What to do on a “Down Day” at Disney World

 

Chip and Dale Fireworks Art of Animation Horse Mini Golf Pop Pool

 

For guests that stay at a resort on Disney World property there is a lot more to do outside of the parks than meets the eye. It is not always possible, but can be quite delightful if you can plan a “down day” while you are visiting Disney World.
Last month my family did just this very thing and actually we took it a step further and stayed on Disney World property without even planning on going to any of the four parks. We planned a pre-cruise stay of 2 days and 2 nights at Pop Century Resort and spent those 2 days taking in some of the activities offered at Disney World outside the parks.
First on our agenda was making use of the beautiful pool at our resort while everyone else was at the parks. My kids enjoyed having the heated pool all to themselves and my husband and I took part in the trivia games being offered poolside by the resort staff. Even though it was hard to break the kids away from the pool, we had to get to our next activity…..mini golf Disney style! Disney World has 2 mini golf courses on property and we decided to try our hand at the Winter Summerland course. As you can see we had a lot of fun “goofing” around while playing mini golf!
Afterwards we decided to head to Disney Springs, a shopping and entertainment district on Disney World property. We shopped at all the great stores like the Lego Store, Basin, Little Mismatched, Ghirardelli and of course the World of Disney. Afterwards, we headed to dinner at the Crossroads at House of Blues for a great meal.
The next day we headed across the bridge between Pop Century and Art of Animation to take a look at the great theming at the Art of Animation resort. We also had lunch at the Landscape of Flavors, which is the quick service option at Art of Animation. Afterwards it was back to the pool for the kids .
We headed to Ft. Wilderness resort in the afternoon via the water taxi from Magic Kingdom. There are many activities offered at Ft. Wilderness Resort from pony rides to dinner shows. We decided to head over to Tri-Circle-D Ranch to see Cinderella’s ponies and the majestic horses of Main Street, USA. We chose to eat a takeout meal of fried chicken at one of the outdoor picnic tables, but there are a couple more options at Ft. Wilderness including the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
As soon as we ate, we headed on a wagon ride around the Ft. Wilderness property and then off to Chip ‘N’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long. Before the Sing-A-Long we purchased all the goodies needed to make s’mores at the campfire.
The best way to top off any day at Disney World are fireworks and from Ft. Wilderness, on the water taxi, at just the right time you get to see the show in all its glory!

Written by Shannon Brotherton

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Why Stay at a Disney Resort near Magic Kingdom?

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There are 4 resorts that surround the Magic Kingdom; The Polynesian Village Resort, the Contemporary, the Wilderness Lodge, and the Grand Floridian. Each one of these majestic resorts is either a boat ride, monorail ride or walk to the most popular park at Disney World; the Magic Kingdom.

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I had never had the pleasure of staying at one of these deluxe resorts until 4 weeks ago, when my family was lucky enough to have a club level room at the Poly (as us agents call it).  Now it would be rather difficult to stay anywhere but near the Bay. My husband and two boys thought it was the bees knees. Below was our view from the pool, which is a waterpark on it’s own. As you can see the Grand Floridian is it’s neighbor to the north. One of the many reasons they loved the Poly is it’s accessibility to both the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the Contemporary for dinner.

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So many different ways to get to the parks than just he bus system.  While the deluxe resorts are a pretty penny, they are worth every bit of it. If you have an infant or small child that still naps, one of these resorts would be ideal for you because it would make transporting back to your resort and back to the parks again smooth and save you a ton of time.

Besides the ease and comfort of transportation, the 4 resorts also have stunning views, the beach, the bay, fireworks and of course the Castle if you are lucky! These resorts also have some of the most popular and delectable restaurants at Disney. They include Ohana, Chef Mickey’s, the Wave, California Grill, Victoria and Albert’s and Artist’s Point. One of these hotels is the right fit for you and your family. We will help make that decision easier!

by: Jolie Carrillo-Allen

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Discovery Cove… A Truly Unique Orlando Experience

One of my favorite Orlando Gems is Discovery Cove. This amazing vacation experience is unique to this park and caters to all ages… families, couples, singles – everybody!

