Shop and Dine at Disney Springs in Walt Disney World
Our amazing week on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas was followed up with a day long stop at the now nearly completed Disney Springs in Walt Disney World. As a shopping and dining complex (similar to CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort), Disney Springs can be a one-stop location or an all-day venue. It’s a great place to hang out on your Disney Arrival Day!
Transformation at Disney Springs
It is astounding to see the difference a little less than a year makes. During our last visit in 2016, the renovations and additions to Disney Springs were about three quarters of the way complete. Visits up until that time allowed us to enjoy the recently completed Orange Parking structure, dine at The Boathouse, sip drinks at Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar, and gain an overall appreciation of the scope of the project.
Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar.
This visit in early February 2017 allowed us to savor even more of Disney Springs. While the list of new eateries and retail outlets is certainly too lengthy to review here, we’ll continue to take a closer look at individual Disney Springs’ offerings in future articles. Sign up here!
The primary highlight for us was enjoying the architectural and design details that have been added and integrated into the area (okay, we enjoyed some tasty eats too 😉 ). We parked in the Lime Garage and walked out into Town Center. What a pleasant surprise! The Landing was completely obstructed by construction walls last year.
Convenient parking at Disney Springs.
We shopped at the UNIQLO retail outlet to take a look at the much ballyhooed T-shirts and other exclusive offerings. I was able to get my hands on a unique Marvel Iron Man shirt! Yep, I highly recommend browsing this store for themed shirts.
Mickey shirts at UNIQLO.
By far, the most impressive aspect of the Town Center area lie in its design and architectural details. Those details allow for an immersive experience into the entirety of the Disney Springs thematic approach to shopping and dining.
Plenty of stores to browse at Disney Springs.
The retail outlets located here can be found at most upscale shopping centers and other areas, but it is the visual impact related to the details and design that make it special. It is clear that you are on Disney property.
Gorgeous fountain at Disney Springs.
Love the architectural details at Disney Springs.
One highlight of this area was the D-Living store. At the time, this store was all decked out in Beauty and the Beast decor and merchandise. It was a fun store to browse through! Note that D-Living is closed until May 11, 2017 when it will unveil a new theme and matching merchandise.
D-Living featured a Beauty and the Beast Theme.
Wolfgang Puck Express
For lunch we had an unadventurous, but thoroughly enjoyable pizza at Wolfgang Puck Express.
One of our favorite lunch stops is Wolfgang Puck Express.
Delicious cheese pizza at Wolfgang Puck Express.
Next, we headed over to Amorette’s Patisserie. The rave reviews that this establishment has boasted since opening is certainly well deserved. An absolute joy to experience and our choices — a Mickey Dome Cake and Raspberry Eclair– were memorable. 😉
Raspberry Eclair and Mickey Dome Cake. Yum!
Star Wars and Rogue One Merchandise
It should not be surprising to anyone that I was most eager at finding Star Wars and Rogue One merchandise. I was very pleased to see the entire middle wing of Once Upon a Toy dedicated to Star Wars and Rogue One merchandise!
Star Wars Merchandise.
In fact, Rogue One icons, posters, and other visuals were in display all across Disney Springs. As if there wasn’t any doubt, it is now entirely clear that Star Wars will be a huge influence over all that is Disney for the foreseeable future. I will not voice any complaints about that!
Star Wars Displays at Disney Springs.
There will be lots more to see, eat, drink, and purchase at Disney Springs during future Walt Disney World visits. I am most looking forward to returning and dining at The Edison when it opens later this year. For now, our family plans to spend a day at Disney Springs in early June. Yes, I’m counting the days!
Looking forward to The Edison!
Plan a visit to Disney Springs in Walt Disney World — and don’t be afraid to bring the kids!
What do you enjoy most about Disney Springs in Walt Disney World? Do you plan to stop by Disney Springs on your next vacation to Walt Disney World?
Roswell, New Mexico: Southwest Road Trip Overnight Stop
During the summer of 2016, our family took an extended road trip through the southwestern portion of the United States. An exciting journey that allowed us to check off several destination-related bucket list items, including a stop in Roswell, New Mexico.
Visiting and touring the area surrounding Roswell, New Mexico has been a bucket list item of mine for decades. The events that allegedly occurred at Roswell shortly after the end of the second World War have always intrigued me. As a sci-fi/fantasy fan, I also have a related interest in the history of the phenomenon of UFO sightings. Luckily, both my wife and my son share this interest. Our road trip was the perfect opportunity to make the pilgrimage.
Driving the Roswell Highway
Part of the mystique of Roswell is due to its remote location.
