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Traveling Dad by Jonathan Bailey - 2h ago

Just minutes north of San Diego, the community of La Jolla is famous for the challenging links at Torrey Pines Golf Course, the famous stages of La Jolla Playhouse, the renowned expertise of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the sunswept surfers at Windansea Beach. It’s also famous as an enclave for the rich and sometimes famous. And, it’s an easy place to bring your family and visit luxury La Jolla on a budget.

Our family loves visiting the La Jolla Cove area the best, and we could go back again and again to watch the blue ocean waves, the kites flying above and the harbor seals sunning themselves on nearby rocks.

Seals bundle together on the rocks near La Jolla Cove, basking in the sun and posing for photos.

Here’s a suggested itinerary with ideas on how best to enjoy a family day along La Jolla Cove without breaking the bank.

Visit Luxury La Jolla on a Budget Start With A Good Breakfast

Depending on what end of the Cove you choose to start, there are two great breakfast spots with menus to please both the younger and older members of your clan. Brockton Villa, perched on the hillside overlooking the cliff and seacaves, offers oceanview seats from almost every table and a menu of treats to die for. Our favorites are the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes with cream cheese frosting, and the breakfast tacos with eggs, chorizo and cheese. On the other side, Richard Walker’s Pancake House is located on Prospect Street and always sports a line of folks waiting for a table. But don’t worry, the line moves quickly and you will soon be enjoying a ridiculously delicious platter of fresh strawberry crepes or the crowd-pleasing German Pancake with lemon and sugar. Our kids loved the silver dollar pancakes, because the plate is heaped with cakes in a massive display of breakfast gluttony.

Address:

Brockton Villa is located at 1235 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037

Richard Walker’s is located at 909 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Cost: Breakfast starts at $10

Visit The Seals At Children’s Pool

Along the coastline and perched on rocks and sand, La Jolla’s seals are a major family draw. During birthing season, the harbor seals gather on the warm sands of Children’s Pool beach to sun themselves. This is a protected area where their pups can learn to swim safely. These seals are so darned cute, and both kids and adults have huge grins on their faces while watching their antics. They have soft coats of mottled brown, cream, grey and white, perfect for photo opps. The seals swim, frolic in the waves, yawn and nap together in large numbers. Others perch along the rocks or swim through the kelp beds nearby. Just don’t go too near and disturb them – they are wild creatures after all.

Built as a protected spot for easy swimming, Children’s Pool in La Jolla is now home to dozens of seals and their babies.

Bring your cameras and watch from the many vantage along the cliff, or brave the narrow breakwater walk out into the waves. but beware – the waves sometimes hit the seawall with a dramatic spray, sending drenched visitors running in all directions. (The kids loved this too, and laughed from the sea spray and their soaking wet clothes.)

Address:  850 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla, CA 92037

Cost: FREE

The Shops And Restaurants Along The Prospect Avenue

I guess it’s possible to get bored of the expansive ocean vistas and postcard-perfect California photo opps. If and when that happens, stroll up the road to Prospect Avenue and tour through the shops, boutiques and galleries that line the busy streets. There’s something for everyone along Prospect and the surrounding streets. From California olive oil and wine tastings at WeOlive to trendy fashions at Blue Apparel or Fresh Produce, it’s all there. Impressive galleries along the way feature a variety of well-curated art for all tastes, including window shoppers.

Dozens of shops dot the La Jolla Cove area, where you can buy myriad things including funky sunglasses.

By now the family will have worked up another appetite. There are so many places to eat, and plenty may be a little pricey for family dining. Still, there are a bunch of great spots to please all ages. For delicious burgers, fries and shakes, try Smashburger – a burger chain but a good one. Our kids like things simple in terms of regular hamburgers, ordering plain with just ketchup or mustard. The parents liked the avocado/bacon/cheese burger and the swiss cheese/mushroom/sauté onions burger.

Address: 1000 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Cost: Burgers from $4

Bring a Frisbee

Back down towards the water, there are several great spots to hang out and throw a Frisbee. When the tide is low, a great beach appears to the left of the guard station at Children’s Pool. Called South Casa Beach, this sandy is great for playing, napping and tide pooling.

Another cool spot is Ellen Browning Scripps Park, where families gather to picnic and play Frisbee, volleyball or bocce. People bring their own gear, set up camp and hang out for the day to enjoy the warm sun, soft grass and million dollar vistas.

Scripps Pier near La Jolla Cove is a beautiful spot day or night.

Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037

Cost: Free (BYO Frisbee)

Visit The Cave Store

Kitschy but fun, the Cave Store is an institution in La Jolla Cove. Inside the shop, you can pay a small fee to walk down stairs to a sea cave located below at the mouth of the roaring ocean. Local lore says the tunnel, which was dug in the early 1900s, was used to smuggle hooch during prohibition. True or not, the fun view of the ocean from the cave is worth the descent and climb.

Address: 1325 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037

Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for kids for cave entry

Outside the store is one of the best views from the Cove looking north at La Jolla Shores Beach. From this vantage point, you can see over to Scripps Pier and Torrey Pines Golf Course. On a clear day you can also see the parasailers taking off from the cliffs above Blacks Beach. Many a post card depicts this exact view, and you can snap it for free from your fun tour of La Jolla Cove!

Sunset at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla is one of the most beautiful times to take in the ocean views.

The post Visit Luxury La Jolla on a Budget appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Have you ever thought about taking some Animal Kingdom tours? The Wild Africa Trek? What about the Sense of Africa?

We did the Wild Africa Trek, a few years ago. Recently, as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, we had the opportunity to experience the Sense of Africa tour. These premium animal experience Animal Kingdom tours provide the budding Jack Hanna (or Jane Hanna) with an up-close look at the animals, their feeding patterns, and training.

They’re unique experiences that shouldn’t be missed!

