Disney’s All Star Music Resort Review

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Disney’s All Star Music Resort is a value hotel in Walt Disney World that is one of three All Star hotels, along with Sports and Movies. Music generally seems to us like the least popular of these (based upon our highly unscientific observations), and is also quieter as it generally sees fewer groups (this doesn’t mean it sees no groups). The All Star Resorts are typically the cheapest way to stay on-property at Walt Disney World, which many guests like because it allows them to take advantage of on-property perks. As you will read in this review, this comes with some trade-offs, but we are generally in favor of All Star Music, so long as you have reasonable expectations for it and are comfortable with what you’re getting–or aren’t getting.

Whether the All Star Resorts are right for you comes down to your goal and expectations. If you’re taking a commando-style, “the room is only for sleeping” trip during which you want to be in the parks as much as possible, the All Star Resorts are great because they’re (usually) less than $100 night. Essentially, the Value Resorts are all standard rooms that cater to parties looking to experience Walt Disney World on a tight budget while still enjoying the full on-site experience, including benefits like Disney’s Magical Express, Extra Magic Hours, and “free” Disney transportation. The All Star Resorts are each also good for those with kids who will be intrigued by the concept of the resort (music, movies, or sports) and will like the larger than life icons. As is the case with all Walt Disney World on-site hotels, All Star Music is fully integrated in the MyMagic+ system, which means that guests receive MagicBands and can make FastPass+ reservations. Learn more about this in our MyMagic+ FAQ.

By contrast, if you plan on spending a lot of time at your resort, and would like to be able to use a nice pool, eat at nicer restaurants, and enjoy other nice amenities, the Value Resorts may not be the best fit for your touring style. Likewise, if you want to save money and will not utilize those perks mentioned above (especially true if you’ll be renting a car), you will likely save more money in accommodations of similar quality off-site. This is true for all of the Value Resorts. For more on what might be right for you, check out our comprehensive On-Site v. Off-Site Hotels at Walt Disney World article.

If you’ve read our Disney’s All Star Movies Resort Review or Disney’s All Star Sports Resort Review, this review doesn’t really bring much new to the table, besides showing some minor differences. Like I mentioned in that review, the Value Resorts are incredibly divisive in the Disney fan community. Some people think they are tacky and cheap, offering worse accommodations than comparably-priced off-site hotels, while other people think they offer a cheap alternative to Moderate and Deluxe Resorts that allow Guests to take full advantage of on-property benefits (just read the comments from the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that readers if you don’t believe me!). Although the Value Resorts are far from our favorite resorts, we come down on the side of liking the Value Resorts for what they are. We frequently stay at them on short trips when the parks are our main priority and we want the perks of being on-site. We also think they’re fairly fun in terms of their style, especially for kids.

With all of that said, let’s take a look at All Star Music… (more…)

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens Review

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The Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX is a 180 degree autofocus fisheye lens for full frame cameras that offers a less-expensive, third party alternative to fisheye lenses by Canon and Nikon. This review of the Sigma fisheye will cover it as compared to the more expensive Nikon 16mm fisheye and to the budget Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye (see our full review of the Zenitar fisheye) to give you an idea of which fisheye lens might be the best option for you.

I’ve long been a big fan of fisheye lenses, as I really love photographing aquatic life. (A little corny fish eye humor for you to start this review off on the wrong foot…) I’ve owned or tested seven different fisheye lenses, so I’m fairly familiar with the strengths and weaknesses various lenses bring to the table. I also have to admit that while I am an avid fisheye user, there is a lot of potential for overusing the lenses because they are so fun, and that not everyone will like the (what’s sometimes called) gimmicky look.

When used in moderation, a fisheye lens is a great lens to have, but it may not be the best lens to devote significant funds towards unless you will be using it regularly. Whether this Sigma fisheye lens is perfect for you as a less-expensive option or whether you should go for more of a budget fisheye lens is something to give consideration before buying.

Before going any further, if you’re using a crop sensor DSLR (and if you don’t know whether you are or not, chances are that you are shooting on a crop sensor camera), this is not the lens for you. Instead, opt for the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, which remains my favorite crop sensor fisheye lens. My Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 review praises that lens for its cheap price, great optical quality, and unique characteristics. 

