Disclosure: I attended the 2016 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. I paid for my and my family’s transportation and conference admission, which included lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, discounted park tickets, some meals and many special events This post contains affiliate links..
This is Part Two of our 2016 Walt Disney World trip report. Part One is here.
Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival
Last year was our first time experiencing Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival, and I can honestly tell you that it’s one of the most beautiful times to visit Walt Disney World. Epcot is filled with exceptionally beautiful flower displays and character topiaries everywhere you look. We ate everything from shrimp and red onion tacos to crepes to poutine.
Of course, all of the great foods Disney is known for are here too, and we loved “eating around the world,” buying little things here and there to sample as a family. Somehow on our last trip, we missed eating the famous croissant doughnut (you’ll find it just outside Canada) and it was as good as you might imagine. Look how big this thing is — we all broke pieces off. Yum!
RunDisney Fun Run
At last year’s conference, the bloggers were invited to a sunrise run. This year, our families were invited to join us. Only two other Cataldos were up for getting up during the 5:00 hour on a Saturday though… my boys! We met outside the World Showcase gates to Epcot, and the race began. We raced around the entire park, running the World Showcase loop, then returning to the gate where we entered. It’s about 1.2 miles.
I would estimate there were around 150 people running on this beautiful, cool morning. There’s something truly magical about being in a Disney park when it’s not open to the rest of the public. We ran at our own pace, and this meant that we often felt that we had the park to ourselves as most of the other runners were ahead of us. When no one else is around, you notice so many little details of the architecture and decor in each of the countries.
Being able to do this run with my boys was something I’ll remember for my entire life, and I believe they will too. It’s the kind of memory that epitomizes “Disney Magic” to me. The boys still talk about waking up in the dark and watching the sun rise over the lagoon as we ran around the World Showcase. By the time we finished the loop, the sun was up and we were ready to start our day.
Mother’s Day Brunch
On Mother’s Day, we attended a brunch at Epcot’s World ShowPlace hosted for the Disney Social Media Moms bloggers and their families. The theme was “Dream Big, Princess!” Prior to the brunch, our family members each decorated a square that became part of this banner.
(Can you guess which squares my family designed? I’ll bet you can.)
Dole Whip mania
If you’ve gone to Disney and never treated yourself to a Dole Whip, you’re truly missing one of the most delicious treats in the Kingdom. This pineapple sherbet-like frozen treat defies explanation — taste it once, and you’ll never forget its deliciousness.
“Oh, I’ve had pineapple sherbet before,” you think. Perhaps, but not like this — and probably not made from Dole pineapple juice. My friend Melissa Garcia from ConsumerQueen.com calls the Dole Whip “the most magical of Disney treats,” and who could top that description?
Officially, you can find Dole Whips in Disney at the Aloha Isle in the Magic Kingdom and at the Pineapple Lanai in the Polynesian resort. During Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival, the Pineapple Promenade’s got them too. There are other places to find them as well — at the Animal Kingdom, Tamu Tamu near the Festival of the Lion King theater has them (they’re called “Pineapple Whip” over there.)
How much do I love the Dole Whip? Enough to wear my Dole Whip love on my shirt (see above) for at least one day of my trip.
In fact, look what happened when we ran into Melissa and her husband strolling through Frontierland. Of course she’s smiling — she’s got a Dole Whip in her hand! Notice that I’m not smiling, because I don’t have one. This had to be rectified.
Oh, Dole Whip bliss. Honestly, I am afraid to tally up what we spent on Dole Whips on this trip, because during our week in Disney, it really didn’t seem like we were having Dole Whips every other day… but our photographs don’t lie. You can get a Dole Whip as a whip-only treat in a cup, or for about a dollar more, you can add pineapple juice for a Dole Whip float.
See that Enchanted Tiki Room cup on the end of the rail? I’m a sucker for all things tiki, so in addition to getting yet another Dole Whip float on this day, I carried mine around in an Enchanted Tiki cup.
