Which Disney Dining Plan is right for you?

If you have been or are planning to go on a DisneyWorld vacation I’m sure you have heard all about the Dining plan option. This may seem like a good idea when booking, it may even seem like a deal. But is it really a deal, and is the dining plan worth it for you and your family? And which Dining plan is the right one for your family. To start off let’s look at the basic dining plan options:(all prices listed are for 2017)

Quick service plan $48.19 per adult: With this plan you get 2 quick service credits and 2 snack credits. A quick service is a place such as Cosmic Ray’s or Casey’s corner in the Magic Kingdom. These are usually quicker Dining experiences with a  lower quality menu and usually not a sit down Dining. Usually order it at a kiosk type location and pick the food up yourself. You also receive 1 Resort refillable mug.

Regular Dining plan $69.35: With this plan you get 1 quick service credit, 1 table service credit, 2 snacks and 1 refillable resort mug. A table service credit is good for a meal at designated sit down style restaurants and buffets. Places such as Chef Mickey’s, Coral Reef on Epcot and O’hana’s in the Polynesian are valid table services.

Signature Dining Plan $106.68: this plan give you 3 table service credits, 2 snacks and a refillable resort mug. With this plan you can use 2 table service credits to use for the phenomenal signature restaurants throughout WDW such as Narcoosees and Citricos in the Grand Floridian or the California Grille atop the Contemporary. These are more formal Dining experiences than the normal table service restaurants. With those you just get an entree, non alcoholic drink and a dessert. At the signature restaurants you get an appetizer, entree, non alcoholic beverage and a dessert. The menus at the signature restaurants are amazing and the food is top notch. Then you can use the third table service on a regular TS for breakfast or dinner.

Ok, you are probably thinking which one of these is for you? Well I guess it depends on your family’s Disney style. If your family is always on the go and want to do as much in the parks as possible, the quick service plan is probably for you. If you like to take your time sand take breaks from the parks and try other experiences and have a nice sit down meal or character buffet, then maybe the regular plan is for you. Or maybe you are traveling alone as a couple, no children, and want to some of the best Dining experiences available at WaltDisneyWorld, then definitely do the signature plan. You will have access to some4 star restaurants and it is probably the best value of the 3 plans.

One thing to remember is that having the plan, no matter which plan it may be will be a lot of food. After a week of the plan I sometimes don’t want to even think of food, so take that into consideration. Also if you have a plan and need to make ADR’s for your restaurants, you will see that everyday rotates around your dining reservations, so if you plan to have dinner at O’hana’s in the Poly, don’t plan on spending the day at Epcot. It can take a lot of time traveling back and forth, it can take some smart planning, and some may not be bothered which then the quick service would be better.

There are so many things to look at in regards to the dining plans, which is one reason why some people decide to go to Disney vacation planners. But what those planners won’t tell you is that whether or not the Dining plan is worth it at all and if it’s economically the best decision. My post tomorrow will look st that question exactly… Have a magical day!


Which cruise line fits in with what you are looking for..

There are so many cruise lines out there to choose from, not all are the same and not all are equal. You could be trying to figure out which one is for you whether it be what they offer on the ship or whether it be the price. I am going to give you a quick run down of what to expect on each cruise line. Each cruise line has something they are really good at or offer.  It really depends on what you are looking for. So I will go with Norwegian, Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and finally Princess. There are other cruise lines but I am focusing on these 6 main ones.

6. Norwegian: Norwegian’s big thing has been freestyle cruising. No set dining room assignments, it’s anytime dining at all times in their main dining rooms. Other cruise lines have followed their lead offering anytime dining options with also a set dining option also. Norwegian main goal was to basically tell the customer you can do what you want when you want, we aren’t going to tell you what you have to do.

