Kinsale, Ireland

Kinsale
Kinsale, Ireland
Kinsale, Ireland
Kinsale, Ireland

Kinsale is a lovely medieval village on the southern coast of Ireland in county Cork, and the beginning point of the Wild Atlantic Way or the ending, I guess, depending on the direction you are travelling 🙂 Each building in the town center is painted a different vibrant color, and there are sailboats galore lining the mouth of the River Brandon. This historic port and fishing town also is home to a 17th century fortress that offers sweeping views of the surrounding area! Kinsale is also referred to as “The Gourmet Capital of Ireland”, and they host a Gourmet festival every October or so said the brochures in the town’s tourist information center!

We visited Kinsale with our daughter as a day trip on our route thru Ireland from Cork heading to Killarney, and I highly recommend adding Kinsale to your Irish itinerary!

Travel: Kinsale is appx 25 km south of Cork, and the drive took us appx 35 minutes. When departing the drive took us appx 1 1/2 hours to Killarney. Other near by hot spots is the town of Cobh which is appx 45 minutes away or Blarney for a kiss on the Blarney stone which is appx 40 mins away.

Activities:

Kinsale Village: The village of Kinsale is full of shops, eateries, and winding interesting streets and squares! We enjoyed meandering through the narrow streets, and popping into the shops. We loved the Kinsale book store, and the ice cream shop. There are also lots of sail boats and kayaks lining the front of town in the harbor, and you can check out the Kinsale portal to explore water based activities. There is also a farmer’s market every Wednesday in the town center from 9 am until 2:30 pm. And definitely don’t miss the park:

Kinsale Town Park: There is a great park right in the center of town which is ideal for little ones!

Wild Atlantic Way Passport: Kinsale is the beginning of the Wild Atlantic Way. You can pick up a Wild Atlantic Way Passport at select post offices and visitor centers along the route. As you make your way along the Wild Atlantic Way you can get your passport stamped at each scenic spot. There are 188 discovery points listed in the Passport that are divided into 6 zones. The cost of the passport is 10Euro. Our daughter loved her passport and obtaining her stamps at each stop along the way! This is a great way to get kids engaged in the route! The visitor center is right in the middle of Kinsale on Pearse Street.

Wild Atlantic Passport
Get your Wild Atlantic Passport stamped at each stop along the route!

Charles Fort: Charles Fort is a 17th century star shaped fort that is located 3km from the base of Kinsale town. The fort charges admission of 5Euro per adult and 3Euro per child. This is a great family stop as the history is incredible and the views are gorgeous, but it also offers lots of fun for kids. You walk across a drawbridge to enter the fort, and then our daughter enjoyed rolling down the grassy hills with several other children, climbing on the stone walls, and racing through the ruins and discovering all of the coves, etc. Sometimes historical places do not allow for a lot of freedom, but there is lots of free range exploration inside the fort which is thrilling for adults and kids alike!

Don’t miss this charming Irish town!

Sailboats in Kinsale
Sailboats in Kinsale

Kid Friendly Irish Castles

Our 3 favorite Kid Friendly Irish Castles

Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle Estate

Birr Castle

#1 on our list! Birr Castle dates back to medieval times, and is still occupied! The castle is the private residence of the Parson Family who arrived at the castle in 1620. The family opened the castle to the public in 2014, and now offers inside guided tours of the castle thru pre-booking during May – August. We were not fortunate enough to be visiting during this time, but the castle grounds are still worth the trip! The gardens are stunning, and host a wide variety of rare plants. There is also a treehouse adventure area with Ireland’s largest tree house, a bouncy pad, hobbit hut, sand pits, play gyms, snack hut, and picnic tables. There is a cafe on site and an ice cream stand. Birr Castle also has a science center and the historic great telescope. The telescope was built in the 1840s and was the largest telescope in the world at that time. Scientific and creative minds from around the world came to Birr to learn and observe space! The inventor of the computer, Charles Babbage even visited Birr! Birr Castle is a pretty unique and inspiring place to visit! This lands it on our list as our favorite Irish castle estate, and our favorite for kids!

