I have just returned from a trip to Orlando. I visited Universal Orlando for two days and Disney World for four days. I will be doing a trip report for each but I wanted to sum up my experiences and thoughts on the safety procedures in place for each location.
Universal – Cabana Bay
Disney – Caribbean Beach
Overall Impressions and Thoughts
Overall, I had a great time in both parks. It felt more relaxing and the low wait times were a big plus. I think so much of visiting right now has to do with your mindset. If you want to bemoan attractions or experiences that are not currently operating or complain that you must wear a mask all day, you can easily make yourself miserable. I had some great cast member interactions and saw some cast members make some little magical moments for families. I enjoyed everything that I got to experience, especially two rides that were new to me. The magic and fun are there. You just have go in with the right expectations and frame of mind.
This blog installment has a lot of information about my experience running the Princess Half Marathon
I have a project going this year. I will be turning 50, so I decided to have "50 Disney Days" throughout the year. More than half of them will involve travel to Disney parks or on Disney Cruise line.
I am writing a separate blog for each day. I am going to share the ones involving travel here as well.
My first day of my trip is up now!
This past week, I did the Taste of the Magic Kingdom VIP tour at Walt Disney World. After I booked the tour, I read some of the reviews from previous guests and there were similar concerns in each review that I read. Then I found out that Disney had just revamped the tour with changes so I would be experiencing the new version. After comparing my experience to the reviews that I read of the first version, Disney definitely took feedback into consideration and make improvements.
SPOILER ALERT!! I am going through the tour with all the details of what I experienced.
CHECK IN: The tour is from 9 am to noon. You are asked to check in by 8:45 am at Tony's Town Square Restaurant. You receive a lanyard and have to sign a waiver. You are also required to wear closed toe shoes due to going into backstage areas during the tour.
You are seated in the front section of Tony's and there we met our three guides for the day. As we went through the day, there was always one guide in the front of the group, one guide in the back and one in the middle. This was helpful as we moved through the other park guests. We also were given headsets to wear so we could always hear the guides (this was not done in the past and was a concern mentioned in reviews that I read).
At the check in, we also got our first taste. It was actually more than a taste. It was a Mickey shaped cinnamon roll. They are available at the Starbucks location at the end of Main Street. There was also coffee and tea and bottled water to take with us.
While we were eating, the guides introduced themselves and asked for us to name our favorite food item or restaurant anywhere on property. There were lots of votes for Dole Whips as well as several different restaurants.
STOP #1 - Our first stop was Casey's Corner. This would be our first backstage area (which means no photos were allowed.) We walked through the kitchen area briefly. It is so small!! Only 8 cast members are allowed to work back there at once. If you have ever been to Casey's, you know how crowded it can get. The small kitchen is not able to handle the volume so most of the cooking is done in the kitchens for Tomorrowland Terrace and then transported through the utilidors under the Magic Kingdom. Final preparations happen in the kitchen at Casey's.
STOP #2 - Our next stop was Skipper's Canteen. We went into the kitchen here as well. It is much larger than Casey's. As we exited, there was a table set with a sample to take and then we were all seated in one of the dining spaces.
The sample plate had two items: Cachapas which was a braised pork over a corn cake and a Vegetable Curry Stew over rice. We also received a cup of Punch Line Punch which is a fruit and mango drink.
While we ate there, two chefs from the restaurant came out to speak with us and answer questions. They gave us some information about the menu at Skippers Canteen. One interesting piece of information was how they are able to customize just about any dish to your preference. The one chef has been working for Disney for 18 years. He was asked what the biggest change he has seen over the years. He said that it is food allergies. Not only the frequency of them but the complicated nature of them as well. He said they now design the menus to have elements that can be easily eliminated to accommodate allergies.
STOP #3 - After an opportunity for everyone to use the restrooms, we were off to Aloha Isle for the famous Dole Whip. Everyone received a sample of the traditional Dole Whip and they talked about some other options at that stand. One woman on our tour was so happy to learn that it is dairy free. She hadn't known that so she had never tried it in the past.
STOP #4 - Our next stop was Tortuga Tavern where we got to try a Turkey Leg. They had a full size Turkey leg for display and then we each received a cup with a generous size portion of the meat. We also received another bottle of water here.
The guides spoke about the rumors that it isn't really turkey. They confirmed that yes, it is actual turkey. It is brined and smoked which gives it a ham like taste.
STOP #5 - Diamond Horseshoe was our next location. It was not open yet, so we were able to sit inside. Our sample here was the Colony Salad which is on the menu at Liberty Tree Tavern. There was a chef here to speak to us as well. She is a chef at Liberty Tree, which shares the same kitchen at Diamond Horseshoe. She talked about how they like to change the menus but that guests have favorites which makes that challenging. She said the Colony salad was removed from the Liberty Tree menu and there was a revolution. It is now permanently on the menu.
