Friday, May 19, 2017

Blaze Pizza: A New Tradition for Disney Springs

There is always a little piece of me that dies inside the day I am leaving Disney World.  Usually my family, like many families, decides to make that last minute stop into Disney Springs to pick up souvenirs and have a bite to eat before the long car ride back home.  My family has a Three-Stop Travel Day Tradition of our own.

First, we always find something to remember the trip at the World of Disney Store.  It's impossible not to find that perfect souvenir to commemorate your trip.  This place is loaded with Disney Magic including clothing, jewelry, home goods, keepsakes, and toys in a 51,000 square foot retail space.

The Holidays are a huge deal in our family, so we take this moment do our second tradition by visiting Disney's Days of Christmas.  Our daughter picks her own ornament while my wife picks one for our infant son until he's old enough to choose on his own.  Each of those ornaments fills our Christmas Tree with special meaning and memories.  It's also amazing to see how their tastes change from year to year.

Blaze Pizza--Add your toppings to your pizza!
Our third and final tradition is food.  Now, for years my wife and I have had a somewhat addictive relationship to the Earl of Sandwich's Holiday Sandwich.  We would always grab four of these sandwiches to satiate our cravings.  Two would be had immediately for lunch, and two would be used to help perpetuate the addiction on the six hour car ride home.  This particular tradition has been going on for almost a decade.  This year something new peaked our interest, and I can now truly say that our tradition might be changing.

Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza delivered a magical "Goodnight Kiss" finale on our trip. Opening for lunch at 10:30 on Sunday, we were some of the first people in line, so we got a chance to look around the outside.  Overlooking the crystal blue lagoon in the newly-revamped area of Disney Springs, it was safely nestled in a corner like a secret hideaway.  Windows covered much of the walls allowing the light to permeate through, giving a bright happy ambience.

The doors finally opened, and we got a chance to embark on our final ride of the vacation.  Choosing from thin, thick, and even gluten-free pizza crusts and ingredients that looked incredibly fresh and abundant, we decided to do a create our own pizza, but, should you so choose, Blaze already has several signature pizzas to choose from. (My wife made note of the White Top which had a white cream sauce with mozzarella, garlic, arugula, oregano, and applewood smoked bacon.)  

The staff was friendly, clean, and enjoyed their artesian role making you the perfect pie.  They were also very liberal with the ingredients and aimed to please.  At the end of the line, I met Sara who was energetic, bright eyed, and engaging while she happily wrung me up.  My family found comfortable seats in an open looking dining room with floor to ceiling windows.  The long benches were great for our family.  Light oak wood floors ran throughout the restaurant tying in the tables and seats with the columns, beams, and ceiling.  The look and feel made the Earl of Sandwich feel like a dreary old library.  It was truly the difference between night and day.  Within five minutes, we had two freshly baked pizza pies to share with the kids.

Super hot pizza ovens that bake those pizzas fast!
Food is important in life.  Most of us only remember two types of experiences: bad food and great food.  This, my friends, is BEYOND GREAT FOOD.  The taste was fantastic.  The crust was made from fresh dough and the quality of the ingredients made a huge difference from our local pizza offerings.  Another bonus was that the portions where huge, relatively speaking for Disney.  Both my wife and I shared these 11 to 12 inch pies with our children and still had a slice of each to take one the road.   They were light and free from being greasy; the opposite of things I have come to expect from pizza.

With a full belly, I took a minute to walk around and look at some of the other options and things I may have missed while my family polished off what they could of the remaining slices.  I could go into another diatribe on the beverage, side, and dessert options, but I will sum it up:  Beers on tap, grab-and-go sodas, and all natural juice options that included two fresh Agua Frescas were some of the liquid gold beverages that I had overlooked.  They also had salad side options and desserts in the line that I overlooked because I was so focused on this pizza.  Before leaving I went back to say thank you to Sara.  Little did I know, Sara was the General Manager ... working on the line ... on Sunday Morning ... with her staff.  This speaks volumes to me as a businessman.

All of these are amazing food, drink, and dessert options that won't make the drive back miserable and something the kids enjoy eating, coupled with an open, light, happy atmosphere to drown the blues away from the vacation ending, and a customer service-oriented staff that embodies excellence led me to one conclusion: We have found a new tradition for our family, and I am happy to say it is Blaze Pizza.

Jared and Ashley Carson are both Disney travel planners with Wishdrawals Travel. Contact them to plan your next Disney vacation! 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Beat the Summer Heat at Disney World!

If you're headed to Disney World this summer, you know it's going to be hot and humid! With just a few tips from Wishdrawals, you can still enjoy your Disney World vacation!

