Waking up at 5:30 in the morning is never fun, but back in July 2010 it was totally worth crawling out of bed at that unholy hour. You see, one of my fellow Canadian Cast Members and good friend Steph managed to sign us up for the Canoe Races of the World. A tradition dating back to 1973 at Disneyland, this Cast Member only event had seventy-nine teams of 10 race through the Rivers of America in big canoes past Thunder Mountain, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Haunted Mansion and back to the starting place near the Country Bear Jamboree.
Our team consisted of Cast Members from the Canadian Pavilion in Epcot. Home to the ‘O’ Canada 360 film and super popular restaurant Le Cellier. We had a few mornings of practice at the crack of dawn, afterwards which I would have to work and deal with the pain of rowing my heart out. That lead to a qualifying race for the main event.
I must say, there is nothing more magical than walking through the Magic Kingdom while it’s empty. For such a popular park, being there when it’s eerily quiet feels like you’re breaking the rules. Cast Members are still power washing the pavement and everything is still covered by early morning dew. It was one of the most memorable moments of working at WDW. I mean, who else gets the chance to walk peacefully through the Magic Kingdom without the craziness of parents, screaming babies and little girls dressed as princesses? I did, and it was awesome. FYI we did not make it to the finals, at that point it didn’t even matter. We got to experience a time honoured tradition at the world’s most magical place. Certainly one of the best experiences I had while working for the mouse.
Check out the press release from the event below:
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., July 16, 2010 – Long before the sunrise at Magic Kingdom, chants of “stroke, stroke, stroke” can be heard throughout all of Frontierland as Walt Disney World Cast Members gather along the Rivers of America to compete in the annual Canoe Races of the World July 12-23. For some, it’s their first chance for team building and fun but for others, it’s an intense competition for the coveted paddles awarded to each division winner.
In a tradition dating back to 1973, hundreds of Cast Members come together pre-dawn over a period of two weeks in July to race in canoes before heading in for a full day of work. The seventy-nine teams of 10 people take less than six minutes to pass Thunder Mountain, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Haunted Mansion and return to the starting place near the Country Bear Jamboree.
This year will be the twelfth year for veteran Steve Whittington and his team, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugl-IE”, last year’s men’s pro division champions.
“In 1998 I was an Industrial Engineering intern and they needed another person to row, so I thought ‘Why not?’ Whittington said. His team went on to win the men’s pro division that year and since then he’s only missed one race. “Once we finished the races, I was hooked. It was such a blast.”
Last year’s Spirit Award winners, the Toasted BLTs, were a newly-formed group from the Contemporary Resort’s new Bay Lake Tower. “We were the opening team at Bay Lake so it was a great team builder,” Captain Eric O’Leary said. “Our main goal was to have fun. One guy [intern Jonathan Theriault] put himself in a giant sandwich and danced around with people as our mascot, Toasty the Sandwich.”
Regardless of walking away with a paddle or not, O’Leary says “it’s not about winning. The canoe races are always a fun time and we’re excited for everyone else doing it.”
