Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine with Jedi Mickey

Last year, Nick and a couple of buddies went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to for Star Wars Weekends – They had no way of knowing they were enjoying the LAST Star Wars Weekends ever.  The guys had an excellent trip and were making plans for a repeat in 2016 until the announcement was made that due to the Star Wars expansion coming to the Studios (after which all manner of special Star Wars attractions, shops, dining, etc. would be offered all the time) – Star Wars Weekends were over.  This made us very sad!  Let’s take a look at one of the special events Nick and friends attended last year…hopefully the new Star Wars experiences coming in the future will be just as fun!

Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine with Jedi Mickey

By Nick

On a recent trip with 2 friends to Walt Disney World, we went to Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine, which is in Disney’s Hollywood Studios through June 14th.

We started off this galactic dining experience getting photos with Jedi Mickey himself!

 Me, Mickey, Joe and Josh

As we were being brought to our table, we were handed our Lightsabers. Okay, they were pieces of paper that we rolled up, choosing either the blue side for the good guys or red for the bad, and securing this with provided rubber bands.

This is a buffet, and like the normal buffet at Hollywood and Vine, which my wife and I visited in January and enjoyed very much, there is a wide range of interesting choices mixed in with more standard fair. Several of the items are named in honor of Star Wars characters, such as the salad greens below, renamed “Greedos Fresh Green Mix.”

Continuing down the buffet, we get other items, such as Yoda’s Edamame Salad, Obi-Wan Insalata Caprese and, seriously, my favorite dish from the entire meal, R2-D2s Cantaloupe Salad, which had, obviously, Cantaloupe, pancetta, greens, and, I believe, a vinaigrette. I really need to contact Disney and try to get the recipe, it was terrific.

Moving along we get to entree items like Princess Leia’s Sweet and Sour Pork (a bit dry), and Ahsoka’s Orange Chicken (very tasty).

There is a carving station that served Kessel Run Roasted Strip Loin and Dexter Jettster’s (Obi’s diner owning friend from Episode 2) Herb Roasted Turkey.

The“Padawan Kid’s Buffet” serves Kanans Corn Dogs, Chewbaccas Chicken Tenders and other kid friendly foods.

As you dine, favorite Disney characters come around dressed like favorite Star Wars characters, like Chip and Dale as Ewoks.

If you miss one, don’t fear, they come around frequently, and a Cast Member will make sure you’ve seen everyone, like Darth Goofy

…and Stormtrooper Donald!

On to what many consider the most important part of any meal, dessert! One of the best were the
Darth Vadar Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake.

I didn’t try the tarts as I was saving room for the cupcakes.

My favorite dessert was Aunt Beru’s Blue Milk Ice Cream. It tasted like cotton candy!

We opted for the Fantasmic package, which gave us guaranteed seats for the show, and cost $63.99 for adults, and $38.99 for children aged 3-9.

I highly recommend this experience. True, it is not cheap, but it’s a lot of fun, and the food is really very good. It’s 3 of my favorite things in one. Disney, Star Wars, and food! May The Force be with you!

Princess Leia Minnie and me

Want to read more about Nick’s Disney adventures?  Visit the Disney Musings Blog and follow Nick on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Pinterest.  You can also listen to Nick, our friend Dave, and me on The Disney Exchange Podcast where we talk about….well, I bet you can guess.

Disney Dining – Hollywood Brown Derby Patio Lounge

RM-Brown-Derby-PatioDid you know that the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a patio lounge?  Indeed, you can eat indoors at the Derby and experience signature restaurant dining (2 table-service credits on the Disney Dining Plan) OR you can dine al fresco and save both time and money.  The patio lounge is a great place to enjoy happy hour!  And that’s just what Raymond and I did on our last visit to Walt Disney World.

