Disney World Dining – I Love Appetizers!

Given the choice between appetizer and dessert, I’m choosing the appetizer every time.  That may be hard to imagine for those of you will a sweet tooth, but I’m all about the starter!  Be it soup, salad, cheese plate, or something more exotic, the way I kick off a Disney table service dinner makes all the difference to my meal enjoyment.

Disney World Dining – I Love Appetizers!

It doesn’t much matter where we go.  My eyes are drawn to the top of the menu and the appetizer section.  I tend to avoid heavy-sounding, fried items and favor more unusual choices.  I want to kick off a good meal while not completely ruining my appetite.  Sometimes Raymond and I order and appetizer or salad (or both) to share.  In cooler months, I’m a sucker for a soup or bisque.  The perfect appetizer takes the edge off my hunger while leaving me wanting more (and I’ll have room for my entrée!).

Here are some of my favorites…

The Wave (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – Seasonal Soup.  When I last had the soup, it was a heavenly sausage, gnocchi, and spinach concoction with a cheese crust on top.  I reproduced it at home and have enjoyed it many times since.  My friend Gaylin recently told me about another Wave appetizer called “Bacon and Eggs” (“Maple-lacquered Pork Belly with Perfect Egg and Tillamook Smoked Cheddar Grits“) and now it’s on the top of my must-try list.  I hope it stays on the menu long enough for me to get there!

Shula’s Steak House (Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort) – Sure, everyone goes to Shula’s for the beef, but before I slice into that perfectly cooked filet, I’m opting for the “Barbequed Shrimp Stuffed with Basil” (“Stuffed with Basil, wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon tossed in a Tangy BBQ Sauce“).  Disney World Dining - I Love AppetizersIt’s the perfect combination of flavors and the sauce is fantastic.  Share it with a friend so you have room for that steak.  Check out the full menu here.

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Everything’s been delicious, but the soup is my favorite.  It’s currently “Curried Butternut Squash Bisque” with Duck Confit and Quince Marmalade and I know it’s 500-degress outside right now, but you should run try it before the menu changes.  It’s SO good!!!  And the presentation is fancy too.

So much to eat, so little time…

Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) – There are a couple of things we really like to kick off dinner at Kona.  The Sticky Wings and the Pot Stickers.  Both are tasty options, good for sharing, and not too filling.  If you love sushi, the menu offers a nice variety.  We generally enjoy sushi as a meal versus appetizer and I’m guessing that’s why we rarely order it at Kona.

Sanaa (Kidani Village) – The famous Indian-Style Bread Service!  It’s several different flavors of naan bread served with a variety of dipping sauces that range from savory to sweet to spicy.  Fresh, exotic, and delicious.  Disney World Dining - I Love Appetizers!I can totally see why lots of folks make a reservation just to enjoy the bread service as a snack or light meal all by itself.

Il Mulino (Walt Disney World Swan Resort) – My favorite restaurant for pre-runDisney event carbs!  Starters on the menu come in a huge variety from cheeses and meats to salads, clams and heavier fare.  The most delicious item to me is the Arancini, which is “Italian Rice Balls over Spicy Marinara Sauce”.  I never order it for myself because it’s a lot for an appetizer.  Those delicious servings of rice are fried and very filling.  However, if someone at my table is kind enough to share a bite or two with me, whoa momma!  Deeeelish!

Raglan Road (Disney Springs) – Considered by many to be overrated, Raglan Road has been the source of many a delicious family meal for us throughout the years.  Their menu has a ton of appetizer options.  I’ve tried several appetizers including the dicey-sounding Crock o’ Pate (cold chicken liver spread), which wasn’t bad, actually.  The best thing (to me) by far is the “Rack of Heaven” – “Slow roasted Guinness glazed full rack of baby back ribs.” (Plenty to share.)      THOSE babies are fantastic.  Even if I’m just in Raglan Road for a drink at the amazing bar, I’ll order those ribs.  They make me happy.

Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Don’t laugh, but there’s one simple salad on Boma’s extensive buffet that stays on my mind long after I’ve eaten there.  It’s the Watermelon Rind Salad.  Sounds potentially boring and awful, doesn’t it?  It’s bright, sweet and tangy, and absolutely perfect to start off a meal full of unusual flavors.  Fear not if you or anyone in your travel party is a picky eater, Boma has plenty of dishes to satisfy everyone.

Are YOU an appetizer or a dessert fan?  Both?  Neither?  What’s your favorite part of Disney dining?  What’s your favorite dish?

