30 April 2012

I wish tonight

Up to six months in advance we schedule our dining reservations for a trip to Walt Disney World. Then we pencil electrically lit parades, over the top fireworks displays, and other nighttime spectaculars into our itineraries. Yet, it never seems to fail, there is always an evening left open or a night you decide you’ve simply had enough of the crowds of firework gawkers. The question then becomes, what do you do with a night off in Walt Disney World?

Well, fear not dedicated reader, the Gazette Roundtable is here with their thoughts and suggestions.

Roundtable Topic: What do you do in Walt Disney World when you need a night away from the parks?
Roundtable Contributors: Greg Grimsley (The Disney Obsession), Matthew Sedler (the geekTicket), Elizabeth Caran (Take the Monorail), George Taylor (Imaginerding), Fiona (DF’82), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Andy Jackson (Eating (and Drinking) around the World), Eric Hoffman (Netmongrel), and yours truly.
Greg – A night away from the parks? Is there such a thing? It is at night when I love the parks all that much more since it gives me the opportunity to set up a tripod and hope to capture some nice nighttime shots. But, I do admit that I do get out of the parks during the evening now and then.

In fact, I feel no trip to Walt Disney World is complete without spending a few hours in Downtown Disney. An hour or so in The Art of Disney is a "must do" on any visit, as is some time spent in Once Upon A Time. Rarely will I leave either of these shops without a merchandize shipping receipt tucked nicely in my wallet. The Pin Trading shop and World of Disney are also on the list, and lately, I have really enjoyed browsing Mickey's Pantry. I can spend a half hour experiencing the spice blends.

I like to visit Downtown Disney on an evening when the park I am in closes early. This gives me a chance to get there while it is a bit less crowded. Once the shopping is done I can grab a drink and find a place to set and indulge in another Disney pass time; people watching.

So, at night, if I am not taking photographs, you'll find me milling about Downtown Disney.
Matthew – This is such an easy question for me, because I think I could spend every night away from the parks at Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village. It's my favorite restaurant on property. Period. And when you're done, you can check out the wildlife roaming on the grounds nearby. Just thinking about it makes me want to book a trip. 

Elizabeth – I enjoy being creative for a "down" night. I am fortunate enough to have a good friend in the area and we have taken in a bit of the local theater scene together. As you can imagine, there's a rich pool of talent in the Orlando area and I am constantly impressed by the high caliber performances both inside and outside the parks. But when I'm not out prowling the arts scene, there are plenty of choices closer to the parks for a quiet evening away. My favorites include dining at one of the fine resort restaurants or enjoying an evening at the spa. As a Vacation Club member, I've even hosted a dinner party in our villa. That's one of the fantastic things about Disney World. The options are limited only by your own imagination.

George – I'll be honest, Ryan, I don't understand the question.

A night away from the parks? 

That usually only happens when I visit in the winter months and the Magic Kingdom closes at 6:00pm. Then I head over to Epcot. The only time I am not in a theme park at Walt Disney World is when I am sleeping or driving to and from the park. Occasionally, I will eat at a Disney hotel.

I guess that is as good of an answer as any. When I am at Walt Disney World and I need a night away (shudder) from the parks, I will visit a Disney hotel  to eat at a restaurant and enjoy the grounds. Preferably, it is a hotel restaurant with a theme park view (like the Polynesian or the Contemporary) so I can still see the Castle. I will even visit the beautiful Animal Kingdom Lodge to eat at Boma since it is great food and a gorgeous atmosphere. Of course, I tend to like places with good atmosphere; dining some place without oxygen might be a little difficult.

Even if I am in the middle of a trip and I have to leave the Magic Kingdom (you know, because Security is making me leave so they can clean the place), I will feel really sad and not want to leave. It is that odd moment when you approach the exit turnstyles and you don't know if you will ever be able to come back. Friends will have to promise me special treats and surprises to get me to leave the entrance area.

So, yeah, I do have a problem. But don't we all?
Fiona – When I need some time away from the Parks in the evening, I will usually head away to one of the Resorts. Some of the best dining on property can be found at the Resorts, in my opinion. When Ryan posed this question, the first place I thought of was the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is one of the most beautiful Resorts in the evening, and has one of my favourite restaurants on all of property – Boma. You can spend some time at the bar if you are too early for your dining reservation (and yes, reservations are recommended!), and then when it’s time to have your meal, you can spend hours enjoying the different tastes on offer. And whilst everyone raves about the meats and deserts (which I second as being delicious), they serve some of the freshest fruit too, and their pineapple is divine...
After dinner, be sure to walk around the Lodge itself. You can walk out into the night-air and enjoy the views of the animals in the evening. On my past visits (and it’s been a while), I have been able to have a look through the night-vision binoculars, and see the animals enjoying the evening on the savannah. Be sure to take some time to sit outside, if the evening is pleasant enough, and enjoy the sounds and the smells of the area. The lobby is also a gorgeous area to spend time in, and to people watch.

If you’re not an animal lover, or want a change from the wilderness as such, my other suggestion would be to go to the Boardwalk area. One of my perfect evenings in this area includes a dinner in the Yachtsman Steakhouse (which can pass the time most enjoyably!), then wonder around the Boardwalk, perhaps taking in some ice cream at Beaches and Creme, if you have room for it. I can just about taste the ice cream as I write...

