Walt Disney World Inside Out: Summer 2015

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For this post taking an inside* look at current news and rumors at Walt Disney World, I wanted a post title that would be a nod to classic Walt Disney World programming. Unfortunately, all of the good names are taken, so I opted for Inside Out, which is not a nod to the upcoming Pixar film, but rather, to the in-room television loop from my childhood. If you have a few spare hours and want some 1990s goodness, watch some of the totally rad videos. *In reality, this is more an outside look than an inside one, but whatever. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: covering news and rumors is not my thing. Dozens of other sites–many of which I regularly read–do it better and have locals on the ground to be on top of the latest happenings. However, I enjoy commenting on the news, and I’ve spent much of my time as a Disney fan on forums and social media grousing over various news, rumors, and construction.

There are a few items of interest to me that I thought might be interesting to discuss… (more…)

Sultan’s Oasis Review

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Have you ever heard the idiom, “catch the tiger by the tail?” Well, the phrase likely originates from Sultan’s Oasis in Tokyo DisneySea. Here, at this seemingly unassuming little restaurant, one of the greatest snacks ever bestowed upon mankind, based on one of the greatest characters to leap from the mind of mankind, is served: Chandu Tails. Therein lies the problem, and the origin of the aforementioned phrase: how do you serve a snack that is so awesome in a location that is so awesome without exposing guests to catastrophic levels of awesomeness.

I’m no scientist, but clearly the good folks at Walt Disney Imagineering and the Oriental Land Company have solved this problem and made Sultan’s Oasis a safe destination for all. In all seriousness, Sultan’s Oasis truly is one of those special little places that is a great spot to slow down and soak up the remarkable ambiance that defines Tokyo DisneySea. This site is obviously not light on praise for Tokyo DisneySea, and if you’ve never been you probably have read it and heard praise from others and perhaps wondered how the park could possibly live up to the hype. After all, the headliners like Journey to the Center of the Earth sound fun, but can they really make the park that good?

The truth is, what often goes overlooked in reflections upon Tokyo DisneySea is how the little details and moments really define the experience. Let’s take a look at why snacking at Sultan’s Oasis makes for one of those sublime little moments… (more…)

Cocina Cucamonga Review

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Cocina Cucamonga is a counter service Mexican restaurant in Disney California Adventure’s Pacific Wharf at Disneyland Resort. This review features photos of the food, plus my thoughts on the cuisine here, and to whom this purported “Mexican” restaurant will most likely appeal. The menu here has a lot of options, including tacos, burritos, tamales, salads, and more.

I mentioned this in the Lucky Fortune Cookery Review, but I’ll reiterate: the Pacific Wharf “land” is very simple. It’s essentially an outdoor mall food court where there are multiple places with ordering windows and an abundance of common seating in the middle. There is no indoor seating, nor is there any theming to speak of at Cocina Cucamonga.

As a preface to this review, how you view the food at Cocina Cucamonga is largely going to be dictated by perspective and background. In terms of background, if you’re a Disneyland local living in Santa Ana, for example, or anywhere that has an abundance of Mexican fast food, this restaurant won’t strike you as even remotely authentic. If you’re from a small town in the Midwest where the only Mexican food around is Taco Bell, your opinion of Cocina Cucamonga will likely be much more favorable and issues of authenticity aren’t likely to arise. Regardless of your background, if you approach this restaurant from the perspective of whether Cocina Cucamonga has quality cuisine, your opinion is likely to differ from someone who approaches it from the perspective of whether it has authentic cuisine.

With those caveats about the restaurant out of the way, let’s take a look at the food, and see how it holds up… (more…)

Hotel New York Review

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Hotel New York is a hotel at Disneyland Paris, designed by Michael Graves and occupying the top tier of Disney hotels at the resort. This review features room photos from the hotel, along with thoughts on its quality and my experience of staying at the hotel. Hotel New York is about a 10 minute walk from Disneyland Paris, making it the second-closest hotel to the parks after Disneyland Hotel. With regard to class, Disney categorizes it as a “4 keys/stars” hotel, making it the second highest priced and second nicest in terms of their tiering.

Of late, there has been a rise in theme park lands that give guests the opportunity to step into their favorite stories, and be an active “participant” in the scene. With the hit 1990s sitcom Friends recently finding a brand new audience via Netflix, I think now is the time for Hotel New York to really cash in and be the first hotel that allows guests to step into the story. There is (probably) a huge segment of the population that pines for the opportunity to set foot in Central Perk, dance in a fountain with their BFFs while The Rembrandts play in the background, and otherwise partake in the golden age of the Big Apple: 1994. Marketing genius that I am, if I were in charge of Disneyland Paris, I would change the name of Hotel New York to “Friends Season 1: The Hotel.” Now, I realize Hotel New York’s design actually dates before 1994, but I think it can pass for that glorious era.

This would obviate the need to update this woefully dated hotel, and hit that huge niche of people who want to go back in time and be a part of that amazing time in the Big Apple for those mischievous friends. Change the name on the marquee, maybe offer some Central Perk brand coffee, have the male Cast Members die their hair like Gunther and the female CMs get “The Rachel” haircut, and call it a day. Done and done. Maybe there could even be some Seinfeld tie-ins. Pirate shirts in lieu of robes in every closet!

In all seriousness, the datedness of this hotel is its principle problem, in my eyes. Judging by TripAdvisor reviews, almost none of which mention this issue (with most being resoundingly positive), perhaps I’m more sensitive to it than other travelers.