 

 

Kona Café Breakfast – Beyond Tonga Toast

Tonga Toast at Kona Café is a Walt Disney World original.  This breakfast specialty has thousands of loyal fans and tops the list of must-do’s for those who have not yet had the privilege.  A generous serving of “Banana-stuffed Sourdough French Toast rolled in Cinnamon Sugar and served with a Strawberry Compote and your choice of Ham, Bacon, or Sausage” – Sounds heavenly and if you love sweet breakfast foods, you will not be disappointed.  Unless you’re me and you prefer savory eats first thing in the morning.

Kona Café Breakfast – Beyond Tonga Toast

For quite some time now, Kona Café has been a Disney vacation tradition.  Raymond and I (and now Joseph) are partial to the Egg White Omelet with roasted red peppers and goat cheese.  It comes with a side of berries and is an all around solid (and healthy) breakfast choice.  In fact, that’s just what they both ordered on our departure day.  Kona Café Breakfast - Beyond Tonga ToastMe? I decided to break away from the usual and try something new.  With quite a few delicious-sounding choices on the menu, I took my time selecting what I considered a splurge.  One, very simple-sounding dish caught my eye:  The Samoan.

Described as, “Poached Eggs with Hollandaise served over Smoked Pulled Pork Hash“, what could I not love about that?  All my favorite food-types in one dish.  In short order, my plate arrived.  It looked much fancier than I’d imagined.  Kona Café Breakfast - Beyond Tonga ToastBeneath a handful of gently sautéed arugula, the “hash” was actually some large, tender fried potatoes in a ring around the pulled pork.  This circle of yumminess was topped with two perfectly prepared poached eggs – yolks soft but not runny, whites firm but not rubbery.  The hollandaise sauce was smooth, thick and tangy.  I was uncharacteristically quiet as I savored every bite.

If you’ve been under the impression that Tonga Toast is your only breakfast option at Kona Café, think again.  Haven’t tried Kona Café yet?  Add it to your to-do list and you just might find a morning visit to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort becoming a vacation tradition for you, too.

Are you a Kona Café fan?  What’s your favorite breakfast item?

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

Last weekend’s trip to Walt Disney World was brief but packed with fun.  I’ve got so much to tell you, I thought I’d start with this post full of my impressions of the best and not-so-great aspects of our visit.  I’ll follow up with posts on the Star Wars 10K and half marathon and a restaurant review or two.  Here’s the scoop…

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

We arrived mid-day Friday.  Our plan was to get to the Grand Floridian (stayed at the DVC Villas), drop off our luggage, grab a bite at the Gasparilla Island Grill (underrated quick-service), then rush over to Wide World Of Sports so Joseph and I could pick up our race packets for the Dark Side Challenge.  This part went off without a hitch.  I was very excited to see Richard (famous greeter at the Grand Floridian) looking well.  If you seen him, say hello and he’ll say, “Welcome to the Grand!”  I love that he’s in his 90’s and still enjoying his job so much.

We wanted to spend a few minutes shopping at the Expo if possible and, thanks to the event buses running often, mission accomplished!  I’d booked Magic Kingdom FastPasses starting at 4:30 (or thereabouts) for Seven Dwarfs, Big Thunder, and Space Mountain and we arrived in plenty of time!  We even managed to squeeze in Pirates and PeopleMover as well.  Dinner was at Narcoossee’s and the 8:30 dining time was my first error of this trip.  WAY too late to eat before having to get up at 3:15 a.m. the next day.

Before dinner, we managed a quick glass of wine in Mizner’s Lounge.  Joseph had never heard the Lobby Society Orchestra play before and they sounded especially great that evening.  We were wishing we’d had more time to relax and enjoy the music.  On the way to Narcoossee’s, we spotted a rather large dark-colored snake on the sidewalk.  As I’ve mentioned before (here), Joseph has an affinity for reptiles.  I wanted to take the snake’s picture, Joseph wanted to pick it up!  Raymond and I, at the exact same time, realized what was about to happen and quietly said, “Don’t do it!” just about the time the snake decided to slither off into the bushes.  I did mention to the hostess that some guests might be alarmed if Mr. Snake decided to move back onto the warmth of the walkway.

