Nov 172010

By Erica Colmenares

As a nuclear family, we came relatively late to the Disney vacation game. Our son, Max, was seven before he first set foot on Disney property. But since then, he’s made up for lost time, and has grown up with Disney. He’s experienced the birth of attractions, and experienced offerings that are no longer. And now he’s ready to usher a new family member into the Disney fold. Let’s look at his journey in photos.

2004 In 2004, we were far from home. My husband was a medical officer with theU.S. Navy, and he was stationed in Sigonella, Sicily (just off theboot tip of Italy). As our time overseas came to an end, the children of Disney-mad Navy family talked Max’s ear off about how much fun they had on their Disney vacations. They shared stories of their favorite rides, and gave him advice about what he should do, if his silly family ever got their act in gear and took him to Disney World. We were convinced; Max needed “in” on this magical experience.

We set it the visit up as a surprise for Max. While we talked about going to Disney CallWorld, it was always in a “later, with your cousins” way. In actuality, however, I was to take Max to Disney right after he and I returned stateside. In this photo, Max is getting the early morning call at our hotel from his Papa (still overseas), letting him know that he’s aGarden Grillbout to board a plane to Disney!

Later the same day, here’s Max at the Garden Grill, at the no-longer-offered Ice Cream Social. Max still looks a little shell-shocked to find himself all of a sudden at Disney World!

2005 The previously-Disney-deprived Max got to go to Orlando twice in 2005. At the beginning of the year, we took Max’s Uncle Ben, a true Disney fan. We stayed at the newly opened Pop Century resort, and enjoyed the Donald’s Breakfastosaurus character meal (which has since moved to Tusker House and is called Donald’s Safari Breakfast.)


At the end of the year, we journeyed to Florida for MouseFest 2005, and attended the MouseForLessFest Tony’s Town Square Grand Gathering Breakfast. In this photo, Max is center stage, wearing his red hat with a white strip. (Photo 4 Grand Gathering MouseFest breakfast). We miss MouseFest.

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Oct 062010

By Erica Colmenares

Blogging is where it’s at these days. Even my son has a blog (topic: video games; surprised?). My preference runs more towards Disney blogs (again, surprised?). I especially enjoy the guest blogs from members at These blog entries are not the direct scoop from the Mouse himself. Rather, they are what I enjoy most about Disney. They are the stories of true Disney fans and their magical experiences and memories with families and friends.

A quick look at the MFL Guest Blog can quickly turn into hours of reading. Here are some of the blog posts I enjoyed during a recent leisurely read:

Dinner for 12, please…

When you hear “Grand Gathering” what comes to mind? I know that Disney wants you to have a fairy tale image of happiness and laughing and everyone getting along. Young and old and in between, everyone is thrilled to be together, sharing in the magic of the “happiest place on Earth!” (Right. Have you ever seen my family?) I have those thoughts, all the time as a matter of fact. That is why I continue to plan grand gathering types of trips, because we do have those moments where it seems that everything is right with the world and I never, ever want to go home again.

Leading up to those wonderful days takes a lot of planning, mostly on my part, but every now and then I venture out and ask the opinions of my family members. It is their vacation too and since they are pumping thousands of dollars into the trip, I feel obligated to seek their thoughts for some things. Mostly this happens when I am trying to choose our evening meals. We have been fans of the basic Dining Plan since it’s early days when it included tips and appetizers. Through all the changes we have remained supporters of the plan, the number one reason being that it makes the trip have that all-inclusive feel and I don’t have to feel like I am constantly plucking out the charge card. So how do I go about choosing those table service locations?

To find out how, click here.
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Dec 282009

Compiled By Erica Colmenares

Many of us have been to Walt Disney World and/or Disneyland multiple times. Sometimes more times than we care to admit outside of Disneyphile circles. But even a much-beloved destination can become routine without a jolt of “new.” Earlier this month, we asked Magically Speaking readers what they do to keep their Disney trips new. Here are the stories they shared.

This is a very good topic and one that lots of “unbelievers” don’t get why we keep going back. Our secret to keeping Disney new is to try at least one thing that we haven’t done before on each trip. We have tried a couple different tours that we have really enjoyed. (There are lots more we want to try but we’ll have to do them on the “adults only” trips.) We did the Yuletide Tour earlier this month and loved it. We also try to hit a new restaurant just about every trip although that is really hard when we have so many that we love to eat at already and like to go back to each time. It also helps that we have a grand daughter that hasn’t been to Mickey’s House before that gets to go with us in a few weeks so that will make everything new again thru her eyes. (Submitted by BudNKat)

To keep my Disney trips new and exciting every time, I stay at a different resort each time and try restaurants that I haven’t yet tried. I also look for opportunities to do lesser-known or overlooked attractions, such as Animation Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and do try for things I haven’t done, like to be part of the show at Backlot Tour. Because the experiences are unusual, it differentiates one trip from another. (Submitted by Deanna S.)