Birr Castle is located in County Offaly. We traveled to Birr Castle from Galway, and the drive took us appx 1 hour 20 mins. From Dublin the drive is appx 1 hour 30 mins, and from Limerick appx 1 hour. There is no parking on site at Birr Castle, but there is a paid park and display car park across the street. The parking machine only takes coins so we walked 1 street over into the main hub of town to get exact change. The town was lovely as well with lots of shops and eateries. Tickets are 9Euro per adult, and our daughter was free. Children 5 and older are 5Euro. If you are lucky enough to visit the castle interior then tickets cost 18 Euro, but is only suitable for children 12 and above.

Dromoland Castle

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Dromomland Castle’s history dates back to 1014, and was the ancestral home of the O’Brien family who were the Kings of Thomond. When the castle grounds were comprised of more than 2000 acres, the O’Brien’s Tower located at the Cliffs of Moher was actually part of the original estate. The castle was converted in 1962 to a luxury hotel, and today encompasses more than 400 acres. We actually stayed on site at this hotel, and loved it! The estate has so many kid friendly activities that it is no wonder the castle is part of the “Adventures by Disney” itineraries. We participated in the falcon walk where we all, including our daughter, got to have a falcon land on our arm. This experience was brilliant, and our guide named Colin was wonderful. He spent a lot of time educating us on the art of falconry, and took us back to view all of the falcons/owls afterwards. The hotel also prepared a teddy bear picnic for us upon request complete with a teddy bear and miniature sandwiches/tarts for our daughter. There is a beautiful fairy garden, a lake with boats and ducks for feeding, lots of hiking/walking trails, tennis courts, swimming pool, spa, and golf course! Upon check in, we were all treated in the lounge with complimentary tea, coffee, and hot chocolate for our daughter with marshmallows! 🙂 Our daughter also received coloring pencils and an activity book at check in! We were impressed by all of the special touches personalizing this stay for our daughter. All of the staff referred to her as “princess” while on the premises! 🙂 The room was equipped with a junior robe and slippers, and during the nightly turn down service fruit worms were left for our daughter on her bed! The breakfast served in the main dining room is also amazing and enjoyable, and has lots of kid friendly options!

Dromoland Castle is located in County Clare. We arrived at Dromoland from Killarney, and the drive took us appx 1 hour. Drommoland is located 8 miles from Shannon airport; is accessible via car to Galway in appx 1 hour or 20 mins to Limerick. Upon departing Dromoland we headed for the Cliffs of Moher, and the drive took us appx 45 mins.

Kylemore Abbey:

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Kylemore was originally built as a castle in 1868 by the Henry family. Margaret and Mitchell Henry visited the ground of Kylemore in the mid 1840s on their honeymoon when there was nothing more than a hunting lodge in the valley of Kylemore. Mitchell Henry bought and built Kylemore for his wife Margaret as an act of love, and they enjoyed building their life and family of 9 children in the Connemara Highlands. Tragedy struck when Margaret died from dysentery while traveling in Egpyt in 1874. Today the estate is the Abbey and home of  the Benedictine community of nuns who arrived in 1920. The main rooms of the castle are open for viewing, but the gardens are really where we enjoyed spending our time. The gardens are very pretty, and there is a cafe next door. We also appreciated there are children’s activities along the walk to the gardens with various musical instruments available for play along the way. Kylemore is strikingly beautiful, and in my opinion the most beautiful castle I visited due to its location in the Connemara National Park. In front of the house there is also a paved pathway that will take you along the lake and there is access to a little sand beach with benches and picnic tables. Also on site is another restaurant and store which had great souvenirs! I can’t describe the beauty of this place and the feeling of serenity present. This was a great day trip with our daughter in tow!

We traveled to Kylemore Abbey from Galway, and the drive took us appx 1 hour 30 mins. The drive is beautiful thru Connemara National Park. The entrance fee includes access to the house and all of the estate and the cost is 13Euro per adult. Children under 10 are free, and tickets are discounted online!

Do you have a favorite Irish castle?

Dingle, Ireland

Best 2 week Itinerary thru Ireland with kids
Our Route thru Ireland

We have returned from Ireland after just shy of 3 weeks tripping about the beautiful country. Ireland was stunning, and we made so many wonderful memories with our family! Over the next 6 weeks I will be exclusively covering Ireland. Today, I am starting with an entry I made about Dingle, Ireland written on April 22nd.

Dingle, Ireland: We have been in Ireland for about 10 days now, and we have 1 more week to go. Unfortunately today, I am bed bound fighting a stomach bug missing out on the adventures. 😦 However, it provides time to write which I guess gives me something to do 🙂 So today, I am reminiscing about our day trip to Dingle!