Dinner was excellent as was our view of Wishes during our meal.  As we headed to our room to catch what sleep we could, we noticed and Cast Member and a gentleman in a suit holding a flashlight searching for the snake – or at least making sure it stayed off the sidewalk.  Our room (studio #1428) was the biggest disappointment of our stay.  There was no split bathroom, just a plain bathroom with a tub/shower combo.We didn’t even know such a room type existed!  Made getting ready take much longer for the three of us as we are a decidedly anti-bathroom-sharing people.  The room overall was lovely, but felt like a plain hotel room.  If you’ve seen DVC studios at Disney’s Polynesian Village or Bay Lake Tower, you can appreciate how disappointed we were.  There’s a split bathroom at the Poly and Bay Lake Tower’s kitchenette is so large, there’s extra room (with a counter and mirror) for getting ready.

Watch for a full report on the Star Wars 10K in the next few days.  Let me jump straight to our post-race activities…

At 180-days out, I’d booked a reservation for lunch at Beaches & Cream (Beach Club) and then cancelled it the day before we left home.  I should not have done that.  The recently opened Polite Pig in Disney Springs seemed just our type of place and we all wanted to try it.  Arriving at Disney Springs around 10:00 a.m., we had about an hour to shop before the restaurant opened and we were among the first in the door.  The atmosphere is neat and the employees were perfectly polite.  But, in spite of our love for barbecue and smoked meats, we were (all of us) disappointed in our food.  Such unanimous agreement is practically unheard of!  I ended up feeling sorry we didn’t get to try Beaches & Cream.  Next time we visit the Polite Pig, it’ll be for the bar instead of the food – our beers were very delicious and their drink menu is vast.

After lunch we were off to Epcot for the Disney Exchange Podcast Meet-up!  Nick, Dave, and I, (and our families) were excited to see friends of the show and spent an hour visiting and laughing a LOT!  We felt very humbled and special to have listeners willing to interrupt their Disney vacation to spend time with us.  Thanks especially to “Aunt Sandy”, Dave J., Victoria, Olivia, Linda, and Phillip (a.k.a. Duke).  After the meet-up, Raymond, Joseph and I headed off to use our FastPasses.

Frozen was down, so we used our first FastPass for Soarin’ followed by Spaceship Earth (we got stuck for a couple of minutes by the garlic hat guy and it was great!).  Our last FastPass went unused (Nemo) when we realized how nice it would be to go back to our room for a few minutes before dinner at Il Mulino – our now-traditional-pre-half-marathon-go-to restaurant.  If you are not on the Disney Dining Plan, I urge you to give some of the Swan and Dolphin’s restaurants a try!  This was our fourth visit to Il Mulino and our experiences have all been consistently excellent.

Immediately after dinner, we got back to our room as quickly as possible and were out as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

Sunday morning, there was that little matter of the Star Wars Half Marathon.  (Full review soon.)  Raymond was waiting for Joseph and me when we finished the race and the three of us, along with Dave and his wife, Anne, enjoyed a few minutes of the post-race party before getting on with the rest of our day.  Animal Kingdom was on the agenda and by the time we got there, a bad case of “hangry” had struck so we decided to grab some small plates at the Nomad Lounge.And ended up staying for three hours once Nick and Dave (and their wives and friends) found out where we were and joined us.  If you haven’t been to Nomad Lounge, go!  It’s about as perfect a place to relax as exists on Disney property.  The beverage selection is great, the food is yummy, and the atmosphere is tranquil.  Unbelievably, we left Nomad Lounge and spent a few more minutes together at the Dawa Bar.

Eventually we needed to excuse ourselves in favor of FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest.  We strolled along the Gorilla Falls Trail between attractions and then caught a bus for Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village section for dinner at Sanaa.  We were early and spent time out on the savannah overlook sitting in rocking chairs and enjoying the lovely weather.  Sanaa’s manager was kind enough to find us a table about 30 minutes before our reservation and we were delighted to introduce Joseph to the restaurant’s famous bread service.

To wrap up the day, we met our Disney Exchange friends back at Animal Kingdom for Rivers of Light.  It was our first time to see it and typically, Raymond, Joseph and I had completely differing opinions about this new show (more on that at a later date).  By this time, even with all the rest and relaxation, the trackers on our Fitbits had passed 20 miles for the day.  It was time to turn in so we had enough energy to squeeze in a last little bit of Disney in the morning.

We were awake and busy packing by 6:15 a.m.  We had breakfast scheduled at Kona Café (another tradition) followed by one last FastPass in Magic Kingdom for Space Mountain at 9:20.  Our ride to the airport was scheduled to pick us up at 11:00 a.m.  Dave met us in Magic Kingdom and we had time for a last ride around Tomorrowland on the PeopleMover before blasting off into Space.  It was time to go.  One last bit of pixie dust found us as we went back to our room for our luggage – Cinderella’s horses, carriage and footmen were on the path around our building and we got to see them up close as they passed by.  Then we found ourselves leaving Walt Disney World behind to get home for some much needed rest!

