Disney Land and Sea – Trip Recap (Part 2)

DCL-Bus (2)When I left off in Part One, I’d finished the Glass Slipper Challenge and enjoyed Sunday afternoon at Disney Springs.  Raymond and I had decided weeks earlier that it would be best to have a quiet dinner near our Bay Lake Tower studio and make an early evening of it on Sunday.  We could sleep in, pack up, and be ready to board our Disney Cruise Line bus by 11:30 am.

Disney Land and Sea – Trip Recap (Part 2)


We chose The Wave in the Contemporary Resort for its proximity to our room and the fact that while we’d enjoyed wine and lunch in The Wave’s lounge, we’d never eaten in the dining room proper.  Our dinner was very nice and the service was notably excellent.  I felt so drowsy by the end of the meal, I ordered coffee and determined to stay awake long enough to watch at least a little of The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60 that was airing on ABC that evening.  I managed to stay awake for about 3 minutes.

Monday morning felt glorious!  No early alarm!  No running!  We’d gotten nine hours of sleep and felt like new people.  Plus, we still had the entire second half of our vacation ahead – four nights on the Disney Dream!  We packed in record time and decided to hit Kona Café for breakfast before shopping the resort loop boutiques.  Polynesian's-Bou-tikiWe ended up back at the Contemporary when I realized that I’d forgotten to pack any stateroom door decorations.  I couldn’t stand the thought of a plain white door, so Raymond helped me find some magnets, a magnetic clip and Minnie and Mickey postcards we could use to set our door apart from our neighbors’.  Total rookie mistake, but I think our door turned out alright in the end.Disney-Dream-Door-Decor

We knew we were going to miss our kids like crazy on this trip.  This would be our seventh Disney cruise, but the first one without Megan and Joseph.  We’d had such a spectacular time on the Disney Magic on the Norwegian Fjords cruise in 2015, it was hard to imagine what it would be like for Raymond and I to be all alone.  We decided to do things on this cruise much differently than we had on any cruise in the past with the hope that it would make sailing without them easier.  And it did…a little tiny bit…maybe.Disney-Dream-Sail-Away

First of all this cruise was short!  In 2010 we sailed on a Castaway Cay 5-night double dip and the next three cruises after that were all 7-nights.  We couldn’t believe how fast the trip went by even though we packed in a lot of activities while still making time to relax.  The ship was new (to us) and much larger than we were used to, so everything was different and a little bit foreign (but absolutely beautiful!).Disney-Dream-Royal-Seating

We’d booked dinner and brunch at Remy as well as a dinner at Palo.  This meant we planned to eat in our regular, rotational dining restaurants only twice and we wouldn’t be getting off the ship at all in Nassau.

Mostly our plan worked well.  Very uncharacteristically, we skipped all the evening shows on this cruise in favor of either special dining experiences, exploring the ship, or relaxing.  If you’ve never been on a Disney cruise before, I DO NOT recommend missing the shows!  They’re excellent, spectacular, amazing (and many other glowing adjectives as well)!Disney-Dream-Sail-Away-Selfie

After we attended the lifeboat drill and Sail Away Party, we ate the first night at Animator’s Palate with our assigned tablemates – a couple from Pennsylvania celebrating their 25th anniversary.  DCL-Server-OldairOur servers, Oldair (from Colombia) and Merrick (from Jamaica) were excellent and, except for the butternut squash soup I ordered (after Oldair told me not to), our food was good.  The special effects in Animator’s were completely different from what we were used to on the Magic and the Wonder, but still fun.  That meal ended up being the only time we saw our tablemates, Oldair, or Merrick (except on the last night when we stopped by to leave tips).

