New Disney World Attractions To Bring Immersive Experience

Walt Disney World in Florida has some new attractions on the way. The new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom park will be home to the Enchanted Forest, a new park within a park, inspired by the popular Disney films “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The Enchanted Forest officially opens December 6, 2012, but we got a sneak peek during dress rehearsals last weekend, open to the public.

Eventually hosting lush landscapes, roaring waterfalls and two new castles, guests will be able to ride under the sea with a little mermaid, dine in a beast’s castle and even join a “beauty” for a retelling of the “tale as old as time.”

On our visit, we stopped by Enchanted Tales With Belle, an interactive experience (as opposed to a “ride”) that begins when an enchanted mirror transported us from Belle’s house to Beast’s library, where Belle and Lumière invite guests to become part of a lively retelling of the “tale as old as time.”

Unique here is that groups are small and many are invited to participate in the experience that brings guests up close and personal with live action characters from Beauty and the Beast. This is not a passive, sit around and watch attraction.Steps away, Gaston’s Tavern was also open, serving LeFou’s Brew, Roasted Pork Shanks and other snacks. LeFou’s Brew looks like a mug of beer but is actually a “non-alcoholic no-sugar added frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with all-natural passion fruit-mango foam,” we were told. Roasted pork shanks, so popular they ran out while we were there, fit right in with the tavern designed to look like a comfy lodge in the French countryside.

Not all attractions are open as work progresses. A Be Our Guest Restaurant will soon invite guests to savor the classic cuisine of France. Ariel’s Grotto is close to Under the Sea~Journey of The Little Mermaid attraction where Ariel will be on hand to meet new friends, sign autographs and pose for photos. In the same area and opening in 2014, a massive Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will take guests through the Dwarfs’ diamond mine, along the countryside and on to their cottage to meet up with Snow White and her pals.

New Fantasyland is opening in phases for the largest expansion in the history of Magic Kingdom park, nearly doubling in size and offering more immersive enchantment and interactive experiences.

[Flickr photos by ChrisCruises]

First snow: Eight winter activities for budget friendly fun

With the first snow comes thoughts of winter’s smorgasbord of budget friendly travel options. Fall festivals and foliage tours are long gone. What was missed has been moved to next year’s got to go agenda.

The first snow is a reminder that winter, like other seasons, has a timetable that waits for no one. To make the most of winter, create a checklist of what you’d like to do. Plan for those winter outings before it’s too late. Don’t be left behind wondering where the winter went.

Here are 8 winter activities to put on your list of things to do before the spring thaw comes and crocus appear.

1. Go tubing: For anyone who wants the thrill of speeding down a snow packed hill, but is not fond of the idea of falling (count me in on this one) tubing is an excellent option. If you have the physical skills to sit on the ground and get back up again with or without help, you can tube. The beauty of tubing is that people of various athletic abilities and ages can enjoy the same experience at the same time.

Many ski resorts have added tubing hills to their repertoire. From the Poconos in Pennsylvania to Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado, the cost for tubing is quite a bit less than the cost of a ski lift pass. Plus, there’s no equipment to rent and you can enjoy the warmth of the ski resort’s lodge like any skier who forked out more money than you did.

2. Take a winter hike: Although hiking might seem more suited for warmer weather, winter hiking offers another look at outdoor beauty. Plus, there’s a level of solitude for reflection, part of what winter months invite. Sections of the Appalachian Trail are one possibility. For options that offer the opportunity to find out more about nature and natural history of an area, check your state’s park system. Many have an organized winter hike like Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio does. This park’s winter hike is January 16.

3. Go cross-country skiing or snow shoeing: Where there is snow, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe. City and town parks, logging roads or trails that have been specifically for either sport are waiting for you. The Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico is one such place. To see if either sport is a good fit, head to a trail on Winter Trails Day. This winter, January 9th is the day to bundle up and strap on skis or snowshoes. Rentals are available.

4. Build a snowman in an unusual place: Where there’s snow perfect for packing, you can build a snowman. By building a snowman in a place that’s more public than your yard, you add to other people’s winter fun. A favorite memory of mine is watching people build a snowman on the Great Wall of China.