We have set up base camp in Killarney, Ireland for 5 nights, and we are taking day trips from here. We visited Dingle yesterday, and it was a fabulous destination! Our daughter had such a blast the entire day!

Dingle is a seaside town that sits on Dingle Harbor on the Southern Peninsula of the Wild Atlantic Way. It is the only town on the Dingle Peninsula, and a lovely day trip from Killarney with kids!

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Dingle, Ireland
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Dingle, Ireland

Travel: Dingle is accessible via 2 main roadways, the N86 and the R561, and will take you appx 1 hour from Killarney which is where we set up base. There are also tour companies that offer day trips to the Dingle Peninsula from Cork, Killarney, etc. One reputable company that I have heard recommended, and who has great reviews is here!

Activities:

Fungi Dolphin Cruise: Living near the coast we see dolphins routinely, but this dolphin is special and very interesting as he has made his home in Dingle Harbor since 1983. Other dolphins have come into the harbor, and Fungi sometimes interacts with them but he has chosen to never leave Dingle Harbor. The boat tours only observe Fungi in his natural environment, but are so sure to see Fungi that the cruise is free if he is not seen. Fungi seems to thrive on the enthusiasm and applause of his spectators, and some fishermen in Dingle have spent a life time alongside Fungi. A very special creature indeed. The cruise in itself was beautiful as viewing Dingle from the water was stunning! Our daughter was very excited to see Fungi, and is still talking about it very enthusiastically. She kept saying he was playing “hide and seek” with her. It is noteworthy to mention due to the weather in Ireland and the water entering the harbor we experienced some choppy seas. I recommend a water proof jacket for a child especially. There was one point when a sailboat sailing near us capsized, and a huge wave splash onboard our boat and drenched a mom and her baby from the neck down. We booked with Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours, and were very pleased!

Dingle Town: Dingle town looks like a child designed it with every building a different color. This could make for a very interesting game of “I spy” 🙂 We shopped around town, and then headed for lunch and ice cream. My favorite store in Dingle was The Strand House It had a lovely selection. Don’t miss the upstairs women’s section and café! I also was very impressed with Dingle Artworks on Green Street. I bought a handcrafted wooden sheep with sheep wool from local artist Ian Buckett. We ate lunch at The Boatyard Restaurant, and I cannot recommend it enough. It was a great atmosphere for families and the food was on point! Then we made our way for ice cream at Murphy’s which is famous in Ireland! Murphy’s sources fresh local ingredients from local Kerry cows and free range eggs and offers unique flavor combinations. I had the Dingle Sea Salt flavor which is their best seller and made with salt sourced from the harbor in Dingle. My husband had the caramel with fresh cream and caramel on top and our daughter had strawberry and cream. All were delicious!

Wild Atlantic Way Passport: You can pick up a Wild Atlantic Way Passport at select post offices and visitor centers along the route. As you make your way along the Wild Atlantic Way you can get your passport stamped at each scenic spot. There are 188 discovery points listed in the Passport that are divided into 6 zones. The cost of the passport is 10Euro. Our daughter loved her passport and obtaining her stamps at each stop along the way! This is a great way to get kids engaged in the route! The visitor center in Dingle is adjacent to where the Fungi boat trip offices are at the base of the harbor.

The Wild Atlantic Way Passport
Get your Wild Atlantic Passport stamped at all of the stops along the way!

Inch Beach: Also located on the Dingle Peninsula off N86 between Killarney and Dingle is Inch Beach. We chose to stop at Inch Beach after our day in Dingle on our drive back to Killarney. The beach is accessible by car and you are allowed to drive directly onto the beach for parking in the designated areas. This beach is really quite stunning, and offers a great opportunity for little ones to run wild in beautiful scenery. The tide comes in far and creates wading pools which our daughter loved splashing in. The right side of the beach also has an abundance of shells which she loved discovering. There is a restaurant and café on site as well as surf rentals and lessons. Don’t miss this beautiful spot!

Inch Beach, Ireland
Inch Beach, Ireland

More Ireland posts coming soon… Next week I will be covering the best Irish castles/ houses with tots!

