EPCOT’s 35th Birthday – Here we come!

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This Sunday, one of our favorite parks – EPCOT – is turning the ripe age of 35 and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be there for it. Per usual, it will be a whirlwind weekend trip with most of our time spent at the birthday park as well as doing some classics in other parks.

On Saturday evening, we will be attending one of our favorite podcast’s events – RetroWDW Presents: Looking Back at Tomorrow. What’s really cool is it is taking place in the Living Seas Salon that we got a sneak peek of back in June on our UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour. Little did we know then we’d actually be attending an event there rather soon. We are huge original EPCOT Center fans and we can’t wait to be stuck in a room with other like-minded individuals!

We are also planning on catching the ceremony at 10:01 am on Sunday (EPCOT’s actual birthday) at the fountain as well as checking out some merchandise that will only be sold that day. They will be handing out special park guides to commemorate the day as well.

In just over 24 hours Emily will be arriving back at Port Orleans Riverside with Mama Darling and Molly will be arriving in just over 48 hours. But who’s counting? Wait…we always are!

 

 

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Beyond Neverland 3.0 – Shopping at a Disney Outlet Store

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Something we have always been intrigued by are the Disney Outlet stores. Called Disney Character Warehouse, there are two of these stores in the Orlando area. The larger of the two is at the Orlando Premium Outlets and is only a few miles away from Walt Disney World property. These outlets are official Disney stores and carry discontinued park merchandise at deeply discounted prices. This is something we had always wanted to do, but we could never justify leaving WDW while we were visiting the resort. There is something about leaving Disney property and going back into the “real world” that can be a little jarring. Since we weren’t going to parks on this trip, we decided to give it a shot.

From our resort at Port Orleans Riverside, it was about 6 miles away and it took about 20 minutes to get there. Once we arrived at the outlets, we could tell it was really busy because we had to park near the top of the parking garage. The store map had tiny print, so it was hard to navigate, but we managed to stumble upon where we wanted to go.

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The store indeed was large, and had a wide selection of items. Molly saw the stack of parade cushions, normally 14.95 on sale for 1.99, and picked up a bunch for her classroom.

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Emily found a cute princess tree that she had been spying last year at Christmas for $7.95 (regular price $30), but upon further inspection she discovered it was really poor quality.

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There were lots of holiday merchandise, and items from old events such as the Flower and Garden festival that just ended. The majority of the items were priced to sell, such as a whole rack of $5 tee shirts. There was a wide variety of items, and there probably is something for everyone in this store.

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However, the store was EXTREMELY crowded. It was hard to move and negotiate our way around the store. We moved quickly through the store, looking for anything of interest, but this was not leisurely browsing. The line for the registers was very long, but we give the cast members credit, because the line did move quickly (the outlet is staffed by official Disney cast members)

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The line stretched towards the back of the store!

 

In the end, we scored some cool merchandise, including Disneyland 60th lanyards.

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All of these items totaled $24. We did ask one of the cast members if the crowds we experienced were normal, and she said this was more crowded than usual. It would probably be a much better experience if we went back on a less crowded day, but this is the kind of thing we did once and probably won’t do again. The best part about the Character Warehouse was its proximity to a Starbucks across the way, because we needed some nourishment after that adventure. As we drove “home” in a massive thunderstorm, we laughed and decided we weren’t leaving Disney property again on that trip!

Beyond Neverland 3.0

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From our first Beyond Neverland trip!

 

We can’t believe it’s already time for our 3rd installment of Beyond Neverland !

That is right, it is time for our annual summer trip without setting foot in any park. As usual we have a few things planned, but also will play things by (Mickey) ear. We leave Friday and will be staying at Port Orleans Riverside for 2 nights. We haven’t stayed at this resort for a few years, so it will be be nice to revisit the resort and take in the calming atmosphere.

Also planned are renting a pontoon boat from Ft. Wilderness and checking out one of the nearby outlet stores for Disney merchandise (neither of which we have done before). Who knows, maybe we will finally get in a round of mini golf! Our running joke is we always plan mini golf on these trips, but always run out of time. This year, Molly has a pass that isn’t blocked out, so will she really spend the whole weekend without setting foot in a park? Stay tuned for recaps of our adventures to come!!!

Beyond Neverland : Relaxing in the Tiki Room?

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One of the things we rarely have time to do on “normal” trips to Disney is tour the resort hotels extensively. After our ride on the Highway in the Sky we decided to transfer monorails to the resort loop and ride on over to one of our favorite hotels on property – Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. There’s something about departing the monorail at the Polynesian and smelling the scent when you walk into the hotel lobby that brings back so many memories. We don’t know what it is, but we hope it never goes away.