For people who live where it never snows, don’t pass up a chance to indulge in a snippet of childhood if you happen to have traveled to a place where it does–London, England, for example.

5. Sip hot chocolate, mulled wine or another hot beverage made extra warm by alcohol by a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. This is where you enjoy a winter wonderland by looking out a window. Where does one find such an experience? Ski lodges and hotel lounges and lobbies are perfect places for indulging in an afternoon or evening of relaxation in a comfy chair. Going solo? Bring a book. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy such pleasure.

6. Visit an historic village to learn about winter life in the olden days. At an historic village, costumed interpreters demonstrate how life was lived in yesteryear. Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts is one of the more extensive historic villages. The sticker price is not exactly budget friendly. For the cheapest option, head to the Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Ohio. It’s free. I repeat. Free.

7. Bird watch at a local park, a nature center, a refuge or another area known for bird watching. Check out Critter Watch, for best winter birding spots in Colorado. In Ohio, the newest bird watching place is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, one mile from the heart of downtown Columbus. It’s located on an important migration stop next to the Scioto River.

8. Ice-skate at a city’s outdoor rink or a frozen pond. Many cities open skating rinks in their downtown’s to attract people. One of the most famous is the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. There are other less touristy skating options in New York City, however.

If you’re planning to head to any other city, see if there is an outdoor skating rink there. Skating on a city’s downtown rink is an active way to enjoy the city’s architecture while becoming part of the city’s scene. Skate rentals are available.

Some city parks and zoos like Buhr Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus Ohio, also offer ice-skating with skate rentals available.

Take a romantic vacation–alone

If you don’t have a person to cuddle up to for Valentine’s Day–that sweet, special someone to whisper endearments in your ear–the type of person you wrote about in your middle school diary who you envisioned going with to a romantic destination once you grew old enough–to heck with it. Go alone.

I’m a firm believer that, although going somewhere with someone else can be superb–awfully romantic, one doesn’t need to wait for the right person to come along for the best time.

One Valentine’s weekend, I headed off to the Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico for an overnight cross-country skiing vacation by myself. After a particularly difficult break-up with a boyfriend that had left me deflated, I thought the best thing for puffing wind back into my sails was a solo adventure. I picked Red River, New Mexico because of a few of points:

  • it didn’t take a lot of planning–being broken hearted, I didn’t have a lot of umph for complicated decisions.
  • It wasn’t that far from Albuquerque where I lived, so it felt adventurous enough, but close enough to return home if I couldn’t handle it.
  • I always wanted to go to the Enchanted Forest and figured that a cross-country ski area where others would be would be safe.

Here’s what I found out:

  • When going alone, it helps to know where you want to stop. When I swung into town, I didn’t know what hotel I should check into. I drove through town from end to end twice before I became so disgusted with my indecision, that I finally pulled into the parking lot of one of them.
  • After checking into a hotel room with two double beds, it does feel good to throw oneself down on each of them a few times while feeling sorry for oneself, but after wards, it’s much better to go out for dinner and get over oneself.
  • When going out for dinner, a writing pad and pen works wonders for keeping people at bay, particularly a guy named Randy who wants one to go two-stepping at a country-western bar until dawn.

Most importantly, cross-country skiing alone on trails called names like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee is cathartic, fun and a wonderful Valentine’s Day weekend activity. I couldn’t have asked for better company.

The following year, I returned with a male friend, and the year after that, I returned with two women friends. Of the three visits to Red River, the one by myself resonates the most. The other two times, however were also superb in their own way.

If you are going to be on your own tomorrow, here are suggestions for enjoying your own company.

  • Pick a place you haven’t been before that’s close by and go there. While there, think about all the things you like about it and why it was such a grand decision to pick this place above all others. Take notes. Note-taking looks important. You can write about the experience later. If you don’t like to write, draw sketches.
  • When you go to this place, take your favorite snack. Eating your favorite snack creates a sense of celebration, particularly if you eat slowly.
  • While you’re traveling to this place, listen to your favorite music. That also adds to a sense of adventure and celebration.
  • Tell yourself what wonderful company you are.
  • Thank yourself afterwards for taking you somewhere you’ve always wanted to go.