Autumn at Walt Disney World

RM-Main-Street-USA-Magic-KingdomSeptember has arrived!  While I live where it’s still incredibly hot and humid, September’s arrival means fall weather won’t be terribly far away.  Kids head back to school, mornings feel a little bit cooler, and, for those who can make it, one of the very best times to visit Walt Disney World is upon us.  This year, the part of my family that will be enjoying this perfect time of the year at our favorite vacation destination does not include me.  That doesn’t keep me from being crazy-excited for our daughter, Megan, who will be honeymooning at Disney World in the very near future.

The newlyweds will be able to make the most of this wonderful chance to experience…

Autumn at Walt Disney World – 5 Great ThingsBay-Lake-Tower-Sunrise

  1. The Weather – Lower humidity, lower temperatures, and less chance of rain.  Sure, it’s hurricane season, but the odds are pretty good that the weather will be fantastic.  The skies are bluer and the sunrises and sunsets are more beautiful.  Okay, maybe it just seems that way to me, but I’d swear it’s true.RM-Magic-Kingdom-Autumn
  2. The Crowds – There’s more room!  Fewer children!  The queues are shorter, so seeing and doing more on any given day is much easier.  Fewer guests makes Disney World seem more inviting – the extra elbow room is fantastic!RM-Fall-Mickey-Pumpkin
  3. The Events – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a must-do event.  You must don an awesome Disney costume and experience this incredibly fun seasonal bash.  Trick-or-Treat (yes, even grown-ups), dance with your favorite characters, enjoy rides and attractions, and, do NOT (seriously, DO NOT) miss the Boo to You Parade.  RM-Boo-to-You-ParadeYou won’t believe it until you see it.  That alone is worth the price of admission.  Don’t even get me started on the joys of Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival.RM-Magic-Kingdom-Scarecrow
  4. The Decorations – Magic Kingdom gets all decked out for fall – and it’s incredible.  Sure, I love Disney World at Christmastime, but there’s a whimsical charm to the colorful leaves, pumpkins, and special touches of autumn that makes everything seem magical.RM-Magic-Kingdom-Autumn2
  5. The Opportunities – Lower crowds plus special events equals opportunity!  One of my favorites is the opportunity to slow down and soak up more magic!  Try new attractions and shows, taste new flavors, make the most of Memory Maker and pose for pictures wherever a photographer can be found.  Stroll, meander, mosey – sit and relax for a while.  You’re at Walt Disney World in autumn – and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Have you visited Disney World in the fall?  Please share your best tips for enjoying the season and I’ll pass them along to the happy couple!

Epcot Food & Wine 2014 – Pick TEN?

World Showcase Lagoon ViewI can’t even begin to imagine the calories, the cash, and the intestinal fortitude it would take to sample all the special dishes at all the food booths at this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  Think about it – there are more than 60 foods to choose from!  For our week at Walt Disney World in October, we’re committed to trying a decent number of different samples, but we had to have some semblance of a plan (it’s me, I’m the obsessive planner).

Because I will eat anything (Honest! With the exception of tuna casserole and black licorice) – I’m not at all a picky eater.  Raymond?  He’s much more selective about food.  Much better now than he used to be, when we got married 25 years ago I only needed to learn how to cook five World Showcase / Epcotthings and he was completely happy.  We’ve both come a long way since then – my cooking and his palate have both seen vast improvements!  Still, I thought it best for Raymond to peruse the food choices (all 60+ of them) and pick a top ten – a goal, if you will, for us to start with as we make our way around the World Showcase during the festival.

I’m pretty optimistic we’ll get to all ten, so I’ve thrown in a couple of my own to round out the selection to an even dozen.  Note:  We are highly gluten tolerant omnivores.  Here are our picks!

1.  Australia – Garlic Shrimp with roasted tomatoes, lemon myrtle and rapine (a.k.a. broccoli rabe).  For a first choice, I have to applaud Raymond’s bravery – I had to google lemon myrtle!  This World Showcase / Lagoonsounds completely delicious to me.

