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

Chip ‘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 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!

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.


Hit the links at Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf

Once in a blue moon, we find ourselves with a little something called “downtime” at Walt Disney World. (And really, we don’t actually so much find downtime as it’s forcibly written into the schedule.) What to do with that extra hour before it’s back to the theme park for dinner and the nighttime entertainment spectacle? Particularly if you’ve got little ones who like to hit the links, how about a round at Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf?

Themed after the classic Disney animated film of the same name, the course is elaborately populated by dancing hippos, threatening broomsticks and Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The 18 holes are grouped into five musical sequences from the film and feature whimsical obstacles, musical effects, and splashy surprises. Our son, who was five the last time he played, loved the “xylophone staircase” hole and was completely in awe of Yen Sid presiding over the 18th hole whirlpool.

Keep in mind that the course was not designed with five-year-olds in mind – it’s actually pretty challenging with its steep ramps, water hazards and lyrical riddles at each hole to hint at the best putting strategy. But our son’s a golf enthusiast and – better yet – our vacation package included two coupons for a free round (called “Magical Extras” and currently still included when you purchase a Magic Your Way vacation package). There was no extra charge for younger siblings to tag along with their own putters – and they were happily entertained by the interactive holes. Just beware of Chernabog lurking in the cave on the 8th hole…

Location: Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf is located on Epcot Resorts Blvd. across from the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, Walt Disney World Resort. There is no direct resort transportation to the course; instead it’s possible to take a resort bus to the Swan and walk across the street to the course. Alternatively, you can bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, catch a water taxi to the Swan, and walk the remaining short distance to the course.

Touring Tips: During busier days or times of the year, you might be issued a tee time to ensure parties are staggered along the course. It’s possible to reserve a tee time (in person only) for a later time in the day. Check Disney’s website for current prices; a 50% discount is available for a second game played on the same day. Don’t forget to pick up your free, collectible souvenir golf balls after your round!

[The souvenir golf balls are no longer dispensed but if you make it to the leader scoreboard, make sure to claim your souvenir certificate!]

Make a splash at Disneyland Hotel’s Monorail Pool

The sleek monorails whooshing down the waterslides are first to grab your attention upon entering the Disneyland Hotel’s swimming complex. The nostalgic Disneyland marquee atop the slide tower is pretty impressive, too. And the slides, according to our little waterbugs, are just as fun as they look. Monorail Red’s double loop emerged the clear favorite. For the very youngest in our Mouse Holiday family, the gentle kiddie slide and super shallow water at the base of the tower were all they needed for a perfect afternoon.

2011 saw the renovation and re-theming of the landmark Disneyland Hotel’s swimming pool. Sadly, our kids never got a chance to experience the “Never Land” pool complete with Captain Hook’s pirate ship and Skull Rock. Monorails are cool and all, but my guess is the kids would have enjoyed swimming like Lost Boys even more. Never Land has been transformed into the “E-Ticket Pool”. The photo below shows the diminutive “D-Ticket Pool” meandering under a bridge to connect with the unusually-shaped E-Ticket.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are a couple Adventureland-inspired places to grab eats and drinks while enjoying the Disneyland Hotel pool. Amazonian watering hole Trader Sam’s serves cocktails that conjure up “mystical effects” (Disney’s promise, not mine). Next door, Tangaroa Terrace dishes up a tropical breakfast, lunch and dinner amidst palms and tiki torches. We appreciated the cozy outdoor fireplace seating on a brisk February day after the pool!

Shop: World of Disney store in Downtown Disney

Wander into one end of the mammoth World of Disney store in the Downtown Disney Marketplace – especially with kids in tow – and it may take you a good hour to disgorge yourself from the other end. This was our result after bringing the children to do some end-of-the-trip souvenir shopping on a recent trip. We had gone no further than five feet into the gigantic emporium when the kids paused at a huge collection of Minnie Mouse merchandise. Twenty minutes later, we had gone no further.  That’s when I realized we might truly go no further that day at Downtown Disney – at least to souvenir shop. But given the spectrum of goods to choose from, that didn’t turn out to be a problem.

Divided into themed rooms, the merchandise runs the gamut from pricey princess gowns to reasonable knickknacks with everything in between: clothing, toys, plush, kitchenware, home décor, jewelry, collectibles, and more.

MH bibbidi bobbidi boutiqueWorld of Disney is also home to one of the resort’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques – a magical salon where, for a hefty sum, your little girl can be made-over into a princess. One of our own little princesses came away from the store with a book that teaches the art of drawing Disney characters, instead. Our son loved the selection of Disney-themed classic board games. The younger girls were happy browsing the candy, charms for bracelets, and plush Minnies.

Part of what makes the World of Disney store an attraction in its own right are the awesome store displays. Look skyward in the Great Hall and pick out Peter Pan and the Darling children in flight. Find Pocahontas and John Smith sharing airspace with Tigger over the women’s clothing selection. Our toddler daughter, Erin, was terrified of the lifelike Pirates of the Caribbean display – but the rest of the family loved it! And be sure, on a hot day, to position yourself just so beneath the giant Stitch crowning the store entrance nearest the Ghiradelli shop!

With so much to do, see, and shop for at the World of Disney store, plan on setting aside a decent chunk of time.

Location: The World of Disney store is located within the Downtown Disney complex (known as Disney Springs officially since 2016) , Walt Disney World Resort. There is a second location in the Downtown Disney District at the Disneyland Resort, Anaheim.

Touring Tip: Parking and admission to Downtown Disney (Disney Springs) are free. There is also complimentary transportation to/from Downtown Disney from most areas of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Take the plunge at the Polynesian Resort’s Nanea Volcano Pool

I’m hoping some of the fierce Florida heat and humidity will have abated by our upcoming fall stay at the Polynesian Resort. Since having children we’ve been dedicated winter visitors to Walt Disney World; pool time has been more a result of the kids begging to swim than an actual need to beat the heat. However, this year finds us taking our first family trip in early October. Having a great pool at our disposal could turn out to be paramount!

We’ll factor in plenty of time to cool off at the Nanea Volcano Pool. Only one perk need be mentioned when it comes to defending the Polynesian Resort’s main pool as having the best ambiance in Walt Disney World: Cinderella Castle view. The pool itself is on the small side, but being able to paddle about with the kids against a backdrop of the castle is unforgettable. Plus, adjacent to the pool is a beach of the finest white sand, perfect to settle down and catch an evening spectacle of Wishes fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. Other perks of the Polynesian’s main pool include a zero-depth entry (especially great for toddlers like mine), a waterslide through the dark interior of a volcano (older kids loved it) and a small splash pad.

Location: The Nanea Volcano Pool is located on the grounds of Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Walt Disney World Resort.

[The Nanea Volcano Pool was refurbished into the Lava Pool at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort when the resort officially returned to its original name in 2015.]