On the day we visited the Brown Derby’s outdoor eating area, we were spending only the afternoon in the Studios and were looking forward to our dinner reservations that night at The Swan’s Il Mulino.  We were having fun!  Riding rides, taking pictures of the very last bits of the Sorcerer’s Hat left to be disassembled and getting hungry!  We needed a snack, but not just any snack.  We didn’t want to spoil our supper and had only a few minutes before the start time of our FastPass for Rock’n’ Roller Coaster.  We thought an adult beverage would also be a welcome treat at that particular time.  Hmmm…we were making our way from Star Tours toward Sunset Boulevard and I had a craving for wine and cheese.  HA!  I remembered the Brown Derby’s new-ish outdoor eating area (opened in October, 2013).  Perfect!  I told Raymond I had the perfect solution (with a look instead of words, ’cause that’s how we roll after 25 years of marriage) and off we went!RM-Brown-Derby-Outdoor-Seating

We didn’t have much time and the place was crowded.  We were willing to forego the food and just have a glass of wine if we couldn’t be seated within about 5 minutes.  There’s a walk-up bar at the end of the patio, so we ordered our wine and inquired about the chances of getting a snack.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-WineTurns out, we were in luck – a table opened up, we were seated, and our server arrived promptly.  Once we explained our time limitation, he was totally onboard with getting us on our way as quickly as possible.

If you’ve read any of my previous dining reviews, you’ll have noticed that we are a family of cheese-loving people!  The artisanal cheese plate at the Brown Derby was calling our names – and we thought that would be just the right snack…not too much, not too little.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-Artisanal-Cheese-PlateWe were very happy with ourselves when our cheeses (and accompaniments) arrived.  Hungrier than we’d originally thought, we fell upon that plate of cheesy goodness and made short work of nearly every crumb.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-Empty-Plates

It’s a story with a happy ending – our experience at the Hollywood Brown Derby’s Patio Lounge was everything we’d hoped for and more!  Good wine, tasty cheeses, and excellent service, we were soon on our way to G-Force Records for our limo ride & backstage passes.  If you’re at the Studios and looking for a fantastic, relaxing place to enjoy a cocktail and snack, look no further than the Derby’s patio.

What other places at Walt Disney World are great for happy hour?

 

Polynesian Village Resort – Kona Cafe

RM-Kona-MenuI’d heard great things about the Kona Café at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  I was excited to book our first visit there for the night of our arrival for the Princess Half Marathon Weekend.  Next door to the wildly popular ‘Ohana, I’d been told that Kona’s Pan-Asian menu and service were both excellent and we would have a new favorite restaurant to add to our list.

The food was good.  The service, once we were seated, was also good.  What happened to us upon arrival at the Kona Café might keep us from going back.  “Fair and Balanced” is my motto when writing reviews (unless otherwise noted) and I’m going to strive to keep this one to that standard.

We were excited to visit the Polynesian since we’d only seen the updated lobby in pictures.  After reading wildly varying reactions to the Great Ceremonial House’s new look, we were pleasantly surprised by how colorful, open, and welcoming the atmosphere was in the newly renovated space.  Yes, I’ll admit the new water feature is rather compact, but our overall first impression was overwhelmingly positive.RM-Polynesian-Lobby2

We got there early on purpose so we could look around before enjoying a glass of wine at the Tambu Lounge.  Mission accomplished, we checked in at Kona Cafe’s front desk 10-15 minutes before our official ADR (Advance Dining Reservation) time.  Buzzer in hand, we stood a few feet away – careful not to stray too far since the hostess had indicated we would be seated immediately.  This is where things went awry.

At first I didn’t notice what was happening because I was taking pictures of the beautiful lobby from above.  Raymond had been paying attention, though, and after quite a while had passed made mention of the dozens (no exaggeration) of people who had walked up to Kona Café and been seated while we were waiting for our buzzer to go off.  They were probably late for their reservations while we’d been early, but I’d go to the desk and check on our status – honestly, we were starving and had been waiting a long time.  Plus, we had been told we’d be seated right away.

RM-Kona-EntranceA first for us at Walt Disney World – we had a buzzer/pager thing, had checked in for our reservation, and were now nowhere in the computer system at Kona Café.  Clearly we’d been checked in, I pointed out, as I had a buzzer.  “You remember checking us in, right?”, I asked the young lady.  She did remember us, we did have a buzzer…she needed to consult with someone for assistance.  Still, at this point, we were not angry (just hungry).  That’s when the situation deteriorated to “un-magical” status.  The check-in girl confessed that somehow we had not been “arrived” in the system, so we’d “disappeared”, but she was working on getting us seated right away.  Still we waited.  Three or four minutes later, a hostess came and showed us to our seats.  I indicated we’d like to speak to a manager (another first for us at Walt Disney World).  Unless you speak up when something goes wrong, nothing can be done to correct the problem.