New?!?!?!?!? Are you insane? We go to Disney because it’s always the same: same clean environment, same wonderful restaurants, same great entertainment, and the same fantastic, friendly Cast Members. We like SAME!!! (Submitted by Jane & Al in MO)

This year we decided that instead of doing our usual six nights/seven days, we’ll stay seven nights, and cut out any table service meals, just focusing on counter-service. So, we’re going to head to Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney which we hear is great. We’re going to order pizza at Pop Century. We’re going to actually eat at our own food court at Pop Century for a change, ’cause we hear that it’s great too. Hey, if it allows us to spend one more night in WDW, it’s well worth it. (Submitted by Maegen D.)

We like to go at different times of year. It’s very different visiting The World in December than it is to go in July (we prefer December!). A trip to Disney World in January has the down-sides of closures, but it’s great for crowds. On the other hand, we also enjoy the over-the-top action happening during the Spring Break dates. It is like going to a completely different place. (Submitted by Clara in TX)

Two of my last three trips to The World, I have taken a “newbie.” This kind of let me think of Walt Disney World as new for me too, so I tried a few things I hadn’t before. New restaurants, new rides, new adventures! When I went solo, I took my time since I did not have to wait for anyone else and that also enabled me to see things that I never had before. Walt Disney World never gets old for me. It all seems magical and new to me! (Submitted by Danna C.)

Every time we go, we start at a different park and try to do the reverse of what we did the previous time. We also try to go to a new restaurant each time. (Submitted by Eddie & Lisa)

For years, we always visited Orlando in the spring, because we love the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot. Two years ago, though, because of health reasons we couldn’t go until the fall. Well, we discovered how equally wonderful the Food and Wine Festival is. Now we’re going to try to alternate between the two Epcot events, and we’re considering throwing in a visit close to Christmas next year, to see how Epcot “does up” the holidays. (Submitted by Derek and Suzanne)

We have done several things to keep our visits new. One trip the kids and I wanted to theme it “Pass on the Magic.” So we made an attempt on that trip to pull extra fast passes we could share with another family if we weren’t going to use them. We brought light-up necklaces for the kids to hand out. We gave up seats on the buses. Just anything extra we could come up with to make someone else’s trip a little extra magical. We have also done a “Hidden Gems” trip, trying to find all sorts of out of the way or lesser know things to do (see the Hidden Gems in the World page on for ideas). (Submitted by Mic A.)

I have to say that we are creatures of habit. Traditionalists, I guess. When we first visited in 1993, we stayed at Dixie Landings, and continued to stay there after the resort became Port Orleans Riverside (we always stay in the Alligator Bayou section). Each of us has our favorite thing we must do. My husband needs to have a steak at Le Cellier. Our daughter (now 20!) can’t visit The Mouse without riding the teacups at the Magic Kingdom. Our son is a Star Tours fan (and worries that he won’t like the updated version, whenever that happens). And for me, it’s our yearly viewing of The American Adventure at Epcot. Call us boring, but that’s what keeps us going back, each year. (Submitted by Maureen)

Disney keeps Disney new for me. They are always changing things. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes, not so much. But each time we go, there’s a new attraction to experience, or a new rule or system or dining plan to learn about. I think that if I didn’t read newsletters like Magically Speaking between visits, and I didn’t know about each little change, I wouldn’t anticipate every trip as much. Because I know about all the new stuff that Disney is doing, I stay interested, and am able to plan great trips for my family. Thanks, Magically Speaking, for helping keep the Magic alive! (Submitted by Greg in SC)

Wow! Thank you, Greg, for the kind words. And thanks to all of you, for sharing how you keep your Disney trips new. And congratulations to BudNKat, who we picked at random from our submissions to receive a Magically Speaking prize pack.

Dec 142009

By Erica Colmenares

introUsually, when my family visits Florida, we head straight for the land of Mickey, and don’t see many of the other local tourist spots. This past summer, however, we had two weeks in the Orlando area, and decided to branch out. Gatorland had long been on my list of “must sees,” and I finally convinced my skeptical teenager that we should visit “the alligator capital of the world,” Gatorland.

