Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure Tips

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Happy Lunar New Year is a celebration of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultural traditions in Disneyland Resort’s Disney California Adventure from February 19–22. This post offers some photos from the annual event, plus tips for visiting if you’re heading to the event this year or in the future. This year, the celebration revolves around the “Year of the Sheep” with a Mulan processional, live music, dancing, red and gold decor, hanging lanterns, special Disney character meet & greets, menu items, and more.

Culturally, Lunar New Year is a multi-day annual tradition that is the customary time to reflect on the past and step into a new life of hope, prosperity, and happiness. Much like ¡Viva Navidad!, which felt like an event straight out of circa-1982 EPCOT Center, Happy Lunar New Year also combines authentic culture with Disney fun.

It’s not simply characters from Mulan and Mickey Mouse in traditional Lunar New Year garb and Disney saying because ??? that somehow equals a reflection of hope and prosperity. Rather, there is actual entertainment and and educational component that feels inspired by actual Lunar New Year celebrations, that give guests an authentic slice of culture alongside the fun of the Mulan processional and special character meet and greets. It doesn’t feel like it’s simply a ruse to sell some expensive event merchandise and overpriced menu items to locals (although that’s part of the equation). There’s a genuine effort to make this an enriching and entertaining experience for guests, and this is exactly the kind of thing that belongs in EPCOT.

What’s so special about the Happy Lunar New Year Celebration at Disney California Adventure? Let’s take a look! (more…)

1-Day Tokyo Disneyland “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we were going to spend a “perfect” day in Tokyo Disneyland, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, the shows we’d see, and the details we’d try to enjoy. This post continues our series of 1-day park 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. Note that in our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning Guide we recommend 2 days at Tokyo Disneyland if you have the time, and the park has a really impressive attraction slate (and often, long lines), so you necessarily will have to skip some things if you only have one day. If you’re visiting Tokyo DisneySea, check out our 1-Day Tokyo DisneySea itinerary.

These Daily Trip Blueprints aren’t touring plans or strategy guides for doing as much in a single day at Tokyo Disneyland as possible. If you follow this guide, you won’t do every single attraction in the park. While this guide is more focused on efficiency than many of our others (you’ll go crazy waiting in lines if you’re not at least somewhat efficient), it still allows time to slow down and experience the little details that set Tokyo Disneyland apart from the other Disneyland style parks found throughout the world. Even though it’s a “greatest hits” park to a degree, it’s really so much more than that.

I have described Tokyo Disneyland as a “Bizarro Magic Kingdom” and this applies to attractions, too. While Tokyo Disneyland generally has the best version of most attractions (or at least the best maintained), if you only have 1 day, the fact is that day is probably best spent doing original attractions that are unique to Tokyo Disneyland, or at least substantially different. For that reason, I recommend view the following as skippable if you are crunched for time: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Haunted Mansion, Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Dumbo, Alice’s Tea Party, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s Adventures, plus Pirates of the Caribbean and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin (if you’ve been to Disneyland). Do as many of these as you can, but they should be the first thing to go if you’re in a time crunch. You can see the full attraction lineup in our Tokyo Disneyland Attraction Guide post.

This Tokyo Disneyland 1-Day Guide assumes a few 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. Unless you’ve been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland on New Year’s Eve or some other 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 that there is no seasonal entertainment during your visit (which is a poor assumption since most of the time there is seasonal entertainment, but it’s an assumption I’m making for the sake of making this easier to write). All of the seasonal entertainment we have seen at Tokyo Disneyland is well done, so plan to pencil this into your schedule as time permits if it’s going on while you visit.

Finally, we’re going to assume intelligent and efficient use of the FastPass system. This means getting a FastPass as soon as you’re eligible, and using them accordingly. Since windows for FastPasses will vary, most of the time we gloss over FastPass utilization, with a few exceptions.

If budget is no issue, you’re going to want to stay at Tokyo Disneyland Hotel for your 1-day in Tokyo Disneyland. It is located a short walk from Tokyo Disneyland, and some rooms have views into the 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 Disney hotels don’t fit within 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…)

Best 2015 Walt Disney World Discounts

Disney World has announced discount vacation packages and other room only, military, and free dining discounts for 2015, with more to come for dates later in the year (for those specifically concerned about the Free Disney Dining Plan, it’s typically announced in late April or early May; you can find more details about Free Dining dates in this post). Some of these Disney World discounts are better than others and discounts are quite predictable as they typically repeat, so to get an idea of how the various discounts stack up, we’ve put together this article rating Disney’s discounts. To see which discounts are best for particular “types” of guest read our summary and review of all Walt Disney World discounts below.

