Niagara Falls Canada

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to my cousin’s wedding near Niagara Falls Canada.  We had visited Niagara Falls a few times but always during the warmer time of year.  This was the first time we were going to adventure there in the middle of January.  I’m originally from Canada but have been located in the states long enough to have forgotten how brutal winters can get up there.

When we left Orlando it was about 60 degree, but we were headed to Buffalo Airport which ended up being around 4 degrees and quite a bit of snow.  We got our rental car and headed towards the border.

The temperature seemed to get colder as we got further into Canada.  The roads weren’t too bad, but the wind just cut right through whatever clothing you had on.  After about an hour and a half we were near St. Catharine’s Ontario which is where the wedding was going to be.  On the first day we were invited to the rehearsal dinner which wasn’t until later on in the day.  So I took the opportunity to try and find a penny machine.

Just on the out skirts of Niagara Falls I found a place called Souvenir City.  This is basically the biggest gift shop I’ve seen with all stuff Canada and of course the Falls.

If you like maple syrup they have a whole wall of it and things made from it.  There is also a lot of Ice Wine products (yum!), T-shirts, sweaters, stuff animals and more.

In the middle of the store right near the check out area is a “Penny Crusher” machine.  This was a little unique as it had a bright road light running inside the machine flashing different colors while you use the machine.  It was a little distracting up close, but from a distance looked kind of cool.

Now please note, that this machine cost $1 Canadian which if you are not familiar is a coin called  Looney (there is a Loon design on the coin), and you then supply your own penny.  However you are NOT to use a Canadian penny as it’s against the law.  Also on a side note Canada has stopped created pennies so most stores don’t even have them to give out.  So make sure to bring some of your own American pennies for pressing.

The designs at this machine are of attractions all around the Falls.  The White Water Walk, the Butterfly Conservatory, Maid of the Mist, and a Good Luck Center with horseshoe and maple leaf.  By the time we were done picking up some gifts we headed back to our hotel and had a great time at the rehearsal dinner catching up with our family.  The next day we got up early, had a quick breakfast and decided to try and check out Niagara Falls before the wedding later that afternoon.

Not many people were out on this cold morning which made visiting the falls kind of enjoyable.  We parked near the side of the street and just ran over to see the falls partially frozen.

Seeing the river frozen, and the ice forming along the sides of the falls was really unique and something we had never seen in person before.  After we were pretty frozen through we got back in the car and had time for one quick stop.

Near the falls is a Great Wolf Lodge resort.  A few years ago I had visited one of these near the Poconos in Pennsylvania and was blown away at how cool it was.  This location was no different and fully themed.

There are animatronic characters all over the place, and of course these resorts are known for their indoor water parks.  Even thought it was freezing outside the water park did look pretty enticing.

Just outside the gift shop in the main lobby of the resort was a penny machine.  This one also took $1 Canadian coins, and right beside it was a change machine if you needed help getting Canadian money for the machine.

These pennies were designed around the Lodge and the falls.  The images included a Wolf dressed like a Mountie, a Barrel going over the falls, a Paw Print, and Violet one of the Lodge characters.  This happens a lot when I’m on a roll (ha) pressed coins, and was running out of time.  We quickly (but carefully on the ice) got back to our hotel, changed and made it to the wedding ceremony with just a few minutes to spare.

The wedding was wonderful and the reception was a lot of fun.  By the end of the day we were pretty tired and had to get an early start the next day.  Up early we said goodbye to our family staying in the same hotel, and made our way back to the US Boarder.

Eventually we were back in Buffalo and got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight.  But this is where our adventure home really got crazy.  Because of the bad weather in Buffalo our flight was canceled and another wasn’t available for 3 days.  We decided to drive to New Jersey and stay with my sister until we could get a different flight out of Philadelphia the following day.  It took a little longer than anticipated but we finally got back home to Florida and were happy to see the sun and warmer weather.

Our trip was definitely a unique adventure but it was nice to see the falls in the winter, collect some new pressed pennies and of course visit with family.

2018 Dated Walt Disney World Pressed Coins Set

They’re here!!  It’s that time of year again and the 2018 dated pressed coins have started showing up all over property.  I spent the good part of my weekend driving to all the parks and resorts in an attempt to get all these new coins.  But unfortunately not all of them have been made available.  Just like the last few years there will be a total of 15 designs.  I was able to get 11 of them, and will be updating this post as I acquire the last 4.  I’m sure these final few designs will be made available in the next couple weeks at the latest.  So let’s get started.

My trip started early Saturday morning at the Animal Kingdom.  To my surprise the large crowds were there to visit Pandora and not get these brand new coins.  But I guess that works out better for us collectors.

   

Located in Dinoland USA in a store called Chester & Hester’s Dino Treasures.  The penny at this machine has 2018 with the new slogan “The Year to be Here” and a small Tree of Life.