A New Irish Adventure **

Best 2 week Itinerary thru Ireland with kids
Our 2 week route thru Ireland

Our little family of 3 leaves for Ireland in 2 weeks, and I cannot believe it! We have been planning this trip for almost 2 years! We have friends in Ireland that we will be visiting, and get a load of this: We have NEVER met them! I know you are thinking I am crazy! But I have 2 friends from the Netherlands (who I have met:)) that introduced me via Skype to their Irish friend, Claire! Claire is Dutch, but married an Irish gentlemen and now lives in Co. Cork with him and their 2 beautiful girls. My friends in the Netherlands introduced me to Claire because they said they “knew we would like each other” plus she had a newborn while I was pregnant. Fast forward 4 years, and Claire and I are very good friends. We chat weekly, and our girls (hers is 4, mine is 3) have been pen pals sending little packages back and forth since my daughter was born! Plus Claire has been married to her husband 10 years also, and her husband is an electrician just like my husband. Pretty neat!

Because we have had Ireland on our radar for a while now, we have done a lot of research on how we best wanted to map out our trip thru Ireland.  We will be in Ireland for a total of 15 nights. At first we thought we wanted to cover both Ireland and Northern Ireland because we do have 2 full weeks on the ground, but after considering it we decided just to cover Ireland so that we can really enjoy this experience with our daughter instead of spending a good portion of our time in a car. Northern Ireland is still on my list for the future, and I hope one day we get to experience it as well!

Here is our itinerary! I will be blogging about each destination along the way so be sure to check back in for weekly Ireland posts starting mid April and all of our favorite kid friendly tips!

You can see our itinerary mapped out on the map above! 🙂

1.) Dublin: We will be in Dublin for 2 nights, and we have these items on our list: Trinity Library & Book of Kells, Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Distillery, Hamley’s Toy Store, Picnic & Playground in ST. Stephen’s Park. For eats we plan to pay a visit to Brazen Head(Ireland’s Oldest Pub), Butler’s Chocolate Cafe, and Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, plus several more! 🙂 We also may throw in a Vikings Splash Cruise depending on our mood.

2.) Powerscourt: National Geographic named Powerscourt Garden as one of the world’s top 3 gardens! You can read about it here! I am so excited about this day trip. Powerscourt waterfall is Ireland’s highest waterfall. There is a playground next door to the waterfall. Then this estate boasts the main house with a tea room, the walled gardens with Avoca Cafe and 2 golf courses. Our daughter is a huge fan of flowers and with plenty of room to run around I think this is going to be a favorite of hers!

3.) Kinsale: This historic port and fishing town is the jumping off point for the Wild Atlantic Way. We plan on meandering the brightly colored streets of Kinsale, visiting the fort, and the local playground.

4.) Killarney: We will be making Killarney our base for 5 nights as we explore Killarney National Park and the surrounding areas. We will be staying at the Aghdaoe Heights Resort. Our itinerary while in Killarney includes day trips to Dingle to see Fungi the Dolphin & Inch Beach, Ballybunion to play golf at the old course for my better half, Killarney National Park & The Gap of Dunloe, and Kenmare and Killarney townships. I will be covering each of these under a separate blog post so tune back in! 🙂

5.) Dromoland Castle: I did not feel we could come to Ireland without experiencing a real Irish castle! I selected Dromoland once I discovered this castle is part of “Adventures by Disney” itinerary.  This prompted me to do some research, and discovered how many activities are present at Dromoland for little ones. We will be participating in the falconry walk, the teddy bear picnic, and exploring the massive grounds of this 15th century estate and castle!

6.) Cliffs of Moher: I am nervous about the Cliffs of Moher with a little one so I will be sure to catalog all of my tips/experiences afterwards but we are all excited to experience this sheer magnitude and beauty of this natural phenomenon!

7.) Galway: We will be staying in Galway for 3 nights on a HOUSE BOAT! The house boat was my husband’s dream so he took care of those arrangements! TBD if it is a good experience! 🙂 In Galway we will be slowing down a bit before heading back home. We plan on enjoying the local scene while visiting lots of eateries including Dough Brothers, Morans on Weir, The Pie Maker, Galway Bakery Company, Gourmet Tart Company, and of course hitting up the playground in Eyre Square and visiting Claddagh Jewelers the home of the authentic claddagh ring!

8.) Bru na Boinne: Our last stop in Ireland on our route back to Dublin will be Newgrange. Newgrange is a World Heritage Site, and predates the pyramids & Stonehenge. It is a 5,200 year old Stone age passage tomb.

