Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The American Adventure, Holiday Style

Monday, May 30, 2011

Inexpensive Table Service?

For those of you who haven't been, Beaches and Cream isn't only fabulous because of its food... it's fabulous because of its prices.  How many other table services restaurants have every entree under $15?  In fact, the only thing on the menu above $15 is the infamous Kitchen Sink. 

Since James and I aren't on free dining, we have to watch what we're spending as far as meals go.  Our only "big" meal is going to be La Hacienda de San Angel (and possibly Ohana), and the rest we'd like to watch what we're spending.  Our problem is that we're not quite sure which table service restaurants are similar to Beaches and Cream in price.  We hope to eat at Beaches and Cream once on our trip, and I know that the Plaza is similar as far as price goes.  What other table service restaurants are priced for college students?  Is it possible for people to eat table service once a day on a budget?  Are there enough restaurants?

I need your help!  Let me know about inexpensive table service restaurants in a comment, on Twitter (@amandaenchanted... note the new Twitter handle!), or on Facebook!  Thanks in advance for your help, everyone!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: ABC Commissary

Chicken bleu sandwich
Unfortunately, we did not start the dining on our January trip off with a bang.  We started it at ABC Commissary because James was really hungry, and it was the closest to where we were.  Nothing on the menu interested me in the least, so I went with the "Surf and Turf," which was essentially a cheeseburger with three fried shrimp on top.  James had what I believe was the chicken bleu sandwich.  I got a side of apple slices, and James got fries.  Since we were on the dining plan, our dessert choices were chocolate mousse or strawberry parfait.  Of course we went with the mousse.  After we ordered, I grabbed a table while James waited for the food.

Surf and turf burger
I did not have high expectations for my meal by any means, so I wasn't surprised that the burger was bland.  Obviously no Disney burger can hold a candle to the ones at Pecos Bill's or Beaches and Cream (I don't care what you say... those burgers are different!).  I don't eat seafood, so James ate the shrimp off my burger.  He loves shrimp, but he didn't like these at all.  He said the chicken bleu sandwich was okay.  I mostly just ate my apple slices and some of his fries.  On the bright side, the chocolate mousse dessert was really good!  And later that night, we went to the Magic Kingdom, and I had an ice cream soda for my real dinner!

Chocolate mousse - yum!
Unfortunately, ABC Commissary seemed like another Hollywood Studios counter service miss for us.  I wasn't into the menu, so I was stuck with the burger.  And James had a decent dinner, but it was nothing special.  I'm sure there are people who like ABC Commissary, and when it's hot, it's air conditioned, but I'm not sure we'll be returning any time soon.

What do you think of ABC Commissary?  Do you eat there often?  What do you usually order?  Let me know your thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Walt Disney World vs. Disney Cruise Line: The 2012 Showdown

Walt Disney World
I have quite the Disney conundrum, and as with most of my Disney conundrums, I'm reaching out to all of my readers for your opinions.  But first, some back story.

As you may or may not know, James and I are graduating college in May of next year (which means the title and domain name of this blog may change eventually, but I certainly won't be deserting it).  Naturally, as big Disney fans, we want to take a celebratory graduation trip. When Disney Cruise Line came out and said that the Disney Magic would be sailing out of New York, and the maiden New York voyage would be May 25, 2012, I jumped at the chance.  I contacted my travel agent to book a cabin for me, and 24 hours later, I had an inside cabin on an 8-night cruise to the Bahamas.  Naturally, the deposit I put on the room is refundable until 90 days before the trip... which is a loooong time from now.

However, while planning our August trip (which will be a Disney Cruise/Walt Disney World extravaganza), I've found myself getting more and more obsessed with Walt Disney World.  I had temporarily switched into a Disney Cruise obsessed mode, but the WDW side is slowly getting me back.  That in addition to talking to Matt Hochberg on episode 14 of Generation Mouse about Star Wars Weekends has got me wanting to go to WDW in May of 2012 instead of doing the cruise.  So I need your help to decide what to do.  Here are some of my thoughts...

