Disney’s Hollywood Studios Counter Service Restaurants Rankings

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This post ranks the best quick service restaurants in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, a park with notoriously bad counter service options. In fact, “best” here might be a bit of a misnomer, as it could be more of a question of which restaurants are the “least worst.” Rankings are based upon a restaurant’s overall appeal, with factors such as cuisine quality, theme, uniqueness, and menu variety taken into account.

While I think Disney’s Hollywood Studios is actually underrated when it comes to table service dining, the same cannot be said for its counter service options. It doesn’t have a single restaurant on our Top 10 Counter Service Walt Disney World Dining list, and accordingly is the only Walt Disney World theme park not represented. Now, the counter service options at Disney’s Hollywood Studios aren’t awful, there’s just no real draw or anything that leaves a lasting impression. If your budget allows, I highly recommend doing table service meals here; you’ll certainly have time given the lack of attractions currently operating in the Studios.

Note that these rankings focus only on the major counter service spots at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so not every outdoor vending cart and little location makes the list. We’ve dined at all of these spots, but have yet to review most of them…largely because there’s little to say. Our meals at most of these spots have been out of necessity when we couldn’t get into 50’s Prime Time Cafe or Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, and we simply had to eat somewhere.

Let’s get started with the Disney’s Hollywood Studios counter service rankings… (more…)

Disney Vacation Club Buying Guide

If you travel to Walt Disney World or Disneyland and are able to see or hear, you probably are familiar with Disney’s “Best” Kept Secret: Disney Vacation Club (or “DVC” as the cool kids call it). Disney Vacation Club prices are higher than ever in 2015, with the new Polynesian Bungalows being particular expensive both in terms of dollars and points, making many wonder whether buying into Disney Vacation Club is actually a good idea for their families. Maybe you’ve recently taken a Disney Vacation Club tour or heard a sales pitch and are now wondering if it’s actually as good as that emotional pitch made it sound.

If you’ve considered purchasing Disney Vacation Club, one of the biggest considerations, no doubt, is whether it makes good economic sense. Unfortunately, as with almost everything in life there is no definitive answer to this question that fits everyone. From a purely economic perspective, Disney Vacation Club will not make sense for a lot of people. However, it’s worth reading on to see if it makes financial sense for you, or if there are other compelling reasons for you to make the purchase.

As mentioned above, if your main reason for purchasing an interest in Disney Vacation Club is to save money, whether it’s a good deal for you depends of your party size and resort tier preference. Contrary to Disney’s claim that Disney Vacation Club will save you “70% off” of future resort stays, this is not actually the case. If this were true, do you really think Disney would actually be offering the program–and that it would be wildly profitable for the company? Sure, Disney might take a bit of a hit to guarantee that you will be a loyal customer for years to come, but 70% off?! As we all learned in grade school, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Disney’s 70% savings number assumes things that aren’t realistic to reality, such as paying rack rate in the most expensive Disney hotels and no return on investment for the (unfinanced) money invested in Disney Vacation Club. Even assuming these things, I’m still not quite sure how Disney arrives at its 70% off number, especially in 2015 when DVC direct prices are substantially more than they were just a few years ago. I think it might be equal parts magic and advertising puffery, but I’m not entirely sure.

It’s also worth noting that Disney Vacation Club is a pre-paid vacation plan, which differs slightly from the traditional definition of a timeshare. In the strictest sense, Disney Vacation Club can be viewed as an asset, but not a tangible one. This is an important distinction to some people, but it doesn’t matter to a lot of people.

With that said, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of buying into Disney Vacation Club, and what you should think about before you decide whether to pull the trigger… (more…)

Drinking Around the World Showcase at Epcot

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This post is a guide to Drinking Around the World in Epcot’s World Showcase at Walt Disney World, with our picks for the best beers, wine, and mixed drinks. There’s also plenty of strategy for conquering this worldly task without climbing up the side of Mexico pavilion and holding up a Duffy plush Lion King style. We originally wrote this post a couple of years ago, and have now updated it for 2015 with new ideas and drink recommendations.

