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!
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!
“Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022. We will continue to operate the service for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels for arrivals throughout 2021.”
Disney went on to reassure guests that other complimentary transportation options such as buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner will continue to be available within Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Resort hotel guests, including to and from all four theme parks.
As locals to the area, the Magical Express wasn’t something that we used, but I know it’s a huge favorite service for many guests. While expected, this news is probably a disappointment for many.
So in my last post I explained how to rent a scooter, or ECV, to use at Disney World. That was the easy part. The harder part is deciding that you need one, and then overcoming any concerns you may have about what using a scooter will be like. I’ve got the scoop on what to expect, and some tips to making it the best experience possible.
But let’s start with why you might need to rent a scooter at Disney World. There are tons of reasons why this might be a good choice for you. You might be physically disabled permanently, or temporarily. You might be recovering from knee surgery, or the flu. You might have plantar fasciitis. You might have back problems, joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis. You might have digestive, respiratory, circulatory, neurological, or any other physical condition that impacts you. You might have terrible blisters from wearing the wrong shoes the day before. You might have fibromyalgia. You might have anything at all that will impede your ability to walk many miles in a day, and/or to stand for long periods of time. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what your reason is for needing a scooter. WHATEVER THAT REASON IS, IT’S A PERFECTLY GOOD REASON AND NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. (Warning: you might hear me say this again.)
I confess, I had a hard time convincing myself to use a scooter the first time. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to admit I needed it. I wanted to get the exercise from walking all day. And I could walk, albeit sometimes slowly and painfully, leaving me an exhausted wreck at the end of the day. I’ve got a spinal fusion, sciatica pain, and some other issues that drain my energy. My back makes standing harder than walking, so there are tons of things at Disney World I was never able to do, such as watch the castle show, wait in a long line to meet a character, stand and listen to musicians in EPCOT or Animal Kingdom, or do any rides standby. But now, when I do rent a scooter? We do EVERYTHING. We watch shows, we wait in super long lines to meet characters, we go everywhere and anywhere. We get to do more and I hurt less. It’s a win-win.
For some people, a mobility device is a day to day reality. That’s okay. For others, it’s something they need in special circumstances, and that’s okay too. Disney is tough. Disney is a haul. You might be able to get around without a scooter in your normal environment, but not be up to walking 7 or 8 miles a day. That’s okay. And if you’re telling yourself, “I’m not one of those scooter people,” stop it. There’s no such thing as “scooter people.” You’re just a person who needs mobility assistance. And that’s OKAY. It might not be what you want, and it might be hard to adjust to your current reality, but cut yourself some slack and do whatever it takes to make your vacation as magical as it can be. Never once have I met anyone who’s regretted getting a scooter. Instead, every person I know who’s needed one and gotten one has said it was a terrific decision.
Still feeling nervous? There’s a fantastic Facebook group you might want to join. It’s called Magical Guide to doing Disney with Special Needs – Visible and Invisible. (It’s a closed group so you’ll have to request to join.) I am so grateful to the people who started this group, it’s been a lifeline. It’s a terrific bunch of supportive people that can help make your Disney trip as magical as possible. As the group description says, “If you need help planning, need emotional support, or want to help others by sharing your experience, please join us!”
But maybe you’re still hesitant, and maybe one of the reasons you still don’t want to rent a scooter is because you’re worried about what other people will think. “Will they judge me?” So many of us have hidden or invisible disabilities that aren’t obvious just by looking at us. “Will they think I’m just lazy? Will people be mean to me?” You know, it’s human nature to feel insecure about these things, but you need to put it in perspective. Firstly, of course, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think, especially people who are strangers. You have to think long and hard about what’s more important to you: living your best life at Disney World to the fullest degree possible, or worrying about what some person you’ll never see again might be thinking. Secondly, scooters are everywhere at Disney World. You won’t stick out using one, not at all. And lastly, always remember this if you start to feel self-conscious: other people at Disney are not as interested in you as you think they are. They’re much too busy. They’re ultra-focused on getting a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FastPass or getting in line to meet the stepsisters, making family memories and enjoying themselves. You should be doing the same.
