Just Back from WDW – The Best and the Worst of it

It was a whirlwind trip and somewhat overshadowed by two things – a 1600-mile round-trip drive (ugh!) and leaving Joseph behind when we came home.  Knowing those aspects have a negative effect on how this trip will be remembered, I shall endeavor to do my best in giving balanced feedback.

Just Back from WDW – The Best and the Worst of it

The Great Stuff

Saratoga Springs – This was Megan’s and my second time staying here and Raymond and Joseph’s first.  We all thought our room location in The Springs section was fantastic.  On the first floor, our room was unbelievably quiet and relatively close to the bus stop and the main pool/recreation area.  We did not have to wait too long for a bus at any time.  The only negative I could see is that this is the last bus stop in the loop.  While the rooms at Saratoga Springs are a bit dated and could use an update or at least a little extra TLC, our room was clean, everything was in working order, and the building appeared well-maintained.  Last June, in The Paddock section, we had “Welcome Home” doormats which were nowhere to be found on this visit.

Festival of the Arts – If the weather had been better, this would have been a really great time.  As it was, we sampled very little food, but loved the theme and the fun photo ops.  As a bonus, we got to see a couple get engaged on the bridge in Italy and it was great.  She said yes.

Morimoto Asia for Dinner – We’ve enjoyed lunch at Morimoto’s a couple of times and thought the food and service were wonderful.  Our first dinner there did not disappoint!  We ordered a variety of dishes and all were delicious.  Raymond and I finally tried the Peking Duck for two…wonderful!

BaseLine Tap House – This new addition to the Studios is…what, WHAT?  Something NEW?  Yes, you heard me correctly!  After closure after closure, finally something new and it’s great!  We stopped in for beer then also shared a pretzel.  Both were great, but what really struck us as the best feature of this place was the music.  Thumbs up all around for the cool vibe and a libation menu that feels custom-made for us.

Moonlight Magic – We almost never get to take advantage of DVC events.  We’ve never been there when they had one before, so RSVP-ing for this complimentary Magic Kingdom after-hours event was a must!  Unfortunately, the weather was crap with constant drizzle.  We did enjoy getting to see unusual characters and the wait times for rides were super reasonable.  We had dinner at Skipper Canteen, checked in and got our wristbands, then managed to ride Pirates, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Little Mermaid, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, and the People Mover.  We left Megan practically all alone on the People Mover while Raymond, Joseph and I rode Space Mountain (since it’s off limits for expectant mothers).  There were photo ops with lots of characters and we stopped for pictures twice.  We met Louie and Balou in Adventureland and then space-Pluto and Goofy in Tomorrowland.  We got to see both Wishes and the event’s special fireworks show which had a special name, but it escapes me now, but leads me to…

The Bad Things

Raglan Road – After years (and years!) of loving this place and taking flak from folks who don’t see eye-to-eye, we were not just disappointed, we were crushed.  We had dinner there Saturday night and one of our favorite happy, fun, tasty, go-to favorites had transformed into an unrecognizable dump.  Given no option, we were seated in the bar at a very small table where we could not see the stage.  I hate those high chairs for any length of time…my short legs make sitting comfortably nearly impossible.  The tiny table made everything crowded.  The ribs we ordered for an appetizer came on a giant wooden board which barely fit on the table and made plates, drinks, utensils, etc. in danger of being pushed off.  The ribs were barely seasoned and barely luke warm.  Things went downhill from there.  The service was okay, but our server was clearly spread too thin.  A tall man, who seemed to be a manager of some sort, kept coming by and asking how everything was, but he never made eye-contact or smiled and was completely insincere.  I ordered a salad that was made up of horrible lettuce scraps and a single clump of blue cheese among the other ingredients.  Nothing was so horrible that we felt we needed to formally complain, but the overall experience was lousy enough that we all agreed to take an extended break from Raglan Road before trying it again (maybe) in the future.  On the bright side, new choices for dining at Disney Springs abound!

The Collapse of Society – Sure, people litter, cut in line, stop in the middle of walk-ways, ram you with strollers and all that.  Other people make up for it by being kind and friendly.  It’s like that everywhere.  Rude and nasty people have never made me think about vacationing someplace less crowded.

