Tag Archives: Walt Disney World

Doing Disney: Flower and Garden Festival

003In yet another ploy to lure visitors during “off peak” times, Epcot offers the Flower and Garden Festival from early March to early June. And it works! The continuously changing face of Epcot draws seemingly never-ending crowds.

The Flower and Garden Festival, as you might expect, features a bright array of flowers and plantings. The Park simply bursts with bright colors in planting beds and floral arrays everywhere you look. Highlighted are the fanciful topiaries of beloved Disney characters, placed in appropriate locations for the theme. For example, the Beauty and the Beast topiaries are located in France, while the Toy Story topiaries are located in Future world, near the Mission to Mars ride. Just like the other Festivals, a guide to all of the offerings and features can be picked up at the entrance so you won’t miss anything.

It’s not just about the Disney topiaries, either. Other attractions include a butterfly aviary and specialty plants in various countries.  Japan showed off beautiful bonsai trees and China exhibited topiaries of all of their zodiac signs. (This is the year of the Dragon) Two beautiful new play “gardens” (playgrounds) sprouted up for the younger set for the festival. I hope they keep those around, because I do think Epcot needs more amenities for the under-8 set. Of course, all of the outdoor kitchens fired up again, re-branded and with new offerings complementary to the theme.  It isn’t Epcot without eating and drinking around the world!


Like the other Festivals, this one has a concert series called “Garden Rocks!”.  A variety of artists are scheduled throughout the festival to perform their greatest hits. We caught “Air Supply”, one of my favorite duos from the 70’s,  the original artists still touring after 44 years. They were fantastic – very enjoyable!I’ve simply never seen a bad Disney-sponsored concert.  There are some great artists still in the line-up and if we were going to stick around longer, we would go back just to catch the shows. However, this was our last Disney outing for a while, since we are currently heading North to our next stop;  beginning our Midwest loop.

I guess if we lived in Florida all of the time, we might get blasé about Disney. But, after quite a few visits (I’ve lost count) in past months, it still really hasn’t gotten old. There always seems to be something new to do, or something to re-visit. There’s just SO MUCH offered between 4 theme parks and network of resorts.

Maybe it’s time to buy more Disney stock!

Doing Disney: Through the Years

I’ve been visiting Disney theme parks for most of my life. My first time was seeing Disneyland way back in 1978. I was a college student back then, visiting California with friends. Jeff beat me, visiting the newly-constructed Disney World resort in the mid-70’s with his family. They stayed at the new Contemporary Resort, taking the high-tech Monorail to the Magic Kingdom, which was all there was back then! But we didn’t REALLY start visiting the Disney World parks regularly until we moved to South Florida back in 1984. We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years!

<The first photo is of Jeff and baby Sean at Disney. The other shows him all grown up!>

The cost of admission has skyrocketed. When we first did Disney in the mid-80’s, a one-day ticket would set you back about $25. That equates to maybe $55-60 in today’s dollars. NOW that one day, one park ticket will set you back around $125! If you want to visit more than one park, figure $140 for a park-hopper pass! That doesn’t include parking which now runs $25 / day. Purchasing a multi-day pass brings the per-day cost down a bit, but the daily parking fees still eat you alive – which apply even if you stay at a Disney resort! The only way to avoid parking fees is to purchase an annual pass. But if you’re not a Florida resident, an annual pass is very pricey and not worth it unless you travel there a LOT!

No more “forever” tickets. When we bought our first tickets, Disney had a policy to honor those tickets forever. So we’d intentionally purchase multi-day passes, use only a day or two then, and save the other days for a future trip. We built up a stockpile of these unused tickets over time. A few years ago, we brought in one of the ancient paper tickets that had one unused day out of 4 (used days were manually stamped back then). We took it to guest services who cheerfully accepted it and handed me a new one-day park hopper pass. We brought in our leftover child multi-day passes another trip and not only were they honored, they upgraded them to adult passes for free with no questions asked. We finally used up the last of our stockpile only a year ago! NOW however, all tickets have an expiration date. No more stockpiling of forever tickets. Bummer.

There is SO much more to see and do!  When we first started visiting Disney World, Epcot’s World Showcase wasn’t complete, and MGM Studios (as it was called when it opened) and Animal Kingdom didn’t even exist. The parks have continued to expand their size and offerings. Epcot offers a variety of special events that keep drawing you back in for more, especially during times that were traditionally “low” season. There are running race weekends and special holiday events. Disney’s combination of theme rides, shows, characters, and events engage you like no other place. And that is why ….

Disney is ALWAYS busy! There used to be peak seasons and low seasons. Now with a year-round schedule of “special” events and offerings, it seems there are peak seasons and slightly-less-than-peak seasons. Truly peak times mean unbearable crowds and parks that close to additional guests because they are at capacity. We simply won’t go then. But the parks always seem busy nowadays, even during the week and during seasons that traditionally had lower attendance. The most popular fast passes are always snapped up weeks in advance.  Waits for even the most basic rides can be an hour or more by noon. We haven’t tried going in bad weather – maybe it is less busy then!