While any and all of what had happened up until this point was certainly annoying, we still weren’t angry, but what the manager did next, soured our first dining experience at Kona Café. RM-Kona-Wings She didn’t seem to care one bit.  Dismissive, insincere, and clearly believing we were somehow out to get something for nothing, she quickly informed us of two things:  Computer problems happen and she’d do some research to make sure our situation didn’t happen to anyone else.  Then she dropped a plate of “free” wings on our table and we never saw her again.  In theory she did everything right, but she did it with a bad attitude.  What was needed:  A sincere apology, explanation about what happened and genuine concern over keeping it from happening again in the future.  Better than a plate of wings, she could have been nice and perhaps convey some realization or concern about how the unnecessarily long wait we experienced would negatively impact our impression of the restaurant she manages.

RM-Kona-Sushi-MenuOur server, Brenda, was very friendly and efficient.  She was happy to help us with menu choices and kept our orders arriving at a good pace.  The bread and butter was delicious!  We love sushi and, upon Brenda’s recommendation, chose the Lava Roll (“Togarashi-spiced Tempura Shrimp, Bay Scallops, spicy Mayo, and Chives”) as an appetizer and were very happy with our choice.

For entrees, Raymond ordered the Grilled Kona Coffee-Rubbed Pork Chop (“Curry-roasted Butternut Squash and Fennel with creamy Mashed Potato”) and I opted for the Pan-Asian Noodles with Shrimp (“Yakisoba Noodles, Wok-seared with Vegetables in a Ginger-Garlic Sauce”).  A bottle of Newton Claret was our wine choice for this meal.  We ended up being too full for dessert.

Once at our table, dining at Kona Café was everything we’d hoped it would be.  Entrees RM-Kona-Porkchoprange in price from $20 to $33 and include seafood, pork, beef, chicken, and vegetarian options.  The flavors and preparation of the dishes we ordered were great!  Will we eat there again?  At this point I’m not sure.  There are many other restaurants to be explored.  We also have a half-dozen favorites where we know we’ll get consistently delicious food and great service.  Also, I’ll be honest, with regard to bad service, Raymond tents to have a particularly long memory.  The next time we RM-Kona-Noodleseat at the Polynesian, we’ll probably be back at ‘Ohana.

Have you tried Kona Café?  What meal did you have there?  What was your experience like?

Epcot Food & Wine: A Tale of Two Splurges

Epcot Food & Wine FestivalAt Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, a smorgasbord awaits visitors in the form of delicious dishes and beverages from all over the world.  For many guests, those festival-only flavors at the specialty booths and kiosks are enough of a draw.  Being able to eat and drink, traveling from country to country, is a fun and tasty way to spend the better part of a day or two.

There are also many special events available to visitors wishing for a more in-depth look at the Festival’s foods, wines, beers, recipes, chefs, and so on.  There’s a lot to choose from!  I was looking for a couple of extras Raymond and I could add that would fit in with our other vacation plans and would be special and unique without breaking the bank.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-LandscapeKeeping in mind that our trip would be like a second honeymoon, I ruled out things like cooking demonstrations and seminars as not being romantic enough – but I would love to try them next time.  I decided on the Italian Food and Wine Pairing (Italy Pavilion) in Via Napoli and the French Regional Lunch at Monsieur Paul (France Pavilion).  We enjoyed them both very much, but not for the reasons we expected.

Both experiences were similar in several ways.  They were at lunchtime, showcased their respective country’s foods and wines, and lasted a couple of hours.  They also both included a wine specialist to act as event host and explain how/why particular wines were selected, and how best to enjoy them.

The Italian Food & Wine Pairing at Via Napoli ($83 per person, plus tax, gratuity included) October 16, 2014RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-Table

We were greeted by several very friendly Cast Members and handed glasses of wine to enjoy while we waited.  Once the room was ready, we were welcomed into a large, open, very noisy seating area full of tables that looked literally covered in wine glasses.RM-Epcot-GaryThe acoustics made it impossible to talk to our table mates without practically yelling and was the single and significant downside to this event.  We sat with four other people who welcomed us warmly to the table and introduced themselves to us immediately.  We all wished we could hear each other better!  We visited over some delicious bread.RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-Soup