As is the case with all of my photography reviews, this is a “real world” review, meaning that it’s based on my use of the lens in the regular course of taking photos in the field, not arbitrary photos in a sterile lab. Some people love to photograph lab charts and look at straight out of camera shots at 100% to take a pixel-peeping look at things, but I’m not one of those people. As an actual photographer who actually takes photos, I see more value in how the lens actually performs in actual scenarios, and how edited photos from it actually look. As such, that’s how I review lenses. Actually! ;)

With that said, let’s take a look at what makes this Sigma fisheye special… (more…)

Aulani Makahiki Character Breakfast Review

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Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration at the Makahiki is the Disney character breakfast at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Hawaii. It’s the restaurant to meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy in Hawaiian attire. This is a breakfast buffet, with Western and Asian options available. The restaurant is meant to be an international harvest, as “Makahiki” is an annual Hawaiian harvest festival held in O‘ahu to celebrate the season of bounty and peace. Calling this meal an “international harvest” is a bit of a stretch, but the food is quite good.

In terms of ambiance, since Makahiki doubles as a standard restaurant for dinner, and Disney has taken great lengths towards authenticity at Aulani, the restaurant is fairly elegant with jewel and glass motifs. Makahiki has a lot of sweeping lines in the design, and many murals gracing the walls. Like every restaurant at Aulani, it’s open air, with tables near the edge of the restaurant having nice views out into the Waikolohe Valley pool area. 

The restaurant had plenty of open tables when we visited. Now that the character breakfast is offered daily, we understand this is typical. Although we didn’t think of it at the time, if quality character photos are important to you, request a table near the outer, open-air side of the restaurant. The lighting isn’t as harsh there, and will allow for better character photos.

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

Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 5

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We had the Star Wars Character Breakfast scheduled for that morning (click here to start from the beginning if you haven’t read the previous parts of this Walt Disney World Trip Report), but fortunately I had booked one of the later seatings—props to me for actually looking at the park hours calendar before arbitrarily booking at early seating. I’m finally getting the hang of Walt Disney World trip planning 101!

I’ve already covered the Star Wars breakfast in our full review, but suffice to say, we really enjoyed the experience. The food was good, but it was more about the ambiance and quality of interactions that made it worthwhile…or at least close to worthwhile. In terms of value for money, both Star Wars meals required great experiences, as the food alone did not even come close to being “worth it” at either venue. Obviously our thoughts on these Star Wars meals are moot since Star Wars Weekends have concluded and now the meals are over, but I strong suspect they will return next year. If not sooner…Star Wars meals have many guests screaming “PLEASE TAKE MY MONEY, DISNEY.”

We were at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater until right about the end of breakfast, getting our moneys’ worth both in terms of experience and food. When we finally left, I think it was around 11:30 am, at which time Sarah came to the conclusion that she wasn’t feeling well, and needed to head back to our hotel to take a nap. We had switched to the luxurious All Star Music Resort (& Spa?) for the final two nights of our trip, and I didn’t want to mess with getting back there, so I just decided to stay in the park, despite being fairly tired. (more…)

Ristorante di Cannaletto Review

Ristorante di Cannaletto is a table service Italian restaurant in Mediterranean Harbor at Tokyo DisneySea with outdoor patio seating overlooking the Venetian waterway canal and gondolas. Pause a moment to let this sink in: while you are in a theme park in Tokyo, Japan, you can have pizza at an Italian restaurant as you watch Venetian gondolas float through the waterway pictured above. Just look at that view! At this point, is this review even necessary? Ristorante di Cannaletto could be serving Kibbles ‘n Bits drenched in mayonnaise, maple syrup, and dusted with Pixy Stix, and it would probably still be worthwhile to eat there.

Fortunately, the actual menu is nothing like what I just described. Rather, it’s one of the best restaurants at Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland, offering a solid variety of Italian food with an emphasis on excellent pizzas. It’s also the only restaurant in Tokyo DisneySea that offers a menu with vegetarian items. Yes, really. Variety, excellent food, and great ambiance? Okay, now you can probably stop reading…

For our meal here, we went to the restaurant first thing in the morning to try for Priority Seating, Tokyo Disney Resort’s version of Advance Dining Reservations. Fortunately, it was a slow day, and the restaurant had some availability. As we learned on our subsequent visit to Tokyo Disney Resort, during which we tried on 3 different days to get Priority Seating times here without success, it’s a very popular restaurant. We highly recommend trying for Priority Seating after you do the morning attraction dash (or, make reservations in advance if you’re staying on-site). There is standby seating available, as well, but prepare for a wait in line if you go that route.