Now the big thing is their Free at Sea promotion. The higher class cabin you get,the more perks you get free. You have your choice of 5 options such as free specialty dining or beverage package, if you book a suite you get all 5. You can save money on drinks, gratuities, dining’s, excursions or even get shipboard credit. THis has been drawing in some crowds and has been working,

I’ve been on Norwegians ships a few times. To me the quality is lacking in a Norwegian Cruise. Their goal is to get the first time cruisers and keep them coming back andnot letting go of them. That strategy does seem to be working. To me the food quality is poor on Norwegian, the Buffets have been average at best and dining rooms below average. They make the buffets and dining rooms poorer quality to push you to go to their pay restaurants which are actually pretty good. Entertainment is on average to the rest of the industry. The cruise directors crew were entertaining, friendly and engaging for the most part. I personally though have no urge to cruise again on Norwegian, for these reasons and others which I will not discuss because most likely they were not common accurances, but still I’m my opinion we’re not handled well. But I will say customer service on Norwegian is well behind henother cruise lines.

Carnival- Carnival brands themselves as the “Fun Ship.” If you are looking for a good time this is your line. They try to emphasize “Fun Ship” and try to get away from the label of”Party Ship.” But for the most part it’s a big party at see. Carnival is one of the best for activities on board and have one of the better kids clubs. They try to make it a family fun trip. But be careful, the crowds on the Carnival ships, especially in the USA ports can get rowdy and wild. People do go for the party atmosphere and that usually includes alcohol. If you go on some of the international cruises offered the crowd is a lot more tame and actually the quality is better.

If you are looking for fun and a good time at sea this is for you. The prices on Carnival are a bit cheaper than the industry average also which has its pluses and minuses. Food is ok, a notch below the next four, but not bad. Entertainment is good and there are lots of activities. The crowd on board can get a bit wild so be prepared. Things can get loud and rambunctious. I have been on a few Carnival ships and my feelings are mixed. Your fellow passengers can be a little too much, I wouldn’t bring my kids on Carnival, and to me the food is much better on others. It’s great for the 20 something crowd and those wanting to let loose.

Disney- Disney Cruise Lines are routinely voted the best cruise line by passengers every year, but is that accurate? Disney is a good cruise line, right up there with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Princess. But Disney has Mickey Mouse. They have a very very loyal clientele, who are insanely loyal and vocal about their passion for Disney. So when you have passenger cruise rankings you take them with a grain of salt.

One thing Disney knows better than anyone is catering to children and families. It’s Disney, what did you expect? The food on board is good, the entertainment is good also. Looking to win a little money at the casino on board? Don’t look at Disney then, they do not have a Casino. The rest of the industry is catching up to Disney in terms of family entertainment and activities but they will never catch them.  The food is good, right up there with the tops in the industry, are they the best? Probably not, are they he best in entertainment? Probably not unless you just love Disney Shows. Here is the catch, Disney prices their cruises like they are head and shoulders above the rest. I love Disney, been going since i can remember and it’s not going to stop, but let’s be realistic here. I am not paying double the price of a RCL cruise or Celebrity or Princess. DCL is not that much better than the others and are probably right on par with them, except they have the Disney thing going for them and you aren’t getting that on any other cruise line.

Princess- Personally Princess is my favorite cruise line, but it’s pretty close between the remaining three lines. It all depends on wht you are looking for. Princess is a little more upscale and slightly more expensive than the celebrityand RCL ships. Best food I’ve had in Be dining rooms have been on Princess and entertainment is good also. It’s a little deceiving because I once went on a Princess ship that had the great Marty Allen as the comedian, and he was by far he best comedian on any cruise I’ve been on. Princess really doesn’t have any gimmicks on the ship, and sometimes at see they lack in activities so kids may be a little bored throughout the day. The ships  have nice decor for he most part and are very clean. Princess passengers seem to be a little older  but you will still find lots of small children and families on board.

Again, my favorite cruise line, and my favorite ships. But I have sailed with Princes without children so I’d recommend other cruise lines for families, but for the single or couples without children I 100% recommend Princess.