STOP #6 - We walked into Fantasyland land and into a backstage area behind Pinnochio's counter service location. We ended up walking around the back side of Be Our Guest restaurant. We had a stop there to learn about the environmental efforts Disney is making to deal with waste. Disney donates food items that are consumable to local food banks. They are also learning out to use food scraps to make fuel. They are currently converting some of the waste to a fuel that is used by Disney buses.
As we exited from the backstage area, we got a cup of the Grey Stuff that is served at Be Our Guest restaurant. People say that it tastes like cookie and cream. The guides said they don't know the ingredients but have been told that it does not contain Oreos.
STOP #7 - Our next stop was Cosmic Ray's. We were able to walk through the kitchen area here as well. It is a big operation! Our guides said they do the same business in one day that the average McDonald's does in one week.
Our sample here was a newer item - a plant based sloppy joe. And more bottled water was available
STOP #8 - Our last stop was at Tomorrowland Terrace to try a new item that is not yet on any menu. We had survey forms to complete on what we thought of the item and the guides came around to ask some follow up questions as well. We were not allowed to take photos of the item.
This was the last stop on our tour. We had an opportunity to take photos in front of the popular purple wall with some props and the guides.
I really enjoyed the tour. It is a good combination of sweet and savory items. It is also a good combination of popular items and items that guests may not have tried yet. I have never considered the Mickey cinnamon bun before but it was so good that I made sure I had one for breakfast the next morning. On the other side, I have never had a turkey leg, as it just didn't appeal to me. And after tasting it, it still doesn't appeal to me.
If you do the tour, come hungry! It is a lot of food. I did not eat anything else until the evening that day. Also be prepared to walk. We basically walked around the entire park.
Currently, the tour takes place daily on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $99 per person, plus tax. There were no discounts available for annual passholders. A valid theme park admission is required. There is an age requirement of 12 and older. You can book the tour they same way you make a dining reservation, either by phone or through your My Disney Experience account.
Today was our last day in Memphis. We had a 5 pm flight so we had some time to do a few things first.
We went to the Peabody hotel to have breakfast because we wanted to see the Peabody Ducks at 11 am.
So the story with the ducks is that in the 1930s the General Manager of the Peabody had a bit too much to drink with his friends and put live ducks in the fountain of the hotel. It because a tradition to have ducks there. Then in the 1940s, a gentleman who had been with the circus, said he could train the ducks to walk to and from the fountain daily.
So everyday at 11 am, the Duck Master rolls out the red carpet and takes the elevator to the roof where the ducks live. He brings them down the elevator and leads them on the red carpet to the fountain. At 5 pm, they make the return trip.
If you want to see this happen, you will want to start lining up about 30-45 minutes beforehand.
After this, we left Downtown Memphis to go to the Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid. The Pyramid was supposed to be an event venue but it did not work out.
Bass Pro bought it and made it a huge store..and more. There is a hotel in there and several areas of live animals. There is a bowling alley and restaurant. There is also the "Lookout" where you take the largest free standing elevator up to the top to get a view of the city.
We took the elevator but unfortunately there was weather coming in and it was insanely windy. We were only out there a few minutes when a staff person said we needed to come inside and they closed the area.
We walked around and had lunch in their restaurant.
And that's a wrap on Memphis. We had a great trip. We weren't able to do everything but we did a lot!
Our first stop of the day was to have breakfast at The Arcade. The Arcade is the oldest cafe in Memphis. It was also one of Elvis' favorite spots. They even have a plaque in his favorite booth. I had the sweet potato pancakes and they were awesome!
We then headed to Sun Studio. This is where Elvis recorded his first record.
You can only visit Sun Studio by guided tour. They leave at the bottom of every hour.
There were about 20 people and the first stop is an upstairs room where they have an exhibit of various items from different artists that recorded there. They had the original machines used to record and then create vinyl records by Sam Philips, the owner of Sun Studios in the 50s.
They also had the original DJ booth of Dewey Philips who was the first person to play Elvis on the radio. The booth was found in a building that was going to be remodeled. The booth was set to be demolished but it was saved and moved over to the exhibit.
We then went downstairs to the recording studio itself.
Sam Philips had sold the building and moved to a bigger studio after about 8 years. The building was used for a barbershop and other retail stores until it was bought back by the current owner who made it Sun Studio again.
When he bought it, he had Sam Philips come in to look at it. Sam confirmed that all the rooms, including the floors, ceilings and lights were the originals. You can still see the hole in the floor where the bass player would put his stand.
Sam donated the original microphone that Elvis and many other great performers used to record there. His only request was that it never leave the recording studio. I was very excited that we were able to take a photo with it.
There is an X on the floor where Elvis stood. The guide played many recordings of records that were made there, including the original of That's Alright Mama, Elvis' first.
Sun Studio is still an operating recording studio and many famous artists have come there to record.
Our next stop was a Memphis BBQ food tour through Tastin' Round Town. We met up with our guide just off of Beale Street. It was just us and another couple.
It was a beautiful day though a little on the warm side. We ended up walking about 2 1/2 miles by the time we were done.