   

The second machine in the Animal Kingdom is at the Harambe Railroad Station platform.  This train will take you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch but is not required to use the machine.  This machine pressed a quarter of Pluto and the year 2018.

After leaving Animal Kingdom my next stop was over at the All-Star Sports resort.  Located just outside the Game Point Arcade is where the machine is found.

   

This machine had 2018 Donald Duck pressed on a quarter.  Thankfully the next machine wasn’t too far away and just down the street in the All-Star Music resort.

   

Spending more time just outside the Note’able Games arcade to use the machine and press a quarter with 2018 Minnie Mouse.  I grabbed a quick snack in the food court and hopped back in my car for the next stop.

I was making pretty good time heading all over Disney property and found myself at Epcot for the next three machines.  First was in the Mouse Gear gift shop.

   

This penny design is similar to the one I collected earlier at the Animal Kingdom except it has Spaceship earth and 2018 The Year to be Here.  Somehow I managed to leave this store without buying anything which almost never happens, but my wallet definitely thanked me.  After leaving the store I headed towards the World Showcase and into the Disney Traders store.

   

Every time I use this machine I think it should do more than just press pennies as it looks pretty fancy.  But alas is just pressed pennies which is still fine with me.  The design from this machine is on a penny and is the main mouse himself Mickey leaning on the 2018.  With the penny safely stored away I checked my Disney Parks app and was able to grab a fastness for Soarin’ which is one of my favorite rides.

Over at the Land pavilion I headed in to use my fastness, but once done I headed upstairs towards the Garden Grill which is a revolving restaurant where you can meet Mickey, Pluto and Chip and Dale.  Right beside the restaurant is also where I found the next machine.

   

Just like in the restaurant this pressed quarter has the dynamic duo of Chip and Dale underneath a Mickey ears hat and 2018.  For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to leave my car in the Epcot parking lot and take the monorail over to the next two stops.  Once back at the Ticketing and Transportation center I switched monorail and decided to check out the Contemporary Resort first.

For anyone that has taken the monorail over to the Contemporary you exit onto a planform and then need to take an escalator down to the fourth floor concourse.  This is where you can find Chef Mickey’s or the Contempo Cafe for something to each.  But this is also where the Game Station arcade.

   

The first machine here had a design of Goofy with 2018 The Year to be Here.

   

A few steps to the left and I was face to face with the second machine offering a 2018 design.  This machine had an image of Minnie Mouse and The Year to Be Here pressed on a quarter.  I left the arcade and headed back up to the monorail platform so I could head into the Magic Kingdom.

   

Immediately upon entering the kingdom I headed underneath the Main Street Railroad station.  There are two machines down here but only the quarter machine had a new 2018 Cinderella’s Castle design.  A little further up main street I headed into the Emporium for the last available 2018 design.

   

This one is probably my favorite this year.  It has 2018 with the soon to be famous tag line for this year (I promise not to type it down again).  But the big winner on this penny is the image of Walt and Mickey holding hands.  This is based on the famous Partners statue that is a reminder to all how this all started.

Update 01/09/17:
I made it over for a quick follow-up visit to Disney’s flagship Grand Floridian Resort & spa.  About a week ago I visited here and the design hadn’t been updated, but on this visit the change had finally been made.  It’s on the second floor concourse right near the doors that led out to the monorail platform.  This design is of Chip & Dale under a Mickey Ears hat and the year 2018.

   

Update 01/10/17:
After work I took a quick drive over to Hollywood Studios to try to get the penny that was released in the Rock Around the Shop.  This is the gift store at the exit to Rockin’ Roller Coaster.  However, if you are a chicken like me and don’t want to ride the coaster, you can just walk in the “Exit” and up the ramp into the store.  The design is of Mickey’s face with 2018 and the new slogan.

   

Update 01/13/17:
Since we are just out of the holiday season I don’t want to say this is a slow time at the parks but it is a little less crowded.  Due to this the parks all have much shorter operating hours during the week so it was hard to get into the Magic Kingdom after work.  However I was finally able to get over there today and get the pressed penny at Sir Mickey’s

These are 14 of the 15 pressed coins available so far.  Below is info on the last machine we are currently waiting on.  The image below is straight from the CTM Group website which is the company that designs and maintains the machines.  I’ll update this post with pictures of the actual coin as I acquire it.

The last machine is located at Hollywood Studios.  This may be the most delayed of all the new 2018 coins.  It’s of Mickey leaning against the 2018, but is located in the Muppet’s Stage 1 Company store.  The issue is that part of this store is currently behind a “temporary” construction wall and is also where this press machine is located.  For some reason they aren’t moving the machine out at this time.  According to the cast members the machine will remain unavailable until the renovations have been completed.  Hopefully this will only be a few weeks.