We will be jet setting to Ireland in 2 weeks, and I can’t wait to share our adventures with you in the coming weeks! Please comment if you have any suggestions for us before we embark on this adventure! I would love to hear from you!

xx, Kristin

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV

Top 10 Things to do in Lake Tahoe in the SPRING & FALL

Lake Tahoe
View from Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive, Emerald Bay

The beautiful, stunningly clear water of Lake Tahoe, a freshwater lake, straddles the states of California and Nevada, and is an absolutely stunning destination. Most people visit Lake Tahoe as a winter ski destination visiting the areas of Heavenly, Northstar, Tahoe Donner, Homewood, etc. This is definitely on our list, and we are actually planning a Lake Tahoe skiing trip this December 2018 with my family!

However, we visited Lake Tahoe in the fall before all of the snow fell, and it was beautiful weather and such a lovely time for our 2 year old! These are our top 10 things to enjoy in Tahoe during fall that could also be enjoyed in the spring/summer months:

Travel: The closest airport is Reno and the drive will take you appx 1 hour to Heavenly Village, less or more depending on where you are staying along the lake. We usually rent a car to have our own transportation, but shuttle service is available from Reno to Lake Tahoe to 6 main resort areas (Lakeside Inn, Horizon, Harvey’s, Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, Harrah’s, and Mt. Bleu Resort) via South Tahoe Airporter. If staying elsewhere you can then continue on via public transport.

1.) Emerald Bay Cruise: Emerald Bay is the most photographed place in Lake Tahoe and with good reason. It hosts gorgeous landscapes with peaks reaching 3000 feet starkly rising from the water and is a National Natural Landmark. Cruising Emerald Bay allows you to see the stunning scenery of Emerald Bay State Park from the water. You get a glimpse of Vikingsholm, the Scandinavian castle and Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. We cruised on the Tahoe Blue Wave which departs daily from the Tahoe Keys Marina and includes a buffet lunch. I researched lots of cruises beforehand, and we settled on this 70 foot yacht because the max passenger load is 49, and we wanted a more intimate feel especially with the 2 year old. We really LOVED this cruise. The crew was fantastic and offered lots of 1 on 1 attention. We really had wonderful views from aboard the yacht, and the cookies are pretty great too!

2.) Ice Skating: There are lots of opportunities for ice skating in Lake Tahoe. Heavenly and Northstar Villages both offer outdoor seasonal skating rinks in the villages. These ice skating rinks open seasonally usually at the beginning of November. And in March Northstar turns their ice skating rink into a roller rink in time for Spring! For year round ice skating; however, you can visit the South Lake Tahoe ice arena. There are daily public skate sessions, and lessons offered. My daughter loved this experience. There is also an outdoor playground located on the premises of the sports complex that we visited after skating which is wonderful!

South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena

3.) Heavenly Village: We love Heavenly Village. My daughter loved the fountain and throwing coins into it. Village Toy Store is a great stop off with little ones. We love Base Camp Pizza as well. They have outdoor seating with lawn games for kids plus the pizza is great and affordable. You can take the gondola up to the mountain from the village for a scenic tour at different times throughout the year.

4.) Lakeside Beach: Located in South Lake Tahoe this is a brilliant beach. There is playground equipment on the beach with stunning views of the lake and mountains. And the great thing about visiting Lakeside Beach in fall is that it is free and open to the public without a pass!

5.) Kings Beach: Located in North Lake Tahoe is Kings Beach which is a great destination for families. It offers a playground on the beach, a cute little strip of shops and eateries as well as paddle board rentals etc beach side. A visit to the Sweet Tahoe Time Ice Cream Shop is also a must with little ones!

6.) Visit the original & new Red Hut Restaurant: My favorite breakfast spot is the ORIGINAL Red Hut Waffle Shop! It is a small dinner with amazing food, and has preserved the intimate diner atmosphere, and they make Mickey pancakes for kids 🙂 We also enjoyed the new Red Hut location for the soda bar! We enjoyed the ice cream and little store inside.

7.) Drive the Lake, Hike, & Picnic: The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive is stunning and makes a 68 mile loop around Lake Tahoe, CA and NV. The loop passes thru some lovely little Tahoe villages such as Incline Village, King’s Beach, Tahoe City, etc. Some sections of the road are closed during the winter months so visiting during other times of the year is a fantastic way to enjoy the full loop. There are several spots to pull off and admire the scenery as well as hiking trails and picnic spots! Sand Harbor in Incline Village is a great place to stop!

