Tips for Finding Good Beer At Disney World

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Walt Disney World offers a number of craft beers and microbrews in its parks and resort hotels. This post offers tips for finding delicious beer at Walt Disney World, which can be a bit of a challenge. In addition to the normal BMC options you can find just about anywhere (besides the Magic Kingdom), there are some exceptional beers throughout Walt Disney World…you just need to know where to look.

Unlike wine, which (I’m told) Walt Disney World does pretty well–even touting things like their selection of South African wines at Animal Kingdom Lodge–the same effort isn’t put into having high quality beers. Most outdoor vending carts that serve beer at Walt Disney World have Bud Light, plus maybe a token alternative. Nothing against Bud Light–they are great at convincing people their beer is worthwhile with their astronomical marketing budget–but Bud Light is awful. Okay, so everything against Bud Light. BMC are sort of like the fast food of beers: okay options in a pinch, but probably few beer drinkers’ favorites if they had to choose. If Bud Light is your favorite beer, I’d encourage you to try a variety of other beers and give them a chance.

If you haven’t gathered from the remarks towards BMC, I’m sort of a beer snob. Coming from Michigan, I came of drinking age right around the time of the big explosion in craft brewing, with Bell’s opening its brewery ~10 miles from my house about a decade ago. Add to that other great options like Founders (every craft beer aficionado should attend a Kentucky Breakfast Stout release party at some time in their life), Arcadia, New Holland, Dark Horse, and many more, and my opinions of beer have really been shaped by living in one of the greatest beer state. Not really sure how this is relevant to the topic of the post, but I like giving props to my home state when I have the chance. Moving on…

When we first started visiting Walt Disney World as adults, there was a serious dearth of craft beer options, and the selection was laughable. If you wanted a good beer, you pretty much were stuck going to Le Cellier for some Unibroue. While that’s still a great option, Walt Disney World has recognized the growing discontent with BMC, and has incorporated better options into their menus. Things have improved substantially almost every year for the last ~5 years, and continue to get better. So props to Disney for that.

If you’re looking for great beer at Walt Disney World, here are some tips… (more…)

The Beauty of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

One thing that struck me about Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa on our recent visit was the sheer beauty and detail of the resort. Part of this was to be expected–Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World is striking–but Aulani takes this to the next level. Overall, Aulani exceeded our expectations with its amazing collection of art (one of the largest private collections of Hawaiian art in the world), its “Disney Details,” and its incredibly engaging design.

As I was organizing and editing Aulani photos this morning, the beauty of the resort continued to strike me again and again. While Aulani certainly has its fans, I think it’s relatively unknown to a lot of Disney fans beyond the basic look of the buildings. This is understandable, as a trip to Hawaii is very expensive, and tough to justify solely for a Disney resort.

Still, I thought it would be fun to share some photos from Aulani to showcase the beauty of Disney’s new resort on Oahu in Hawaii. This article is sort of a change of pace from the norm here, as it really doesn’t offer and tips, commentary, attempts at humor (that’s probably a good thing!), or really anything useful. It’s just some photos that illustrate why we loved Aulani so much.

Let’s take a look at the beauty of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa… (more…)

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC Lens Review

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This review covers the pros and cons of the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC, including its biggest feature: image stabilization. Being the only 24-70mm f/2.8 lens to have stabilization (Vibration Compensation in Tamron parlance), this lens is a pretty big deal. It’s also significantly cheaper than its Canon and Nikon OEM counterparts, thus almost begging the question: “is this lens too good to be true?”

That’s what I wondered when I first purchased this lens. I had previously purchased the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and returned it after a few weeks of use because I was disappointed by its performance versus its cost. (Perhaps my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 had created unrealistic expectations?) It’s not that there was anything wrong with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, but for its price, it was sort of a blah lens. Sure, it produced some really sharp photos and as a mid-range walk-around zoom it covered arguably the most important focal range, but I just didn’t feel like the lens had any tricks up its sleeve.

With that very subjective description, now is probably a good time to mention that 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 and how I felt about it as a result. It’s not based on arbitrary photos in a sterile lab–because no real photographer is out there shooting lab charts for fun or for clients. As an actual photographer taking real photos, I see more value in how the lens performs during ordinary shooting, and how edited photos from it look. If you want to stare at a bunch of photos of sharpness and color charts cropped to 100%, this is the wrong review for you. 

Anyway…after returning the Nikon, I decided to buy the Tamron. The 24-70mm is a lens most full frame photographers should have in their bag, and I was intrigued by the image stabilization. Plus, I figured if it was going to be a boring lens, I might as well ‘downgrade’ and save a bit of money. I knew I would end up needing this focal range, anyway.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be the boring lens I was expecting… (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1

In our “Grand Circle Tour” of the Disney theme parks, Hong Kong Disneyland was the last to cross off the list. Originally, we were just going to wait and visit it when Shanghai Disneyland opened. After all, both are in China, so it seemed easy enough to do it that way. We hadn’t exactly heard incredible things about Hong Kong Disneyland (far from it, actually), so we weren’t really in a hurry to visit.