Rather than this being a generic post providing specific details (like dates) of the various discounts at Walt Disney World, this post will instead editorialize. You can find the information concerning applicable dates and the like on DisneyWorld.com or on a myriad of other fan sites that simply copy and paste the information from DisneyWorld.com. This post is meant to help those of you who are unfamiliar with Walt Disney World discounts get an idea of how good the discount you’re considering really is (despite Disney’s best marketing efforts, some discounts are better than others).

I’ve planned every Walt Disney World trip we’ve taken over the course of the years, and I’ve learned a lot about traveling frugally to Walt Disney World in the process. Hopefully this provides a primer for those who don’t visit as often, but are looking to save the most money possible when planning their Walt Disney World trip! (more…)

2015 Disneyland Discounts Tips & Info

Disneyland currently has vacation package, room-only, and other discounts available for 2015, and a recent question we received asked us to compare the different discounts Disneyland offers. The good news is that it’s much easier to understand the various discounts at Disneyland than it is Walt Disney World’s discounts. The bad news is that this is because there are far fewer types of Disneyland discounts.

The biggest “missing” discount when it comes to Disneyland discounts is the lack of “free dining,” a fall staple at Walt Disney World. This is because Disneyland’s dining plan (if it can even be called that) is mostly an afterthought on Disney’s part, and not something that’s all that integrated into their vacation packages. Disneyland also lacks PIN codes, and some of the other novel discounts that are from time to time found at Walt Disney World. Basically, Disneyland has vacation packages and hotel rooms with percentage off discounts as their main types of discounts, with a few variations on those same types of discounts.

Still, some of the Disneyland discounts that are offered are better than others. Discounts are quite predictable as they typically repeat from year to year, so to get an idea of how the various discounts stack up and when they might be offered, we’ve put together this article rating Disneyland’s discounts.

We’ve put this article together much like our Walt Disney World Discount Comparison post as a way to judge which discounts are best, rather than to offer specific information about current discounts. A myriad of fan sites and blogs (as well as Disneyland.com!) post dates and prices for every discount the moment it’s released. However, very few actually analyze the discounts and offer commentary as to which are worth it. In other words, this post is meant to help those of you who are unfamiliar with Disneyland Resort discounts understand how good the discount you’re considering really is (despite Disney’s best marketing efforts, some discounts are better than others).

In the course of planning numerous Disneyland trips in the last several years, we’ve learned a lot about traveling frugally to Disneyland Resort. Hopefully this Disneyland Resort Discount Guide is a helpful primer for those who don’t visit Disneyland as often, but are looking to save the most money possible when planning your Disneyland Resort vacation! (more…)

River View Cafe Afternoon Tea Review

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River View Cafe is a table service restaurant in Hong Kong Disneyland, overlooking Adventureland and the Jungle River Cruise. This review covers Afternoon Tea and features photos of the experience, our take on ambiance, and other assorted tidbits. River View Cafe serves Southeast Asian and Chinese dishes in an open-air restaurant. Some regular menu options including River View Cafe’s signature braised beef in Nanjing style, sweet and sour fish fillets with pineapple, Fujian fried rice, wok-fried noodles with beef tenderloin, and Singaporean vermicelli with scallops.

Since we were going specifically for the Afternoon Tea Set, we didn’t have a chance to try these, but our experience with Hong Kong Disneyland restaurants has generally been that counter service is the better option, as quality at counter service restaurants is really high, whereas you don’t see much of a gain at table service restaurants–except in the prices.

As for the Afternoon Tea Set, a little background might be in order for those of you who might be puzzled as to why a Chinese park is serving high tea. Until 1997, Hong Kong was actually a British colony (it’s now a partially-autonomous Special Administrative Region of China), and as such, many of its customs have been heavily influenced by the British. Setting aside politics and all that, this had at least one undeniable benefit for Hong Kong, and that was making it a true “world city” that formed a bridge between the East and West.

This may seem irrelevant to a Hong Kong Disneyland restaurant review, but I mention it because, by extension, Hong Kong Disneyland is also a “world theme park” in the sense that there’s really no language barrier for English-speakers. Anyway, one of the customs that the British brought to Hong Kong was high tea (here’s some background on afternoon high tea in the United Kingdom), a social event that remains popular in Hong Kong to this day.

With that background, let’s take a look at the Afternoon Tea Set at River View Cafe… (more…)

Disney World Free Dining 2015 Dates

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Walt Disney World typically offers its Free Disney Dining Plan promotion in the spring, with dates for the late summer and fall vacations made public in late April or Early May. Free Dining becomes available for booking to Disney Visa credit card holders a couple of days after the announcement, and then to the general public a few days after that. Free Dining dates for 2015 have not yet been announced, but we will update this page as soon as the dates are rumored or leaked. You can also sign up for our newsletter to be alerted as soon as we hear anything about 2015 Free Dining dates.