These new 2018 pressed coins are really nice again this year.  This has become one of my favorite times of year for collecting pressed coins.  It’s exciting to see the new designs and of course a lot of fun to trek around property collecting them all.  Make sure to grab a set or two for your collection before the year ends.

Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground – Lake Buena Vista, FL

I mentioned in a previous post about a last-minute trip to Disney my wife.  One downfall with a last-minute vacation especially at Disney is you don’t have the 180 day window to book dining reservations or 60 days out to book fast passes for rides.  You end up just winging it which has the potential to be disastrous.  But thankfully for us we managed to try out some new dining locations that are kind of hidden gems and are much easier to get a table at without calling ahead.  One of these places we still talk about is the Trail’s End Restaurant located in the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

First off I’ll say this place is huge.  It’s so expansive that there is an internal bus system with various routes taking you throughout the campgrounds and cabins.  On this more recent afternoon trip back I did manage to make a reservation for lunch, but before heading all the way to the marina I had a few stops along the way.

After parking in the guest lot I headed into the Reception Outpost (Registration Lobby).  All of the buildings here look like log cabins and tend to be a little dark inside but I enjoy this place immensely.  It’s just fun to be here.

Up against the back wall of this registration area is the first pressed penny machine.

The set of pennies here are all from the Pixar movie Monsters, Inc: Waternoose, Celia, and Boo in her Monster Costume.  With these pennies in my pocket I walked back outside and across the parking lot to the bus stop.  There are three different routes trough the campground, but they all end up near Pioneer Hall.  But note that if you want to get all the pennies available here you do need to take the Orange bus as it’s the only one that stops at the Meadow Trading Post.

This is kind of like a general store for a certain area campsites, and is where you can get all your snacks, food and souvenir needs.

There are some cool things in here like S’mores kits and popcorn which always seem to taste better over a campfire.

At the back of the settlement post near the check out register was the second penny machine.

This second set of pennies has designs of Pioneer Mickey with a Musket, Chip & Dale, and Western Goofy all tied up.  I headed back outside to the Bus Stop and hopped on the next bus that came by.  After a short ride I hopped off on the final stop which was up at Pioneer Hall.

There are a lot of things going on up here, including Tri-Circle-D Ranch, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, and Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.

This is also where the Marina is located where you can take a nice boat ride over to the Wilderness Lodge Resort, Contemporary Resort and/or the Magic Kingdom.  There is also another shop called the Settlement Trading Post.

Inside this place is very similar to the Meadow Trading Post, and sells pretty much the same stuff.

The third penny machine is located just outside the main set of doors to this Trading Post.

This machine has a classic set of designs including Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.  By this time it was getting pretty close to my lunch reservation and thankfully I didn’t have far to go.

The Trail’s End Restaurant was still as good as I remember and really hit the spot.  It’s a buffet with a fairly unique set of options, and I still recommend this place highly.  After a busy morning of collecting pressed coins the filling lunch was a nice end to my visit at the campgrounds.

Port Orleans French Quarter & Riverside Resorts – Lake Buena Vista, FL

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these machines
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Years ago my wife and I had decided to take a last-minute trip to the most Magical Place on Earth.  This was out of the ordinary for me as I’m always much more of a detailed pre-planner.  We only had a few resorts available to us at the time, but we wanted to stay somewhere we hadn’t been before.  Port Orleans French Quarter was the one we decided to book and to this day we will talk about how much we loved that resort.

All this time later I wanted to make another trip back and just walk around the resort and see what has changed.  Plus I figured I can also go check out the related sister resort Riverside.  The French Quarter resort opened in May of 1991 as is themed like New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

After I parked my car I headed inside the French Quarter resort first and wandered past the registration area.  Nearby is the Jackson Square Gift shop.

As with pretty much every other resort gift shop it has the same merchandise with not too much variance.

Towards the back of the store near where the coolers are with soda and other refrigerated snacks is where I came across the first penny machine.

The penny set available here included images of Mickey playing the Trumpet, Donald with a Trombone, and Jester Goofy.  We were going to finish up our visit back at this resort, but decided to head over to the Riverside part of the resort for quick visit.

The more scenic way over to the resort would be to walk but this is a quite a long hike, and with our younger daughter with us we opted for the air-conditioned car.

The Riverside resort is themed after the American South along the Mississippi River.  It opened less than a year after the French Quarter in February 1992.

The large lobby and registration area really transform you into the deep south.  The staff has that wonderful southern charm as well and as the Disney saying goes welcomes you home.  Located in the registration area are the next two penny machines we came across.

The first machine has three designs with images of the Prince from Snow White, Princess Jasmine, and Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse.

Only a few steps away on the opposite side of the large window was the second machine.  Unfortunately when we visited this machine was out-of-order, but thankfully for my collection I already acquired these coins on my previous stay here.

The set of pennies from this machine (when working) have designs of Grumpy Dwarf, Spaceman Mickey, and the Wicked Queen from Snow White.

