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DVC – Bay Lake Tower Studio Tour and Review

RM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Contemporary-ViewWe have always loved Disney’s Contemporary Resort.  More than the design and theme, which we like well enough (especially the Mary Blair mural in the Grand Canyon Concourse).  We are crazy in love with the location – to us, the ability to walk to the Magic Kingdom just can’t be beat.  And the restaurants – we love those too.  And the monorail whooshing right on into the building.  Well, you get the idea.  We always knew if a DVC resort became available by the Contemporary, we’d be all in.  That’s why Bay Lake Tower is our home away from home.

One of the most important aspects of the Disney Vacation Club for our family, is the ability to use your points how, when and where you like (based on availability).  When we needed a place to sleep six, Bay Lake Tower’s two bedroom lock-off option was perfect for us – master bedroom (king bed) and bath, full kitchen with living room (pull-out queen sofa and chair-and-a-half) and a connecting studio (two double beds).  When Raymond and I travel alone, we just need a studio.  Able to book at our home resort 11 months in advance, we were, for our most recent visit, able to book a lake view studio (339 square feet) which was perfect in every way!RM-BLT-Studio-Sleeping-Area

Arriving from the airport via Disney’s Magical Express, check-in is in the Contemporary lobby (we opted not to check-in online to see how the in-person version works).  Greeted immediately upon stepping down from the bus by a very friendly and efficient Cast Member, we were promptly escorted into the lobby and handed off to the helpful young man at the check-in counter.  The process was quick and easy and we were told our room was ready. We got our room number and informational materials and headed off for the short walk to Bay Lake Tower.  There is now a new check-in counter in the Bay Lake Tower lobby, but it is not for guests arriving via Magical Express.RM-BLT-Studio-Main-Room

We were a tiny bit disappointed to find out our room was on the 3rd floor.  The 5th floor is super convenient to the walkway between Bay Lake Tower and the Contemporary.  The higher floors seem to have the best views.  We were surprisingly happy exactly where we were!  Our balcony overlooked Bay Lake and the grounds of the Contemporary and – as a bonus – was a perfect viewing area for the Electrical Walter Pageant on the evenings we found ourselves back in our room in time to enjoy it.RM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Sunrise

Our room had a queen bed, sofa, table and chairs, television, dresser, kitchenette, and bathroom.  The tiny kitchenette makes amazing use of a small space!  In the far left corner of the kitchen area is a little extra vanity with shelves, mirror and outlets.RM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Kitchen-Vanity  I was able to shower first then move into the kitchenette to apply makeup, style my hair, etc.  The kitchen also boasts an incredible amount of storage – including a very cool pull-out shelving unit.  We utilized the coffee maker for brewing the delicious Joffrey’s Coffee we picked up in the Animal Kingdom Lodge gift shop on our first day of vacation.RM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Balcony

Location, view, comfort, amenities – our Bay Lake Tower studio did not disappoint.

Are you a DVC member?  What’s your home resort and what do you love most about it?  If you have questions about our experiences with the Disney Vacation Club, ask away!RM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Kitchen-RightRM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Kitchen-FridgeRM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Kitchen-StorageRM-Bay-Lake-Tower-Balcony-View-Sunrise

 

 

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Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – Tasty Treats and Splurges

RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-LandscapeOur first Epcot International Food & Wine festival was a rousing success!  Maybe we should feel a little bit defeated because we didn’t taste all of the dishes on our must-try list, but NO!  We’re not sorry about that one bit.  We had a wonderful time and are formulating plans to return to Walt Disney World again in the fall of 2016 (right after Joseph turns 21!).

I could wax poetic for days about the delicious food, interesting wines and beers, festive party atmosphere, and fun fellow foodies, but instead I think this calls for a list!  Dear, sweet readers, I give to you our…

Top 10 Things We Loved at Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival (imagine “da-da-da-da” horns blowing here)

10.  The Rose & Crown Pub – Enjoyable anytime, this place is HOPPING during Food & Wine.  You’d think the kiosks & food booths would get all the attention, but no!  Those rediculously tiny beer samples that go along with the special food offerings seem to make people gravitate towards the places where you can still buy a full serving of adult refreshment.  We didn’t stop at the Rose & Crown for beer on our initial trip around World Showcase…we’d heard about the very reasonably priced single malt scotch flight (Thank you, Mr. Dutch Lombrowski!) and dropped in specifically for that experience.  Excellent!!!RM-Rose-and-Crown

