Theme Park News - Central Florida

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Yay - Spring is Here at Walt Disney World!

A Time of Transition: Disney's Hollywood Studios

If you are a first-time visitor to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World, you probably will notice the Pardon our Pixie Dust signs, but still enjoy the park and the many shows, attractions and adventures. However, if you are a returning guest, you may find yourself noticing more of what is missing than what is remaining.

Gone are Backlot Tour, The Great Movie Ride, and the iconic New York City set. It is a time of transition at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

So, what is there to do at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during this time of transition?

For starters, Sunset Boulevard is relatively unchanged. Tower of Terror is still the premier haunted destination at the end of the road, and Rockin’ Rollercoaster is still screaming fun. Beauty and the Beast has showings throughout the day, with Fantasmic capping off the night with their unique water and light show.

The Animation Courtyard still hosts The Little Mermaid and Disney Jr, and is also home to the Star Wars Launch Bay, where guests can meet their favorite Star Wars Characters and more. Stars Wars fun throughout the park include the Star Tours attraction, catching a viewing of Star Wars: Path of the Jedi or the Jedi Training experience for kids.

Other favorites still available include: Muppet Vision 3D, Toy Story Mania, and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Guest also have the opportunity to “Let it Go” at the Frozen Singalong.

Is this still a full day park?

Honestly, it still can be, especially for those who have a Jedi in training and love all things Star Wars. Plan to eat at one of the full-service restaurants (Hollywood and Vine, Mama Melrose, 50’s Prime Time Café, Sci Fi Diner or The Brown Derby). Make sure to take in all the shows and character meet and greets. Since you will be there the full day, catch a March of the First Order and be awed by The Galactic Spectacular fireworks show to finish off the night.

And, don’t worry – the reason for all of the Pardon our Pixie Dust signs is because there are some fantastic things underway including: Toy Story Land and Grand Avenue as well as a whole new land – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, set to debut in 2019.

Pardon our Dust

2017 Eat to the Beat

Planning your trip to Epcot's Food & Wine Festival? Check out these cool Eat to the Beat Concerts!

2017 Eat to the Beat Concert Line Up!

  • Delta Rae — August 31-September 1
  • NEW! The Hooters – September 2-3
  • NEW! Baha Men — September 4-5
  • Fuel — September 6-7
  • Starship featuring Mickey Thomas – September 8-10
  • NEW! Lauren Alaina – September 11-12
  • Plain White T’s — September 13-15
  • Sister Hazel – September 16-17
  • Air Supply — September 18-20
  • David Cook — September 21-22
  • Everclear — September 23-24
  • Sugar Ray — September 25-27
  • 38 Special – September 28-29
  • NEW! Mark Wills — September 30-October 1
  • NEW! American Authors – October 2-3
  • Christopher Cross – October 4-5
  • NEW! Devon Allman – October 6-8
  • Dennis DeYoung: The Music of STYX — October 9-11
  • Taylor Dayne — October 12-13
  • Jeffrey Osbourne – October 14-15
  • NEW! Postmodern Jukebox — October 16-17
  • NEW! 10,000 Maniacs — October 18-20
  • Toad the Wet Sprocket — October 21-22
  • NEW! Kenny G — October 23-24
  • Billy Ocean – October 25-26
  • Tiffany – October 27-October 29
  • Hanson — October 30-November 1
  • NEW! Blue October — November 2-3
  • Living Colour — November 4-5
  • Boyz II Men — November 6-8
  • Big Bad Voodoo Daddy — November 9-11
  • NEW! Squeeze — November 12-13

Epcot's 2017 Candlelight Processional Dining Packages

You can now book your 2017 Candlelight Processional Dining Packages. Call 407.WDW.DINE or book via My Disney Experience now! Dates available run from 11/24 - 12/27/2017. The following narrators have been confirmed. Check back for updates!

  • Trace Adkins – December 15 to 17, 2017
  • Neil Patrick Harris – December 18 to 21, 2017
  • CCH Pounder – December 22 to 24, 2017
  • Jaci Velasquez – December 25 to 27, 2017

The World of Avatar is now open at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Check out Avatar Flight of Passage and the family friendly Na’vi River Journey at Pandora – The World of Avatar now at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Plus the bioluminescence of Pandora at Night creates a magical world with even more to explore.

A few more hidden gems include:

Swotu Wayä (“Sacred Place of Song”) – Located in the heart of Mo’ara Valley, interact with a collection of instruments fashioned by the Na’vi.

Experience a Na’vi Translator – Located in Windtraders, learn Na’vi words.

Dine at Satu’li Canteen – Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Satu’li Canteen offers one of the most interesting menus at the Walt Disney World® Resort. Featuring international-inspired cuisine, and vegetarian options.

Help Regrow the Flaska Reclinata – One of the largest plants on Pandora, help this rare plant “re-seed” itself on Pandora simply through touch.

Don't forget your camera to capture all of the unique and enchanting moments of this new world!