So what do we do to cope with the high prices and busy-ness?

  • For us, purchasing annual passes made sense because the length of our stay and because we can get Florida resident rates. It also covers parking.
  • For others, purchasing multi-day passes help to bring the cost down a bit. You can also check the Disney world page for discounts, which are offered sometimes. Just watch for ticket expiration dates.
  • If we want to hit a particular ride, we try to get a fast pass. If unsuccessful, we go EARLY to the park, ready to go at rope drop, and head straight for the coveted ride. As long as it isn’t a “special magic hours” day that allows resort guests into that park early, we’ll get to the ride before the line can build.
  • We dine strategically – we don’t just nosh on all of the snacks available in the parks. We will eat before we go, take water and snacks, and decide where we want to have a dining experience. Often we find better food and a lesser price at the resort hotel restaurants. The exception is the Epcot World Showcase which has a variety of good places to eat.
  • We bring our patience. There will be lines – although Disney manages crowds better than anyone. Sometimes, you just have to wait in line for an hour or so to see or do what you want.

057Disney knows what they are doing. Even after multiple visits over the last few months, it really doesn’t get old.

And that’s why we own Disney stock!

Doing Disney: Epcot’s Festival of the Arts

083Jeff and I are back in the Central Florida area, within reasonable proximity of Disney World. Back to taking full advantage of our annual passes!

Disney is a master at finding ways to entice you back to the parks. I’m sure a high-paid team of Disney Management huddles together, looks at the seasonal attendance patterns, and plots ways to suck you back in during the “low” attendance times. Nowhere is this more evident than at Epcot, which hosts a seemingly nonstop series of Festivals, each with their unique features. The Festival of the Arts at Epcot begins almost immediately on the heels of the Holiday Festival, running from mid-January through the end of February.

Epcot’s World Showcase area is ideally suited for special events like these. There is a large area to work with, several stages, and permanent “special event” kitchens scattered throughout the various countries. No matter the festival theme, each country can insert their own unique flavor.

The arts festival features displays of Disney-themed art (for sale, of course) throughout the world showcase. Mostly pictures/paintings, you can also find sculpture, jewelry, glassworks, bath products, even a “dye your own” silk scarf booth. You will often find the artist at their booth, working on their next creation. It’s fascinating to see each artist’s “take” on the iconic Disney subject matter.  One unique art style displayed is the chalk sidewalk art. So ephemeral, it’s sad to know that it will soon be washed away in the Florida rain.

088Guests have the opportunity to join in the fun at the “paint by numbers” poster. Each guest is given a numbered color and invited to fill in several squares. It’s cool to see the picture emerge over the course of the day. Once completed, a new poster is mounted and the completed artwork displayed elsewhere.

Another opportunity to join the fun is at a free interactive workshop at the Odyssey Festival Showplace. We took part in a 15 minute “draw a Disney character” workshop. Sitting at tables, a Disney animator instructed us line-by-line through a face drawing of the character Stitch. OK, mine turned out looking more like an evil don’t-feed-it-after-midnight Gremlin. But it was cool and rather giggle-inducing!

094The performing arts are also represented at the festival. Local bands and musical groups perform at the festival stage while “statue guys” amaze and amuse. The highlight (for me) was the thrice-nightly “Disney on Broadway” show at the American Pavilion stage. Each night, two veteran Disney Broadway stars perform a selection of Disney Broadway show tunes. Each couple perform a different show. I caught two different shows over different visits, and they were both just awesome. My favorite part of all!!

I went several times to this festival. The folks you see in the photo are Marissa’s family, who played with us for a couple of visits. There’s so much to see, it can definitely keep you entertained for more than one visit. The food offerings at the special event kitchens change with each festival, aligning with the theme. Different singer/actors perform different “Disney on Broadway” shows throughout the festival.  And all this is on top of the regular Disney rides, shows and displays. Disney really knows what it’s doing.

And that’s why we own Disney stock.

Doing Disney: Candlelight Processional

One of Disney’s most popular holiday events is Epcot’s Candlelight Processional. This presentation of the sacred Christmas story in narration and song originated more than 60 years ago in Disneyland. Migrating to Disney World in the 1970’s, it has evolved over the years to become the beloved show it is today.

The Candlelight processional cast consists of a full orchestra, a Disney Cast member choir (the green robed “tree”), guest choirs garbed in gold robes, and a celebrity narrator. The Processional showings begin before Thanksgiving Day and extend past Christmas – with 3 shows per day, every day. With so many shows, there are multiple celebrity narrators that participate 2 or 3 days each as well as many guest choirs.