Sense of Africa Animal Kingdom Tours

Sense of Africa at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge & Boma #DisneySMMC - YouTube

The Sense of Africa tour takes guests behind the scenes of the Animal Kingdom Lodge savanna. You visit the okapi, giraffe, red headed hogs, ostrich, and maybe a few others while learning about their feeding habits and training.

After an educational and filling breakfast at Boma, you embark on an open air truck to explore the Animal Kingdom Lodge savanna and visit a few animal paddocks.

Disney offers the 3.5 hour Sense of Africa tour from 7:00AM – 10:30AM on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The cost is $266.24/person (includes tax & grat); with a 10% DVC & Annual pass-holder discount available.

You must be 10 years old or older to go on the tour and any guests under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

The tour has a very small 12 person maximum size, so it’s a great tour to do with a large family group. Grandparents, parents, and kids would make for a fun family adventure!

Some safety guidelines do apply. It’s a rough truck ride through the savanna, so Disney recommends you be in relatively good health for the tour. Also, no sandals, open-toe, or open-heel shoes will be allowed, since you’ll be in many backstage locations.

With the feed for the animals (hay, peanuts, etc.) guests with allergies should take caution when booking the tour.

Wild Africa Trek Animal Kingdom Tours

A couple years ago, my daughter and wife experience the Wild Africa Trek Animal Kingdom Tours. My daughter still talks about it, to this day.

DISNEY WILD AFRICA TREK AT DISNEY'S ANIMAL KINGDOM PARK - YouTube

She absolutely LOVED the tour and it was definitely worth the cost.

The Wild Africa Trek is a premium animal encounter experience. It costs between $189 and $249 at the time of this post.

Guests go on a trek above the Animal Kingdom savanna on rope bridges, ride in savanna trucks, and walk along grassland paths behind the scenes.

You will learn far more about these animals on this tour than you would on the savanna ride in the park.

After your 3 hour trek, you will have worked up an appetite. Disney takes care of this with African inspired snacks for your enjoyment. You can see sample menus from Disney, below.

Morning

  • Air-dried beef and prosciutto
  • Smoked salmon roulade with dill
  • Fig cake with Boursin cheese
  • Brie cheese and apricot
  • Berry yogurt and dried cranberries
  • Fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger

Afternoon

  • Chicken curry sala
  • Sun-dried tomato hummus and mini pit
  • Marinated tandoori shrim
  • Smoked salmon roulade with dil
  • Air-dried beef and prosciutt
  • Fresh fruit marinated in mint and ginger

The post Animal Kingdom Tours: Premium Animal Encounters! appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Disney World not only contains four theme parks, it has over 20 resort hotels to choose. From. Over the years, my family and I have stayed at several. Each has its own unique theme and layout. More importantly, there are different price levels and amenities to choose from for your particular vacation style. Will pools be an important part of your days, or maybe easy access to the parks is more important. Here are my picks for best Disney World hotels for families to help you decide.

Disney World’s Pop Century Resort © R. Christensen

Disney World Pop Century Resort

Pop Century has always been my pick for an affordable stay at Disney World. The rooms are smaller then others, but when you’re only looking for a place to sleep and keeping an eye on your budget it is the perfect choice. Unlike other All-Star resorts, Pop Century has dedicated busing, which means less crowding when the parks clear out at night.

Kids will love the over the top themeing with giant characters outside the buildings. The pools are basic, but activities keep kids occupied during the day. The food court has a better than average selection, so you won’t get bored eating the same meals every day. For a family with two younger kids, or one teen, Pop Century will fit your budget and needs.

Pros

  • Dedicated buses, unlike other Value class resorts
  • Single bus stop
  • Budget friendly room with Disney property benefits

Cons

  • Small rooms
  • Lack of feature pool

Disney World’s Port Orleans Resort © R. Christensen

Disney World Port Orleans Resort

Port Orleans is a great option if you’re looking for something a bit nicer and not so Disney. There are two resorts here: Riverside, which is the larger, and French Quarter. Riverside has a sit down restaurant and two styles of buildings: the more rustic Alligator Bayou and the formal Magnolia Plantations. A feature pool on Ol’ Man Island is fun for kids, but the quiet pools tucked in amongst the buildings are more attractive when it’s busy. French Quarter has an amazing feature pool, which will keep kids busy all day.

Busing is a downside here since the resort is spread out. There are multiple bus stops at Riverside, and I’ve had longer rides due to sharing a bus with French Quarter during slow season. Overall, the ride times aren’t too bad since the resort is located centrally for all of the parks. An unique feature is boat service to Disney Springs. Aside from convenient transportation, it is a relaxing and scenic ride if you’re looking for a break from the parks.

Pros

  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Beautiful theme without being in-your-face Disney
  • Excellent feature pool at French Quarter
  • Boat to Disney Springs

Cons

  • Multiple bus stops add time to transportation routes
  • Some buildings at Riverside can be far from main building

Disney World’s Art of Animation Resort ©R. Christensen

Disney World Art of Animation Resort

Art of Animation is the pinnacle of Disney design. The exteriors of the buildings and surrounding areas are decorated with live size characters to draw guests into the worlds of Lion King, Finding Nemo, Cars, and the Little Mermaid. Inside you’ll find the rooms are also tastefully done up in the same themes. The best part, though, is the two room suites. Each suite consists of an open common room with a Murphy bed/table and sleeper sofa, a separate bedroom, and TWO full bathrooms. It doesn’t get any better than this for a larger family or if you just want to spread out.

The food court at Art of Animation is huge and has a great selection, plus an ice cream stand. Busing is handle out of a single stop and the buildings are all within a reasonable distance. The feature pool doesn’t have a water slide, but there is an underwater sound system and a really fun splash area for the little kids.

