Tips: Last Minute Reservations at WDW Table Service Restaurants

Le Cellier filet with mushroom risotto

Le Cellier filet with mushroom risotto

I’ve mentioned before that it’s possible to have some luck walking up to even some of the more popular WDW restaurants if you show up at “off” times, especially if you ask about openings right as the restaurant is beginning a new phase of seating. (If you browse restaurants on the official WDW website you can see the time ranges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner served at that restaurant.) There’s another way you may be able to secure that hard-to-get reservation for certain locations.

At many WDW restaurants, Disney charges $10 per person for no-shows and for cancellations with less than 24 hours notice. (You must provide a credit card when making reservations at these locations.) This encourages anyone holding a reservation that they won’t end up using to release it back into the system a day or more before the reservation time, and it seems many people are waiting until 24-36 hours before their booked ADR to cancel them.

For example, my husband and I were sitting around last night, making plans to go to Hollywood Studios and Epcot today. As we were talking, we decided to see what kind of dining reservation we could get for lunch/early dinner at Epcot. We looked first at Le Cellier, a place we’ve been looking forward to trying for lunch, but neither of us thought we’d find any availability on such short notice. Well, we had not one, not two, but three choices for different ADR times presented to us. We took the “weirdest” slot, the 2:50 pm choice, so we could spend more time at Hollywood Studios in the morning. However, we also had been given choices of 11:50 am and 1:20 pm, hardly oddball dining windows. Out of curiosity (after grabbing the ADR we wanted, of course) I searched for openings at a few more restaurants on the $10/head cancellation list, and I found several hits that I wouldn’t have expected to find.

Here is the list of restaurants that have the credit card hold/$10 per person cancellation fee. These are the ones you can try within that last 24-36 hours before you want to eat there to see if someone has opened up a slot with their cancellation.

  • 1900 Park Fare
  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
  • Artist Point
  • California Grill
  • Cape May Cafe
  • Chef Mickey’s Buffet
  • Citricos
  • The Crystal Palace
  • Flying Fish Cafe
  • The Garden Grill
  • Hollywood and Vine
  • Jiko
  • Le Cellier Steakhouse
  • Narcoossee’s
  • Ohana
  • Tusker House Restaurant
  • Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Victoria and Albert’s (cancellation fee here is actually $25/person)
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse

Additionally, the locations that require full prepayment carry a cancellation fee of the entire pre-paid amount if there is a no-show or if a cancellation is made less than 24 hours before the reservation time. Those locations are:

  • Cinderella’s Royal Table
  • Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
  • Mickey’s Backyard BBQ
  • Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show

Good luck with all of your last-minute dining reservation attempts! I wish you all as much luck with it as we just had. (Our meal at Le Cellier this afternoon was GREAT!)

Posted in Dining, Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Events: Noticing Special Events and Activities in the Parks

Sign for the Highland Games

Sign for the Highland Games

For fans of Disney Parks, it’s pretty easy to be aware of the big yearly events that take place in the parks, like Star Wars Weekends, the Food and Wine Festival, and the Flower and Garden Festival. There are many smaller events, however, that seem to fly largely under the radar of most visitors, mostly because they don’t get the same level of publicity as the bigger events do.

Recently, we’ve seen Car Masters Weekend at Downtown Disney (first weekend of June, now over), Sundowner Celebration at Animal Kingdom (ongoing as I write this, continuing each evening at least through the end of June), the Amazing Flamingo Race (fun educational event for kids to teach them all about flamingos, also going on now and continuing at least through June), and the Highland Games at Epcot to celebrate the release of Pixar’s Brave (running through early July).

So how can you possibly find out about events like that which may take place during your trip? There are a few things you can look for, both online and inside the parks themselves.

Disney News Blogs

I don’t aim to report on all the current goings-on in the parks, but rather just to give a few tips and observations of mine now that I’m able to spend a lot more time at WDW than I used to. However, there are several excellent websites that report on daily news from the parks. There are lots of them in the links list on the right hand side of my blog if you’re looking for a few new ones to haunt in search of the latest updates and goings on at Walt Disney World. Keep an eye on them, especially when you have an upcoming trip.  Even if there is a small, very temporary event going on, the sites that update frequently with WDW news usually catch things like that and provide lots of detail on where to go and what you’ll see or experience there.

