A round of golf at Winter Summerland Miniature Golf

We’ve all had those days at Disney: half days before we’re due back at the airport, days when we need a break from the hustle-bustle of the theme parks. In our case, we had a day to kill before setting sail on the Disney Magic. We decided to head over for a round at Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf.

As is the case with all things Disney-fied, the course is highly themed and includes a backstory. Supposedly Santa himself commissioned the building of Winter Summerland as a post-holiday retreat for his elves. (Located conveniently next to Blizzard Beach Water Park!)

There are two 18-hole courses for guests to choose from, one themed with all kinds of frozen fun, the other with a surf ‘n sand motif. We opted to take the Winter course, most likely because it had a shorter wait. Disney staggers start times for the course to avoid families piling up on each other on the greens.

The holes are entertaining and highly interactive: you putt through an ice castle, activate a “defrosty” cooler filled with Christmas treats, and aim under Santa’s feet as he either attempts to pop up or down the chimney. Keep an eye out for a kid-pleasing “snow machine”, a squirting snowman, and, at the ball return, a special video message from Santa. Cheerful Christmas tunes play throughout the course.

MH winter summerland mini golf

We enjoyed our 18 holes, but agreed that we were more impressed with the interactive elements at Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf course. We were also disappointed that the game did not include the souvenir character golf balls we had received at Fantasia Gardens. Apparently they are now given as prizes if your score qualifies for the “leader board”; candy canes were given out as a consolation.


Location: Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf is located next to Blizzard Beach Water Park in the Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: Additional, same-day rounds of golf are half-off the regular price plus tax.


Chip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

MH chipdale campfireChip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along was the ideal finale to a resort day spent relaxing and exploring The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. We had earmarked the first full day of our trip as one to take advantage of some of the recreation at the expansive resort — and the campfire did not disappoint. It was a cowboy-crooning, s’mores-stuffed good time had by all.

We started things off with a round of beanbag toss alongside Chip and Dale. Arriving to the outdoor theater a half hour before the sing-along began gave us time to mingle with the ‘munks, purchase a s’mores kit from the Chuckwagon, and snag one of the wooden benches near the front (preferable to the bleachers behind).

Let’s talk about how bowled over I was to see the price of the s’mores kit! Correct me if I’m wrong but this must be the only spot on property where a family of 6 can be treated to dessert (and lots of it) by parting with a mere $10. The kit included a big bag of marshmallows, a third pack of grahams, 2 Hershey bars, 2 roasting sticks, and wet wipes. After the Cast Members lit the two fire pits, my little ones gathered ’round to roast the perfect mallow.

PicMonkey Collage campfireTo officially kick things off, Cowboy Anthony took the stage and led us in some campfire classics. Also plenty of tunes that little ones should have no problem singing along to. While we’re belting out “Home on the Range”, Chip ‘n Dale each take a side of the crowd and go up and down the aisles greeting guests and taking photos.

If the kiddos can keep their eyes open, a Disney movie is shown under the stars on the big screen. Ours begged to linger, but we packed them off in order to rest up for a busy day at the parks. Back to the cabin they went – singing “The Ballad of Pecos Bill” all the way…


Location: Find Chip ‘n Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along presented nightly around 7pm at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, Walt Disney World Resort. There is no charge to attend the event.


A taste of the Grand Floridian gingerbread house

MH grand floridian gingerbreadIt’s a delicious tradition dating back to 1999: the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa’s gingerbread house in all its iced-shingled, snowflake-spangled, Disney character-adorned glory. The edible little cottage sets up shop — literally, as sweet treats are peddled from inside — every holiday season in the hotel’s lavish lobby. Our family paid a special visit to the Grand Floridian on a recent Christmas trip to admire the house and get a gingerbread fix.