Ristorante di Cannaletto is gorgeous on the inside and outside. Most of the inside of the restaurant consists of a single, large room with high ceilings. While such an environment runs the risk of coming across as a ‘mess hall’ type setting, Ristorante di Cannaletto pulls it off very well, with lots of art, tables spaced appropriately apart, and beautiful design-work on the ceiling. Booths and flowers further give the restaurant a sense of intimacy, allowing it to simultaneously feel grandiose and personal. (more…)

Disney’s Contemporary Resort Review

Disney’s Contemporary Resort is a Deluxe Resort hotel at Walt Disney World, located within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom on the monorail loop. Ironically, it is the oldest hotel at Walt Disney World, but despite this fact, it does have a modern look and a general design-aesthetic that will likely appeal to affluent guests accustomed to luxurious real-world hotels, and not interested in the typical theming found at other Walt Disney World hotels.

This makes the Contemporary a fairly divisive hotel: guests visiting Walt Disney World in part to escape the real world and be transported to another time and place often are underwhelmed by the Contemporary, whereas guests interested in no-nonsense luxury who want a respite from the themed environments once they leave the parks but want Disney perks and a great location are likely to love the Contemporary.

If you’re unfamiliar with Walt Disney World hotels, most people—even first timers—will probably readily be able to identify the Contemporary as “the hotel with the monorail going through it.” That alone is going to be a big draw for many guests, and is what always drew me to it as a kid, but it’s important to know that many rooms at the Contemporary are not located in the central A-frame building through which the monorail passes. The cheaper rooms are in the Garden Wings (this is where we stayed), which are directly adjacent to the main A-frame building. (more…)

Sony RX100 III Review

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The Sony RX100 M3 is the newest advanced-level point and shoot camera, and further improves on Sony’s RX100 line to maintain its place as the best point & shoot camera currently on the market. I’ll make that much clear from the outset: the Sony RX100 III is without a doubt superior to every other pocket point and shoot camera, and for many people it will rival a mirrorless or DSLR system. This camera is that good. It is loaded with features and so much excellence is crammed into this little camera that it really is a feat of engineering.

This should really come as no surprise to photography enthusiasts. For each of the past three years, Sony has released a new camera in the RX100 line, each of which has taken the crown as ‘best point and shoot’ with its release. I won’t bother going into the line’s history or explain why it’s so technically impressive–if you’re interested in that, check out my original Sony RX100 Review. In terms of image quality, everything that I wrote of the original Sony RX100 is true of the new RX100 III, except perhaps to a greater degree. The new Sony Rx100 camera always has new bells and whistles…and has a higher price tag. In this Sony RX100 III review, we will take a look at the newest Sony RX100, and judge whether it’s worth the added cost over previous models in light of the new features it brings to the table.

For this version of the Sony RX100, a lot has changed. Much more than changed with the Sony RX100 II, which was an improvement, but the model many photographers skipped. The Sony RX100 III is a very worthy upgrade that brings a lot more to the table, but it also brings a considerably higher price, too. This is what has me torn on the camera: on the one hand it does take the ‘enthusiast point and shoot’ camera concept to the next level with upgrades in both features and image quality, but on the other hand, might the money be better spent elsewhere? (more…)

Tips for Fourth of July at Disney World

Walt Disney World is a popular summer vacation destination, and that’s doubly true during the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday, when there are added crowds at Disney as Floridians and Southerners take the long holiday weekend and head down to Walt Disney World. Add to that the fact that Disney and America go together about like America and apple pie, plus great celebrations and fireworks shows, and it’s easy to see why a lot of people visit Walt Disney World for July 4th.

This post will offer tips and tricks for visiting Walt Disney World around the Fourth of July, and help you make the most of the experience! If you’re already in Walt Disney World and are looking for ways to avoid the heat, humidity, and crowds and for the best experience on and around July 4th, we’ve got you covered. If you’ve wanted to do the “Distinctly Patriotic” thing and go to Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July, but have always been afraid of the chaos and crowds, this post might just present an attack plan to convince you to go

Since we are distinctly patriotic (or crazy…your pick!), we’ve visited Walt Disney World for the week leading up to the Fourth of July (and Independence Day itself). While it was busy and hot, it didn’t feel all that much busier than normal–because we knew what to do to avoid the crowds. It was incredibly fun, and something we’ll likely do again. While the crowds and heat are a downside, the atmosphere and fireworks are some of the best in the United States.

Here are our tips for having a great Fourth of July at Walt Disney World!

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