In the interim, here’s historical information concerning last year’s Free Dining announcement in case you’re wondering what to expect. Note that the dates are pretty consistent from year to year, with slight shifts for holidays, weekends, and special events (like Pop Warner), or other things that may be excluded from the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion. In other words, if your vacation dates for 2015 had Free Dining offered to them last year, there’s a good chance they will again in 2015–and vice-a-versa.

Last year, the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion became available to Disney Visa cardholders for booking beginning on May 2 for arrival dates beginning at the end of August through late December, with blockout dates. Exact dates are listed below. The general public was be able to book Free Dining packages on May 7. With this Free Dining offer, Value Resort guests receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the promotion, and guests at Moderate and Deluxe Resorts receive the standard Disney Dining Plan. Upgrading to higher tiers is possible for an additional charge (see details below).

Note that what follows is historical information that was posted for last year’s free dining, and has not been updated for 2015…

Free Dining Dates:

  • August 31 – October 3
  • October 26 – November 1
  • November 9 – November 20
  • December 12 – December 23

If you will be traveling during these dates, we highly recommend making Advance Dining Reservations now, even if you’re not eligible to book free dining yet, or even if you don’t plan on booking it. Everyone gobbles up the good ADRs quickly for Free Dining dates, so if you don’t book early, you will be stuck eating counter service or unpopular restaurants for the duration of your trip. We also recommend booking as soon as possible, as some popular/low capacity resorts book up fast. Also, be prepared to spend a couple hours on hold when you call in the morning that Free Dining becomes available to the general public. You might want to have a no-fee, Authorized Disney Vacation Planner book your Free Dining package for you.

Here are the room exclusions: All-Star Movies, Port Orleans Resort Riverside, Port Orleans Resort French Quarter, Fort Wilderness campsites, Grand Villas at all resorts (3-bedroom Disney Vacation Club rooms), Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms, and the Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, are all not eligible for Free Dining.

If you are wondering which hotel to book for the Free Dining promotion, check out our new Best Walt Disney World Hotels for Free Dining post. It gives our preferred option for each resort tier! (more…)

‘AMA ‘AMA – Contemporary Island Cooking Review

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‘AMA ‘AMA (or ‘AMA’AMA) is a Hawaiian fine dining restaurant at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Hawaii. This review features food photos from ‘AMA ‘AMA, our take on ambiance & cuisine, and other random thoughts. ‘AMA ‘AMA serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with the menus for all meals being described by Disney as offering contemporary twists on classic Hawaiian dishes, with locally sourced ingredients.

It seems like every Disney high-end restaurant describes itself as a ‘contemporary twist’ on ‘classic menus.’ I’m waiting for the Disney restaurant that touts itself as “serving the same grub indigenous people would have eaten in 1400!” Something tells me I’m going to be waiting for a while, but if anyone at Disney is listening, I sure would love to eat whatever weird, raw fish the vikings speared and devoured back in the day… ;)

Despite being the equivalent of a Signature Restaurant (in Walt Disney World parlance), the design of ‘AMA ‘AMA is decidedly simple. So simple it I have to assume it’s going for a haphazard-chic look. The restaurant is partially ‘constructed’ out of driftwood with gaps in between beams and lines being a prominent design motif elsewhere. It has a modern, minimalist look as a result. The chairs and tables are all simple, the roof is thatched, and the only design touch to speak of is a fountain in the restaurant. It sort of reminded me of the Anthropologie at the trendy mall near us, and that’s not exactly a compliment.

Oh, and there’s a view of the ocean… (more…)

Lucky Nugget Saloon Review

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Lucky Nugget Saloon is a counter service restaurant at Disneyland Paris in Thunder Mesa serving burgers, fish, and ribs in an environment reminiscent of the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland and Diamond Horseshoe at Walt Disney World, with the Paris version being the most elaborate and lavish of the bunch.

I’m a huge fan of Thunder Mesa, and its elaborate backstory. This backstory ties together the entire land (technically, it’s known as Frontierland) in a way that gives it some serious depth, but without feeling contrived. You can ascertain parts of the story simply by experiencing the land, but there are (ahem) nuggets tucked away in details that reward those who slow down and really pay attention.

Unlike something like Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama, the backstory here doesn’t feel like a forced layer of “detail” to explain away cheapness, nor is it unnecessary fluff. It is strikingly organic, and I think that’s largely because Thunder Mesa has significant depth in terms of physical details and grandeur (between Phantom Manor and the most elaborate Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, plus the gorgeous restaurants and shops, I cannot fathom the budget for this land). You can get the basic gist of Thunder Mesa’s story here, but additional details are informed by the actual attractions, shops, and restaurants themselves.

Lucky Nugget continues this tradition of well-executed backstories, and has one solid menu item, too… (more…)