Two remarkable things happened on this trip though that have stuck with me as a sign of worsening times.  First let me add that I have a personal pet peeve about naked feet.  They’re gross.  And unhygienic.  Pool-side, they are to be expected.  In a restaurant, not so much.  Please people, for the love of all that’s holy, keep your shoes on!  It’s not okay to remove them in public indoor spaces!  There’s a reason for signs that say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service”.  I think Disney needs to put those signs on all their restaurant entrances, pronto!

The second incident was a bit more alarming.  Raymond and I were standing side-by-side at the top and towards the middle of Main Street (along with many other people) watching the Moonlight Magic fireworks show.  Once the lights go down in the park for fireworks, most people seem to either stay put, or move to the edges of the crowd if they’re trying to leave the park.  Not so with the big guy who came straight towards us, turned slightly to the side, lowered his shoulder and literally plowed between us.  I tried to hold my ground for a minute because I was both incredulous and furious, but he was too big and I didn’t want to get knocked to the ground.  I did turn back and yell, “EXCUSE YOU!!!!”, but that reaction was stupid.  Clearly, when a younger guy, built like a linebacker, feels it acceptable to shove mature fellow guests out of his way in a DISNEY PARK, something is wrong with the World.  Makes me sad that we’ve come to this as a society, but here we are, I guess.

Well, there you have it.  A very quick trip made bittersweet by our happiness for Joseph and his Disney College Program adventure and our leaving him behind when we went home.  Some of our experiences deserve blog posts of their own and some are better off forgotten forever (if possible).  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Have you had a disappointing experience at Walt Disney World?  What impact (if any) will (or did) it have on future visits?

Disney World Dining – Best 1-Credit Table Service (Part 2)

I’ve talked about my favorite 1-credit table service restaurants at Disney World before (here).  But it’s been a while, so I thought an updated version was in order.  If I were making my ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) right now for an upcoming vacation, here’s what I’d recommend…

Disney World Dining – Best 1-Credit Table Service (Part 2)

I still stand by most of my original picks although I will most likely not eat dinner at Be Our Guest again (preferring the quick service breakfast or lunch) and I’ll pass on Chef Mickey’s in the future because I’ve found a place I like much better.  I’m now proud to say I’ve visited a few of the honorable mentions from the previous list and would highly recommend these:

Kona Café – Right next door to ‘Ohana in the Polynesian, Kona offers a different dining experience.  Where ‘Ohana is great for big appetites and fans of family style dining, Kona is better for folks who want options and have varying tastes and appetites.  The menu is Pan-Asian and offers a great variety (sushi lovers seem to flock here).  The service is consistently good and we’ve been so happy with the food, we’ve eaten both dinner and breakfast at Kona on more than one trip.  Just a short monorail ride from Magic Kingdom, Kona’s an excellent place to eat before heading to Magic Kingdom for the evening.

Whispering Canyon Café – We’ve been twice now and had a great meal both times.  It’s fun, filling, and in an awesome setting at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.  Somewhat similar to 50’s Prime Time Café in server/guest interaction, Whispering Canyon  is a favorite of meat-and-potatoes fans with an American menu that includes an all-you-care-to-eat skillet.

Tusker House – I’ve gone on and on (here) about the food, the characters, and the service.  It’s a buffet with choices aplenty.  I love seeing Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy in their safari outfits while filling up on some very unique menu offerings.  Not to worry if you have picky eaters – this buffet includes plenty of choices for all tastes.  If you don’t want to leave the park to eat at Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge’s buffet) and you love a character meal, Tusker house is a safe bet.

We’ve also tried and wholeheartedly recommend…

Yak and Yeti – The table service option (there’s also a quick service window) of this highly themed restaurant in Animal Kingdom’s Asia section is quite good!  If you like Pan-Asian food and want a nice sit-down, non-character in-park experience, Yak and Yeti’s a solid choice.  The menu is surprisingly broad and we love the atmosphere – very cool décor!

Via Napoli – It was lively and a little loud, but for a family dinner, Via Napoli was fantastic!  Everyone in our party of seven was happy with their choices and the pizza was about as good as it gets at Disney World.  I’d choose again Via Napoli if I wanted to stay in Epcot for dinner and had a group to please.

