Our First Disney World Dessert Party

Walt Disney World’s Dessert Parties have been around for a while.  We’d been curious about what those up-charged special offerings were all about, so I booked a reservation and paid the price for…

Our First Disney World Dessert Party

Seriously, the name alone made the party sound exciting – “Jingle Bell Jingle BAM Dessert Party”.  And even though it was expensive (about $70 per person) to attend, I thought that during the ridiculously crowded Christmas week, it made sense add a special event that included a reserved viewing area for the Jingle Bell Jingle BAM fireworks/projection show.  We were excited about ending our vacation with this extra splurge.

The weather had turned unexpectedly cold and windy on the day of the party.  We bundled up with what we’d packed for cooler weather and spent the day at Animal Kingdom.  I’d moved our Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) dinner reservation to 5:30 so we could enjoy our meal and still get to the party on time and this part of the plan went off without a hitch.  We arrived at the party’s check-in area near the Chinese Theater in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at around 8:00 pm.  We’d even had time to shop for some extra layers to ward off the freezing cold weather for the evening.  I say ‘we”, but it was all me.  I bought a hat and scarf and the purchase-with-a-purchase throw that was being offered.  It was probably only in the mid-40’s, but it was COLD!

At check-in, we were given special bracelets and some hand-warmers (nice touch!) and shown to our assigned table (#3).  I loved that we had an assigned table and that it had a nice tablecloth and looked festive.  It was nice and warm at our table and we took turns going to the different food and beverage stations.  There was a small menu that described the party highlights…those highlights included more than dessert!  We received special glasses to wear for the show that turned all the lights into gingerbread men.  We also got to meet Santa Goofy during the party.  So far, so good!

We’d just finished a great dinner at Jiko, so we weren’t interested in any of the savory offerings at the food tables.  I opted to fill a small plate with sweet treats to share and I grabbed a glass of white wine on my way back to our table.  Raymond got a glass of red wine (which I ended up drinking) before he noticed there was coffee (and hot cocoa) available.  Joseph had a beer and then some hot cocoa.  I had everyone sample the desserts I’d chosen and the verdict was unanimous – poor quality and extremely dry.  Even the frosted small cupcake-shaped rice crispy treat was disappointing.  Our opinion was that the food was not good enough for the price of the experience.

It was time to make our way to the designated viewing area for the show.  A Cast Member handed us a parting gift of plastic-wrapped gingerbread people. (Poor little guy’s arm broke off after I carried him around in my bag.)More Cast Members with light sabers guided us to a roped-off area in front of the theater.  The show was just okay.  Best part? We wore our glasses and when the fireworks started and it looked like multicolored gingerbread men were shooting out in every direction, Raymond and Joseph both burst out laughing…that alone made the experience worthwhile for me.

To sum it up…

Dessert party pros:  Great hospitality, reserved seating, festive atmosphere, adult beverages, extras like the special glasses, Santa Goofy and gingerbread cookie.  The special viewing area was good.

Cons:  The food and price.  We could have watched the show for no extra charge…but the show was just meh.

Would I attend another dessert party? Maybe. Especially for the Galactic Spectacular show that returned to the Studios this month.  For sure, I’d have more realistic expectations about the food and might opt to bring a less-full belly in order to give the savory offerings a try.

Have you attended a dessert party at Walt Disney World?  Which one was it and did you feel it was worth the price?

Disney Dining – Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

In theory, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater in Disney’s Hollywood Studios sounds like a winning place to enjoy a casual lunch or dinner.  A tribute to the drive-in theaters of old along with those cheesy horror movies from the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s and a menu of classic American entrees and sides…it’s bound to be great, right?sci-fi-dine-in-menu

Disney Dining – Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

We gave this place a try for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s the verdict:

What we liked:  This place is certainly unique.  We thought the theme was fun, the movie clips hilarious, and the menu broad enough for everyone to find something they were happy with.  Our server was good – she was taking the orders of seven people split between two cars and managed to make us all feel like she was sincere and attentive.  The beer was cold and delicious and our meals arrived in a timely manner.  The food was okay.  Better than typical fast-food, which is good because it was a little pricey (and hard to photograph in the dark!). sci-fi-dine-in-sandwich

What we didn’t like:  The waiting area and the hostess left much to be desired.  Our first impression wasn’t a good one.  We didn’t wait long afraid ter we checked in, but the area we sat in was disappointing compared to other places like 50’s Prime Time Café.  The hostess was so bland and monotone, I thought maybe it was some sort of act.  I’m still not sure, because she never smiled, made little eye contact and spoke in a deep voice devoid of inflection.  She walked us to our car-tables as if she was headed to the gallows.  This made us feel rather like a burden.sci-fi-dine-in-darkness

Our tables were split between two cars with Raymond and I in the back of a car with a random family of four – this seemed weird to me and made me wish I’d done more research on how a party of our size would be handled.  The other five in our group were in the car next to us, but far enough away that conversation with them was impossible.sci-fi-dine-in-ticket

What would get us to eat there again?  We’d go back again if we were with someone who would get a big kick out of the movie clips and drive-in experience.  Ideally, we’d be with an even-numbered party of four or six so we could all eat in one vehicle.  sci-fi-dine-in-signProbably the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater will now be in our once-and-done category simply because I expect the Star Wars expansion to bring with it new dining experiences for us to try.  And I like the food at 50’s Prime Time Café better.

