Walt Disney World’s EPCOT has transformed into a wonderland, brimming with festive cheer and cultural delights. The International Festival of the Holidays, running from November 25th to December 30th, 2023, invites guests to embark on a joyous journey around the world, exploring diverse holiday traditions and indulging in seasonal treats.
Highlights of the Festival:
Holiday Kitchens: Embark on a culinary adventure as you savor delectable holiday dishes from over 25 food and beverage booths scattered throughout the World Showcase. Each kitchen offers unique flavors inspired by different countries and their holiday customs.
JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season: Immerse yourself in the soulful sounds of gospel, R&B, and holiday music at this uplifting concert held daily at the World Showplace.
Candlelight Processional: Witness the heartwarming retelling of the Christmas story, narrated by a celebrity guest and accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir. This beloved tradition takes place nightly at the America Gardens Theatre.
Holiday Storytellers: Gather around in each World Showcase country to hear enchanting tales of holiday folklore and traditions shared by captivating storytellers.
Meet Santa Claus: Jolly old St. Nick awaits your visit at the Odyssey Pavilion, ready to spread Christmas cheer and capture memorable photos from November 24th to December 24th.
Cookie Stroll: Delight in a sweet scavenger hunt as you purchase delicious cookies from designated locations and collect stamps in your Festival Passport. Upon completing the stroll, you’ll receive a complimentary specialty cookie.
Olaf’s Holiday Tradition Expedition: Join Olaf on a festive quest to discover holiday customs from around the world, adding stamps to your passport as you go along.
Holiday Illuminations: As dusk falls, witness the dazzling spectacle of EPCOT’s nightly fireworks display, set to a medley of holiday music.
Whether you’re seeking culinary delights, heartwarming entertainment, or simply the spirit of the season, EPCOT’s International Festival of the Holidays promises an unforgettable celebration. Come and experience the magic of holidays from around the world!
I’ll be visiting the Festival next week and will come back with tips and reviews!
The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is a long-running dinner show held nightly at Fort Wilderness’ Pioneer Hall. My brother remembers taking my niece there as a baby and she’s getting married next year! We’ve never seen it ourselves, though, and finally got the chance to do so this fall, when we stayed at The Cabins at Fort Wilderness.
You can attend Hoop-Dee-Doo whether you’re a Fort resident or not, of course, but getting there can be an extra hassle. There’s a boat to and from Magic Kingdom, so that’s one option. And of course Disney’s buses go to the Fort, but only to the front of the resort. Fort Wilderness is HUGE. So many camping sites, cabins, and facilities. Pioneer Hall is located in the Settlement area, and that’s almost a mile away from the front of the resort. You can’t park your car at the Settlement, so you need to use the internal bus system to get there, or, if you’re staying at the Fort, you may have rented a golf cart for the duration of your stay there and you can get there that way. Lastly, there’s always Disney’s Minnie Van service, which will take you directly to the Settlement bus stop and pick you up from there as well, but that, of course, is at an additional cost.
The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue dinner show happens three times a day, at 4 PM, 6:15 PM, and 8:30 PM. Reservations are required, can be made. 60 days in advance, and must be prepaid. Pricing, as of September 2023 (this is subject to change at any time):
Category 1: Adults $74, Children 3-9 $44
Category 2: Adults $69, Children 3-9 $40
Category 3: Adults $66, Children 3-9 $39
Note that wheelchair-accessible seating is located in Category 1 and Category 2. Category 3 seating is located on the second floor of Pioneer Hall, which has no elevator access. Prices include tax and gratuity.
Here is a diagram of the seating, from the Walt Disney World site:
We had the misfortune of going to Hoop-Dee-Doo on an evening when it was pouring rain. Worse, the procedure to go into the show involves going back behind the Hall to get your table assignment/ticket, out in the pouring rain, then scurrying back to the front to crowd under the awning and wait to be seated. My husband and I had ponchos on, thank God, because it was a deluge. I wish there had been a better way to handle that process that didn’t involve us being almost washed away.
