Dark Side Challenge – April Disney Vacation Plans

In just a few weeks, we’ll be headed to Walt Disney World for a short, action-packed adventure.  We may be there for only three days, but we’ve built quite an itinerary!  With so much to look forward to, it feels like my countdown calendar is moving backwards.  Making things worse is fickle Mother Nature and her indecision about which season to embrace.  Feels like winter one day, spring the next, back and forth until everyone’s sneezing from either a cold or pollen allergies.  All of it has me staring at my suitcase wondering if it’s too soon to pack.

Dark Side Challenge – April Disney Vacation Plans

We chose our travel dates purely for the Dark Side Challenge.  The Star Wars 10K and Half Marathon will be Joseph’s first runDisney events and I couldn’t be more excited for him.  After he spent fall and winter of 2015 running with me as I trained for the 2016 Glass Slipper Challenge, then stayed home with Junior while I went to Disney World, I promised him I’d take him with me this year.  With just a couple of long training runs remaining, we’re ready.

Dark Side Challenge - April Disney Vacation Plans

Springtime in Disney World!  It’s been years since we’ve visited during Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and we have missed it so much.  Weighing heavily into our plans, Epcot’s going to be where we spend most of our non-running time.  Since Nick and Dave from the Disney Exchange (and their wives) will also be at Disney World, we’re doing our best to coordinate our schedules for a get-together.  The weekend looks like this:

Friday mid-day – Arrive, grab lunch at the Grand Floridian (staying in the Villas) and head to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to pick up our race packets.  Based on past experience, we’ll be there a whole lot less time than it takes to get there.  The race expo is always too crowded to enjoy browsing the booths.  I gave it my best shot last year and still walked away empty-handed.  There’s a lot of cool merchandise, but my patience won’t last long enough to actually purchase anything except a beer.  Once we’ve got our packets, we’ll head right back to the bus and make our way to Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom – We’ve got late afternoon / early evening FastPasses for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Space Mountain.  Between FastPasses, we’ll squeeze in what we can.

Late Dinner at Narcoossee’s – The last time Raymond and I ate here was late December, 2015 and our experience could not have been better.  The food and service were both excellent.  One of the things we liked best was that our server encouraged us to step outside on the deck to watch Wishes while he held our entrees back to keep them warm.  Nice touch! I’ve scheduled our reservation for 8:30 with Wishes at 9:00 so we can do it again.  After that it’s off to sleep.

Here’s where our plans are a little squishy.  Saturday morning we’ll need to be at the 10k’s starting line well ahead of the 5:30 am start time.  Unlike the previous runDisney events I’ve done, this one starts on Floridian Way rather than at Epcot.  I’m sure we’ll have to take a bus to the starting line, but don’t have a clear idea about how long that will take.  Once the official race course and event guide have been published, hopefully we’ll know more.  The race ends at Epcot and we should be making our way back to the Grand Floridian by 7:00 am to clean up and have breakfast.Epcot View

Epcot all Day!  Sure we’ll be a little tired, but for not rushing around, sampling plenty of snacks and having our group meet-up, Epcot is perfect!  We do have a little lunch reservation we’ll duck out for at Beaches & Cream (our first time there!) and then we’ll be right back for more Flower and Garden action.  We have late afternoon FastPasses for Frozen Ever After, Spaceship Earth, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends.

Il Mulino Dinner – As per our pre-Disney-half-marathon tradition, this amazing little Italian eatery at the Swan is where we’ll order giant servings of carbs and pretend we don’t have to get up super early and run 13.1 miles.  Last year while we were enjoying our Il Mulino dinner before the Princess Half, Joseph (home with Junior) texted us, of all things, a video of him playing Bella Notte (from Lady and the Tramp) on an antique accordion he had purchased earlier that day.  (Sometimes Joe’s love for both music and antiques collides.)  It was perfect and one of my happiest Disney vacation memories.  It’s a shame he can’t pack that thing and bring it along to serenade us in person this time.

Running to the Dark Side!

