Disney World Things I Never Expected to Like

With so much to do, see, eat, and experience at Walt Disney World, it’s surprisingly easy to dismiss things you don’t think you’ll like.  Surrounded by the spectacular, it’s easy to pass up what might appear run-of-the-mill.  I was guilty of this for many years, but those days are over! I’ve finally learned that even the seemingly ordinary becomes extraordinary with a bit of Disney magic all around.

Disney World Things I Never Expected to Like

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel – It may be “just a carrousel” to many, but it has a great history, short queue (usually), fantastic location, and is just the ticket for using up a few available minutes between FastPasses.  (I wrote an entire article once about my love for the carrousel as my alter ego, Darlin’ Diva here.)

Citrus Swirl – After the Dole Whip debacle, I was still open to trying a Disney frozen treat.  While I found Dole Whips too sweet and one-dimensional (all pineapple, all the time), I found the combination of sweet soft-serve vanilla ice cream and tart orange slush to be absolute perfection.Disney World Citrus Swirl

Primeval Whirl – I wouldn’t ride it for the longest time.  It looked stupid and I thought the whirl would make me hurl, but once I braved this Dinoland coaster, I was hooked.  Surprisingly, I feel this weird attraction is a must-do at least once on every Animal Kingdom visit.Dinoland's Primeval Whirl - The attraction I never expected to love.

It’s Tough to be a Bug – Megan still doesn’t like it, but the rest of The Fam and I are fans.  It’s cute, clever, and offers 3D edutainment at its best.  Yes, it makes small children cry but I think the location under the Tree of Life, the movie posters, the combination of 3D movie and animatronic figures, Flik hosting the show…well, all of that works well to entertain me.  Plus, on a hot day, it’s a great place to sit down and cool off.

Churro – They don’t look all that exciting and I’d never noticed them before seeing the cart in Frontierland.  For years (and years) I happily passed them by, but curiosity eventually won out after hearing praises for the humble churro from fellow Disney fans.  What the heck, I caved.  One wave of a Magic Band later and I was pleasantly surprised by the cinnamon-sugary deliciousness of this conveniently portable comfort food.

Country Bear Jamboree – Like many of the items on this list, I avoided the bears for years.  I listened to the haters and thought the show would be lame and the bears would be old and mangy and the songs would be horrible.  Au contraire!  I am proud and unashamed to proclaim my adoration for every second of this unique and wonderful show!!!  Love it so much, I can hardly bear it! (Hahahaha…I crack me up!)

Extremely Crowded Christmas Week – We’ve been twice recently and once a long time ago.  Yes, it’s ridiculously crowded.  Yes, once those FastPasses are gone, there won’t be any more available.  Careful planning is required, but we don’t care.  We’re thrilled by all the extra seasonal stuff!  The decorations, the lights, the special events, the food booths in World Showcase…Christmas magic is in the air and we love it!

Mickey-shaped pretzel – After being a huge fan of the Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar forever, I should know not to underestimate the appeal of any mouse-shaped snack foods.  Those dang pretzels are no exception.  Sure, as I’d always suspected, they taste just like any other generic soft pretzel, but the fact that they’re shaped like Mickey and that we’ve made getting them in Tomorrowland a family tradition, the love grows with every bite.

Kona Café – Resistance was futile.  We passed Kona on our way to ‘Ohana for many years without temptation.  Yes, Kona’s famous Tonga Toast was very well known to me, but I’m a savory breakfast fan, so no draw there.  When Curt Stone, host of the Geekin’ on WDW Podcast, waxed poetic about Kona dinners, I thought we should give it a shot.  That first visit did not impress. At. All. BUT, the two strike rule meant we’d have to give Kona a second chance before writing it off.  Luckily, subsequent visits were all fantastic and now Kona rates at least one meal on nearly every Disney World visit.

So much love in unexpected places!  The moral of the story is “don’t knock it ’til you try it” – I’ve been converted to an advocate of finding the sweet spot between revisiting old favorites and trying new things on every visit to Walt Disney World.