Have you tried Sci-Fi Dine-In?  How was your experience?

WDW Attractions – Best Lead Up

RM-Haunted-Mansion-Exterior2We’ve talked about queues, we’ve talked about favorites and today it’s time to talk about the best attractions for attention-grabbing from afar – the one’s with real curb appeal, if you will.  With some of the very best rides, it’s all about the lead up!

Some attraction exteriors offer absolutely no clue what to expect (think Soarin’, Country Bears, Space Mountain), but some attractions draw you in from far away – the theme, the park setting – long before you step into the queue, you know you’re about to experience something extraordinary!  I’m going to talk about just five today – go ahead and leave a comment if your favorite gets left out – I’ll do a “part 2” in the future!

WDW Attractions – Best Lead Up

  1.  Haunted MansionRM-Haunted-Mansion-GraveyardFrom WAY far away, the draw to Haunted Mansion is incredible!  It looks exactly the way you hope it will – Grand yet a bit sinister.  You can immediately tell the Mansion holds room after room to explore – haunted corridors, ballrooms, attic and much more!  RM-Haunted-Mansion-ExteriorThe minute you see it, you know it’s going to be the perfect combination of scary and fun!
  2. Big Thunder Mountain RailroadThe Red Rock of Big Thunder MountainThe train flies along the track – you can see the passengers raise their hands, you can hear them screaming in delight, but that’s not the primary draw.  In Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland, the whole landscape of Big Thunder that makes you eager to get inside that mountain – so out of place with the surrounding Florida palm trees and lush tropical plants.  Big Thunder Mountain is a wasteland of epic proportions and the details are mesmerizing!  Best of all, the queue at this mountain is top notch.
  3. Twilight Zone Tower of TerrorDisney's Hollywood Studios Tower of TerrorIt looks elegant and disheveled, classic but unique – first impressions are everything here in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Strolling down Sunset Boulevard, you can’t help but notice the tower’s façade and how it stands out.  Walk a little farther, and you’ll notice something else – the SCREAMING!  The sound will draw your eyes closer to the tower where in an upstairs window, you’ll see motion, but little else.  If you’re a thrill ride junkie, this is the ride for you!
  4. Rock’n’ Roller CoasterRock'n'-Roller-Coaster-GuitarThe location actually hurts this attraction because Tower of Terror tends to steal Rock’n’ Roller Coaster’s thunder.  You have to turn left at the very end of Sunset Boulevard to even notice the upside down Cadillac let alone the gigantic guitar, but once you see the setting, you know that for music fans and coaster addicts alike will find this the place to be!
  5. Expedition EverestRM-Expedition-Everest-ApproachIn Animal Kingdom, you can be far from Everest and still be drawn in.  Call me biased, but there’s a reason this is my favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World and one of the main reasons is that from the moment you see the mountain in the distance, you can’t help but want to be a part of its magic.  “Forbidden Mountain” is like a double-dog dare to those of us who love an amazing coaster – every single detail is beyond perfect!  Hands down, Expedition Everest has the best draw from afar of any attraction in the World.

Is your favorite “love at first sight” attraction missing from this list?  Which Walt Disney World rides grab you from afar and draw you in?Expedition Everest

Looking Back: Star Wars’ Rebel Hangar Lounge at DHS

Hooray for the weekend!!!  Today let’s go back with Nick to last year’s final Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – specifically to the ultra cool Rebel Hangar: A Star Wars Lounge Experience.  I like to believe that while Star Wars Weekends are no more, the Rebel Hangar was a preview of the most excellent experiences we can expect in the future at the Studios as Star Wars Land becomes a reality and Star Wars is not relegated to a few weekends each year, but becomes a fully immersive adventure we can experience any time we visit.

Looking Back: Star Wars’ Rebel Hangar Lounge at DHS

By Nick

The Rebel Hangar Lounge at the Backlot Express in Disney’s Hollywood Studios was held nightly through the end of Star Wars Weekends on June 14th, 2015.

This new spot to hang out and have appetizers, cocktails and sweet treats was originally only slated to be open during Star Wars Weekends…on the weekends, but interest was so high, it was made a daily offering!

Let me relate my experience with not only booking during the initial weekend period, but also the very lucky sneak peak I got of this great experience.

When it was first announced on the Disney Parks Blog on May 5th, just a little over a week before my trip, I immediately got on the phone with Josh, one of the 2 friends I was going to be traveling to Walt Disney World with to have a guys geek out weekend, and asked if “The Lounge” would be something he would be interested in, and if I should call our other friend, Joe. He said “Book it, Joe will be fine with it.” I got on the phone to make an ADR. I was told it was already sold out! This was only a few hours after it was officially announced! This didn’t stop me from trying though. I went online to the Disney’s official dining page, and found Rebel Hangar Lounge. As I talked to Josh, telling him we should periodically call or check the dining page, I absentmindedly clicked on different days and times, and BOOM-there was an opening for 820PM for Sunday 5/17 and I immediately booked!