Your on a budget, I get it. Hey, breaking the bank ain’t tops on my priority list when I think of my vacation either, but let me assure you staying on property is seriously worth all the money your about to fork out. Sure, now your saying to yourself, Tracey your always going to tell us to stay on property because, hey, it’s Disney and you LOVE Disney. Allow me to explain why I recommend staying on property rather than outside the Parks. Here are my 5 reasons you should stay on-site at Walt Disney World:
1. Free transportation
Yes, you certainly can get a budget friendly resort outside and rent a car to get around. Yes, I agree, you got an AMAZING bargain at the Maingate Magic Castle Motel, a mere 20 minutes outside the Disney property. Here’s a dirty little secret about these off property places: while they claim that they are at the “main gate” of Walt Disney World, they fail to disclose is that they mean the pretty little entrance gates you drive through as you get onto Disney property. Walt Disney World itself does not have a gate, because that’s the name of the whole resort. The 4 parks and 2 water parks have gates. Meaning while you may be across the highway from the “main gate” to Disney property, it can still take you 15 minutes to drive to the real main gate of the park. Now you have to keep in mind that you can take a cab from the airport to your said AMAZING bargain resort, which from Orlando International could cost you a small child’s college tuition. Add to that the $14 a DAY for parking at each Park that your going to visit for the next 7 days. Or, you can hop onto Disney’s Magical Express bus service and be whisked away to your hotel. Then, a quick bus or monorail trip and you’re in the parks. You actually check your bags at the airport with the Magical Express, and they put them into your hotel room for you while your out enjoying your vacation. This service is FREE with a Disney Resort stay! 2. Free Dining
Depending upon the time of year you vacation, you could stay at a Disney Resort and be eating on Disney’s dime with the Disney Dining Plan. Simply choose a package that best suits you, we will review this later, and your meals will be included. However I cannot stress enough, just because your saving money by getting free meals, you still have to tip your servers at your restaurants. And while it’s free upfront, it’s really built into the cost of your vacation. But as food is a big expense when on vacation, it’s one less thing to worry about while you’re there. 3. Resort Options for every budget & taste
You probably you already know that Disney has so many choices when it comes to accommodations. The truth is, everybody has different tastes. From the value conscious to luxury seekers. No matter where you stay, each resort is themed just as well as any of the parks. The details are everywhere, meaning the magic doesn’t end when you leave the parks at the end of the night.
Here’s a quick breakdown of your options for Disney Resorts:
These are the ones that the majority of the children stay at. Think about it, if you have more than 1 child now a days, your added dollar signs in front of everything you do. So, the Value Resorts offer you the best value for your money. Please don’t expect to have tons of amenities. Obviously you will have a bed and a bathroom as you would expect, you also have a swimming pool or two, but don’t expect a Spa or fine dining.
Pop Century, All Star Movies, All Star Sports, All Star Music & the soon to open Disney’s Art of Animation Resort fall under these categories. These accommodations offer value, quick service dining and great service as all the Resorts offer just no frills. And yes, yes I have stayed at these locations. I see no reason to not have just a bed when all I really want to do is head to the Parks. if that sounds appealing, then this is totally your option.
These just happen to be my favorite types of resorts. They have more amenities than the Value Resorts as previously mentioned and most locations have sit down restaurants or pubs to grab a snack and a beverage after a sweaty day of fun.
Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter are both what some of us like to call our home resorts, meaning it’s were we go to stay on property whenever we come down (which is quite often!) The two just happen to be separated by the Sassaguola River. One offering a Mardi Gras feel (French Quarter) and one offering a Mark Twain Bayou type Resort. Plantation style and French Quarter styled buildings overflow with charm and laid back paces. You could literally just stay here and never go the parks and call it a vacation. Be sure to stop at Boatwrights in Riverside for breakfast. I can assure you it will fuel you up for a hard day of walking the Parks. There are several other Moderate Resorts to chose from, including Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs and the Cabins at Wilderness Lodge Resort. My favorite Resort pool from any type of Resort has got to be the Coronado Springs. It is a feast for the senses.
Now, if you are going to spoil yourself rotten and have the means, then I recommend any of the Deluxe Resorts. They can certainly cater to your every whim. From award winning 5 star dining at Victoria & Albert’s Restaurant at the Grand Floridian Resort, to the grass skirts and gentle palm trees swaying at the Polynesian Resort, Walt Disney does luxury like no other.
The Deluxe category also applies to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club Resort, Boardwalk Resort, The Contemporary Resort, The Yacht Club and Wilderness Lodge Resorts. All have so many incredible things to chose from and you will find your piece of heaven wherever you chose to stay. Concierge Levels offer unique services and each of these Resorts has the incomparable Disney service that they have famous for.
I am not in any way saying that the Deluxe Resorts offer the only top notch service either, but I am going to say that if your paying to stay at a Deluxe Resort, your expectations are different. Fort Wilderness Campground
Wait a second, you think I’m done don’t you? I am certainly not, I have one more little surprise. Fort Wilderness is one of the original accommodation choices back in 1971 when Walt Disney World first opened and deserves it’s own category.It is hard to believe that it has stayed as popular as it has. You can pop a tent if that is what vacations mean to you, or you have an RV that you have decided to drive to see the countryside float by, then this is your spot.
