February 2015 at Walt Disney World

February is a great month to visit Walt Disney World. The weather is starting to improve, crowds remain low most of the month, hotels are offering discounts and off-season pricing, and it’s a great time to see the parks in their “normal” states. All of this makes February a pretty solid time to visit Walt Disney World.

While I stated that I’m not much of a fan of January at Walt Disney World, February is totally different. The big thing for me is that it lacks that holiday hangover–that awkward time in mid-January when you’re “over” Christmas and there isn’t any seasonal entertainment, but the decorations are still oddly up and Christmas music is still playing. I’m a huge fan of Christmas, but I don’t enjoy seeing its remnants in the middle of January. Then, it’s just sort of like the Christmas tree in your house that you wish weren’t there, but you’re too lazy to take down. Additionally, February has better weather than January and pretty similar crowds.

Speaking of crowds, February really is a tale of two months. The first half of the month and last half of the month are both pretty slow, with low to moderate crowds most days. Then there’s President’s Day week. For most people, President’s Day isn’t a weeklong holiday, but in terms of crowds at Walt Disney World, it absolutely is. A lot of people visit for the long weekend, with some staying the rest of the week, but that’s not the only reason it’s busy. At the end of this week, it’s the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. With the President’s Day holiday and the Princess Half Marathon effectively “bookending” the week, the crowds are really bad throughout the entire week, and it’s actually now one of the busier weeks of the year.

You can really see the difference in crowds reflected in the Because of this, expect February Walt Disney World Park Hours. On days that aren’t going to be all that busy, the Magic Kingdom closes at 9 pm or 10 pm. On days that are going to be busy, you’ll see midnight and even 1 am closings for the Magic Kingdom. For those wondering about crowds for any particular day (any day of the year, not just February) park hours are a pretty good proxy for crowds. Walt Disney World bases its operating hours on its crowd level forecasts (and it’s pretty good at forecasting crowds based on hotel bookings and historical data), and shorter hours mean lower anticipated crowds, whereas later operating hours mean higher crowds. For more tips on what times of year might be good for visiting, check out our When To Visit Walt Disney World post for the best and worst months of the year.

Let’s take a look at the other upsides and downsides to visiting Walt Disney World in February… (more…)

Landscape of Flavors Review

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Landscape of Flavors is the counter service food court at Art of Animation Resort in Walt Disney World. This review covers the lunch/dinner menus, and includes photos from a few of our meals at the restaurant. Art of Animation participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit counter service meal, and unlike most counter service restaurants, it does accept the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount! It is an okay use of a counter service credit, but doesn’t make our List of the Best Counter Service Restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan since it doesn’t offer tremendous bang for your credit.

Landscape of Flavors is an interesting restaurant in the “landscape” of Walt Disney World dining. When it first opened a few years ago, it was lauded, with tremendous praise heaped on it for raising the bar of “food court” dining at Walt Disney World, particularly at the Value Resorts, where other food courts (particularly at the All Stars) served food so suspect that it might require an asterisk next to food. Landscape of Flavors not only offered variety and customizability, but also some unique options on par with things you might find at The Mara or Pepper Market.

At the time, and at a Value Resort, this was fairly unprecedented. Pop Century across the bridge had a decent food court, but Landscape of Flavors rivaled the best counter service options (or even exceeded) at Deluxe Resorts. Since its opening, the other Value Resorts have been in the process of re-doing their food courts and expanding the menus, thus closing the gap a bit between Landscape of Flavors and “the rest” of the Value Resorts. Last year, we actually had a good meal at the End Zone Food Court at All Star Sports. ALL STAR SPORTS! A few years ago, if dared to eat at All Star Sports or like a sidewalk in Tomorrowland, I might have chosen the latter.

Suffice to say, Value Resort food quality is improving across the board, with Landscape of Flavors being the first and best example of the improvement. Many of these food courts are still not on par with nicer resorts at Walt Disney World, but it’s good to see improvement rather than regression.

As for our meals at Landscape of Flavors? Let’s dig in… (more…)

Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots

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This post highlights the best viewing spots for the IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Here we will provide some general tips about the best locations, and point out the best of these on a map of World Showcase. I’ve watched and photographed IllumiNations way too many times (actually, you can never see IllumiNations too many times–it’s by far the best nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World) and can say that not all viewing spots for Illuminations were created equally.

Unfortunately, unlike my Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Spots post which contained an easy to follow map with color coded areas of good, bad, and okay spots from which to watch Wishes!, the same really isn’t possible for Epcot. This is because within a span of 10 feet, you might have both an awesome and awful viewing spot, due to trees, food carts, or other obstructions.

Instead of a color-coded map that won’t really be helpful, for this post I’m going to instead highlight my 5 favorite spots, along with some alternatives to those spots, and general discussions about choosing a spot for watching IllumiNations. Choosing a prime location for IllumiNations is actually easier said than done, as certain variables, such as the direction of the wind and where there might be IllumiNations dessert parties or private events that eliminate potential viewings areas as options for regular park guests change often.