We attended the 6:15 PM show, and sat in the balcony, in Category 3. I had done some research and poked around on Google, and thought the view from upstairs would be good — and it was:
We could see the stage very clearly and the performers also circulated in the audience, both upstairs and downstairs.
The one thing I didn’t like about sitting in Category 3, though, ended up being the difficulty of eating and watching the show at the same time. Downstairs you pick what side of the table you’re on and can sort of turn a bit each way. Upstairs, you can only sit facing away from the stage at your table. All the seats (including those downstairs) swivel all the way around so you can watch the show that way. But I’d assumed that dinner and the show itself would happen at separate times, and truthfully they overlapped. At one point I was torn between eating, or watching the show and letting my food get cold. I should also mention that as a person with back problems, I found the chairs to be profoundly uncomfortable. The good thing about being upstairs with no one behind me, then, was that I could stand up and stretch when I needed to.
There’s a set menu at Hoop-Dee-Doo. For a picky eater like me, that’s always a tough situation. It’s also important to note that there are plant-based options available, as well as accommodations that can be made for those with allergies. Make sure to note this on your reservation ahead of time.
Now, I’m going say something a little negative off the bat. We had a server that was, for whatever reason, less than helpful. He didn’t go over the menu with us, he didn’t ask anything about preferences. We had to try a couple times to get his attention when we needed something. He wasn’t rude, and it wasn’t awful, but something was a little off. All I can say is, always remember to have patience and stay polite, in that kind of situation. It’s Disney, but it still happens.
On to the food!
When you’re taken to your table, salads and cornbread are waiting for you. There’s a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing and there’s also coleslaw. The salad was perfectly fine but nothing special. I did like the tang of the dressing.
The cornbread was delicious. To be perfectly frank, I could have sat there all night and eaten loaf after loaf of it. Terrific taste, and a really nice texture. I like cornbread but sometimes it’s a little too grainy. This one absolutely wasn’t. The whipped butter was nice, and for those who want extra barbecue sauce with everything, there was plenty of it.
Shortly after this the performers came out into the audience to a big round of applause.
The show began, and it was very high energy. Dancing, singing, and not a few puns. Is it corny? Yes. Very. That’s the charm of the show. If you’re going to roll your eyes at cowboy jokes and silly skits, this might not be the show for you. But if you enjoy that kind of thing, it’s very good. The cast members were all very talented and had great voices. Each went out into the audience multiple times, asking where people were from and singing out the answers. There was a round of happy birthday for anyone celebrating, as well as a nod to those there for an anniversary. One couple in our crowd had just gotten engaged. There was also a bit of audience participation at the very end, with five guests chosen from the audience.
Sometime during the performance our main entree and sides were delivered. This was where I had some problems with the timing. We had to choose between eating while it was hot and missing some of the show or letting the food get cold. We did our best, but It think they could time when the food was brought out a bit better.
I’m not much of a rib eater and fried chicken isn’t a big favorite of mine, but my husband had both and said they were good. The mashed potatoes were very smooth and flavorful. The mac and cheese was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve found a lot of cheesy mac at Disney to be watery and lacking in flavor, but this was very creamy and tasted great. You can order seconds (or thirds, even) of anything they bring you, but we were plenty full already.
There was a break in the show here (which is when I wish they’d brought the food out) and when it resumed there was more music, dancing, and audience participation. Keep those checkered napkins handy! They also bring around some washboards for the big finale.
Dessert is so yummy here it has its own song — Strawberry Shortcake! I can only say wonderful things about it. The shortcake was light but tasty and the strawberries were great. We enjoyed this a lot.
And with that, dinner was over. Hoop-Dee-Doo can be a lot of fun, and the food served is good, as long as it’s to your liking. I will say I didn’t leave hungry, even though I just had sides and dessert. The main negative I would say is that it’s not the easiest location to get to. Once you’ve figured the best transport for you, though, it can be a fun evening out.
