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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Central Florida Greenway

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As airline prices continue to soar, more and more guests are driving to Walt Disney World. For those along the East Coast coming down I-95, the turn onto I-4 west is a welcome sight -- that is until they get into Orlando itself.

If you've never driven I-4 through downtown Orlando, it can be a mess, especially during the morning and evening drive times. Also, there are plenty of wrecks, just read the Orlando Sentinel Web page sometime.

There is an alternative to I-4, though. It's called the Central Florida Greenway, or toll route 417. It begins near Sanford and runs nearly to Walt Disney World. It's about 15 miles longer than using I-4, but much less hectic. Guests who fly into Orlando International Airport and use Disney's Magical Express have seen the Greenway first-hand. It's the route Disney uses to get guests to and from the parks.

It is a toll road, and I'm sure some will avoid it just because they don't want to pay the tolls, which (as of this post) is about $6 (one-way) from I-4 to World Center Drive. In my opinion, it's well worth the $6 and the extra 15 miles.

Why? First and foremost, you bypass downtown Orlando which can be a madhouse. There are points on I-4 where the speed limit goes down to 55, yet drivers are whizzing all around you doing 80 on bumpy concrete roads. The Greenway is nicely paved with far-less traffic. On our last trip to WDW, we decided to try the Greenway and our drive was pleasant and stress-free. There are far fewer exits to worry about merging traffic. The only "annoyance" were the toll booths.

There is a way to avoid stopping for the tolls, however. It's called the SunPass. With the SunPass, you can drive right past the toll booths and maintain your speed, for the most part. There are two versions of the SunPass -- the portable transponder and the SunPass Mini. You can purchase either version at drug stores or online. The big difference between the portable and the mini is price and use.

The portable (as its name implies) can be used in any car. This would be the best option if you fly into Orlando and rent a car frequently, or drive different cars to WDW. The portable costs $25 + a required $10 initial balance.

The Mini is a sticker that you put on your car windshield. This is a good option if you always drive the same car to WDW each time. The Mini only costs $4.99 + the $10 required initial balance.

So depending on how and what your drive to/in Orlando, the portable or the Mini will be a great option. Best of all, you can reload your balance online. So before that next trip, just load up your pass and off you go!

Before my next drive to WDW, I will be getting a SunPass and taking the Greenway again.

Until next time -- I hope you have a happy and safe drive to Walt Disney World!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Club Cool

Club Cool

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Right now it's hotter than hot all up and down the East Coast and this includes Walt Disney World. In a previous post, I talked about ways to get free cold water at the parks.

You might not be aware of a small store in Epcot where you can get free samples of Coke products from around the world. That's right! Free!

It's called Club Cool, and it's one of the best ways to stay cool in Epcot. You won't find it on a park map, though. Club Cool is located next to the Fountain View Ice Cream shop near the Epcot Character Spot.

Club Cool

Club Cool, sponsored by Coca-Cola (obviously), is a great way to stay cool, especially during these warmer months. Guests can walk right in and sample different Coke products from different countries around the world.

Currently the different flavors available are:

  • Krest Ginger Ale (from Mozambique)

  • Fanta Kolita (from Costa Rica)

  • Beverly (from Italy)

  • Vegeta Beta (from Japan)

  • Kinley Lemon (from Israel)

  • Lift Apple (from Mexico)

  • Smart Watermelon (from China)

  • Mezzo Mix (from Germany)

My kids and I make it a point to stop by Club Cool several times a day when we're in Epcot (and just about anytime we're passing during the summer). Each of the flavors is pretty unique. My personal favorite flavor is the Fanta from Costa Rica (my younger son also likes this one). My oldest son loves the Smart Watermelon while my daughter is a fan of the Mezzo Mix.

A bit of etiquette: Please don't just stand at a particular drink kiosk taking drink after drink after drink, especially if it's crowded. After sampling about three flavors, please make sure to let others have a chance to try some. You can go back and sample more.

From time to time, some flavors do run out. The last time I was at Epcot, the Mezzo Mix was out for several days. There are other items available for purchase here including frozen Cokes and various Cola-Cola merchandise.