2. Brazil – Crispy Pork Belly – seriously…say it out loud now, “Crispy Pork Belly” – just saying it tastes delicious.  Can’t find fault with that choice!  (Good job, Honey!)

3. France: Boeuf Bourguignon: Braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes.  Sounds like another winner.  In fact, this recipe was on my 2014 Disney New Year’s Resolution list and I haven’t gotten around to cooking it yet – this will let me find out how it’s supposed to taste!

4. Greece – Griddled Greek Cheese with pistachios and honey.  This sounds amazingly delicious to me.  We are cheese people!  And, living in the South, we love our vittles griddled.

5. Hops & Barley – Baked Lobster Alfredo.  Let us pause for a moment and consider the potential for happiness this dish could provide.  Boy, oh, boy!  It better deliver!!!  The calorie count…no, don’t think about it.Italy Pavilion / Epcot's World Showcase

6. Italy – Ravioli alla Caprese:  Cheese ravioli, tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, and basil.  All things we love to eat, but this is one dish I’m iffy on.  It’s simple – so it’s got to be authentic and really fresh.  We’ll see, won’t we?

7. Morocco – Spicy Shrimp Roll with cilantro and mint sauce.  Well this certainly sounds tasty!  That’s two shrimp dishes – we can do a whole compare-and-contrast thing.

8. New Zealand – Venison Sausage with pickled mushrooms, baby arugula and black currant reduction.  Honestly, we all know that a mushroom, pickled or otherwise, will never pass beneath Raymond’s mustache.  I’ll be polishing those off.  Venison is very popular here in the Italy Pavilion RestaurantsSportsman’s Paradise, so it’ll be interesting to see how it’s prepared by non-Louisianan chefs.

9.  Puerto Rico – Friturias: Sorullitos (sweet polenta fries) and bolitas de queso (cheese fritter with mayo ketchup).  Polenta’s a LOT like grits (which we eat every week at our house) and we’ve already confessed our love of cheese.  This ought to be amazing!

10. Scotland – Seared Sea Scallop with spinach-cheddar gratin and crispy bacon.  If Raymond hadn’t picked this one, I would have waited in line all by my lonesome for this dish.  This is one I’m not going to want to share.

The next two are all mine, baby!

11. Hawaii -Kālua pork slider with sweet and sour Dole® Pineapple chutney and spicy mayonnaise.  Boom!  How can you go wrong with that?

12. Italy – Filetto di pollo, con funghi al marsala: Chicken tenderloin, cremini mushrooms, marsala sauce and ciabatta bread.  Ah, Italy – the source of all my most beloved foods!

What do you think?  Enough?  Too much?  Have you tried any of these and hated them?  Save us from ourselves – if you have intel, speak up and leave a comment!

Yikes – we haven’t even thought about beverages!  There’s a certain beer flight at the Farm Fresh booth I’ve gotta try!

The Disney Food Blog’s excellent Festival coverage is here.


WDW in October – What we Plan

Epcot in SummerJust 52 days from now, Raymond and I will be off on our dream vacation – solo, alone, sans kids, as a couple – and pretty stoked about it (in case you were wondering).  Yes, indeed, we’re celebrating quite a few things at our house this year – Raymond and I both have milestone birthdays, our 25th wedding anniversary is this fall, and, after the first year, we’ve adapted (admirably, in my opinion) to our empty-nested-ness.  Time for a well deserved sort of second honeymoon!

Trying not to break my own Walt Disney World vacation planning rules, we’ve tried to strike the perfect balance between over- and under-planning.  Usually, when we hit the World as a Epcot's World Showcasefamily, we rope-drop, park-hop and squeeze as many rides, attractions, and experiences into each day as possible.  I’ve always been a little envious of those travelers who have the luxury of not planning blocks of time between parks and FastPass+ appointments.  I’ve wanted to try being one of these UN-planners and now is my opportunity!  I’ve also asked a bunch of you guys out there on social media and really tried to take your excellent advice to heart (see Safari Mike’s Food & Wine Festival tips here).  On 3 of our 7 nights there, we have no ADRs – this is unprecedented UN-planning!