​Universal Orlando Quick Serve Meal Plan– The Good, Bad and Ugly…

Universal has some amazing new attractions and experiences and has definitely grown on us through the years, but somehow, they fall just short of expectations in the details. The quick serve dining plan is a prime example. As we often find, traveling outside of the Disney bubble can be slightly disappointing by comparison.

Universal Dining

As a travel agent and planner in general, I am well aware of the need to plan and maximize any dining plan in order to get the most value out of the offering. The challenge in this case, is how little information is out there about the dining plan. Yes, they have a one page flyer with the locations…but, what we found when going to the different locations is that some of them were closed or closing before the park closed, and most of the employees don’t know much about the dining plan to give suggestions.

It should be easy to get snacks on the plan since there seem to be so many. However, even that proved to be a challenge. We were told about the big pink donut that we could get as a snack credit. Our birthday girl was very excited about this option, so we headed over to the Simpsons area and went to the food cart to get the donut. It was about three hours before the park closed and they had run out. We went to the neighboring merchandise location that had them, and were told they didn’t have the right system to be able to use the dining credit to pay for it. What we learned is that if the location sold merchandise and the snack, they could not use the dining plan.

That seemed to be the natural course of things as we tried to use the plan. One roadblock after another.

What is so different about the meal plan at Universal is that it is not part of your resort package. It is a park add on, which means you can’t use any dining credits at your resort and there isn’t a mug for unlimited refills at the resort included like you receive at the Walt Disney World Resort locations. You can use the meal credits and snacks at locations within the parks and at City Walk, but the options are limited and only at designated food stands and quick service locations.

The good points about the plan are:

  • You can use the credits whenever. It’s not tied to a resort stay. So, if you don’t use up everything, you can use what you have left the next time you return.
  • Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks are included. If these are a must for your family, if is a win to use the dining plan.
  • It’s affordable. $21.99 per adult. You would definitely spend more out of pocket paying for a meal ($10-$16), snack ($3-$6) and drink ($3-$4) individually. (That is if you would get those options anyway.)

The bad points:

  • You can’t use it at the resorts. Sorry, but being able to get breakfast and having unlimited drinks is one of my favorite parts of the Disney Dining plan.
  • Limited availability and so many food options in glass cases that you can’t use with the plan because they are within merchandise locations is a challenge at best.
  • When you first use the paper ticket, you will then be given a plastic card for each person. When you use the plastic card, you need to have everyone’s card as they are scanned individually and items are deducted off each card. If you are buying two snacks and a drink, remember to tell the cashier which card to charge what to, otherwise they will choose for you, leaving you with an imbalance of benefits on one or the other card.

The ugly:

  • There is so little information given about the meal plan and how to use it. The system needs to be simple and easy.
  • Upon checking in at our resort, we were directed to another desk to get our meal plan vouchers. The employee working the desk simply pointed to the kiosk and told us to follow the directions to get our tickets. Definitely not helpful. The system froze every time we tapped on the touchscreen, the system would freeze. Eventually, the system printed out paper tickets.
  • Throughout our stay, we found one employee at City Walk who gave us some great ideas on how to use our snack credits….and, she also shared that most people just let them go to waste because they don’t know how to use them.

Time to step up your game Universal. It’s a good plan if you help people understand how to use it. Keep it simple.

Quick Serve Comparison Chart: Disney vs. Universal



What is included in QS Plan?

2 QS Meals, 2 Snack/ per night of stay, 1 unlimited refill mug for duration

1 QS Meal, 1 Snack, 1 drink (no expiration date)


$48.19 Adult/ $20.88 child

$21.99 Adult/ $13.99 child

Are resort meals included?



Expiration Date

At the end of stay

No expiration, not tied to resort stay

Free Dining and Pandora Offer!

Contact or 407-775-9963 if you are interested a Disney fall getaway!

It's the perfect time to stay in the middle of the magic! Save up to 25%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels for stays most nights Aug. 1-Oct. 7, 2017 when you book by Aug. 31, 2017.

Plus, uncover a magical mix of new and unforgettable experiences when they add theme park admission, including Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.

FREE dining plan with a non-discounted 5-night/6-day Magic Your Way package that includes a room at a select Walt Disney World® Resort hotel and ticket with a Park Hopper® or Park Hopper Plus Option Aug. 21-Sept. 30, Nov. 14-20, Nov. 25-27, Dec. 8-23, 2017 when they book April 24-July 7, 2017.

Star Wars Race Weekend April 21-23, 2017

May the force be with the many runners of the Star Wars race weekend events happening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios April 21st through the 23rd 2017.

Starting with the Star Wars 5k on Friday April 21st at 6:00am, families will race through Epcot. Even the youngest runners can participate in the dashes at 11am, Friday and 1 mile race at 12:30pm on Saturday, hosted at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Saturday April 22nd kicks off with the Star Wars 10k, racing through Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot starting at 5:30am.

Then on Sunday April 23rd the Half Marathon, starts at 5:30am at the Magic Kingdom parking lot, ending at Epcot.