4. Free activities & events around every corner
Think nothing is free at Disney? Well, you’re wrong! Many of the resorts offer fun & free activities for kids, families & kids at heart. There are too many here to describe, but my favourite is Chip & Dale’s Campfire Sing Along. This gathering is held nightly and starts at 7:30. It’s a great way to get some quality time with characters, sing some great songs and enjoy a relaxed evening. The best part is they also offer a movie by the campfire as well. You can even purchase the ingredients to create smores and who wouldn’t want to have those sitting by a roaring fire?
5. Stress free vacation
Here are a few thing’s you won’t have to worry about if you stay on site, after all what’s a vacation if you’re stressed out? Package Delivery: No more lugging around all the great souvenirs and presents you purchase, Disney will deliver these to your resort for free. No Driving: Imagine not having to drive for a whole week! No parking fees, finding a spot, walking to the park, remembering where you parked. Parents, you can even both have a few beverages at EPCOT without having to worry about who will drive. Now that’s a vacation1 Magical Wake-Up Calls: How thrilled will your kids be when Mickey wakes them up in the morning with a friendly phone call? Try that at Super 8! Extra Magic Hours: You actually get to spend more time in the parks than anyone else!
Plus many, many other options! All part of your Disney Resort stay! Trust me, it’s totally worth it to stay on property
All in all, I have given you a very brief overview, giraffe’s munching leaves from you room, armadillo’s sneaking around your tent, or breakfast on the Sassagoula River, all examples of different ways to enjoy Disney Resorts. There is something for every budget, taste and interest. All you have to do is decide where and Disney will take care of the rest to have a truly magical vacation!
You will have to excuse me now, I am off to the Grand Floridian Spa for a quick facial and maybe Cinderella will be there so I will catch up with you again soon.
Please allow me to say first off, planning is something I used to scoff at. Seriously, sometimes I really just love flying by the seat of my pants when I’m on my vacation. I mean, I worked my keester off for these 10 days and dang it, I want to do and eat what I want, WHEN I want. Now, I’m not talking insane planning, like an Excel spreadsheet my brother creates for Every Single Trip (sorry B I had to include you)……simply put, some restaurants are so good that they take up to 3 months or more to get in. They must be good right? Your taste buds are tickling with anticipation right? Restaurants, in my opinion, are in the top 3 things you are going to spend a lot of time doing at Disney. Every person craves and enjoys different things. Unless you want to eat hot-dogs or hamburgers for 10 days. You can see what I am harping about now right? So, visit Disney.com, ask your friends, or grab some books and do your homework. This very important time will offer you the very best part of your vacation. I swear. If I am wrong, feel free to write me your nastiest notes and I shall retract my statements. But until then……..
Here are 5 of my favorite locations for dining at Walt Disney World (in no particular order) and I can assure you, I have eaten at the majority of them and I have tried to include the inexpensive, expensive and tasty options.
1. Le Cellier Price Range: $15-$36
Location: EPCOT Canadian Pavilion
I had to include this one as I not only worked there, I still get a kickback from them for the shout outs! Just kidding, I don’t but you think I might after what I might say.) My first recommendation is going to be Lunch! If your watching the purse strings, like everyone in the world is, it’s much less expensive and you can dine pretty quickly then get onto the fun that is EPCOT. Le Cellier has, as of recent months, gone to a Signature Dining status for dinner. This basically means a sit down meal, dress code, longer time inside to eat and it’s more money. The kitchen in this Canadian masterpiece offers diners the Canadian options you have always heard so many fantastic comments about. The cheddar cheese soup is a staple to any order here at Le Cellier. Miss Kitty puts so much love and passion into this soup and people have been returning for years to taste this wondrous creamy goodness. You can even buy a Disney recipe book to recreate it but it doesn’t include the love but you can certainly give it a go.
Now, for the stuff you have been waiting for…………the Mushroom Filet.I can’t stress enough the importance of enjoying this slowly. Medium rare and you’re in heaven. It’s so well crafted and cooked to perfection that I can almost guarantee you will not need a knife. It cuts like butter and will melt in your mouth. I bet you never thought you would ever hear someone describe a steak like that now did you. You also have your selections of wine and some mouth watering desserts, but go with the Maple Creme Brulee and you will not be disappointed. In all, Le Cellier will offer you an incredible, fun and generally authentic Canadian treat. This is one of the restaurants that has a 3 months wait so might I suggest you definitely put it on your list to see what all the fuss is all aboot.