What’s on your list of Disney things you never expected to like?

 

 

 

 

Disney’s Victoria and Albert’s – Big Decision

Raymond and I are planning a quick trip to Disney World for the Food & Wine Festival this year.  We’re going the weekend before my birthday which made Raymond start to think about planning something special to celebrate, I guess, because he asked me if I wanted to go to Victoria and Albert’s.  Yes!  Wait!  Maybe.  I don’t know, to be honest.  I’m pretty decisive, but this one’s got me waffling.  Do I want to find out first hand exactly what it’s like to dine in a restaurant that’s received AAA’s Five Diamond Award (every year since 2000) and is currently ranked by Trip Advisor as the #2 restaurant in Orlando?  Do I?

Disney’s Victoria and Albert’s – Big DecisionCalifornia Grill won out over Victoria and Albert's for our 25th anniversary

Back in 2014 when we celebrated our 25th anniversary sans kids at Disney World, Raymond suggested Victoria and Albert’s then too.  I chose California Grill instead.  I can’t pinpoint my hesitation for not jumping on board with this idea.  If I put my thoughts on it here, maybe you will help me make a final decision?  WHY is this even difficult?  Poor Raymond’s been asking me, “Well?” with eyebrows raised every few days.  I guess it’s pretty clear which way he hopes I decide.Dressed up for Dinner at Remy. Would Victoria and Albert's be as good?

The closest we’ve come to a Victoria and Albert’s experience was when we dined at Remy on the Disney Dream.  Multiple courses, haute cuisine, excellent wine, impeccable service.  We loved both dinner and brunch.  Certainly Victoria and Albert’s would be similar…better maybe.  Chef Hunnel from Victoria and Albert’s is responsible for half of the menu items served at Remy.Dish served at Remy. Would Victoria and Albert's be similar?

IF we were to book a reservation at Victoria and Albert’s, I understand we’d have three options:

The Dining Room Sounds like the most economical and low frills experience.  That’s unflattering and selling it short and I’m sure it’s beyond amazing, but The Dining Room is the most basic option.  We can choose a 7- or 10-course meal and add wine pairings for a hefty upcharge.  While the restaurant’s menu changes daily, I found this example of the 7-course experience.

Queen Victoria’s Room – This room only seats eight and only offers a 10-course meal.  For wine enthusiasts like us, this experience sounds mighty tempting.

“Behind closed doors, elegant, intimate Queen Victoria’s Room seats just eight guests for a ten-course dinner with French gueridon service and wine pairings exclusive to the private room. Guests learn how chef and sommelier work together to identify the chemistry of each amazing dish paired with the perfect vintage.” – Victoria and Albert’s website.

Chef’s Table  – What if, by some miracle, two seats were available for the date we wanted to go?  As the most expensive option of all, this experience would also be exceptionally appealing to me since I love to cook and am not afraid to try new recipes and food prep techniques…the stuff I could learn!  I could see this leading to bankruptcy via Williams Sonoma by uncovering previously unknown kitchen gadget needs.  Culinary foam is all the rage and there’s a tool for that.  Bet I could make some awesome desserts with a kitchen torch.  Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table…a double-edged sword.

I found this Touring Plans article that includes pricing, so now I know what kind of investment this potential dinner will require.  Yikes!  (I know…This from the woman who recently dropped $250 per person for the Wild Africa Trek, but it was for Christmas!)  I though our Remy dinner was crazy expensive (about $400, everything included) and we didn’t even have the wine pairings (just ordered a single bottle).  Is my hesitation simply due to the fear that plunking down possibly $1000 or more for a single meal would be insane?  I’m all for experiences and happy memories, but oh, the stuff I could do with $1000!

Yes, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.  Yes, I’ll have a fancy romantic dinner out with my favorite person.  I’m sure many people wish their spouse would ask them to have dinner at Victoria and Albert’s and I should (and do) consider myself extremely fortunate.  But I’m still undecided!