Two new lands, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point, changed that. These new lands piqued our interest, and it seemed possible that Hong Kong Disneyland might be a park with at least some substantive merit. Still, we have to admit that flying to Hong Kong solely to visit Hong Kong Disneyland was not even in the realm of possibility for us. Even with the new lands, it was still mostly just a place to visit someday to “cross off the list.” What really changed things, though, was learning that we could fly via United to Tokyo with a stopover in Hong Kong for essentially no added cost (we cover how to do this in this blog post). At this point, the only “cost” became time, and since we had already been to Tokyo, we were okay with sacrificing half the trip for some time in Hong Kong.

We ended up spending 5 days in China: 2 in Hong Kong, 1 in Macau, and 2 in Hong Kong Disneyland. We definitely could have used some more time in Hong Kong itself, but two days in Hong Kong Disneyland was about perfect, we felt. Our mischief in Hong Kong and Macau is beyond the scope of this blog, so we’ll jump right ahead to our voyage to Hong Kong Disneyland…

We made our way to Hong Kong Disneyland after taking the TurboJet (it’s actually a boat…false advertising, right?!) back from Macau. The TurboJet “landed” in downtown Hong Kong, and from there we made our way via public transportation on the MTR to Hong Kong Disneyland. Of the places we’ve visited, Hong Kong has the best public transportation. It’s clean and efficient like Tokyo’s, but unlike Tokyo, it is not ridiculously complicated and confusing.

Perhaps we’re biased because we’re Disney fans, but the best rail line in Hong Kong is the Disneyland Resort Line, which is the MTR train that runs from the Sunny Bay station directly to Hong Kong Disneyland. While Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have all had rail lines built to them, Hong Kong is the only place where it feels like this is an organic part of the master plan. Tokyo and Paris feel more coincidental, as the growth of the Val d’Europe and Maihama areas after Disney came to town might have necessitated rail lines to their respective Disney resorts (I know this isn’t actually the case–but it’s how it feels).

With that, we were at Hong Kong Disneyland… (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report

Our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report covers our first visit experience in Hong Kong Disneyland during their Christmas celebration. The report covers our thoughts on numerous rides on Mystic Manor, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, Space Mountain, and other attractions. For this trip, we stayed at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, and tried traditional Chinese dishes like dim sum and other interesting foods served in the park. We also dined at the Explorer’s Club, the “spiritual successor” to the now-extinct Adventurers Club at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island.

This report will include hundreds of photos from Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, Toy Story Land, Main Street, and more. Besides the typical vibrant landscape photos that are common on our blog, we will also share photos of the details that make Hong Kong Disneyland unique–the types of photos not typically seen on English sites.

Bookmark this page as it will be where we organize each installment of this Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report in one convenient location. Click the links below to go to each installment… (more…)

1-Day Magic Kingdom “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we were looking for the perfect way to spend one day in the Magic Kingdom, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, and the quiet moments we would stop to enjoy. 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. Get it? It’s like the website name! (Yes, we are dangerously corny. But knowing you have a problem is the first step, right?)

This Daily Trip Blueprint isn’t a touring plan or strategy guide for efficiently experiencing every attraction in the Magic Kingdom. For our ride ratings and reviews of each attractions, read our comprehensive Best Magic Kingdom Attractions & Ride Guide post. This is only a 1-day “sample” itinerary of what we would (reasonably) accomplish in a day at the Magic Kingdom. If you’re for something more comprehensive to plan every aspect of your Walt Disney World vacation, from where to purchase discount tickets to when to visit and more, read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

Instead, this is Daily Trip Blueprint is an itinerary of our favorite things to do during our “ideal day” in the Magic Kingdom with moderate crowds (on busier days, doing this all will be tough), and when you should do certain things for the ‘best experience,’ but not necessarily the most efficient experience. It’s a rough, subjective itinerary rather than an objective one. Emphasis on rough–the blocks of items below are not in any sort of concrete order, meaning that if you want to break up a block of rides with one of the snack times below, you can do it early. You can also skip the snacks, meals, etc., entirely.

We aren’t your mother (this much should be clear by the morning ice cream break!); we aren’t trying to tell you what to do or not to do. Just don’t you dare use the restroom unless that’s specifically called for in the plan. ;) You get two restroom breaks per day…use them wisely! If you’re looking for a statistically-efficient plan of attack, consult TouringPlans.com for Walt Disney World, which has been developing excellent plans exactly like that for years. Their structured plans might provide a nice compliment to what we have here.  

