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 – 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?

 

 

My Disney Mother’s Day Experience

Sometimes, when your kids prove that they’ve been listening and learning the best things in life from you it’s pretty magical.  It’s what we hope for during all of that other stuff…you know…potty training, ballgames, homework, dance lessons, laundry, nagging, emergency room visits, late-night-worrying, and the rest.  Parenting mistakes were made to be sure – some big, some small.  Turns out, in spite of all that, kids can turn out to be very awesome humans in spite of your having had no manual for raising them.  Our children are adults now and on Mother’s Day, they went all out to give me an experience I’ll never forget.Disney Mother's Day Experience

It started Saturday night as Megan, Grant, Joseph, Lyndsey, Raymond and I were out at a party for our nephew’s upcoming wedding.  Joseph and Megan told me that when the party was over, they were both spending the night at our house.  Knowing we were planning to run together in the morning, I thought this was just a fun and happy convenience.  I envisioned staying up watching movies and hanging out.  They had other plans and I was told to go to bed.  Never one to pass up the opportunity for a good night’s rest and only a little disappointed, I did as I was told and wondered what they might be up to.

My Disney Mother’s Day Experience

Sunday morning, everything looked the way it had when I went to bed.  We grabbed some breakfast and hit the road for our weekly long run.  I was still clueless what the rest of the day would hold.  When we got home, I played outside with Junior for a while, took a shower, and was informed at that time to “stay out of the kitchen”.  This was going to be challenging!  The kitchen is very much the heart of our home.  I love to cook and when we’re all together, we tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Together.  I turned on the TV, found a movie, and settled in to wait.  From time to time, I secretly took pictures of what I could see of the kitchen action (there were some serious game-faces).My Disney Mother's Day Experience

There was a LOT of activity going on in the kitchen.  To keep me out, I was served my favorite Epcot beer, Innis & Gunn, in a Rose & Crown pint glass.  After a while, I was brought a big spread of cheese, crackers, spreads, and prosciutto.  Junior faithfully stayed by my side, but it wasn’t easy.  For either of us.  The WAITING!  The MYSTERY!

Raymond, who’d been working outside for most of the afternoon, came in and set the dining room table.  I asked for someone to bring me a bottle of water and the response from Joseph was, “I can’t right this second, I’m flambéing something.”  Now I was imagining flames shooting everywhere and the potential for catastrophe, because, hey!  It’s what moms do, right?  I stayed right where I was (I should get major points for that) and before long, dinner was served.

The made-from-scratch bread looked familiar and when I found out there was a dipping sauce made from a Guinness reduction, I was on to them!  We were eating food from Raglan Road!!!  This Disney Springs restaurant has been one of our all time favorites for many years.  We have had so many great dinners there!  Those memories are precious to me and clearly Megan and Joseph know it.  I was blown away and very excited to sit down and dig in.  (Clearly, in my excitement I was unable to take a clear picture of the bread.)

My Disney Mother's Day ExperienceAside from Irish Brown Bread, there was an incredible Cashel Blue Cheese Salad with fresh raspberry vinaigrette, Lamb Pasta Ragout (this dish has like 17 different ingredients) and finally, Traditional Bread and Butter Pudding for dessert (incredible!).  Pictures do NOT do this meal justice.  My Disney Mother's Day ExperienceIt was ALL so delicious!!!  Joseph as master chef with Megan as his sous chef spent five hours cooking up this amazing meal…just for me.  After we finished eating, I received The Raglan Road Cookbook as a gift.My Disney Mother's Day Experience

From their earliest childhood, we tried to teach our children to value experiences over things.  It’s a fact: Creating happy memories will mean more in life than accumulating stuff.  I think they learned exactly what we intended and I couldn’t be more proud.  (Thank you Megan and Joseph!  I love you!!!)

 

 

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?