Top 5 Tuesday: Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Food

DISDad Scott Stradtman got to spend a solo day in Epcot recently during the Flower & Garden Festival, and here are Scott’s Top 5 Flower & Garden Festival food and drink finds:

5. Bratwurst The always-reliable German bratwurst.

4. lamb kebab and couscous The very good lamb kebab and couscous from Morocco.

3. Hovels beer The Dad’s must-do. A cold Hovels beer from Germany.

2. German meatloaf and savory bread pudding The amazing German meatloaf sandwich with coarse mustard and savory bread pudding.

1. Shrimp & Grits And at the top of the list, from the Florida Fresh booth, was stone ground grits, shrimp, sausage, corn and cilantro that Scott called outstanding!

So what do you think? Anyone else get a chance to try some of the food at the Flower & Garden Festival? What were your favorites?

Top 5 Reasons MyMagic+ / Fastpass+ is Nothing to Worry About

The New York Times ran a story yesterday that has caused all kinds of uproar among Disney fans in general, and DISDads in particular. The article provided the most detail yet of the MyMagic+ RFID wristbands that are the core of the long-developing NextGen project at Walt Disney World. Ultimately, the project will make fundamental changes in the way guests interact with Walt Disney World. But, as fundamental as those physical changes will be, the uproar and stress over the change is being blown way out of proportion in some corners of the Disney fan community. Here are 5 reasons why this is nothing to worry about:

1) The most common complaint I hear is that 180-day advance attraction and show reservations will “kill the spontaneity” of a Disney vacation. But there’s no reason to believe that’s true. Just like dining reservations, attraction reservations are not set in stone. You’ll be able to make changes – including while you’re in the theme parks. The 180-day advance reservations just give you some anchors to plan around, and even those anchors can be relocated later.

2) Another complaint I hear is from people concerned about the “Big Brother” feeling of using RFID transmissions to share unique guest data in the parks – so Ariel can greet a child by name with a birthday greeting, for instance. I just don’t see the big deal. The browser data collected as you surf the Internet probably reveals almost as much information about you. And Disney has repeatedly stated – there’s no data stored in the RFID bracelet or card itself. The data is on Disney’s servers. RFID is the key. If you lose a ticket or bracelet, its “key” can be instantly revoked. There’s no more risk involved here than in the use of a Key to the World Card or even a Credit Card.

3) Related to number 1, I hear a concern that people who aren’t staying on-property won’t have access to Fastpasses after this shift kicks in. Relax. Tom Staggs followed up on the initial announcement and addressed this issue. Day-of Fastpasses are not going away. The only change is the way you access them. You’ll use a smartphone or an in-park kiosk that is activated by your RFID-equipped ticket or a MyMagic+ wristband to access them. And, in some ways, they’ll be better – because they’ll be changeable. You’ll be able to swap them out for a different attraction or a different time if the spontaneity of the day alters your plans. Staggs explained that newly-purchased tickets will be RFID-equipped, and guests will have the option of purchasing a wristband. If you’re using an older paper ticket, you can exchange for an RFID-enabled ticket or a purchase a wristband.

4) I heard AP holders concerned that they’d be excluded from Fastpasses. Nope. Staggs stated that AP holders will get a “free” MyMagic+ wristband with their AP.

5) DVC folks were afraid that they wouldn’t be treated as “resort guests” for this program. Nope, again, DVCers will have access to MyMagic+. In fact, the resort that is slated to get the first test run is BoardWalk Inn, making BoardWalk Vilas the likely first DVC test site for MyMagic+. The BoardWalk Inn test should start some time in February, according to Jim Hill. I’d guess it would hit the DVC side about a month later – probably by Spring Break.

So there it is folks. Five quick reasons not to be freaked out about MyMagic+. Ultimately, I think this is going to end up being a boon for those of us who are planners. And we’ll learn to appreciate the opportunity to have a Fastpass+ reservation for Toy Story Midway Mania in place, and not have to worry about the mad dash from the gates at Hollywood Studios!

Top 3 Tuesday: Magic Kingdom Photography Challenges

by Matt Birchfield

Photography is a great way to take a little bit of the Disney magic home with us. But a number of my favorite Walt Disney World subjects are among the most difficult photographs to capture well. I have several Walt Disney World trips under my belt, and it’s only in the last few years tht I’ve really tried to pursue photography while I’m in the World. I primarily use a Canon Rebel XS dSLR and either a 50mm prime lens (meaning a fixed-length lens) or a 75mm-250mm telephoto lens. Each has advantages, depending on what you’re trying to capture.