8.) Smores & Drinks at The Ritz Carlton Northstar: We decided to drive to Northstar and visit the Ritz Carlton for drinks and appetizers. They have an outdoor bar/dining/sitting area that is perfect for children. They have lots of lawn games and activities set up which our daughter enjoyed, and she made little friends playing. In addition they bring out the smores cart daily, and you can enjoy roasting smores in the open fire pits with little ones! This is a stunning property!

9.) A day trip to Virginia City: Virginia City is the United States’ largest National Historic Landmark, and visiting the city is like taking a step back in time. The drive from Lake Tahoe will take you appx 1 hour to Virginia City. Read my full review of Virginia City here!

10.) A weekend trip to Yosemite: Before winter, The Tioga Pass is usually open which is a great convenient way to visit Yosemite. The drive will take you appx 2.5 hours from Tahoe and will take you to the Eastern Entrance of the park. Yosemite is one of those places that is mostly indescribable unless you have been there to see its beauty, but still I have tried to catalog our experience with a toddler here!

Yosemite
Yosemite

Art of Animation Resort

Art of Animation Resort
Art of Animation Resort, Disney World, Florida

During our most recent trip to Disney World, we stayed at the Art of Animation resort, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts/reviews of the property. This marks the third time I have stayed at Art of Animation Resort. The first time I stayed in the Cars family suite with a group of 6 fun loving girls on a bachelorette trip! The second time was with my family of 3 plus my mom+dad+and sister when our daughter was newly 2. We stayed in 2 adjoining Little Mermaid standard rooms. And this last time was just my family of 3 and our dear daughter was 2 (almost 3), and we again stayed in a Little Mermaid Standard Room!

Resort: The Art of Animation is a value resort hotel, and opened in 2012 making it the newest value resort on property. Art of Animation celebrates the animation and fantasy of 4 beloved Disney movies: Cars, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. The resort is divided into sections with The Little Mermaid section offering standard hotel rooms. The Cars, Finding Nemo, and Lion King sections offer family suites with interior halls/doors. In addition, the family suites are in closer proximity to the resorts main hub, Animation Hall whereas The Little Mermaid section is a bit of walk. It took us appx 10 minutes each day to walk from our hotel room to the buses with a stroller and tot in tow from The Little Mermaid section. The hotel also features 3 pools (more comments later), an arcade, a quick service food court: Landscape of Flavors, a souvenir shop: Ink & Paint Shop, a playground with slide for bambinos, and standard Disney amenities including Disney bus transportation to/from parks, Disney’s Magical express transportation to/from airport, and Movies under the Stars.

Rooms: The family suites can sleep 6, and have a designated bedroom with a door in addition to 2 full sized pull out beds in the living area of the suite (1 in the couch, and 1 pulls out from the wall and doubles as a table/bed). The suites also offer a kitchenette and 2 bathrooms! The Little Mermaid rooms have 2 full sized beds, and can hold a max of 4 people, but if you get adjoining rooms like we did you can technically fit 8, although I think it would be extremely tight. The rooms are fashioned after the themes of each movie and are fun and vibrant. If you are not into animated Disney decorum then you may feel the furnishings are cheap and cheesy, but we found them to be whimsical, and our 2 year old loved every second at the hotel!

The property: In addition to the rooms, each section is designed on the outside to reflect the movies’ setting. The Cars section has the cozy cone motel sign as well as cars parked outside. The Finding Nemo section has my husband’s favorite touch, the squalling seagulls that caw “mine, mine, mine” from the humorous dialog on Finding Nemo at set times throughout the day. This really brought out the inner kid in him as he would want to wait to hear their very loud caws 🙂  The Lion King & Little Mermaid sections have your favorite character statues including a rather scary over sized statue of Ursula – might need to give little ones a head up on this!

Little Mermaid Art of Animation
Ursula Statue, Art of Animation

Pools: There are 3 pools at Art of Animation. The Big Blue Pool, The Cars Pool, and The Little Mermaid Pool.