Pros

  • Large two room suites with two full bathrooms
  • Amazing décor both inside and out
  • Great food court
  • Single bus stop

Cons

  • Feature pool is lackluster for price level
  • Little Mermaid rooms same as other Value class and never seem to have discounts

Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort © R. Christensen

Disney World Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge is our home away from home. The atmosphere of the main hall transports you to a far off land as soon as you walk inside. The rooms are decorated to match and you’ll find a hand carved warrior shield unique to your door. The rooms are a comfortable size and I can’t stress enough that if you’re going to stay here, book a Savannah View room with giraffes and more right outside the balcony. The Club Level lounge at Animal Kingdom Lodge is our favorite with a more interesting selection than others and a beautiful space to enjoy your treats overlooking the main hall.

Animal Kingdom Lodge hosts three restaurants, from counter service to fine dining. Boma, an African inspired buffet, is one of our favorite spots to eat at Disney World. Jiko is formal and adults only, but luckily there is a child care center at the resort. The pool is a let down for a Deluxe class resort. Unique activities, such as using night vision to watch animals, helps fill that gap. The store is also a highlight with all sorts of interesting souvenirs and hand crafted items.

Busing is handled from a single stop. While convenient, it can be a long walk from some of the outer rooms. Also be aware of long ride times to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. We’ve used taxi service or our own car to get around quickly on a few occasions.

Pros

  • Live animals roaming the Savannah
  • Contained in a single building
  • Good range of food options
  • Relaxing atmosphere
  • Lots of activities
  • Top notch Club Level lounge

Cons

  • Some rooms can be a long walk from bus stop
  • Long ride to Magic Kingdom and Epcot
  • Feature pool is basic, unlike other Deluxe resorts

Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort ©R. Christensen

Disney World Grand Floridian Resort

Some are surprised when I recommend the Grand Floridian resort as a top pick for families with young children. The reason for this is the proximity to Magic Kingdom. A quick ride on the monorail delivers you right to the entrance and a short boat ride back is an easy way to escape the hot noontime heat and humidity. Guests can also watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the resort and the Electrical Water Pageant sails by each night.

The Grand Floridian’s décor is not likely appeal to many kids, but it does offer some fun. The chance to ride both the monorail and boats from the hotel is part of the adventure. There are also two character meals offered at 1900 Park Fare. The pools are OK, but the real fun is the splash area playscape.

Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort © R. Christensen

Rooms match the classic Victorian style of the hotel and are a decent size. Buildings are scattered about the property, but it is not a huge resort so walking times are not bad. Food options run from counter service to five star dining. Gasparilla Grill serves up a smaller variety of counter service choices than Value class hotels, but I love that it is open 24/7. Nothing is worse than returning hungry from a long day at the parks and not finding anything open.

Pros

  • Can’t get any closer to Magic Kingdom
  • Monorail and boat service to Magic Kingdom
  • Full range of dining options, including 24/7 counter service
  • Character meals at 1900 Park Fare
  • Fun splash area playscape for kids
  • Full service spa
  • Watch fireworks and Electrical Water Pageant from hotel

Cons

  • Expensive rooms
  • Theme is not interesting for elementary to teen age groups
  • Rooms are in multiple buildings
  • Long bus ride to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and water parks

Disney World operates over 20 resorts within their property and it is easy to find something for everyone’s taste. This list have been some of my favorites over the years and those that I find as a great fit for different types of family travel. Do you have a favorite Disney World resort? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

The post Best Disney World Resorts for Families appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Pandora: The World of Avatar/Image: John C. Vanda

The Traveling Dad Guide to Pandora: The World of Avatar was reported by Shawn McAskill, Paul Eisenberg, Tim Jones, Daymon Patterson, Josh Rodriguez, and John C. Vanda at Pandora’s debut in May 2017 and was updated by Paul in July 2018 when a delegation from Traveling Dad and Traveling Mom swarmed the Toy Story Land opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The larger point here is that the Traveling Dads REVISIT places, because that’s what unshaven men with reporting skills do.

It was only last year that we came, we saw, and drank beer in the morning.

What we discovered — and by we, we mean the aforementioned dads in italics above — is that morning is relative, especially at Walt Disney World. Especially within the dozen acres of Disney’s Animal Kingdom now known as the alien moon of Pandora, where it was perhaps after 5 p.m.

Therefore it was (and still is) acceptable for a rollicking band of Traveling Dads to belly up to Pongu Pongu (how the Na’vi of James Cameron’s “Avatar” say “Party Party”) and tipple as we and other members of the worldwide media did when previewed Pandora — The World of Avatar, days before its grand opening on May 27, 2017.

So if you want to get your pongu on at Pandora, let this Traveling Dad team coverage continue to be your guide.

What’s been updated in this post?

Beyond revising the introduction — which was exhausting because it feels like we’re merging timelines and then expecting you to keep up with them, like the finale of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where Picard lurches from one era to another — Paul has added some new photos and videos, and, to keep things simpler, will discontinue referring to himself in the third person and when I want you to know that it’s me, Paul, commenting on my 2018 visit to Pandora, I’ll switch to italics to annotate the existing text, which read pretty well before I began stepping on it. 

Herein we give our first impressions of the land itself, imagineered within the Valley of Mo’ara. As well as our second impressions. During my week at Walt Disney World my family and I  — including my wife, tween son and two teen daughters — made two separate visits to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, primarily to experience Pandora. We review Pandora’s two main attractions “Flight of Passage” and “Na’vi River Journey,” which we rode again and again.

We let you know what to expect at Satu’li Canteen as well as the Windtraders gift shop. And we prove that Traveling Dads can dispense travel information while drinking green beer.

The Valley of Mo’ara/Image: Tim Jones

How to Navigate Pandora

You don’t need to see or re-see “Avatar” to appreciate this new Disney land but many TDADs agree that it will enhance your experience. It’s good to know that the movie’s main themes are acceptance of other species and cultures, harmony, and conservation.

