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 Dining – Adventureland’s Skipper Canteen

“Magic Kingdom’s newest themed table service eatery boasts both excellent service and uniquely delicious fare – in an exotic setting full of humor and whimsy.” – Me (my inner restaurant critic)

We found ourselves in Magic Kingdom with the huge post-Christmas crowds on a gorgeous Monday morning.  While we didn’t arrive for the 7:00 am park opening, we had managed to ride Big Thunder Mountain by FastPass, eat breakfast at Be Our Guest, tour Haunted Mansion on standby (less than 30 minutes), and FastPass Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – all by about 10:45…why not wander over to Adventureland?  Maybe, by some miracle, we could lunch at the new Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen before our last FastPass of the day (Enchanted Tales With Belle)?Skipper-Canteen-Courtyard-Ceiling

Disney Dining – Adventureland’s Skipper Canteen

Once we located the entrance, it was about 11 o’clock.  Two Cast Members were working the podium outside and just a couple of other parties were already waiting in the courtyard.  I was quickly told that our wait would be about 20 minutes and if I provided my cell phone number, I’d receive a text when our table was ready.  We may have just eaten breakfast about an-hour-and-a-half earlier, but I was not missing this opportunity!  Raymond’s pretty flexible and was happy to go along.Skipper-Canteen-Waiting-Area

While we waited, I wandered around taking pictures and, exactly on time, I got the text to tell us our table was ready.  The next step is to go inside to another waiting area.  Skipper-Canteen-interiorOur name was called right away and the hostess escorted us to our table in the large main dining room called “The Mess Hall”.  There are a couple of smaller dining rooms off of the main one – The Falls Family Parlor and the S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventurers) Room.Skipper-Canteen-Mess-Hall Skipper-Canteen-ArtifactsAs one would expect, and similar to the much larger layout of Be Our Guest, each room is fantastically themed.  There are too many details and Jungle Cruise artifacts to take in during a single visit…very clever!  (More on the Canteen’s back story here.)

Bobby was our server and he was excellent!  Passionate about his new Skipper position, he delivered our food and those famous Skipper puns with equal skill.  That’s where this restaurant sets itself apart – the food and service are much better than typical theme-park fare and the theming and back story are so well done – the overall experience is wonderful!  (Seriously – every tiny detail made me happy!)Skipper-Canteen-Menu-ArtSkipper-Canteen-Menu

Bread arrived while we were looking over the menu.  The round loaf of Ambasha bread is accompanied by honey seasoned with a healthy dose of Fenugreek (herb with a maple-like flavor commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine) which made this starter taste exotic and delicious!Skipper-Canteen-Bread

Since we had just eaten breakfast, Raymond and I decided to share three courses so we could taste a whole meal without stuffing ourselves or wasting food.  We started with the S.E.A. Shu Mai (A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Mung Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed) $10.  This was perfect!  The dipping sauce was exactly right – a little spicy and salty and the perfect complement to the dumplings.Skipper-Canteen-Appetizer

Our entrée selection was the Rice Noodle Bowl with Chicken (Pho Broth served with Jalapeños with mix of fresh Herbs) $22. This sounds plain but was spicy and delicious!  Everything prepared on site from scratch makes this experience extra special.  The flavors and presentation of the food, combined with the atmosphere and service, truly make you forget you’re eating in a theme park.Skipper-Canteen-Noodle-Bowl

We wrapped up our little culinary adventure with the Sugar Crusted Congee Pudding (Caramelized Custard with Millet, Almonds, Apricot, Dates, and Honey-Almond Tuile) $8.  Normally, we aren’t big on dessert, but this sounded unique and interesting and was absolutely delicious.  The combination of flavors and textures was perfect.Skipper-Canteen-Pudding

We did not take advantage of the specialty (non-alcoholic) drink menu on this visit, but opted for iced tea and water.  Our total bill was very reasonable and we walked away completely satisfied.  If Skipper Canteen represents the future of in-park dining at Walt Disney World, we cannot WAIT to see what’s next!Skipper-Canteen-Display Skipper-Canteen-Jungle-Cruise-Sign Skipper-Canteen-Collection Skipper-Canteen-Barrel

Are you adventurous enough to try the new Jungle Cruise Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen?  What would keep you from dining there?

Walt Disney World – Just Back, Trip Recap!

Clam-mobile-selfieWe had a great time at Walt Disney World!  We always have a great time, so this comes as no surprise.  What DID surprise us was the exceptional, unexpected delights along with a couple of equally surprising minor disappointments.  You know me – fair and balanced (usually) is my M.O. and today’s no different.  Please bear in mind that in anticipation of the extreme crowds to be expected between Christmas and New Year’s, we made an unprecedented number of dining reservations.  Now let’s get to it!

Walt Disney World – Just Back, Trip Recap!