If you use Twitter, try following the Twitter accounts for some of those websites as well. I see a lot of great, up-to-date information about what’s going on around WDW on my Twitter feed.

Watch For Signs

Look for banners like these

Look for banners like these

They might be banners, they might be wooden signs set into the ground, and unfortunately, they might not be very obvious. If you’re open to detours from your plan for the day, read the signs and banners you see as you walk from place to place!

It’s very easy to get tunnel vision, especially when you are heading for a specific place. The parks are often crowded and it takes a bit of focus to walk in such a large group of people who all have their own destinations in mind. Details pass us all by all the time. Do your best to look for the banners and signs that announce special opportunities through the noise and bustle around you.

Look For Temporary-looking Structures

See the tents visible from across the water in Epcot's Future World?

See the tents visible from across the water in Epcot’s Future World?

If you’re walking along in a Disney park and you spy a tent or another structure that doesn’t look like it could possibly hold up permanently to the rain and heat of Florida weather, chances are that something is going on there. It might be for a private event, but it could also be for something like the Highland Games currently going on at Epcot. Detour toward the out of the ordinary things that you see and check it out.

Ask Other Park Guests

Do you see a line forming, but you don’t know of an attraction in that area? Ask someone in the line what they’re waiting for. You might find there’s a character greeting or other fun event coming up there.

Read the Park’s Times Guide

As an official information source provided by the park, you might think I should have listed the Times Guide first, but unfortunately, there is limited space on it and the special and temporary events often don’t make the cut. Sometimes they are able to fit some extra information on them, though, so they’re worth a look.

I wish you all good luck for finding a great special event to participate in the next time you are visiting Walt Disney World. Keep your eyes peeled and you never know what you might find!

Posted in Events, Go Often Enough and You'll See, Tips | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Tips: Preparing Your Kids for their First Trip

There are so many great experiences you can have as a family at Walt Disney World, but for every child you see with a huge grin plastered on their face, you can find another having a difficult moment. It’s a land of highs and lows, of extremes. No trip is ever going to be perfect, but a little work done beforehand can help you maximize the fun and keep the stress and fear to a minimum. I’ll cover two of the biggies: riding rides and meeting characters. Here are some ways to let your child know what to expect.

Preparing your kids for rides

If you take a quick trip around the Disney fan forums on the web, you would get the impression that there are as many opinions about whether you should take your kids on any given ride as there are people. I’m going to tell you what I think, hopefully while avoiding starting any sort of flamewar.

Pre-Trip Preparation

I think that a successful introduction for kids to rides begins long before you enter the park. Obviously, if you’re trying to plan a surprise trip, this is going to be an issue, but if your kids know about the trip in advance, there are lots of things you can do ahead of time to reduce those pangs of anxiety once you get in a line for a ride.

Some of you are going to think, “Wow, you’re saying I shouldn’t leave any of the details out as surprises for my kids.” And you know, if you think your kids might react really poorly to being surprised by some of these details, that’s exactly what I’m saying. You all know your kids, you probably have a good idea of how they’ll react to certain things. Your kids might be scared of the dark, or perhaps the dark doesn’t bother them at all but they don’t like abrupt noises or ghosts, or what have you. You’ll have a pretty good idea what might be issues for your kid that could affect their enjoyment of the vacation.