Road to Roswell
New Mexico History
Regardless of your interest or level of skepticism related to such topics, it cannot be denied that Roswell, New Mexico holds a significant place mark in the history of post World War II America and has influenced aspects of our culture for decades.
Fat Man Bomb Casing at White Sands Missile Range
New Mexico, in general, surprised me by both its beauty and the wide-ranging cultural influences it holds. Undeniably, one of those cultural influences is the importance it played during the last half of World War II and in the infancy of the Cold War.
After 20 months of development, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated 200 miles south of Los Alamos at Trinity Site on the Alamogordo bombing range on July 16, 1945.
Trinitite – debris from Trinity Site on display at White Sands Missile Range
Today, New Mexico continues to harbor a significant military presence at the White Sands Missile Range.
Kitschy Close Encounters
Visiting Roswell can include experiencing its quirkier side, such as the dozens of green alien figures of various sizes decorating businesses throughout the area.
Alien take-over in Roswell
The International UFO Museum And Research Center is located in Roswell and is an informative place for those desiring to dive deeply into the specifics of the 1947 incident at Roswell as well as for those who are simply curious.
Additional UFO and alien theories, as well as the expected tourist trappings of T-shirts, books, and other paraphernalia, can be found at the museum.
Kitschy Close Encounter at UFO Museum
We spent about an hour or so pouring through some of the more detailed exhibits related to the supposed UFO crash. The museum is definitely worth visiting while in Roswell in order to get a more intimate view of the cultural impact the incident in 1947 has had on the town.
Exhibit at UFO Museum
The primary purpose of a more serious visit to Roswell should include a plan to visit several of the actual locations integral to the Roswell incident. While you could surely work to do this on your own, we found it advantageous to have assistance in not only finding the locations, but in explaining the importance of each place within the context of the Roswell story.
Fortunately, there are several options for guided tours of the Roswell area. Researching months in advance of our visit, my wife came across solid reviews related to the tours provided by Dennis Balthaser.
Ballard Funeral Home in Roswell
The experience we had with Dennis was fantastic. He picked us up at a designated time in our hotel lobby, and then spent the next several hours driving us around Roswell showing us the specific locations and detailing the events that transpired before, during, and after the incident at Roswell.
Dennis is widely considered to be an expert on the incident at Roswell and has developed a significant resume of research and presentation on the topic.
Driving onto the Roswell International Air Center
The tour included numerous stops and drive by locations: drive by of rocket scientist Robert Goddard workshop; drive by former homes of Intelligence Officer Major Jesse Marcel, and Public Relations Officer Walter Haut; current City Hall (Roswell Police Station in 1947), and more.
Most exciting, was driving onto the Roswell Industrial Air Park, known as the Roswell Army Airfield in 1947, to see Hangar 84 where “bodies and debris” were briefly stored before being shipped elsewhere.
Dennis was extremely courteous and knowledgeable throughout the entire tour. His tour allowed us to gain a much better understanding and appreciation of the events. Not only was he able to provide us with fascinating information that was new to us, he demonstrated an interest in why we wanted to visit.
Clearly, Dennis has found his passion and was able to share that with us in an accessible manner. I would strongly recommend his tour for anyone interested in diving deeper into the incident at Roswell. We took the private tour for up to 4 people. With Dennis doing the driving and unfolding the story in chronological chunks, we were able to really absorb the scenery and mind-boggling information.
Dennis Balthaser shows us a 1947 photo. Original water tower still stands.
Our visit to Roswell was extremely satisfying. We were able to appreciate the importance of the event while gaining additional perspectives on what may or may not have happened.
This overnight stop on our 5,000 mile trip gave us lots to discuss and think about!
Von Braun Exhibit
Plus, Bucket List item checked!
What U.S. destination is on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: The Masterful Aesthetics of Design, Immersion and Storytelling
Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) far surpasses the other three Walt Disney World (WDW) parks when it comes to its ability to immerse guests into the various experiences and stories that the Imagineers carefully craft. Joe Rohde’s theme park is an extraordinary achievement. Since opening in April 1998, DAK has been providing guests of all ages with multiple layers of sensory and emotional stimuli.
The lighting, landscaping, architecture, graphics, and color palette are all layered in overwhelming detail.
The level of immersion and designed detail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is unique at WDW. The only other park on Florida’s Disney property that comes close is Typhoon Lagoon. (Love that place, but for a variety of reasons, including temperature, water parks are not necessarily on my touring plan every time I visit Disney. 😉)
Astounding details are woven into the landscaping near Expedition Everest.