The largest pool at Disney World is the Big Blue Pool in the theme of Finding Nemo. There are underwater speakers in the pool for music. The pool has a splash pad area for younger kids as well as a poolside bar and beverage station. The hotel also hosts weekly activities at this main pool including outdoor movies and games, etc. The pool is located directly behind the Animation Hall providing convenient access to the food court as well.

Big Blue Pool, Art of Animation
Splash Pad Area, Big Blue Pool

The Cars Pool is the smallest pool at Art, but it has cabanas which are first come/first serve.

The Little Mermaid pool is a good size, but nothing extra special about it. It is a nice pool area, and has laundry facilities (fee), bathroom facilities, and vending machines in the poolside buildings.

There is not a pool area in the Lion King area; however, I do not view this as negative since there is no pool noise to work around. When we stayed in the Little Mermaid rooms once it was April and once it was January. For January we had a room overlooking the pool, and it was lovely as it was cold during our visit and not too many people were swimming. However, in April every evening once people would return from the parks the pools would be packed out with tons of noise. My tip for this is to request a lake view room if staying in the Little Mermaid section! When we stayed in Cars it was also cold during the month of February, and we also experienced no pool noise so I am not sure how loud this pool area gets during peak months.

Restaurant: Landscape of Flavors is a great quick service counter restaurant as it has multiple options, and a good variety in terms of food fare. There are 5 service areas. There is a dedicated build our own salad/ sandwich counter, build your own pasta counter, a pizza counter, a burger counter that offers a wide variety of options on burgers and toppings, and the last counter is international fare options including chicken tandoori, chicken curry, ribs, and fish. There is a wide variety of kids meal options, and they also have an entire wall of coolers which contain pre-made pastries, sandwiches, fruit & veggie cups, on the go snack and drink options. You also have the option to order pizza in your room! For breakfast, there are lots of options ranging from a breakfast platter, build your own omelette, pancakes, Mickey waffles, etc. Most of the time the lines were manageable; however, I will say, if at all possible avoid eating dinner here right after the park closes. It is a mad house. The set up is that you order your food and then go thru a cafeteria style line to pay for what is on your tray. One night we opted for this, and once I got my food I stood in line to check out for 20 minutes. By the time I checked out, all of our meals were cold. 😦

Ink & Paint Shop: We think this is a fabulous little souvenir shop. We have found some souvenirs here that we did not find elsewhere in the parks so definitely check out what they have. Also, if you purchase something at another store in the park, you can always return here as well so that is extremely convenient as well. You can also have anything you buy in the parks sent back to your resort hotel, and you can pick up inside this Ink & Paint Shop.

Fun Extras:

Draw Class: Art of Animation offers an area where kids can learn how to draw their favorite characters with a Disney artist. This is held in the little activity center adjacent to the check in area 3 times a day: 11am, 2pm, 5pm.  You also have the opportunity to bring your sketch of your favorite Disney character to the front desk to enter a contest as the hotel picks a winning sketch daily. You can also get art supplies from the front desk.

Jogging and Biking: There is also a free jogging trail around Art of Animation that links it with Pop Century. You also have the opportunity to rent a single or double bike from the property.

Coming Soon: Sky high Gondola: Construction was already underway when we visited last month (Jan 2018) for the new gondola transportation system which will allow you to enjoy an ariel view of Disney World. This system will link Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Caribbean Beach Resort with Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot. This is something exciting and unique for these 3 resorts!

Overall: We have really enjoyed staying at Art of Animation, and highly recommend it! We have chosen to visit this property repeatedly because we really feel while our daughter is still little this is a really fun atmosphere for her! She loves all of the attention to Disney films. Some of her favorites are:

  • The shower in the Little Mermaid rooms is is designed to look like Ariel’s grotto where she hides all of her treasures. It has all of the treasures printed on tiles in the bathtub which is a blast for a 2 year old.
  • The cawing seagulls in the Nemo section just like her father.
  • The slide/playground area in the Nemo section

    Playground Art of Animation
    Playground, Art of Animation
  • The chance to draw on easels in the nook inside reception.
  • The outdoor movies
  • The statue of Rafiki in the Lion King section which we discovered last trip has now been removed. 😦
Art of Animation Directory
Art of Animation Directory
Hourglass Lake, Art of Animation
Hourglass Lake, Art of Animation Resort

Cinderella’s Royal Table vs. Akershus Royal Banquet

If you want to dine with princesses in Disney World then these are your 2 main options where multiple princesses from different tales are featured! Character experiences are our favorite part of Disney World! I, also, find the money well worth the expense in order to spend 1 on 1 time with characters while dining instead of having to stand in line especially when you are seeing at least 5 different characters like at these venues!