  1. Watch on-ride videos on YouTube. When we were preparing for our first trip to WDW, my daughter was just past three years old. She was over 40″ tall, so we knew she could ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the other 40″ rides. I put her on my lap and we watched a few on-ride videos and we talked about what it might feel like to be on the ride ourselves. Would it be fun? Scary? Bumpy? I talked about the things we could hear other people doing, like yelling and laughing. We practiced putting our arms in the air when she could see other people on the ride doing that, and she yelled, “Whee!” a bunch of times. When the time came to ride the ride for real, she approached it pretty much the same way, and I still remember her smiling from ear to ear after it was done, just before she begged to go on it again.
  2. For small children, tell them Mickey (or another favorite character, maybe Phineas and Ferb?) built the rides and the scary moments are all just the character joking around. For older kids, talk about the Imagineers who design the rides and how they studied for a long time to make rides that are thrilling but still safe. My daughter watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse around the time of our first trip, and she knew Mickey wouldn’t have a ride that would hurt her. She knew as long as she obeyed all of his rules (about keeping herself inside the ride vehicles, etc.) she would be just fine. In the middle of that first trip, while we were walking into Haunted Mansion, my husband made a “scared” face at her and she said, “It’s okay, daddy. It’s all just Mickey’s joke.” Now that she’s six, she still often explains to kids we meet in the lines who appear to be anxious about the ride about Mickey and how he would never make a ride that would hurt them.
  3. Buy MP3s of the ride music (there are some available in the Amazon MP3 store, like Haunted Mansion’s Grim, Grinning Ghosts and Pirates of the Caribbean’s Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me) and listen to them so the sound of the rides will be familiar.
  4. For rides you can’t find music or on-ride videos for (dark rides like Dinosaur are a good example of this) explain what will happen on the rides, what they’ll see, and how they might feel.
  5. Tell them about how you (or someone else you know, if you haven’t) have ridden the ride before and you knew you were safe while riding it. This is also a good time to talk about the rules on the rides (like keeping your body inside the ride vehicle) and the safety restraints and how they work to keep the riders safe.

During your trip

Okay, so now you’re on your vacation, and here you are, standing outside a ride you feel your kid will like if they can just get over the hump of getting themselves on the ride, or past one part they might find scary. Here’s where our old friend “distract, distract, distract” comes into play.

The most obvious animal from Pirates of the Caribbean

The most obvious animal from Pirates of the Caribbean

  1. Count the animals. On many rides there are some things going on that might be a little scary, but a small distraction will get your kid through that first ride. Once they’ve been on it once, the fear of the unknown is gone and they’ll likely have an easier time of it. If you know there are animals (Pirates of the Caribbean is perfect for this) then have your children count them during the ride.
  2. Similarly, they can watch for things of a certain color. How many yellow things or green things can they find on Haunted Mansion? Maybe that activity is just enough to get them through that first ride, and they’ll discover that the ghosts are just pretend, and are just portrayed as playing tricks and partying anyway.
  3. The strategic redirect. Think your kid would do just fine on The Great Movie Ride, if only they didn’t have to make it through the Aliens scene? Seat them on the far left end of the ride vehicle and have them look off to the side of the car, where there are a bunch of monitors set up with various readouts. If you can get them looking away from the two Aliens that jump out at you, they will likely miss the scares entirely.
One of the monitors on the left side in the Aliens scene

One of the monitors on the left side in the GMR Aliens scene

Meeting characters

Let’s say your kid has watched Disney shows or movies at home on your television. How big do the characters seem to them, do you think? Do they think of Handy Manny as the six inch tall cartoon character they see on the screen? Do you think they’ve even considered how big Sulley from Monster’s Inc. would be in “real life”? Even with the human “face” characters, like the Princesses, a lot of kids find themselves overwhelmed and tongue-tied when they’re faced with their first few character meet and greets.

  1. Give them a real-world person they know as a comparison. I recommend telling your child a few times before you go that the characters are “tall like ____” (someone you know who is tall). My husband is 6’6″, and leading up to our first trip, I told my daughter that some of the characters were “tall like daddy” and she didn’t seem surprised at the size of the largest characters when we got there. I told her that Mickey and Minnie were “about as tall as mommy” (sigh, yeah, I’m pretty short) and she didn’t seem surprised when she met them, either.
  2. Help them think up things to say to the characters, or questions for the characters. Talk about it before your trip, but also talk to them about it in the line while you’re waiting.
  3. Have something for them to do with the character. Autograph books are a classic example. If the child is holding their autograph book, they have a mission in mind once it’s their turn. They’ve probably seen other kids before them go up, get their signature, and then get a little interaction with the character. If they have a similar thing they can do to help break the ice initially, it could really help them feel more comfortable. My daughter had a kiddie camera on one of our early trips and she really liked having the characters pose for her while she took their picture before she went to them for a hug and a conversation. Anything that adds a tiny bit of structure to the event will help.