Discovery Cove is a unique entertainment park that incorporates the best encounters in both salt water and freshwater! Go spend the day snorkeling on a man-made reef (without ocean current and waves!) and then wind your way down a lazy river to encounter otters, marmosets and enter an aviary to interact with exotic birds. Or, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content while lounging in a chair on the man-made beach.  The biggest draw: Discovery Cove offers one of the most unique bottlenose dolphin interactions in the nation!

Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted at check-in and assigned times for package components. For example, if you have added a dolphin encounter or SeaVenture you will be given an assigned time to participate.

As you head into the park, you are surrounded by an absolutely beautiful landscape as the smell of breakfast wafts. You will get a travel party picture taken and be given a brief description of how your day will proceed by friendly ushers.

You’ll enjoy breakfast, get fitted and collect your wet suits or swim vests and snorkels. There are lockers for all of your extraneous items. Don’t bring a lot with you – you won’t need it!! They even provide special sunscreen that is safe to use in the water and around the animals.

Ready to Explore!

Ready to Explore!

Discovery Cove is divided into several sections. Our family favorite: The Grand Reef. This amazing salt-water area allows you to snorkel and swim freely among rays and beautiful reef fish. There is an area of sharks – safely behind glass… however, you can view them from underwater.

Grand Reef at Discovery Cove

Grand Reef at Discovery Cove

For an additional cost, guests ages 10 and up can participate in SeaVenture. This is an underwater, guided walking tour where, while wearing a dive helmet, you explore the Grand Reef bottom – interacting with reef animals. SCUBA certification is not required. Discovery Cove donates 5% of the proceeds from SeaVenture to the Rising Tide conservation project.

SeaVenture!

SeaVenture!

The highlight of many trips to Discovery Cove is the opportunity to include in your package a Dolphin Encounter/Swim in the Dolphin Lagoon. The interactive experience involves wading into shallow water. Your small group will learn about dolphin behavior. Guests will be able to touch and interact with a Bottlenose Dolphin. Then, you move into a little deeper water for a ride on the dolphin’s dorsal fin! You have to be at least 6 years of age to swim with the dolphins and children ages 6-12 have to be accompanied by a paying adult also participating in the encounter.

An Amazing Experience!

An Amazing Experience!

The Freshwater Oasis is an attraction that allows you to get up close with playful otters and marmosets. You can wade and explore water-filled trails or just sit back and relax and enjoy the tropical surroundings. Serenity Bay offers an 80-degree freshwater pool and play area surrounded by a pristine beach.

Wind-Away River connects and runs through all of the freshwater areas. Guests ride the soothing currents of a tropical river as it winds past sandy beaches, through a dense rain forest, beneath the rocky terrain of cascading waterfalls, and through an underwater cave.

Hop out of the river to enjoy Explorer’s Aviary. This special areas allows you to feed and interact with exotic birds.

Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive experience. Day Resort packages include access to all of the signature experiences (unless otherwise noted) and are available with and without the Dolphin Swim Experience. The park admittance price includes breakfast and lunch, as well as unlimited snacks and beverages (including alcohol!) throughout your entire park day. An amazing thing to consider: packages also include unlimited admission to SeaWorld® and Aquatica (SeaWorld’s Waterpark™) during your trip.

By staying at one of the SeaWorld Partner Hotels, you can get complimentary bus transfers to Discovery Cove (and SeaWorld and Aquatica). However, if you want to take your own vehicle parking at Discovery Cove is complimentary with your park admission. Discovery Cove is located across the street from the entrance to SeaWorld Parking and just down the road from Aquatica.

Please contact us for even more information and to book a trip to this unique Orlando destination!