1.  Plan your days so you are resting during the hottest part of the day. We suggest starting at the parks at "rope drop" first thing in the morning and do as much as you can until around 1:00. Between 1:00 and 5:00 pm, the temperatures are the hottest and the crowds are heaviest making lines the longest they'll be all day! This is a great time to leave the parks for a while. Go back to your resort and take a swim or take a nap. (Naps aren't just for littles ones, you know!) Play some arcade games at the resort or just have a cold drink sitting poolside.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Magical Visit to Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique at Disney Springs!

Princess posing in front of
Cinderella's carriage!
My 4-year old daughter and I visited the new Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique location at Disney Springs on our last trip, and I have one word that describes it. MAGICAL!
Let’s first start with location. It is located toward the back of Disney Springs Marketplace near Once Upon a Toy Store, so give yourself plenty of time once you arrive at Disney Springs to walk back there. This location just opened in December 2016, so it's no longer stuffed in the back of The World of Disney store!
Upon arrival, we checked in at the front of the boutique with one of the Fairy Godmothers-in-Training. We confirmed our package selection, and my daughter selected her hair style. There are several packages to choose from starting at $59.95, and then a few different hair styles as well. 
My daughter selected the Fairytale Princess style. While we were waiting to be taken back to get started, another Fairy Godmother-in-Training came up to my daughter and the magic began. She told my daughter to make a wish and when she did, the Fairy Godmother in training sprinkled her with lots of Pixie Dust coming from her magic wand! My daughter thought this was great so she kept getting more and more Pixie Dust. I was still finding Pixie Dust (glitter) in her hair a couple of weeks later!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wild Africa Trek--Kicking It Up at Animal Kingdom

I am an adventure seeker, and I’m lucky that my niece has enough of my wanderlust that she is up for just about anything.  On one of our most recent trips to Walt Disney World, I wanted to kick things up a bit and try something really special so we donned our closed toed shoes and set on the Wild Africa Trek for three hours of an up close, behind the scenes look at the animals of the Animal Kingdom Park Harambe Reserve.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Delicious Review of Palo on the Disney Wonder

Take a step in the doors of Palo on deck 10 of the Disney Wonder, and you feel as if you are in Italy right in the middle of the ocean. We had a party of 6 and were seated in our own room; they might have heard we are a loud bunch!

Our reservation was at 11am, and everything was set and ready-- beautifully set up I might add. For brunch you have the option of both an a la carte buffet and a hot menu. Our server was Roberto, and he was from Italy. Between his accent, knowledge of the true Italian food and culture and the mosaics on the walls, it was a perfect setting.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Another Look at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa

The beautiful resort of Aulani is situated on the beaches of Ko 'Olina on the island of O’ahu.  This amazing location gets you away from the crowded beaches of Waikiki but has all the beauty that makes Hawaii an ideal location for a tropical getaway. 

View of Aulani from the Ocean

Many people aren't familiar with Aulani or what it is like, and we often get a lot of questions about Aulani as families determine the best vacation for their family.  

After touring Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa as a travel professional and staying as a guest, I am going to answer the most common questions we get.

The Olelo Room - An upscale lounge
 inspired by the Hawaiian language.
Does Aulani feel like Disney? 

Yes! Imagine a Deluxe Walt Disney World resort with the incredible attention to detail that Disney puts into everything—the flowers, the smells, the artwork, and the décor—and put it in Hawaii!

Disney Imagineers worked with local artisans to take the rich traditions, nature, and culture of Hawaii and incorporate that into every aspect of the resort. Now add amazing pools, waterslides, Disney characters, classic Disney treats and amazing entertainment for the family, and you have a truly Hawaiian paradise with the Disney flair!

Love visiting with
Mickey AND Minnie!

Will we meet Disney characters? 

Yes! Character breakfasts and dinners are a wonderful opportunity to meet some of your favorite Disney pals in their Hawaiian-wear, of course! But characters also appear at scheduled times throughout the resort and sometimes pop up where least expected!

Meeting Moana
Is there enough to do to keep everyone in my family happy?

Absolutely! I would need pages and pages to discuss all there is to do, and no two days are alike at Aulani. Let’s start with the amazing pools, waterslides, lazy river, interactive splash zone, saltwater snorkel lagoon, and beach. You won’t feel like you are at a water park though. Aulani is beautifully designed so that the waterslides shoot out from the inside of a man-made volcano.
Shooting out of Tubestone Curl into
the Waikolohe Stream
Ka Maka Grotto 

The lazy river makes you feel like you are floating along the sugar plantation irrigation canals and through the beautiful natural rock formations of O’ahu. Paddleboards, boogie boards, and snorkel gear are available for rent at Makiki Joes on the beach, and sand toys are available complimentary to Aulani guests.

Aunties Beach House
On top of all the resort has to offer, there are also daily pool parties, storytelling, Auntie’s Beach House for the kekei  (children) ages 3-12, special teen activities, an amazing spa that even offers teen and family spa treatments, Disney movies nights, the Pau Hana Community Hall room with varying daily activities and Ka’wa’a, a luaua at Aulani.