9. Boeuf Bourguignon and French Men Who Shout – Very delicious dish in France, that Boeuf Bourguignon, made even more fun by the tall, strapping young French lad working the food booth – He yelled out each order as they came in (each guest hands their receipt to the Cast Member working the booth) and when I yelled at him in French to say, “That’s right! Very good, thanks!” – He yelled right back in French to say, “You’re Welcome!!!”  Both of us grinning from ear to ear.  Good times.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Menu-Boeuf-Bourguignon

8. Two Hour Lunches With Lots of Wine – These were our splurges.  Would we have enjoyed the festival without them?  Absolutely, but I’m so glad we decided to book two very special experiences – The Italian Food & Wine Pairing (Via Napoli) and the French Regional Lunch (Monsieur Paul).  While I will write individual reviews on each, let me just say that these events are so much fun, one of our table mates (Hi Patti!) in Via Napoli admitting to being a repeat attendee – and she doesn’t drink wine!  If you’re anti-social or take your wine very seriously, these lunches are probably not for you.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Table

7.  Passport Stamping - Guests get a souvenir passport with each country’s foods/beverages in it and can have a Cast Member in each country stamp the booklet as the booth is visited.  Simple, but fun!RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Passport

6. Pepper Bacon Hash – At the Farm Fresh booth.  Seriously – this was good stuff!  Hash, Hollandaise, jalapenos on top.  Had it not been so crowded (with lots of potential witnesses), we would have licked the empty container.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Pepper-Bacon-Hash

RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Pepper-Bacon-Hash-Container5. Sharing – This is the key to Food & Wine Festival happiness.  Knowing that sharing means you can taste more food and sample more beers and wines.  Also knowing when NOT to share is key.  More on that in a sec.

4. Glorious Weather and Beautiful Landscaping – We were so thankful for both.  Stopping to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful surroundings is important to us!  It helps us maximize our enjoyment of every single second.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Landscape2

3.  A Seared Sea Scallop, Some Garlic Shrimp and Griddled Cheese – All were absolutely wonderful!  The scallop was from Scotland, the shrimp from Australia, and the cheese from Greece.  Oh, the FOOD!  These were among our absolute favorite flavors.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-ScallopRM-Epcot-Food&Wine-ShrimpRM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Griddled-Cheese

2.  Meeting Duffy the Disney Bear (and lots of other fun folks!) – Sounds weird, the Duffy thing, I know!  We knew where Duffy would be on the Mexico-side of the World Showcase’s entrance since we saw him posing for pictures there in May.  I can think of no way to soften this – our kids loathe, detest, and despise Duffy.  So, being the loving parents that we are, we decided even before we left home for vacation that we needed to have our picture made with Duffy to send to the kids!  The joke was really on us – Duffy was hilarious and super sweet!  We loved Duffy in his cute little pumpkin outfit.  Sigh.  That Duffy!RM-Duffy

1. Crispy. Pork. Belly.  Just say it out loud once or twice and imagine how delicious it sounds… guess what?  It tastes even better!  This, we did not share.  You want to know how to stay married to the same person for 25 years?  Know when NOT to share.  Each of us had our own serving of this incredibly decadent Brazilian delicacy.  We may have made a couple of yummmm sounds, but we ate in companionable silence.  And were happy.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Crispy-Pork-Belly

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Walt Disney World – The People You Meet

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Me With Nick in the Studios

When I’m at Walt Disney World, I love meeting new people!  Cast Members, other vacationers, fellow bloggers, people on the monorail, bus, in ride queues – I don’t care where I am, I’m going to try to make new friends.  Most of the time my efforts reap excellent rewards!  This last trip to Disney World was no exception.  In fact, I’d say this was the most successful friend-making vacation we’ve ever had!

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In Epcot with Barbie

First and most importantly, we finally got to meet two people we’ve known for more than a year – but had never met face to face.  Nick and Barbie!  Nick is a fellow writer for Tips from the Disney Divas and Devos and Nick and Barbie have their own excellent blog, Disney Musings.  We had a few minutes with Nick and Barbie in the Studios (at Starring Rolls) before they left on their Disney cruise then met up with them again in Epcot (to enjoy a craft beer together) when they got back.  I only wish the four of us could have had more time to visit!

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With Melda in Monsieur Paul

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Gary in Via Napoli

We met a wonderful couple, Melda and Gary (from Florida) at our Italian Food & Wine pairing then saw them again the next day at our French Regional Lunch (and had a beer at Rose and Crown with them afterwards).What a great time we had! Everyone at our table in Via Napoli was so much fun.  Two ladies from Michigan, Cheryl and Patti, were as friendly as could be.  We loved hearing their travel adventure stories and how they became travel buddies.  I only wish it hadn’t been so loud in there – made it really hard to hear each other.  At our French Regional Lunch we sat next to Marta and Bruce, who, as it turns out, will also be on the same Disney cruise with us next summer!