Just across from the registration area is this resorts gift shop known as Fulton’s General Store.

As you walk into the gift shop you will find the next penny machine.

The penny set available at this machine are all about your friends from the Hundred Acre Wood.  Tigger, Winnie the Pooh, and Eeyore.

At the back of the General Store is the fifth and final machine currently available at the Port Orleans resorts.

The last set of pennies has designs of Classic Mickey Mouse, Sleepy Dwarf, and Goofy with a Swimming Tube.  With all the coins pressed we headed back outside to take a look around.

This resort has a few different dining options and one of them is the Riverside Mill Food court, and the above picture is of the outside of that building.  The raised boardwalk pathway around the resort is a fun way to take in the entire atmosphere of the south.  After aimlessly walking around we went back to our car for a quick stop back at the French Quarter resort for a special treat.

In the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory is the main food court for the resort.  They have items known in New Orleans like Po’ boys, Gumbo, and Jambalaya.  For dessert there is my daughters favorite straight from Tiana’s Place in The Princess and the Frog, beignets.  Fried squares of dough covered with powdered sugar just can’t be beat and was a nice ending to our staycation.  My daughter’s reaction below explains just how we felt about those beignets.  Happy collecting.

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – Lake Buena Vista, FL

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these machines
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Over these last few weeks as I’ve been checking out the different resorts and pretending I was staying for a short vacation there was one resort on the list I was really looking forward to.  I’ve stayed at a lot of the different resorts but one has always been on my bucket list but with my usual vacation budget could probably only stay there for a night or two.

My previous trips to the Grand Floridian usually amount to a quick scan as the monorail rooms passed on our way to the Magic Kingdom.  To be honest I hadn’t actually planned to visit this resort this soon but my wife’s birthday was quickly approaching and I decided to splurge for her to get a morning spa treatment.  There are a few different locations on Disney property with a Spa but I could think of no better place to go all out than the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  Plus this would give me a chance to wander around and see what they had to offer.

This resort is just simply magnificent to look at, and the exudes luxury.  It opened it’s doors in June 1988 and was themed as a Victorian era beach resort.  This is one of the Deluxe hotels on property and has the AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurant called Victoria & Albert’s.  As I mentioned above this on the monorail loop and makes for a quick trip into the Magic Kingdom.

If you are staying here and want to visit one of the other parks, or Disney Springs there is a bus stop just beyond the main entrance where the registration and lobby are located.

While you wait for your bus to arrive be sure to use the penny machine located in this area.  If there are a lot of people waiting for a ride this can get a little congested.

The designs available in this first set of pennies includes: Mickey in a Tuxedo, Winnie the Pooh & Tigger playing in a Flower Patch, and the Siamese Cats from Lady & the Tramp.  Turning around I headed back inside the registration area and you just can’t help but be overwhelmed this main building.  There is a large lobby area in the middle, and if you are lucky you can enjoy a pianist playing, or maybe even Cinderella making a grand entrance down the stairs.  Near the bell services area are a set of restrooms which also is near the exit to a restaurant called 1900 Park Fare.

This is usually a buffet style character meal with a rotating cast of characters including Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter.

In this side hallway where the exit is located you can find an additional pressed Penny and Quarter machine.

The quarter machine has a cute set of coins that are part of a numbered set called “Friends”.  The designs include Mickey Donald & Goofy, Mulan & Mushu, and Pumbaa Simba & Timon.

The second machine here has three images pressed on pennies that include: Gus & Jaq from Cinderella, Alice, and Prince Charming.  The final machine available at this resort is up on at the second floor lobby.  From the exit of 1900 Park Fare you can either take the elevators or the grand staircase on the opposite side of the lobby.  Once upstairs you get a wonderful view of the main floor, and the beautiful chandeliers.

On the second floor there are a few different type of stores available, and Mizner’s Lounge if you need a stiff drink.  If you are heading out to the monorail station to head over to the Magic Kingdom, beside to check out the penny machine that is located just before the doors leading outside.

One of the dates 2017 pennies is available at this machine along with images of Mickey’s Face, and Pearl from Finding Nemo.  With all the coins visited and collected I wandered a little more around the grounds of the resort and was just really impressed with this resort.  Some day hopefully I can scrounge up enough to stay here for at least one night (but hopefully longer) so I can really enjoy the benefits of this location.

Old Key West Resort – Lake Buena Vista, FL

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these machines
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Over the years when I would come down to Florida to visit Walt Disney World I always tried to stay at a different Disney resort.  Each of the resorts has their own unique theming and experiences.  It was always on my so-called Disney bucket list to try to stay at all the resorts at least once.  Now as anyone that has stayed on property at a Disney resort knows they can get a little pricey making that type of task potentially out of reach.  Since we have moved to Florida I would still like to mark this off my list as some point, but for now I’ll just stick to driving over and visiting each resort for an afternoon.  With 20 plus resorts this should keep me busy for a while, now I just need to figure out where to start.