Fast forward to the first day of our trip, Thursday 5/14, and Joe, Josh and I were walking towards the back of the park after a very filling buffet, Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine, which I will be reviewing in the coming days, so please stop back. There was a couple of people talking to Cast Members behind a podium at Backlot Express, home of the Rebel Hangar. I walked over to check out the decorations, and started taking photos.

A very nice man, (I really wish I’d gotten his name, in fact, I wish I could remember every Cast Member’s name, as they were all wonderful) asked if we’d heard of the Rebel Hangar. We told him we had indeed, and would be visiting that very weekend. He then explained they were having a preview for executives, and asked if we’d like to see the menu.

We said certainly, and as we looked, he asked “How would you like to come in and check it out, maybe have a bite to eat and a cocktail?” Um, yes!

As we entered, we explained we’d just eaten, but would love a cocktail, and he said that was fine.

We were seated, and within moments, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, aka, the Cantina Band, came out to entertain us. As there was literally only 2 other guests, excluding the executives, who were in another area, they spent several minutes with us taking photos and showing off their musical instruments and skills!

 Me and Dan. At least, I think that’s Dan.
Joe and his new friend. (Joe is on the right, by the way.)
 Joe, Josh and me with the Band.

We were all given menus, and each of us chose a different drink.

I got the Imperial Blue – Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Cointreau, Bols Blue Curacao, and sweet and sour topped with Sprite, which was $10.25 on the menu.

 Joe chose the Dagobah Swamp Juice – Midori, Tito’s handmade vodka, sweet and sour, topped with lemon-lime Fomz, $14.75.

Josh had the Tatooine Sunset – Stoli Vanil Vodka, Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, pineapple juice and grenadine, $9.25.

As we were enjoying these, the hit being the Dagobah Swamp Juice, when Sabine and Ezra, from the Star Wars Rebels animated series, came out.

We were also convinced to give a couple of food items a try, despite being so full, and we chose the 2 selections that had the most visual appeal, Chips and Sith, chickpea and lentil hummus with roasted red pepper coulis, black sesame dust and multi-colored corn tortilla chips, which is $8.49 on the menu, and the Yoda Key Lime Cake, $7.99. The hummus was very good, the Key Lime Cake was amazing!

We were also offered another round of drinks! How could we refuse? This time, I got the Rebel Red – Grey Goose vodka, Chambord, sweet and sour, and grenadine, priced at $15.25 on the menu. This was good, but very sweet.

Finally, as we were finishing our adult beverages, that bounty hunter with the bad eyesight or slow trigger finger, depending on which version of Star Wars you are watching, Greedo, came out!

As we exited, I stopped and took some pics of the various decorations on the walls and tables.

 

So, after an experience like this, how could our Sunday visit possibly match up? Well, to put it bluntly, it couldn’t.
For one thing, there was barely a character to be found. We spoke to our Cast Member friend from our previous visit, who explained that there had been more members of the Star Wars galaxy roaming the lounge earlier in the evening, but the reason Disney was not promoting this as a character dining experience was these visits were random. As he was saying this, the only characters we saw that evening, 2 Jawas, came out.

The other problem was where we were seated. The corner we were in faced the ramp leading to the Backlot Express area, which was clearly visible, somewhat detracting from the experience.

This table is also directly under a vent, so cold air was constantly blowing on us, which not only made us chilly, but quickly cooled down the hot food we’d ordered.
We all got our favorite cocktail from the previous visit, the Dagobah Swamp Juice. This time, it came with a clip on X-Wing Fighter. Note: You can order the drinks without the X-Wing, even though that isn’t advertised, which knocks about $5 off the price!

For food, we ordered several of the small plates to share. The highlight was the Lightsaber Bites for $11.49. These are hand-dipped and corn-battered knockwurst sausages with house-made chips and honey-mustard dipping sauce.

These were delicious, as were the house made chips, which also came with the Slider Sampler: The Sith and the Jedi, Barbecue pulled pork brisket with coleslaw and barbecue pulled chicken with arugula for $9.99. The pork was good, but the chicken was just so-so. I wouldn’t get this dish again.

At $11.49, the Trio of Thermal Detonators, pork wings with spicy piquillo pepper sauce served with coleslaw were also pretty good, but again, I likely wouldn’t order these on another visit either.

The Pilot’s Pommes Frites , aka French Fries, which came with a garlic aiolic and cost $5.49, were really tasty, but did not stay warm long under the vent. I would certainly get these again however.

Would I recommend this experience. ABSOLUTELY. For one, it isn’t outrageously priced. You can enjoy the experience for under $20, depending on what you order. And I would love to try the other items we didn’t order, especially the Ilum Fruit and Cheese Sabers, skewers of Tillamook cheddar, mild brie, goat cheese, olives and seasonal berries with crostini and cheddar cracker $12.99 and The Dark Fried, crispy chicken and mini-Darth Vader waffles served with maple syrup and barbecue sauce $14.99.

But I highly recommend you ask to be seated in an area that immerses you in the theme, or even outside on a nice evening.

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.