 

They recently refurbished the lobby, and while it’s not quite as good as it used to be, it still captures the essence of being whisked away to the Hawaiian Islands.

 

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Old Lobby

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New Lobby

It is also interesting to note that the time was around 3:15pm and people were already lined up for ‘dinner’ at ‘Ohana that begins at 3:30pm. After making our way downstairs and out towards the pool and beach, we looped around and came back in through a side door that just happened to be right by Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar – a somewhat new establishment at the Poly that opened in 2015, which is based on Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. We knew they only take guests on a first-come first-served basis and the opening time was just 15 minutes away, so we figured why not try it? We placed  our name on a wait list and shortly after opening we were buzzed and were told to select a seat.

At first glance Trader Sam’s really looks like the famous Enchanted Tiki Room located in the Magic Kingdom. It’s a dark room with lots of wood accents and a thatched ceiling, and “windows” provide a view of a tropical landscape.The cozy bar has a limited capacity of 51, and the name of the bar and many of its details are related to the Jungle Cruise. We wish they would give tours of the room outside of operating hours, because there are hundreds of details to examine. The menu offers some Polynesian themed appetizers and the cocktail menu has drinks such as Polynesian Pearl, Shrunken Zombie Head, and Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum, many of which are served in souvenir glasses. While we enjoyed drinks that did not come in souvenir glasses, some people that we met had the Nautilus, and the souvenir glass was pretty impressive!

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Another reason this bar is so unique is the cast members. The bartenders and servers are really friendly and wacky, and when certain drinks are ordered it sets off a chain reaction of events that happen. Here’s a video of some of the antics…

 

It was really cool to kick back in our comfy chairs and relax for as long as we wanted. Even though the bar was tiny, there was no pressure to leave. The AC was very nice considering the heat index was over 100 that day as well. What we enjoy most about our “Beyond Neverland” trips is that we don’t have to plan or stick to a schedule. We just happened to walk by Trader Sam’s right before it opened and decided, why not, let’s check it out! We also met some locals who were doing the same thing as us….riding the resort loop and checking out the different resorts and not going to the parks. We definitely recommend Trader Sam’s, and if you don’t want to have a long wait, then be sure to get there before it opens at 4pm.

Beyond Neverland-Watching Illuminations Outside of Epcot

Our recent trip to WDW included a non-park “Beyond Neverland” day.  We had heard that you could see part of Epcot’s Illuminations, if you stood on the bridge that connects the Boardwalk Resort to the International Gateway, the back entrance to Epcot in World Showcase.  That evening, after Mama Darling and Emily returned from Morimoto Asia we all took a leisurely stroll around the Epcot resorts.  Around 9:00, we made our way to the aforementioned bridge and noticed a huge crowd!  We weren’t expecting to see much, as a lot of Illuminations is centered around lower level pyrotechnics and lasers, but we could see all the fireworks that shoot off into the air.  We also could hear the music coming from Epcot, which was an unexpected surprise.

Here’s a brief video of our view:

We did notice that because the higher fireworks go off and then there is a lull in the action (when the lower level parts are happening) about half of the people left the area before the grand finale.  So they missed the best part of the show! Now this isn’t something we would go out of our way to do, like viewing Wishes from outside of the Magic Kingdom (where you can see and hear the whole show), but since we were staying in the area it was fun to experience.  The Boardwalk area in general is a nice place to explore in the evening.  As a mini bonus, we could see the higher fireworks from Fantasmic while we were in our room at the Dolphin. Maybe someday we’ll splurge for one of the Epcot view rooms on the upper level of the Dolphin and enjoy Illuminations from our balcony. We can dream, right?

To Book or Not to Book?

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This year I don’t have any plans for the upcoming holidays.  My husband and I will celebrate Thanksgiving together and then he is traveling north to see family for Christmas.  I will stay in Florida where it’s warm and will work, only being off Christmas day.  I have trips planned for the weekend of December 11th for the festive decorations, etc. and at the end of January to celebrate Mama Darling’s birthday.  The past couple of weeks I have been toying with booking a trip in between the two planned ones right after the New Year from January 1st through the 3rd.  I found a decent rate at the Dolphin,  however for some reason I’m not biting the bullet.  Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:

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A Vacation Tip When Plans Change

A little over month ago, I had posted the excitement for an upcoming trip – only to have to make an unfortunate last minute cancellation due to Molly’s illness.  It was past the 5 day window of being able to cancel without penalty so I wasn’t sure if I should go by myself or not.  Luckily, I knew from past experience I could reschedule and not lose any money.

A Vacation Tip When Plans Change:

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