And it helps to understand a key plot point: You can, if properly hooked up, neurally link with Pandoran alien life, which includes communicating with trees and banshees and inhabiting the body of a blue Na’vi citizen, who while you explore Pandora serves as your avatar.

Either way, no-spoiler alert: Pandora is a sultry and fragrant forest moon whose pathways are lined with othworldly-looking trees, exotic plants and the occasional Na’vi totem.

Keep your head on a swivel when you first cross the short bridge into Pandora. When it comes to transporting visitors thousands of lightyears away to a strange new planet, Disney’s Imagineers spared no detail.

Among the pursuits as you wend your way through Pandora, drums.

Pandora, The World of Avatar: Drums - YouTube

The bioluminescent grounds of Pandora at night/Image: Josh Rodriguez

The ground beneath your feet begins to show cracks, which subtly transform into abstract designs – some recognizable from our own home, others being completely alien. The foliage of the living, colorful environment of Pandora is a veritable cocoon. Suddenly, the dense shrubbery clears, and before you lies a massive floating rock formation unlike anything found on earth.

It’s a lot to take in, and you’d be forgiven for stopping in your tracks to admire it all for a few extra moments. It may seem intimidating, but Animal Kingdom’s latest land isn’t quite as sprawling as it first appears. All you need to do, is turn left in order to go right.

Allow us to explain.

Pandora Nightlife/Image: Josh Rodriguez

Sticking to the left as you first enter the park will lead you directly to the Na’vi River Journey. Both the FastPass+ and standby lines offer a magnificent view of the tall waterfall cascading down the left side of the floating rocks.

Once your river experience is complete, hang to the left once more. This will lead you straight to the Flight of Passage – an incredible 4D experience where you’ll ride your own living, BREATHING Banshee.

The pathway out of Flight of Passage will take you through the gift shop and out past the bar, Pongu Pongu, where you can pick up the aforementioned beer, a Pandora-themed margarita or a colorful non-alcoholic beverage. You’ll find yourself right in front of the Satu’li Canteen, where you and your family can grab a nutritious bite of steak, chicken, salmon, and whole grains.

Head to the left one more time, and enjoy the additional sights and sounds of Pandora as you wind your way back to where you began.

During the Na’vi River Journey, this happens.

The Na’vi River Journey

A slow-moving, visually-stunning float through a bioluminescent underground cavern, the Na’vi River Journey is a true feast for the eyes. The black-lit color pallete of the native fauna and wildlife coupled with advanced animatronics is enough to have you genuinely questioning reality.

This is an immersive experience, a sensory delight, and a must-see for diehard fans of the world-building behind Avatar. The 6-passenger boats move slowly enough for riders to gain an appreciation of the minute details contained along the riverbank. These stretch from below the waterline to directly above your head.

Na’vi River Journey/Image: Tim Jones

However, for those not as well-versed in Pandora’s culture or history, the ride doesn’t hold the same appeal. There is no story or context offered for the sights and sounds of the journey. While the singing Na’vi shaman that appears deep within the river is arguably the most advanced and impressive execution of animatronics ever, it’s a bit unfulfilling without a relevant story-arc.

Those hoping to learn more about this planet and its inhabitants rather than simply passing through may be disappointed, despite the visual tour de force. More than a year later, I second this conclusion that Na’vi River Journey is a fine respite from the aggressive Orlando humidity but is otherwise an underwhelming, sleepy journey that I described to my family beforehand as “it’s a small world” but less anxious, and they somewhat agreed with me.

We can’t show you the ride, but we can show you this Kramer-looking dude who explains the ride./Image: Josh Rodriguez

Flight of Passage

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction: Flight of Passage will be one of the most popular, talked-about, and viral-worthy rides of ANY Disney park worldwide. This ride is unlike any that has come before it. While fans of Soarin’ and Star Tours will notice some familiar elements, make no mistake: Flight of Passage stands alone in both scope and execution.

Visitors are first taken through a lengthy, albeit engaging journey through an intricate system of passageways, complete with ancient Na’vi cave paintings. You’ll then take a quick tour through a bioluminescent forest before entering a fully-functioning laboratory – complete with a larger than life surprise.

Na'vi Flotation Situation - YouTube

Finally, you’ll reach a loading bay where you’ll be presented with an introductory video (which one you’ll end up watching will depend entirely on which bay you’ve been directed toward). While in here, you’ll be evaluated, and genetically-matched with your own unique Avatar. This will act as your proxy aboard a ferocious flying banshee.

One more quick video will explain the mission of the scientists and engineers living and working on Pandora, before being escorted to the actual ride.

Don’t expect to see any bucket seats. Nor any lowering safety bars or rail tracks.

Do expect a 4D experience in the truest sense of the term. One that will churn your stomach, dazzle your eyes, assail your nostrils, and send shockwaves rippling through your nervous system – leaving you tingly and giddy for minutes afterward.

Also, with a standby queue designed to accommodate a 5-hour maximum, expect to wait.

But if there were one ride worthy of a nearly half-day wait time, it’s Flight of Passage.

I’m tempted just to say “Ditto” but the fact is, from the day I first rode Flight of Passage to excess (refer to photo below) I couldn’t stop talking about it and could hardly wait for my family to experience it. 

What riding a Flight of Passage banshee a few too many times looks like. Clockwise from lower left, TDADs JD Andrews, John C. Vanda, Kevin Gilloly, Tim Jones, and Paul Eisenberg./Image: JD Andrews

Flight of Passage One Year Later: Is The Magic Gone?

More than a year later, the day arrived when my family would ride Flight of Passage. Or at least I hoped they would.

Without the benefit of media access to the ride, my family and I did what we had to do: Got up a little too early, hustled like crazy, got to Disney’s Animal Kingdom before rope drop, and feverishly speculated about how successful we’d be in navigating the crush of fellow, aspiring Flight of Passage riders (there was no question that’s what everybody was going to make a run for) and sure, enough, the rope dropped and we made a run for it. The video below shows what the first few frantic seconds of rope drop look like.