Please, if you’ve been to Victoria and Albert’s or if you’re dreaming of someday going, jump on in here and help a girl out!  Worth it?  Waste of money?  Best pros and cons you can offer would be very much appreciated!

Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

There are so many Walt Disney World restaurants to choose from!  Frequent visitors, like our family, develop a passion for certain snacks, an emotional attachment to a few quick-service places, and we’re downright territorial about our table service favorites!

Let’s talk about Disney’s Signature Dining.  If you’re going to splurge on a meal either out-of-pocket or by burning two table service dining credits on the Disney Dining Plan, it’s important to choose wisely!  While we haven’t quite made it to all the finest dining Disney has to offer (I’m looking at you, Victoria and Albert’s), we’ve tried a good many and have indeed developed enough of a fondness for a few to do what we can to squeeze them into our budgets for both time and money as often as we can.Signature Dining - Yachtsman Steakhouse

For those of you with little ones, fully enjoying a Signature Dining experience can be challenging.  You know you kids best and whether or not they’d like to sit in a fancy restaurant for a lengthy meal.  This is Disney World so signature restaurants are kid-friendly, but they are not as fun as character dining (like at Tusker House or Chef Mickey) or some places with funny servers (think Whispering Canyon Café or 50’s Prime Time Café) and cool themes (Sci-Fi Dine In Theater).  These places also tend to have more “adult” foods on the kids’ menu.  The list I’ve put together here is mainly geared towards families with older children and groups of adults.  If you’ve got something to celebrate, like an anniversary or graduation, signature dining is the way to go!

Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

In The Resorts

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Hands down this is our favorite Signature Dining Experience, but it’s not for everyone!  Jiko is best enjoyed by diners with adventurous palates.  That’s not to say that picky eaters won’t find something to love, but it may take a little creative work with the cooperative servers and chefs.  We’re game (see what I did there?) for trying exotic dishes made with wild boar or buffalo.  We welcome new flavors from African-spiced dishes of all kinds.  Options like pork and lamb shanks, beef short ribs, scallops, halibut, lobster, and vegetarian dishes make up the creative menu.  We have never been disappointed.  The wine list is as fantastic as the food.

California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – The food’s good, but the setting is great!  The view from the top of the Contemporary Resort is fantastic and at sunset it’s downright awesome!  The California-inspired menu is broad and boasts a great selection of sushi along with other, many very complex, dishes.  Service is excellent and compared to Citricos and Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian (also signature), California Grill manages to seem extra special.  No matter what time you have dinner, you’ll be welcome to stay (or return) and enjoy Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular) from the restaurant’s outdoor viewing area.  We celebrated our 25th anniversary at California Grill and our experience was wonderful.

Flying Fish (Disney’s Boardwalk) – Recently renovated and with a new chef, Flying Fish has an awesome location (a short walk from Epcot) and has been very popular in the past.  One of our best vacation meal memories is of dinner at the Flying Fish.  Disney's Flying Fish Cafe ExteriorI don’t know firsthand how the restaurant’s new version compares to the old, but our next Flying Fish dinner is just days away.  The new menu looks fantastic (albeit expensive!) and it may well be worth two dining credits.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club) – A solid choice for steak-lovers, Yachtsman’s proximity to Epcot makes it a stellar alternative to Le Cellier in World Showcase’s Canada Pavilion.  Good service, solid menu, and the butcher/meat viewing area is cool!  We thought the atmosphere a bit more laid back than some of the other signature restaurants and that complimented, rather than detracted from, the overall experience to us.  If you’re not a steak fan, there are better places to eat.  If you love a good steak, I found even the smallest one on the menu (6-ounce Black Angus Filet) to be perfectly cooked, tender, and delicious.

