A Beautiful Night in New Fantasyland Part 1

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About a week ago, the lovely ladies of MouseChow got ourselves all dressed up (as the magical British caretaker duo of Mary Poppins and Miss Eglantine Price) and headed over to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We weren’t sure what to expect as neither of us had ever been, but I did have one big hope – that New Fantasyland would be open for dress rehearsals.

We wandered back through Liberty Square and of course went on the Haunted Mansion. Then, despite being told by a cast member that New Fantasyland was not open, we headed back to just see if we could take a peek. As we were taking a shot of the distant and lovely Beast’s Castle, we were invited right in!

Beast's Castle

Beast’s Castle

There was a private party in the Be Our Guest restaurant, so we only were able to peek through the gates.

Be Our Guest

Continuing into New Fantasyland we next entered the square featuring a lovely fountain and statue of Gaston (standing on Le Fou.) And of course, Gaston’s Tavern.

Gaston!

Gaston's Tavern square

Gaston’s Tavern Square (with Beast’s Castle on the hill)

So of course we had to head into the Tavern to check out the food, and much touted Le Fou’s brew. (Basically, Disney’s answer to Butterbeer.)

Le Fou's Brew

Le Fou’s Brew

You’ve probably already read about the roasted pork shanks at Gaston’s. We saw them, but were not up to eating one that late at night. Honestly, they looked less ridiculously fatty and huge than the Turkey Legs, and might actually be an option to share with a few people.

As for the Brew…well, it tastes like the frozen apple juice that it is. If you like apple juice, then you’ll probably like this. The creamy foam on top is very, very sweet and somewhat mango-flavored. I was pretty underwhelmed, and for $4.49 I can’t imagine getting one again. I also don’t understand why anyone would get one of the souvenir mugs – they are hideous.

However the theming inside the tavern is really nice. I couldn’t help but compare it to the Three Broomsticks at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it stacked up well. It’s small and cozy, with a faux fireplace, warm lighting, and lots and lots of antlers. (I’m assuming faux as well.)

Fireplace in Gaston's Tavern

Fireplace in Gaston’s Tavern

Antlers and Lighting at Gaston's Tavern

Antlers and Lighting at Gaston’s Tavern

Cozy Spaces in Gaston's Tavern

Cozy Spaces in Gaston’s Tavern

And by the way, Gaston’s giant chair makes for a great photo op. One of our cast-member friends tells us that Gaston sometimes pops into the Tavern and berates guests who are sitting in his chair. I caught a quick glimpse of Gaston, and frankly I don’t think I would mind being the center of his attention…so we chanced it.

Mary Poppins at Gaston's Tavern

Mary Poppins at Gaston’s Tavern

Eglantine Price at Gaston's Tavern

Eglantine Price at Gaston’s Tavern

Finally, I’d had about half of my LeFou’s Brew (and some pre-packaged Sabra pretzel chips and hummus) and it was time to move on from the Tavern. It was great timing, too, because just then the Hallowishes fireworks began. And Gaston’s square is a fantastic viewing spot for the perimeter fireworks. Holy cow.

Hallowishes over Gaston's Tavern

Hallowishes over Gaston’s Tavern

More Fireworks over Gaston's

More Fireworks over Gaston’s

Gaston's lit up like day from fireworks

Gaston’s lit up like daylight from the fireworks

Whew! OK, so after that was over, we continued on to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I didn’t want to take pics inside the attraction because it’s very dark, and would require flash, but here’s a lovely shot of the exterior.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

I didn’t completely fall in love with the Voyage, but it’s a very nice dark ride addition. I haven’t yet been to the one in California, but am assuming it’s similar. If you’ve experienced both, please leave a comment with your comparison!

Finally, we were lured into the enchanted forest, for Enchanted Tales with Belle. We were asked by the cast members not to take photos, so I don’t have any. But seriously, to call this a “meet and greet” is not doing it justice at all. Of course that’s what it is, but the accompanying show is incredibly charming and, well, enchanting. The Harry Potter comparison here is clearly the Olivander’s Wand Shop, and here Enchanted Tales with Belle wins hands-down. As a parent, it’s hard to stand in line for an hour for Olivander’s and then have your child not be the one chosen to participate in the show. At Enchanted Tales with Belle, every child in the group gets a role, and a chance to be part of the show. And then each gets a private discussion with Belle. Disney knows how to come through for kids, plain and simple. (Plus, one of the cast members complimented my Miss Price costume, so he got major bonus points.)