Royal Caribbean- RCL is making waves with all their new ships they are bringing out. Each one seems to get bigger and better than the next. These ships are huge, and have some incredible activities on board. Some have the Zip line across he ship, the virtual skydiving, surfing simulator, parks on board, bumper cars and circus trapeze acts you can learn. These ships have it all. Thing is big ships carry a lot of passenger and that means some public areas will get crowded. The buffets on these ships are packed, long lines will await you at each station and you may find it difficult to find a table sometimes. But the food is usually good and the dining room food is good also.

Entertainment can be hit or miss on RCL. I’ve been on ships that had real good shows or entertainment and been on ships that were just plain bad (Anthem of the Seas). Another issue with the bigger ships is that RCL seems to make the ship itself the main attraction and cut back on activities throughout the day.they want you enjoy the ship itself than to have more classes or seminars etc.

So I do recommend RCL for really  anyone, but I would stay away from the older smaller ships and go on the newer bigger ships.

Celebrity- Celebrity to me and to many others have the best buffets on the Seas. They usually have the best and freshest food on their buffets. The Cuisine in the dining rooms is very good also, just below Princess. The ships are maintained very well and are very clean. Entertainment as a whole is generally pretty good, but just as with Princess, there aren’t as many activities and things to do during the day, so things can get a little boring if you are feeling active.

For me Celebrity is a close second to Princess, the ships aren’t too big and crowded, they for the most part don’t have huge ships like RCL, but they seem have more room and they ship and don’t seem as crowded. It’s always easy getting chairs at the pool or tables at he buffet. Wouldn’t recommend for the cruisers who are always looking to be on the move and being active. But for those that like to relax, enjoy a slightly slower paced atmosphere but also have some fun and enjoy some good food and prices seem just a little below or right around Princess but a little higher than RCL, this is the line for you. The average age of passengers on this ship isn’t as old as Princess but you won’t have the rowdy crowds of Carnival.

Now I would not recommend Norwegian or Carnival. But it all depends on what you are looking for. If you want he fun party atmosphere and don’t care much about some of the other thing then hit Carnival. But I’d recommend Princess, RCL or Celebrity. I don’t think you can go wrong with either, it’s really about your own tastes. Norwegian I have too many bad experiences with, but I know many people who swear by them. You have to see what’s right for you. When I was a Disney vacation planner, I would book cruises also, and for this industry, we booked Norwegian and Carnival he most, so obviously someone likes them. So figured out what you are looking for most in a cruise and do your research on each line and potential ship. Try to avoid the passenger reviews because those are very deceiving whether they be good or bad. Try not to worry too much on if you are making the right decision, odds are no matter which cruise line you choose you will enjoy your vacation at sea.

Via Napoli in Epcot, my new must go to Reataurant in DisneyWorld

I am from New Jersey, a short car ride or train ride into the city, and this area has some of the best pizza in all the world outside of Italy. I’ve been all around the country, and no one can beat NY/NJ pizza. So we are pretty serious about our pizza. But I’ll say Via Napoli in Epcot has pizza that can match it, if not surpass it.

A little background of Via Napoli. Almost Everything used in the restaurant is shipped from Naples. The tomatoes, the mozzarella, flour, yeast, everything except the water. Now it’s been a while since I have gotten something other than pizza here, but I assume the pasta, spices are shipped from Naples also. Everything for the pizza is from Italy except for 1 item, the water, and even the water is specially shipped from someplace in Pennsylvania because the ph levels are almost identical and exact to the water used in Napoli. They make sure any small detail is not overlooked(which is a very big thing with Disney).

On our last visit to Via Napoli we had a party of 7, and ordered 2 Large pizza pies, one Margherita and one Pepperoni. First the pepperoni pizza, and this is real pepperoni, not the packaged stuff you see in stores or pizzerias. This was fresh pepperoni, the taste was different and just better than the normal pepperoni you normally get. The crust on the Via Napoli pizza is so light and not heavy like you normally get in the states. The pizza doesn’t feel heavy and sit in your stomach. I really is amazing how light it is and you don’t walk away with a heavy feeling in your stomach, it is quite a good feeling. The sauces on the pizza a very good also, you don’t get a very overbearing flavor from the sauce, they don’t pound the pizza with spices like oregano or and other seasonings. It’s a light flavored sauce that compliments the pizza very well, it doesn’t take over the pizza with flavor.