Article by Marti Blaine

 

 

Disney and Universal Orlando all in One Vacation

Disney’s Beach Club Resortbeach club 1IMG_4374Royal Pacific at Universal

 

As specialists of Orlando theme parks and resorts, we know it is not easy to plan both destinations into your plans but that is why you contact a vacation planner like one of us. First and foremost, Universal Orlando is NOT, I repeat NOT a Disney owned company, therefore, you must book them separately. Universal is owned by NBC/Universal Corp. Disney World is owned by well Walt Disney Company. They are approx. 30-45 minutes from each other depending on traffic.

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I have many families who want to incorporate both destinations into one vacation. If you have 7 to 8 days, this is easily done. I suggest starting at Disney and then ending at Universal but either will work. When you arrive at Orlando International airport, Disney’s Magical Express will pick you up and take you to your on-site Disney resort. Your luggage will be delivered to your room. To get the most our of your trip, a minimum of 4 days is suggested to make sure you experience all 4 parks. Then it is on to Universal Orlando.

On the day you check out, a private transportation company will pick you up at your resort lobby and take you to your resort at Universal. My family recently stayed at Loewe’s Royal Pacific and it was perfect for our family of 4. Really convenient, newly renovated, and best of all, with a stay at a Universal resort (excludes Cabana Bay), you get the express ticket upgrade as part of your package. We loved the pool and the boat that takes you to the front of the parks.

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Both Disney and Universal have resort packages that include resort stay, dining, park tickets, and transportation to and from the airport. While Disney’s is complimentary, Universal’s is relatively inexpensive.

When checking out, Universal’s transportation company will pick you up 3 hours before your flight is scheduled to take off and take you to the airport. I have booked this type of trip for many family’s Orlando bound and can do this for you as well.

by: Jolie Carrillo-Allen

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Best Age for a Disney Cruise? Any age.

Disney Cruise family pic

 

I get a lot of people asking what age should my kids be to enjoy a Disney Cruise? My answer always is….any age! Whether your kids are toddlers, preschoolers, school age up to teenagers they will most likely enjoy a Disney Cruise. The very best thing about cruising, especially with Disney, is that you can enjoy family time and couple time all in one vacation. The kids clubs on the Disney cruise ships are a kid’s dream with specialized play areas, places where they can dress up as their favorite Princess, villain or pirate, Disney movies, Lego tables and a computer lab. There’s even a stage for impromptu performances and games.  While there are scheduled activities, they can enjoy free play as well.

What about family time you ask? There is so much to do as a family from racing down the Aqua Duck and splashing around in the pool to catching a first run movie in the theater. You will also find that there is a lot to do as a family while the ship is docked in the different ports. Some activities that you might find are swimming with the sting rays in Castaway Cay, picking out a souvenir in the market in Nassau, snorkeling in Cozumel or just taking a break on the many beaches.

Water slide

Dinner time can be a tricky time for kids, especially little ones. Disney’s servers will help meet your family’s needs. Do you want your kids’ food brought to the table first or do you want them to offer coloring pages or other distractions to keep the kids occupied? The staff will be happy to work with you to make your dining experience as pleasant as possible. If you’ve been assigned to the second dinner seating, you can even arrange to have staff from the on board child care centers pick your kids up in the dining room so that you can linger over dessert while they’re off playing or watching a movie.

Another great part of a Disney Cruise is getting to see the characters from your favorite movies, such as Cinderella, Belle, Captain Hook, Chip and Dale and of course, Mickey, Minnie and the whole gang! The wait times are minimal compared to the wait in the Disney parks, so this is a great added feature that your kids will love.

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Between the pools, the shows, the excursions, the kids clubs and the characters you can’t go wrong with a Disney Cruise no matter the age….whether young or old the experience in unforgettable.

By: Shannon Brotherton

 

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What to Pack When Visiting Disney Parks

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It is important to pack light when going to the parks but there are several important things to throw in your park bag!

