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 – Unwinding at Port Orleans Riverside

Port Orleans entrance

 

When we plan our Beyond Neverland trips, which are trips in which we don’t go to the parks, we try to always stay at least at the moderate level. These resorts have more offerings and since we normally are spending more time there than a regular park trip visit, we don’t hesitate the splurge. We had ideas in mind such as the Ft. Wilderness Cabins and Animal Kingdom Lodge, but when we saw a summer rate for Riverside pop up in our search, we couldn’t pass it up.

We love the Port Orleans Resorts! They are so peaceful and laid back, and there’s something so calming about staying on the Sassagoula River.

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While French Quarter’s theme is New Orleans, Riverside is themed in the heart of rural Louisiana’s southern charm. Both resorts are very close to each other, so we were able to easily walk back and forth in between, as our section was the closest to French Quarter. Upon arrival, we noticed we were upgraded to a “Royal” room, which is one of Princess Tiana’s special rooms in the Mansions section. We particularly enjoyed the “fireworks” above our beds.

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Royal Room

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Our Mansion building

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View from our room

Emily especially enjoyed running around the property one morning, and happily saw there were plenty of other runners out there with the same idea in mind. Although Riverside has a bunch of nice pools, we never made it due to the weather, but it didn’t damper our time. The ease of getting to and from Disney Springs on the Sassagoula Steamboat was the icing on the cake. It’s a relaxing 15 minute ride from the resort to Disney Springs.

Port Orleans Riverside, Sassagoula Steamboat Company Main Buildi

When it comes to the moderate resorts, our favorites are by far Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter! The theming is impeccable, and you really feel like you are getting away from it all!

UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour at Epcot

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We recently took the UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour at Epcot. While we had taken a couple of tours at Disneyland (which we loved), this was our first tour at Walt Disney World. It was a fun and informative look at one of our favorite theme parks. We are huge fans of Epcot of the ’80s, so we were looking for any glimpses into the past that we could find.

Our tour guide, Julie, was wonderful, and shared lots of knowledge with us. She had worked at Epcot for 9 years and operated many of the attractions, so she had a lot of interesting stories to share. What’s nice about the tours at Disney is that you wear an earpiece and the tour guide has a microphone, so you can hear everything she is saying as you walk around. Our group had 14 people in it, and everyone was very friendly and fun. The tour started off in the former Innoventions West Building with a discussion about Disney history. We knew a majority of the information our tour guide was sharing, but it always is fun to hear the stories about Walt and the park’s creation. We got labeled the “Disnerds” by Julie, because most times when she asked a question we knew the answer.

We got to see many backstage areas, which we were not allowed to photograph. We went into a lounge at Mission Space where anyone who is an employee of the sponsor (HP) can go if they show their employee ID.  It’s this really nice lounge above the ride queue with comfy chairs and couches, free drinks and snacks etc. We also learned that every VIP lounge has its own VIP entrance to the rides. We rode Spaceship Earth using the VIP entrance, so we got to board the ride where people get off! We also had a chance to ride Test Track using the VIP entrance as well.

The windows here from the Spaceship Earth Lounge, which overlooks the fountain of nations plaza:

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We got to visit this AWESOME space at the Living Seas which was formerly a sponsor pavilion. Now that it’s not sponsored, it’s used for weddings and other events. It was huge and gorgeous, with a definite ’80s vibe and was next to the aquarium above the Coral Reef restaurant. We also got to see some of the retro Living Seas icons. Fun fact: the aquarium is large enough to fit Spaceship Earth inside.

 

 

We also got to walk backstage behind Soarin’ and Journey Into Imagination, and we saw the area where they clean ALL the 3D glasses for the whole resort! It was like a HUGE dishwasher type machine. There is a special place for the truck to park too that gets them from all the different parks and brings them there. We couldn’t take pictures, but it was funny to see. We had to wear safety glasses inside, even though we weren’t close to anything dangerous!