2. California Grill Price Range: $36-$60 dollars
Location: Contemporary Resort 15th Floor
I realize your looking at the price and having a fit right now, but let me tell you a few things before you judge my recommendation OK? I can’t begin to think of a better place to go and watch the nightly fireworks show presented in the Magic Kingdom, called Wishes. When making reservations, please explain to the agent this is your first visit and you want reservations at a window seat so you can enjoy the fireworks. Or, time it correctly and you can walk outside to the private terrace to watch Wishes. The Resort has graciously included speakers to sync with the Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks show so you can have the very best viewing this side of Seven Seas Lagoon. I totally recommend asking your server to enable you to enjoy coffee or your favorite cocktail while you are dazzled by Jiminey Cricket and the magic of Disney pyrotechnics. As my dear friend Brad always says,“pyro makes everything better!”
In the food department, this restaurant showcases California Fusion cooking at it’s finest. My friend, Executive Chef Brian Pisaki and his amazing team of artists create some pretty amazing items. You love sushi? You can sit at the Sushi bar and watch a world class Japanese chef create it in front of your very eyes. Nothing says fresher than that I assure you. The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli is something I go back year after year for. You see now why reservations and a little planning are so important? You may never remember a lot of most vacations, but when you have incredible food, you remember! This is also a Signature Dining Experience like Le Cellier, so remember to pack some chinos. They will not allow denim here, although don’t panic, you don’t need a suit. A simple button down and some chinos will work.
3. Boma: Flavors of Africa Price Range: $5-$36 dollars
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Are you adventurous? Interested in trying zebra domes? Don’t let the usual buffet stigma fool you, this isn’t your usual cheapo buffet. Boma offers something uniquely African and something fun. In addition to the fact my friends work there, I have many reasons to recommend this place. The selection includes familiar fare such as homemade soups, fresh fish and tender beef to the unusual. Regardless of the classification you decide, these are some incredibly tasty creations.
The selections seem to be endless. There is even a separate section for the younger diners who might not want to explore the Savannah. Chicken fingers and mac & cheese are here to save the day. But for the person who is searching for something different, I really think you should give it a try. It has a fun feeling, you may even see the South Africans break out the drums for a little dinner music. Don’t worry though, your not going to be eating anything like elephant ears or tiger tail, but the zebra domes……I promise that no animals where harmed in the making of this famous dessert. Jambo!
4. La Cantina De San Angel(Quick Service) Price Range: $5-$15 dollars
EPCOT- Mexico Pavilion
Since the recent renovations have been completed, this amazing Epcot location offers authentic Mexican food and not to mention a wicked spot to catch some rays and people watch while enjoying some yummy stuff. I am thinking lunch outside, traditional Margarita in your hand and an Empandas de Queso to snack on. I prefer eating outside to the usual La Hacienda Restraurant that is located inside the Mexican Pavilion. If you can fend away the many birds trying to share your lunch, I really think this is a fun choice. Ole!
5. Artist Point Price Range: $36-$60
Wilderness Lodge Resort
Representing the Pacific Northwest, Artist Point delivers a charming experience. I have returned to this location many times over the last 5 years and I have never been disappointed. Now, on the whole, I have never really been the adventurous eater, sticking mostly to the stuff I know and love, but a server challenged me to go outside the box on one of my very first visits to Artist Point and because of his coaxing (and this redhead never tries to pass on a challenge)I was challenged to try the bison. Normally, and I did in fact do it when I was first asked, I scoffed. Ummmmm NO!! There is no way I am willing to stray from my chicken, beef or on a wild and crazy occasion, pork. I asked for a recommendation for something delicious and our server bet me that if I didn’t fall in love with the bison, he in fact would take care of my meal for me. Pretty darn tall order if you as me. So, give it to me, I will prove you wrong buddy.