Whew! So that was our night at New Fantasyland. Frankly, we ended up seeing very little of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. But it was worth it.

New Fantasyland’s Grand Opening is set for December 6. What are you most looking forward to? Any questions I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments! And stay tuned for Part 2 – Storybook Circus!

WWoHP Pt. 2: Eating around Hogsmeadiagonwarts

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In my last post, I gave some tips on avoiding lines in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and my opinion on Butterbeer.  (The short of it:  too darned sweet.)  So let’s talk food.

First, there are very few places to actually eat within the Wizarding World.  I guess those kids get everything they could desire in the Hogwarts dining hall, the most amazing school cafeteria ever, so they don’t eat out much.

The only restaurant in WWoHP is the Three Broomsticks, and like everything else there, the theming is spot-on.

On our first trip to visit Mr. Potter, we didn’t make reservations, the crowds were ginormous, and we couldn’t eat within WWoHP. Instead, we left the area and went to Mythos (hands-down the best restaurant in Universal, and located a very short walk from the gates of the Wizarding World.) We were disappointed to learn however that we were not allowed back IN to the World after leaving, until after 3pm when the crowds thinned out. Be forewarned that this is a possibility, especially during peak season.
On my second trip, because I was at the WWoHP at 8am, I planned ahead and made breakfast reservations.
I went for the Traditional English Breakfast, which includes scrambled eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomato, sausage links, English bacon, a croissant, potatoes, and black pudding.  I’m a sucker for black pudding.  Unfortunately, it was pretty awful.  It tasted like the heat lamps had sucked the flavor and moistness from everything.  The eggs had the consistency of bad reconstituted powdered buffet eggs, and the mushrooms and black pudding were so dry as to be inedible.  The beans tasted like they came straight from the Heinz can.  I forgot to take a  picture until half-way through my meal, and have chosen not to show you the half-eaten food.  You’re welcome.
Other breakfast choices are oatmeal (Porridge breakfast), a continental breakfast, American breakfast (eggs, potatos, bacon, etc.), pancakes, and smoked salmon.  I suspect that the American breakfast will have many of the same issues as the English, so you are probably better off with the other choices if you go.
I didn’t eat dinner there, but my helpful brother did, and sent me his photo of the roast chicken.  He said they enjoyed it.  He’s fairly discerning, so I’m guessing it was OK, but I won’t be going back there for the food.  Looks alright, though.  I’m giving it 2 Mice.  It’s worth a peek for the theming.
Connected to the Three Broomsticks is the Hogs Head pub.  They serve a variety of non-alcoholic drinks (including butterbeer and pumpkin juice) as well as bottled and draft beers.  Draft includes Guinness and Boddingtons, as well as their own Hogs Head Brew (a red ale).  It’s the kind of place that you wish existed in real-life, near your house.  Because chances are when you’re in Universal, it will be too crowded, and you’ll be too busy, to hang around drinking beer and chatting by the fire.  The pub gets 4 Mice.
Don’t miss Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s.  You may be tempted to skip the shops in favor of rides, but they truly are the most charming part of the experience.  The detail is incredible.  The two shops are connected, and there is a small counter where they connect that sells baked goods, including cauldron cakes and treacle tarts.
Final piece of advice.  Don’t buy your chocolate frog at Honeydukes, then expect to carry it around all day, unless you like melted frog.  They are available at the large shop at the entrance to Islands of Adventure on your way out.  If you forget, just remember the wisdom of Ron Weasley, “Rotten luck.  Besides, it’s the cards you want.”

WWoHP Pt. 1: So what does Butterbeer taste like?

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I’ll admit it.  As much as I love visiting Walt Disney World, our family vacation last summer was overshadowed by a certain Boy Who Lived.  Of course, I mean our planned side trip to Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I’ve read all of the books, our 10 year old daughter is half-way through the series, and of course we’ve seen all of the movies again and again and again. 

So as happy as we were to be going to WDW, the biggest question on all of our minds was, “What does Butterbeer taste like?”  Let me start by saying, this is not the best thing to plan your WWoHP day around.  In fact, that singlemindedness of purpose really threw off our visit.  Hopefully this cautionary tale will  help you to navigate this weird amalgamation of Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts more like a returning 5th year than a goggling muggle-raised 1st year.