Since we are on the topic of places on my bucket list, Key West is pretty high on that list so I figured why not check out Disney’s version of this intriguing locale.  Old Key West Resort was the very first Disney Vacation Club Resort and opened in December of 1991.  You do not need to be  DVC member to stay here, but since the rooms are either a Deluxe Studio, or 1 , 2 or 3 Bedroom Villas (including a kitchenette) these can get a little pricing if not using your club member points.

You can see by the above picture that the style of this place is very Key West, at least from what I’ve seen on TV and in vacation magazines.  There is just a very calming feeling that washed over me as I walked around this resort.  It was pretty quiet, and everything seemed to move at a nice leisurely pace.  Now this could be due to my visit being during the week in the early afternoon, but still it was really a nice environment to enjoy.

There is plenty of waterfront space to be entertained by.  Some of the Disney resorts used to have boats you could rent which looks to be the case here, but during my visit there were none available.

Olivia’s Cafe is the main table service restaurant here serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a Key West flair.

The pools here are really nice and the kids area is themed like a giant sand castle.  When I visited they seemed unusually quiet and not much activity but I’m sure most days this is not the norm.

Back towards the main entrance to the resort is the Conch Flats General Store.  Really just their souvenir / gift shop.  My daughter always thinks these are her personal toy closet, and I usually have to drag her out even though they have pretty much the same stuff all over the place.  There are a few unique Old Key West items found here like luggage tags, coffee mugs and t-shirts.  Directly across from the General Store is the main registration building.

Inside this building the interior is a lot of wood paneling and gave me a very nautical feel.  There was an area to the far end with little chairs and Mickey cartoons for the kids to watch while their parents get checked into the resort.  On display is also a model of a Disney Cruise ship which I will admit I looked at for a least 10 minutes, it was very incredibly detailed.  Also in this area were two pressed coins machines.

The first machine was an older model which you can tell by the marquee.  The penny designs available her included Abu from Aladdin, Iago also from Aladdin, and the Disney’s Old Key West Resort Logo.  If you make a 180 degree turn you will come face to face with the second coin press machine.

This second machine only has one design available and pressed on a quarter.  This type of machine automatically starts to press your quarter as soon as you slide the required coins into the machine.  These used to be more common, but have been getting replaced with newer versions containing 3 designs.

This design is another resort special and has Pirate Mickey with a Parrot on his arm with Disney’s Old Key West above him.

My first adventure of casually visiting  a resort and checking out what they have to offer was a lot of fun.  Plus it gives me an excuse to collect even more pressed coins.  I’ll keep visiting the different resorts from time to time and will be sure to bring you a long.

Saratoga Springs Resort – Lake Buena Vista, FL

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these machines
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When my wife was pregnant with our first daughter we went on a babymoon which I still think is strange.  However a doctor prescribed vacation wasn’t something I was going to turn down so we tried to pick someplace within driving distance but still someplace different that we hadn’t been to before.  After a few nights of online searching we eventually decided on Lake George in upstate New York.  Along the drive up there we made a stop in Saratoga Springs to grab some food and were amazed with this little town.  Everything about it seemed to have popped up around the horse track. It was a quaint place to visit and we ended up spending more time there than we originally planned.

When I was trying to figure out the next Disney resort to explore I saw the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and immediately was drawn back to that afternoon in upstate New York.

A soon as you start walking around this beautiful resort the connection to the horse track is clearly apparent.  The resort was originally opened in May of 2004 and was finished over multiple phases.  Currently it is the largest Disney Vacation Club resort.

High Rock Spring Pool is the original main pool of the resort and is situation right near the main registration building.  It was created to look like a natural spring with geysers, trees and other natural features.  Since I wasn’t staying at the resort I couldn’t try out the pool but it definitely looks cool.

Back at the main registration building called The Carriage House you will find the different eateries like The Turf Club Bar and Grill or the quick service Artist’s Palette.  The spa and fitness center are also located here as well and of course there is a resort gift shop.

inside the Carriage House continued the theming which was fun to see all the little details.  The registration area above looked like it should have horses wandering around with their jockeys preparing for a race.

The lobby area in-between registration and the gift shop area was a very relaxing area.  I found myself sitting her for a bit just enjoying where I was, regardless of the fact that I really wasn’t on vacation.  But at that moment it felt like I was.

Just across from where I was sitting was a set of public restrooms, and the penny machine I had been looking for.

There are three designs available here and fit in perfectly with this resort.  The pennies have images of Mickey riding a Horse, Angry Donald Jumping, and Cinderella hugging her Horse.