My first visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom occurred in January 1999, less than one year after its opening. From that excursion and onward, this park has continuously held a special place in my overall Disney experience. Although there are many criticisms leveled at DAK, some legitimate and others ridiculous (in my opinion), there is no other Disney Park in the United States that offers the range of emotional impact related to its explicitly detailed design and execution.
The Entrance and Reveal at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The experience begins at the entrance, not unlike many of the other Disney parks, however, Disney’s Animal Kingdom sets itself apart in significant ways. The necessity to walk through the Oasis to get to the Tree of Life and the remaining themed areas of DAK, works magic every time it is experienced.
The Tree of Life is the park icon for Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The fact that you cannot see any details of the park beyond the foliage and paths of the Oasis as you enter the turnstiles is unique for the parks at WDW. With Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there is no effort or any mechanism by which any aspect of the entrance to the park is a mystery. Spaceship Earth cannot be hidden. Hollywood Boulevard and several of the other themed areas at the Studios can be plainly seen even before you enter the turnstile.
Meandering pathway through the Oasis
The Magic Kingdom and the carefully designed reveal of Cinderella’s Castle is closer to what Disney’s Animal Kingdom presents. Cinderella Castle, by design, is slowly experienced as you pass under the Walt Disney Railroad Station and turn the bend into the central hub at City Hall or the Exposition Center.
Look at the details in every corner of Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
It is a well-known fact in Disney lore that the slow reveal to Cinderella’s Castle is copied directly from Disneyland’s reveal of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Walt and his Imagineers designed the entrance to Disneyland as the overture to “the show” and a direct analogy of entering a movie theater or theatrical production. The turnstile, the archway into the lobby (City Hall area), the popcorn available immediately upon entering the “lobby” at either side, and Main Street USA rolled out as the red carpet towards the main attraction, Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Hub. The adventures of the themed lands lie beyond. This purposeful manipulation of these stimuli attracts and compels guests forward to explore.
All roads lead to amazing scenery
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is analogous to the Magic Kingdom only in that its entranceway was carefully designed to manipulate your senses and have a distinctive emotional impact on your experience. The care by which the entrance to DAK is designed is carried throughout every remaining inch of the park. Beyond anything else, this is what I admire most about the Animal Kingdom.
Stop and take in the splendid views in the Oasis.
The Story Revealed by Joe Rohde
The other, and perhaps more significant, analogy that can be drawn between the Magic Kingdom/Disneyland and DAK is that each owes its existence to the dreams of one man. Joe Rohde is unquestionably Walt Disney’s stand-in for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
View from DinoLand toward Discovery Island. Discovery Island leads to DinoLand U.S.A., Asia, Harambe, and soon… Pandora.
Walt’s passion to tell stories and provide the guest with adventure, education, and immersive experiences by careful design of every single detail of Disneyland is well documented. It can be clearly seen that Joe Rohde’s passion has always and continues to achieve the same with DAK.
Kim saw firsthand the exquisite detail that went into the Wild Africa Trek when she took part in the opening day ceremony in January 2011 with Joe Rohde in attendance (yes, I’m still jealous!).
Opening of Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek. And, there’s Joe Rohde!
The Work of Art
Over the years, I have spent many hours slowly soaking up and appreciating various details of the work of art called the Animal Kingdom. Frustratingly, I know that I have only barely scratched the surface. During any of my trips to WDW, a must do is simply wandering and admiring small chunks of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Along the Maharajah Jungle Trek, you’ll wander the ruins of an ancient palace
Joe Rohde and the Imagineers have continued to plus the park with every addition or modification made since 1998. The masterful use of aesthetics continues to astound me: Anandapur and the addition of Expedition Everest, the expansion of Harambe, and several of the modifications made to Discovery Island are just a few of these examples.
The details present in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom bring life to the mythical kingdom of Anandapur.
Animal Kingdom’s extraordinary use of design, story immersion, and details is encouraging when considering near and future development in the park.
Dino Institute in DinoLand U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Some of the most salient aesthetics at DAK for me include: the ingenious use of graphic design apparent in the signage across the entire park, the wall and brickwork found within Asia, the mountaineering props and gear spread all over Anandapur, the queues for Expedition Everest and Dinosaur, the Restaurantosaurus, the entrance to Harambe, and the entire park at nighttime.
Expedition Everest looks even more mysterious at night!
DAK at night is especially wonderful to walk AND run through! Yes, Kim and I ran the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K back in 2008 and 2009!
As it was purposely designed to be, DAK’s aesthetics and artful design cannot be described well with words. Photographs do a better job, but there truly is nothing like being able to touch Disney’s Animal Kingdom in person. I am looking forward to my next visit!
The palentologists and graduate students of DinoLand’s story”live” at Restaurantosaurus.
