COLUMN: Back at Walt Disney World, in Style, page 1 | Oklahoma

We are almost halfway through the last third of the year. This in itself is depressing. In another two months, the year will turn upside down, and the first third of the year, in journalistic parlance, is like peering into the gaping maw of Hades.

But no matter. I still have a few tips for you: restaurants and attractions you won’t want to miss if you’re traveling to Orlando, Chicago, or Washington, DC.

My husband and I are established coaches, so we are unapologetic and enthusiastic supporters of the upcoming Northern Line for the Heartland Flyer. We will be one of the first to answer the question “all aboard!” call when these paths are open for business. I have several friends in the newspaper industry who think it’s a waste of money. I’m saying they can look into the aforementioned maw and perhaps step over the threshold. Passenger railroads are an important part of American history, and we should embrace them not just as a beloved feature of the past, but as the wave of the future.

During our recent anniversary trip to Orlando, we stayed at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort. This is actually a Sheraton hotel, which in turn is part of the Marriott “Bonvoy” group, which means “bon voyage” in French. I always recommend this hotel to WDW guests who would like to stay more days but spend less money. The Disney resorts themselves are amazing, and we’ve stayed at several of them over the years. On the monorail line that circles the Magic Kingdom, we stayed at all but the most expensive hotel, the Grand Floridian, which costs about $700 a night, even with the military discount. The others – “Contemporary”, “Polynesian Village” and “Wilderness Lodge” – are worth a look, but mainly for those who have children.

Families and couples who gravitate toward Epcot and Hollywood Studios should choose Dolphin or one of its companions, Swan or Swan Reserve. These resorts are just a short boat ride from Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and in Epcot’s case, an easy walk. And they are located next to the boardwalk, where you can have a great time in the evening. If you prefer Disney properties, the Boardwalk, Yacht Club and Beach Club are also in the area. Speaking of Boardwalk, a new place called Boardwalk Deli offers a hot pastrami sandwich that my husband loved. There’s a magical place called Abracadabar that’s worth a stop (try the Pepper’s Ghost martini that my husband reverse-engineered). Two nightclubs—Atlantic Dance Hall and Jellyroll’s with dueling pianos—may be cool, but we’re always tired of going in by the end of the day. If anyone else has, let me know if it’s worth staying up late.

I’ll give you a quick rundown of each park and what you’ll want to try. Keep in mind that restaurant reservations can be made 60 days in advance and you’ll need to make this quickly or you won’t be able to get in.

Hollywood Studios. This is our current favorite park because of its unique features. The best choice for lunch is Prime Time Cafe 50’s; for the Hollywood Brown Derby dinner. Stop by Oga’s Catina in the Star Wars section for a cocktail (with or without alcohol) and listen to music by DJ Rex. (This is the pilot version of the original Star Tours attraction.) Don’t miss the following attractions: Rock ‘n’ Roll Coaster featuring Aerosmith (catch them quickly; politically correct Disney is in danger of reimagining them since a former fan, after a quick cash grab, decided sue Steven Tyler for taking advantage of her); The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (a sort of bungee jump in the style of the old Rod Serling series); Toy Story Mania! (my husband’s favorite, mainly because he always scores higher than me); Star Tours – The Adventure Continues (my son called it “the shaking room” and trust me when it feels like you’re actually jumping to the speed of light); MuppetVision 3D (a short show that provides a great break from the heat); Slinky Dog Dash (located in the Toy Story area and the perfect launch slide); and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (a three-part attraction in which you go on a Rebel mission, are captured by Nazi Empire troops and clones, and are then rescued by the good guys).

• Epcot: There aren’t any great restaurants here anymore, so it depends on your taste, but this year we tried the newly opened Monsieur Paul. This high-end French restaurant now offers pay-as-you-go service, just like the pricey five-star Victoria and Albert’s restaurant at the Grand Floridian. Wine pairings are available and our service was impeccable. It is not cheap; I think our bill was around $700 including tip, but it’s a lot cheaper than the V&A and well worth it. Just eat beans at home for a few weeks to save money. When it comes to can’t-miss attractions, start with Guardians of the Galaxy. This indoor “dark” coaster has replaced the energy ride and I miss it (with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Scientist) but this ride should be taken as an experience for all the senses. The trains move in a snake-like motion along the tracks, but the cars also rotate individually so passengers can see a series of screens with clips and a storyline in the spirit of the Guardians films at any time. (This attraction is so popular that you’ll have to join a virtual queue, which I’ll explain next week.) Soaring Over California is also a must. This hang gliding simulation takes you through all the best places in the Golden State – Napa Valley, Yosemite, the desert and finally Disneyland. It’s been converted to house World Heritage sites, but somehow the one at home is so much better.

More next week!

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