For a very short 72 hours, we had an amazing (exhausting) time!  Joseph completed his first runDisney events.  Nick, Dave and I managed (finally!) to have our first podcast meet-up.  Family, friends, and LOTS of Disney magic all around…we could not have asked for a better time.

Disney World Things I Never Expected to Like

With so much to do, see, eat, and experience at Walt Disney World, it’s surprisingly easy to dismiss things you don’t think you’ll like.  Surrounded by the spectacular, it’s easy to pass up what might appear run-of-the-mill.  I was guilty of this for many years, but those days are over! I’ve finally learned that even the seemingly ordinary becomes extraordinary with a bit of Disney magic all around.

Disney World Things I Never Expected to Like

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel – It may be “just a carrousel” to many, but it has a great history, short queue (usually), fantastic location, and is just the ticket for using up a few available minutes between FastPasses.  (I wrote an entire article once about my love for the carrousel as my alter ego, Darlin’ Diva here.)

Citrus Swirl – After the Dole Whip debacle, I was still open to trying a Disney frozen treat.  While I found Dole Whips too sweet and one-dimensional (all pineapple, all the time), I found the combination of sweet soft-serve vanilla ice cream and tart orange slush to be absolute perfection.Disney World Citrus Swirl

Primeval Whirl – I wouldn’t ride it for the longest time.  It looked stupid and I thought the whirl would make me hurl, but once I braved this Dinoland coaster, I was hooked.  Surprisingly, I feel this weird attraction is a must-do at least once on every Animal Kingdom visit.Dinoland's Primeval Whirl - The attraction I never expected to love.

It’s Tough to be a Bug – Megan still doesn’t like it, but the rest of The Fam and I are fans.  It’s cute, clever, and offers 3D edutainment at its best.  Yes, it makes small children cry but I think the location under the Tree of Life, the movie posters, the combination of 3D movie and animatronic figures, Flik hosting the show…well, all of that works well to entertain me.  Plus, on a hot day, it’s a great place to sit down and cool off.

Churro – They don’t look all that exciting and I’d never noticed them before seeing the cart in Frontierland.  For years (and years) I happily passed them by, but curiosity eventually won out after hearing praises for the humble churro from fellow Disney fans.  What the heck, I caved.  One wave of a Magic Band later and I was pleasantly surprised by the cinnamon-sugary deliciousness of this conveniently portable comfort food.

Country Bear Jamboree – Like many of the items on this list, I avoided the bears for years.  I listened to the haters and thought the show would be lame and the bears would be old and mangy and the songs would be horrible.  Au contraire!  I am proud and unashamed to proclaim my adoration for every second of this unique and wonderful show!!!  Love it so much, I can hardly bear it! (Hahahaha…I crack me up!)

Extremely Crowded Christmas Week – We’ve been twice recently and once a long time ago.  Yes, it’s ridiculously crowded.  Yes, once those FastPasses are gone, there won’t be any more available.  Careful planning is required, but we don’t care.  We’re thrilled by all the extra seasonal stuff!  The decorations, the lights, the special events, the food booths in World Showcase…Christmas magic is in the air and we love it!

Mickey-shaped pretzel – After being a huge fan of the Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar forever, I should know not to underestimate the appeal of any mouse-shaped snack foods.  Those dang pretzels are no exception.  Sure, as I’d always suspected, they taste just like any other generic soft pretzel, but the fact that they’re shaped like Mickey and that we’ve made getting them in Tomorrowland a family tradition, the love grows with every bite.

Kona Café – Resistance was futile.  We passed Kona on our way to ‘Ohana for many years without temptation.  Yes, Kona’s famous Tonga Toast was very well known to me, but I’m a savory breakfast fan, so no draw there.  When Curt Stone, host of the Geekin’ on WDW Podcast, waxed poetic about Kona dinners, I thought we should give it a shot.  That first visit did not impress. At. All. BUT, the two strike rule meant we’d have to give Kona a second chance before writing it off.  Luckily, subsequent visits were all fantastic and now Kona rates at least one meal on nearly every Disney World visit.

So much love in unexpected places!  The moral of the story is “don’t knock it ’til you try it” – I’ve been converted to an advocate of finding the sweet spot between revisiting old favorites and trying new things on every visit to Walt Disney World.

What’s on your list of Disney things you never expected to like?