Challenging subject #1: Cinderella’s Castle
OK, everyone’s posed for a picture in front of Cinderella’s Castle. It’s probably one of the most photographed subjects in the world (and not just Walt Disney World). But have you ever tried to capture the castle with colored lighting? Or one level more difficult – capturing a photo of your Disney Daughter in front of the castle while the castle is bathed in her favorite color. For Epic level, try to shoot the projection show on the castle. The constant motion and varying light levels make for quite the challenge.

Challenging subject #2: Pirates of the Caribbean
First, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER TAKE A FLASH PHOTOGRAPH ON A DARK RIDE LIKE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN OR HAUNTED MANSION! It can ruin the experience for other riders [and ought to be grounds for immediate ejection from the Park. – Ed.] Pirates is an incredibly complex ride, with a huge number of Audio-Animatronic figures, low light, lighting effects, splashing water, and the constant motion of the boat to contend with. My dream shot is to get a GOOD picture of the skeleton helmsman at the beginning of the ride, with the lightening in the background. So far, I have not had much luck, but like someone said, “just keep swimming.” Other areas that are good and present unique challenges are the Auction scene, with it’s odd hued light; and the jail scene, with the prisoners trying to get the keys from the dog. I recommend shooting in RAW mode, which allows the photographer to change the white balance in post-processing. Check yoru camera’s manual to learn more about RAW mode. (Warning – each photo will take up much more space on your memory card in RAW mode, so be prepared with a larger card or a spare).

Challenging subject #3: Haunted Mansion
Haunted Mansion is the Holy Grail of dark ride photography. The extremely low light levels are beyond most camera/lens combination’s ability to compensate. The Seance Room is one of the most difficult shots, with the black light musical instruments and the bright light from Madam Leota. The graveyard near the end is also a major challenge, partially because of how difficult it is to frame and quickly focus a shot with a standard lens, due to the close proximity to the show scenes. Your best chance to capture such shots would be with a fast wide-angle lens. A prime lens like the 50mm tends to be nice and fast, but for dark rides (and especially for Haunted Mansion) a shorter focal length is better. The lens most frequently suggested for dark rides is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens, which is available for both Canon and Nikon cameras for under $500.

None of these are easy photos to shoot well, but the fun is in the challenge of trying to capture them. Do you have a shot of one of these challenges that you’re particularly proud of? Share it with us! Just Email the image to Happy shooting!

Top 5 Random Tips for Dads While Attacking the Parks

by David Juart

I’ve wracked my brain for the past week trying to put together a “Top 5 Touring Tips” or a “Top 5 Backpack Tips” or a “Top 5 Must Haves in the Parks” list, all with little success. I could come up with five, sure, but some were just filler (much like this intro) and it didn’t leave me with a “WOW! I really helped someone today!” feeling. So, I decided to put the best ones together to form the Five Random Tips for Dads While Attacking the Parks. Who knows, maybe it’ll become a series. Cheers!

5. Eat breakfast in the parks BEFORE Ropedrop – Excluding the birth of your children, I don’t believe there is a moment that comes as close to perfection as walking down Main Street USA in an empty park. It feels as if this Disney experience was planned just for you, with the background loop playing, Castle pictures without randoms in the foreground, there’s nothing like it. And you can have this experience at every park with a little planning. Make reservations for breakfast at 8:15 or so in the morning at places like Crystal Palace, Akershus, Tusker House and Hollywood and Vine. What better way to start off
a day than with a character breakfast of your choosing, an empty park for pictures, and being in the most opportune position at Rope Drop to head to your favorite attraction/princess. Do it once and it’ll become a staple of your touring plan. FOR DAD’S WITH DAUGHTERS – This works well with Bibbiddi Bobbiddi Boutique also. Book the earliest reservation you can 180 days out, and with any luck you’ll be able to snap pictures of your little princess with only the Castle in the background, not Brazilian tourists.

4. Moisture wicking shirts – Dry Fit, Under Armour, Tech T’s – Whatever brand you fancy, they are life savers for the Moisture Producing Inclined among us. Honestly, I sweat when it’s 50 degrees out, so you can just imagine what the July heat does to this guy. This was the best investment I made prior to leaving on our last trip. A t-shirt for the morning, then a golf shirt for dinner, all moisture wicking. Start stocking up now for your next trip.