The Processional is located in the American Pavilion, part of Epcot’s World Showcase. It is unbelievably popular, especially for shows with favorite guest narrators. Jeff and I had attended last year, but I definitely wanted to go again. Due to its popularity, the only way to guarantee seating to a performance is to purchase a “Candlelight Processional Dining Package”. This involves making dining reservations at one of a selection of Disney sit-down restaurants. For a modest up-charge over the normal cost of dining, you are guaranteed seating at a selected show. I hadn’t planned to go the dining package route this year, but changed my mind when I saw people queuing up at noon in the Stand-By line for a 5 pm show! I checked the website and snagged a lunch reservation and a 5 pm show time slot just two days in advance. To add to the excitement, the guest narrator was to be Neil Patrick Harris, a fan favorite narrator!

IMG_5029Our lunch reservation was for the Restaurant Marrakesh in Epcot’s Morocco. It doesn’t seem to be as popular a dining location, perhaps because the food is more exotic than the norm. But we had a delicious lunch, enjoying the belly dancer and Moroccan music as we dined. We couldn’t linger too long over our mint tea, it was soon time to queue up for the show!

Entering the theater as part of the guaranteed dining package line, we were able to snag prime seats in the middle of the theater – perfect for viewing the large stage. The show is primarily the re-telling of the classic Christmas story of Jesus’ birth and is chock full of classic carols. Hearing the familiar carols and watching the choirs process into the theater, candles in hand, just gave me happy tingles. Neil Patrick Harris was a superb narrator. Not only is he an accomplished actor/singer/dancer, he was celebrating his 11th straight year as a Processional narrator. This has become a part of his family’s Christmas tradition! He was relaxed and entertaining, but respectful of the material. I even saw him singing along during the Hallelujah Chorus! I can see why he is a fan favorite. I loved, loved, loved the show from start to finish! It was over all too soon.

It’s simply a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas season!

Doing Disney: Tickets

r-1466051002-WaltDisneyWorld1We are in Orlando, home to Mickey Mouse! This is the first of a sporadic series on visiting the Mouse, especially during the holiday season.

We moved to Florida way back in 1984. I think the cost of a one-day park hopper ticket back then was in the $20-25 range. In today’s dollars, that’s about $50. However, ticket prices have risen far faster than inflation – a one day 4-Park Hopper pass can set you back upwards of $160! Yikes! And that doesn’t include parking at $25 per car! Add a hotel stay, meals, and souvenirs, and I wonder how families can afford a Disney vacation. It’s just super expensive.

So, what can you do to bring the admission ticket cost down? First, if you buy a “one park” ticket, rather than a park-hopper ticket, it is less costly. The difference is that a Park Hopper pass allows you to visit more than one Disney World Park in the same day, while the “one park” ticket does not. It’s not a bad idea to focus on only one park in a day, because getting from one park to another takes more time than you may think – anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. That’s time that you can be spending enjoying the park, rather than standing in line for the monorail or waiting for the bus. I find that one full day still isn’t enough to see everything in one park – especially if it’s busy. On the other hand, if you only have a couple of days and really want to see all 4 parks, a Park Hopper will at least allow you to see the highlights of each. Also, some parks stay open later than others (sometimes much later) and having the Hopper will let you maximize your day. It just depends how ambitious you want to be.

If you buy multi-day passes (3 or more days), the cost per day decreases. It used to be that unused days of multi-day passes never expired. About 3 years ago, we brought in a 1980’s era paper ticket (which used to be manually stamped with the date) that had one unused day left and Disney honored it. That is no longer the case. All Multi-day tickets purchased now have an expiration date and you have to be very sure that you’ll use all of the days within the allotted time. Read the fine print! (Older tickets purchased under the No Expiration option are still honored.)

Disney offers discounted ticket prices to members of the US Military, that’s another option to check out if it applies to you. I would not recommend buying theme park tickets from sources other than Disney! They may be counterfeit. You can research and purchase your tickets online direct from Disney and pick them up when you arrive. You can also purchase tickets at any of the Disney resorts, at the theme parks, or at guest relations at Disney Springs.

Despite our nomadic life, we have retained a Florida mailing address and our Florida residency. That qualifies us for the Disney Florida Resident special discounts! There’s no discount on a one-day pass, but the savings on multi-day and annual passes are substantial. Since we will be here in Central Florida for several months (and back next October), we have elected to purchase Annual Passes.

Several varieties of Annual Passes are available, depending upon whether you want to include the water parks, and whether black-out days are imposed. We went with the Florida Resident Silver Annual Pass. It’s a Park-Hopper pass, so we can go to multiple parks on the same day if we want. Annual passes include parking fees as well as grant modest discounts on selected dining and merchandise. There are black-out dates during the peak Christmas holiday and summer times, but we wouldn’t go then anyway. It wasn’t cheap ($510 each), but it is the best value for our time here, all things considered.

We have our passes, mouse ears at the ready – it’s time to go see Mickey!!