FastPass+ sort of throws a monkey wrench into this whole thing, and not every guest is going to have access to all FastPass+ selections based upon when they make their ride reservations (read more about FastPass+ in our MyMagic+ FAQ). In the interest of keeping this guide concise, we are going to assume no FastPass+. Obviously, it is in your best interest to get FastPass+ and use them as you can to get more out of the day. Our picks for the “objective” best FastPass+ choices are the Anna & Elsa Meet & Greet, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and Peter Pan’s Flight. Other strong options include the Magic Kingdom Mountain Range (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train). Personally, I also like the FastPass+ location for the Festival of Fantasy Parade, and I hate staking out parade spots way early, but as an objective pick, this one probably isn’t the best.

We’re going to start out each of these DTBs with a recommended hotel ideal for that park. Chances are, you won’t want to change hotels every night, so this is only meant to be mildly influential. Pick one hotel for your entire Walt Disney World stay based on your “most important” park. For the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Contemporary Resort is the easy choice for its 10 minute walk to the Magic Kingdom, plus boat and monorail access. If you are willing to stay slightly farther away but still in the Magic Kingdom area, my top pick is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. It has better theming and a lower price point, and is one of Disney’s coolest hotels. Plus, you still have boat transportation to the Magic Kingdom. (When searching for a Magic Kingdom-convenient hotel, the goal is to avoid having to take a bus or drive to the Magic Kingdom.) I’m not-so-secretly hoping you choose Wilderness Lodge.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do… (more…)

Inside Mickey’s Penthouse Suite (+GIVEAWAY)

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Mickey’s Penthouse Suite is a Mickey Mouse themed room in Tokyo Disney Resort’s Ambassador Hotel. With a nightly rate of ¥300,000, it is one of the most expensive Disney hotel rooms in the world. This coupled with its Mickey Mouse meets pop-culture stylization, makes it one of the most interesting Disney hotel rooms in the world, too. I had the chance to tour this cool hotel room (no, unfortunately I didn’t spend the night!), and thought I’d give you a peak inside. At the end of this post, we’ll continue our series of Downtown Disney hotel-stay giveaways (sorry, it’s not in this suite!), so scroll all the way down for that.

Before we get to the suite itself, a little background about Disney Ambassador Hotel is in order. It was the first Disney-branded hotel at Tokyo Disney Resort, opening in 1996. While Tokyo Disneyland Hotel overlooks Tokyo Disneyland and Hotel MiraCosta is literally inside of Tokyo DisneySea, the Ambassador is located adjacent to Ikspiari, Tokyo’s version of Downtown Disney. Because overlooking a shopping complex isn’t quite as cool as overlooking a theme park, the Ambassador is the least popular of the Tokyo Disney Resort hotels, but it is no slouch.

Like approximately 50% (give or take) of Disney’s hotels, the Ambassador was designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern. He describes the hotel as having an art moderne that “looks back to an architecture that represented the promise, magic, and glamour of a time when travel and movies were a romantic escape.” This style is clear from the cool overall design of the hotel, although its presence in the design of Mickey’s Penthouse Suite is minimal.

With that said about Disney Ambassador Hotel, let’s head up to Mickey’s Penthouse Suite itself… (more…)

Best Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurants

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This post ranks the quick service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World for 2014. Despite the Magic Kingdom’s historically poor reputation for counter service dining, there are a surprising number of good options. Sometimes these good options are in the form of a specialty at a particular restaurant, which can make dining in the Magic Kingdom with a family of diverse eaters particularly difficult. The other matter that complicates your dining choice when you’re in the Magic Kingdom is the sterling options just outside of the Magic Kingdom. Captain Cook’s, Contempo Cafe, and Roaring Fork are all a short monorail or boat ride from the Magic Kingdom, and they all rank higher than almost all of the options within the Magic Kingdom on our Top 10 Counter Service Walt Disney World Dining list.

The Magic Kingdom’s counter service restaurants are also more difficult to rank than any other park. You have three locations–Diamond Horseshoe, Tortuga Tavern, and Tomorrowland Terrace–that are only open when crowds reach a certain level, meaning they probably aren’t even going to be options for a good number of guests reading this post. Then you have choices like Sleepy Hollow and Gaston’s Tavern that are absolutely awesome if you like the handful of things they serve, but are probably better considered ‘snack stops’ than actual bona fide restaurants because of this. Because of these complications and other issues with how restaurants that only serve a specific type of food (Casey’s Corner and its hot dogs, Columbia Harbour House and seafood, etc.) this list was difficult to put together and probably is more useful for the descriptive reviews that accompany each restaurant than for its numerical rankings. That way, you can read and see whether a particular restaurant sounds like it’s your style or not.

Now, this might sound like an easy out in case you don’t agree with the numerical rankings we’ve given these Magic Kingdom counter service restaurants (and maybe that’s our devious goal!), but that’s the actual dining situation in the Magic Kingdom. We’ve separately reviewed a decent number of these restaurants. To read our full reviews and see additional food photos of each option, click the restaurant name (if it’s not click-able, we have yet to review it).

NOTE: This list was revised in August 2014 to reflect menu changes and a couple of overall shifts. 
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