Before choosing a spot for IllumiNations on a particular day, determine which way the wind is blowing. There are all sorts of scientific ways for doing this (and there’s probably an app for it), but it should be as simple feeling the wind blow on you. If it’s intense enough that you can feel the wind, you will want to avoid anywhere that will be down-wind of the center of the fireworks in the middle of World Showcase Lagoon. The show can produce a lot of smoke, and if you’re down-wind of that, you may not see much of the second half of the show. Most nights it’s not windy enough for this to be a problem, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

The first thing you should do when arriving at any potential viewing spot is to survey the area above and around you to see if there are any torches, light poles, or trees blocking your view of the Lagoon. If so, and you still have the time to find a different spot, do so.

If you didn't blink for 103 seconds, this is what Illuminations would look like to you. I don't recommend not blinking for 103 seconds. This fireworks photo was shot with a neutral density filter.More on neutral density filters: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/neutral-density-filter-reviews-buying-guide/

Along the same lines, but easier said than done, look towards the middle of World Showcase Lagoon to determine whether you can see to the middle, or if your view is blocked by a little island of trees. There are a couple of these that can impact views of the Earth Globe barge during the show.

The good news is that, obstructions and weather aside, since IllumiNations takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon, if you pick a spot that can see the center of the Lagoon, you will be able to see IllumiNations. It isn’t like Wishes in this regard, as some spots that have good views of Cinderella Castle actually are poor views of the fireworks due to perspective distortion. There’s no perspective distortion here. The bad news is that IllumiNations doesn’t just take place high in the air…it also has low-level fireworks and a globe display, meaning you really will want a “front row” spot along the rails around World Showcase Lagoon.

That pretty much covers the basics, now let’s take a look at my favorite specific spots… (more…)

Guide to FastPass+ at Disney World

This guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World is a primer for using the new ride reservation system, the best FastPass+ selection, and tips on what to get for minimizing wait times, and a whole host of other things. As FastPass+ has been available in its current form for over a year now, this guide has been a long time in the making, but now that the dust has finally settled, so to speak, and FastPass+ and the rest of MyMagic+ (see our MyMagic+ FAQ post to fully understand this large Walt Disney World vacation planning program) is out of test-mode and is finished with its early growing pains, we felt it was time to finally offer a detailed guide for using FastPass+ at Walt Disney World.

To start, a bit of background is probably in order. FastPass+ is the second generation of FastPass at Walt Disney World, with paper FastPass ride reservations (or a virtual queueing system, whatever you want to call it) first came on the scene in the late 1990s for popular attractions. The idea then was to get people out of lines and allow them to do other things while waiting for their ride reservation window (read: spending money). The original FastPass system had its strengths and weaknesses, all of which were argued ad nauseum in various corners of the internet, but it undeniably worked to the advantage of uber Disney fans who figured out various ways to leverage the system, obtaining stashes of FastPasses over the course of the day and efficiently touring the parks.

There was hence some trepidation about FastPass+ when it first went into test mode and was officially rolled out in early 2014, as those who had spent years mastering the old system would have to learn a new system, and discover ways to use it to their advantage. To add to the ire of these guests, the initial roll-out was rocky (actually, rocky would be an understatement), with many Disney fans considering FastPass+ and the whole MyMagic+ endeavor to be one of Walt Disney World’s greatest, and costliest, blunders. The purpose of this post isn’t to debate the merits of this billion-dollar plus Disney project or discuss its sordid history. Suffice to say, FastPass+ had a really rough start.

Fortunately for you (and anyone willing to expend a little effort planning), the FastPass+ system now operates smoothly for the most part, and can leveraged by guests who understand it much like the previous system could. While FastPass+ can’t be taken advantage of to the same degree as regular paper FastPass, guests who are “in the know” can still make it work to their advantage. All it takes is a little patience and spending the time to understand how FastPass+ works.

While we can’t grant you patience, we will help you understand the system in this post… (more…)

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2015 Guide

The 2015 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs March 4 to May 17, 2015 at Walt Disney World. This guide covers our tips & tricks for experiencing the highlights of the Flower & Garden Festival, as well as what to expect from the new for 2015 offerings. Actually, as of right now, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot has changed for 2015. The “Outdoor Kitchen” food kiosks return for 2015, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more added, making this like a mini Food & Wine Festival.

Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to enjoy expert-designed flower and garden displays, Disney character topiaries, the “Garden Rocks” live music concert series (formerly Flower Power concert series), special programs and seminars by HGTV (the main sponsor), DIY, and Epcot expert gardeners. Most of the offerings for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are included with theme park admission to Epcot.

Because most of the event is basically a “plussing” of Epcot at no additional charge, we highly recommend it. Whether you’re a first time guest or a seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World, visiting during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival is a great idea. Epcot is at its most beautiful during Flower & Garden Festival. (Disney often uses the #EpcotInSpring and #EpcotInBloom hashtags to promote the beauty of Flower & Garden Festival, and hashtags never lie! ;) ) Really, though, the park smells and looks wonderful, and there are a lot of unique offerings, displays, and photographic opportunities.

While Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite time to visit Epcot, the prices have skyrocketed, as have the crowds of drunks. Flower & Garden is a nice time to visit for lower crowds, and you can still enjoy some of the snacking (albeit to a lesser degree) without the headache of the crowds and lines. In general, many of these spring dates of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are great times to visit Walt Disney World (consult that guide to avoid the busy weeks).

Thinking a visit to Flower & Garden Festival might be for you? Then keep reading this guide for our ins and outs, and top picks for the festival!