    Taking pictures of the characters to help break the ice

    Taking pictures of the characters to help break the ice

  4. Go up to the characters with your child if they seem a little hesitant at first. When they see you’re at ease chatting with Donald Duck, maybe they’ll see it’s not so scary.

My last piece of advice for all possible “scary” moments on your vacation? Allow them to opt out if they really seem frightened. Perhaps they will change their mind later. You know your kid, and if you really pay attention to them, you can tell if they’re really uncertain or scared or if they just need a little reassurance. Listen to your gut.

Posted in Tips | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Local Status: Love Bugs


image from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

I thought I would post a quick update for any of you coming for a trip soon to note that the late spring flight of love bugs is now upon us. (Click that link for information on love bugs if you aren’t familiar with them.)

It hasn’t been bad, at least it hasn’t been where we live. If you’re picturing thick clouds of bugs, that’s nowhere near a realistic scale. I only mention it because they seem to be a topic of conversation each year on the popular Disney information forums, and because a lot of kids might display some anxiety over the bugs and it’s always good for a parent to be prepared to deal with anything that might come up. These bugs do not bite or sting, so you can assure your kids (and yourselves!) that they can’t hurt you.

They’ll probably be around into May, so if you have a trip planned during this timeframe, you may want to come up with a colorful bedtime story about a friendly love bug so perhaps the bugs won’t seem so strange or scary.

Posted in Tips | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Saying Goodbye: Test Track Closing for Major Changes

Test Track (Barrier Test)

Test Track (Barrier Test)

Update, 4/16/2012: Test Track did, indeed, close today to begin its transformation into its next incarnation. No confirmed date for the unveiling of its replacement, but the most reliable reports seem to point to something in the vicinity of Fall 2012. If you’re a glass half full sort of person, you’re probably thinking, “September”. If you’re a glass half empty sort of person, you’re probably thinking more of early November. Hopefully we’ll see it sooner rather than later, and I will update this post when anything official starts floating around.

And now, the original post:

Well, word on the street (okay, on the Times Guide) says that today, 4/15/2012, was the last day Test Track was supposed to be open before it closes for a major overhaul. Never mind that the official Walt Disney World website contradicts their own park Times Guide and is listing the close date for June 1, the rest of the Disney blogosphere seems to be united in believing the Times Guide over the website, and I tend to agree.

We headed out to Epcot earlier today to get a couple last trips in on Test Track, and I have to say I had a little lump in my throat saying goodbye to my old buddy, Bill McKim, at the conclusion the pre-show video.

I rolled a little video during our very last trip on the ride. Here it is. Videos are now our only way of remembering what this version of the attraction was all about. Hopefully its successor will bring us all as much fun and excitement as this one did. (Test Track, we hardly knew ye.)

Posted in Epcot, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crafting for Disney: Making Custom Iron-ons for One of a Kind Shirts

JAMMitors custom t-shirt

JAMMitors custom t-shirt

Of all the things you can make yourself to use during your trip, home-crafted t-shirts might be one of the easiest projects. Some people like to make the same or similar shirts for everyone in their group, or you can make custom shirts for different people with each person’s shirt featuring something about the parks they particularly like.

I like to make shirts spotlighting the more offbeat stuff in the parks, like Sonny Eclipse or the JAMMitors. You know, the kind of Disney stuff you can’t find any merchandise for around the parks. It’s really fun to walk around in the parks wearing a completely unique item and it’s a nice way to show your love for the things you can’t find Disney-made products for.

There are lots of crafting techniques you can use to make custom shirts, but we’ll only be talking about iron-ons today.