Tip 1:  If at all possible, stay in a Universal partner hotel to gain early admission.

During peak season, early admission is really crucial to being able to fully enjoy the WWoHP.  The difference that hour makes between standing in long lines and being generally miserable vs. experiencing the magic and wonder of Potter is worth the aggravation of switching hotels.  I’ve been to WWoHP twice now – the first time we day tripped over to Universal from our base at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the second I stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort.  For convenience and early admission, the Loews was definitely the better option.  Theming is good (though not Disney), rooms are fine, and the pool area is wonderful.  If you don’t stay at a qualifying Universal hotel, this is what you may experience when you get to the park. 

See what looks like the front of that line?  That’s about a quarter mile from the entrance to the WWoHP.  The kid biting her nails to the right is mine – at what felt like the end of the line.  By the time we were allowed in, the line stretched another quarter mile behind us.  Seriously, get the early admission.  When I returned and stayed at Universal, I walked right in as soon as the gates opened to a completely empty World, and spent a leisurely hour poking through the shops.  It was lovely.  The first time was not.  Behold.

Tip 2:  Focus on what is important to you first.  Do not get distracted. 

Oh, how easy this sounds, and how difficult it is.  The magic begins as you approach the entrance…

 

…encounter the Hogwarts Express to your right…

…and find yourself in the magical town of Hogsmeadiagonwarts.

(Note the butterbeer stand stationed straight ahead.)

But really, don’t get distracted.  We made the fateful mistake of stopping for Butterbeer first.  As a result, we waited in line for almost two hours for Forbidden Journey, and never did make it to Olivander’s. There are really only two good options to choose from when you first enter.  Either get in line for Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, or for Olivander’s Wand Shop.  (Lagniappe:  stow your stuff in the lockers near the Hogwarts Express if you’re riding Forbidden Journey.  The locker line is very long near the attraction.)  If you are prone to motion sickness, or are traveling with kids who are frightened of the dark, dementors, or giant spiders, skip The Forbidden Journey.  After riding it, I spent the next 20 minutes hanging out with Moaning Myrtle in the cool ladies restroom while my family took in the sights.  Even if you’re not traveling with kids, you’ll want to see the show at Olivander’s.  It’s very fun.  But the line gets ridiculously long.  My advice:  go to Olivander’s first, then go to the Forbidden Journey.  The line gets long at Journey, but it is so well themed and entertaining, that it’s not an awful wait.  The line for Olivander’s is all outdoors and not at all entertaining.

Tip 3:  Be warned – the expensive front-of-the-line passes you can purchase at Universal are not honored for Forbidden Journey. 

If you are planning to spend a good amount of time at the rest of Universal and ride the larger rides, it may be worth the extra expense.  But if your main destination is WWoHP, and you don’t ride coasters, don’t bother.  During peak season it’s almost not worth buying the pass anyway, because now so many people are just forking over the extra money that the lines for the express are long, too.  (And it’s not honored at the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, either.) 

After you’ve hit the two main attractions, if you like coasters, head to Dragon Challenge.  It is truly fantastic.

Tip 4:  Only after you’ve ridden the coasters should you consider getting some butterbeer. 

Seriously, and not just because of the lines.  Once you taste it you’ll understand.  Butterbeer is one of the most sickeningly sweet things you will ever drink.  It’s like cream soda with butterscotch syrup added, with a dollop of butterscotch flavored cool whip layered on the top.  No joke – it is sweeeeet.  My daughter and husband, both with massive sweet teeth (tooths?), loved it.  I took two sips, and bought a pumpkin juice instead.  The good news is that the pumpkin juice is surprisingly delicious and refreshing!  It’s basically apple juice with pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice, which sounds odd, but is very good.

Butterbeer comes in two forms – draft, or frozen.  Here’s the draft:

And here’s the frozen:

We were being “purists” the first time around, and only tried the draft.  On my return trip, I tried the frozen, and it is definitely the way to go.  The colder temperature is really necessary to balance the sweetness. 

So to sum up Part 1:  Get there early, Don’t get distracted, Consider whether Express pass is worth it to you, and get a frozen Butterbeer AFTER you’ve ridden the coasters.

Next up in Part 2:  Eating around Hogsmeadiagonwarts.