We went underneath the outside area where Test Track goes around and then we walked over behind where the old Odyssey restaurant is and there’s a huge building for cast members. This is the central location for cast members. The most impressive part we got to see was the costuming area. We walked through this massive space that had racks of the costumes that cast members wear at Epcot!!! It was so interesting. They were all lined up perfectly and they explained how you just go in, grab what you need, scan everything to check out, and you walk out. You bring everything back to be laundered, or you can check 5 costumes out at a time and launder them yourself. We saw a bunch of other cool things in this building like the cosmetology and wig area, random retro props, the employee cafe, and murals painted by each department at Epcot.

It’s also interesting to note that in this backstage area that there is a bus loop that goes around the whole perimeter. so if you park back by the costume place but work in Canada for example, you just board the bus and it brings you to that area. There truly is a whole other world going on backstage! 

Here are a few of our favorite “fun facts” that we learned on the tour:

There are 7 different song sequences for Fountain of Nations.

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This animatronic in Spaceship Earth was made from the same mold as the father in Carousel of Progress. Disney often reuses animatronic molds for other characters.

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The landscape design in Future World West is different from Future World East. When you walk into Epcot, you are heading south, so Future World West pavilions are to your right (Imagination, the Land, and the Seas) and represent the “soft sciences”. The walkways and planters are more flowy and curved to represent the more free flowing sciences.

 

Future World East, which is to your left upon entering (Energy, Test Track, Mission Space), is designed with more angular edges to represent the “hard sciences” which focus more on engineering and math.

 

 

We were shown where the “green tile” is on the mural of Living with the Land. We had known the story that the artist made the murals that decorate each side of the entrance to the Land pavilion almost exactly the same except for one tile that doesn’t match the other side, but never had found it. Here it is!

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We walked over 4 miles on our 4 hour tour, which ended up lasting 5 hours. We were tired at the end of it and ready for an iced coffee break. As with all tours you take at Disney Parks, we were presented with a special pin to commemorate our tour.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and are looking forward to taking the World Showcase DestiNations Discovered tour next!

An Empty Epcot – for 15 Minutes

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Last Friday, as a belated Mother’s Day gift, we treated Mama Darling to a tour we had all been wanting to do for months now – The UnDISCOVERed Future World. We had an amazing time, and as with all tours we have taken with Disney, our guide was phenomenal. For anyone with a love of Epcot and the rich history behind it, we highly recommend this tour. It also ended up being 5 hours (instead of 4 that the site indicates) and we got to see a lot of cool backstage areas that we did not even know existed. Our fellow tour group mates were wonderful as well and our group of 3 was given the title “Disnerds” because we knew all the answers to the questions the tour guide would ask about the history of Epcot. What can we say – we know our stuff!

The main reason behind this post though is to showcase something we had never experienced before at Epcot. You see, when you are booked for an early morning tour or dining experience before the park opens, you get to enter before everyone else. This isn’t the same as Extra Magic Hours, because once you walk through the ticket kiosk – you literally are the only ones in the park. It was surreal and so much fun! We only wish it would have lasted longer than 15 minutes, but we will take what we can get. Check out our video and pictures below that show just how neat it was to be in an empty Epcot…for 15 minutes!

***Side note: Our tour began at 8:30 and when we arrived inside the park around 8:15 to check in our whole group was already there, so we think we could have gotten in even earlier for more photo opportunities and running around (literally). We will definitely keep this in mind for future tours we plan to take.

 

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Our Spoiler Free Review of Pandora: The World of Avatar

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We just got back from experiencing Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We tried really hard to avoid spoilers beforehand, pretty much avoiding Disney related social media once all the Passholder previews started, because we wanted to be surprised. So, this article won’t have many pictures in case you are just like us! Also, now having looked at pictures and videos of the land since having visited, nothing comes close to capturing what it’s really like to be in Pandora. We were a little worried that crowds might be an issue, as there were long waits even just to get into the land when it opened Memorial Day weekend, but walking around the land itself was easy and crowds were not an issue. The attractions did have 1-2 hour waits, but we used fast passes which made it easy to get on the attractions.

We were among the many who questioned this land when it was announced six years ago. Why would Disney be making a land out of a James Cameron film? It didn’t quite make sense. But after seeing some of the presentations at the recent D23 Event, we started understanding the reasoning and getting really excited for this land.