DVC Resort Bay Lake Tower / Walt Disney WorldI’ve divided our plans into three categories –

  1.  Must Do – Includes special events we’ve pre-paid for and some plans we’re super excited about – all are things we have never experienced before,
  2. It’s on the Agenda – the things we’d love to fit in if at all possible, and
  3. If We Get to It – the rest of our plans that we hope we get to, but we will be okay if we have to pass.

Let’s get on with the plans…

Must Do –

  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – We’ve heard so many positive reviews and comments about this seasonal bash, we can’t pass up the chance to see what all the Epcot's France Pavilion / Monsieur Paulhubbub’s about.  I’m working on a couple of semi-costumed looks for the big event.
  • Italian Food & Wine Pairing – Gosh, there’s nothing about the sound of that we don’t love!  Available at Via Napoli, Italy Pavilion, 1:30 – 3:30 pm on Thursdays during the Festival.
  • French Regional Lunch – This takes place at the French Pavilion’s Monsieur Paul (Fridays and Sundays during the Festival) from Noon – 3:30 and includes 4 courses (highlighting a specific region of France) and information on the wine pairings from a visiting winery representative.
  • Dinner at California Grill – We haven’t eaten at this restaurant (Contemporary Resort) since it’s extensive refurbishment in 2013.  This is our official Anniversary Dinner Celebration.
  • Massage for Two at the Senses Spa (Grand Floridian Resort) – It sounds romantic and relaxing – just the ticket for a trip like this one!
  • Tutto Gusto in Epcot's ItalyEpcot After Hours Wind Down – This sounds like the perfect way to end an evening (especially during Food & Wine).  We’ve got FastPass+ for special seating at Illuminations before we head on over to Tutto Gusto (Italy Pavilion) for a late night snack and wine flight.
  • FastPass+ for Meeting Talking Mickey Mouse – Why not?  We haven’t seen the Big Cheese in this new high-tech version and I’m a big advocate of at least one character meet-n-greet on every Disney vacation.  I picked this one.
  • Dinner at Sanaa – This is on the evening of our fist day.  We have to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge (unbreakable tradition for every trip) and have yet to try Sanaa after hearing its praises sung repeatedly.  Now’s the perfect time!

It’s on the Agenda –

  • Dinner at Citrico’s (Grand Floridian Resort)- We’ve never been before, so we made an ADR.Festival of Fantasy Parade  If something interferes with this, we won’t be heartbroken – it was just something new to try that sounded good.  Since it’s on the monorail loop, it’s an easy ride back to the Contemporary (we’re staying at Bay Lake Tower).
  • Dinner at Be Our Guest – If there’s anyway possible to make this into a lunch, we’re doing that instead.  I’ve not heard the food’s all that great, but getting inside for a look around was on my Disney New Year’s Resolutions list and I’m running out of time to get that accomplished.
  • FastPass+ for the Festival of Fantasy Parade.  We loved this parade when we saw it for the first time in May and would like to see it from the special FP+ area this time.
  • Trying a certain 10 of the 66 special dishes at the Food & Wine Festival booths.  I let Raymond pick these by himself for two reasons:  First of all, I chose all our FastPasses without asking for his input and second, Raymond’s a more discriminating diner than I am – Let’s face it; if it’s food, I’ll eat it.  Pretty much everything sounds good to me!  It’s “All in WDW” had the list Raymond used to make his selections here.  I’ll share our 10 foods in another post (coming soon) and write up a review on each when we get back.

Schofferhoffer Grapefruit BeerIf We Get to It –

  • The rest of the FastPasses I selected.  I did pick some in each park, but if we don’t get to them all, no big deal.  One day for Epcot, I was somehow allowed to only choose two, probably because the first one is for 6:00 pm.  We’re taking it easy, ride-wise.
  • Specialty beers and adult beverages around the World Showcase.  We know those will be available and would like to sample a few.
  •  The Kiss Goodnight in the Magic Kingdom.  That would require us to make it to park closing and beyond, but it’s been recommended and we’re going to do our best to be there Cinderella Castle at Nightfor it one night.
  • Electric Water Pageant – We haven’t seen it in a few years and I love this perky little show on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.  Hopefully, we’ll get back to Bay Lake Tower early enough one evening to catch at least some of the pageant.

