as important as where you should buy them. While Disneyland authorizes a number of third parties to sell its tickets at slight discounts, there is a huge black market for bootleg and partially used “rental” tickets. You might be familiar with this because Disneyland’s crackdown on these tickets has garnered national media attention. Whatever you do, do not buy Disneyland tickets on eBay, Craigslist, or on the side of the road near Disneyland Resort. Any ticket “rental” is a scam, and you will be throwing your money away. Disney Cast Members will not have any sympathy for you if you’re caught with these “rental” tickets, and you will have to purchase new tickets at the gate, at full price. Not exactly a fun way to start a vacation.

Much like Walt Disney World, Disneyland offers tickets with a “hopper” option (the ability to visit both parks in the same day) and one-day, one-park tickets that don’t allow hopping. Unsurprisingly, non-hopper tickets are cheaper. As of early 2014, 1-day non-hopper tickets are around $92, whereas hopper tickets were over $100.

Remember, this guide is for Disneyland Resort, encompassing Disneyland (park) and Disney California Adventure. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World in Florida, check out our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. With that said, here are my thoughts on which Disneyland tickets you should purchase… (more…)