  • Poncho– Chance of rain bring a poncho! These are so easy to throw in your bag and will save you money not having to buy the Disney ones. If you have a child in a stroller bring an extra one that you can throw over the stroller so you don’t come back to a wet stroller.
  • Dry socks– This just may be me but I hate having wet feet. So if going on a water ride or if it rains, I like to bring a dry pair to change into.
  • Ziplock baggies– These come in handy for a variety of reasons. You can throw an electronic item in one if going on a water ride or put in a leftover snack.
  • Sunscreen– This is so important because people underestimate the Florida sun. Reapply frequently!
  • Hand Sanitizer– Lots of little germies floating around the parks. We use this frequently especially on small kids who touch everything.
  • Bubbles– You would not believe how such a simple thing can provide so much entertainment while standing in line. Just make sure to put the bubbles in one of those ziplock baggies to make sure they don’t leak. There are several other small things you can do to entertain while in line. Madlibs, I spy, 20 Questions are all great games to entertain.
  • Portable charger– Your phone will die while at Disney! I know you are saying I am not going to be on my phone its family time, or I never have to charge at home- trust me your phone will die. There are so many wifi spots at Disney,  your phone will always be roaming and will drain your battery, or you might be checking on wait times on the app. It is going to happen and it will happen at the worst time. While you are trying to find your hubby in a crowd or need to locate a friend. So save yourself the hassle and bring a way to charge it while in line so that you are not tethered to an outlet waiting on a charge.
  • Last but not least snacks. These are a great way to save a bit of money and will help keep away the grumpies! If my kids (or hubby) gets hungry they can get quite grumpy! A quick snack can change their attitude quickly. I try to being fun ones that my kids don’t normally get. It is important to pack light when going to the parks but there are several important things to throw in your park bag!
  • by: Kristi Ford
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Staying On-Site at Universal – The Way to Go!

One of our favorite destinations is Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. Two wonderful parks with leading-edge attractions. The future is bright for Universal Orlando. Over the next few years, they plan to continue their remarkable pace of adding major attractions as well as a new hotel. It is a vacation destination apart from all others. People now flock to Orlando just for Universal and are choosing to take advantage of the benefits of staying on-property.

Past prevailing thoughts have been that Universal is just a day-trip during your stay at the park down the way… ya know, the one with the mouse. However, with the onset and development of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the many new and varied attractions, Universal is becoming a 2-3-day park. AND, Universal has put in play some fabulous benefits for guests choosing to stay at their on-property resorts. We certainly encourage clients to consider staying on-property at Universal!

Currently, there are 4 operating on-site resorts at Universal. With a 5th – Sapphire Falls, set to open Summer 2016.

At the Value level, Universal offers Cabana Bay Resort. This is a retro-themed resort with two pools and a food court. In addition to the standard rooms, Cabana Bay also offers a family suite option. The family suites can accommodate 6 guests utilizing two queens and a fold out sofa. The family suites also have a kitchenette (microwave, mini-fridge and bar sink).

Guest Perks with a stay at Cabana Bay:

Complimentary transport to the parks via shuttle bus

Early Admission

CityWalk Party Pass

Complimentary Package delivery service to resort

Kitchenette - Family Suite Cabana Bay

Kitchenette – Family Suite Cabana Bay

Cabana Bay

Cabana Bay

At the Moderate Level, Universal offers the onsite option of Loews Royal Pacific. Sapphire Falls will also be considered a Moderate property. However, the exact guest perks have not been revealed. They may be a bit different from Royal Pacific.

At Moderate and Deluxe properties, Universal Resorts offer standard 2-queen rooms with varying views, but also have the option to connect rooms to make suites. There are additional themed family suites at each resort. My favorite – The Minion Room at Portofino Bay – kids’ room in suite pictured below.

The two Deluxe Universal onsite properties are Hard Rock and Portofino Bay. Both are beautiful properties with great pools, wonderful restaurants and awesome amenities. The Club Levels are also worth the investment. The included food and beverages offered alone will pay for the upgrade.