Share your thoughts on Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the comments below. Do you have an upcoming trip planned?
Ten Rogue One Observations
The digital release of Rogue One is less than a week away. It has now been several months since its initial theater debut and I’m finding the need to share some further thoughts about the film. Yes, it’s time to take a look at some Rogue One observations!
Rogue One Readings
It’s meaning and overall impact upon the Star Wars experience is getting clearer for me. A busy work schedule, family events, a Royal Caribbean Cruise, and a bout of bronchitis prevented me from seeing Rogue One for a third time in the theater. However, I was able to spend several hours reading and reviewing a few of the guides and other texts that have been published since December. By the time I (and probably most of you!) was itching to really sit down and absorb its visual impact once again, the announcement for the digital and Blu-ray releases were made! I guess I can wait a few more days! 😉
During these months of contemplation, I’ve developed these Rogue One observations that I want to share.
Star Wars Reading Materials
Rogue One Observations
1. Gareth Edwards is an extraordinary filmmaker.
It is clear that he was destined to have a lasting impact on the Star Wars experience. It really does not matter if the ending or other aspects of the film were reshot. Gareth’s love for the Star Wars cinematic experience runs deep and it is demonstrated throughout the film making process and the finished product of Rogue One. I am wholly impressed at his dedication to bringing a new story and chapter into the Star Wars experience. Yep, I am a huge fan!
Oh, another store at Disney Springs!
2. Rogue One very clearly stands within the upper most tier of the Star Wars films.
Its visual style, storytelling, and heart make it so when placed among the other seven films. It’s so well done, that it feels as though it was meant to be made. Although I refuse to resort to the pointless efforts at ranking the Star Wars movies in any way, Rogue One should be extremely high on anyone’s list.
3. Rogue One significantly alters one’s perception and understanding of the Star Wars cinematic experience.
It’s ingenious execution adds an astounding level of meaning to the entire saga.
More Star Wars Shopping at Disney Springs
4. Death Troopers are indeed awesome.
The mystery of their existence and their frightening appearance will ensure their legacy in Star Wars from this point forward.
5. Michael Giacchino’s film score is outstanding.
It has been a staple in my playlist rotation since December!
6. The third act of this film could possibly be one of the most exhilarating ,visually stunning, and emotional 20 minutes that I have ever seen on film.
Additional multiple viewings are in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the impact of those final 20 minutes.
7. Disney is demonstrating to be a responsible and competent steward to the Star Wars experience.
Regardless of how you feel about Disney as a company, it cannot be denied at this time that its acquisition and subsequent management of LucasFilm has been nothing short of extraordinary for the Star Wars fandom.
I love the Rogue One promo signs at Disney Springs!
8. My appreciation for Rogue One notwithstanding, I am somewhat hesitant to embrace the upcoming Han Solo film.
Something tells me I’m not alone in this, so time will tell if my uneasiness is warranted.
9. I am now breathlessly awaiting December and the release of Episode VIII.
A trailer will be dropping at any time and that will only fuel the anticipation.
10. Rogue One surely did not assist me in overcoming my “problem” related to Star Wars merchandise.
Yes, I continue to pick up merchandise throughout my travels — much to the dismay of my family!
Star Wars Merchandise at Disney Springs
Bravo LucasFilm and Disney!
Now it’s your turn; share your Rogue One thoughts in the comments below!
Universal Studios Florida and Diagon Alley Trip Report
Since the primary purpose of our visit to the Universal Parks and Resorts was to experience Diagon Alley, the first park we toured was Universal Studios Florida.
Lockers – The Less-than-Magical Way to Enter a Thrill Ride
A word of caution when entering several of the attractions at the Universal Parks: be prepared to stow ALL loose items into lockers provided near the entrances to each of those rides.
The lockers are free, but require patience and some finesse to utilize. These lockers are a significant negative aspect to touring the Universal Theme Parks. Frequent Walt Disney World visitors are accustomed to being able to bring bags, backpacks, cinch sacks, cameras, and cell phones onto most attractions as long as they can be “safely stowed” in the provided compartment. At Universal, these items are not allowed on many attractions.
Additionally, be prepared to walk through metal detectors and then “wanded” upon entering several of the coasters. This ensures that any cell phones or other items you might have safely in your pockets are removed and placed in the lockers as well! While the intention of such security and safety precautions are admirable, they are certainly less than magical when trying to have a fun, carefree day within a theme park.
Attractions with Express Pass and Immersive Queues
Nicolas and I decided to use our Express Pass immediately to ride the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket. It’s a well done speed coaster with some significant drops, inversions, and good G’s. The theming is awful, but the ride is good.
Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket
Several attractions in addition to Diagon Alley were either under construction or not present when we last visited. One of those was Transformers: The Ride 3-D. Nicolas and I used our Express Pass once again. We felt this was a really solid attraction, especially if you have seen any of the Transformers movies. As is the case with many Universal attractions, the experience is a creative combination of ride vehicles, simulators, and screens.
Transformers: The Ride 3-D
The queue for Transformers: The Ride is really well done, but that is not unusual at Universal. In my opinion, the queues at Universal are significantly more immersive and detailed than most others at Walt Disney World. (Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the one comparable standout at WDW.)
Diagon Alley at Universal Studios
Next stop was the stated purpose of our visit: Diagon Alley.
Any adjectives really can’t do justice to how amazing Diagon Alley really is. It is an astounding and immersive theme park experience that truly transports you into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We arrived at Diagon Alley midmorning. As expected, the area was already crowded and the wait time for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s thrill ride was well over 60 minutes. There is no Express Pass option accepted at this attraction, so arriving early in the morning or riding closer to park closing hours is your best chance of a reduced wait time.
Immerse yourself in Diagon Alley
If the wait time for Gringott’s is too long, go ahead and explore Diagon Alley. It will take some time to discover all the detailed nooks.The Diagon Alley attraction is beyond anything that I have ever seen in a theme park. Universal has taken great care in providing guests with an exceptional experience. It’s a first class attraction on all levels.
At the outset, you are tasked with actually discovering the Diagon Alley by way of several “hidden” passages off the London streets represented near the front of the land.
Diagon Alley is hidden behind the London streets
Once inside Diagon Alley, the use of visually stunning architecture and set design makes you feel as if you are indeed a student or professor at Hogwarts in search of Butterbeer, an owl, or a new wand. I was fascinated with the scope of the area itself; Diagon Alley was much larger than any of us had anticipated. Pathways, doorways, and storefronts are all magnificently detailed. For example, the signage and exterior design of the Potions store is spot on.
Potions Storefront in Diagon Alley
• Purchasing interactive wands at Ollivanders. The interactive wands are marked by a gold label on the box and are not necessarily inexpensive (currently $47.95 each). A map accompanies your wand. Armed with both, you’ll find locations where your wand is used to cast spells. The spells, if cast correctly, demonstrate surprising and delightful visual and physical effects on a variety of items and objects. This is a really well done aspect to the attraction and worthy of the extra expense.
In one area, a careful wave of your interactive wand conjures up a feather pen that writes mysterious messages on parchment in a storefront window. The spells can be difficult and it takes patience and practice; just like students at Hogwarts must practice their magic!
• Enjoying Butterbeer or, even better, Butterbeer ice cream. Butterbeer is an extremely sweet and unique drink that we’ve found in the Universal Parks and at the Harry Potter Studios in London. The Butterbeer ice cream, found at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, was a delectable treat at 10 in the morning! I loved it. My wife said it was too sweet.
Butterbeer Ice Cream
• Exploring the various shops and eateries that are authentic to the Harry Potter films and books. Some of the locations include the Leaky Cauldron, Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions and of course, Quality Quidditch Supplies. During this visit, we invested in wands. I won’t be surprised if we find ourselves donned in robes on our next excursion to Diagon Alley!
• The Gringott’s attraction is a truly remarkable thrill ride experience that complements Universal’s cadre of attractions that combine ride vehicles, live sets, simulators, and 3-D screen technology. We rode this attraction on our second day with very little wait time. This was accomplished by taking advantage of the 1 hour early entry to Diagon Alley provided by staying at Loews Royal Pacific resort.
While exploring Diagon Alley, be prepared to open your wallet or use your debit card frequently. There is Harry Potter merchandise available literally at every turn!
Be sure to experience Diagon Alley both during daylight and at night. The area takes on an intriguing atmosphere in the dark. Specifically, pay attention to the dragon sitting atop of Gringotts Bank.
The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen
The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen is a recent addition to Universal’s CityWalk. Conveniently located, take a break and enjoy a different level of creative detail.
A well executed steam punk theme runs throughout the restaurant. The establishment somehow fits in very well with the level of theming inside both of the theme parks, but is refreshingly different at the same time. While the food was well done, it wasn’t exceptional. Creative milkshakes and sundaes are the highlight of the menu. I had the Chocolate Banana Brain Freeze and it was well worth the calories! (Stay tuned for a more in-depth review soon.)
The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen
Up Next: Hogwarts Express, Kong, and Raptors
Share your thoughts about Diagon Alley and/or Universal Studios!