The first course was, for me, the best part of the meal.  A soup of beans and mussels (Zuppa di Cozze e Faglioli) with a big crusty piece of bread on it, like a giant crouton.  I found the soup to be flavorful and hearty like something I would love to make at home.  There are substitute dishes available if a guest doesn’t care for the particular dish being served – Melda, at our table ordered a Caprese salad and her husband, Gary, had melon with prosciutto. RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-Pizza The second course was a tiny individual pizza (Pizza Fritta).  It was very bread-ish with very little topping.  It was my least favorite course.  I decided not to eat all of it to save room for the other courses.  RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-BeefThe main course was Braciola di Manzo which was beef roulade with roasted vegetables.  Basically rolled up beef and veggies in a clear broth.  It wasn’t bad, it tasted okay, but didn’t knock our socks off or anything.  RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-DessertFinally, dessert – just a simple serving of three different sorbets and they were incredibly delicious!!!  If I’d been served only the bean soup and the sorbets, I’d have been perfectly happy.RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-Wine-Bottle  RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-MenuOf course with every dish was a different wine to sample – like the food, some servings were better than others.  Once dessert was finished, the wine expert mingled with the crowd to make sure everyone had enjoyed their lunch.  RM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-HostRM-Italian-Food-and-Wine-Pairing-Gift-BiscottiOne the way out, each guest was given a small bag of Via Napoli Cantucci (biscotti) and the recipe for making it.

High points:  The hospitality, our super sweet and friendly table-mates, the pre-lunch glass of wine, the biscotti as a goodbye gift, the soup, the dessert.

Low points:  The noisiness of the room, the pizza (I expected better from Via Napoli), the entrée.

The French Regional Lunch at Monsieur Paul ($135 per person plus tax, gratuity included) October 17, 2014RM-French-Regional-Lunch-M.Paul

The welcome wasn’t as nice as over in the Italy Pavilion – we waited outside Monsieur Paul in a hot, crowded mass until we were allowed to climb the stairs into the restaurant – and that was a long, slow process.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-SeatingOnce inside the dining room, though, we were enchanted with the décor, the place settings, and our view from our window-side table.    RM-French-Regional-Lunch-ViewMuch quieter and considerably more elegant than our setting at Via Napoli, we once again sat with two couples.  The couple closest to us, we discovered, will be sailing with us on our next Disney cruise in June, 2015!  That was a fun surprise.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Table

The speaker/wine expert for our lunch was Cedric Villars – the U.S. Portfolio Manager, Domaines Barons do Rothschild (Lafite), Pasternak Wine Import.  Our Chefs de Cuisine was Francesco Santin.  I know this because there was a nifty little booklet at each place setting that explained details about the lunch, and descriptions of every wine served.  There were even some pages for taking notes.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-MenuThis was a very welcome and special touch.  What the materials did not detail was the dishes served – I’ll do my best, but at times I wasn’t sure exactly what I was eating.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Amuse-Bouche

The first course, the amuse-bouche, was a delicately flavored slice of pastry-wrapped….I have no idea, but I’m guessing it was meat of some sort.  This was served in a clear broth.  It tasted fine, I found the textures a bit odd together, and overall it was nothing to write home about.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Soup

Next was a mushroom soup with chestnuts (Veloute de cepes, crème de celerie et marrons).  It was very tasty!  Even Raymond ate his soup and he’s not a mushroom fan.  It was rich and creamy and delicious.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Duck

Duck Cassoulet was the main course and it was very simple (probably much more complicated that it looked) but scrumptious. I thought the serving sizes were just right for each course.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Mystery Dish

There was even a surprise mystery dish – which was good, but I couldn’t tell you what was in it.  It wasn’t on the menu and we thought maybe the chef was just being creative and made us a little something extra.  We were feeling pretty full at this point, but there was still one course left.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Dessert

Dessert just blew us away!  Obviously, we were surprised by our personalized servings of the Chestnut dome with vanilla rum cream, caramel sauce, meringue, raisin compote, and vanilla ice cream.  This was absolutely amazing!  It wasn’t overly sweet, the different flavors and textures created such a unique and special treat.  I found myself eating every single bite!RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Chefs

When lunch was coming to an end, all the chefs and servers were presented to the guests and we applauded as they took a walk around the dining room.  It was a fun touch and gave the impression of teamwork and pride in an well executed event.

High Points:  The setting, the event materials and attention to detail, the dessert, and the overall elegance of the experience.

Low Points:  The hot wait outside and the congested, slow walk up the stairway leading to the restaurant.

Raymond and I enjoyed both lunches, but the French Regional Lunch was our favorite of the two.

Have you tried any of the special events available during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival?  Which would you recommend?