Sunday morning Joseph and I will put on our epic matching Star Wars shirts (nope, not kidding – had them custom printed just for us) and two great things will happen:  I will not be running 13.1 miles alone (I can’t tell you how much this means!) and Joseph will get to experience first hand how incredibly amazing runDisney half marathons are.  I’m excited to hear what he has to say about the course and all the surprises along the way.  Post-race we’ll meet up with Raymond and enjoy the after-party for a few minutes before we head back to our room to clean up.

Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  We are absolutely ending the day at Animal Kingdom, but if we have time, we’ll make a quick dash to Epcot for lunch around the World.  At Animal Kingdom we have two FastPasses scheduled before dinner – Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest.  We’re eating Dinner at Sanaa in the Kidani Village section of Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Joseph’s going to love the bread service!  Then it’s back to Animal Kingdom park for Rivers of Light.

That’s it.  Then we go home.  I’m hoping we’re not trying to do too much.  At the same time, I’m hoping our scheduled plans will be enough to make our three days feel much longer.

This will be the shortest Disney vacation I’ve ever taken.  How about you?  Would you (could you?) go for just three days?

 

 

 

 

 

Disney Dining – Try This Not That

RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Restaurant-ExteriorDisclaimer:  I’m the least picky eater I know.  I like nearly all foods.  I shy away from fried foods as they tend not to agree with me (although I think they taste great), I’m not eating tuna-noodle-casserole or black licorice – not really a problem since I can’t think of a single person I know who would happen to accidentally serve those to me should I be a guest in their home.  I suppose, actually, under those circumstances, I’d give the consumption of my personal culinary kryptonite my best try so as not to be considered rude.  My mom taught me better than  that.  And back to the point of this post.

Disney Dining – Try This Not That

Let’s assume for the purposes of today’s sharing-of-Disney-advice that we’re all adults.  I’m talking to you as a grownup, not to those of you trying to please little ones with park food, okay?

  1. Try the Roasted Pork Shank (NOT the Turkey Leg) – What they have in common:  fatty, roasted, savory meaty goodness.  What the Pork Shank has over the Turkey Leg is that it’s texture is better, its seasoning is more delicious, and Gaston’s Tavern (Magic Kingdom, Fantasyland) is far superior in atmosphere than anyplace offering the Turkey Leg.  You’ll still feel like Medieval royalty, don’t fret.RM-Gaston's-Pork-Shank-and-Lefou's-Brew
  2. Try the Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel (NOT the plain Mickey Pretzel) – Oh, stop it!  Mickey is cute and iconic and delicious, I’ll give you that.  The Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel is just SO much better (and unique versus what I can get in my local mall’s food court).  If you like a little spice in your snack, this one’s for you.RM-Jalapeno-Cheese-Pretzel
  3. Try Italy or France for Ice Cream (NOT the ubiquitous ice cream cart) – I’m not saying you should go an entire Disney vacay without a Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar or your beloved Dole Whip.  I’m just saying, give the “Gelati” gelato stand in Epcot World Showcase’s Italy Pavilion a try (our favorite: Espresso Gelato “Affogato”).  Or the L’Artisan de Glaces shop in France – YUM!  The beauty of these more exotic frozen treat options is that they have something for everyone.  You will not be disappointed.RM-Epcot-Italy-Gelato-Affogato
  4. Try Yachtsman Steakhouse (NOT Le Cellier) – Both are beef-lovers’ hot spots in the Epcot area.  Yachtsman’s is a short walk from Epcot via the International Gateway (a.k.a. the backdoor) at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.  Le Cellier is in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion.  The problem with Le Cellier is that it’s overcrowded and overrated (our opinion, which is heartbreaking since in the early years, this was a must-do for us).  For the price, Yachtsman’s menu, atmosphere, and service are superior.  Both restaurants are considered “Signature Dining” locations – so if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, they’ll cost you TWO Table Service credits.RM-Yachtsman-Filet
  5. Try Il Mulino (at The Swan) (NOT any other Italian restaurant on Disney property).  We loved everything about this place and can’t wait to go back.  It’s not Disney-owned, but IS easy to get to – and worth the effort and the price.  You can read my full review here, but let me just say – if you’re looking for a casual, grown-up evening out without pressure to eat quickly and leave and you want delicious food, great service, and a complimentary swig of limoncello to top off  your meal…this is the place for you.RM-Il-Mulino-Interior

What are your best suggestions for an eat-this-not-that Disney food or restaurant?  Would you choose Kona Café over ‘Ohana?  Sanaa over Jiko or Yak-n-Yeti?  School Bread over a Croissant Doughnut?  Tell me!  I’m 92 days away from needing to know!