Garden View Room - Portofino Bay

Garden View Room – Portofino Bay

Kids' Room in Minion Suite at Portofino Bay

Kids’ Room in Minion Suite at Portofino Bay

View from Hard Rock of beautiful pool and Parks in the background

View from Hard Rock of beautiful pool and Parks in the background

Guest Perks with a stay at Royal Pacific, Hard Rock or Portofino Bay:

Complimentary transport to the parks via shuttle bus

Early Admission

CityWalk Party Pass

Universal Express Unlimited ride access

Priority Seating at select Restaurants

Complimentary Package delivery service to resort

Although the Moderate and Deluxe properties will fetch a higher per night rate, the Universal Express Unlimited is such an added value, most of our clients don’t stay anywhere else. If you added this feature to tickets bought at the Value Resort or just day tickets, it averages $89 (before tax) per person per ticketed park day.   Often it is less expensive to stay at a Universal Moderate or Deluxe resort and have this feature in your package at no additional cost than to stay at a Universal Value resort or keep your hotel with the mouse and transfer over for the day. This pass gets you front of the line access to every ride taking Express Pass an unlimited amount of times.   It makes touring Universal so much easier and so much fun!!!! The two biggies in Wizarding World (Forbidden Journey & Gringotts) don’t take Express Pass and neither does either of the two Ollivander’s or The Hogwarts Express. The exceptions outside of Wizarding World only include the Twirl n’ Hurl in the Simpsons area and Pteranodon Flyers in Jurassic Park. Express Unlimited works at everything else in Universal, though.   It is certainly a feature I don’t tour without!!!

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of staying on-property at Universal and navigating Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, please contact us for your vacation needs!

 

 

 

Planning for Disney World for a Large Family

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You might think traveling to Disney World with a large family is impossible or at the very least difficult, but I am here to tell you can do it and it can even be stress free. The first step is finding accommodations on Disney property to accommodate your family size. Disney World offers many options including 2 and 3 bedroom villas, Family Suites and the option of 2 rooms at a value or moderate property. There are moderate properties that can accommodate 5 people to a room as well.

lion king room   AOA table bed2 bedroom villa wilderness

Once you have your resort picked out you will need to decide how much time to spend in the parks. If your family consists of children under the age of 5 you might want to consider more park days because you might have to take into account nap time. If your kids are spread out in ages like mine are, your kids might want to spend time at different parks or at different areas of the parks, so I would encourage 5+ days and adding park hopper to your tickets. This will allow you to take advantage of multiple parks in one day.

Your next decision is whether to purchase the dining plan or pay out of pocket for your meals. My family has done it both ways. If you want to enjoy a few character meals and your kids eat their own meal when you go out to eat then the dining plan is going to be more economical for your family. On the other hand, if you have kids that like to share meals or your family is not interested in character meals/sit down meals then you might be better off paying out of pocket for your dining. A travel agent, such as myself, can help you decide what the best option is for your family.

The best part about going to Disney World with a large family is realizing that each of your kids can find something they love about Disney! No matter the age, my kids all enjoy a Disney vacation. Some enjoy the big thrill rides, while others enjoy pool time and meeting characters can be fun for any age. So, whether you have 3 kids, up to 10 kids or even more Disney World is a place where each person can find something they can call fun and you can reconnect as a family!

Written by Shannon Brotherton

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When Should I Travel to Disney World?

One of the most common questions I get is when is the best time to go to Disney World? The answer is there is not one best time. There are many times that are better than other times, and there are really bad times to go, but not one best time. Here is a rundown of some of my favorite times to visit!

 

January– The end of January holds the lowest crowds all year. There is typically some kind of promo that will give you a discount. The down side to January is this tends to be refurb season due to the low crowds. So there will often be a ride or two that is not open. The other thing to consider is the weather. I have been the last week in January several years in a row. One year it was cold and rainy a lot of the time. The next year it was sunny and 75 degrees the whole week. The average high is 71 which sounds like heaven to me compared to the snow and cold I would be coming from.

 

February– Also has some great weeks as long as you avoid Presidents Day weekend. All the same pros and cons from January apply here.