Things you will definitely need:

  1. Some kind of iron-on transfer paper. There several kinds to choose from depending on your project. (Take a look at some of the different types on the Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts website.) Make sure to buy the right type for the method you plan to use (inkjet printer, color copier, etc.) and read the packages to see what the recommended uses are. For example, there are different types of transfer paper for use on dark-colored fabrics and light-colored fabrics. So know what kind of shirt you’ll be using, what kind of art you plan to use, and how you plan to put it on the transfer paper before you buy your iron-on transfer paper.
  2. A blank t-shirt, pre-washed.
  3. A clothes iron
  4. A nice, sharp pair of scissors
  5. Any other supplies called for in the instructions for your iron-on transfer paper.

Other useful items:

  1. Stickers, photos, buttons, pins, or paper handouts featuring art you’d like to use on your shirt.
  2. Graphics software for your computer. Depending on your project type, you’ll need different tools. I like the freeware imaging program GNU Image Manipulation Program, aka “Gimp”, which is available for Mac, PC, and Linux. For some simpler projects, though, you may even be able to use the default paint program that came with your computer.
  3. An inkjet printer or color copier.
  4. A camera or an image scanner.

Starting your project

Depending on the type of art you’ve chosen, the method you will use to put it on the iron-on transfer paper will be different.

Using your inkjet printer

So if you’re going to print your art on your iron-on transfer paper using an inkjet printer, you’re going to have to get that art into an image file on your computer. If you’re starting with a digital image file (say, if you are using a picture you took with a digital camera, or if you are using an image you found on the internet) then you are ready to move on.

If you are using a physical object like a sticker, photo, flyer, or something like that, then you need to use a digital camera or a scanner to get your art into an image file your computer. If you are using your camera, I recommend going outside to take your photo when there is plenty of natural light available. Using your camera’s flash or even bright indoor lighting tends to cause glare or make the colors on the item look unnatural.

Once you have a digital image file ready to go using your camera or scanner, open your file up in an image processing program. I’m going to give a couple of quick tips if you decide to download and use Gimp, the tool I recommended earlier.

Open that image file using Gimp. And then…

Trimming unwanted stuff

Click the Paths tool on the Toolbox.

The Gimp Toolbox

The Gimp Toolbox

(It looks like a fountain pen with a dotted line next to it on the left, in the middle of the second row from the top.)

Click carefully around the outline of the area you’d like to keep for your iron-on. Each time you click, Gimp will put a dot and then it will continue your outline to the next time you click. Your progress should look something like this:

Selecting a path around the image

Selecting a path around the image

When you’ve gone completely around it, with the Paths tool still active, click the “Selection from Path” button near the bottom of the Toolbox.

Paths Toolbox options

Paths Toolbox options

Then choose Invert from the Select menu on the image file window, followed by Cut from the Edit menu on the image file window. This should white out all the sections of your art’s image file that you do not want to print. Then choose None from the Select menu to clear your selection.

Now you want to crop the image file down a little so you can control the size of your printout a little easier. Click the Rectangle Select Tool on the Toolbox.

The Gimp Toolbox

The Gimp Toolbox

(It looks like a rectangle, and it’s in the upper left on the top row.)

Select the area right around your art, making sure to get close to the edges but not to go inside the art with your selection box.

What a selection box around your art should look like

What a selection box around your art should look like

Then choose “Crop to Selection” from the Image menu on the image file window.


Now you want to resize the art to the size you want it to print. Choose “Scale Image” from the Image menu. You’ll get this dialog:

The Scale Image Dialog

The Scale Image Dialog

Change the Image Size width/height pulldown menu to “Inches”. Make sure the chain link next to the width/height fields stays solid. (Don’t click on it, changing it to a broken link, or your art will not be resized proportionally and it will look squashed when you’re done.) Change either the width or height number to the size you were hoping to print your art, and then press Tab. You should notice the other dimension change as you press Tab, as Gimp calculates the correct size to keep your image proportional. Make sure you keep your art image size within the constraints of the printable area on your iron-on transfer paper, probably within 7.5 inches wide and 10 inches high at the most.