Gatorland is in the middle of nowhere, it seems like. After seeing all the venues along I-Drive, I’d expected it to be surrounded by shops and restaurants. But Gatorland sits alone on a quiet part of S. Orange Blossom Trail. You can’t miss it — just look for the big alligator teeth!

entryWe arrived just before the park opened at 9:00 a.m. (Gatorland is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) Tickets at the gate are $22.99 plus tax for adults and $14.99 plus tax for kids (age 3-12). You can pre-purchase discounted tickets on the Gatorland website, and you can almost always find coupons for discounted tickets in Orlando-area tourist magazines. We used a coupon, and paid $20 plus tax for our tickets. At the ticket booth, we were given a very detailed, helpful map of the park, and an updated “Quick Glance” show schedule. This is also the place where you can rent a stroller or wheelchair, and buy tickets for the train.

There are three main shows at Gatorland: Upclose Encounters, the Gator Wrestlin’ Show, and the Gator Jumparoo Show. During July, each show had three sessions. Each show’s location is clearly marked both on the map and with signage throughout the park. The show times do vary throughout the year, so if you’re a planner, look at the show page on their website; there’s a link at the bottom to the mostUpclose current show schedule.

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Oct 192009

By Max and Erica Colmenares

For our son’s twelfth birthday, we were trying to veer away from material gifts and give, instead, experiences. I mean, you can only get so many video games, right? Since Max is a huge chocolate cake fan, we decided to book five special meals at Disney World, based on their dessert menus. Key to being selected: chocolate cake on the docket!

During the trip, Max gave us his culinary impressions of the many chocolate cakes he tried. The good news is that none of the Disney chocolate cakes disappointed. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the best, the worst score was a six. We have all of Max’s candid reviews below, starting with the least spectacular and ending with his favorite.

Our resident chocolate cake food critic!

counter serviceColumbia Harbor’s House Triple Chocolate Cake ($3.59)
While all the table service restaurants had chocolate cake which was unique to their kitchens, the Walt Disney World counter service restaurants that offer chocolate cake as a dessert all have the same “Mini Triple Chocolate Cake.” Max tried it out at the Columbia Harbor House. He gave it a six out of ten, and said, “The cake is fairly good quality. It would be nice if it were warm. And if there were ice cream. I do not recommend the icing, although you really have no choice, as it comes pre-prepared.”

Coral Reef’s Chocolate Wave ($7.99)
coral reefWe visited Epcot’s Coral Reef at around 3:00 p.m., just for dessert (I drank mine). Max ordered the Chocolate Wave, which has a certain fame in Disney epicurean circles. Max shared his stream of consciousness response to the cake: “Good … mmm. Raspberries! There’s something inside of there [white chocolate truffle]. It’s extremely sweet and very, very moist. A teensie bit watery. I think I might like that cake at Applebee’s a little bit more. The color of the white chocolate [truffle] is a bit dismaying; looks like snot.” Max gave the Wave a seven out of ten.

SanaaSanaa’s Chocolate Cake ($5.99)
I was excited to visit Kidani Village, and Max was excited to sample another chocolate cake. While my expectations were met, Max’s weren’t, so much. He was hoping for something a little different, but what he got was a generic kids’ chocolate cake. His thoughts? “It’s a good solid chocolate cake, and the sprinkles and chocolate Mickey Mouse head would be especially fun for a younger kid. We had to order the ice cream on the side, and I’m glad we did — nothing like ice cream with chocolate cake. I give it a seven!”

Kona CafeKona Café’s Kilauea Torte ($5.49)
Kona Café wasn’t on our initial list, but once a Cast Member heard of Max’s quest, he said we had to include the Kilauea Torte on the line-up. We had no problem getting a last-minute ressie for a late lunch at this Polynesian Resort restaurant, and I enjoyed the potstickers while Max dived into yet more chocolate. He said, “OK, it’s a harder cake in a pool of vanilla sauce and raspberries. Ooh, and hot chocolate inside. With the combination of champions: the moistness of cake and ice cream. A great grand finale. I think this is an eight!”

NarcooseesNarcoosees’ Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake ($9.00)
This Grand Floridian establishment was the nicest restaurant we went to (and frankly my new favorite at Walt Disney World, much to my budget’s dismay). The service was fabulous, and you can’t beat the view or the atmosphere. Or the food! Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t Max’s favorite chocolate cake, though it looked pretty darn good from my side of the table (no, Max does not share chocolate cake). Max said, “This one is the most original. The menu says the sauce is blood orange sauce. It’s sweet and tart, both. The whipped cream is yum — better than the stuff from cans. This is a solid eight cake.”