The VERY BESTPolynesian-Villa-Studio

Our Polynesian Village Resort DVC villa!  You can read that review here.  We were so happy with our location and how comfortable and luxurious our room and its amenities were!  Would we stay here again?  In a heartbeat!DHS-Osborne-Lights-Sign

Saying Goodbye to the Osborne Lights – Bittersweet, but we made the most of the opportunity and were happy at the end of the day.  I guess we could call it closure.Skipper-Canteen-Jungle-Cruise-Sign

The New Skipper Canteen – A full review of this fantastic new Magic Kingdom eatery will be coming up within the next few days, but let me say – If this is the future of Disney’s theme park dining, I’m ecstatic!Jiko-Exterior

Jiko – It’s been a few years since we’ve eaten at this Signature restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge because we had to work Boma and Sanaa into our vacation dining rotation.  It was every bit as wonderful as every other time we’ve eaten there.  Again – full review coming soon.Shula's-Steakhouse-Exterior

Shula’s Steakhouse – Ever since we tried (and were delighted by) Il Mulino at the Swan, we’ve been hoping to fit dinner at Shula’s (at the Dolphin) into our plans.  Perfectly perfect in every way.  Guess what?  Yup – there’s a review coming up soon!Morimoto-Asia-Sushi

Morimoto Asia – Another place we were dying to try and brand new to boot.  Located in Disney Springs, we planned a morning around having lunch at Morimoto Asia before an afternoon at Epcot.  What a great meal!  We shared every course hoping it would keep us from eating too much – HA!  We left completely stuffed and loved the sake flight offered there as well.  You know?  I believe I’ll write a review on this place too!  (So check back!)

The Really GoodJingle-Cruise-Sign

Jingle Cruise – We love Jungle Cruise in it’s usual configuration so chances were that we’d be thrilled with the ride’s holiday overlay.  And we were.  Skipper Patrick was from our home state of Louisiana and he was a true master at pun-delivery!  If you’ve not had the chance and are visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays, do make time to experience this fun and funny seasonal treat.Be-Our-Guest-Restaurant-Sign

Breakfast at Be Our Guest – We’d eaten both lunch and dinner at Be Our Guest before, so we thought, why NOT see how breakfast is.  Hands down, this was our favorite meal at this unique and amazingly-themed restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland.Tonga-Toast-Kona-Cafe

Breakfast at Kona Café – We’d never had Tonga Toast before!  We had to knock that off our Disney to-do list.  While the toast might have been a little sweet for us, we loved the omelet we shared, plus the coffee and the service were both excellent.  Those to-go coffees our server offered us were just the ticket for making sure we were wide awake when we got to Magic Kingdom.Chewbacca-Meet-and-Greet

Meeting Chewbacca – He was everything we hoped he’d be!  Tall, furry, friendly, and photogenic!  The Launch Bay, where fans can meet both Chewbacca and Darth Vader, is packed with enough Star Wars information and memorabilia to make every fan happy.Star-Tours-Queue

The New Star Tours – We weren’t sure what to expect with the new Force Awakens tie-ins, but they were just right – seamlessly included in the storyline. (Nope, no spoilers here!)

The DisappointmentsBluezoo-Exterior

Bluezoo – This Todd English restaurant at the Dolphin was someplace we’d really looked forward to trying.  We’d heard such great things about the menu and service.  The service was as expected – excellent.  The disappointment came in the form of our $42 entrees.  We each ordered something different and we both found the food lacking in interest and flavor.  There are tons of other places in that price range at Disney World, no need to waste money here.Flying-Fish-Exterior-2015

Flying Fish – The last time we ate at Flying Fish was in May, 2014 and it was one of the best dining experiences we’d ever had.  The food, the service, the ambiance – all of it created such a fantastic vacation memory.  Raymond and I were expecting the same thing this time.  Not so much.  Lackluster (at best) is what we got.  It started with the hostess who would not make eye contact or smile – just shoved a pager at Raymond and said (without looking up), “We’ll call you when we’re ready”.  Flying-Fish-Interior-2015(2)The young lady who led us to our table when our pager blinked was equally un-Disney-like.  Our server went through the motions, but never talked about the menu or made recommendations of any kind.  He was pleasant enough yet made us feel like a chore he needed to finish quickly. Flying-Fish-Interior-2015(1) I have a theory.  Flying Fish is getting ready to close for an extended refurbishment.  I asked and the server told me they were all being reassigned to other places.  I believe they’ve all checked-out and mentally moved on, knowing that at the end of January their work family will be divided up among many other Disney restaurants and they’ll each have to learn the ways of a new place.  I’d be willing to go back again after the refurb and give Flying Fish another shot.

Have your recent experiences been different than ours?  What has been your most favorite recent Disney dining or attraction experience?