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Food & Wine Festival Buddies

Hanging out at the Food & Wine Festival, we had the opportunity to meet some great folks as we shared tables near the different food booths.  Near Brazil, we met Lauren, Tom, Anna & Chris and had a lengthy and very interesting conversation about genealogy.  Their group was so cute and fun!  In the Rose and Crown Pub, we bellied up to the bar with some Texans clearly having the time of their lives – not really sure if they’ll remember all the fun they were having, but they sure were talkative!  The sweet young couple on our other side were friendly and adorable – the young lady and I having discovered a mutual love for shopping at Anthropologie.

We met an adorable couple with the cutest little baby boy on the bus one evening and discussed DVC for a while – then ran into them again in Pecos Bill’s and got to visit for a few minutes more.  It’s a small world after all!

We were very popular with the Disney research people and found ourselves approached about taking surveys on multiple occasions,  (We figured we fit a certain “mature couple” demographic.)  One of the survey takers, a Cast Member named Alison, was an absolute JOY!  We were very appreciative of Alison’s time – she took a few minutes to chat with us after we completed the survey questions.  Alison is one of those Cast Members who genuinely enjoys her job – you know the ones I mean!  They make all the difference in your vacation happiness.  There were many of those Cast Members on our trip and it just warmed our hearts to interact with them.

We can’t be the only ones who enjoy meeting people at Walt Disney World – what’s the most fun you’ve had making new friends?

 

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Disney Dining – Be Our Guest Restaurtant Review

We always make sure to book our Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) exactly 180 days before our Walt Disney World vacations.  This most recent trip was no exception.  Usually, we book one table service meal per day, but because we wanted to make the most of the Food & Wine Festival offerings (food booths and special events), we only booked four dinners.  One of those was at Be Our Guest.RM-Be-Our-Guest-Entrance

Dinner booked, I was pretty excited to finally be able to go inside The Master’s lair and see for myself all those amazing Disney details and magical touches.  Then, about 24 days before our trip, we received THE email – the email from Disney inviting us to book a FastPass for lunch at Be Our Guest!  We were not sure if we should cancel dinner in favor of lunch, pass on the lunch, or do both.  I quickly posted the question to Facebook and Twitter and the advice we received was nearly unanimous – do BOTH!  And that’s just what we did.

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So here’s the scoop.  I try to always give balanced feedback and today’s no different.  Be Our Guest is not perfect.  It’s very visually interesting and in most of the rooms, very beautiful.  It’s also a little gimmicky and regimented – there seemed to be a lot of rules, procedures, routines from which no deviation must occur.  I found that just a tad off-putting.  Perhaps if we had not been two adults alone we would have had a better time?  The food was hit and miss – for the price, it should be better.

Be Our Guest Dinner

The evening started by standing in line to check in (outdoors) at a booth on the outside edge of the bridge that leads to the castle.  Once we received our pager, we were told to just wait on the bridge – this made me wonder about bad weather and how RM-Be-Our-Guest-Gargoylemiserable it would be to wait in the rain.  We didn’t wait very long before our little device started flashing and we were escorted inside by a very cheerful and pleasant young lady named Sue.  Sue handed us a Lumiere toy to carry that was supposed to help light the way to our table – except Lumiere was not turned on. RM-Be-Our-Guest-LumiereLooking around I noticed that none of the Lumiere’s were glowing and I asked Sue why we were carrying them if they weren’t turned on and she informed me that they usually are turned on and she didn’t know why they weren’t working that particular evening.  Okay, so non-lighting Lumiere in hand, we followed Sue, who was very excited to tell us we’d be dining in the West Wing.RM-Be-Our-Guest-West-Wing-Ceiling

The West Wing is just as it appears in Beauty and The Beast.  Dark, decaying, with moldy-looking ripped curtains and shredded tapestries, the rose hovering by the window in its glass case. RM-Be-Our-Guest-Rose The West Wing is also really dark – as in pitch black, hard-to-see-anything dark.  We were seated not far from the room’s entrance and had a great view of the double doorways through which The Master made his entrances and exits during the evening.RM-Be-Our-Guest-PortraitAt dinner only, the Beast appears several times and makes his way to the library to receive guests – BUT only guests who have finished their meals are allowed to visit the library and meet The Master.  The announcer reminds guests of this repeatedly over the course of the meal.  Visitors are allowed to tour the other rooms in the castle to see them and take pictures at anytime during their visit (which I did).RM-Be-Our-Guest-The-MasterRM-Be-Our-Guest-Ballroom