My sister is taking her family on their first Disney trip later this summer, and I’m going to have to send my little nieces a Disney gift card so they can have their first Dole Whips at the Tiki Juice Bar in Disneyland. Yum, yum, yum.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
There’s a new interactive game at Walt Disney World this year: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. Disney villains have taken over the Magic Kingdom, and as you travel around the park, you can battle and defeat them. To play, stop by the firehouse on Main Street and pick up a free deck of playing cards and a map.
As you roam around, look for game portals on the ground and in the floors of buildings throughout the park (above photo.) Whenever you see a game portal marker, a keyhole is nearby. Find it and touch your MagicBand wristband to it to unlock an episode of Sorcerers.
This game definitely gets you to explore hidden corners and lesser-seen areas of the Magic Kingdom! Once you’ve unlocked an episode, get your game cards ready. A villain will appear, and you have to hold up the card you feel would best defeat the villain. In the photo above, the wanted poster in the center of the wall is actually a video screen, and once this portal is activated, the episode will begin.
Every Disney character has a power — Robin Hood shoots arrows, Simba roars, and Rafiki shakes his walking stick. Entire groups can play at once by holding up their cards together.
Here’s a video of what happened when my boys discovered a portal inside the fireplace of Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland:
You can pick up a new pack of cards each day at the Magic Kingdom fire barn, and the staff will also trade cards with you if they’ve got a card that you are looking for.
Where we stayed: Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and the Disney Springs Hilton
This trip was a bit of a déjà vu for us — the best kind of déjà vu, of course! If you read our 2015 Disney trip report, you know that we split our stay between Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and the Downtown Disney Hilton.
This year for 2016, the Disney Social Media Moms conference was again held at the Yacht Club resort. As part of the conference admission, attendees and families get seven-day Park Hopper passes, even though the conference is four days. Why let those remaining three days go to waste? Last year we extended our stay at the Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) Hilton as I had enough Hilton HHonors points for three free nights at the resort.
Faced with a nearly-identical situation this year, we decided to do the same thing…! As I’ve already written extensively about the amenities at both resorts, I’d encourage you to read the trip report and reviews I did of both resorts last year if you’re considering a stay at either the Yacht Club or the Disney Springs Hilton.
We absolutely love the Yacht Club — it, along with its sister resort, the Beach Club, share the largest pool on Disney property: Stormalong Bay. Stormalong Bay is a large water park-like pool area within the resort. It’s got a pirate-ship-themed waterslide, a lazy river, and the best part? It’s a sand-bottom pool.
With resorts like these, Disney makes it very, very hard to stay off property. However, we really enjoyed our stay at the Hilton last year, and again, it’s really tough to beat free nights anywhere in Disney. Another year’s worth of HHonors points netted us another three nights at the Disney Hilton this year too.
This Hilton is located across the street from the Downtown Disney area, now known as Disney Springs. The Hilton has a short path that leads to a road crossing. Cross the street, and you’re in Disney Springs. Last year, we had to wait at a stoplight (gasp!) and use a crosswalk (I know!) to reach the Downtown Disney area.
What a difference a year makes. None of this was here a year ago:
This path now leads to an over-the-road bridge that joins the Disney Springs resort area with the Disney Springs shopping and dining district. This staircase has both stairs and an elevator to reach the bridge level.
Once you’re at the top, simply cross the street and enter Disney Springs! The new bridge makes the street crossing safer for everyone, and it’s still just as convenient to get to the Springs.
Here’s the view from the Disney Springs end of the bridge — you can see the Hilton right behind the bridge staircase and elevator tower.
Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs
Speaking of Disney Springs, the entire area is being re-themed around a historic town that sprung up around a natural spring. As part of the Disney Social Media Moms event, bloggers were invited behind the construction walls to see the next phase of shops and restaurants opening at the Springs. While we weren’t allowed to take photos of the guest areas behind the wall, I can tell you some of the things we saw. The Town Center features a large porch with rocking chairs. Sit down and watch the world go by, and you’ll find a bonus on the porch — charging stations for your phones and devices!
Water is very important to the Disney Springs backstory, and the spring stream runs through the entire area. There are floating lanterns in some areas to light it at night. There’s also an Archimedes screw that allows guests to interact with the Springs water.