Walt Disney World Dining – The Swan’s Il Mulino

RM-Il-Mulino-Menu“Lively ambiance, attentive service, delicious Italian fare – Il Mulino in Walt Disney World’s Swan resort is a treat to delight both the appetite and the spirit.”…Me, once more channeling my inner food critic.

August, 2014:  We were 180 days from our February trip to Walt Disney World and  I wanted ADR’s (Advance Dining Reservations) at some places we’d never been before.  I’d been thinking about one particular restaurant for a long time.  Raymond and I both love Italian food and I’d heard great things about Il Mulino at the Swan – what better time to eat pasta than the night before running the Princess Half Marathon?  Checked the available times and YES!  Scored a 6:00-ish dining time.  Early? Sure – but I was going to be getting up mighty early every morning of this trip to participate in my first three runDisney events.  I wanted a place to relax and enjoy a leisurely dinner before turning in for the evening.

February 21st, 2015:  I’d run the Enchanted 10K that morning and spent the afternoon at RM-Studios-Boat-to-SwanDisney’s Hollywood Studios – a combination guaranteed to work up a heck of an appetite!  We caught a boat from the Studios to the Swan and walked into Il Mulino right on time.  Immediately we noticed that Il Mulino was a hopping place!RM-Il-Mulino-Dining-RoomRM-Il-Mulino-InteriorAn energetic, happy crowd filled the dining room and our table for two was right in the middle of the action next to a glass wall that separates diners from the kitchen.  We had a great vantage point for watching the dining room, the entrance, and the goings-on in the busy kitchen all at the same time!RM-Il-Mulino-Kitchen-ViewWe didn’t mind the noise in this particular location, but I’d suggest asking for a table in another section of the restaurant if you’re in the mood for some quiet conversation.

Rather than a single server, we had a serving team.  Personable and professional, each person that we interacted with throughout the evening demonstrated an obvious pride in both the restaurant and the level of service provided.  The team of Tony (from Italy) and Svet (from Bulgaria) worked together flawlessly to make sure we had an outstanding experience.  Once seated, it wasn’t long before we received some bread and also a complimentary appetizer!RM-Il-Mulino-Bread RM-Il-Mulino-CapreseThe delicious starter was courtesy of the chef who wanted us to enjoy our meal in spite of the kitchen running a little slower than usual.  Honestly, the place was great and there was such a terrific atmosphere, we probably wouldn’t have noticed the slow kitchen at all, but we did enjoy the Caprese salad very much.  RM-Il-Mulino-WineTony was happy to help us with our wine selection – suggesting a bottle from the extensive wine list that was both delicious and in our price range.  We took our time reading over the menu before deciding on our entrees.  RM-Il-Mulino-EntreeRaymond ordered the Spaghetti al Frutti di Mare (Baby shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and calamari in a spicy red or garlic white wine sauce) and I opted for the Linguini alle Vongole (Linguini with red or white clam sauce) – both of us chose the red sauces for our pasta.  RM-Il-Mulino-LinguiniWe were extremely happy with our choices!!!  We also ordered a plate of spinach in garlic and olive oil (pictures do not do it justice – it was delicious!)RM-Il-Mulino-SpinachYou’d think we’d have been stuffed after all of that, but we had to try the gelato.  We love gelato!  It was the perfect dessert after such a fantastic meal.RM-Il-Mulino-Gelato

Great food, great service, wonderful wine AND Il Mulino has…..a bucket of limoncello.  Yes, you heard me – a metal pail of lemony goodness which is ladled into a little glass that appears right in front of every adult guest when their meal is finished.  And this little, but certainly not insignificant detail was not immortalized for you by my camera.  I’ll blame the wine.  I can’t believe I failed us this way – no picture of our limoncello…which didn’t last long anyway.  I did get a picture of the bucket though!RM-Il-Mulino-LimoncelloCarbs consumed in sufficient quantity to see me through the next morning’s 13.1 mile run, we bid goodnight to Il Mulino and the Swan.  We’ll be back, though, this dining experience shot Il Mulino straight to the top of the must-do list for our next Walt Disney World vacation.

(Note:  The Swan is located on Disney property, but is a Westin resort, not operated by Disney.)

Have you visited Il Mulino?  What was your dining experience like?RM-Swans-in-the-Swan RM-Swan-Closeup

Just Back From Disney World – 10 Things I Learned

RM-WDW SignWhat an amazing, surprisingly unusual trip to Walt Disney World we just had!  I knew it was going to be different because I was participating in my very first runDisney events, but so many wonderful and unexpected things happened that have forever earned this vacation a special place in my heart.  I’ll be writing individual reviews on restaurants, attractions, and activities over the next couple of weeks, but if you read anything here and you have questions or want more information – shout it on out in the comments section and I’ll do what I can to oblige.

Just Back From Disney World – 10 Things I Learned

1. The Walt Disney World sign still makes my heart beat faster – Even after all these years, there’s nothing more thrilling that visual proof that you have arrived at your favorite place to be (away from home).RM-Frozen-5K-2015

2. It can be freezing in Florida in February – I live in Louisiana, I know we get an occasional cold snap, but in Florida?  I honestly wasn’t expecting wind chills in the 20’s.  Luckily, we packed for just about every possible weather and were prepared.  I only wished my homage-to-Donald “costume” for the Frozen 5K (appropriately named, for sure) had included a bit more coverage for my knees.RM-Flag-Retreat

3. The Flag Retreat in Magic Kingdom makes me cry – I’ve heard about it for years and have never found myself in the right place at the right time to experience this unbelievably touching, patriotic ceremony.  I tried to sing along to God Bless America with the Dapper Dans, but I was too choked up to croak out even a few bars.  This is a must-see and you should put it on your Disney to-do list right now.RM-Lisa-and-Glass-Slipper-Sign

4. The hype you hear about runDisney events is well-deserved – I have participated in dozens of races over the past 17+ years and some of them were pretty amazing and well organized.  Nothing – not even in my wildest imagination – could have prepared me for the truly magical execution that makes a runDisney experience far superior to any other event.  Unless you have your heart set on a personal record, then you should know, that goal would be very challenging during a runDisney race.RM-Fiesta-Donald

5. Donald Duck is still my favorite Disney character.  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

6. Il Mulino at the Swan is an absolutely fantastic restaurant – This place was so special – everything about it was perfect to us and a full review of our dining experience will be written very soon.

7.  Being Stranded at Walt Disney World induces euphoria – I’m sure for some people, being iced-in and unable to get home, even from Orlando, would be a major inconvenience.  For us, at this particular time, it was the gift of not one, but TWO extra Disney days to enjoy – and enjoy them we did!  Ferris Bueller-style, we packed so much extra happiness into those two days, you won’t believe it…story to follow, so check back.RM-Polynesian-Village-Resort-Lobby

8. The Polynesian Village Resort’s renovated lobby is gorgeous – I’m not insensitive to the long-time Polynesian fans who are heartbroken by the changes to their favorite resort, but to me, the new Poly is a beautifully improved Poly.  I think the colors, furniture and décor, and overall feeling of welcome is lovely.RM-Hat-Shopping-Downtown-Disney

9.  Disney Springs is coming right along.  Sure, the construction walls are a big ugly pain to maneuver around, but something in the atmosphere has changed – there’s now an air of expectation and excitement.  We can tell the Downtown Disney area is going to be better than it ever was before.  The new hat shop’s a gem – of course I’ll write a post on that too.RM-New-Tree-of-Life-Roots10.  Animal Kingdom is starting to reveal what the future holds – and if the new details to the Tree of Life are any indication, this park (that I love SO much) is going to be even more incredible.

Please let me know what you want to hear most about in greater detail.  Check back over the next couple of weeks for more scoop on what made this latest visit to Walt Disney World a truly extraordinary Disney vacation.