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Disney World – Cruisin’ on the Liberty Belle

RM-Liberty-Belle-View-on-Deck You can see her and hear her and, let’s be completely honest, avoid her for the undeniable yawn potential, but the Liberty Belle is an iconic and important part of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  Let’s give her a little love today, hmm?

As you walk between Liberty Square and Frontierland, the gorgeous and majestic Liberty Belle paddle-wheeler calmly glides through the Rivers of America.  I think she gets too little attention – she’s not nearly as fun as the Haunted Mansion nor is she as thrilling as Big Thunder Mountain – for sure she doesn’t offer the big drops or adorable singing characters like Splash Mountain.  So what’s the draw?  What does the Liberty Belle have to offer? A wonderful glimpse into the past!  A completely different view of the Magic Kingdom and some of our most favorite attractions!  Need a different perspective on what’s magical about the Magic Kingdom?  Hop aboard and set sail on an incredible adventure.RM-Liberty-Belle-Fort

I know what you’re thinking and it’s true – If you rode around Tom Sawyer Island on any of the Liberty Belle’s predecessors, you’ll remember a few things that were a bit more exciting in the past, but there are still some pretty awesome sights to see!  We rode the Liberty Belle recently on a hot and sunny October afternoon – I will freely admit that I was roasting on deck in the sun and, oh, I could say something like “glistening” or “glowing” in that Florida heat, but truth is, I was sweating like a pig.  I stayed glued to the railing all the same.  Why?  The sights, I tell you, there are cool things to see!!!  Step onto the boat and get upstairs pronto.  Have your camera ready!RM-Liberty-Belle-Haunted-Mansion-View

Once the Liberty Belle pulls away from the dock, passengers are treated to a leisurely cruise along the Rivers of America.  From the top deck, I had an excellent view of the Haunted Mansion.  RM-Liberty-Belle-View-BTMRRRM-Liberty-Belle-GeysersThen I was fascinated by an amazing view of Big Thunder Mountain – with Splash Mountain in the distance.

RM-Liberty-Belle-Frontierland-VeiwRM-Liberty-Belle-Parade-View2 RM-Liberty-Belle-Parade-View1It was just after 3:00 pm and the Festival of Fantasy parade was beginning to snake its way through Frontierland – I could see some of the beautiful parade floats.  I darted from one side of the boat to the other, to the back…uhm, stern, I mean, then to the bow and started the process all over again.  Raymond, used to my adventure-taking style, found a place to relax and attempt to stay cool.RM-Liberty-Belle-Fort2

After we left Liberty Square and Frontierland behind, we entered a part of Magic Kingdom many people dismiss or ignore.  RM-Liberty-Belle-Faux-Fauna RM-Liberty-Belle-Fort2 RM-Liberty-Belle-Forest-ViewFaux Fauna, Fort Langhorn, an early American settlement, a Native American village – complete with realistic animatronics, Wilson’s Cave Inn, and so much more!

RM-Liberty-Belle-Village3 RM-Liberty-Belle-Village2 RM-Liberty-Belle-VillageRM-Liberty-Belle-HideoutRemember, if you last took a cruise aboard the Liberty Belle as a young ‘un, it’s time to give it another try!  Keep your eyes peeled.  There are plenty of surprises in store for your 17-minute adventure into America’s past.RM-Liberty-Belle-Rivers-of-America RM-Liberty-Belle-View2 RM-Liberty-Belle-View-Castle RM-Liberty-Belle-Rapunzel's-Tower-View RM-Liberty-Belle-HM-Queue

Your turn – when’s the last time YOU took a trip on the Liberty Belle?

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DVC – Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian

RM-Grand-Floridian-EntranceWe couldn’t be happier with our home a way from home at Bay Lake Tower.  For us, being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom makes BLT the perfect location for our family’s Disney Vacation Club membership.  There are so many (and more on the way) Disney Vacation Club locations to choose from, there’s a perfect place for just about any Walt Disney World fan’s style and location preference.  So, whether you want to be close to the action (like us) or relaxing in what seems like a slice of paradise completely removed from the parks’ hustle and bustle – there’s a place for everyone!  You don’t have to be a DVC member to stay in a DVC resort, you can pay cash for available rooms or rent points for your stay through a reputable company that specializes in matching members’ unused points with people who need them.