AJ – Ha ha! Usually I SLEEP! But some of my other favorite past times are heading to Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk, watching the fireworks and the water pageant from the beach at the Polynesian, and escaping to dinner at a resort. Or maybe all three! In fact, let's do this: dinner at Citricos in the Grand Floridian, walk over to the Polynesian to watch the fireworks from the beach, then head over to the Boardwalk for an Alabama Slamma' and a night requesting Journey songs over and over and over again. Ah... perfect! Oh, you'd like to join me? But of course!
AndyA night away from the parks... most visitors to the World probably can’t imagine all the possibilities that exist on property outside the confines of the four parks.

I’m sure the other respondents here will mention several ideas I’m not familiar with, but some of the “usual suspects” are great choices: an evening listening to (and participating with) the amazing performance of Yeehaw Bob Jackson; testing your putting skills at Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens (I’ll actually be pretty shocked if a certain person here doesn’t bring this one up); taking in a movie at Downtown Disney, or one of the movies shown outdoors at many of the resorts; having a campfire sing-along with Chip and Dale - or a more adult sing-along at Jellyrolls - and on and on and on...

But for me, it will be no surprise that my de facto “outside the parks evening” will involve a great meal, some adult beverages, and then a bit of a Lagniappe...

So we’re going to head to a resort, have a pre-dinner beverage or three (along with a few during and after the dinner), and then explore the resort area for a little something extra (that’s your Lagniappe) to top off the evening...

For one night we can head to Animal Kingdom Lodge - a visit to the Victoria Falls Bar is a great way to start - for a romantic evening Jiko is the choice for sure, for variety the buffet at Boma can’t be beat... after a wonderful meal, we head outside for a bit of night vision viewing of the savannah to top things off... if it’s cool outside, a sit-down around the fire pit could also in order...

If you’re more in the Island mood head over to the Polynesian one night - you can start with a Lapu-Lapu at the Tambu Lounge, then have some great sushi (or order from the complete Kona Cafe menu) at the Kona Island Sushi Bar. After dinner head down to the beach to watch Wishes - one of the best ever places to view fireworks from!

How about the Boardwalk area? Start your evening at the often overlooked Bellevue Lounge, one of my favorite bars in all of WDW. Great dining possibilities abound here: the Greek-influenced dining at Iron Chef Cat Cora’s Kouzzina, a traditional steakhouse menu at Yachtsman, seafood and more at Flying Fish. For more casual dining (and some great in-house brewed beers) Big River Grille is worth a try... or take a short walk over to the Swan/Dolphin for even more dining options: bluezoo, Kimonos, Il Mulino and even the surprisingly interesting items at the poolside dining at the Cabana Bar & Beach Club.

After dinner you can wander the Boardwalk and enjoy in the entertainers that make that area their home - you may find a juggler or a magician... If you like hire a surrey-bike and take a ride...

And that’s just for a start... you can find some great dining and before/after dinner fun also at the Wilderness Lodge (try taking a boat ride to or from the Magic Kingdom), Kidani Village (Sanaa is one of the best, and most under-rated restaurants in WDW), drinks, food and fireworks at the California Grill on top of the Contemporary or at any of the great restaurants at the Grand Floridian (again, you can have great food at Narcoossee's, and if you time it right, a great view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks).You don’t have to settle for delivery pizza and some TV if you don’t want to stay in a park all night... have some fun, eat some great food, explore...

Eric – If we are in the mood to spend time on property but outside the parks, we will invariably be drawn to the resorts.  My wife and I are in love with the Disney resorts and never tire of touring them.  A great way to spend some non-park time for us would be to catch a meal at a Boardwalk Resort restaurant, Kouzzina is always a good choice for us.  An evening reservation allows us to then spend time at dusk watching night fall on Crescent Lake.  The atmosphere in the Boardwalk area is truly magical!

In order to fill in some mid-day time, a dip in the pool at your Disney resort (you are staying on-property of course) and then some miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a day at WDW.

Some other suggestions:
1. Rent boats from the Polynesian marina and tour the Seven Seas Lagoon
2. Parasailing
3. Shopping and dining at Downtown Disney
4. Take a DVC presentation - informative, low-key, and interesting
5. Take advantage of resort tours

There are endless things to do outside the parks, all worthwhile, many free, and all are full of Disney magic.
Ryan – I’ll keep my thoughts simple, miniature golf or Electrical Water Pageant.

What, that needs more of an explanation? Okay, fine…

One of my time-honored traditions stems from partaking in a round of miniature golf on each visit to Walt Disney World. While I prefer the whimsy of the Garden Course at Fantasia Gardens, any of the four courses make for a chuckle-filled evening. Oh, and playing after the sun has set also means it’s a bit cooler and you are less likely to end up as red as an apple.

My other evening pastime is grabbing a spot on Bay Lake and awaiting the arrival of sea serpents, octopuses, dolphins and other creatures of the deep. While I usually precede the watery parade with something off of Trail’s End’s take-out menu and some roasted marshmallows at the Camp Fire Sing-A-Long, these are not necessarily required.

Last but not least, over the course of a very long research trip, I have been known, on occasion, to simply hit the sack a little early.

As you can see, there is enough to do after hours away from the parks to fill a trip itinerary unto itself. Which idea from our distinguished panel hit the right note with your itinerary? Or, better yet, what other activities do you find to occupy your evenings in Walt Disney World?

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