Here’s how the rest of our cruise went…

Tuesday was Nassau day.  We started with breakfast in Cabanas before hitting the fitness center where we intended to spend about an hour, but actually spent two.  We ran on treadmills (with awesome views!), worked out with weights, I had a foot/posture consultation (yes, I did buy the shoe inserts they were selling) and then it was time for spin class, so we stayed around to participate.  Disney-Dream-Fitness-Center-Spin-ClassSophie was her name, I think, the spin class instructor, and she was a pretty young lady from Australia – very deceptive!  Sophie was a devil in disguise!  I thought I was going to die.  The only thing that kept me going was thinking about the calories I was burning and the food I would be eating later.  After all that, we found a couple of deck chairs and drank recovery beverages called beer.  Feeling much better, we decided to get cleaned up and see about some food.Disney-Dream-Royal-PalaceDisney-Dream-Key-Lime-Pie

We had a nice lunch in a gorgeous restaurant called the Royal Palace (delicious key lime pie!!!) and then decided to solve a mystery with the Midship Detective Agency (an interactive ship-wide adventure that deserves its own post later).  This was lots of fun (to me…not sure Raymond would agree).  After successfully executing our super-sleuth assignment, we reported to the Senses Spa for our 4:30 appointment – the massage for two.  Very relaxing and tranquil, but we had to hustle once the appointment was over to get ready for our dinner at Remy.  Disney-Dream-RemyAgain, this experience deserves its own article, so I’ll just say we enjoyed our meal very much.  After six courses ordered from the menu, a cheese course, and at least three “surprises” from the chef, we were done for the day.  So full and sleepy, we headed to bed looking forward to spending the next day on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

Castaway Cay!  Raymond and I had registered for the Castaway Cay 5K, so we got up, ate at Cabanas, and met in the assigned location (Evolution lounge).  The Cast Member issuing race bibs and instructions was overwhelmed with the number of participants (over 300) and declared it to be the biggest turnout for the race EVER.  Raymond and I had a great time!  I even made a friend along the way.  Her name’s Julie and she’s from Cape Canaveral…Hi Julie!Castaway-Cay-5K-Finish

After the run, we headed for Serenity Bay (first time for us at the gown-ups-only beach!) and found it to be indeed quite serene (and a bit surreal with the complete absence of children).  The weather at the beginning of the day was very windy with occasional sprinkles.  When we arrived at the beach, the wind had calmed and the sun was shining.  We found lounge chairs and ordered fancy drinks before settling in for some serious relaxing…at least I tried to relax.Castaway-Cay-RelaxingI’m not good at sitting still, so I made friends with Tammy and Stan (sitting near us) and spend most of the time wading around in the water until lunchtime.  Tammy, Stan, Raymond and I hit the beach-side buffet before heading back to the bay for more wading and “relaxing”.  Castaway-Cay-BeachThat didn’t last long…I was getting sunburned and was ready to go back to the ship.  Raymond and I  stopped at the Conched Out Bar for a few minutes and enjoyed a Guinness to break up the walk back.  We were supposed to go to the Royal Palace for dinner that night but opted instead for room service and called it a day.

Last Day – Sea Day!  To start the day, we grabbed a quick bite at Cabanas before letting Sophie torture us again in spin class.  We then enjoyed a champagne brunch at Remy for which I will write a complete review, but let me say now that this was an especially excellent experience.  Disney-Dream-Sea-Treasures-ShopAfter brunch we browsed the ship’s gift shops and watched a cooking demonstration for lobster ravioli.  Disney-Dream-Cooking-DemoThen we attended a reception for gold and platinum Castaway Club members (Disney Cruise Line’s repeat guest rewards program).  Disney-Dream-Castaway-Club-ReceptionSomewhere during all that we also visited the future cruise desk to book a placeholder cruise (to keep the onboard booking discount without selecting a specific sail date) and we also bought the only pictures taken of us by a Disney photographer – our post-Castaway Cay 5K photos.  We ate dinner at Palo that night and were very pleased to find the restaurant exactly the way we wanted it to be.  Disney-Dream-Palo-Place-settingWe’d enjoyed Palo on both the Disney Magic and Wonder and hoped Palo on the Dream would be just as good – it was perfect.DCL-Goodbye-Sign

Watch for more reviews on the restaurants, the running events, activities, and the Disney Dream itself coming up in the near future.  If you have any questions about a Disney land and sea adventure, I’d be happy to help.

Have you sailed on the Disney Dream?  How was your experience?





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.