With the Margherita pizza, it’s your standard Margherita, mozzarella, basil, light on the sauce. Another big diffeeence with normal pizzeria pizza and this pizza is the fact the mozzarella was so much fresher, and was “real” mozzarella. It wasn’t shredded mozzarella your normally see here on the United States. The flavor was quite different and again the mozzarella seemed lighter.

I had maybe four slices of pizza, and walked away not feeling full at all. The crust was thin but not too thin, honestly the thickness was perfect. I didn’t walk around Epcot with a heavy full stomach, it was a great feeling.

There are other entrees to order at Via Napoli, pastas and other Italian enteees and appetizers, but I come mainly for the pizza, and you can feed your family and not spend as much. We had 7 people and paid roughly $70 for everything including tip, $10 a person is pretty good if you ask me.

Next time you go to Walt Disney World make sure you make it a point to get a reservation for Via Napoli, and make sure you do because the restaurant was completely packed for dinner, and from what I can see on the my Disney experience app it is getting harder and harder to find reservations and the popularity of this true Italian pizzaria is growing and it’s not hard to see why


Are the crowd level patterns at Walt Disney World completely changing?

It is no secret that crowd levels and patterns have changed since Walt Disney World changed their ticketing prices to coincide with busy times, and with blackout dates on annual passes. But how much has this changed, and have they changed so much that if you base your time of travel around how crowded it is there, do you now change the usual times you go?

We all know the usual slow times at WDW, January through most of February, usually a couple weeks after Easter until Memorial Day,  the last 2 weeks of August really until Jersey Week in early November, and the week after Thanksgiving until the week of Christmas.  But there are also days where certain parks are busier than others. In my experiences, Saturday and Monday are very crowded days at the Magic Kingdom, and Tuesday and Friday have been incredibly slow on a normal week. Websites like Undercover Tourist have crowd calendars that can give you a prediction of how crowd levels should be on a certain day. But, in the last year or 2, I have seen a slight change. The days that have used to be slower are now more crowded. Usually Tuesday’s were a very slow day, now not so much. Are the crowd levels changing to the point you change your game plan on which park to go to on which day? That is to be seen.

Some times of the year now when it has been less crowded, the parks and resorts seem more crowded, and some times during the year when it is very crowded now seem a little less crowded. This seems to coincide with the fact that attendance is down at Walt Disney World, and it seems less people are walking through the 4 theme parks there for one reason or another. I have heard reports that after The initial crowd surge with Avatarland the entire summer has been much slower than normal at Walt Disney World. This most likely has to do with black out dates and the higher ticket prices for this timeframe. You start to think,”Disney has to start doing something to combat this, either lower prices, better deals or do away with blackouts”. Problem with that line of thinking is the fact that Parks and Resorts revenue keeps going up, so crowds may be lower, but the people going are spending more. Also add in with this is the slightly lower labor costs associated with lower crowd volume.  This makes me believe that you won’t be seeing any crazy changes anytime soon with price structuring or lowering of any prices.

Now with all this, would it make you more inclined to visit during the summer if you previously tried to avoid that season, or would you not go during a season that you normally would because it is becoming more crowded? That is for you to decide, I would still continue with your same line of thinking of times of the year to visit. But keep an eye on things, crowd patterns are changing, not saying it’s for good or bad, but they are changing.  Question is will you change with them?

How does the new Parking fees effect your Walt Disney World budget

I’m sure you have realized by now that Walt Disney World will be charging their guests to park while staying at their resorts. If you are staying at a value resort you will be paying $13 a night to park at your resort, you will be paying $19 for a moderate Resort and $24 for the deluxe resorts. If staying for a week this could add up and eat up some of the money in your budget. I am going to look at how this can effect something things for the average customer and look at some of the thinking behind having these parking fees.