WDW experts know that there are some flavors at Club Cool that are more "preferred" than others (Beverly, I'm talking about you...), but for the most part, every flavor is pretty good.

I'm a fan of Randy Pauch's Last Lecture (a must read book for any Imagineering fan), so I'm going to talk about the elephant in the room now -- and that's the Beverly drink from Italy. I'm not going to sugar coat it (actually it would be better with more sugar), it's a very bitter drink and I personally greatly dislike it. It's not at all what you'd expect from a soft drink. That being said, I know of some people who actually like Beverly.

So, here's a fun joke to pull on your friends, especially those who are WDW rookies. Take them to Club Cool and have them sample all the other flavors while singing the praises of the BEST one of all -- Beverly! Be sure to have a camera ready to get a shot of the look on their face when they discover what Beverly really tastes like.

What is your favorite flavor and have you braved the Beverly? Leave a comment and be sure to take our poll on the right side of this page!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Stormalong Bay

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

On my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, my family and I stayed at the Beach Club. One of the reasons we wanted to stay at the Beach Club was Stormalong Bay - and was it ever worth it!

Stormalong Bay is a huge pool shared by the Beach Club and Yacht Club. It is the largest resort pool on property and could be considered a mini water park in its own right. What makes this pool even more unique is the bottom, which is covered with sand. With about 750,000 gallons of water, Stormalong Bay is the largest sand-bottom pool in the world (as of this post).

Stormalong Bay is a perfect pool for families, especially families with younger children. Aside from one small deep section, the pool is no deeper than 5 feet and in most places is only three feet deep (or less). In the center of the section in front of the Yacht Club is a large sand island (see above). Kids will flock to this section to play in the sand. The entire section is very shallow so younger children will be able to enjoy the water without getting in too deep.

Disney also has several lifeguards posted all through the pool who keep a close eye on what's going on to ensure guests are safe. Other cast members put on scheduled events throughout the day including karaoke, water volleyball and more.

Stormalong Bay provides plenty of thrills for older kids as well. The pool features one of the largest and longest water slides of any Disney resort -- about 150 feet! It's all part of a huge shipwreck on the north shore of Crescent Lake, visible from all the way over at the Boardwalk. It's clear this is a very popular feature based on the lines that form in the middle of the day.

Adults wishing to enjoy some relaxing time will find their niche at Stormalong Bay as well. Located near the middle of the pool area and in front of the Ship Shape Health Club are several hot tubs. These are especially nice after a long day running through the parks.

If you're interested in enjoying Stormalong Bay, you'll have to stay at the Yacht or Beach Clubs. Most times, resort guests can "pool-hop," meaning they can visit other resort pools as they wish. The only exception to this is Stormalong Bay. Cast members at the entrances will ask to see your room key (Key to the World card) to verify you are a current resort guest at the Yacht or Beach Clubs.

Oh, and remember that a pool isn't just for the daytime. Stormalong Bay (in the summer) is open until around 11 p.m., which is perfect for a nighttime swim. In fact, evening is a great time to enjoy the pool (it's lighted) because there are generally fewer people.

Concerned about swimming during those cooler winter months? Don't be. The water is heated. Of course you might not want to get out, but what's life without a little chill here and there.

Is it worth the expense of staying at the Yacht or Beach Clubs just to enjoy Stormalong Bay?

In my opinion - you bet! Especially during the hot summer months! There are several other benefits to staying at the Yacht/Beach Club besides Stormalong Bay. In fact, the Beach Club now is my favorite Disney resort -- over the Polynesian and Grand Floridian.

I'll write more about the benefits of the Beach Club in a future post.

Until next time -- enjoy Stormalong Bay! The water's perfect!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tip Tuesday: Winter Summerland

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

As the days get hotter and hotter, many of us are looking for things to do in the evenings when the weather's a bit (and only a bit) cooler.

One fantastic evening activity at Walt Disney World is miniature golf.