Disney Vacation Emotions

Waiting for Toy Story Midway ManiaThis post is for true blue Disney fans.  If you don’t like Disney vacations or If you don’t understand the thrill and allure of Disney parks and resorts, feel free to click away now.  You won’t understand this post and it will most certainly not be of interest or assistance to you in any way.  Come back another time and perhaps you’ll see something more suitable for your reading pleasure.

Still here?  Excellent!  Let’s talk Disney Vacation Emotions!

As you read this, I’ll be on my way to Walt Disney World as I’ve done many times since my first visit in 1990.  I love a Disney vacation!  It’s not all fun and games and great food and experiences though.  I’m emotionally involved from the time I leave home until the time I return.  After all this time, I’ve come to realize that my emotional ebbs and flows are pretty consistent on each Walt Disney World visit and they follow a general pattern that looks like this…THE Disney EarHat for ME!

Day One:  Worry and excitement in equal measures.  I worry that I didn’t pack all the right necessities while at the same time I’m overflowing with child-like excitement about all the wonderful and beloved sights, sounds, smells, and details I’m about to experience.  Disney's-Magical-Express-ViewThe Magical Express trip from the airport is too slow, but builds anticipation at the same time.  When I walk down Main Street USA and see Cinderella Castle, I’m going to get choked up.  Don’t talk to me.RM-Cinderella-Castle

Days Two Through the Second-to-Last-Day.  BOOM BABY!  I’m in the zone.  I’m feeling ecstatic and proud!  I’m a seasoned Disney veteran (as are the other members of my family) and we know what we’re about.  FastPasses, dining reservations, thrills, new experiences and family favorites…singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, waiting for our stretch limo, boarding a service elevator, meeting Belle, cruising in a Doom Buggy or Clam Mobile, asking Crush a question…it’s all so wonderful and evokes such joy!STUDIO_ROCKNRCOASTERRIDE_7071496091

The Day Before the Last Day (aka: Second-to-Last-Day):  Panic sets in.  Oh, NO!  It’s almost over!  Stay in the moment…pay attention.  Squeeze all the joy out of these last two days.  What were we thinking? We should have planned to stay longer!  Where has the time gone?  I don’t want to leave.  I can sense the real world creeping back in, but manage to push it away.In line at Disney

The Last Day:  I know I have to go home, but one more day means making the most of every opportunity.  I’m not going to waste a minute!  My grandmother used to say, “Quit while you still want more” and those are excellent words to remember on this day.  I’ll admit it…I’m tired.  My feet hurt.  I miss Junior (the Wonder Dog) and know he misses me.  By lunch, I’m resigned to packing up and saying so long, but will squeeze in all the fun I can until the last possible minute.Magical-Express-Bus

Going Home:  I’m exhausted and sad.  I looked forward to this for so long and now it’s over.  How could so many months of anticipation end up like this…as if time sped up and POOF!  It’s in the past.  Oh, but the memories!  Those will sustain me until…hmmmm…I’m feeling another Disney vacation coming on!  Let’s pick some dates and start planning!

Any of this sound familiar?  What are your Disney vacation emotions?

Walt Disney World – Just Back, Trip Recap!

Clam-mobile-selfieWe had a great time at Walt Disney World!  We always have a great time, so this comes as no surprise.  What DID surprise us was the exceptional, unexpected delights along with a couple of equally surprising minor disappointments.  You know me – fair and balanced (usually) is my M.O. and today’s no different.  Please bear in mind that in anticipation of the extreme crowds to be expected between Christmas and New Year’s, we made an unprecedented number of dining reservations.  Now let’s get to it!

Walt Disney World – Just Back, Trip Recap!

The VERY BESTPolynesian-Villa-Studio

Our Polynesian Village Resort DVC villa!  You can read that review here.  We were so happy with our location and how comfortable and luxurious our room and its amenities were!  Would we stay here again?  In a heartbeat!DHS-Osborne-Lights-Sign

Saying Goodbye to the Osborne Lights – Bittersweet, but we made the most of the opportunity and were happy at the end of the day.  I guess we could call it closure.Skipper-Canteen-Jungle-Cruise-Sign

The New Skipper Canteen – A full review of this fantastic new Magic Kingdom eatery will be coming up within the next few days, but let me say – If this is the future of Disney’s theme park dining, I’m ecstatic!Jiko-Exterior