In short, this land is spectacular and fits perfectly within the overall theme of Animal Kingdom. The transition between the areas adjacent to Pandora is perfect. Walking along the pathways to Pandora, you can’t see into it. You are surrounded by greenery and start hearing animal sounds. When you are in Pandora, you feel like you are in another world, and cannot see out into any of the other areas of Animal Kingdom. This is an immersive environment to take in slowly; it is a feast for the senses. This land was described as having all the beauty of nature on Earth, but better. The integration of real flora and fauna along with the imaginative species of Pandora is seamless. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not real. No matter where you are and which direction you look, the views are layered with all sorts of beautiful and interesting scenery. Water features are everywhere you look: giant waterfalls cascading off the floating mountains, streams and smaller water features are found throughout the land. The sound of water is extremely relaxing. At times we would have never guessed we were at one of the largest theme parks in the world. The land isn’t massive, but you could spend hours just exploring and taking it all in. There are so many details we know that we missed, as this land is rich with story, but it just gets you excited to go back and explore.

Our first visit was during the daytime, and everywhere we looked we found ourselves saying, “this is going to be amazing at night.” As Pandora transitions to the bioluminescent forest at night, everything is aglow. The effects are amazing. Everything from the pathways up to the floating mountains is illuminated in various ways. Once we experienced Pandora at night, we went back the next day and felt a greater appreciation for the beauty of it during the day. It definitely must be experienced both in daylight and at night.

Another striking feature of the land is that all along the pathways there is no background music. You just hear the audio of the various creatures of Pandora. And it changes during storms and at night. The soothing background music can be heard in the restrooms (the restrooms are quite wonderful in this new land) and in the gift shop and restaurant. Walt Disney World can be quite a stressful park with all the hustle and bustle, but Pandora is a place where you can relax.

We dined twice at the new quick-service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, for breakfast and dinner. Both meals were excellent and the Canteen has some really different dining options for the more adventurous palate.

Now, for the attractions. We rode both the Na’vi River Journey and Avatar: Flight of Passage twice with fast passes. We want to come back when there are shorter standby times to experience the regular queues, because they have a lot of interesting details that are missed when you use a fast pass. The views and scenery in the Flight of Passage queue are really neat because you ascend into the floating mountains. We had heard that the best way to describe Flight of Passage is it is like Soarin’ on steroids. How can that be? Well within seconds of the experience beginning, you realize it is just that! Sites, sounds, smells – it truly was a thrilling experience riding on the back of a banshee. The second time around we also were able to notice that the ride is actually just as high up off the ground as Soarin’ is. If you are up to it, feel free to look down and to the right and you’ll realize this. This is easily a new favorite attraction of ours and we can’t wait to ride again!

The Na’vi River Journey is a slow moving boat ride through the bioluminescent forest. One thing that was very important to Walt was that every inch of an attraction be themed, and this attraction lives up to that standard. It is more of a tour of the area rather than an attraction with a story, but that was just fine with us. It is relaxing and enjoyable.

There has always been a discussion within the Disney community as to whether or not Animal Kingdom is a full day or half day park. If you’re exclusively into thrill rides, this is probably still a half day park for you, but if you love exploring immersive environments this is now a multi-day park. On our trip, we spent three days at Animal Kingdom and still didn’t experience all the attractions. Because it had rained one of the evenings, the park at night was empty and we really enjoyed ourselves.

One last thing that we want to note is that you don’t have to have seen the movie Avatar to understand and/or appreciate the land. All in all we give Pandora: The World of Avatar an enthusiastic two thumbs up! Joe Rohde and his team of Imagineers really hit a home run with the design of this land, and we can’t wait to return!

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 2.0

It’s time for our Second Annual Beyond Neverland Trip! I can’t believe it’s already been one year since our first. It was a year ago on our trip that we decided to document our travels in this blog.


As usual, we plan on taking it easy, while trying at least one or two new activities. One thing we always say that we’re going to do is play mini golf at either Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens. It has become the running joke that we will play mini golf everytime we go, because we always seem to run out of time to play. This year we are staying at Carribbean Beach Resort – a hotel we haven’t stayed at in 26 years. I remember it vividly and look forward to rediscovering the offerings. I am so ready for
our little two night sisters’ getaway. At this time tomorrow, we will be there!