Disney has two courses: Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. Fantasia Gardens is located next to the Swan resort while Winter Summerland, appropriately, is located next to Blizzard Beach.

Recently my family and I had the chance to play a round at Winter Summerland.

I was pleasantly surprised with Winter Summerland. There are two courses, winter and summer (obviously). We played the winter course, which featured various winter scenes, some of which featured different classic Disney characters.

Like everything at Walt Disney World, there's a story to Winter Summerland:

Late one moonlit Christmas Eve, as Santa was flying over Florida on his way back to the North Pole, he glanced down and could not believe what he saw. Santa found snow in a place that is usually hot. After surveying the strange location, he decided to build a vacation destination for his off-duty elves -- a Winter Summerland.

The only thing Winter Summerland lacked was a golf course. So the elves divided into two camps, one that enjoyed the warm Florida sun and another that preferred the snow and cold of the North Pole. In this Winter Summerland, the elves built two distinctly different 18-hole golf experiences -- a summer course and a winter course.

There are plenty of interactive elements, such as the squirting snowman (see above) that will squirt players if they step on a certain unmarked spot, which just happens to be very close to the hole. Other elements include special pop-up characters if a player putts their ball through a special opening. One particularly neat effect is hole #14 (The North Hole). If a player can putt their ball into a special opening at the base of the North Pole, the ball will be transported up through the poll and drop onto the green below.

Winter Summerland also features Santa's "Winterbago," a converted travel trailer that houses the starter booth, and small snack and gift shops. For a great photo opportunity guests can sit behind the reigns of Santa's sleigh or gather in front of the "surfing" Santa statue, an elf-made tribute to jolly old St. Nick.

Throughout both the summer and winter courses, Disney has added special Santa-themed touches. Both courses come together at the end at Santa's lodge, complete with Christmas tree and Santa making his way up (or down) the chimney.

Another nice part about both Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens is the cost, especially for Annual Passholders. Adults (ages 10 and up) cost around $12 for 18 holes, while children (ages 3-9) cost around $10. Annual Passholders get a 50% discount (at least they did as of this post -- be sure to ask). There may be additional discounts (AAA, DVC, etc.), so be sure to ask when you arrive.

My family and I had a fantastic time at Winter Summerland. It was nice to be able to do something fun together for an hour or so in the evening without the hustle and bustle of watching a nighttime event, such as Illuminations.

Give Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland a try during your next trip -- it's worth the effort!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 4th events at WDW

Guests celebrating the Fourth of July at Walt Disney World Resort will have a choice of fireworks shows plus other patriotic treats – including appearances by “Benjamin Franklin” and “Betsy Ross.”

The spirit of the Fourth of July is up in the air after dark, and three Disney parks will be making a bang, with Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios presenting special pyrotechnics and Epcot adding a patriotic "tag" to its famous “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” spectacular.

Here's what's in store on July 4 (entertainment and park hours are subject to change without notice):
  • Magic Kingdom – “Celebrate America Fireworks” will fill the sky at 9 p.m. After the fireworks, guests can enjoy Disney’s “Main Street Electrical Parade” of lights, music and magic at 10 p.m. and midnight. Park hours are 8 a.m.-1 a.m.
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Special fireworks set to a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack will be presented at 9:50 p.m., providing guests with a bonus nighttime entertainment extravaganza to complement “Fantasmic!” (which will be at 9 and 10:30 p.m.). Park hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Epcot – “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” which features dazzling special effects, colorful lasers, brilliant fireworks and fiery torches all choreographed to a musical score, becomes even more dynamic on July 4 as the normal show is supplemented with a patriotic finale. The performance begins at 10 p.m. Earlier in the day, guests will be treated to the Voices of Liberty 4th of July Concert – featuring an expanded cast of singers plus the Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps and Disney characters – at 12:30, 1:45 and 3 p.m. on the America Gardens Theatre stage. In addition, Betsy Ross will be engaging guests inside The American Adventure with storytelling, while Ben Franklin will be making appearances on the promenade near the attraction. Park hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Guests can enjoy all the regular attractions and shows from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.