Disney Magic
On the Disney Magic...
 - The Disney Magic will be sailing out of New York, which is really convenient since we won't have to fly to get there.  It'll just be a short drive from our houses.
 - The cruise will be a nice, relaxing trip right after finals and right before (hopefully!) getting into the working world.
 - The cruise includes one day at Walt Disney World, with a park hopper.  This day would be crazy commando in order to be as productive as possible.
 - The cruise includes four sea days, which may become old after a while... we're not really relaxed people who enjoy sitting at the pool all day.  Also, I won't be able to drink, since I won't be 21, and supposedly that's a lot of the fun on cruises.
 - On the other hand, there's always a ton of stuff to do on cruises, especially on sea days, and in general, they're always really fun.  I love going on cruises.
 - I have already taken three Disney cruises, and James and I will be taking our first Disney cruise together in August.  We've also been on a bunch of other cruises in the past.

On Walt Disney World...
 - This trip would fall over Star Wars Weekends, which we have never been to.
 - Walt Disney World is really our biggest love, and if we don't do this trip, there will probably be at least a year and a half between WDW trips.
 - If we decide to definitely do this trip, we'll be getting annual passes this August... which may possibly lead to even more trips.  Also it's just awesome in general.
 - I've been to WDW ten times (it will be eleven in August), and James has been four times (five in August).

Most importantly of everything, both trips are roughly the same cost, although the WDW trip may possibly be less if we can get good AP discounts.  So what does everyone think?  Please let me know any and all thoughts in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook.  We're really undecided, so we're looking for as many opinions as we can get.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Disney Cruising 101

You're getting a little piece of history with this one.  I took this in 2004.
Some of you may know that I've had some Disney Cruise drama these past few months.  My family had booked a cruise, then decided to cancel it, then decided to keep it, then decided to cancel it, etc.  Well, I can finally say that our cruise is paid off!  I'm going on the Disney Dream in August!  Now some of you may never have cruised before, so I'm going to give you some Disney Cruising 101 to help you out if you're interested.

About the Ships: At the time I'm writing this blog post, Disney Cruise Line has three ships.  The Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder are the two older, "classic" ships.  They are essentially identical in layout.  During 2011, the Disney Wonder will be sailing to Alaska and the Pacific Coast in the summer and the Mexican Rivera in the winter; the Magic will be sailing in the Mediterranean in the summer and to the Caribbean in the winter.  In 2012, the Wonder will also do one sailing to Hawaii, while the Magic will be departing on cruises to Canada and the Bahamas from New York over the summer and to the Caribbean from Galveston, Texas in the fall.

The Disney Dream is Disney's newest ship in over ten years, and it is significantly more advanced in terms of guest technology.  Throughout 2011 and 2012, the Dream will be making 3, 4, and 5-night cruises to the Bahamas.  Additionally, in February 2012, the Disney Fantasy will be introduced.  This ship will be the Dream's "sister ship," so like the Magic and the Wonder, they will be very similar.  The Fantasy will sail 7-night itineraries to the Caribbean during 2012.

I'm used to Walt Disney World.  Will I be bored on the ship?  No way!  In fact, those who have been on Disney Cruises will likely tell you that they didn't have enough time to do everything they wanted!  As Disney does best, they have perfected the perfect balance of activities for kids, activities for adults, and activities for families.  Kids ages 3-17 have their own, age separated clubs that are open all day and night and free of charge.  Many families find that they have to make their kids leave!  Adults, on the other hand, have their own pool... no kids allowed.  They also have a fitness center, spa, and adults only restaurants and night clubs for their enjoyment.  Family time is cool too, as there are two pools families can enjoy, as well as a sports deck, family restaurants (with rotational dining... so cool!), family shows, etc.  Whether you want to leave your kid at the club and have some alone time or hang out together all day, there's something for everyone on the Disney ships.

When and how should I book a cruise?  The most important Disney Cruise booking tip I can give you is to book at least a year in advance to get the best price.  If you have to cancel later, that's fine, and you'll get your deposit back.  But you don't want to book three months out like it's Walt Disney World.  Your wallet will be hurting if you do.