This review was written in September, 2023. Prices, options, and offerings are always subject to change.
I love it when I get a chance to watch the Green Army Men in Toy Story Land, part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World. Usually we only catch the tail-end of their performance, but this time I happened to be front and center when they marched up, so I caught the whole performance to share. These guys are always a ton of fun!
As any Toy Story fan can tell you, the Green Army Men never stop until a mission is com
It’s been teased for nigh on a year, but a recent tip from a Cast Member leads us to believe that Fantasmic, as well as Fantasmic Dining Packages, will be announced any day now.
We’ve got a trip coming up at the end of November and have been having the dickens of a time making dining reservations for Disney’s Hollywood Studios– at restaurants that don’t usually sell out so quickly, on weekdays, etc. We’ve already made a few fruitless calls to Dining but one particular CM let slip that the reservations aren’t full but held back… possibly for Fantasmic Dining Packages. Could it FINALLY be time for Fantasmic to come back to Hollywood Studios?! Keep watching, it might be soon!
Reported this week at Walt Disney World, characters are signing autographs again! Additionally, autograph books are for sale once more in gift shops around WDW.
Keep in mind that it’s only been confirmed that characters are signing autographs again in Walt Disney World, Florida. No news on the other Parks, and as of this writing, there are still no autographs on Disney Cruise Line (character meets are still distanced there).
The tour has a maximum of 12 persons (over the age of eight), which means it’s bound to be a small, intimate group. Amazingly, our first time through back in 2019, we were the only two people on the tour! These days, though, now that enchanting extra experiences are up and running again at Disney, that’s very unlikely to happen. Our second tour was full, but I will tell you it made for a fun-loving and congenial group. We loved getting to know everyone on our tour, as well as the excellent Cast Members who guided us.
Our tour began at 4:30 in the afternoon (times may shift depending on the time of year). We were asked to check in at least 15 minutes before that time at this booth just outside the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safari.
There was a quick form to read and sign and we were ready to go. Entering through the safari ride area, we got onto a special vehicle that would take us out onto the savanna, utilizing slightly different paths than the regular ride vehicles. The Savor the Savanna bus has seats in a u-shape around the perimeter. There is a little jostling around to be aware of. I have a less than perfect back, so I made sure to sit in a corner where I could better brace myself. Meg, our guide, was seated next to me.
The adventure begins with a drive through the west savanna where we saw plenty of animals — wildebeests, rhinos, and of course giraffes.
We also got a chance to speak with one of the savanna’s zookeepers, where we were encouraged to ask any and every question we had about the savanna and the animals that live on it. We definitely had a lot of questions! We also got to get a lot closer to those giraffes by taking a different road than the one regular safari vehicles follow.
Then it was time to head to our boma right there on the savanna — if you’ve taken the regular safari tour you’ve surely seen it in the distance.
Here, cast members treated us to a yummy tapas-style meal, with a sampling of African-inspired cuisine, paired with a selection of regional beer and wine offerings. And there was also a never-ending supply of POG juice, aka Jungle Juice, the most delicious fruit drink every Disney fan knows and loves.
We were welcome to as much as we cared to eat, though with a full tour we did run out! There was dessert offered as well. Our guides were on-hand to answer any questions we might still have. There is also a restroom available at the boma, which was a welcome amenity.
Soon it was time for the second part of our tour, traveling through the east savanna and getting a chance to see elephants, cheetahs, and the safari’s famous three lions. We caught the male waking up from a nap:
The second half of the tour went by quicker, and I should tell you that it was quite a bit more boisterous — there was wine and beer available with dinner, and many of our companions imbibed joyfully. It made for a lively and fun bunch. We enjoyed meeting everyone and were very glad we’d done this tour again. I doubt it will be our last time Savoring the Savanna.