Morimoto Asia (1-credit for Brunch or Lunch only) – The service, the menu, and the atmosphere are much less kid-friendly than most Disney World eateries.  That’s not to say that kids aren’t welcome, but Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs is where we like to go for a lunch date.  The servers are professional and knowledgeable, the menu is broad with plenty of options for sharing.  We can take our time and feel like we’ve found an oasis in the middle of the often chaotic Disney Springs area.

Raglan Road – This is our tried-and-true dinner choice in Disney Springs.  It’s very family friendly and the menu is full of hearty comfort-food  choices.  Plus, entertainment!  Irish dancers and live music add a very special element to eating at Raglan Road.  Hello!  Dinner and a show for 1-credit? Yes!

Again, if I were going right now, I’d choose Tusker House over Chef Mickey’s or 1900 Park Fare.  I’d choose Via Napoli in Epcot, Kona Café at the Polynesian and Raglan Road in Disney Springs for dinner.  If my schedule made a nice lunch versus dinner possible, I go for a Magic Kingdom park-break at Wilderness Lodge to visit Whispering Canyon or I’d head to Disney Springs and enjoy an awesome meal at Morimoto Asia.

What do I need to try next?  What’s your favorite 1-credit table service restaurant at Disney World?

 

Disney World Dining – 5 Great Lunch Spots

Twilight-Zone-Tower-of-TerrorThere’s a lot to be said for a sit-down lunch on a Disney World vacation.  Especially during the hot summer months – a table service meal provides an excellent break from the scorching sun and high humidity.  It gives you time to rest, re-hydrate, cool off, and re-energize so you can get back to park touring action!  Sometimes a restaurant’s lunch menu is less expensive than their dinner menu, making this strategy a money-saving one as well.  While there are many (MANY!) restaurants on our favorites list, today I’d like to recommend a few we particularly love for a mid-day break…

Disney World Dining – 5 Great Lunch Spots

Magic Kingdom Area – When it’s hot, I want to eat outside the park.  A short (and wonderfully cool and scenic) boat ride away is the Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Café.  What we like about this restaurant is the no-frills but tasty menu and the casual, relaxing atmosphere.  Keep the fun going with an eatery that’s packed with great Disney service and a few hilarious antics.  Check out the menu here.Whispering-Canyon-Burger

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – The Hollywood Brown Derby is right in the middle of the action, but makes you feel miles away.  The inside dining room provides a beautiful, old-Hollywood setting, but the outdoor patio lounge is our favorite (menu).  With shaded tables and an interesting menu (offering plenty of light options on a hot day) – we love grabbing a late lunch or happy hour snack here.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio

Animal Kingdom – I’m a big fan of lunch on the go in this park during the not-so-summery months of the year, but when the weather is at its hottest, I want to escape the heat inside the Yak & Yeti’s dining room.  Like everything and everywhere else in Animal Kingdom, Yak & Yeti is elaborately themed.  The menu is great and it’s easy to find something refreshing and not too heavy on a hot day.

Epcot – The choices are overwhelming!  I would love to say it’s an easy decision, but I’d be lying.  My absolute favorite thing about needing to eat lunch in Epcot is the opportunity to dine around the World (Showcase).  Most of the time, we opt for sharing counter-service meals so we try food from several different countries.  When we want a light lunch on a hot day, though, it’s hard to beat Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar in the Italy Pavilion.  Tutto Gusto in Epcot's ItalyThe high top tables and wine cellar atmosphere are great and the food and beverage options even better!  We like to share a couple of small plates of Italian meats and cheeses then enjoy an entrée of pasta or a panini.  The servers are always happy to help with wine selection if you aren’t up on your Italian labels.Morimoto-Asia-Dining-Room

Disney Springs – Now this is a great place for a cool, relaxing mid-day break…and the choices are awesome!  I could recommend several excellent options for a fabulous dining experience, but I’ll narrow it down to one great restaurant – Morimoto Asia.  What we love about Morimoto’s is the perfect combination of tranquil atmosphere and excellent food (share some spareribs – they’re amazing!).  Morimoto-Asia-Spare-RibsThis place may be a little pricier than the other options I’ve listed, but the experience and service are worth a bit extra to me.  The menu is extensive and a meal here is the kind of experience that can’t be rushed, so set aside a couple of hours and just relax!

Do you like a sit-down lunch at Walt Disney World?  What’s your favorite place to eat on a hot day?