I’d like to give a BIG Shout Out to the Mighty Men of Mouse the podcast that gives back!  In exchange for an iTunes review, the hosts of this show (Russ Shuttlesworth, Kip Springfield, and Dutch Lombrowski) will give you “Three Good Minutes” on their show, discussing a topic of your choosing.  I emailed the Mighty Men recently, having finally decided on a topic (I left a review back in January) and requested ideas for our October vacation.  Thank you, Mighty Men of Mouse (Episode 167)!  Many of your suggestions were incorporated in the plans detailed in this post.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!  Anything you think we should add, change, skip?  What Must-do’s have you planned for your next trip to Walt Disney World?

53 Days in Autumn – Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival

Epcot in SummerIn case you’re new here or have somehow missed the first 15 times I’ve made this announcement – I am going to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival for the first time this year!  I’m pretty stoked about it, too, as is my husband, Raymond.  See, we’ll be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in September and this trip will be like a second honeymoon.  We’ve been dreaming, planning, and discussing visiting Walt Disney World during Food & Wine for a long time.  I love it when dreams come true, don’t you?

Food & Wine runs this year from September 19th to November 10th.  Raymond andView of World Showcase I will get to experience this special event for 7 days in October.  Mostly, we’ve always wanted to take advantage of all the limited-time food and beverage offerings – the ones everyone with an Epcot park ticket can enjoy at the special kiosks and booths set up for the event’s duration – all the food from different countries not normally represented in Epcot.  According to the Disney Food Blog, this year more than 25 marketplace booths will feature culinary samples from countries including Scotland, Brazil, Argentina and Chili (together in the Patagonia booth), Greece, Puerto Rico, and many more.  You’d think this would be enough, but I was thinking…

Epcot's France / Window DisplayA huge variety of special events within the main event are offered ranging from cooking demonstrations ($15 per person) to food and beverage pairings ($55) to cheese seminars ($79) to Parisian Breakfasts at Les Chefs de France ($39) and also a swanky sounding Italian White Truffle and Wine Pairing Dinner for a whopping $295 per person.  We’ve got only 4 ADRs (advance dining reservations) booked for the week and we’ve got tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party one evening.  That leaves plenty of time to book a couple of really special (romantic even) Food & Wine extra events for the two of us, right?

I’ve narrowed down the choices to a few things I thought we would enjoy that (sort of) fit into our budget and sound a little romantic.  Feel free to weigh in with comments and/or suggestions…Remember, we’ve never been to WDW for Food & Wine before and would welcome any tips and pointers you could offer.

So here’s what I was considering…

French Regional Lunch at Monsieur Paul ($135) – either the “Tour De France” version or the “Bordeaux, Cedric Villars, Les Domaines de Rothschild” session.  Either one will fit in our Epcot's France Pavilion / Monsieur Paulschedule.  They both begin at noon and end at 3:30 pm.  The Disney Food Blog describes this as “Have a four course lunch and learn about paired wines throughout the meal from a winery principle.”  That sounds suitably romantic to me…what do you think?

Another option I think we would like is either the Italian Food & Wine Pairings ($83) or the Italian Food & Beer Pairings ($76).  Both are held at Via Napoli which we’ve heard so many great things about, but have yet to try.  Either option, again, fits into our schedule – can go either Tuesday (beer) or Thursday (wine) from 1:30 – 3:30 pm.  How can we go wrong with Italian food and libations?

Epcot's Morocco Pavilion / Spice Road TableFinally, there are Food & Wine Pairings available at three other restaurants for $55 per person.  Choices include Tokyo Dining, Spice Road Table and Restaurant Marrakesh.  It’s been years since we’ve eaten in the Japan Pavilion and we’ve never eaten in Morocco.  We like to try new things, but I’m just not sure.  These are offered in the afternoon on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Advice is welcome!

Okay – Please!  If you’ve been to Food & Wine or even if you just have an opinion and want to weigh in – help me decide what extra special add-ons we need to make our first Food & Wine Festival experience the best it can be.