Jiko – It’s been a few years since we’ve eaten at this Signature restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge because we had to work Boma and Sanaa into our vacation dining rotation.  It was every bit as wonderful as every other time we’ve eaten there.  Again – full review coming soon.Shula's-Steakhouse-Exterior

Shula’s Steakhouse – Ever since we tried (and were delighted by) Il Mulino at the Swan, we’ve been hoping to fit dinner at Shula’s (at the Dolphin) into our plans.  Perfectly perfect in every way.  Guess what?  Yup – there’s a review coming up soon!Morimoto-Asia-Sushi

Morimoto Asia – Another place we were dying to try and brand new to boot.  Located in Disney Springs, we planned a morning around having lunch at Morimoto Asia before an afternoon at Epcot.  What a great meal!  We shared every course hoping it would keep us from eating too much – HA!  We left completely stuffed and loved the sake flight offered there as well.  You know?  I believe I’ll write a review on this place too!  (So check back!)

The Really GoodJingle-Cruise-Sign

Jingle Cruise – We love Jungle Cruise in it’s usual configuration so chances were that we’d be thrilled with the ride’s holiday overlay.  And we were.  Skipper Patrick was from our home state of Louisiana and he was a true master at pun-delivery!  If you’ve not had the chance and are visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays, do make time to experience this fun and funny seasonal treat.Be-Our-Guest-Restaurant-Sign

Breakfast at Be Our Guest – We’d eaten both lunch and dinner at Be Our Guest before, so we thought, why NOT see how breakfast is.  Hands down, this was our favorite meal at this unique and amazingly-themed restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland.Tonga-Toast-Kona-Cafe

Breakfast at Kona Café – We’d never had Tonga Toast before!  We had to knock that off our Disney to-do list.  While the toast might have been a little sweet for us, we loved the omelet we shared, plus the coffee and the service were both excellent.  Those to-go coffees our server offered us were just the ticket for making sure we were wide awake when we got to Magic Kingdom.Chewbacca-Meet-and-Greet

Meeting Chewbacca – He was everything we hoped he’d be!  Tall, furry, friendly, and photogenic!  The Launch Bay, where fans can meet both Chewbacca and Darth Vader, is packed with enough Star Wars information and memorabilia to make every fan happy.Star-Tours-Queue

The New Star Tours – We weren’t sure what to expect with the new Force Awakens tie-ins, but they were just right – seamlessly included in the storyline. (Nope, no spoilers here!)

The DisappointmentsBluezoo-Exterior

Bluezoo – This Todd English restaurant at the Dolphin was someplace we’d really looked forward to trying.  We’d heard such great things about the menu and service.  The service was as expected – excellent.  The disappointment came in the form of our $42 entrees.  We each ordered something different and we both found the food lacking in interest and flavor.  There are tons of other places in that price range at Disney World, no need to waste money here.Flying-Fish-Exterior-2015

Flying Fish – The last time we ate at Flying Fish was in May, 2014 and it was one of the best dining experiences we’d ever had.  The food, the service, the ambiance – all of it created such a fantastic vacation memory.  Raymond and I were expecting the same thing this time.  Not so much.  Lackluster (at best) is what we got.  It started with the hostess who would not make eye contact or smile – just shoved a pager at Raymond and said (without looking up), “We’ll call you when we’re ready”.  Flying-Fish-Interior-2015(2)The young lady who led us to our table when our pager blinked was equally un-Disney-like.  Our server went through the motions, but never talked about the menu or made recommendations of any kind.  He was pleasant enough yet made us feel like a chore he needed to finish quickly. Flying-Fish-Interior-2015(1) I have a theory.  Flying Fish is getting ready to close for an extended refurbishment.  I asked and the server told me they were all being reassigned to other places.  I believe they’ve all checked-out and mentally moved on, knowing that at the end of January their work family will be divided up among many other Disney restaurants and they’ll each have to learn the ways of a new place.  I’d be willing to go back again after the refurb and give Flying Fish another shot.

Have your recent experiences been different than ours?  What has been your most favorite recent Disney dining or attraction experience?