3. Backpack with Hydration Bladder – Ok I lied, THIS was the best investment I made prior to my last trip. I searched and searched for the best way to carry water into the parks and landed on a hydration backpack. Now I was branded Scuba Steve for the entirety of the trip by my wife, but the remarks bounced right off of my well-hydrated skin. There are plenty of makes and manufacturers so shop around and find one you like and that fits your budget. With a simple internet search I found a new, brand-name pack for $50 after shipping. Plus they usually have lots of pockets for necessities like cameras, batteries, first aid kit, Keys to the World, pins to trade, CLIF Bars, extra clothes for kids, ponchos and whatever else you usually carry into the parks.

2. Take a laptop – I know a lot of people want to disconnect while at Disney, and I’m all for it. Hear me out. We’ve all lost things, important things. Personally, I’d hate to lose the pictures on my camera when I drop it off the side of a boat in Small World. Bring your laptop along and back up your camera cards/video recorders nightly to ensure the fidelity of your memories. And if I can offer one more piece of backup advice, look into an online backup service such as Carbonite. Most can be had for under $60/year, and will back up all the files on your computer automatically. It’s worth it. One Final Note: Even
if you’re against having a computer with you on vacation, at least switch out your camera cards daily so that you don’t lose an entire week’s worth of pictures on the last day because some Pirate scared you while cruising the Caribbean.

1. Bring your own Glow Sticks/Necklaces/Bracelets – This is more of a money saving tip. For the price of one spinny-glowy thing in the parks, you can stock up on glow necklaces and bracelets at the local dollar store before you go and get enough that will last your little ones the entire trip. Each night my daughter looked like a florescent, glowing Mr. T weighed down by iridescent jewelry. Plus she got her “give” on and shared with other children randomly as we walked through the parks. Save money and teach a life lesson – WIN!

Do you have any random Disney tips you’d like to share? Do so in the comments below. You can reach us on Twitter @DisDadsPodcast, or me directly @dpjuart

Top 5 Non-Traditional WDW Counter Service Restaurants

by Brady Aymond

How many times do you find yourself in Walt Disney World waiting in line at a counter-service restaurant dreading the notion of eating yet another cheeseburger or chicken strips meal? How often do you find yourself ordering the same thing over and over and eating at the same counter-service restaurant over and over? If you’re anything like me, or my family, it’s too many to count. Sometimes safe is easy. I know I like cheeseburgers. I know I like chicken strips. I know I like hot dogs. But there are times when we all want something different. Something unique. So today, I offer up my top 5 non-traditional counter service restaurants. They may be places you go to on a regular basis, but this list is for those looking for something other than chicken-strips and cheeseburgers:

5. Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom – Located on the outskirts of Liberty Square, Columbia Harbour House gives you a chance to fulfill your desire for seafood. From a white tuna sandwich to grilled salmon and a fried shrimp or fish basket, Columbia Harbour House is definitely a seafood-lovers haven. It’s a nice break from eating beef or chicken all week, and is pretty cool in the fact that part of it is located in Liberty Square and part is in Fantasyland. Next time you visit, go check out how the décor changes when you transition into the Fantasyland area. (Ed. Note: My favorite thing about Columbia Harbour House is the often-overlooked upstairs seating area – it’s spacious, often empty, and offers some great views).

4. Everything Pop food court at Pop Century Resort – Strictly speaking, this is cheating, because you’d have to leave the parks. But if you want a break and you want variety, Everything Pop has it for you. There’s an area for oven fired flatbreads, which also serves pretty good-sized salads. The pizza shop is, I think, the best counter-service pizza option on property. And there’s a specialty shop that varies, but is mostly Asian-inspired dishes. Again, it’s one of those all-inclusive food courts that gives you a little bit of everything.

3. Flame Tree Barbecue in Animal Kingdom – I don’t know about you guys, but I feel a tad bit guilty when I think about consuming large quantities of meat when I’m at Animal Kingdom. Maybe I’m weird. Anyway, if you want to consume large quantities of meat while in Animal Kingdom, there’s no better spot than Flame Tree Barbecue. You can’t tell me you haven’t made the walk to Dinoland and had the smell of the BBQ seep out and slap you right across the face. The eatery offers a 1/2 slab of ribs, a 1/2 chicken, and a rib and chicken combo. For those of you wanting some grass with your meat, there’s a barbecued chicken salad. It’s definitely a unique counter-service meal, and one for the BBQ fans out there. (Ed. Note: My wife is particularly fond of the excellent fresh fruit plate).

2. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Magic Kingdom – Like every other counter-service eatery in Walt Disney World, Cosmic Ray’s does have its fair share of chicken strips and burgers. The beauty of this place is that while your kids are chowing down on chicken nuggets and burgers, you can head over to Bay 1 and get a 1/2 chicken and BBQ rib combo or a BBQ pork sandwich. I personally love Cosmic Ray’s for the fact that there’s something for everyone. And the entertainment isn’t bad.

1. Sunshine Seasons in Epcot – This is probably a no-brainer because the best non-traditional counter-service restaurant may in fact be the best counter-service restaurant on property, period. Sunshine Seasons may have the most extensive menu of all the counter-service restaurants. As for as non-traditional fare, you won’t find a chicken strip or burger on the menu. But you will find Mongolian beef, roasted pork chop, sweet-and-sour chicken, roasted beets and goat cheese salad, reuben Panini and a togarashi seared tuna noodle salad. So, if you’re tired of burgers and chicken strips, Sunshine Seasons should be your next stop.

Top 5 Meltdown Avoidance Tips

by David Juart

I was pumped, possibly too much. Gigi was all gung ho about pretty much anything and everything I threw at her. There were the obvious ones, Small World and the Tea Cups were favorites from when she was three. But to my surprise, she was ready to rock with Haunted Mansion, Pirates (even though it had scared her the previous year), Buzz, Toy Story and even Splash and Big Thunder Mountain. We had conversations about the rides, what they were – even watched YouTube videos (some, like Splash, to tiring lengths). I was beyond stoked to share my love for all thing “thrill” at WDW with my 44″ tall, brazen, four year old Princess.

I blame it all on Peter Pan and his 40 year old adventure. There I stood in front of a moving walk way, coaxing an all of the sudden apprehensive four year old onto a ride that I hadn’t stepped on since Y2K was the Next Big Thing. Frankly, I forgot how dark, high, and jerky the ride was. All I remembered through my rose colored glasses was sharing a seat with my Mother and seeing the scale model of London below us (which until this moment in time I was unsure of which of these “kiddie ride” Big Ben was in). It was dark, and Gigi knew it. Four year olds can see the future, dontchaknow? And you know what, I should have known. The year before she couldn’t hide far enough behind me while riding Pirates. We made it through Peter Pan, but a half an hour later I found myself looking as if I was stealing my own child as she tried to bolt out of the queue at PotC. It was meltdown moment number one of the day with another to come at Splash, as a tired little girl buried her head into my shoulder as we made our way back out of the queue. And this was just Day 1.

For the rest of trip, Gigi was timid of pretty much every attraction, even shows such as Muppetvision 3D and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Shows that shouldn’t elicit such a reaction. Some she fought through, others she avoided. Though we had a great vacation, it was marked with a lot of “coulda’s” and “shoulda’s”, to the point that one week after returning home, Dear Daughter was talking about riding Pirates “next time”. In an effort to not have this happen to you, I give you my Top 5 Meltdown Avoidance Tips.

5. YouTube – I’m pretty sure it’s in the DISDad bylaws that we’re required to watch a certain number of ride-throughs on YouTube. Watch them with your kids. Give them a feel for what they’re about to experience. Hopefully, alleviating some of the unknown will be the first step of getting the wee ones onto Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (Ed. Note: If you have a Netflix subscription, there are several Disney Parks videos available that include both on-ride video and behind the scenes looks that can also be helpful in addressing the fear of the unknown issues).

4. Talk – Simple enough, right? The seasoned WDW goers among us have stories to tell of their first ride on the Teacups and how they were scared of the drop at the Tower of Terror. Share your stories of apprehension and overcoming those fears.

3. Pace Yourself – This is where I dropped the ball. I don’t know if I was caught up in the excitement of the first day, or if I was still delirious from 17 hours of driving the previous one. But we tried to tackle too much too quickly. I have a sneaking suspicion that if we would have slowed the tempo down and allowed my daughter’s curiosity for each ride to grow, it would have been a different outcome.

2. Enlist the help of other kids – Even if you don’t do this directly, pointing out that other children are riding the attraction can help coax apprehensive riders past their initial fears. Now, I’m not saying to call your son a wimp because “those kids are going on it and you aren’t.” Showing that other people are getting on and actually coming off in one piece (and even smiling and laughing) can help alleviate fears.

1. Know your kid – Again, no brainer. So I thought, anyway. I was way off. Even though Gigi was brazen while watching YouTube videos and talking about rides, in the heat of the moment she froze up and scared herself. Had I realized this, I could have approached things a bit differently, or not approached them at all.

So that’s what I have. What suggestions have you? Post them in the comments below or tweet us @DisDadsPodcast, or give me much-needed advice directly @dpjuart.

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