Savor the Savanna is $174 per guest and should be booked in advance. Guests must be at least eight years of age and if under 18, need to be accompanied by an adult. All guests on this tour should be in good health and free from high blood pressure; heart, back or neck problems; motion sickness or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not participate. Guests in ECVs need to be able to transfer to an available wheelchair. Theme park admission (as well as a park reservation) is required and not included in the price of this tour.
A few years ago I published an article in two parts on how to use an ECV, also known as a scooter, as Walt Disney World. These can be foundhere (part 1, the basics) and here (part 2, don’t stress and here’s why). There are some updates to WDW policy and recommendations I’d like to share with you. And remember, if you have any hesitancy about using a scooter, maybe because you feel funny or a little embarrassed (and you shouldn’t, but we all know how it is), please make sure to read part 2 because I give a great pep talk. 🙂
You can still rent ECVs from Disney right at the Parks, each day. The current cost (as of 3/2023) is $50 per day, plus a refundable $20 deposit. You can also rent them at Disney’s Water Parks and at Disney Springs, but the refundable deposit there is $100. Park-owned scooters are fine and a good choice if you drove there, just need a scooter for the day, or don’t want to have a scooter on Disney transportation. Disney’s scooters were all replaced with newer models in early 2023, and these are, in my opinion, a big improvement over the older machines. The seat is comfortable and the steering column’s tilt can adjust back to reach you as desired (This helps me, personally, hugely with recline). Most importantly, the old models were four-wheeled and had limited maneuverability. The new scooters are three-wheeled and have a great turning radius. However, some drawbacks remain. You cannot prebook or reserve the WDW scooters. They do sell out early at Magic Kingdom in particular, however, so keep that in mind. Also, they do go a bit slower than offsite models. Still, it’s a good, solid choice if you need it, and very simple to rent one.
You can also rent an ECV from a third-party vendor and there are many to choose from. I’m going to talk about the three I have the most experience with here. The biggest change to be aware of, though, is that as of 2020, the only third-party vendor that can drop off your ECV at your onsite resort so that it is waiting for you when you get there (and likewise, you can return it to Bell Services any time before you go) is ScooterBug. ScooterBug is Disney’s Featured Provider, which means they have an exclusive contract with Disney for delivering ECVs directly to the resort. You can learn more, and make a pre-order, here.
I have rented from ScooterBug a number of times. It is convenient to have the scooter waiting for you at Bell Services, that’s for sure. We drive to the Parks, and aren’t always exactly sure what time we’re arriving, or departing. They have several different models available, as well as a variety of accessories. If there’s a problem, Disney can work with you to remedy it. Once, for example, the wrong model scooter was delivered (more on scooter selection in another post coming soon), and Disney was able to arrange for ScooterBug to drop off the correct one later, while we made do with the other and headed straight to the Parks. We made the tradeoff later. Their scooters are in decent shape, but not shiny and new. I had problems with a battery dying on me in EPCOT once, and they were able to meet me in the Park with a new scooter. Their basic seat backs aren’t adjustable, and their ECVs do show some wear and tear.
Another third-party company I’ve rented from is Buena Vista Scooter Rentals. They also have various models and accessories, but I feel they’re less than top tier when it comes to quality. I noticed a lot of wear, as well as had issues with the scooter stalling out unexpectedly — once in the middle of Rise of the Resistance, and I was humiliated to be delaying the ride for everyone. The cup holder attached to the arm and kept tilting over to the side, and ended up being unusable. Another issue is pickup and delivery. Buena Vista can’t leave the scooter at Bell Services like ScooterBug can; none of the other third-party providers can. But Buena Vista has a very set schedule of times they will bring you your scooter or pick it up. These times weren’t always especially convenient for us and we had to change our plans more than once to work around them.
The third-party company I most highly recommend is Gold Mobility. And to be honest, I doubt I’ll ever rent from anywhere else again. Using their ECV (and I rented the Pride VICTORY 10 3-Wheel Mobility Scooter) after renting other third-party scooters felt like going from a Yugo to a Cadillac. They replace their scooters every nine months, so you’re always in the newest product.