 

March and April– This is the time of year that gets a bit tricky at Disney. Any time kids are out of school the crowds will increase dramatically. If you are a family that has to go when school is out Spring Break is one of the better times because not everyone has Spring Break at the same time. Typically the weather is great.  If possible avoid the week before and after Easter will really help.  This is a neat time to visit Epcot and because the Flower and Garden Festival is going on.

 

May– is a good month to go. The crowds are higher than at the beginning of the year but have not reached the craziness of the summer. If your school gets out at the end of May this is a good time to go and beat a lot of the summer crowds. It is really starting to heat up in Florida in May.

 

June and July– These are the peak of the summer months at Disney. The downside to this time of year is the crowds and heat. The great thing about this time of year are the park hours. The Magic Kingdom stays open until 2 am some nights. Keep in mind if you visit in the summer is quite hot and humid so make sure you have a great plan in place to really be able to enjoy your time there.

 

August– The beginning of August is still summer crowds but the crowd levels start really dropping off as the month goes on.

September– This typically a really great month to visit! School is just getting started so the crowds are much lower. It is also the start to the Halloween season at Disney with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween parties starting this month. The Food and Wine Festival is also going on at Epcot. In the past Disney has typically offered a promo which includes Free Dining. If you are planning a trip this month it is very important to plan it early as many of the dining reservations fill very quickly during this time.

Halloween party pic

October– is a super fun month and sometimes select weeks will offer the Free Dining. More schools re starting to have a fall break so the crowds are starting to grow in October.

November and December–  Early November and early December are great weeks to visit. The parks are decorated beautifully and the holiday cheer is all around! Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party is going on, Christmas Around the World is happening at Epcot, Candlelight Processional, and you can even visit Santa!

Christmas- New Years– This gets its own section because this week is the absolute most crowded week of the entire year. The Magic Kingdom will even reach capacity several days this week which means no more guests can enter the park. This is a week that it is recommend you avoid if possible but if you do choose to travel this week it is imperative to use a travel agent that specializes in Disney! They can help you create a plan that is manageable and will allow you to have a magical vacation even at the most crowded time!

By: Kristi Ford

Christmas party pic

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Disney World is Not Just For Kids

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As travel agents, we often hear Disney is just for kids, or Disney is just for girls, or I am just going for my kids… well I am here to tell you adults only travel to Disney World is acceptable and even more, it’s so much fun, you will be wanting get back again and again. Whether it’s an anniversary, honeymoon, couple’s getaway, or an adult group getaway, Disney can be the perfect fit.

Make the right resort choice. An onsite Disney resort will always be your best choice for getting to the parks, restaurants and Disney Springs easily. I prefer a resort close to Epcot (where adults have the most fun). The Beach Club, Yacht Club or Boardwalk Resort are all in walking distance to Epcot with a private entrance into the World Showcase. And when booking one of these resorts, choose club level for even more perks such as private check-in, beer and wine after 5 pm in the club lounge and the best room selections.

Epcot. Some of the best drink selections can be made at Epcot’s World Showcase featuring international beer, wine and cocktail selections from selected hosting countries such as France, Germany, Mexico and many more. You must try an avocado margarita at the bar in Mexico: Cave Del Tequila.  Sounds a bit odd, but it is delicious.

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The Food & Wine Festival: From Sept to early November Epcot host this Disney festival favorite.  You can sample international cuisine and enjoy limited edition drinks designed for this event. It is a very popular event for Epcot and is a good time for adults. I suggest exploring the World Showcase from Monday thru Thursday for shorter lines.

Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney): Some of the best entertainment can be found here and you do not even need a ticket to be there. Bowling, Movie theaters, Cirque Du Soleil, House of Blues, so many places to play. Try the new Hangar Bar, inspired by the Indiana Jones Movies. You can enjoy an Everything Goes cocktail, presented in this themed glass just like Marty’s dress in the Temple of Doom…. when the drink comes to your table the bartenders and staff sing: “Everything Goes.”

By: Jolie Carrillo-Allen

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If you are interested in booking an adult trip to Disney World to experience of these events or places, contact us now. javascript:send_to_editor(‘

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