We visited both Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom) and Akershus Royal Banquet (EPCOT) recently when our daughter was 2! We enjoyed both experiences, but our favorite is Akershus at least from our most recent experiences!

Characters: At Cinderella’s Royal Table you first enter the castle and meet Cinderella. You have one on one time with Cinderella to sign autographs, take pictures, and talk! After visiting Cinderella, you walk upstairs to the dining room inside the castle, and during your meal you are visited table-side by Ariel, Jasmine, Aurora, and Snow White. At Akershus you enter the banquet hall and walk into a curtained off nook to meet Belle. You have one on one time with Belle to sign autographs, take pictures, and talk! After visiting Belle, you walk to your table in the main dining hall and are visited table-side during your meal by Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora, and Snow White. They state that character appearances are subject to change at both venues, but the main difference is Belle at Akershus and Jasmine at Royal Table. Although I have to say, the dress Cinderella wore at the Royal Table meet and greet was much grander than the dress she wore at Akershus!

We thought both of these experiences were grand, but we felt that at Akershus the princesses were able to spend more time with our little one than at Cinderella’s Royal Table. They sat down with her, chatted, showed their shoes, told her stories, signed her book, etc. At Royal Table, they visited, signed the autograph book, took a picture, and left. At Akershus the little ones are able to participate in a princess processional with all of the princesses around the dining room holding their hand, dancing, etc. At Cinderella’s Royal Table each little one is given a magic wand if a girl or a plastic sword if a boy and a wishing star which they use throughout breakfast on different cues.

Value: Cinderella’s Royal Table requires 2 table dining credits while Akershus only requires 1. If using the dining plan, Akershus is a better value. However, if paying with cash I don’t really see the difference. Akershus may be slightly less, but only by a few dollars. An example, Disney World lists Cinderella’s Royal Table & Akershus breakfast/lunch price as both $35 to $59.99 per adult. You must use a credit card to secure each reservation even if you are on the dining plan. The cancellation policy at Cinderella’s Royal Table is more strict. Our reservation confirmation stated the cancellation policy was 1 day prior or you pay full price for Cinderella’s Table. For Akershus the cancellation policy is 1 day notice or a $10 per person fee. This is probably due to the difficulty of securing a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Which leads me to:

Reservations: It is easier to get a reservation at Akershus compared to Cinderella’s Royal Table. For our Cinderella’s Reservation I was logged online exactly 180 days (6 month mark) ahead of time, and was able to secure an 8:30 am breakfast reservation. All Cinderella reservations were gone for the beginning of our trip. I had to make the reservation for the end of our trip. For Akershus I made our reservation 3 months prior to our trip, and had multiple options on multiple days. I ended up booking a lunch reservation.

The Food: The food fare at Akershus is more ethnic except for breakfast. The breakfast menu is very much a typical American style breakfast. For lunch/dinner however it is food fare from Norway. We thought the food was fantastic! You begin with a buffet of Norwegian cheeses, salads, meats, fruits, and seafood options. Then you order an entree from the menu. I got the Norwegian meatball dish which I thought was fantastic! Then you finish with dessert! All for 1 dining credit! And since you are in Norway in Epcot your servers are Norwegian which allows for a more cultural dining experience. At Cinderella’s Royal Table we had breakfast so I don’t feel it is an accurate comparison, but we enjoyed the food here as well. I ordered the stuffed French toast and it was mouth watering delectable! You can find menu’s here: Cinderella’s Royal Table Menu & Akershus Banquet Hall Menu!

The Bottom Line: Both of these character dining options are enjoyable and perfectly Disney! We enjoyed the more one on one time with the princesses at Akershus. We enjoyed the food fare, and think it is a better value on the dining plan. Cinderella’s Royal Table does offer a chance to visit and dine in the castle which is a very unique, enchanting experience! There are pros and cons to each one, but I’d say we will probably visit Akershus in the future over Cinderella’s Royal Table! Although, I have heard stories of watching the fireworks thru the stained glass windows of Cinderella’s Castle while enjoying dinner so perhaps we are due for another experience there at different timing. What is your favorite princess character meal and why?