All Gold Mobility scooters come with a fan, front basket, cell phone holder, drink holder (more on that in a second), and a USB port by default, as well as all the usual features such as a battery, rain cover, ponchos, etc. I didn’t think I’d use the cell phone holder but I did, a few times — just remember not to park your scooter and leave your phone behind. You can add a cane, walker or oxygen holder or a rear basket at no cost. Victory 10 scooters can add a sunshade. The scooters are so well cared for it feels like they just came off the factory line. New, clean, and very comfortable.
The seat on the Gold Mobility scooter is fully adjustable. This was a huge plus for me. Other scooters I’d rented did not allow me to change the tilt of the seat back. The Pride Victory 10’s seat could lean quite far back or be more than upright. As a person who absolutely needs back support, this was vital for me. I’ve finished scooter days in agony because there was no support from a non-adjustable seat that was set at too much of a recline. Not the case at all with Gold Mobility’s scooters.
And the cup holder! I know this seems like a small thing to be excited about, but it’s so conveniently placed below the steering wheel, roomy but snug enough that you don’t have to worry about your drink being jostled.
Gold Mobility can’t leave your scooter with Bell Services, but they do offer “white-gloved personalized delivery.” This means *you* get to pick your delivery and pick up time, no need to work around their schedule. A very polite employee of the company brings it right to your resort at whatever time you specify, and answers any questions you might have.
Now, one caveat. Gold Mobility only rents their scooters by the week, not by the day. If you only need the scooter for four or five days, for example, they’ll come pick it up at that time, but you’re still paying the one-week rate. That gave me some pause at first, but truth be told, the cost difference isn’t much. All the ECV rental companies work on a sliding scale so that the first day is the most expensive, and the last the least. In other words, the difference between paying for five days and seven isn’t much no matter where you go.
These are only three of the third-party ECV rental companies out there, and there are quite a few more (Walker Mobility, Apple Scooters, etc.) Look around for reviews on those or try one of the companies mentioned above to find what suits you the best.
COMING SOON: Part 4, how to choose the right ECV for you.
We had a chance to ride EPCOT’s newest attraction a little bit early at a Passholder Preview for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, which opens to the public on October 1, 2021. It was a lot of fun! Here’s a largely spoiler-free (no ride pics, but a few helpful bits of information) review.
After being lucky enough to get a spot at the preview (Passholders, always check your emails!), we headed to EPCOT last week. The new Remy ride is on the right-hand side of the France pavilion, towards the back. The entire area is Remy-themed and full of delightful details.
Also in this section of the France Pavilion you’ll find La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant that offers both sweet and savory crêpes. There is a sit-down section as well as a to go window. If you want to check out the menu, visit the Disney Parks Blog for all the details. Lines at all of the previews were long, so this new dining offering is sure to be a hit.
After a short wait in line, we were able to ride!
The ride car and indeed much of the experience of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is very similar to another relatively new ride, this one in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Minnie & Mickey’s Runaway Railway. Both feature trackless cars and digital screens. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is suitable for guests of any height.
The ride car, which looks like a friendly rat, has two rows with three seats each in a bench with small dividers. I am tall and not small, and I fit comfortably in the middle seat of the back row (a Cast Member told me the back row has a little more legroom than the front). The door to get into the vehicle is a bit small and up a step; it helps to turn a bit sideways and shimmy in. Once seated, you lower a lap bar yourself to a comfortable point and then you’re off!
In Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, your point of view is that of a rat scampering around Remy’s kitchen. A combination of force perspective and 3D screens (yes, there are glasses) create an immersive illusion, with a few surprises I won’t ruin for you here. I will say, though, for those concerned about motion sickness: while I was fine for 90% of the ride, there was one particular segment that had me feeling a little too dizzy. I closed my eyes for maybe ten seconds until the scene calmed down and then was fine.