MH grand floridian christmasAfter snapping a family photo in front of the towering lobby Christmas tree, we made our way to the cottage. The kids stood respectfully behind the red ropes and gazed at the gingerbread siding. The incredible window detail and tasty Hidden Mickeys. Marveled at the cinnamon “smoke” puffing from the chimney every few minutes. They were awed that it had taken over a thousand pounds of honey and hundreds of pounds of chocolate to create the house. “I’m hungry?” suggested the 3-year-old.

Of course we weren’t going to bring them to this delicious domicile without sampling the wares. That would border on cruel with the aromatic, slightly spicy smell wafting throughout the lobby. A short wait in line was rewarded with chocolate-dipped gingerbread Mickeys for all.

PicMonkey Collage grand floridian gingerCraving some more of this holiday treat? You’ll want to also check out the gingerbread carousel at Disney’s Beach Club Resort and a gingery display at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.


Location: The Grand Floridian gingerbread house is found annually during the holiday season at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: A free gingerbread house decorating workshop takes place outside the house at 1pm Mon-Sat through the holiday season.


Four places to bang the drums in Walt Disney World

Kids don’t want to work – they just want to bang on the drum all day! So where can you do that at Walt Disney World? Here are four spots we’ve found:

MH walt disney world drumsThe Little Drummer Girls are performing at the following locations clockwise from top left: the interactive play queue of The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh at Magic Kingdom Park, the Outpost area of World Showcase at Epcot, while waiting to be seated at Boma – Flavors of Africa at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and in the Harambe Village area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Let me assure you – you don’t have to be a kid to join in!


A stay at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside’s Alligator Bayou

2013 will go down in Mouse Holiday history as the last year our family fit into nearly all of the moderate-level resort hotel rooms (the exception being the Fort Wilderness cabins, if you choose to lump them in the same category). This is incredibly bittersweet for us. On the one hand, our family has now outgrown the majority of hotel rooms in the Walt Disney World Resort. On the other hand…we no longer have to wedge a Pack ‘n Play into the room, and all family members can be expected to sleep through the night. So, yes, bittersweet.

That sentiment aside, we were psyched to fit in a stay at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside last fall before time ran out. We were assigned to a room in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort. The 16 two-story “lodges” of Alligator Bayou are themed to resemble old rural communities of Southern Louisiana and fan out from the banks of the Sassagoula River.

MH disney's port orleans riversideAlligator Bayou guest rooms will sleep a family of 6 (including one under 3 in a crib), but it’s a snug fit in a 314 sq. ft. room. Beds include 2 queens and a bonus pull-down Murphy bed that is suitable for a shorter person. Also taking up space is a table with two chairs, a small fridge, and the bath area, divided from the sleeping space by a curtain. We were charmed by the subtle Princess and the Frog theming — Louis the gator featured prominently on the Murphy bed — as well as other touches of the bayou such as log bedsteads, a sugar sack-print privacy curtain, lantern light fixtures and carpeting made to mimic a wood plank floor. Our lodge’s location was a long hike from the “Sassagoula Steamboat Company” Main Building (and dining options), but we were conveniently close to one of the resort’s four bus depots. Proximity to the depot was important, as we utilize the Walt Disney World Resort transportation system in lieu of renting a van.

We’re not ones to spend a whole lot of time at our resort during Disney trips, but we made sure to leave a bit of time at the end of the day to unwind at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside. The feature pool on “Ol’ Man Island” called to the kids with its sawmill water slide and waterfalls. We often grabbed a late bite (or six) to eat at the Riverside Mill Food Court and, depending on the baby’s mood, ate inside, by the pool, or back in the room.

There are quite a few reasons to bug out of the parks early and head back to Port Orleans. I wish I could say we had time to take advantage of all the recreational opportunities at the resort:

  • Five quiet pools in addition to the “Ol’ Man Island” feature pool
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides along the banks of the Sassagoula River
  • “Ye Haa” Bob Jackson’s piano comedy show at the River Roost Lounge
  • Cajun “Campfires on de Bayou” complete with smores!
  • Bike and surrey bike rentals
  • Medicine Show Arcade – one of Disney’s largest
  • Catch-and-release with a cane pole at the Fishin’ Hole
  • A Bayou Pirate Adventure for young swashbucklers

Plus! – You can take a free Sassagoula River Cruise to Downtown Disney directly from the Riverside Marina. The ferries depart about every 20 minutes throughout the day and the leisurely trip to Downtown Disney takes about as long, winding past Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, the treehouse villas of Saratoga Springs Resort, and on into the shopping and dining district.

