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?

Disney Vacation Mental Preparation

RM-WDW-EntranceThere’s a lot of discussion on Disney blogs and websites about ideal Disney vacation packing lists.  Packing for the average family can present quite a challenge!  Most of the packing lists I’ve seen are somewhat incomplete though.  There are a few items you must not leave at home if you want your vacation to be as fun, as happy, and as successful as it can possibly be.  We all want our Disney vacations to create lifelong memories, right?  Let’s make sure they’re happy ones, shall we?

Today’s Friday Five:  Five critical packing items for optimum Disney Vacation Mental Preparation.

1. Patience – I cannot stress how important this is!  I don’t know about your kids, but mine march to the beat of a different drum…with a much slower cadence than the one I follow.  In other words, I could easily become frustrated each and every morning of vacation just trying to get out of our resort!  Then there’s the standby lines, the RM-Walkers-Walt-Disney-Worldcounter service restaurant lines, the waiting for a show to start, the waiting for a rain shower to pass, the time between FastPasses – I could go on and on.  Pack extra patience!  You will probably use every bit you have.  Seriously, knowing before you ever leave home that there will most likely be many things on a Disney (or any) vacation that may try your patience and preparing for that eventuality in advance will help you be so much happier!

2. Rose Colored Glasses:  If you pack these, you’ll have a better vacation.  Here’s the deal – negativity is popular.  Whining, complaining, grousing, general discontent – it’s all in vogue!  This is the stuff rotten vacations are made of.  Put on your positive attitude, look for positives and do NOT focus on negatives.  I’m not delusional.  I know that things break, people are rude, beds are uncomfortable, and accidents happen.  It’s how we choose to deal with life’s obstacles that makes the difference, I believe, in being happy or unhappy – in general and on vacation.  Stop and put on those rose DSCN2961colored glasses!  I hear they come in contact lenses now too.

3. Flexibility:  There’s that oft quoted saying – “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.  Yeah, it’s popular for a reason.  So’s Murphy’s Law.  I’m a huge advocate of planning!  I love to plan vacations almost as much as I like to take them – the key to really great planning though, is to allow for changes to the plans.  If you have to get your heart set on anything – try to set it on creating a successful and fun overall experience.  Make those ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) and FastPass+ Having fun at Old Key Westselections, but be prepared to change course when and if the need arises.  Sometimes blisters, exhaustion, sweating, a stomach ache, a meltdown, a thunderstorm…well, one or all of those can strike at any time!  Great things are out there to be seen and experienced on a Disney vacation.  Some are in unexpected places – be flexible enough to make new discoveries when the chance arises.  Also, know when to call it a day.

4. Sense of Humor:  You can either let a good soaking on Kali River Rapids ruin your day or you PeopleMovercan find humor in the situation.  It’s easy to become cranky, grumpy, grouchy – whatever you favor – when things aren’t the way we want them to be.  If there’s ever a time to look for the silver lining or make lemonade (insert favorite metaphor here) it’s when our children are watching (no matter how old they are) – when our demonstration of how to deal with life’s curve balls shows others how it should be done – with grace and kindness, with as happy a face as we are able to muster.

On our last Disney vacation, Raymond and I caught a bus from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the late morning and happened to sit near a beautiful family.  The mother, father, and all four young daughters were just an incredibly good-looking bunch.  No one was happy – there was no excited chatter, no smiling, no conversation at all.  As the bus traveled along towards our stop at the Magic Kingdom, the dad said, “First one who catches mom smiling gets a dollar” – I could tell he was just trying to lighten the mood.  The mom spun in her seat and loudly whispered (you know how that sounds), “StopWalt Disney World Summer Crowd IT!” then proceeded in a lower tone to chew him out.  When she was finished, she turned back around (with a lot of drama) and proceeded to cry for the entire rest of the trip.  I would never presume to guess what might have been wrong, but I did think about what kind of example was being set for those four beautiful girls.  Please, if you’re a parent – remember to be the grown-up.

5. A little love for your fellow humans:  People visit Disney parks from all over the world and all fifty of the United States.  There are rude people and sweaty ones, people with frowns, people who cry on busses, people who stop Kali River Rapids / Disney's Animal Kingdomin the middle of the sidewalk, people who ram into you with strollers, ones who film Wishes with an iPad over their heads, Cubs fans, wearers of very large beards, all kinds of people!  People who are completely different from us.  I choose to try to be friendly and embrace the variety of Disney vacationers – I’ve made more friends this way and preserved my sanity at the same time.  Of course, there must be a certain level of safety and mindfulness of “stranger danger”, but looking for the goodness and referring to numbers 1 and 4 on this list helps a lot.  Oh, and some folks?  You just need to move away from.

What about you?  What do you pack to help you mentally prepare for your Disney vacation?

Memento Mori – Mansion Merchandise

RM-Memento-Mori-Ghost-HostEarlier this year we heard some exciting news.  The Yankee Trader store in Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square would be closing and undergoing a complete transformation.  An entirely new shopping experience would be taking its place – the new store would be called Memento Mori and would be strictly a Haunted Mansion gift shop.  Long overdue, in my opinion, Haunted Mansion fans have needed a place to shop for Haunted Mansion merch!  To me it seemed a bit sad that so many great rides and attractions exited into a gift shop (where I seldom made a purchase) but I’d have to scour store after store throughout Walt Disney World to find Haunted Mansion items here and there.

Memento Mori (Latin, “remember you have to die”) opened just in time for our October visit to Walt Disney World and checking it out was high on my must-do list.  The first interesting thing I noticed was how we were directed to enter the store – not through the front door.  There’s a “back door” near the rear of the building on the right side – that’s the entrance we were told to use.  We exited onto the front porch.RM-Memento-Mori-MerchandiseI expected the store to be crowded since it has just opened and I was right!  The stock also seemed a little picked over, but that was not surprising given the number of people packed into the somewhat limited space.RM-Memento-Mori-Treats

Imagine a sort of general store for Haunted Mansion fans.  Merchandise ranged from framed pictures and mirrors to trinkets and treats, to clever Haunted Mansion home goods and even a selection of clothing.  RM-Memento-Mori-ClothingA variety of price points made it easy to find an affordable token or souvenir – there were also some pretty high dollar items for the super-fans among us.  I fell in love with the Christmas ornaments that are a collection of Haunted Mansion busts and had to have them for my own.RM-Memento-Mori-Plates RM-Memento-Mori-Place-Setting RM-Memento-Mori-Mirror

If you’re a Haunted Mansion fan, Memento Mori is the place for you!  If you’re not headed to Walt Disney World and you’ve got a Mansion fan on your holiday gift list, you can shop online here from a limited selection of Haunted Mansion themed items (I personally own a few of them and can attest to their awesomeness.).

Have you been to Memento Mori yet?