Our Next Disney Vacation? Coming Right Up!

Is there anything better than a Disney sea-and-land vacation?  I think not!  In just a few more days, Raymond and I will sail away on the Dream for a little 4-night Bahamian getaway.  I’ve been daydreaming about Castaway Cay and how heavenly that little slice of paradise will be.  Usually I’d prefer to do the land portion of the trip first since the parks are so busy and Disney cruises are more relaxing.  This trip being our anniversary Disney vacation do-over, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.Castaway Cay's Mt. Rustmore

Our Next Disney Vacation? Coming Right Up!

And what we’ve got are some pretty sweet plans!  When we were only going to have the three-night land portion of our trip, I dutifully attempted to book ADRs and FastPasses at the earliest possible moment with mixed results.  I booked dinners at Il Mulino and Yachtsman Steakhouse and left Friday open for Food & Wine since we originally weren’t going to arrive in Orlando until early afternoon.  I booked the only FastPass I could get in Pandora, which was Na’vi River Journey on Saturday morning and then chose some in Epcot for Friday afternoon and Magic Kingdom for Sunday starting mid-morning.

Here’s where having Disney friends all over social media helps – I got a hot tip a couple of weeks ago that some additional FastPasses had opened up for several hard-to-get attractions and SCORE!!!  Na’vi River Journey is out and Flight of Passage is IN!  I’m super excited to see Raymond’s reaction to his first ride on a Banshee.

I’m also very excited to be meeting up with some of those aforementioned fellow Disney fans.  We’re hoping to see Tim from Dad for Disney and his family, Scott from Enchanted Tiki Talk, and our friends Linda and Phillip (we met on the Disney Magic in Norway cruise).  There are even a few more tentative meet-up plans in the works.  It’s good to have Disney friends…they understand me.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Walt Disney World part of this trip…

Friday:  Catch the Disney Cruise Line bus from Port Canaveral to Bay Lake Tower as early as possible, drop off luggage and catch a bus to Disney Springs for lunch at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ – a place we’ve wanted to try since it opened in 2016.  Initially, I couldn’t find a dinner reservation (we were going to eat there instead of Yachtsman) then realized how early we could arrive straight from the ship and lunch was available.  Win-Win!

After lunch, we’ll make our way to Epcot where we can wander World Showcase between FastPasses for Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth.  When we get hungry for dinner, we can sample our way through some of the Food & Wine booths.  We’ll be in go-with-the-flow mode and can soak up the World at our leisure.

Saturday morning we’re headed to Animal Kingdom.  We’ve got FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris, Flight of Passage, and Expedition Everest and I am loving this lineup!  We can hang around until after lunch then rest a while at Bay Lake Tower before meeting Linda and Phillip for drinks and dinner – AbracadaBar (Boardwalk) followed by Il Mulino (Swan).  AbracadaBar recently changed their menu and I’m excited to try a new offering or two.

Sunday we’re planning to rope-drop Hollywood Studios to ride Rock’n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror before hopping to Magic Kingdom where our FastPasses are for Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  We don’t have to rush and can tour at our own pace.  Dinner at Yachtsman will wrap up our plans and Monday morning we’ll head for home.The Red Rock of Big Thunder Mountain

It’s a very short visit, but we’ll be back in February for the Fairytale Challenge and again in May for a family vacation.  There’s a slight chance of a brief January visit as well, but that one’s not certain yet.  I was going for the perfect mix of action and no-pressure touring with lots of free time built in.

If you had only three days at Walt Disney World, what would your priorities be?  How would your plans differ from ours?

WDW Vacation – Getting Psyched for Food & Wine

RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-LandscapeMy countdown calendar finally feels like it’s moving.  The days are ticking by ahead of our long-awaited return to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  I couldn’t be more excited!  This may only be my second visit during Food & Wine, but I feel like a seasoned veteran after our weeklong 25th Anniversary celebration at F&W in 2014.  This year we’ll be a party of seven and our plans are really shaping up.  With only two-and-a-half months to go, it feels right around the corner.  It’s Friday today and that means a Friday Five is in order.  Dear Readers, I give to you…