Looking to get out and explore the island? Aulani offers planned excursions all over the island to include zip lining, dolphin encounters, catamaran trips, snorkeling, helicopter tours, and cultural experiences. You can also conveniently rent a car for the day from the lobby and head out to explore on your own.

Shave ice with "ears"
How is the food at Aulani?

Well, it’s Disney, so of course it’s amazing and exceeds expectations. Let me start with one our favorite Hawaiian treats—shave ice! Most tourists who visit Hawaii head to the North Shore to the famous Matsumoto’s for shave ice, but there’s no need when you are staying at Aulani because life does not get better than a shave ice with Mickey ears!

Sunset from 'Ama'ama

There are several great dining locations, too! At ‘Ama’Ama, eat Oceanside in Aulani’s open-air upscale dining location with live music and magical sunsets. The menu boasts Hawaiian fare with a modern twist.

At Makahiki, enjoy a character breakfast or a “Menehune Mischief” dinner (select nights) with an amazing buffet sure to please every appetite in your family.

Casual dining is also available poolside at the Ulu Café, Off the Hook, Mama’s Snack Shop, and Wailana Pool Bar. You can also enjoy a bar menu and live Hawaiian entertainment nightly at the ‘Olelo Room.

Turtle at Paradise Cove

Is there anything around the resort that we can do without renting a car? 

Yes! Ko ‘Olina is a series of four man-made lagoons with resorts on most of them. You can explore the other resorts along a beautiful trail that rims the lagoons. Play golf at the gorgeous Ko ‘Olina Golf Club or check out the excursions available at the Ko ‘Olina marina. 

You can also walk to the natural lagoon of Paradise Cove where you will often see sea turtles and maybe even a monk seal which are only found in Hawaii! There is also a wonderful luau available nightly at Paradise Cove. There are even a few shops in a nearby marketplace along with a local favorite restaurant, Monkey Pod. In that same plaza, you will find an Island Country Markets (ABC Store) with some grocery items, alcohol, and souvenirs at  reasonable (for Hawaii) prices.

Beach Chairs at Aulani
Casablella on the beach
Is it crowded? 

Yes and no. Like all things great with Disney, some things are popular and crowded. The pools are amazing and, therefore, get busy! You’ll want to get there early for the best chair selection, but I will say that the Cast Members by the pool do an excellent job of preventing chair hogging!

Private pool-side cabanas

If you “save” your chair for too long, in your absence, they will remove your things and open the chair for another guest. Cabanas are available to rent as well as Cassablellas near or on the beach if you want to be sure your “spot” is there for you all day. Beach chairs are ample, and although the beach is not private (there are no private beaches in Hawaii), you will not feel crowded. Getting a great table for the live music at the ‘Olelo Room, however, is nothing like getting a table at La Cava in Epcot! Lines for characters are generally only a few minutes long, and the overall feel of the resort is not crowded.

The view from our 15th floor ocean view room.  You can see
the outline of the lagoon that Aulani sits on.

When is the best time of year to go? 

Any time. No, really! The average high in Hawaii is between 80 and 89 degrees. I generally say that every day is 84 degree and sunny—it really is! We got rain once last week and tend to get more showers rolling through in the winter, but the weather is amazing all year! You will see Disney crowds fluctuate as at any Disney property—higher in the summer and any time the kids are out of school. Prices will follow accordingly. The high surf you see on the Billabong Pipe Masters, Vans Triple Crown, or the “Eddie,” do not affect the tranquil shores of Ko ‘Olina. These lagoons are on the south shore which experience much smaller surf and are sheltered making it an ideal place for families to swim and snorkel and give stand-up paddle boarding a go!

Is it Disney? Or Hawaii? Will it feel like an authentic Hawaiian vacation?

 Uncle at Mo 'olelo fire pit
 It really is both. You will have the attention to detail we all love about Disney, but you will learn about and experience the Hawaiian culture, too. Be sure to join “Uncle” (the term can be used for any Hawaiian elder you wish to pay respect to) at the Mo’olelo fire pit to talk “story” and learn some of the amazing folktales of the Hawaiian people. Talk to the Cast Members in ‘Olelo who all speak the native Hawaiian language. Enjoy the Hawaiian performers, ask about the artwork around the resort, and attend the cultural demonstrations they have. You will learn so much about the Hawaiian culture and grow an amazing love for the people of the island.

Heather is a military wife and the mom of one awesome boy and a pretty fabulous girl! 

She's completed multiple vacations to Disney World and on Disney Cruise Line as well as visiting Disneyland and Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa! She is currently a resident on the island of 'Oahu. Contact her at to start planning your family's next magical vacation!