If you don't have a travel agent, the easiest way to book a Disney Cruise is online at disneycruise.com.  If you click "Search for a Cruise" on top and go to "Find a Cruise," you can search for the perfect cruise by many different criteria.  My favorite part, when it takes you to the page that shows you how much the cruise costs, it also shows other cruises that fit that criteria in the left bar.  You can easily see if changing your cruise dates can save you (or cost you) a lot of money!  Now I don't always use a travel agent, but I do recommend always using one for a cruise.  Most will give you a complimentary onboard credit for using their services, and who doesn't love free money?  Plus they can take care of all the booking, so you don't have to worry about it.

Booking Cruise Activities: Almost everything on the ship is included in your cruise cost, so you don't have to worry about booking extra activities.  But if you want to, you can.  For example, all the Disney ships have the adults only restaurant Palo, and the Disney Dream and Fantasy will have an additional adults only restaurant called Remy.  You have to make reservations for these ahead of time, which you can either do online or on the ship, but they're on a first-come, first-served basis.  To book these online, you must be paid in full.  If you're a platinum Castaway Club member (you've taken more than 10 Disney cruises), you get to book 120 days in advance.  If you're gold (you've taken 5-9 cruises), you get to book 105 days in advance.  If you're silver (you've taken 1-4 cruises), you get to book 90 days in advance, and if you've never taken a Disney cruise, you get to book these cruise activities 75 days in advance.  It is at this date that you also get to do online check-in if you'd like.

Additional cruise activities that can be booked at the appropriate number of days in advance include spa treatments and shore excursions (or as Disney calls them, Port Adventures).  If you plan on booking a Cabana at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, you can do that too.  And do you have a child under the age of 4 who isn't potty trained?  You can register them for time at the nursery on board (though unlike the other kids clubs, there is a nominal hourly fee for babies).

So sorry if this is super long, or if you're not into cruise stuff.  I just thought this would be a nice little intro for people who were interested but didn't know much about it.  I've been on three Disney cruises in the past, and I'm so excited to be able to go on the Dream in August!  Perhaps I'll do a few more posts on cruising before (and after) we go!

Do you have any cruise questions for me?  Ask me in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook, and I'll answer them in a future post!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Muppets

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Backlot Express

I have been to Backlot Express twice in the past two years, one of which was with Matt Hochberg of Studios Central.  Both times I ordered a cheeseburger, but I don't know if that tells you more about the restaurant or about me...

Now I'm not sure how Matt feels about the restaurant, but I know for James and I, we eat there because it's convenient, not because we're in love with the food.  In fact, I've eaten at three counter service restaurants in the Studios, and I'm not in love with any of them, but that's a blog post for another time.  Notably important is that Backlot Express is, at least partially, indoors.  This is especially good to know when it's the middle of August, and you're deciding between here and Studio Catering Co (not indoors).

As I said, both times I've been here, I've ordered a cheeseburger.  I believe James has ordered the same both times.  When we went with Matt, he ordered the grilled veggie sandwich.  I said it was lame, but honestly, it looked good, sounds pretty good, and I'm pretty sure he thought it was good.  This may be the shining star on a menu that's less than creative.  The burger was your average burger.  It's fine, but it's nothing to write home about.  Honestly, I don't have much to say about it.  Although I hear it is now topped with avocado, which could make an average burger more interesting.

In August, James and I also got dessert with our meals, since we were on the dining plan.  We had a choice between marble cheesecake and strawberry parfait, and we both went with the parfait.  It had blueberries on top that looked dried out and not good.  The parfait itself was alright, nothing thrilling.  Then again, a good counter service dessert is hard to come by at Walt Disney World.

Overall, I think that Backlot Express is average.  It's interchangeable as far as the food goes.  You certainly don't need to avoid it, but I think you can find something better to eat in the Studios if you're willing to walk a little.  Perhaps to Starring Rolls for a big cupcake...