In The Parks

Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) – As I mentioned in the review I did recently, this place is probably not for picky, non-adventurous eaters.  If you love Animal Kingdom for the incredible theming and you want to feel like you’re eating in an exotic far away place with amazing service, consider Tiffins.  It can be a bit expensive, but is very special, so worth it in my opinion (at least once).  The menu is extraordinary and the beer and wine lists are carefully cultivated and unique.  While all signature dining restaurants try to offer exceptional service in a special atmosphere, Tiffins succeeds in a way few others manage.The Hollywood Brown Derby / Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Brown Derby (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – While this may be our least favorite of the group I’ve listed here today, it’s worth mentioning.  The Derby has many devoted fans and it offers a wonderful respite from park noise and crowds.  The atmosphere is very cool and the menu offers a good variety.  The Cobb Salad is famous as is the Grapefruit Cake dessert.  If you’re on the dining plan, don’t waste two table service credits here.  If you want a nice meal at a low-ish price for signature dining and/or want the best meal in the Studios, give the Hollywood Brown Derby a try.

What did I miss?  Do you have a favorite signature restaurant that didn’t make our list?

 

Disney at Home – Duplicating Recipes

The Wave EntrancePart of (I should really say much of) our Disney vacation happiness is about the food.  Favorite restaurants, favorite dishes, trying new places – oh, boy, do we love to eat at Walt Disney World!  What’s best about all this dining is when a particular dish really surprises us.

Disney at Home – Duplicating Recipes

Last December when Raymond and I were on our post-Christmas R&R, I booked dinner at The Wave (Contemporary Resort) for our last night.  I knew we’d be tired and want to be close to our room at Bay Lake Tower.  We’d never eaten in The Wave before, but had enjoyed snacks and cocktails in the lounge more than once.  We knew the food would be good and were looking forward to the relaxing atmosphere.The Wave Menu

As expected, we were exhausted, but had been having a fantastic trip.  We arrived for our last dinner practically sleeping on our feet.  If you’ve never been to The Wave before, it’s a lot like being in a cellar – no windows, cozy if a bit dark.  The service is absolutely top notch.  We ordered soup for an appetizer and, if I remember correctly, we both ordered fish for our entrees.  I’m positive we ordered a bottle of wine from the cocktail menu.The Wave Menu Cover

The soup was a most pleasant surprise and made the entire meal for us.  In fact, it was one of the most delicious soups we’d ever had.  The ultimate comfort food – creamy soup full of sausage, gnocchi, and spinach.  As we were exchanging Mmmmmm’s, I made the offhanded comment that I could probably recreate this amazing deliciousness at home.  We enjoyed the rest of our dinner, made the short walk back to Bay Lake Tower and crashed.  The next morning we headed for home.

Fast forward about at week and Raymond says, “Hey!  Weren’t you going to try to make that soup?”.  Yes!  I had planned on that and I made my grocery list right then and there.  I’ve cooked Disney dishes at home before, but always found a recipe online to use.  This time I didn’t even search for a recipe, I made it up as I went.  How hard could it be?The Wave Soup Recreation in Progress

Turns out not really hard at all.  I stared by browning spicy Italian sausage which I drained and set aside.  While the sausage was browning (I added red pepper flakes to make it spicier), I defrosted, squeezed dry, and food-processed a package of frozen spinach (the food processing part was a total waste of time).  After that I whipped up a simple roux of butter and flour.  Then I stirred in a healthy amount of both chicken broth and real live honest to goodness cream.The Wave Soup Recreation Begins

I added the spinach and sausage and one store-bought package of gnocchi to the pot and let it all cook together for about half an hour.  This gave the gnocchi time to become soft and all the flavors to blend together.  While all that was going on, I toasted up some garlic bread as an accompaniment.  The original version from The Wave had a crunchy toasted cheese topping which I’ll try to recreate in the future.The Wave Soup IngredientsThe Wave Soup Recreated

While the soups didn’t look exactly the same, the flavors were nearly identical.  I was very proud of my soup!  I will most definitely be making it again as soon as the weather starts to cool off a little in the fall.

Have you made a Disney dish at home?  What’s your favorite Disney recipe?