Our server was Michelle and she was cheerful and professional – the kind of Cast Member who likes her job and isn’t afraid to show it.  We liked Michelle very much.RM-Be-Our-Guest-Place-SettingShe took our order for a bottle of wine (oh, yes indeed – we felt so wicked imbibing in Magic Kingdom!) and an appetizer for two called “Assorted Cured Meats and Sausages” – turned out we were not fans of this starter!RM-Be-Our-Guest-MenuRM-Be-Our-Guest-AppetizerFor our main courses, we both ordered the “Thyme-scented Pork Rack Chop with Au Gratin Macaroni, Seasonal Vegetables, and Red Wine Jus”.  We both thought it was delicious.  I was completely happy with my entrée – the seasonal vegetable was green beans with red bell pepper and they were firm and crunchy and delicious.  Raymond doesn’t eat green beans (would starve to death first) but enjoyed the bell pepper, the chop, and the macaroni.  The Red Wine Jus was very delicious on the pork.RM-Be-Our-Guest-Porkchop

While we were eating, we noticed this big wooden cart with a giant glass domed top being rolled all round the restaurant.  I nicknamed it the battering ram of desserts.  When guests are finished eating, the battering ram of desserts is rolled over for their perusal of the dessert selection – this is NOT a dessert display!  The dessert you end up eating has been rolling around in the cart, at room temperature, and, I’m sorry – didn’t give the impression of being as fresh as it would have been if it had been brought straight from the kitchen.  We decided to split the chocolate torte topped with “Gray Stuff”.  We tasted it and left the rest alone.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and this dessert did nothing for me.RM-Be-Our-Guest-DessertAfter that, we visited with Michelle for a few minutes while we finished our wine, paid the bill (about $120 before tax and gratuity – food $70, wine $50), then made our way outside.

The very next day, we went back for lunch and our experience was very different!  We’d taken advantage of the ability to pre-order our meals.  Upon arrival, we checked in at the same booth-on-the-bridge and were told to go on inside and get in line.  Unlike the previous evening, the restaurants doors were wide open in welcome.  Once inside, we were directed to the right into a very well-themed hallway lined with suits of armor.RM-Be-Our-Guest-ArmorAs the lined moved slowly forward, it became clear that those suits of armor weren’t just for show!  They’re enchanted (and enchanting!) and a lot of fun.  At the end of the hallway, we entered a room full of payment booths where we paid for lunch and were told we could sit wherever we wanted!  Our lunch would be brought to our table shortly.

While we were helping ourselves to drinks, utensils and napkins, we heard a friendly voice ask, “Weren’t you two here last night?” – It was Sue the friendly Cast Member who’d showed us to our table at dinner!  Feeling very special after that, we chose the room with the giant Belle and Beast turning music box and found a table.  Our lunch did appear shortly after that, as if by magic (or magic BAND).  RM-Be-Our-Guest-French-Onion-SoupThe French Onion Soup was just meh.  The soup had no flavor, was a thin broth, and the soggy bread under the melted cheese was completely unappetizing.  Raymond ate his soup, I did not.  Entrees were a mixed bag – Raymond had the “Croque Monsieur on Millet Bread -Grilled Sandwich of Carved Ham, Gruyere Cheese and Béchamel on Millet Bread with Pommes Frites.”  It was a grilled cheese sandwich and fries – all of which was extremely mediocre to me (I had a taste).RM-Be-Our-Guest-SandwichI was VERY happy with my selection and happily ate the “Braised Pork (Coq Au Vin Style) – Eight Hour Slow-cooked Pork with Mushrooms, Onions, Carrots and Bacon served with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans Jardiniere.”  RM-Be-Our-Guest-Lunch-PorkAll of which was perfectly delicious.  Our desserts were the Master’s Cupcake (mine) and Crème Puff (Raymond’s) and were nothing either of us found exciting.  Lunch finished, a few pictures snapped and it was time to get outside and find a place to sit for the Festival of Fantasy Parade (my favorite!).

Be Our Guest – Counter Service by day, Table Service at night, is a magnificent display of all the Disney details we know and love.  I would eat there again, most likely for lunch if I could get in, and would just order the Braised Pork.  If you want to go, the atmosphere is what makes the experience rather than the food – keeping that in mind might make your meal, be it lunch or dinner, more enjoyable.  For current online menu information, go here.

Have you visited Be Our Guest?  What did you think about it?