Wham, with egg on my face, and a tummy that hasn’t ever stopped thanking me, I loved every, last, bite.
This is another reason I Love Disney. The servers. I cannot ever stress this enough, the servers are what makes an incredible and dare I say, magical visit to Disney. These charming individuals go through immense training. No jokes. We go to Disney University (another story perhaps at a later time) we go through one on one time training shadowing another seasoned server and oh, did I mention we have to know EVERY SINGLE INGREDIENT OF EACH ITEM ON OUR MENUS?? That’s right. This is what sets Disney apart from other resort destinations in the world. We are trained to know everything so we can personally offer recommendations to our guests and knowing what is inside something often makes it so much easier to suggest items. With this being said, and I promise to finish my rant here, please tip your servers. These people may not have the high paying office job that you do, but they are busting their chops to create a wonderful experience for you and go through a lotto ensure a hopefully seamless visit to your Disney restaurant. Appreciate them and I promise you will be rewarded with a…..wait for it…..MAGICAL experience.
In conclusion, these are my recommendations. These are pretty much for the childless couples. I will do a complete family friendly version soon. So, until then, please let me stress the importance of doing a little planning and it will offer you the most enjoyable experiences of your trip. For detailed information, there are many resources for you. I suggest taking a look at the Disney Dining & Reservations Website. You can do your research and make your reservations. Or call a real Cast Member at 407-WDW-DINE.
Agents are standing by to offer their assistance as well but book WELL IN ADVANCE so you can not eat french fries for 10 days. EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW
I’d like to introduce a very good friend of mine who will be contributing her passion and love for Disney here at Theme Park Canuck. There isn’t a better qualified person on this planet who can help guide you through all the magic of the Disney Parks. Here’s an introduction from Tracey:
Let’s start at the very beginning, that’s a very good place to start….
When I was a very young girl, and for those that know me, it was a WHILE ago, Sunday night’s were very special to me. My parents would take my kid brother and I over to my grandparents. A normal Sunday activity for a lot of families, but for me, it instilled in me what I wanted to be when I finally grew up. Ok, I didn’t want to be that saucy fairy who flew around all over the screen. Although…..
But I digress, it was where I wanted to be.
Uncle Walt presented the Wonderful World of Disney. This TV show aired until 1979 and we were introduced to so many incredible things.
The enchanting fairy tales Disney was so well known for, but also of Pirates, the Wild West and many other beautiful things. There were animals, fantastic tales and different people featured from all over the world. Fast forward to my 20’s: with all the excitement and adventure I remembered from those Sunday night’s with Uncle Walt. With all that magic, mystery and excitement firing inside of me, I traveled to Walt Disney World for the very first time in 1995. Late bloomer I guess, but it was truly as magical as any 7 or 8-year-old would have experienced. The best part: I will remember MY visit for the rest of my life instead of only through photos and stories my mom and dad tell me.
Since then, not only did I WORK there, yes Virginia, it is possible to work at Walt Disney World! I have also traveled back to my happy place at least twice a year ever since. Heck, I even lived in sunny Orlando again for 6 months just so I could be closer. I have also traveled to where the magic all began, Disneyland in Anaheim, California and been on several cruises with Disney Cruise Lines, despite having a Concierge Manager’s position that keeps me pretty busy. I haven’t been able to visit the other Disney locations throughout the world, but my step brothers have and I have many more tips & tricks for the overseas parks like Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney.
I don’t have any children, although I am old enough to have a few, but it is truly amazing that one man created a place where both children and adults alike can come together and have remarkable experiences. I return over and over again because I have a totally different experience every single time. Sure, I see the same things, but it is truly the people that create a different experience each and every time I visit. These people keep me, and millions of others, coming back for more time and time again. I want you to have the most fantastic experience when you visit the Wonderful World of Disney, that’s why I’ll be sharing my tips & tricks for you to have a magical visit and help plan your Disney vacation.
Now, if you don’t mind, I am off to the France Pavilion at EPCOT to enjoy an orange slushy and find some inspiration for you. TTFN (Ta Ta for now!),
Make sure to check back next Friday for the first session of Big Red’s Disney Bootcamp: Tips & Tricks & Advice from a former Disney Castmember!