WDW Vacation – Getting Psyched for Food & Wine

  1. Pick a week and book it! – This is the first phase of excitement.  Thinking about going changes after you know exactly when you’ll be there and where you’ll be staying – makes it real and you can set your countdown calendar!  Because I’m a planner I’m also, in this very early stage of vacation prep, starting to think about where we’d like to eat when we’re not enjoying the Food & Wine offerings.  Which brings us to…Citricos-Vince
  2. Make some ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) 180 days out – “Some” being the important key here.  I think you can over-book dining reservations which may detract from the joy of strolling around World Showcase sampling all the excellent flavors that Food & Wine has to offer.  I like to ensure plenty of festival time, so I book just few carefully chosen reservations that will leave us a plenty of free afternoons and evenings for hopping from country to country on an international culinary tour.  Once those ADRs are booked, I feel more like I know what our touring plans will be each day and that makes me even more exited!RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Menu-Brazil
  3. Wait impatiently for the booths and menus to be announced – I’ve searched everyday for weeks and finally the kiosk and menu info is available – This is a major factor in getting psyched for the trip!  Sure, it’s fun to see what musical groups will be playing during our visit, but that’s not (for us) the primary draw.  You can print out those menus and narrow down all the food and beverage choices to the all important Top-Ten-Must-Try list (yours could be whatever number you like).  I’m not too picky, so I’m leaving room to be flexible and spontaneous in food selection.  It’s not imperative to have a list, but it sure is fun to strategize a festival food plan.  Yes, more excitement!  Check out this year’s lineup here.Disney's Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror
  4. Book those FastPasses ASAP – If you’re staying on property, this means there are only 60 days left before your vacation!  My strategy for Epcot is all about making sure we don’t have to come and go repeatedly from World Showcase once we start our feasting.  On this trip, we’ve got one whole day reserved for Animal Kingdom and I’m excited about having breakfast at Tusker House and dinner at Tiffins…while maximizing attraction enjoyment in between.  On most of the other days, we’ll be park-hopping to keep Epcot part of the action as often as possible.     RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Passport
  5. Reminisce or surf the web (or both) –  I like looking back at pictures and blog posts from our last trip to Food & Wine.  I also like reading about other people’s trips as well as food reviews, booth rankings, and touring tips.  This will keep me entertained and build excitement right up until the day we leave for vacation.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Pepper-Bacon-Hash

Are you headed to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival this year?  What are you doing to get psyched for the trip?

Ten Reasons to Try Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival

I’m no expert, having been only once, but I can tell you –  Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival is a great big bunch of fun!  Raymond and I went last year and are planning another trip to the festival with our (adult) children in 2016…We can’t wait to show them the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that make up one of the very best special events Walt Disney World has to offer.  53 Days of awesomeness!  We’ve tried Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival, we’ve completely enjoyed Star Wars Weekends, but now that the kids will both be over 21 – it’ll be time to eat and drink (responsibly) and enjoy this experience together.  We can’t WAIT!

Ten Reasons to Try Epcot’s Food & Wine FestivalRM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Passport

1.  The Food & Wine Festival invites a more relaxed, laid back touring style.  Nobody’s in a hurry.  Folks are friendly, they share tables, strike up conversations.  Mosey, meander, sample scrumptious, international flavors, and do NOT rush from attraction to attraction in full commando-mode.  It’ll be fine to resume the hard-core touring tomorrow.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Griddled-Cheese

2.  Plan or Don’t Plan – Free-styling is okay!  Roam around World Showcase for hours on end – it’s a great reason to give yourself permission to go un-planned, un-FastPass+-ed, footloose and fancy free.  There are some amazing resources online that will allow you to preview all the food booth offerings before you go and select your Top Ten must-tries (or more).  A strategy is good!  So is a festival-on-the-fly attitude.  Plan some, un-plan some – no matter what, you’ll find something to love.Epcot-International-Food-and-Wine-Festival

3.  Weekdays are the BEST!  Most valuable advice we got pre-festival was to avoid weekends and it proved to be most excellent info!  The crowds were low when we hit the festival about 11:00 am with our special passport booklets and a loose plan for booths we didn’t want to miss.

4. Chillax with Music!  The “Eat to the Beat” concert series means you can pause to digest and ruminate to the tunes of well-know musical artists.  If I were going this year, I would totally want to see and hear Rick Springfield!  When I was 17, he was the man of my dreams!  (Hush, I know I’m old.)  *Sigh*  But Jessie’s Girl!  Live!  Squee!!!RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Table

5.  Splurge!!!  There are all kinds of special events within this special event.  Food & wine pairings, food & beer pairings, mixology seminars, culinary demonstrations, cheese seminars – whatever your taste, there’s something for you.  And merch!  Food & Wine has some really fantastic festival merchandise.  Posters and tee-shirts are just the beginning.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Landscape2

6. The Weather is Fine!  From late September to mid-November, the weather is some of the best you’ll ever find.  October average rainfall is about 3.3 inches compared to June’s of 7.6 inches.  With average temperature lows in the 60’s and highs in the 80’s, it’s an absolutely delightful time to be outdoors strolling among the Food & Wine booths.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Menu-Scotland

7. A Party in Your Mouth!  So many choices!  Exotic and familiar, meat, cheese, seafood, veggies – whatever you crave, sweet or savory, you’ll find something to your liking along the way.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Pepper-Bacon-Hash

8. Sample Awesome Adult Beverages – Yes, the servings are small and pricey, but fun.  Every booth has pairings of wine or beer to enjoy with different food items offered.  Be brave and reap the rewards!RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Menu-Boeuf-Bourguignon

9. Add a Touch of Romance – The World Showcase is a great place to experience as a couple.  Even more so during the Food & Wine Festival.  Pre-purchase a Memory Maker photo package for your trip and take advantage of the abundant Disney photographers stationed throughout the World Showcase to capture a romantic moment.EPCOT_BACKSIDE 4_7072200359

10.  Share! (and know when not to) – There’s so much to sample, getting a small bite here and there will allow you do try more flavors, but a few of the festival’s booths offer seriously amazing culinary delights (like Crispy Pork Belly) – you might need to savor an entire serving all on your own.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Crispy-Pork-Belly

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?