On our last visit to Walt Disney World, we couldn’t resist taking a tour of the new Villas at the Grand Floridian.  A resort near and dear to my heart, the Grand Floridian was the first place I ever stayed on Disney property nearly 25 years ago.  RM-VGF-LobbyI love the entire resort’s décor, the architecture, the restaurants, the shops and location on the monorail loop.  We’d heard the new DVC accommodations were spectacular and wanted to check them out for ourselves.  The Grand Floridian’s DVC building is packed with details that are both welcoming and fancy.  It’s bright, cheerful and inviting.RM-VGF-Lobby-Decorative-Details

RM-VGF-Lobby-SeatingWe had enough time one afternoon to whoosh on over via monorail (that’s always how it feels to me- love the whoosh!) and satisfy our curiosity.  The lovely woman (I feel bad for forgetting her name!) at the Grand Floridian’s DVC kiosk was more than happy to show us around.  The lobby is both elegant and whimsical – a theme that extended to every room we toured.RM-VGF-Lobby-ElevatorBeautiful décor, high-end finishes, and those magical Disney details were abundant – some people might find it all a bit fussy, but to Raymond and I, it was full of charm, romance, and surprises!

RM-VGF-BedroomThere are 147 villas which consist of studios (sleep up to 5), one and two bedroom villas (sleep 5-10), and Grand Villas (sleep up to 12), all located in one building.  Yes, with only 147 “rooms”, there’s a sense of urgency created for buying points before they sell out.  We just wanted to see what the rooms looked like so we could maybe use our existing points to stay there someday.  With such limited availability though, we know our best chance of staying there will definitely be in the off season!RM-VGF-Living-Room-Sofa

What made the biggest impression on us is the family-friendliness of the accomodations.  The perfect combination of luxury and comfort.

RM-VGF-Kitchenette RM-VGF-Kitchen RM-VGF-Kitchen-SinkNot that I would want to spend much time cooking on vacation, but the kitchenette in the studio and the full-sized kitchen in the two-bedroom are fantastic.

RM-VGF-Vanity RM-VGF-Vanity-SinkRM-VGF-TubThe bathrooms are amazing.  No, really.  They are.  All nine of the people who could stay in a two bedroom villa could all fit into the shower with room to spare!

RM-VGF-Hidden-Bed RM-VGF-Hidden-BedMy absolute favorite part is the fold-down bed hidden in the dresser (under the TV stand).  How fun for a little one to fall asleep with Dumbo!  The artwork is wonderful.  We were completely in love with this DVC area by the time our tour ended.  We have moved this place to the top of our must-stay list for future vacations!

Have you stayed in a DVC resort?  Are you a DVC member?  Which is your favorite place to stay?

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Walt Disney World Food Surprises

RM-California-Grill-Dessert2Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.  The end of the year will be here before we know it.  I always like to take time to reflect on the impressions the waning year has made on me even while I’m making plans and resolutions for the one to come.

I’ve been thinking about this year as “The Year of Disney Foods” – I made a point to try as many new snacks and restaurants as possible (with gusto!) during our May visit to Walt Disney World.  Then in October, we experienced our first Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  I even cooked a few Disney restaurant recipes at home.  Overwhelmingly my experiences were positive ones, but as usual, I wouldn’t be offering balanced feedback if I didn’t also include the disappointments.  In some cases, my taste-testing netted surprising results – I liked a few things way more than I thought I would.  And I was let down by some foods unexpectedly.  Which finally brings me to today’s topic…

Walt Disney World Food Surprises

IMG_3812Croissant Donut – What I was expecting:  Fluffy plain donut with cinnamon-sugar coating.  What I got:  Warm, flaky, delectable pastry with a delightful texture.  Surprisingly delicious!  Don’t take my word for it – head on over to the Refreshment Port in Epcot (on the Canada side as you enter the World Showcase).

IMG_3355Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel – What I expected:  Plain, giant pretzel with a hint of jalapeno and cheese in the background behind the pretzel taste.  What I got:  A very tasty blend of pretzel bread and jalapeno cheesiness – much more front and center pepper/cheese flavors than pretzel.  Tastes as good as it looks.  This is now going to be a must-have Animal Kingdom snack!

RM-Gaston's-Tavern-Roasted-Pork-ShankRoasted Pork Shank – What I expected:  Somewhat greasy, gristly smoked meat akin to the infamous turkey leg. What I got:  Nothing short of one of the best hunks of meat available for purchase anywhere at Walt Disney World!  Seasoned well, fall-off-the-bone tender with very little to discard except the bone.  These will save the legs of millions of turkeys!  Best thing in Gaston’s Tavern!  In fact, make a special trip TO the Tavern just to feast on a shank of your own.  They’re really filling, too.

RM-Gaston's-Tavern-Cinnamon-RollCinnamon Roll (Also from Gaston’s Tavern) – What I expected:  Big, warm, soft, well-blended cinnamon/sugar/glaze/roll flavors.  What I got:  Enormous disappointment!  It was cold, dry and offered very little to love.  I can’t believe I would say this, but the taste of cinnamon was much too strong.  The whole roll seemed like a day-old bakery reject.  And it was HUGE, so I felt like I was wasting a lot of food when I threw most of it away.