Now a large majority of the guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort do not bring a car to the resort. A large majority fly into Orlando International Airport, use the very convenient Magical Express to drive them to their resort they are staying at. This is a very good perk of staying on Disney Property. Disney also has an extensive transportation system whether it be by bus, boat or monorail, which makes he need for a car on property minimal if actually no need at all. But I do realize there is also a number of families that drive to DisneyWorld. My family used to drive from New Jersey every year, and this added expense can put a hurt of people. We all know he price of staying on property, it isn’t cheap, and now paying $91 to  $168 dollars to park for a 7 night stay just adds to it.

If you were driving and you have a family of four, would that increase in price be enough to make you look at flying more seriously? Probably not, I’d think the recent increase in the price of gas would be more of an issue. If you are a family who is going for the first time and driving or a family who goes once every now and then, is this additional expense going to stop you from visiting? Probably not, it may annoy you and inconvenience you, but in the grand scheme of it it’s a very small cost compared to the price of the resort accommodations, tickets, dining plan, etc. Lets say you stay at a moderate, $200 for a week plus tickets and Dining, $133 seems minute. But to some it may be a big deal. I’ve seen on message boards and social media the outrage of some on this issue. For me, I own DVC and for the most part most of my stays are booked through that, so paying for parking if I ever have a car won’t be an issue as of now for me since if staying at a DVC resort using points I will not be charged. But if I were charged and found having a car was a necessity I would have to find a way to save the parking fees in other ways. It may be one nights going to a quick service for dinner instead of going to a table service, or making lunch in our room rather than going out for lunch. There are many small ways to save big that you wouldn’t think would save you much. Granted some may say it won’t change what we spend and some may say they won’t change a thing. It’s all up to each individual, people will see things differently and to each their own.

Finally, in all honesty  if you fly into MCO  there really is little to no need for a rental car, and I will assume that any of those who do rent a car will think twice about doing so from now on. I used to rent a car mainly because we have been visiting that area for so long we know many good restaurants off site that we love to eat at. Also my mom, sister and the Wife like to go to some of the outlets around the area and do some shopping. But in recent years I’ve found that it’s more of a burden to have the car, especially with Uber and Lyft becoming so popular. For my trip in August, if I can find a great deal on a rental car I may book one, but I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t find one and end up not renting a car.

My next post will look at the ramifications of the parking fees and psychology on them from a Disney viewpoint.

My Review of Akershus Breakfast in Epcot

I’ve had people tell me for a while that one of their favorite breakfast meals in Walt Disney World is The Princess breakfast experience at Akershus in Norway at Epcot’s World Showcase. I have never been to Akershus, and with having a 4, almost 5 year old daughter who just loves the Disney princesses I figured now was a good time to try it.

I had an 8:10am reservation, there were EMH starting at 8am for Epcot that morning. Normally at the Magic Kingdom if you have an early morning breakfast reservation they would let you in early to get to your reservation. That was one of the added perks of waking up super early for Crystal Palace until they started letting everyone into Main Street early. At Epcot, they did not let us in early to get to our reservation. Now I’m pretty sure the first reservations were for 8:05, so those people were not allowed in either. My question is, why offer these early ADR’s if you can’t get in the park to get to them? Maybe it was something with EMH’s, or maybe just a one time thing where there was a miscommunication? I am not sure all I know no one was allowed in as we were told “there is no authorization for breakfast reservations to be let in early.”

As we were let in( by the entrance in the UK Pavilion) we had to walk around through Canada, to Mexico and then to Norway and finally arriving at Akershus. Now the problem with being let in all at the same time, is that you had everyone with an 8:05 reservation probably until 8:25 showed up at the same time so there was a very long wait to get in. You also had people who were waiting a while being bypassed by people who had been here a short time making some people very angry. I’d assume it was due to people with earlier ADR’s getting there later. So our 8:10 reservation turned into an 8:45.