Our family will miss the laid-back charm — and certainly the price point — of this moderate level Walt Disney World Resort hotel. It was great fun while it lasted!


Celebrate Easter at the Walt Disney World Resort

magic kingdom easterGiven that our Mouse Holiday Family wilts at the thought of such crowds, we have never ventured even in the general direction of the Walt Disney World Resort too close to Easter. As we don’t have the luxury of visiting as often as we’d like (a major understatement), we tend to schedule our trips when attendance is low. This totally wouldn’t be the case if we were locals. We’d take the crowds in stride if we could experience these special Easter activities:

Magic Kingdom

  • Easter Bunny meet-and-greet near Town Square Theatre
  • Special Easter pre-parade featuring Fantasia characters, a few famous Disney hares, and the Azalea Trail Maids.

Epcot

  • Egg-stravaganza: 10 days of hunting for special Disney character eggs hidden around World Showcase. Purchase a special map and stickers ($4.95) to mark your finds; collect a prize when the map’s complete.
  • Easter Sunday egg hunts and relay races for kids in the United Kingdom Pavilion, World Showcase.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny meet-and-greet at the UK Pavilion, Easter Sunday.

Animal Kingdom

  • Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny meet-and-greet on Discovery Island, Easter Sunday.

Resort Hotels

  • Many Disney resort hotels offer pre-made Easter baskets or supplies to stock your own.
  • Many resort restaurants will serve special Easter menus or brunches.
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Contemporary Resort get decked out with incredible – and fully edible! – Easter eggs on display.
  • All resorts will have special Easter activities scheduled throughout the holiday. From character meet-and-greets and candy scrambles to crafts, games and egg hunts, there might be enough going on at the hotels to warrant a break from the theme park crowds!

Take a mini-safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

It was a stretch for me to fully envision the concept of a hotel built within a re-created African savanna – until we stepped foot into the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Though I had read about guests taking morning coffee on their balconies while watching the animals amble, I still expected the savannas to be less accessible to the curious public. Gladly, this is not the case. The animals are on display for all to admire from beautiful vantage points around this majestic resort.

Enveloping the deluxe units of Jambo House and the DVC Kidani Village are four painstakingly maintained savannas totaling over 40 acres. These are the habitat of more than 200 exotic birds and animals. In order to see the greatest variety of creatures, you’ll want to visit the specially designated savanna overlooks sprinkled throughout the property. We took our own mini-safari with the kids this past March.

MH AKL savannasTo assist with an authentic experience, guides — mostly from Africa themselves — are stationed at the overlooks to answer questions about the animals or provide interesting facts. Our 7-year-old daughter, for example, wanted to know where the original homes for the giraffes and gazelles had been. It comforted her to know that many had been born right in the Walt Disney World Resort (within the nearby Animal Kingdom Theme Park). Our 2-year-old found it fascinating to find a flock of flamingos only steps away from the swimming pool.

Feel free to explore at your own pace, keeping with the unhurried, natural ambience of the resort. The animals and architecture alone make the Animal Kingdom Lodge a worthwhile stop on your tour plan.


Location: Find the Uzima, Arusha, Sunset and Pembe Savannas on the grounds of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring Tip: If you’re visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge as a day guest to see the savannas, grab a map from the front desk.


Shop: The LEGO Store in the Downtown Disney Marketplace

The LEGO Store in the Downtown Disney Marketplace will forever be known as the site of our two-year-old daughter’s biggest meltdown to date. She was that upset about having to share space at the littlest outdoor Duplo table. A (very) small fraction of me was happy she was so engaged in building her masterpiece. The rest of me was frazzled and disappointed that we had to vamoose so quickly from Downtown Disney.