Part of the charm of the city Saratoga Springs New York was the main street that ran through the center of town with all its little shops, cafes and restaurants.  Obviously this resort couldn’t quite recreate that  setting, but walking around the grounds definitely gave me that tranquil feeling I remember all those years ago.  It may have all been in my head, but this made for a fantastic afternoon even if I was in Florida and not New York.

Princess and the Frog NEW Penny Sets – Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

This has been a busy weekend.  Saturday night I was getting myself prepared for a Epcot’s 35th anniversary the following day, hoping the crowds would be light, but knowing deep down they would be crazy.  During my prep for what march I wanted to pick up, or what ride I wanted to visit for nostalgia purposes when I suddenly got notification of not just one but two new penny machines.  It’s been a slow few weeks with no new pressed coins being released so when I found out about these new designs I hopped in my car to press some pennies.

My destination was the Port Orleans French Quarter resort.  When I showed up at the resort it was early evening but the Florida sky had opened up and was raining down some of the biggest drops I’ve ever seen.  I parked in the guest lot right outside the main lobby building, and once inside headed towards the registration area.

On the opposite wall from where you would check-in as a guest of the resort (and also next to the bell service desk) was the first machine.

This was a three design electric machine with images of Princes Tiana, Prince Naveen, and Ray the Firefly.  After pressing my set I walked across the lobby, past the water fountain and towards the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory (cafeteria).

As mentioned above this is the main cafeteria / food court for this resort.  It’s always a busy place, and the smell of beignets floating through the air is intoxicating.  Just as you enter this area the second penny machine is just around the corner.

To change things up a bit this is a four design hand crank machine.  The set available here is a continuation of the set I had just collected.

The designs are of Princess Tiana, Tiana & Naveen as Frogs, Louis the Alligator, and a couple Mardi Gras Masks.  I really enjoyed these new Princess and the Frog pennies as this is a movie that I think is a little underrated.  Being released back in 2009 right in the middle of all the fancy CG Pixar movies, this was a refreshing change back to my childhood and the old hand drawn animation.

As I sit here thinking about any other coins from this movie there is only one that comes to mind from Castle Couture in the Magic Kingdom of Tiana.  It’s about time some more designs showed up for this entertaining movie.  Before leaving I fell for the siren song of beignets and picket up a few for the road.  My Princess and the Frog experience was complete for tonight with mouth full of powdered sugar.

Click here to see my YouTube channel video on these new designs.

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jiko / The Mara / Pumbaa’s Fun & Games

When my wife and I first got married we were in the middle of buying a new house, and having a our first child so we didn’t get to have a honeymoon.  We had always planned on taking a honeymoon at some point but kept pushing it off.  Finally I decided it was time to do something and as if we don’t already get enough Disney fun, we booked a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas.

I’ll get into this a little more in a future post, but we arrived a day early for our cruise to Orlando so we could do some shopping for our new house (Spoiler) that we are having build in Florida.  We had a very early flight from Jersey to Orlando and spent the entire day shopping.  Even though we were pretty exhausted from the day I had booked a dinner reservation at Jiko which is a signature restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  This was a place we have wanted to try in the past, and today was the day to go and we weren’t going to miss it.

I’ve said it before but this is really am amazing resort to visit.  We haven’t stayed here yet, but have visited a few times during a down day just to walk around.  It’s really a treat for the senses when you come to visit this resort.

Of course there are the Savannah’s towards the back of the resort that let some of your favorite exotic animals roam around.  Some like the giraffes have feeding times you can go and watch or help with if you are lucky enough.

We were running a little late for our reservation, and the maps for this resort can be a little confusing.  But after heading outside by the pool, then back inside we eventually found Jiko.

Jiko stands for The Cooking Place which is a central location where people would gather to enjoy each others company and community dining.  In the middle of this restaurant is a cool area you can sit at a high bar type table and watch the chefs create the starter courses available on the menu.

We were seated at a table towards the back in a nice quiet area.  The wait staff was very attentive and explained all about Jiko, the decorations and art inside, the cooking styles and always wanted to ensure all our questions were answered.  For a started we decided to try the Taste of Africa.

This was a similar bread and dip sampler to what we had a few months ago a Sanaa also located in the Animal Kingdom.  However this one had fewer options but was still very good.  It included unique “breads” like Pappadum, Sesame Fatir, Flax-Seed Naan, and also came with a variety of African inspired dips.

For my main course I went with the 7 oz oak-grilled filet that I had heard a lot of good things about.  It was service over top of bobotie mac and cheese, asparagus, and a South African red wine sauce.  The spices used on the steak and in the mac and cheese were from a different spice palette than what I’m used to but was a nice change and very unique and tasty.

My wife had a Moroccan Lamb Tagine which was basically a huge lamb shank with parsnip and root spinach.  It was fall apart tender and very juicy but a huge portion which would have been difficult for most to finish in one sitting.  We were offered dessert but were so stuffed by that time that we chose to pass (Yikes!).  Instead of just heading right back out to our card we decided to try to walk off a bit of our dinner by wandering around the resort a bit.  Just outside Jiko towards the main pool we ran into the quick service cafeteria style eatery called The Mara.