Overall, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is a delightful ride that is a terrific addition to the World Showcase. Remy has long been the Food & Wine Festival’s mascot and he deserves a little love! What this ride isn’t is a game-changer or a thrill ride of any kind. Anyone expecting the an awe-inspiring experience like Flight of Passage is going to be disappointed; anyone looking for a fun update on the much-loved dark rides of Fantasyland (Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh) will enjoy it a great deal.
Having said that, be prepared: when the ride opens on October 1, Disney plans to use a virtual queue similar to that being used on Rise of the Resistance. From the Disney World site:
“When Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure initially opens, in order to experience the attraction, Guests will be required to join the virtual queue. A standby queue will not be available at opening. The virtual queue will be limited and subject to availability. Each Guest can enter the virtual queue no more than once per day.”
Of course, when the new Genie+ and Lightning Lane system comes online this fall, there may be other options for securing a spot on this new attraction. Stay tuned for more details!
After 408 days away (our last visit was February 29, 2020), we finally went back to Walt Disney World yesterday.
We live a few hours south of Orlando, and as Passholders who usually visit once a month or so, the year and change away was hard on us. And while we have a lot of friends who went back once the Parks reopened in July, for us the right decision was to wait until we were fully vaccinated. That’s a personal decision for each person to make, and just what fit our specific situation. We missed Disney a LOT, though, so when we hit our fully inoculated date at the end of March, and we planned a one-day trip back to the Magic Kingdom as soon as we could. (We adhered to ALL safety protocols the entire time we were there, and wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.)
So many things different, and so many the same. It’s still Disney. I still loved being on Main Street. I still got to ride two of my favorite rides, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Haunted Mansion. I still shopped (we call our Disney haul our “loot”), coming home with a very cool Haunted Mansion blanket and a celebratory new Pandora charm. But I will say, it was harder than I thought it would be to not be able to see people’s faces. To not be able to smile at Cast Members and see them smile back. More practically speaking, it was also hard to wear a mask in the humidity all day.
The worst thing for me, though, was the lack of Fast Passes. I can’t express to you how much I miss being able to plan out my three favorite rides of the day. Lines are long and despite what some will tell you, it’s not just because they’re socially distanced. (I actually saw zero social distancing going on in lines. The markers are there on the floor, and Disney reminds you to stand on them. No one was doing so on the rides we were on. I don’t know whether this was an unusual occurrence or not, but it shocked me.) The line for Winnie the Pooh was wrapped around to Cosmic Ray’s. If you’re familiar with the layout of Magic Kingdom, you know that’s pretty far. Some people say they’re glad that Fast Passes are gone for now, but I can’t imagine why. Spending that much of my Park day in a line is a waste to me. I can’t wait until FP+ comes back.
One change I do love are the Character Cavalcades. While under COVID safety protocols, Disney has suspended regular parades and fireworks. Instead, randomly throughout the day and in different locations in the Park, you’ll see a Character Cavalcade instead. These are such fun. Short, just a couple floats maybe, unannounced, but all the more fun for that. We saw three in the time we were there, plus a performance from the Dapper Dans up on the train platform.
These, I hope are here to stay. I love the longer parades, of course. Festival of Fantasy is beautiful. But it does sort of jam up Magic Kingdom for a big part of the day, every day, what with people staking out viewing spots sometimes hours in advance. I wouldn’t want to see it go away, but maybe it should just be once a week or something like that, with the smaller Cavalcades every day? Just a thought.
We weren’t at the Magic Kingdom very late, because of the long drive home. We probably spent more time in the car than in the Park. But it was worth it just to be back. Yes, the masks are hard, mobile ordering can be a bit hectic, and it’s harder to get dining reservations right now because not everything is open. You still need to be careful, even with a vaccine, by washing your hands, wearing your mask, using sanitizer, and trying to keep a little distance. But on the other hand, I got to see Mickey. I got lots of compliments on my Dole Whip dress. And when a Princess Cavalcade went by, the Fairy Godmother saw me waving at her and blew me a kiss. If that doesn’t make your day, I don’t know what will.