Rope Drop at Disney's Animal Kingdom - YouTube

By the way, while this ride is almost worth getting hurt for, no theme park attraction is worth injury. My eldest daughter stumbled during our hasty approach to the ride and was stepped on by a fellow park-goer. But she was fine, as she adhered to the “walk it off” dad advice I’ve been giving her since the day she began walking and fell.

Anyhow, once the ride was in sight — I’m happy to report that the directions to the ride we give above are very good — I was relieved to see that we weren’t joining a crush of people who had already gotten to the entrance of the ride before us. I couldn’t believe it. I asked one of the cast members attending the ride, was there any kind of Fast Pass access my family and I should be availing ourselves of to make our time on line go quicker? And she gave me a quick smile and said in a very nice way, “Just go in,” pointing to my family who was already striding ahead into the queue.

This will give you a sense of the line-up, as my Canadian friends say, while you’re outside Flight of Passage.

Image: Paul Eisenberg

And once you pass through the rock formations and almost southwestern-feeling pathways there’s something of a post-modern industrial feel to part of the waiting area, which makes sense when you remember that the ride is set in a laboratory.

Image: Paul Eisenberg

Once you reach the loading bay with its instructional videos, the experience is much the way we describe it above, except it was underscored by my repeating to my family for the hundredth time, if this ride doesn’t live up to all the hype I’ve been giving it for the past year, I’ll apologize.

Well, I didn’t have to apologize. As soon as it ended I said, “Was that the best ride you’ve ever been on, or what?” All but my eldest daughter agreed (though it was an easy second to her perennial favorite, Space Mountain). We ended up riding it a second time about forty minutes later — once the clock inched past 9am, we were able to Fast Pass our way on for our return ride. And a few days later we returned to Pandora and did the ride a third time.

My family concurred that riding Flight of Passage three times was well worth the hype, time, and effort, nothing quite compared to their first time they rode it  — indeed, I felt the same way about my first time on the ride last year. However, there came a moment during the first time with my family this year when I slipped my goggles off my eyes and glanced at the faces of my wife, daughters and son as they immersed themselves in the 4D experience of clawing skyward through Pandora. They all had the same expression: Raw delight. That moment made all the effort to get here, and the days of occasional exhaustion that followed, completely worthwhile.

Lunch at the Satu’li Canteen

One glance at a menu on Pandora, and you’ll realize you’ve left the Dole Whip far behind. Pandora continues Animal Kingdom’s noteworthy run of food options for those not content with an oversized pretzel as a snack.

If there were ever any mystery around how the Na’vi stay so lean and ripped, it’s now been thoroughly solved. While we only experienced a small sample, the multigrain medley, thin-sliced beef, grilled chicken and salmon made it clear that we weren’t in the Magic Kingdom anymore. On a health kick? Then this quick, thousand-some odd lightyear trip is just what the doctor ordered.

For those picky eaters in the family, the on-site cantina also offers a cheeseburger “pod.” The pod’s puffy, breaded exterior hides traditional cheeseburger ingredients inside. The desserts are also presented in an odd, yet enticing fashion. The multi-colored, circular cheesecake “slice” was my personal favorite.

Here’s some footage of the dads enjoying lunch, which is more entertaining than it sounds. You’ll also witness Daym Drops being outfitted for his own Avatar, courtesy of the Avatar Maker at the Tradewinds shop at Pandora.

Traveling Dad Takes on Pandora: The World of Avatar - YouTube

And if you’re really into..

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When I took my family of four to Walt Disney World for the first time, I vowed to make the best use of our time – and we did just that using techniques I outlined in a previous post. Part of my strategy was based on what my friend (and Traveling Mom) Leslie from Trips with Tykes spoke to me about the wonders of rider switch. She’s written THE definitive guide for rider switching at Disneyland. But did you know Walt Disney World rider switch just went digital? Here’s what you need to know about how to use rider switch and how it can still save you a ton of time in the parks!

A wonderful son, AND the key to minimizing wait times at Disney World – win win!

How does rider switch work?

The concept of rider switch is pretty easy to explain. Imagine you are a three person family: two adults and a baby. You want to ride Space Mountain, but the baby obviously can’t go. In order for both adults to get on the ride, you ask for a “rider switch” pass. Parent 1 rides the ride while Parent 2 stays outside and watches the baby, then Parent 2 takes the rider switch pass, a physical pass Parent 1 has received from the cast member manning the ride, and goes straight on the ride through the Fastpass+ lane. So the idea is nobody gets punished for being a good parent!

Up until 2018, rider switch involved receiving physical paper passes, but now Disney World rider switch has gone completely digital! Here’s how it now works.

Pretty much every ride in all four parks that have height limits offers rider switch. The way it works is this:

  1. Two (or more) adults walk to the entrance of the line with baby in tow
  2. BEFORE getting into line, request a rider switch. Adult 1, who will be riding immediately, enters and enjoys the ride!
  3. Adult 2 will scan their magic band or ticket – the rider switch will be added to Adult 2’s band/ticket. At this point you can explain how many people will be riding later (up to 3)
  4. Adult 2 will be given a return time. They have up to an hour after the return time to scan their magic band and ride the ride.
  5. Adult 2 returns within the return time window and enters the ride through the Fastpass+ line
  6. Adult 2 enjoys the ride!

You used to get these large placards, but everything is digital now

Can rider switch work with Fastpass+?

It most certainly can! Plus, Disney World has an added benefit over Disneyland: you can make your Fastpass+ reservations online beforehand (or even while you’re at the park in the mobile app).

When you enter the Fastpass+ line, swipe your Fastpass+ as you normally would but before you enter the queue, just ask the cast member by the Fastpass+ machine for a rider switch ticket. The procedure then works exactly as above. Of course, since you’re going through the Fastpass+ line you’ll be out much faster than if you were sitting in the regular line.