As with all the other resorts this place includes various stations with different types of food at each.  Your standard flatbread pizzas, salads, and chicken nuggets are all available here.  We went inside to get a small dessert I had heard about called Zebra Domes.

So what exactly is a zebra dome?  Well the explanation is as follows: An Amarula cream liquor mousse covered with a panna cotta like white chocolate, drizzled with chocolate stripes and chocolate shavings.  These come in a nice to-go package of four so you can snack on them as you walk.  Please note that these do have liquor in them so you may want to avoid letting your little ones try them.  I believe they do offer non-alcoholic versions but didn’t see any when I was there.  Before heading back outside I found two coin press machines just near the main set of doors.

   

The first machine had three penny designs available including Shenzi (Hyena leader from The Lion King), Terk Tantor & Young Tarzan, and Pleakley from Lilo & Stitch.

   

Right next to the penny machine was a second machine that had one quarter design available.  This machine would press an image of Pumbaa and Simba from the Lion King with the Animal Kingdom Lodge logo on it.  We headed back outside and just a short walk away found the next stop.

Pumbaa’s Fun & Games is the resorts arcade.  It has your standard air hockey table, and classic arcade games.  Just outside the door to the arcade was the third coin press machine at this resort.

   

The cabinet design on this machine was really fun and reminded me of the machines they have over at the Animal Kingdom theme park.  This machine also had three designs which included Safari Mickey, Safari Minnie, and Mike from Monsters, Inc.

By this time our long day had finally caught up to us and we were ready to head back for some sleep before our cruise started the next day.  The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a bit out of the way, and if you don’t have a rental car may be tough to get too on the Disney bus system.  But it is doable (I’ve done it in the past) and is well worth the trip over to experience it in person.  Don’t forget to get the pennies located here, and with the layout of the resort can be like a treasure hunt to find them.  Happy hunting!

2016 WDW Trip Day 6 – Wedding Pavilion / Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

The Wedding Day was finally here.  My brother-in-law’s sister was getting married and being the huge Disney fan that she is there was nowhere else in the world to get married.  But we had a few hours before the ceremony so we got up early and headed over to the Grand Floridian Resort for breakfast.

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1900 Park Fare is located on the first floor of the resort and is a character breakfast buffet.  The characters we met included Marry Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Alice.

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The food was pretty standard and nothing overly exciting.  There was a kids area that had candy dispensers which Hanna enjoyed but who wouldn’t be excited about endless gummy bears.  After breakfast we headed over to the Wedding Pavilion which is right on the Grand Floridian property.

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This really is a beautiful place to get married, and as you can see from the above picture the day they had was as perfect as anyone could have wished for.

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Inside the area where the ceremony was held was decorated for a magical event.  It’s hard to see in this picture but the big window in the middle at the back where they exchanged vows looks right out towards the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella’s Castle.

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Our niece Ava and nephew Luke were the flower girl and ring bearer.  How cute are they?  They did a great job and was a great way to star the ceremony.  The entire ceremony was really just like a fairy tale, and Disney had completely outdone themselves.  Before we knew it the vows had been exchanged, rings blessed, and we were outside ready to toss flower petals at the newlyweds.  Up next was the reception, and Disney did include a bus to transport everyone over, but since we had driven we just got back in our car.

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As luck would have it the reception was near the Boardwalk Resort which was right across from our resort.  We took the opportunity to walk along the Boardwalk towards the Dance Hall.

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Inside is where the reception was held.  Our table assignments were designed like the old fashion paper fastpasses which I thought was a really cool touch.  The cocktail hour was very nice and we got to catch a glimpse at the cake.

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Eventually it was time for the wedding party to make their grand entrance, and then the first dance, bride and father dance, and just a whole lot of fun.  The dinner was a buffet style which was nice, and the food was a nice assortment of options.  The dance hall was definitely rockin’ once the meal was over and the DJ was really fantastic.  I’m still not sure if he was from Disney or not but either way he did a really great job.  Before we knew it the festivities were coming to a conclusion.  As we left my parents headed back to their car to drive it around to our records, but I took the change to visit a few penny machines on the boardwalk.

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Inside the Boardwalk Resort just near the main lobby is a set of elevators and right there you will find the two penny machines.  The cabinets of these machines are pretty cool looking and look like they came out of Atlantic City in the ’20s.  the first machine has images of Chip, Winnie the Pooh, and an Elephant squirting Donald Duck.

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The second machine had designs of Mickie in a Tux, Ariel, and Lilo with a doll.  We headed back outside to the boardwalk and found the next machine right along the waterfront.

