Downtown Disney Tips (+Hotel Stay Giveaway!)


Downtown Disney is the shopping and dining district at Walt Disney World, which is currently being transformed into Disney Springs. This post covers some of our tips for visiting Downtown Disney. More importantly, for those of you who like free stuff, it introduces our new giveaway courtesy of the Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotels. We’ll be running a giveaway for 3-night stays at each of the 7 Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotels from one hotel per month, now through October. More details on the giveaway at the bottom of the post.

Our reason for combining this tips post with the giveaway is simple: Downtown Disney is a bit of a knowledge-gap for us, so what better way to do this giveaway than by having you help crowd-source some tips for us! ;) While we’ve been to Downtown Disney many, many times, most of our visits came in the Pleasure Island days. In fact, before this year, our last Downtown Disney visit was to the Adventurers Club. So yeah, it’s been a while…

With that said, we do have a handful of tips of our own regarding Downtown Disney, but our tips are far from comprehensive. (more…)

Boma Review

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Boma – Flavors of Africa is a buffet in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World. This review features photos and thoughts about dinner at Boma. The menu at Boma features a wide variety of American and African cuisine, and features both adventurous cuisine and more conventional options, making it one of the most diverse buffets at Walt Disney World. Arguably the best buffet at Walt Disney World, participates in the Disney Dining Plan, and accepts Tables in Wonderland for a 20% discount. While it’s not a great use of a Disney Dining Plan table service credit if you’re trying to maximize your value on the Disney Dining Plan, it isn’t a bad option either.

We’ve dined at Boma for dinner on a few different occasions, and each time have been really full. It’s certainly not the cheapest buffet on property, but we think it’s the best due to its huge range of high quality options, especially the soups, meats, and desserts (especially those delicious zebra domes pictured above). It’s not a character buffet, so if that matters to you but you still want the kids of foods found at Boma, we recommend lunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom (the park) instead. In terms of cuisine, it’s like Boma-lite.

Boma is located on the lower level of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House, adjacent to Jiko – The Cooking Place (one of our favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World) and The Mara (one of the best counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World). With this hard-hitting trio plus the often-overlooked Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village, Animal Kingdom Lodge has arguably the best dining of any resort hotel at Walt Disney World. Only the Grand Floridian really gives it a run for its money. (more…)

My Top 10 Disney Experiences (So Far)

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Someone recently asked me what my all-time favorite Disney moments had been. Having been going to the Disney theme parks all of my life and having numerous major life milestones occur there, that’s a difficult question to answer. Not only that, but favorite is somewhat of a moving target. Moments that seem significant today may fade with time, while other, seemingly less-memorable experiences can grow over time. Still, I thought it would be a fun topic to take on, and while these are all personal enough to just me that they really won’t help you plan your trips in any way, I thought it would be fun to share my top 10 moments.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to visit the Disney theme parks often (that’s my mom and me next to Minnie Mouse in that above photo, by the way!), and have had some great experiences and made some great memories along the way. There are a lot of experiences that were really amazing that didn’t make it on the list. Things like our first visit to Hong Kong Disneyland (for those who have asked–this trip report is still coming soon!), dining at Club 33, touring the Cinderella Castle Suite, and photographing the sunrises in almost every Disney theme park in the world, among other experiences, all are incredibly fond memories of mine, but all miss the list.

Here’s what did make the top 10… (more…)

IllumiNations Post Show: A World Showcase Stroll

Okay, so this isn’t really a post about the post-show to IllumiNations, but as I was listening to the “Evening at Epcot” music, I started thinking about how there are few experiences we enjoy more at Walt Disney World than strolling around World Showcase at night. In particular, we really like wandering around World Showcase after IllumiNations, when the park is closing and the crowds have cleared out.

World Showcase’s countries are inherently romantic, and there’s something special about being there late listening to the peaceful background music, walking hand-in-hand with someone you love through those beautiful environments, while few other guests are around. This is by far our number one World Showcase experience.