For those wanting even more – race participants can complete the Ultimate Darth Vadar Challenge by completing the 10k on Saturday and the ½ marathon on Sunday.

Run for the light or run for the dark, but choose your course wisely. For more information about this and other runDisney races, go to the registration website at

Congratulations to the many runners this weekend!

For a limited time... From April 20th - May 1st 2017, book your 2018 Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side Weekend

Complete a travel request form with the note : Dark Side for more information!

Check It Out: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

As we ventured out for a day of adventure at Universal Studios Orlando to check out the new “Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon”, we had no idea what to expect, but watching the teasers on the Today Show and Tonight Show we knew we had to check it out.

We are Disney people. We have mastered the fast pass system and know when and how to navigate the parks to get the most out of our time. We had no idea what a Virtual Line was, when we heard this was a feature of the ride, so our hope was just that we could get to the park early enough to get to do the ride at some point during the day.

Approaching the 30 Rock building, walking down Main Street in Universal is pretty awesome. It really captures the look and feel of New York City. The gift shop is also a grand display of Jimmy Fallon merchandise, NBC memorabilia and larger than life pictures of Jimmy Fallon and crew. But then we approached the line entrance and were told that there were no more virtual line spots available for the day…sorry. Ack, what?? So, not to be beat by this technical fail, my husband whipped out his iPhone and began his quest to challenge this defeat.

Here’s the thing with the Virtual Line. You have to be on Universal property to get a reservation. Using the Universal Orlando app, you can go online to reserve your spot, but only for same day reservations and only when you get to Universal. Unlike Disney you can’t do this from home or many days in advance and once all the spots are filled, the only shot of getting a spot is if someone cancels. Fortunately, he happened to be in the right spot at the right time and found an open spot 2 hours after we had inquired at the entrance. This allowed a nice window of time to grab lunch. Our day was saved.

When we came back with a “virtual reservation” secure the next approach to the ride entrance was much more fun. We were welcomed into the lobby where we had a walk down memory lane, seeing pictures and scenes from Tonight Show hosts present and past. From Jack Parr to Jay Leno and Johnny Carson – everything about the main floor lobby was TV magic. And then we were told to go upstairs “whenever we were ready” to go to phase 2 of the pre-show. An area of sofas and gaming tables as well as video clips from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon played on larger than life screens. High energy and fun, but also a great place to chill and relax. (And phone chargers were plentiful as well). An additional feature is the color-coded cards that each guest receives when they enter the lounge area. The colors are displayed and announced when it is your turn to enter the line queue. A great way to keep the people moving through the attraction without having to stand in line.

Once you enter the queue the ride is all about Jimmy Fallon and being part of his crazy adventure. The safety precautions rap sets the stage for a ride that has character and makes each rider feel like they are part of the show. The ride is a journey through New York, racing Jimmy Fallon. With twists and turns and little extras, it is a ride that can be enjoyed by all and one that we will probably need to do a few more times to make sure we didn’t miss anything the first time.

New Summer Disney Offers!

Three Great New Offers: Fill Out Our On-Line Quote Form to book your next getaway!


Save up to 25%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels for stays most nights May 28-Aug. 31, 2017.

Uncover a magical mix of new and unforgettable experiences at Walt Disney World Resort this summer including Pandora – The World of Avatar opening May 27, 2017 at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.

And for a limited time, May 27-July 4, 2017, Guests staying at select Walt Disney World Resort hotels can explore Pandora – The World of Avatar beyond regular Park hours.

Nightly Extra Magic Hours will take place from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. only in Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park. This offering will provide Guests with an additional opportunity to enjoy everything Pandora – The World of Avatar has to offer – including navigating a mystical river, flying on a back of a banshee and walking under floating mountains. Please note valid Theme Park admission and a Resort ID are required.

Booking Window: March 27-July 14, 2017
Travel Window: May 28-Aug. 31, 2017



Dive into summer magic with a fun-filled family room and ticket package. Includes a 4-night stay in a standard room at a select Disney's All-Star Resort and 4-day Magic Your Way base tickets for as low as $1,962. Sample package price is valid for a family of 4 for stays most Sunday through Thursday nights from June 11 through August 31, 2017.

It's the perfect time to explore all there is to see and do across all 4 theme parks—and be among the first to visit Pandora – The World of AVATAR, a jaw-dropping new land at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.

Book through July 14, 2017.

Booking and Travel Windows:
Booking window: March 27, 2017 – July 14, 2017
Travel window: May 28 – August 31, 2017



3-night stay in a standard room at a select Disney's All-Star Resort and 2-day Magic Your Way base tickets for as low as $993*. Sample package price is valid for a family of 3 for stays most Sunday through Thursday nights from June 11 through August 31, 2017, when you book from now through July 14, 2017.

Soak up delightful Disney Junior fun—and discover plenty of places to play.

Booking and Travel Windows:
Booking window: March 27, 2017 – July 14, 2017
Travel window: May 28 – August 31, 2017

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© 2017 Story Institute, LLC - John E. Murray, III & Teri A. Murray
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