There are many new shops and restaurants in this area — if I had to guess, I would say that Disney Springs triples the size of what used to be the Downtown Disney area. There are two new parking structures in this area too. Leave it to Disney to improve on the rather utilitarian concept of the parking deck as well. At the conference, we learned that Disney wanted to make it as easy as possible to park, and they encouraged us to check out the parking deck if we had time.
I was curious, so I headed over after the behind-the-wall tour to check it out. Each level of the Disney Springs parking decks has a digital sign letting you know how many parking spots are available on each floor and in each row:
Head down an aisle, and look up. Spots that are open have a green light above them. Drive into a spot, and the light turns off. Genius!
Bonus: The parking deck is free to use.
If you’re visiting Disney Springs, here’s a tip for my frugally-minded readers too — on this trip, we discovered a great dining deal in the Springs. Bongo’s Cuban Cafe is located on the waterfront, but there’s a cafe window on the side of the restaurant where you can order counter-service sandwiches and soups. The food costs less at this outdoor counter than it does inside.
This Cuban sandwich is $10 and comes with a basket of fries. The sandwich sitting on the napkin is half of the sandwich. It’s huge! My husband and I each split a sandwich, and so did the kids. We sat at an outdoor table and had a great dinner together. (Beverages came from my always-with-us sport bottle of lemonade.) Dinner for four for $20 in Disney is not bad at all — and it was delicious.
New bus monitors
Here’s something that was new since last year’s trip: The Disney bus shelters have monitors to let you know when you can expect the next buses to the four Disney parks, Disney Springs, and the two Disney waterparks to arrive.
Speaking of buses, we were riding a bus one day, and our boys spotted this sign inside the bus. They asked what the third prohibited item is supposed to be. The first two are easy: No smoking, no eating or drinking, and no… air vents? No old-timey radios?
One of my sons speculated that the third item was supposed to be a front view of the bus itself, and it meant “no smoking, no hot dogs, no drinks, or no bus for you.” However, my other son pointed out that if that’s supposed to be a bus, it has no wheels, and there’s some sort of louvered grate covering the windshield.
Our bus driver overheard our conversation. He said he’s been driving a bus for Disney for 12 years, and even he has no idea what the third icon is supposed to represent. He added, “However, if I saw someone trying to bring an object that looked just like that on the bus, I think I’d let them carry it on. At this point, what’s the harm?” Ha!
As part of my conference admission, we again received Disney’s Memory Maker this year. Memory Maker is a one-price photo pass to all of the photographs taken of you in the park. Wear your MagicBand on a ride with cameras, and photos of your family enjoying the ride are automatically uploaded to your account. On some rides, you even get a video of yourself riding too!
Last year, Memory Maker’s price was $199, but it was $169 if you purchased it in advance. This year, Memory Maker’s price has gone down — it’s now $149 if you purchase in advance. While it’s not cheap, there is something wonderful about having photos taken with the entire family together throughout the trip. Any time you see a Disney photographer in the parks, you can stop and ask them to take your picture too. The Disney photographers are quite skilled at setting you up for a variety of fun shots:
If you’re interested in getting Memory Maker on your trip, here’s something new: Photo booths are included too! Any time you see a photo booth where you could traditionally insert money and get a strip of photographs, you can use your MagicBand to send those “strip” photos to your Memory Maker account at no additional charge.
Our sons had never used a photo booth before. You can only imagine how much we laughed when we saw the photo booth pictures they took over the course of our trip:
We had such a wonderful time on this trip, and I still can’t believe we went to Disney again nearly one year to the day from our previous trip. Would it surprise you to learn that I am already thinking about our next trip? It’s difficult not to…
You may also enjoy these Disney posts:
- Top ways to save on your Walt Disney World vacation
- Walt Disney World 2016: Social Media Moms, Animal Kingdom at Night, Star Wars Awakens
- Our 2015 Walt Disney World Vacation, Part 1: MagicBands, Memory Maker, park days and downtown days
- Our 2015 Walt Disney World trip – Part 2: Staying on-site, staying off-site, and tips for buying Disney souvenirs up to 70% off
Disclosure: I attended the 2016 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. I paid for my and my family’s transportation and conference admission, which included lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, discounted park tickets, some meals and many special events This post contains affiliate links.