Will people be mean or rude to you? There are some unkind people in this world, unfortunately, so it’s possible someone might. But in my experience this is the rarity, not the norm. Cast members are extraordinarily kind when you’re using a scooter. I mean, they’re always so helpful and friendly, but when I’m doing poorly enough to need a scooter, I really notice how they go that extra mile to make me feel welcome and comfortable. As for other visitors at the Parks, remember what I said: most of them do not care whether you’re on a scooter or a pogo stick. They’re too busy planning and executing their vacation. Then, some people will be friendly, some will be on scooters themselves, and yes, I won’t tell a lie: there’s a percentage of people out there who “hate scooters.” There’s also a percentage of people out there that hate strollers, parades, dessert parties, ‘Ohana, and anything Frozen. What can I say? There’s no accounting for taste. 🙂
The biggest complaint you’ll see about people in scooters is that they run into (or “plow into,” “run over,” “crash into”) people walking. I’m sure it happens sometimes, accidentally. The problem is on both sides. One, scooters don’t stop on a dime. If you stop pressing the forward button, there’s a little hitch before you stop moving. So a person using a scooter might not notice an obstacle coming to be able to stop in time from bumping into someone. At the same time, people like to dart in front of scooters, either because they’re focused on their own journey and they’re darting in front of everyone, or because they don’t want to get stuck behind a scooter so they try to get ahead. I’ll warn you, the latter happens a lot. Or — and we all love this one, riding or walking — they stop dead in their tracks in front of you, with no warning. Once, in Magic Kingdom, just after the parade, I was trying to cross Main Street, which was as busy as it ever was (in other words, wall to wall people). I had the scooter on the lowest setting and was creeping along carefully when the woman who’d been walking in front of me a moment ago stopped dead in her tracks. I bumped her backpack slightly with my scooter’s basket, and she whirled on me like I’d run over her with a semi. She screeched, “Watch where you’re going!” I said, “Right back atcha!” and we both went on our way. What can you do? But really, most of the time, a simple “excuse me” works wonders. Be careful and be kind, and most people will return the favor. We’re all there to enjoy the magic, after all.
Having said that, if you’re going to use a scooter at Disney World, you should take the time to learn how to use one before hitting the Parks. It’s not difficult at all, but practice never hurts. Go to a Target or Walmart and use one there. Then, when you get to Disney, tool around your resort a little bit before heading straight for Magic Kingdom on the busiest day of the year. Go slowly — there’s a dial that lets you set your speed, and you don’t have to have it at full blast.
Getting on and off Disney buses can be a little tricky. You have to parallel park the scooter, essentially, and while I’m a whiz at parallel parking my car, I seem to be less than stellar at doing it with the scooter. To be frank, the first time I tried it, my personal experience with this was not good. I couldn’t get the hang of it, and the bus driver I happened to encounter was not especially magical about it. 🙂 But since then, it’s been really easy. If you tell the driver you need help steering to park, they’ll steer it for you (you don’t have to get up, just let them move the handlebar). And I found that pulling out of the spot and getting off the bus isn’t all that difficult, so that I can do by myself. Using a scooter on the monorail, for what it’s worth, is much easier. You don’t really have to park, you just pull in and drive off. I hear the Skyliner is the same, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.
Once you’ve decided to rent a scooter, and now that you know there’s no reason at alI to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about it, you still might have some concerns about navigating your way through the Parks. In my opinion, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom are the easiest parks for using a scooter. Walkways are wide, which means it’s easier for people to go around you and for you to go around other people. Disney Springs is likewise spread out, though some stores are a closer fit than others. Lines for ordering food are generally tight. Hollywood Studios is a mixed bag. The newer parts (Toy Story Land, Galaxy’s Edge) are pretty easy, though on crowded days it’s a little harder. The older parts are a little narrower, but just go slow and you’ll be fine.
Magic Kingdom is, for me, probably the most challenging Park to use a scooter in, first off because of the crowds. Most days, it’s packed. Walkways are a little smaller and there’s not a lot of open space. You have to go through Main Street at least twice, to get in and out of the park, and it’s always a zoo there. People stop in the middle of the sidewalk or the street and aren’t looking where they’re going. I totally understand, it’s really exciting being there! The first time I walked down Main Street towards that beautiful castle, I was in a daze. There are also the trolley tracks in the street, which can be difficult to drive over. All in all, it’s slow going. Just be patient and careful. It might even be easier to duck into the Emporium (or the Confectionary on the other side) and navigate down through the shops, which are all connected.
When you get back into Fantasyland/Adventureland/Tomorrowland etc., if you’re able to walk a bit, you might consider parking your scooter in a central spot and going on some rides without it, if that works for you. Or keep it with you, but know that for some of the older rides (Haunted Mansion, for example, my favorite, and Pirates of the Caribbean) you do need to be able to transfer out of the scooter. Just remember to take your key with you and not leave any valuables behind.
Remember, a scooter is an assistive device that’s there to help you because you need help. It’s nothing to feel funny or worry about, and it’s only there to make your life easier. Heck, they come with baskets for storing your Disney loot, so that’s a bonus right there. If you’re worried about heavy sun, you can even get a shade canopy, if you rent from the offsite vendors, or a cupholder. Do whatever makes your trip to Disney better for you and your family, and enjoy each magical moment to the fullest.