That may seem crazy since it’s not something you’ll find on a park map and isn’t really a “thing” at all, anyone who has ever done this probably understands. For us, Walt Disney World is about the little moments during which we enjoy the place and the presence of one another, and walking through World Showcase after IllumiNations is typically one of those little moments for us.

Since the restaurants in World Showcase make dining reservations until park closing and it takes some guests over an hour after park closing to finish their meals, you have some time to linger and slowly make your way out of the park. In fact, the best way to enjoy this tranquil walk through World Showcase at the end of the night is to make an 8:55 p.m. Advance Dining Reservation for a restaurant deep in World Showcase. By the time you’re done with your meal, you’re pretty much guaranteed one of these enjoyable walks out. Our top recommendation for this is Tokyo Dining, where you can enjoy a great view of IllumiNations, too, and is basically in the “middle” World Showcase, allowing you to see the most countries possible on your way out.

We understand that this late night stroll is not going to be possible for everyone for various reasons. Fortunately, while World Showcase is light on actual rides, it’s a great place to just experience, and actually has quite a lot to offer. This post definitely isn’t meant to be a definitive guide to Epcot’s World Showcase. Since we already have a Guide to Epcot Attractions, we’ll instead focus on some of the little things that many guests miss that we like most about World Showcase and random tips for having your own excellent evening in Epcot.

Let’s start out in Mexico and make a stop in each World Showcase country as we embark on our own (virtual) evening in Epcot. Hopefully you can apply some of these tips to your own World Showcase visit. Oh, and this post is best read while playing that “Evening at Epcot” music in the background… (more…)

Disney World Value Resort Rankings

Which Walt Disney World Value Resort hotel is best? This post answers that common question, with our clear-cut #1 Value Resort as well as the best of the rest. The Value Resorts are great hotels for people who won’t be in their rooms much, families with small children who enjoy Disney animated films, and guests doing Disney on a budget. While more expensive than off-site accommodations, they offer good value if you’re only visiting Walt Disney World when you travel to Orlando, as staying on-site allows you to utilize Disney transportation, including Disney’s Magical Express, meaning that you don’t need to rent a car if you stay at a Value Resort (or any Disney hotel, for that matter).

Let’s start by discussing some commonalities of the Value Resorts. All of the Value Resorts are large and spread out, and don’t have internal transportation. This means that if you get stuck in a remote room, you’ll have a bit of a hike to the lobby and bus transportation. Even in the worst case, we don’t consider it that long of a walk (they’re certainly less spread out than most of the Moderate Resorts), but if you are trying to herd around a slew of kids, you might disagree. At every Value Resort except Art of Animation, preferred rooms are available that are located closer to the lobby, but they have an additional cost. You can sort of game the system by using TouringPlans’ Hotel Room Selector to request a room with a better location that isn’t technically a preferred room.

Standard rooms are all fairly similar, too. It cannot be stressed enough that the Value Resorts are very basic accommodations in terms of the rooms. These rooms are small and along the lines of what you’d find at a nicer Best Western or Motel 6. Disney fans may gasp at that comparison, but we feel it’s true to an extent. The big way they deviate from other budget accommodations is that they include Disney decor, which alone is probably enough for the average Disney fan or guest to consider them a great deal superior to those other brands of hotels. The point is, at their core, these are not high-end hotel rooms, and in terms of pure value, you can typically do better by staying off site and use our frugal travel tips to score cheap accommodations.

Design, in general terms, is pretty consistent among the Value Resorts. All are very plain buildings that are dressed up with oversized icons that relate to the hotel name. They’re decorated, not themed. While the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts attempt to transport you to another time and place, the Value Resorts look more cartoonish. They’re style is very divisive, with some Disney fans finding them garish clutter tacked onto low-rate motel buildings and other fans finding them to be fun and whimsical ways to experience a Disney hotel on the cheap. If you are in the former camp, you probably already know Value Resorts are not for you, and there’s little point to this list of rankings for you. Regardless of how you feel about the Value Resorts, the fact is that they have plenty of fans, and many people, especially small children, prefer this larger-than-life style to the more elaborate and nuanced design of the higher-tier hotels. (more…)