The only thing better than skipping the long line at Seven Dwarves once is skipping it twice!

That’s when rider switch starts getting really powerful. Let’s say you are a family of four with one baby (Adult 1, Adult 2, child, and baby). It’s possible for you the child to ride the thrill attractions more than once with very little wait using Fastpass+ and rider switch. A strategy like this can get them on every big ride twice. Make sure you tell the cast member adding the rider switch to Adult 2’s magic band that the child plans to ride again (they’ll be cool with it!).

  1. Adult 1 and child reserve Fastpass+ for three height restricted attractions (e.g., Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain).
  2. Before entering the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Fastpass+ queue, Adult 1 and child grab a rider switch for Adult 2 (make sure Adult 2 and the baby are there and visible before they go off and do their thing!).
  3. Ride and enjoy the attraction and then leave with a rider switch ticket in hand
  4. Adult 2 and child use rider switch ticket to go right through the Fastpass+ line again
  5. Rinse and repeat for the other two rides!
Will I make it back in time for my rider switch window if I need to wait in the standby line?

One concern with this new system is, if you request a rider switch and wait in a standby line, will Adult 2 make their return window. Quite simply, yes. The cast member issuing the rider switch to Adult 2’s magic band is supposed to take into account wait time. If for some reason your ride has a 90 min wait and the cast member assigns a rider switch return time for 60 min later, just kindly ask them to please extend the time and point out the current standby wait time. It shouldn’t even come to that.

Also, cast members are pretty amenable to logic, so if the ride breaks down or something happens, when you go back to use your rider switch just explain the situation and you should be okay. You also get a 10 minute grace period so your window is basically 1 hour and 10 minutes (like Fastpass+).

When do rider switch passes expire?

You didn’t have to use the rider switch immediately in the past – each rider switch pass had an expiration time and date. It was awesome that you could “save” the three rider switch tickets from the morning and then take your child to ride the rides again in the afternoon after naptime back to back to back!

Unfortunately, now rider switch passes expire whenever the return window ends. Again, you have the ten minute grace period and you can probably talk your way in if you have legitimate extenuating circumstances (I still think one hour is a short return window given the unpredictability of babies). However, you basically need to think of your rider switch pass as a Fastpass+ return time now, which makes it less powerful than it used to be.

These were the good old days – but it no longer works this way

Final Thoughts

To be honest, we didn’t maximize these strategies as much as I would have liked on our trip. The reality is, as all traveling dads and moms know, when you have a baby, it’s tough to predict anything! Still, even grabbing one rider switch pass can help make your Disney experience that much enjoyable, so make sure you familiarize yourself with how to use them before you get into the parks. Any time saved at Walt Disney World is money saved! Any other good rider switch tips to share? I’m all (Mickey) ears!

All other images courtesy of author

The post Minimize Wait Times By Maximizing Rider Switch at Walt Disney World appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Traveling Dad by John Vanda & Kevin Gillooly - 1w ago

Picture This:  A Theme Park without a theme.  It’s sad, we know.  “Disney Hollywood Studios is BROKEN!”  claims Vader.  “I respectfully disagree, and you sir are a moron!”, retorts Mufasa.  “How Dare You!” shouts Vader as he slaps Mufasa with a white glove across his right cheek.  If you think that dialog like this is excellent, than don’t listen to the podcast, because none of that actually happened.  Kevin (Vader) does believe sincerely that Disney Hollywood Studios is currently broken.  There is hope with all of the changes and additions coming between 2018-2020.  John (Mufasa) thinks that while Vader has some good points, that he’s being too nitpicky and granular with his argument, and that there’s plenty to love about this theme park in Orlando, Florida at Walt Disney World.  Check out the timeline below to be able to skip to your favorite parts in the podcast.  Click that play button at the top of this article to listen to our points, witicisms, and stock tips guaranteed to make you millions!!! ***

***You will not make millions listening to our podcast…

Disney Podcast Timeline

0:23  This podcast is dedicated to the Golden Age of Hollywood

1:00  We’re starting a new series called John is right, and Kevin isn’t!  This is the start of John trying to convince Kevin that Disney Hollywood Studios is not a broken park

3:08  Disney Hollywood Studios is broken up into 7 areas and we’ll tell you a little bit about some of them, as Kevin continues to try and make his case for why the park isn’t working in it’s current state

5:05  When you got from one area of Disney Hollywood Studios to the next, there’s no obvious transition like there is in other parks, like Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom.  Does this matter?

6:42  We give an example of an attraction that was originally in Hollywood Studios, and was replaced with something popular, but didn’t make sense thematically in that part of the theme park.

8:20  Mufasa jumps into the argument with how the replaced attraction actually does fit, and Vader is focusing too narrowly, ruining his own experience.

10:33 Where will Disney move the Star Wars experiences once Galaxy’s Edge opens?

Is Disney Hollywood Studios Worth an Entire Day

11:25 The debate continues.  Kevin doesn’t think that DHS is worth an entire day of his time.

12:31 Mufasa lists his personal favorite attractions in Hollywood Studios, and states that these alone justify an entire day in the park.

13:32 Do you want to know what ride each host thinks is the best in DHS?  You’ll have to tune into this part of the podcast to find out

14:34 Mother Nature ruined what should have been a spectacular viewing of Fantasmic, and we reminisce

15:10 Mufasa kicked Kevin’s ass at Toy Story Mania, and rubs his nose in it…just a little

Are there Food Options at Disney Hollywood Studios Worth Your Visit

16:22 We can’t wait to try the Baseline Tap House restaurant that just opened in late 2017.  Craft Beers, and Flights of Beer, and more beer, and more words with beer…sounds good to Mufasa!

17:08 The Sci-Fi Drive-In Theater can be a little divisive on people’s meals, but you simply can’t beat the theming.  That alone makes this worth your time.

18:12 Was it Enough?  Is Kevin convinced that DHS is worth an entire day?  We didn’t even elaborate on the Brown Derby, or the 50’s Prime Time Café!

19:52  Vader tries to argue futilely against Mufasa, who is clearly right, and rebuts all of his points as completely rubbish.

21:50  How much would your teens and tweens enjoy Disney Hollywood Studios?

25:33  You won’t believe Vader’s final argument against DHS.  Seriously, if he were reaching more in this argument, I’d have to nickname him Inspector Gadget

STUMP THE HOST

28:45  Vader is now the one with the win streak that needs to be broken by Mufasa.  Test your knowledge about the Sorcerer’s hat that is no longer in Hollywood Studios.  

Stay in Touch with Vader & Mufasa

The post Is Disney Hollywood Studios Broken? appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Oregon has many, many landmarks. From its rocky, breathtaking coastline to the mountains to the high desert of Eastern Oregon; the state has it all it all. As far as national parks go, Oregon has one, and it’s amazing.

Welcome to Crater Lake National Park.

At Crater Lake, it’s easy to take the family on a lazy afternoon in the sun adventure to see this amazing and unforgettable national treasure. The park’s breathtaking beauty an hour and a half south of Bend, Oregon and for our family, has become yearly tradition. Through all four seasons, Crater Lake shows us its many hidden treasures.

Crater Lake is a caldera of Mount Mazama in south-central Oregon in the western United States. At 1,943 feet deep, Crater  Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. The crystal clear blueish water is indicative of its purity and depth. The lake is entirely fed by rain and snow coming off the Pacific Ocean, located 150 miles to the west.

Explore a Collapsed Volcano

Crater Lake rests in the belly of a dormant volcano. The stratovolcano, called Mount Mazama, once stood 12,000 feet tall, but it collapsed after a major eruption 7,700 years ago. Later eruptions formed Wizard Island, a cinder cone that rises from the water. The park has an abundance of fascinating volcanic features, including a second rocky island, the Phantom Ship.

Experience Old-Growth Forests

Crater Lake itself occupies only 8% of the park, according to Ranger Audrey who led our 5, 7 and 10 year old children through their Junior Ranger activities. Beyond the blue lake, old-growth forests blanket the landscape.

Established in 1902,  Crater Lake National Park protects a vast variety of trees including 15 species of conifers, towering ponderosa pines to ancient whitebark pines. These trees shelter a wide array of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, elk, and spotted owls.

Will your family be able to spot the Clark’s Nutcracker and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel? We spent an entire day at Crater Lake and got lucky – we spotted two Clark’s Nutcrackers and a handful of the mysterious ground squirrels.

Become a Junior Ranger

One of our kid’s favorite things to do when we visit a national park is participate in the Junior Ranger activities. The Junior Ranger program is offered daily in the summer months and has four different activities throughout the day for your “Junior Ranger”. Complete one of these activities as a group with a Crater Lake Park Ranger and they will earn a Crater Lake National Park Junior Ranger patch. The program is available in the afternoon by the Rim Visitor Center, which is a short walk from the Crater Lake Lodge.

Stay and Enjoy the Lake

Crater Lake Lodge has 71 rooms overlooking the lake at Rim Village. As the lodge is on the smaller side and the summer season is short, it’s recommended to make reservations in advance. For overnight lodging, there are also The Cabins at Mazama Village which has 40 rooms and is located 7 miles south of Rim Village.

Staying overnight provides you more time to enjoy the beauty or to take in a sunrise or sunset hike. If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat at the Rim Village Café or Crater Lake Lodge. The lodge provides views of the lake on the patio lined with rocking chairs or formal dining experience enjoy a nice quiet meal in the surroundings of this rustic building. We enjoyed the hot chocolate, coffee and an Oregon-made IPA.

Popular hikes at Crater Lake

Up for a hike? Crater Lake has options that range from easy to moderately difficult. Try the Garfield Peak Trail which is a hike that provides panoramic views of Crater Lake at the top, and amazing views the whole way. This hike is very steep in the beginning and can be quite laborious. However, there are fantastic spots along the way to take in the views and enjoy lunch.

Right in the middle of the lake is Wizard Island and on it is the Wizard Island Trail. You can ride over via boat and hike up to the volcano rim and then down inside. Wizard Island is 700 feet tall and this hike is only a bit difficult with a slight incline.

More Crater Lake Offerings

Ride the Rim! On Sept 8 and 15, 2018, sections of Rim Drive will be vehicle-free so you can enjoy a bike ride, walk and the views without worrying about cars and vehicular traffic!

Take a guided hike! Each day in the summer, the park offers guided hikes with a park ranger to explore and learn about Crater Lake. Trail choice varies depending on the ranger leading the hike.

In the winter, take a ranger-led snowshoe walks. During these led 2-hour snowshoe hikes, rangers discus various aspects of winter ecology. Walks take place every Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Free snowshoes are provided. There is a 30 person limit on each walk, and a minimum age of 8 years. Be sure to sign up in advance.

Crater Lake Boat Tours – From July to mid-September, you can see the lake via boat! Reservations are strongly recommended as few tickets are available on the day of the tour. Note: Boat tour access requires hiking 2.2 miles round trip on a strenuous trail.

Perhaps the most charming way to explore Crater Lake is via trolley. In these tours, you can join a park ranger on a 2-hour tour aboard a historic-styled trolley. The tours start at Rim Village, a driver will navigate the 33 miles of the Rim Drive around Crater Lake including 4 stops for photos and discussion.

The post Summer To-Do: Get Thee To Crater Lake National Park appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Did you know you can experience the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, now at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?

Toy Story Land Preview! with Imagineer Star Wars Galactic Spectacular - YouTube

Yes, you can see Galaxy’s Edge (the new Star Wars “land” being built at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida) in Star Tours!

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Star Tours

At the end of the Star Tours ride, guests “fly” into a CGI model of the new Galaxy’s Edge area being constructed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

STAR TOURS REVEALS STAR WARS: GALAXY’S EDGE PLANET NAME — Guests on Star Tours Ð The Adventures Continue discover a thrilling new journey to the farthest reaches of space on a planet in the outer rim of the Star Wars galaxy Ð a planet known as Batuu. Opening in 2019, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland park in Anaheim, Calif., and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Fla., are Disney Parks’ largest single-themed land expansions ever at 14-acres each, transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life. These authentic lands will have two signature attractions, including the ability to take the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon, on a customized secret mission, and an epic Star Wars adventure that puts guests in the middle of a climactic battle. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

As the name implies, this area exists on the galaxy’s edge, as a hide out, safe haven, or dangerous endeavor, depending on who you want to meet or hide from.

MARK HAMILL VISITS DISNEY PARK’S STAR WARS: GALAXY’S EDGE AT D23 EXPO Mark Hamill, from the upcoming film ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was among the first to see a fully detailed model of Disney Parks new Star Wars-themed land while visiting D23 Expo in Anaheim, Calif., July 14. It was announced at the Disney fan event that the all-new 14-acre land will be called ‘Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’ when it opens in 2019 at Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

You can also see scenes from the new Last Jedi movie in the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular fireworks show.

Also, you can get up close and personal with a design concept picture of Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios near the Muppet attraction.

The photos release at Disney Social Media Moms indicate many things will be in arms reach at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.

Some great opportunities for you Star Wars fans to see scenes from the new Star Wars movie and get a glimpse of the all new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge areas at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Time to book a trip to Disney?

The post Experience the New Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, Now! appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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Don’t ever take a 3 night Disney Cruise!

Now, we’ve taken our fair share of 3 night Disney Cruises. During the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration in February, we took our 22nd Disney Cruise, including many 3 night cruises.

I was reminded on this latest Disney Cruise that 3 night cruises end way too fast!

Never Take a 3 Night Disney Cruise

You board the ship on day 1, have Nassau on day 2, Castaway Cay on day 3, packing to go home that night, and getting off the ship on day 4. It’s a whirlwind!

Typically, we stay on the ship in Nassau. This gives us a day aboard with smaller crowds and more relaxation time. We call Nassau the “Tijuana of the Bahamas.” It’s a touristy stop for all the cruise ships. Once upon a time, Nassau offered great shopping and haggling with local craftspeople. Nowadays, it’s the same stuff you can buy, online or at home.

Castaway Cay usually results in a full day off the ship. From the 5K first thing, to lounging on the beach, lunch at Cookie’s BBQ, followed by more lounging or snorkeling or water slides. Regardless of the agenda, you’re zonked by the time you get back to the ship.

Then, you have to get everything packed! That’s right, it’s already time to get off the ship!

Disney Cruise Agenda

I only mentioned the ports and adventures during those days. I didn’t even include all the stuff to do on the ship.

Character meet & greets, Broadway-style shows, dinners, games, Oceaneer’s Lab, Club, Edge, Vibe, Palo, and on and on. The activity list never seems to end!

Speaking of Palo, their brunch is one of my favorite dining experiences on the Disney Cruise ships. Unfortunately, you can’t get Palo brunch on a 3 night cruise.

Want to learn more about the Disney Cruise ships and their theming? Cool! Take the “Art of the Theme Show” tour. Oh, wait. It’s not available on the 3 night cruises.

On Pirate Night, you get a special dinner menu, catered to the scallawags in your party. AAARRRRR! Yeah, that one’s not on the 3 nighters, either.

What??!! No pirate dinner menu??!!

Disney Cruise for More Nights!

Instead of a 3 night Disney Cruise, take a 4, 5, 7, or heck even a 14 night cruise. My favorite Disney Cruises have been aboard 5 and 7 night cruises. I think 5 is the perfect number.

This gives you plenty of time to hit all 3 rotational dining restaurants and throw in a Palo dinner or brunch. Maybe even a date night at Remy.

Days at sea offer classes, tastings, and tea with the princesses.

Kids enjoy more characters, make better friends in Edge and Vibe, and create longer lasting memories aboard longer Disney Cruises.

Unless you have real issues with sea sickness or hate being on a Disney Cruise ship, extend that cruise! It’s not much of a cost difference to a 4 night and at least then you get a day at sea to relax. Or, maybe you’ll splurge a bit for that 7 nighter or a 14 night Transatlantic cruise.

The post Don’t Ever Take a 3 Night Disney Cruise! appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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The Traveling Dad Video Guide to Disney Toy Story Land is not the definitive guide to Toy Story Land but it’s certainly among the first — a Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad delegation was embedded at the worldwide media preview of the new land at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios the weekend of June 29 — and it will certainly be the only guide featuring Traveling Dad senior entertainment correspondent at large Daymon Patterson, known the world over as well as throughout the Dagobah System as Daym Drops.

It’s not easy to get a gratuitous “Star Wars” reference into a run-on sentence but that’s how we roll at Traveling Dad, and if you watch below you’ll see Daym doing what Daym does when he joins us at Disney: He rides the rides (both Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers are featured here) and eats the eats (much of the food you’ll see here, we hate to say, was made special for the media, but you can get a sense of the Toy Story Land fare from the menu at Woody’s Lunch Box). And along the way, Daym walks the walk as a dad.

The Traveling Dad Video Guide to Toy Story Land with Daym Drops - YouTube

There’s more Toy Story Land coverage to come from Traveling Dad and Traveling Mom, so stay tuned for that, too. ~ Your Editors

The post The Traveling Dad Video Guide to Toy Story Land With Daym Drops appeared first on Traveling Dad.

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