You can judge for yourself if you think the datedness of the hotel is a big deal in the photos here, but know they only tell part of the story… (more…)

Katsura Grill Review

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Katsura Grill is a counter service restaurant in the Japan Pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase at Walt Disney World. The menu here is quite expansive, and consists of teriyaki, udon, sushi, curry, and various combos. For an ostensibly Japanese restaurant, many of these options are fairly approachable and will appeal to a broad selection of guests. In other words, it’s fairly Americanized. You aren’t going to find poisonous fugu fish that will leave you with 22 hours to live if you eat it.

While Katsura Grill made our list as the #3 counter service restaurant in Epcot, it’s worth noting that it’s not in the same league as Tangierine Cafe or Sunshine Seasons. In terms of basic info, Katsura Grill participates in the Disney Dining Plan, but does not accept the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount. It can be a reasonably priced or expensive meal depending upon what you order–it’s a solid use of a Disney Dining Plan counter service credit if you order one of the combos and are trying to maximize your counter service credit value on the Disney Dining Plan.

We tend to eat at Katsura Grill a lot. Here’s why… (more…)

The Ultimate Guide to the Goats of Disneyland

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Disneyland’s best attraction. Instagram’s top photo spot in the world. A trending topic on Twitter for a record 37,945 days. The sole subject of an upcoming edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Yes, of course I’m talking about The Goats of Disneyland. Officially, it’s known as The Goats of Disneyland Park® at the Disneyland Resort® in Disney Big Thunder Ranch® Presented by Brawny®, aka Goat Galaxy. What more can be said about the Goats of Disneyland that hasn’t already been said? Welp, hopefully something, as I have a ton of photos of them to share and need to surround them with some words.

To start, yes, there are actually goats in Disneyland, and not just the Audio Animatronics ones on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The live goats are located in Big Thunder Ranch, along with a slew of other animals, including cows and those cocky sheep. The goat portion of this attraction is informally known as “Goat Galaxy” by its many fans and anyone who is even remotely cool. If you’ve missed them on your past visits to Disneyland (shame on you) don’t feel too bad, as most guests overlook this hidden gem of an area.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, “gee, Tom, why would I take time out of my limited vacation schedule to go see goats, when I can see them literally just about anywhere?” You can also play Wii carnival games at home and get pineapple ice cream all over the place, but that doesn’t stop you from waiting in long lines for Toy Story Midway Mania or Dole Whips, does it? As with those things, there’s something to be said for the Disney experience of interacting with goats. If that’s not enough to sell you on seeing the goats…uhh…they are magical goats that poop pixie dust?

Honestly, this isn’t so much an “Ultimate Guide” as it is a bunch of photos of Goat Galaxy with me making attempts at humor that will probably fall flat. You’re probably wasting your time by reading the rest of this article… (more…)

Off-Site v. On-Site Disney World Hotels

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One of the most difficult decisions when planning for a Walt Disney World vacations can be whether you should stay on-site or off-site. Walt Disney World resort hotels have a lot of great benefits and are a compelling choice for many guests, but the hundreds of local off-site hotels offer many equally compelling reasons as to why guests should stay off-site. If you already know whether you want to stay on-site or off-site, you should skip this article and go directly to our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews index page to determine which hotel is right for you.

For many people considering where to stay at Walt Disney World, price will be the determining factor, as it can be cheaper to do a Walt Disney World Trip on a Budget while staying off-site. However, this isn’t always the case, and there are other factors to consider before booking. Those with small vacation budgets might be surprised to find that, in some circumstances, it’s better for them to stay on-site, and those with large vacation budgets might be better served by staying off-site.

When this post was originally written, we had never stayed off-site at Walt Disney World, but I aimed at writing an article that objectively looked at all of the pros and cons of both staying off-site and staying on-site. Since then, we’ve stayed off-site on several occasions, so I’ve revised the post a bit (in April 2015) to reflect how those off-site stays have changed my perspective. Surprisingly, my views are pretty much the same, but some of the new insight should help you with your decision to stay off-site or on-site.

Let’s get started with the pros and cons of staying off-site versus on-site at Walt Disney World… (more…)

Golden Horseshoe & Stage Door Cafe Review

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The Golden Horseshoe and Stage Door Cafe are counter service restaurants at Disneyland serving ice cream and various fried foods. This review features photos of the food and ice cream, history, and general thoughts on the locations. As for why these spots are lumped together in one review: Golden Horseshoe is the main restaurant here with meals served inside accompanied by performances, while Stage Door Cafe serves virtually the same menu from the same kitchen outside via a grab and go window. By any reasonable account, they are the same thing.

Well, except for the fact that The Golden Horseshoe is approximately twenty-seven billion times more awesome from a non-food perspective. It alone contains a staggering amount of Disneyland history.  It unofficially opened on  July 13, 1955, as the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, when Lillian and Walt Disney celebrated their 30th anniversary with a private party and the premiere showing of the original Golden Horseshoe Revue. A few days later, The Golden Horseshoe Saloon officially opened, and Disney Legend Wally Boag made his first performance there. Boag went on to perform approximately 40,000 performances on the Golden Horseshoe stage, and is credited as inspiring countless other comedians, including Steve Martin.

Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue went on to become the longest running stage production in show business history, as listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Other acts have come and gone over the years, most recently being the hilarious Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, who have since been retired by Disneyland and now perform down the street at Knott’s Berry Farm as Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies. Currently, Laughing Stock performs here.

Being huge Billy Hill and the Hillbillies fans, we have eaten here countless times. Unfortunately, it’s arguably the worst restaurant at Disneyland Resort. Why is it so bad despite all that history? Let’s take a look… (more…)