Disney Dining – Lunch at Morimoto Asia

Morimoto-Asia-EntranceNew restaurants are so tempting – especially when we love the cuisine and are fans of the owner, Chef Masaharu Morimoto!  (We were always huge Iron Chef geeks back in the day.)  By the time Morimoto Asia opened, we’d already booked all our ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) for our end-of-the-year vacation and this created quite a conundrum.  What could we cancel in order to make room for at least one meal at Disney Springs?  In the end, Biergarten in Epcot’s Germany pavilion, lost our reservation and we booked Morimoto Asia through Open Table (it wasn’t set up through Disney’s site yet).

I’ve never eaten at Biergarten, so I can’t truly say if this was the right decision or not.  What I can tell you is that Morimoto Asia was fantastic and we cannot wait to go back!  Here are the top five things we loved most about our experience –

  1. The Dining Area – Atmosphere…ambiance…whatever you want to call it, the restaurant is all clean lines and open spaces.  The open kitchen was interesting to watch – lots of serious game faces at work.  Red accents give everything a warm glow, which softens what might otherwise be too modern or austere for some tastes.Morimoto-Asia-Interior Morimoto-Asia-Dining-RoomMorimoto-Asia-Place-Setting
  2. The Sake Flight – What a pleasant surprise!  We enjoy a glass of sake now and again, but don’t know much about different types and haven’t tried many options.  When we spied the sake flight we both knew we wanted to splurge and give it a try (it was the most expensive part of our meal).  Morimoto-Asia-Sake-FlightOur server was nice enough to explain more than just the basics and when we asked for the names of the different servings to be written down, she was happy to oblige.Morimoto-Asia-Sake-Flight-Notes
  3. The Service – We arrived exactly on time and were seated right away.  Our server, Sonia, was attentive without hovering, helpful with suggestions, and generally treated us as if we were the only customers dining. (You should definitely ask for Sonia.)  Morimoto-Asia-Server-SoniaPacing is important and as one might expect with a new place, there was a bit of a lull between our appetizers and entrees, but not long enough to detract from the overall great impression.  Morimoto-Asia-Ducks (The ducks though…kinda felt like they were always watching…watching.)
  4. The Menu – We love choices!  For us, when we get a restaurant menu and have a hard time deciding what to order, we feel like we’re having a better experience.  Morimoto-Asia-Menu1 Morimoto-Asia-Menu2We also tend to return quicker because we leave things behind that we really wanted to taste.  We ended up ordering four items to share, which is exactly what everyone should do at Morimoto Asia!  (Check out the menu here.)
  5. The Flavors – Before I tell you exactly what we ate, let me emphatically say that we would recommend every item we ordered.  Based on a tip we received from Howdy (excellent barmaid at Jock Lindsey’s), we ordered the Kakuni Pork Bao (“steamed buns, braised pork belly, lettuce, spicy mayo“).  Morimoto-Kakuni-Pork-Bao Morimoto-Asia-Kakuni-Pork-BaoOf course “pork belly” was all it took.  These were perfect!  Texture, seasoning, temperature – all just right.  Next we wanted to try the Morimoto Spare Ribs Appetizer (“3 pork ribs, cilantro, hoisin sweet chili glaze“).  These babies were absolutely delicious!  Morimoto-Asia-Spare-RibsCrunchy on the outside, but tender on the inside, so we were easily able to divide that last rib in two.  Next we had to have a sushi roll and agreed on the Spicy Tuna.  Morimoto-Asia-Spicy-Tuna-SushiI don’t know about where you live, but we are not used to so generous a serving of tuna in our sushi – fantastic!  Finally we decided on a basic favorite, Pad Thai with chicken (“stir-fried flat rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, scallions, fried tofu, pickled turnip, sweet tamarind sauce.”)  Morimoto-Asia-Pad-ThaiTurned out to be another excellent choice.  We tried our best to finish it, but we’d reached maximum capacity about halfway through.

We could not have enjoyed our lunch at Morimoto Asia more.  Everyone there seemed devoted to giving the best dining experience possible and we thought all the components – food, service, atmosphere – worked perfectly together to make for an excellent meal.Raymond-at-Morimoto-AsiaYour turn – Have you eaten at Morimoto Asia?  What was your first impression?  If you’re considering trying this place, I’d be happy to answer any questions if I can.