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This machine had 4 designs available and included images of Goofy juggling on a unicycle, Mickey with a Surrey Bike, Mickey as a Strongman, and Mickey & Minnie on the Boardwalk.  I’ve been on the boardwalk during the day and it’s nice, but it definitely gets interesting at night with a lot more going on.  A little further down the boardwalk was an ESPN Zone restaurant and bar.  I headed inside real quick as a machine is located just near the check-in desk.

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The pennies at this machine all included the ESPN Club logo and had images of Football player Mickey, Donald twirling a Basketball, and Daisy swinging a bat.  The Boston Red Sox’s where in a close playoff game and the bar was getting a little crazy with fans so I headed back outside so we could finish making our way over to our resort.

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This was a picture I took of our Beach Club resort from the Boardwalk.  The resorts really do come alive at night and this was just a really nice way to cap of a wonderful day.

BONUS: Day 7 – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

The next was the our last full day of our trip.  We had scheduled to take it easy this day so we could be ready for the Halloween party at night in the Magic Kingdom.  For breakfast we headed back to the Polynesian Village Resort to meet up with my sister’s family at ‘Ohana.

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The breakfast here includes characters and we were able to see Lilo, Stitch, Pluto, and Mickey.  The food was endless jumbo sized skilled filled with bacon, eggs, sausage and biscuits.  This sounds like a standard breakfast but for some reason it was really fantastic and I would definitely come back here again to start a day.  After we ate we all headed back to our resorts for some pool time, and naps in the afternoon.  By late afternoon we headed over to the Magic Kingdom for the party.

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This is a special ticketed event that we had to set up ahead of time.  We had printed tickets for the entrance gate, but were given special wrist bands so the cast members knew who was allowed in after the park closed for non-party guests.

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I posted this before but the castle was all lit up for Halloween and was really cool looking.  Our kids didn’t want to get into their costumes until we were in the park so it was about now that they decided to transform.

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Hanna had recently coming interested in Sleeping Beauty after watching it a few times.  To be honest I think it’s just because the dress is pink, but she really got into it knowing that candy must be nearby.  Since we were allowed in a little early we had made dinner reservations over at the coveted Be Our Guest restaurant.

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For dinner this restaurant is a standard table service setup where a wait staff comes to take your order.  For lunch there is touch screen kiosks to place your order.  We were seated in the darker West Wing room which is also where you find the famous rose with the falling petals.  We experience lunch the year before, and to be honest I think I preferred it.  The foods I had for dinner was okay but the sandwiches for lunch just seemed to be a lot more enjoyable.  For dessert make sure the “Try the Gray Stuff” and it was delicious.

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After we were done eating we were escorted into a private room to visit with the Beast, and take some pictures.  With dinner done the Halloween party was just about to start.  We headed over to Adventureland so we could ride Pirates and check out the first of many trick or treating spots throughout the park.

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There was a bit of a line at most of these places but it moved pretty quickly, and the cast members were not shy about giving fistfuls of candy.  It only takes Hanna a few times to get the hang of it and was rushing us to each of the candy stops.  When we got over to Splash Mountain our niece Ava wanted to ride it.  My family didn’t want to go so I went with my sister, and brother-in-law and got a log all to ourselves.

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My sister and I were in the second row, and Ava was in the front enjoying every moment of the ride.  I’m holding out hope that my youngest Melody will go on this with me when she’s older.  My sister used to drag me on this when we were kids so it was kind of fund to have an updated picture.  Once we were soaked we met up with our family and had perfect timing for the start of the first parade.  We were pretty close and had a great view.  I’m a big fan of the Haunted Mansion so my favorite part of the parade was the Hitchhiking Ghosts.

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 The rest of the evening continued on with us getting as much candy as we could, and riding more attractions than usual.  The nice thing about this after hours party is that since there are only a limited number of tickets sold the crowds levels are much smaller and wait times for rides are really, really short.  Eventually we were over in Fantasyland to ride The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train again, and then a short walk to ride Dumbo.

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I got to ride with my nephew Luke who didn’t want it to end, and I was able to snag a quick selfie with him.  We got off the ride and my dad and I went to check out the Big Top Souvenirs shop.  My dad wanted to get one of the limited edition Halloween Party Magic Bands and I went to use the penny machine.

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This is one of the few 4 design hand crank machines available in the Magic Kingdom.  The designs are all circus inspired and have images of Donald lifting a heavy weight, Minnie on the Trapeze, the Great Goofini, and Ringmaster Mickey.

Just as if we had planned it when we met back up with our group the fireworks started and we had a pretty good view area for the show.  When they were done there was still about an hour or so before the party was over, but our group was exhausted and already falling asleep.  We headed towards the front of the park, back to our car and eventually to our resort.

The next morning was our flight back to Jersey, and unfortunately back to reality.  It had been another wonderful vacation filled more amazing memories we won’t soon forget, and a whole lot of press coins to review.