We had 5 stops and it was all good!! Our guide was great as well. He was born and raised in Memphis. He did a great job of giving us the history of Memphis as well as talking to us about the food. He cooks BBQ himself and he is a judge at the big BBQ contest they have in Memphis.
One attraction that we didn't get to do was the Civil Rights museum. We didn't know that the location was a stop on our tour. We didn't get to go inside but we did get to see the location where Martin Luther King was killed as well as the window where James Earl Ray was when he shot him.
They have a line in concrete that shows the path the bullet took from the window to where it killed Dr. King.
The cars that are parked outside have not moved since that day. Our guide said that the inside of his hotel room as also not been touched since that day.
Whenever we visit a new city, we like to check out the zoo and / or aquarium. I had read that the Memphis Zoo was a great one and it definitely was.
The weather was perfect and there were a lot of school groups but it was spread out enough that it wasn't a problem.
The zoo is laid out in a big loop which made it easy to start by going one direction and see each exhibit until you ended up back at the beginning.
I took notice that there were a lot of places to sit to take a break and a lot of opportunities for rest rooms.
It took us about 4 1/2 hours to do all the exhibits including a short lunch break. We walked a little over 4 miles.
Below are just some of my favorite pictures of the day.
I have been to Graceland once before...30 years ago. Of course the house itself is the same but the complex across the street has expanded a lot.
We splurged and did the Ultimate VIP tour. This is a guided tour for up to 12 people. The alternative is a self guided tour with audio through an IPad.
We checked in and received our lanyard and had a few minutes to wait for the tour to start.
Our guide for the tour was Ecstasy and she was awesome. She said there were 4 people signed up but the other two didn't show up so it was now a private tour. Fine with us!
We rode over to the mansion and went to a back door area to watch a short introductory movie.
Then we went to the front of the mansion. Our first stop was the living room / music room. Ecstasy explained from the beginning that Elvis' father kept everything. Everything in the house is original. The management is always on the look out for original items that ended up in different locations. The white piano was the original piano in the music room and it took some time for them to track it down and purchase it back for the house.
She also told us that Elvis loved television so there is always at least one television in every room. The couch seated 15 people and Elvis had that custom made.
The next room was the dining room. Again there was a TV in the corner where Elvis could see it from his chair.
She told us that the Presley family still celebrates either Thanksgiving or Christmas in the house. The mansion is closed on both of those days. The staff will know what day they are planning to be there and they will prepare the house for them.
The next room was Gladys' bedroom (Elvis' mother). After she passed, Elvis had the room kept exactly as it had been when she was alive.
Next was the kitchen. Elvis had one of the first microwaves which he purchased for $600. His aunt had a bedroom off of the kitchen area. She lived in the mansion for several years after it had already opened for tours. Our guide said that tour groups would never knew if you may see her in the kitchen cooking.
Then we went downstairs to the TV room which our guide called the ultimate man cave. She said that Elvis liked to be there with his friends and had a movie screen that would come down from the ceiling. The room next to it had a pool table where he also used to hang out. It is covered in a fabric that Elvis saw and feel in love with and then had a designer work to put on the walls and ceilings.
Going back upstairs, we came to the famous Jungle room
From here, we went out in the back to some additional buildings. There was Vernon's office as well as an archive building that houses a variety of different items from throughout Elvis' life.
We also went to the racquetball court building. This is where Elvis was on his last day and played his last two songs on the piano in that building.
Our last stop at the house was to the meditation gardens. Originally Elvis and his mother where buried at a local cemetery. Due to security issues, Vernon had them moved to Graceland. Elvis father and grandmother are also buried there. There is a marker for Elvis' twin brother.
Before we went back across the street to the Elvis' Memphis complex, our guide told us she would take our photo in front of the mansion without any other people in it. It was pretty busy with a continuous shuttle buses dropping people off but she said "Don't worry. We will get it." She basically held up people coming off the bus and waited for everyone else to get inside the door and then she said "let's go." She was great!!
She called for our shuttle bus and then we rode back over to the complex. There is so much more to see there. Our first stop was the car museum. This is just a few of the cars and other vehicles there:
Our next stop was an exhibit that walked you through Elvis' career. Again, there is so much to see here, including many of Elvis' outfits. My favorite area was a special section for his spiritual music. Elvis won 3 Grammys and they were all for his Gospel music.
Our last stop with our guide was a special area only for the Ultimate tour. It was a chance to see some items from the archive collection. We were allowed to hold one of the items as long as we were white gloves. Then we got to see a few more items as well.
That was the end of our time with the guide. She was just amazing. We got so much more information from her than we would have received from the audio tour. Our tour ticket got us access to the rest of the complex and also included lunch at Vernon's Smokehouse. We enjoyed our lunch and then spent some more time seeing the rest of the exhibits.
We ended up being there for 6 hours! We were tired by the end but it was a great day.
I have been a huge Disney and travel fan since childhood. I love going to new places and, of course, heading to Disney as often as I can.