What do you think of Backlot Express?  Have you ever visited?  Do you visit often?  What have you ordered?  Let me know your thoughts on this counter service restaurant in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Vinylmation: The Learner's Guide

One of my approximately 20 Vinyls.
You may remember approximately a year ago, when I said I didn't get Vinylmation.  And you may remember approximately eight months ago when I said I get it now.  Welllll since then I may or may not have accumulated approximately 18 more figures.  Approximately.  Yes, I am officially obsessed.  And since my lovely boyfriend owns over 50 and is the official Vinylmation expert of Generation Mouse, I feel semi-qualified to give you Vinylmation: The Learner's Guide.

What is Vinylmation?
Vinylmation stands for Vinyl, the material the figures are made out of, plus animation, the designs on the figures themselves.  All Vinyls are in the shape of Mickey Mouse, and they have various different designs.  There are hundreds of different figures, from park inspired to movie inspired to decorative and more.  They come in three sizes: 1 1/2 inch, 3 inch, and 9 inch.  I own only 3 inch figures, but James owns one 9 inch also.  1 1/2 inch figures (also called Vinylmation Jrs) cost $8.95, 3 inch figures range from $9.95 to $16.95, and 9 inch figures are usually around $39.95. Special edition figures can sometimes be more, and some come in combo packs with figures of more than one size.

But you can't tell what figure you're getting?
Nope, most series come in blind boxes, meaning you don't know what figure you have until you purchase it.  You know what series it's from, but you don't know the exact figure.  This is what turned me off to Vinylmation in the first place, until I learned about trading.  Once you've opened your figure, you can trade with Cast Members all around Walt Disney World until you find the perfect figure for you!  Or if you're lucky, you'll get the one you want right out of the box!

So what is a chaser?  And what's a variant?
This is best understood if you know how Vinyls are packaged.  Each series comes in a case of 24 figures.  There are 12 different figures in each series, so there are two of each in the case.  EXCEPT, there is three of one figure and only one of another.  (So there are two of ten figures, three of one, and one of one. 20+3+1=24)  The figure that there is only one of is the same in each case, so it is the rarest figure by approximately 2:1.  That figure is the chaser, and you can often find chasers on eBay for quite a bit more than retail.  As for a variant, some figures come in more than one version.  For example, I have a Pinocchio variant.  The "official" figure has donkey ears and a tail, but one figure in every few cases has blue ears and no tail.  That's the one I have, and it's rarer than the regular figure.  Disney never releases how MUCH rarer though.  A variant on a chaser is sometimes called a super chaser.  One of the most desired super chasers I've heard of was the Ghost of Obi Wan in the Star Wars series.  It was going for several hundred dollars on eBay at one point.

Why do people get so obsessed with collecting Vinyls?
The thrill of the hunt, and the "gotta collect them all" mentality.  You won't get it until you buy one.  Then you'll be hooked forever.

Where can I buy Vinylmation figures?
Some series are only available in the parks and resorts, some are available online at disneystore.com, and more still are available at your local Disney Store.  I'm actually amazed at how many different series my Disney Store has.  Definitely great when you need a Vinyl fix but don't live near Walt Disney World or Disneyland.  If you're looking for a specific figure and don't mind spending a little more than it's worth, eBay can be a great place to find them, especially if the series isn't in stores anymore.

What is the best figure to start with?
This is really up to your personal preferences.  You can see all the different series at Vinylmation.com, and you can decide that way!  My first figure was the owl from Cutesters, and my second was the carousel from Park 3.  Some other favorites I own are a special New York City one (available only at the Disney Store in Times Square), a Haunted Mansion one, my Pinocchio variant, and a giraffe with a special extendable neck from the Animal Kingdom series!

Do you have any more questions about Vinylmation?  If so, leave them in the comments, and if I get a few, I'll do another post answering YOUR questions!

What do you think about Vinylmation?  Do you own any figures?  How many?  If not, why haven't you gotten into it?  Let me know your thoughts on this relatively new collectible phenomenon in a comment, on Twitter (@discollegeblog), or on Facebook!  And don't forget to leave any questions for me to answer in a future post!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: La Cantina