Ok so we finally get called and you have to wait in line to have a picture taken with Belle. Me personally had no interest as I just wanted to get in and eat. But, my daughter was excited as a Belle is her favorite princess. It didn’t take too long to get to her. I was very surprised as the cast member who was Belle seemed to be a young teenage girl. She looked no older than 16-17 years old. She as great with my daughter, I was just surprised she seemed so young.

Finally we were seated. Now for your meal, your are brought out a plate served family style consisting of four items, scrambled eggs, a potato casserole, and sausage and bacon. You then have a buffet area with pastries, fresh fruit, and other items such as Norwegian smoked salmon and other local breakfast items. I was pretty disappointed in the breakfast food quality as a whole. The scrambled eggs were bland and just poor quality. The sausage and bacon were ok, but how can you really screw up that? The potato casserole was very good, probably the best item I had. The buffet area had very good fresh fruit, small little munchkin like donut holes, and some good cinnamon rolls which my son and myself inhaled. The other items on the buffet I had no interest it, wasn’t my normal breakfast items, and really just didn’t look appealing.

The princesses came around to each table. You had Snow White, Aerial, sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel come around. My daughter loved it and soaked it all up, my son could care less and refused to take pictures.

So the experience was worth it just for my daughter seeing her so happy and I’m her glory, but I wouldn’t do it again especially for the price tag. Now I guess we were still in the spring break prices, so for an adult it was $45 each, and it was $28 for each of the kids. That pricing is a little ridiculous and really not worth it. It was good to experience it once especially if you have a young daughter who is infatuated with the princesses like my daughter is. But we will not be coming back to Akershus. The food was just average, and we can take pictures with the other princesses other times they are out.

My review of O’hana dinner at the Polynesian

Easily one of my favorite restaurants in all of Walt Disney World is O’hana’s locates in the Polynesian Resort. For years I never wanted to eat here, not sure why that was really but my sister finally talked me into trying this out a few years ago and it is one of my must do restaurants every trip.

O’hana means family, and they treat you like it here, the waiter even calls you “cousin”, well because there you are family. You start off with an Asain slaw served family style. Now it’s been a little while since I’ve been here but it used to be served as a salad which was much better than the slaw. There wasn’t much flavor to the slaw and it was very mediocre, but I didn’t come here for the salad.

Next up is a platter of sweet and sour noodles, coriander chicken wings and pot stickers. They give you 2 separate sauces for dipping, both are very good. The chicken wings are amazing, the sauce on them is phenomenal. The noodles are very good, light sweet flavor on them. The potsticker are lightly fried and dipped in the sweeter of the 2 sauces(my preference) is the way to go.. this is all served family style, and don’t get nervous, O’hana is all you care to enjoy, so if you need more of anything just ask. We went with wings and potstickers, they were so good.

As you are munching on those 3 you have a server come around with three separate grilled items, steak, chicken and shrimp… I am not a big steak fan but the steak is nicely marinated, as are the other 2 meats. The chicken is my favorite, the grilled flavor to it along with the marinade is fantastic. The shrimp would be a lot better if the shell weren’t still on them, but it’s just a little bit of work to get the shell off. Again they will come around again if you want more, but by now you should be getting stuffed.

A good touch is a plate of hot wet towels to clean off your hands from the stickiness of the wings and potstickers, it’s surprisingly comforting.

After all this, you better make some room for the banana pudding dessert with a caramale sauce reduction. I am not a dessert person, I rarely eat dessert so I leave no room for dessert, but my wife, sisters all tell he pudding is the best dessert in Disney… they leave room just for this.

There is a performer playing Island music for entertainment and there are coconut races for the kids during dinner keeping them entertained, also if you have little picky eaters who don’t care for what is offered, they have a kids menu with chicken fingers, Mac and cheese and a few other items that are more kid friendly.

Add all this up plus there is a pretty spectacular view of Cinderella’s Castle makes this my favorite spot to eat at in any park or resort there in Walt Disney World. If you want to eat here, you better make your ADR’s early, reservations go quick here for dinner and are hard to come by. So make sure it’s on your plans and book right at your 180 day mark to make sure you get a reservation for this great restaurant.