Reversing your image

Carefully read the instructions that come with your iron-on transfer paper. Some types of paper require you to reverse the image before you print it, and some require you to leave your image un-reversed. It all depends on how the transfer paper is meant to be ironed onto your t-shirt. Check your instructions before you print, or you will waste ink and expensive iron-on transfer paper! (Can you tell that I’ve done this before? And I was running low on ink in my color cartridge, too!)

If you need to reverse your image, choose Transform -> Flip Horizontally from the Image menu. This will reverse your image for you before you print it.

To prepare for printing, determine whether you need to print your art portrait or landscape. (If your image is wider than it is tall, choose landscape. If it is taller than it is wide, choose portrait.) In Gimp, choose Page Setup from the File menu and select the appropriate orientation, then click OK.

You will also want to make sure the transfer paper is loaded into the printer tray facing the correct direction, depending on the way your printer works. If you’re not sure which way it’s supposed to be facing to print on the correct side, draw an arrow on a regular sheet of paper on the top of the paper and pointing into the printer. Print a text file using that sheet of paper, and you’ll find out what side of the paper your printer prints to. Load your transfer paper accordingly to make sure the image prints on the correct side of the transfer paper.

Skip forward now to “Finishing your project”

Using a color copier

If you have access to a color copier, buy yourself color copier iron-on transfer paper, place your art item on the color copier, load your transfer paper into the copier, and copy your art onto the transfer paper.

Finishing your project

Follow the directions that came with your iron-on transfer paper for ironing the image onto your shirt. Your instructions will probably tell you to cut around your printed image on the transfer paper, so make sure you keep a steady hand and cut smoothly along the edge. Pay close attention to the recommended heat settings given for your iron, and if the instructions ask you to put a cloth between the transfer paper and your iron, make sure you do so. Follow the instructions as closely and carefully as you can, and you should be ready to go!

Oh! Two final notes. First, there may be special laundering instructions given to care for the iron-on, especially for the first few washes. Make a note of those instructions as well to keep your new shirt looking great.

And second, enjoy the oohs and aahs you’ll hear as you stroll through the parks in your custom gear!

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles.

Posted in Budget, Crafting for Mickey | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Events: A First Look at the Flower and Garden Festival, 2012

Flower and Garden Festival sign at Epcot park entrance

Flower and Garden Festival sign at Epcot park entrance

We’ve been out to Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival twice now since it opened earlier this week. Things are looking great around the park and there are lots of special things around Epcot to see and do. There are displays showcasing different types of gardens (like herb gardens, butterfly gardens, bird gardens, etc.) and more topiary art than you can possibly imagine. There are also several special play areas for the kids set up during the festival, showing off the latest and greatest play structure technology. You can visit Disney’s official F&G Festival website, Epcot In Bloom, for more festival-related information.

We have really enjoyed our time at the festival so far, though the Epcot crowds were heavy today, the first Saturday after F&G opened. If you’re visiting, expect many of the weekend days to be more crowded with locals coming to visit and see the displays on a non-EMH weekday if you can. You should also keep in mind that many of the displays are closed at dusk, including all the children’s play areas, Pixie Hollow Garden,  Bambi’s Butterfly House, and many more of the headliners of F&G. You can certainly stroll around and take in the topiary art scattered throughout the park after dusk, though.

Epcot in Bloom QR code

Epcot in Bloom QR code

If you have a smartphone, you might want to get an app that can scan QR codes before you head out to the festival. At many of the exhibits, you’ll find QR codes on the signage around the displays that you can scan to get more information. I’m really excited to see Disney embracing some newer technology and making all of those additional materials available. To whet your appetite, you can use your phone to scan the QR code to the left, which will take you to the mobile version of the Epcot in Bloom website.

Below, you can see a few pictures I took around the park featuring special F&G displays, but if you’d like to see all of my F&G photos, click that link to view them on Flickr.

Bambi and friends topiary

Bambi and friends topiary

Looking across to the Imagination pavilion

Looking across to the Imagination pavilion

Some festival merch

Some festival merch

Princess Aurora and Prince Philip topiary

Princess Aurora and Prince Philip topiary

Mickey and Minnie topiary

Mickey and Minnie topiary

Pluto topiary

Pluto topiary

Posted in Epcot, Events | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment