Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tables in Wonderland

Well, when it comes to a Disney vacation most of us are all for anything that will save us some money. For years now, Disney has had a dining card available for Florida residents and Annual Pass holders that allow them to receive 20% off of meals in most sit-down restaurants and some counter service locations throughout the WDW property. “Tables in Wonderland” (formerly the “Disney Dining Experience”) can be purchased for $60 by Annual Pass holders and $85 for non-AP holding Florida residents. Both AP holders and Florida residents also have the option of adding a second card for an additional cost of $25.

There are a few things to note about using the card. There are blackout dates – namely holidays - on which you cannot use it. When using it for a meal, an 18% gratuity will automatically be added to the bill. There seems to be a lot of controversy over this that makes people feel as if they are only saving a few percent. Let’s think about this though: you were going to tip anyway (let’s hope ;o) so that tip would have been added to the original check amount so you’re still saving a substantial sum on the check. Let’s check out the example below, from the Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian (yes, real men DO drink tea):

So, the original check amount would have been $38.14 and we saved 20%, or $7.63 based on that. The 18% gratuity (that is based on the original amount before the discount) is added at $6.57 along with the tax and our total check is now $39.37.

Still with me? Good. Now, if we hadn’t gotten the discount, the original amount would have been $38.14. Let’s add the tax and we get $40.62. Add a 15% tip to that and the grand total is now $46.71. Using the card you would have saved at LEAST $7.34. If you had tipped 18% on the original amount then the card would have saved you $8.56.

WHEW! That was a lot of math but it shows that the card does save money on the average check. As for recouping the cost, that will probably happen faster than you think. Odds are, if you are a Florida resident or an Annual Pass holder, you get to the “World” fairly often. My wife and I paid $60 for our card. Over the course of our last trip we used it for ten meals and two bar tabs. Bearing in mind that those meals ranged from the food court at Pop Century all the way through to California Grill, we saved over $140 with the card. Subtract the $60 cost of the card itself and we had a net savings of over $80 and that was in one trip!!! Heck, if you do a trip to Victoria and Albert’s the card will pay for itself in one meal! LOL

If you visit WDW fairly often, sit down and think about what you spend on a sit-down meal for you and your family and how often they occur. You may be surprised how quickly the savings would add up if you had a “Tables in Wonderland” card!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

T-Rex: Eating with (and like) a Dinosaur

There are tons, TONS of great places to eat on Disney property. Whether you’re in one of the parks or at a resort or in Downtown Disney, the choices can be a bit daunting at times. The newest addition to this family is Downtown’s T-Rex.

Opened in mid-October, T-Rex is owned by Landry, the parent company of the popular Rainforest Café chain of restaurants. As you might expect, the theme of T-Rex is somewhat similar to that of the Rainforest locations except, of course, with dinos instead of monkeys! T-Rex is an ENORMOUS restaurant (the capacity sign lists it at, I believe, 992) and has several themed areas in which patrons can dine. Want a drink? You’ll be seated under a plethora of aquatic life capped by a huge octopus. Diners might be seated in the ice age, or under a school of jellyfish near the bar or next to the “Kitchen of Fire”. Periodically, there is a meteor shower where they can be seen streaking across the ceiling and even spot the points of impact, marked by flashes of light.

The “critters” throughout the restaurant are a sight to behold. From the gigantic namesake T-Rex near the entrance (complete with baby next to it) to the Woolly Mammoth (with a soundbite strikingly similar to that of the elephants on the Jungle Cruise ;) to a very large, very angry looking Pterodactyl, the creatures inhabiting the dining room are a lot of fun.

Check-in is similar to that of Rainforest Café, where you put your name in at a podium and then wait in line to be called to your table. While the line can look very, very intimidating, it does move surprisingly fast so don’t be discouraged. But let’s talk about the most important thing…..the food.

The food at T-Rex, in my experience (all four of them) so far has been extremely good. The menu is large with plenty of choices for all kinds of appetites. There is a great deal of variety both in the food and the drinks. There is even a selection of martinis capped with, and no I’m not kidding, cotton candy. The best thing about T-Rex though, are the desserts. I can’t even begin to describe how great the sweets at this place are. One to note is the “Meteor Bites”, a coupling of chocolate and vanilla doughnut holes that come with dipping sauces.

The pinnacle though, the top of the mountain, as it were is the “Chocolate Extinction”. Believe me when I say that songs will be written about this dessert. If we were cave men, we would draw pictures on the walls about it. People will tell their grandchildren about it. I am NOT lying. Four slices of cake (it’s more like a giant brownie with a layer of caramel in the middle) with scoops of ice cream (that are topped with Butterfinger bits) surround a cup of dry ice that is erupting as the plate is served to you. The menu says “Serves two to four” and it really should say “Bring a lot of friends.” because it’s a lot of food.

I could go on and on (can’t you tell) about the food at T-Rex but you really need to try it for yourself. The animatronics aren’t earth-shattering (yes, pun intended) but they are great fun and lend a lot to the atmosphere. The service has been great, the prices are reasonable and the food is wonderful. What more could you ask for?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Wow, Christmas and the New Year are gone, GONE people! Can you believe it?

Well, we were lucky enough again this past holiday season to celebrate both Christmas and the ringing in of the New Year with our families and about 100,000 of our nearest and dearest friends. With the crowds that reign down upon the happiest place on Earth during the holidays one can be particularly appreciative of anything that saves you time or gets you through a line faster. This is the PERFECT time to take advantage of Disney’s patented Fastpass system.

Fastpass was first utilized by Disney in 1999 and is a sort of virtual “line” for guests. High volume attractions have a system of kiosks that are set aside to dispense Fastpasses. Here’s how it works:

1. Find the attraction that you’re interested in and find out if it is one that participates in the Fastpass system. It’s important to note that NOT ALL attractions use Fastpass. Those that will typically kill you with 90 or 120 minute waits (can you say Toy Story Mania?) will be those that participate.
2. Take note on the overhead sign of what the time frame is that the current Fastpasses are being issued in (they are issued for one hour time spans i.e. – 10:40am to 11:40am). If passes are currently being issued starting at 5:40pm and you have a priority seating for dinner at 5:30pm, it may not be the best time to get one.
3. Insert your park ticket into the Fastpass kiosk and you’ll get a Fastpass for the time noted on the overhead board.
4. Return to the attraction during the time frame noted on your Fastpass and enter the Fastpass line
5. Have FUN!!!

Sounds easy? It is! There are a few things to note about Fastpass though:

- They can and sometimes DO (say Toy Story Mania AGAIN) run out. As many have seen recently, a new and hot attraction like Toy Story Mania may have the Fastpasses for the entire day run out by 11am and those getting them at 10am may have a return time of 8pm.
- From the time that you obtain a Fastpass, you’ll have to wait a short time to get your next one. This is to prevent people from bouncing all over the place and getting a million of them. Check the bottom of your Fastpass for the time that you’ll be able to get your next one.
- Sometimes, along with the Fastpass that you want to get from the machine, you might get another one as well. In other words, while getting one for Tower of Terror, it might also spit out one for Lights, Motors, Action! You’re not high from the popcorn butter, this is just Disney’s way of working the park traffic to spread things out when it’s getting too heavy in one area or another.
- Yes, you can sometimes use a Fastpass even after the time frame has passed. Lots of people have used 5:40pm – 6:40pm Fastpasses at 8pm but this is never guaranteed! Per the rules, you’re supposed to use them in the time frame printed on them.

There, I think that about covers it. Trust us, Fastpass is a GREAT way to save you and your family time and maximize your park hours to see as much as possible. It may seem intimidating at first but once you get there and see how things work you’ll become a pro in no time!!!