At least we were able to fit in some fun activities at the LEGO Store before our hurried exit:

Such as scoping out the massively cool LEGO sculptures on display – Prince Phillip facing Maleficent as the fire-breathing dragon, for one, and a vignette of the Seven Dwarfs.

MH LEGO store downtown disney

The LEGO bricks for building vehicles and the track for racing them were a hit with our nearly-nine-year-old son. He was also drawn to the computer stations inside the store where LEGO enthusiasts can get help designing and building models.

And, of course, there was some shopping going on. The Downtown Disney LEGO Store has got a great selection of kits as well as two sizes of cups you can purchase and fill with your choice of individual LEGO bricks. Our seven-year-old daughter picked out her trip souvenir here; though it was on the spendy side, I was pleased to learn the price was the same she’d pay at the local Target back home.

We could have done without the toddler tantrum, but it sure made for a memorable trip to the LEGO Store.


Location: Find the LEGO Store in the Marketplace area of Disney Springs, Walt Disney World Resort. A similar LEGO Store is located in the Downtown Disney District, Disneyland Resort.


Cool the toddler off in Tike’s Peak at Blizzard Beach

The best cure for mid-winter blues in Minnesnowta? If I can’t hop a plane to balmier climates this very minute, the next best thing is getting a jump start on planning our next Disney venture! The fantasy: I’ll feel warmer just looking at pictures of water slides and wave pools. (The reality: We’re still a month out from a spring break trip to Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park.) I’ve still got time to chill here in the Midwest and test this theory.

My first task was choosing the Disney water park best suited for a family with four kids ages 9 and under. I’ve had my own fun at the parks as both a kid and (obviously more recently) an adult, but this will be our first time bringing along our brood. I’m impressed by what Blizzard Beach has to offer our non-swimmers: Tike’s Peak includes fountains, pop jets and mini slides for my toddler and preschooler; Ski Patrol Training Camp caters to my swimmers-in-training with inner tube slides and a zip line.

With all that to occupy them, what do you think our chances are of getting to explore the rest of what Blizzard Beach has to offer?


MH blizzard beach tike's peakUpdate: Our 2.5-year-old daughter loved Tike’s Peak. She must have spent an hour alone beating a path down the multiple kiddie slides and enjoyed going down the larger one on our laps. The water in the zero-depth entry wading pool is comfortably warm (nice in the spring) and the material on the bottom of the pool is a soft but skid-preventing rubber. We definitely sacrificed a chunk of our water park time in Tike’s Peak, but it was worth it to watch Erin having a blast!


Location: Tike’s Peak is located at Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring Tip: Kids must be 48″ or shorter to play in Tike’s Peak.


 

Get a “wake-up call” from Mickey

mickey wake up callThere are very few mornings a year when I’m likely to bounce out of bed by sunrise raring to get at the day. No alarm clock needed here, not while I’m at Disney. Often I’ll have slept only marginally the night before, waking every hour or so in anticipation of the aforementioned sunrise and its signal to rally the troops.

Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to wake up to ring from Mickey Mouse? We don’t know why it took us so many years to realize that we could very easily schedule a character wake-up call right from our resort hotel room. The option is right there on the room phone. Just punch in the time you’d like to be roused. Apparently the morning message is voice-activated (I’ve never personally answered it because the kids would riot) so make sure you’re semi-awake to receive it. Hit the speaker button so the whole family can enjoy!

We’ve had luck getting a call from Mickey himself when staying on-property at the Disneyland Resort. (Our son reports that “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” precedes Mickey’s greeting of “Hiya, Pal!” and his signature chuckle.) The Walt Disney World Resort hotels have phased out a longtime morning greeting from Mickey and Stich and replaced them with Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc.

Both have proven to be a great way to jump start the day!