Since most of us probably won’t be able to haphazardly spend thousands of dollars to fly to Paris at a moment’s notice for some artisan cheeses or brave a winter in Canada just for some fine brews anytime soon, Epcot’s World Showcase offers us the next best option: sampling many alcoholic beverages and decadent desserts of the world in authentic-looking environments all while on vacation at Walt Disney World. Of course, whose bucket list doesn’t also include having a drink in 10 different countries in a single day? No? Well, now you can add it to your list and cross it off. 

The premise is simple: start out at one end of World Showcase, and continue through the countries, sampling a drink and/or dessert in each country. As there are 11 countries in the World Showcase, this is easier said than done. It’s even more difficult during Food & Wine Festival, when Epcot adds lots of kiosks that serve additional drinks. If you’re looking to complete this drinking event then, check out our Guide to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival for additional tips & info. With even more drinking options, expect Drinking Around the World during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival to be a lot of fun…albeit perhaps not for your liver.

First, we will start with our tips and strategies for Drinking Around the World Showcase, generally, followed by specific drink recommendations…. (more…)

Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort Review

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The Wyndham is a hotel in Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney Area. This review covers my recent stay here, featuring photos of rooms and hotel amenities at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort. The Wyndham is an interesting hotel due to its…relative uninterestingness. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, and it probably is, but in just about every regard, the Wyndham is fairly standard. Nothing over the top, nothing really bad, nothing really great. Pretty much a utilitarian hotel that gets the job done in every regard, but likewise fails to wow. Depending upon your perspective, this might be its biggest strength or greatest weakness.

From the generic tower structure of the hotel to the low-to-average prices to the pedestrian but serviceable rooms and beyond, Wyndham Lake Buena Vista doesn’t disappoint. Nor does it exceed any expectations. It’s not a diamond in the rough, it’s just a predictable, solid hotel.

Amenities at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista include a lot of the standard hotel stuff, like a fitness center, tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, meeting spaces, restaurants (including a 24-hour cafe), video arcade, car rental, and Disney gift shop. Then there’s the less-standard stuff: a nice pool with water play area for kids, Disney character dining, and a “Director of Fun” for kids’ activities.

Let’s take a look at all of this, plus the rooms and pros and cons of the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista… (more…)

Extra Magic Hours: Pros & Cons

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Extra Magic Hours at Walt Disney World are extended park hours available to Disney resort-hotel guests. On certain days of the week, guests can enter a Walt Disney World park one hour before it opens to the general public, or stay in a park two hours later than normal operating hours. This post covers the pros and con of Extra Magic Hours, and how to best take advantage of them if they work in your favor, or whether you should avoid them entirely.

I thought it would be worth addressing Extra Magic Hours (EMH) because there recently have been a few reader questions about them, and because my advice is a bit contrary to what I’ve commonly heard elsewhere. Before we get to that, let’s start with a little background. Extra Magic Hours are available, as mentioned, to all guests of Disney resort-hotels. If you’re staying at a hotel with “Disney’s…” as the first word in the title, you’re eligible. Additionally, there are some “official unofficial” hotels that also receive the perk, and those are: the Swan & Dolphin, Shades of Green, and the Hilton Orlando (in the Downtown Disney area). Guests at any of these hotels are eligible for Extra Magic Hours at no additional cost.

You can see which park has Extra Magic Hours on any given day by looking at the daily Walt Disney World Calendar, so you can plan to be in–or to avoid–parks having Extra Magic Hours while planning your itinerary.  Note that not every attraction is open during Extra Magic Hours. There are few options in the morning than the evening, but most headliners are open during both, with the notable exception being Magic Kingdom Morning EMH, where basically just Fantasyland and Tomorrowland are open.

Guests gain entry to the park during Morning Extra Magic Hours an hour before the general public by scanning their MagicBand (which shows the resort identification) or showing a valid room key. Since Evening Extra Magic Hours begin immediately after the end of the normal operating day with no “hard” closure and reopening in between, to gain access to attractions, guests scan MagicBands or show room keys. If you’re the clever type who wants more park time to enjoy the ambiance but you aren’t eligible for Evening Extra Magic Hours, you can just wander around. No one will stop you unless you try to go on an attraction.

If you’re not staying on-site, you can’t take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, and your best bet will probably just be to skip the park with Extra Magic Hours, and instead choose the park that stays open latest for the general public.

Alright, now let’s take a look at some Extra Magic Hours strategy for those who are staying on-site… (more…)