Olivia'sOlivia Cafe’s A Sweet Ending To Your Celebration ($5.49)
The winner of the vacation was Olivia’s special cake, invented for Disney’s 2009 Celebration promotion. Olivia’s isn’t on the beaten track, tucked away as it is in the Old Key West resort. But Max found it worth the trip, saying, “It’s simple yet great. Lots of varied ingredients – since there’s like a chocolate and white chocolate stick, the Celebration medallion of white chocolate, so many different things to experience. The raspberry sauce too. Of course, I ordered ice cream on the side. I don’t love the icing, but the actual cake and the hint of mousse is the best! Now this is a nine.”

So the verdict is in. It’s A Sweet Ending, at Olivia’s Café. You may be wondering what cake gets a ten in Max’s book. It is … ehrm … the Triple Chocolate Meltdown at Applebee’s.

If you are thinking of doing a similar best-dessert-search yourself, I highly recommend making mid-afternoon reservations. We did that for three of these outings, and I ordered an appetizer while Max got his dessert. That way, we saved some cash and didn’t put out the server by taking up a table during a high-volume time. It’s also much easier to get reservations at off-peak times. However and wherever you do it, enjoy!

Aug 102009

By Erica Colmenares

“Is it this hot in Africa?” my son asked, as we pulled up to the guard booth at Animal Kingdom Villas’ Kidani Village. I fumbled for an answer, wondering if anywhere could be as humid as Orlando in July, as we were waved through the gate for our lunch at Sanaa, the newest addition to the Animal Kingdom Lodge/Villas culinary choices.

SavannahLuckily for us, the first thing we learned about a visit to Kidani Village is that self-parking is covered. Woo hoo! We made the mistake of parking in an area that was a bit of a hike from the lobby and Sanaa (ask at the guard booth for the best section), but it was a quick elevator ride up to a beautifully decorated air-conditioned hallway with savannah views. Not a bad trek to the restaurant. If you don’t have a car, Kidani Village is serviced by bus; if you are coming from another Disney resort, you’ll have to transfer at a theme park or Downtown Disney, so perhaps consider taking a taxi ($15-$20 with tip).

I had been looking forward to eating at Sanaa since it was first announced. Disney describes the cuisine as African with Indian-inspired flavors. Sanaa (pronounced sah-NAH) is located on the ground floor of the lobby section of Kidani Village. It’s open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and for dinner from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. It’s a one-credit table-service location on the Disney Dining Plan, and offers a Disney Vacation Club discount at lunch and Tables in Wonderland discount at both meals.

tablesWe were greeted by the friendly hosts almost before we got off the stairs, and were quickly ushered to our table (even though we arrived a full hour ahead of our scheduled ADR time). Sanaa means “work of art” in Swahili, and the locale lives up to its name. The walls are decorated with African beading pieces, and the lighting is playful and colorful, evoking hanging paper lanterns at a summer party. The theming is an African marketplace, with the tables nestled among “rocks” and “trees.” And of course there’s the savannah view, with nine-foot windows looking out to the Sunset Savannah. Our table was right up against the windows, but had a view partially obstructed by bamboo fencing. While all the tables we saw seemed attractively situated, not all diners had savannah views (something to keep in mind when booking this restaurant).

There were just the two of us eating lunch, and unfortunately our stomachs weren’t big enough to order all the wonderfully appealing items on the lunch menu. I ordered two appetizers for my lunch. The Indian-style bread (a choice of three breads and three spreads) was $8.99 and served two. I chose naan, paratha, and paneer paratha breads with cucumber raita, mango chutney, and roasted red bell pepper hummus. My son nabbed most of the naan — it was super yummy and completely accessible to the pickiest eater (aka my son). All three breads and accompaniments were tasty, fresh, and attractively served.

SanaaI also ordered the salad sampler ($6.99 for a choice of three salads). I chose roasted beets, chickpeas with cucumber and tomato, and roasted potato, corn, and spinach. The roasted beets were the most flavorful, but all three were appealing, and with an additional dash of salt, the chickpeas and the potato, corn, and spinach salads were delicious.

My son opted for a less exotic lunch of mixed fruit salad, grilled cheeseburger, and eggless chocolate cake ($7.59). The appetizer/entrée presentation was good (classic Mickey-head plate) and the cake rivaled any we’ve had on Disney property. There are also plenty of adult options for those with a less adventurous palate. You can get a hamburger (with naan serving as the bun, $10.99) or an even more traditional club sandwich, on multigrain bread ($11.49). Go to for the complete lunch and dinner menus.

Overall, our trek to Sanaa was well worth it. The space was peacefully vibrant, the service was friendly and professional, and the food was perfect for a hot summer day. My favorite thing about this new restaurant is that it offers an easy mid-day break from Animal Kingdom, which was lacking before (neither Boma or Jiko serve lunch). Despite the Florida weather, a visit to “Africa” was the perfect lunch-time adventure.