Pineapple Dole WhipDole Whip – Yes, I know!  Everyone’s favorite Disney snack – thousands upon thousands of guests wait patiently in line, sweating under the Florida sun to partake of this famous frozen treat in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.  What I expected:  Refreshing pineapple flavor in a creamy soft-serve form.  What I got:  Overly sweet, overly pineapple-flavored ice-cream-ish blob.  It melted all over me.  I wanted to like it and I tried my best, but no…which means one lest person in line with the rest of you.  I’m going to try a Citrus Swirl next time and see if that suits me better.

Flying Fish Cafe Artisanal CheesesFlying Fish’s Artisanal Cheeses – What I expected:  Good selection of cheeses and a good choice for an appetizer to share.  What we got:  Best cheese “starter” for any meal I’ve had at a restaurant anywhere.  Interesting flavors and textures – the perfect way to kick of a great meal.

RM-Sweet-&-Spicy-Chicken-Waffle-SandwichSweet & Spicy Chicken Waffle Sandwich (Sleepy Hollow, Liberty Square) – What I expected:  Crispy waffle wrapped around a mildly spicy chicken tender with a lettuce garnish.  What I got:  A completely mixed reaction!  I loved the chicken.  Raymond loved the chicken – we were both surprised a Magic Kingdom eatery would serve something with such a spicy kick!  The chicken was amazing!  The rest of the waffle’s contents were perfect with the chicken – arugula and coleslaw complimented the heat of the chicken in both flavor and texture.  There was one, glaring downside to this sandwich – the regrettable sogginess of the waffle!  I wanted it to be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside – the way a well-cooked waffle should be.  Instead it was a limp, soggy mess.  I’d probably order it again, though, just to have that chicken.

RM-Be-Our-Guest-Grey-Stuff-Master's-CupcakeThe Grey Stuff – When Lumiere said, “Try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious” I believed him.  I wanted to love it.  So much so, I tried two different desserts containing the mysterious substance to be certain I was 100% sure about my feelings.  What I wanted:  Something with texture and flavor befitting such a touted edible blob.  I guess I was imagining something like cream cheese icing’s texture.  In fact, cream cheese icing infused with pulverized Oreos would probably taste really good.  What I got:  Room-temperature, grey Reddi-Whip.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just hoped it would be more substantial.  It’s clever, don’t get me wrong.  Everyone who dines at Be Our Guest should indulge in some Gray Stuff.  Just don’t expect to be blown away.

RM-Pecos-Bill's-Taco-SaladTaco Salad at Pecos Bill’s – It was just announced this week that Disney is discontinuing the taco salad at Pecos Bill’s in Frontierland.  This was the best thing on the menu and the only reason I would darken the door of Bill’s establishment.  Taco shell and a warm scoop of seasoned ground beef is what you got – the famous fixin’s bar was what made it worth the trip.  Your shell and beef could be transformed into the salad of your dreams!  Ah, well.  The surprise here is that Disney would remove what had to have been a popular menu item (also quick and easy to serve).  Columbia Harbor House here we come!

You know I love discussion!  Weigh in now!!!  What were your biggest Disney dining surprises this year?

 

Disney Dining – The Writer’s Stop

The Writer’s Stop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

 By: Nick (This article originally appeared on the Disney Musings blog.)

Back in a quiet corner of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is one of our favorite spots in all of Walt Disney World.

The Writer’s Stop is located next to the Sci-Fi Dine In Theater Restaurant.

Doing some research, I’ve discovered that this was originally built to resemble the set of the  bookstore in Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom Ellen, which was named “Buy the Book,” which is why you will find many items, such as the ceiling lights, that convey a TV set atmosphere.

The Writer’s Stop is a small bookstore, cafe, and gift shop all in one.

You’ll find many of the prepackaged goodies you can find at many other gift stores throughout Disney property here.

In the center of the store you’ll find comfy seats, a television playing Disney related programs, Disney themed games, a good selection of DVDs, Blu-rays, and books.

The book selection is pretty terrific; appealing to a wide audience, representing many of the Disney owned properties and assorted attractions, such as The Twilight Zone, that you’ll find at the Studios, as well as books about Walt Disney, Disney art, and children’s books.

Proceeding to the back, you’ll find an even more eclectic book selection, including best sellers and biographies, among others. You’ll also find tables and and more seating.

This cozy area is also where you’ll find kitchen items displayed beautifully: mugs and tea and biscuits that you’ll find at other stores as well.

They also offer a wide selection of drinks, including coffees, teas, espresso, cappuccinos, waters, juices and sodas.

Lastly, but certainly not least, are the bakery items, such as bagels, muffins, pastries and cookies, including one of my favorite snacks in the World, the Carrot Cake Cookie.

As far as I’m aware, The Writer’s Stop is the only place on Disney property to get the Carrot Cake Cookie.

It’s approximately the size of my head, but I have NO trouble finishing it off myself, but you may want to share it with a friend or 3!

Have you tried the Carrot Cake Cookie at the Writer’s Stop?