Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival – Tasty Treats and Splurges

RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-LandscapeOur first Epcot International Food & Wine festival was a rousing success!  Maybe we should feel a little bit defeated because we didn’t taste all of the dishes on our must-try list, but NO!  We’re not sorry about that one bit.  We had a wonderful time and are formulating plans to return to Walt Disney World again in the fall of 2016 (right after Joseph turns 21!).

I could wax poetic for days about the delicious food, interesting wines and beers, festive party atmosphere, and fun fellow foodies, but instead I think this calls for a list!  Dear, sweet readers, I give to you our…

Top 10 Things We Loved at Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival (imagine “da-da-da-da” horns blowing here)

10.  The Rose & Crown Pub – Enjoyable anytime, this place is HOPPING during Food & Wine.  You’d think the kiosks & food booths would get all the attention, but no!  Those rediculously tiny beer samples that go along with the special food offerings seem to make people gravitate towards the places where you can still buy a full serving of adult refreshment.  We didn’t stop at the Rose & Crown for beer on our initial trip around World Showcase…we’d heard about the very reasonably priced single malt scotch flight (Thank you, Mr. Dutch Lombrowski!) and dropped in specifically for that experience.  Excellent!!!RM-Rose-and-Crown

9. Boeuf Bourguignon and French Men Who Shout – Very delicious dish in France, that Boeuf Bourguignon, made even more fun by the tall, strapping young French lad working the food booth – He yelled out each order as they came in (each guest hands their receipt to the Cast Member working the booth) and when I yelled at him in French to say, “That’s right! Very good, thanks!” – He yelled right back in French to say, “You’re Welcome!!!”  Both of us grinning from ear to ear.  Good times.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Menu-Boeuf-Bourguignon

8. Two Hour Lunches With Lots of Wine – These were our splurges.  Would we have enjoyed the festival without them?  Absolutely, but I’m so glad we decided to book two very special experiences – The Italian Food & Wine Pairing (Via Napoli) and the French Regional Lunch (Monsieur Paul).  While I will write individual reviews on each, let me just say that these events are so much fun, one of our table mates (Hi Patti!) in Via Napoli admitting to being a repeat attendee – and she doesn’t drink wine!  If you’re anti-social or take your wine very seriously, these lunches are probably not for you.RM-French-Regional-Lunch-Table

7.  Passport Stamping – Guests get a souvenir passport with each country’s foods/beverages in it and can have a Cast Member in each country stamp the booklet as the booth is visited.  Simple, but fun!RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Passport

6. Pepper Bacon Hash – At the Farm Fresh booth.  Seriously – this was good stuff!  Hash, Hollandaise, jalapenos on top.  Had it not been so crowded (with lots of potential witnesses), we would have licked the empty container.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Pepper-Bacon-Hash

RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Pepper-Bacon-Hash-Container5. Sharing – This is the key to Food & Wine Festival happiness.  Knowing that sharing means you can taste more food and sample more beers and wines.  Also knowing when NOT to share is key.  More on that in a sec.

4. Glorious Weather and Beautiful Landscaping – We were so thankful for both.  Stopping to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful surroundings is important to us!  It helps us maximize our enjoyment of every single second.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Landscape2

3.  A Seared Sea Scallop, Some Garlic Shrimp and Griddled Cheese – All were absolutely wonderful!  The scallop was from Scotland, the shrimp from Australia, and the cheese from Greece.  Oh, the FOOD!  These were among our absolute favorite flavors.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-ScallopRM-Epcot-Food&Wine-ShrimpRM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Griddled-Cheese

2.  Meeting Duffy the Disney Bear (and lots of other fun folks!) – Sounds weird, the Duffy thing, I know!  We knew where Duffy would be on the Mexico-side of the World Showcase’s entrance since we saw him posing for pictures there in May.  I can think of no way to soften this – our kids loathe, detest, and despise Duffy.  So, being the loving parents that we are, we decided even before we left home for vacation that we needed to have our picture made with Duffy to send to the kids!  The joke was really on us – Duffy was hilarious and super sweet!  We loved Duffy in his cute little pumpkin outfit.  Sigh.  That Duffy!RM-Duffy

1. Crispy. Pork. Belly.  Just say it out loud once or twice and imagine how delicious it sounds… guess what?  It tastes even better!  This, we did not share.  You want to know how to stay married to the same person for 25 years?  Know when NOT to share.  Each of us had our own serving of this incredibly decadent Brazilian delicacy.  We may have made a couple of yummmm sounds, but we ate in companionable silence.  And were happy.RM-Epcot-Food&Wine-Crispy-Pork-Belly

Ten Reasons to Sail on Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line  Ten Reasons to Sail on Disney Cruise Line:

  1. Beautiful ships full of Disney magic and extraordinary service.
  2. The evening shows – excellent Broadway-style entertainment for the whole family.
  3. Designated well-themed areas for children (and teens) with incredibly creative activities and lots of FUN (and safety!).
  4. Designated adults-only areas with adult entertainment, refreshments, separate pools, restaurants, and more.
  5. Castaway Cay – Disney’s Private Island is one of the ports of call on manDisney's Castaway Cayy Disney cruises and it is truly a paradise with something for everyone.  Want to run a 5k?  Ride a bicycle? Snorkel, parasail, swim, eat, dance, drink, play in the sand, lay in a hammock and do nothing at all – in an absolutely gorgeous setting!  Adults-only, teens-only and family beaches ensure everyone can have the time of their life.  Even a massage in a cabana on the beach is available!  (Full review here.)
  6. Castaway Club – once you’ve taken that first cruise, you’re automatically a member with perks for repeat cruisers.  This article gives more details.
  7. Excursions – Disney offers a tremendous number of family-friendly, adults-only and teen-only port excursions and they take good care of you!  We’ve had incredible family adventures (like zip-lining in Alaska, swimming with stingrays in the Bahamas, and exploring the ruins of Pompeii) we will remember for the rest of our lives.
  8. Fish Extender groups and Door decorating!  You can pre-arrange to take part in a gift exchange (like secret Santa) with other cruisers.  You can (and should) bring fun magnetic decorations for your stateroom door. See Fish Extender deets here and Door Décor here.
  9. Characters – They seem to be everywhere and much easier to meet than in the parks.  Drop off a pillowcase or a photo mat and some markers at Guest Services and the characters will autograph your items…which will then be returned to your stateroom.
  10. Parties and First-run Movies –  The Sail Away and pirate-themed parties are both bunches of Meeting Formal Minnie on Disney Cruise Linefun (especially for children).  Each ship’s movie theater shows the latest releases (and favorite Disney movies).
  11. BONUS – Rotational Dining and Room Service.  You keep the same restaurant servers at dinner each evening (unless you dine at an adults-only restaurant) for the duration of your cruise – you get to know them and they cater to (and often anticipate) your every need.  The room service menu items (with a few exceptions) are included in the price of your cruise.  Order appetizers while getting ready for dinner or a show, order cookies and milk for a bedtime snack!  Too tired to leave your stateroom?  Order dinner!

The reasons I’ve just listed are solely based on my own family’s experiences.  We are not people who generally suffer from seasickness – it would be rare for one of us to have an Disney Cruise Line Shipepisode, but not unheard of.  We are a family that loves Disney vacations above all others.  (I believe if Disney had its own ski resort, we would never stray from Disney property or cruise ship.)

The difference between a Walt Disney World vacation and a Disney Cruise Line vacation is, for us, purely a relaxation factor.  All the things we love about Walt Disney World like good food, great service by friendly Cast Members, wonderful resort accommodations, Disney’s magical details (even hidden Mickeys!), meeting Disney characters, awesome entertainment – are all there on a Disney cruise.  What is NOT on a Disney cruise?  Walking ten miles a day, rope-drop frenzy, waiting for transportation in the blazing sun (or late at night), or favorite thrill rides and attractions (but there ARE plenty of View of Castaway Cayadventures to be found on a cruise).  We go home much more relaxed, but completely satisfied that we did and saw a bunch of amazing things!

HOW did we become such big Disney Cruise Line fans?  What made us opt to turn away from Walt Disney World and take that very first cruise?  I’ll tell you – it was our children.  After we got home from a spring break trip to WDW one year (2006), Megan started asking when we would be going back, but  Joseph said,  “WAIT – I want to go to the beach.  I want to see the ocean.  Last time we went to the shore, I was so little I can’t remember what it was like.  We need to go back to the beach!”  And a months’ long argument began between the two of them Grand Cayman Excursionfrom that day forward.

As for me, that’s when an idea began to form – I knew my plan wouldn’t be an easy one to pull off since I was certain Raymond would not initially be on board with it (YES!  score a pun point for me!).  Why not give both children what they want as a Christmas gift?  Land and sea vacation package!  Knowing Raymond would be adverse to the cruise portion of the trip, I talked him into it with 4 days at WDW followed by a 3-day cruise.  He was picturing the cruise being rather like a hostage crisis – he’d be stuck on a ship with nothing to do!  I was determined to show him the joys Disney Cruise Line had to offer.  The happy ending to this tale is that when we walked off the ship, Raymond announced that he’d had a wonderful time and would gladly take a 7-day Disney Castaway Cay's Mt. Rustmorecruise in the future!  (The story of the Christmas gift reveal is here.)

Our baby steps from that first short Bahamian trip to a Disney cruise European adventure went like this:

  • December 2006, Land and Sea (4-days at WDW followed by 3-days in the Bahamas which consisted of stops at Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island)
  • December 2007/January 2008 – New Year’s Eve 7-day Western Caribbean (for Megan’s senior trip), followed by a couple of days at WDW (Orlando to Key West to Grand Cayman to Cozumel to Castaway Cay and back to Orlando)
  • Disney Mediterranean Cruise, Excursion to Florence, ItalyMay 2010 – 5-night Castaway Cay double-dip (+ 2 days at WDW.  Orlando to Castaway Cay to Nassau to Castaway Cay to Orlando)
  • May 2011 – 7-night Alaskan cruise (from Vancouver, visited Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Tracy Arm Fjord, back to Vancouver)
  • August 2013 – 7-night Mediterranean (from Barcelona to Ville Franche, France and then to La Spezia, Civitavecchia, and Naples in Italy, then back to Barcelona) (Trip report starts here.)

Our bravery increased over time – the more fun and adventure we had, the more we wanted to see and do!  The price of airfare was, is and always will be the big holdup for doing more cruisesPirate Party on Disney Cruise Line that leave from distant ports, but we have always had as much fun (or more, gasp!) on a Disney cruise as we have had at each of our 12+ trips to Walt Disney World.  Next up?  Disney’s cruise through the fjords of Norway, summer 2015.

Have you taken a Disney cruise?  If not, have you been considering one?  What do you or don’t you like about the idea?


10 Reasons to Visit Alaska Aboard Disney Cruise Line

Alaska on Disney Cruise LineAlaska – it’s not called The Last Frontier for nothing (that alone is a great reason to go there!) – Have you ever thought about visiting Alaska?  I can tell you from personal experience – for our family, it was unlike anyplace we’d ever seen before!  In the best possible way.  We probably wouldn’t ever have gone except for one thing – we’d always said…if Disney Cruise Line ever goes to Alaska, that’s one trip we cannot miss!

When Disney made the big announcement that the Wonder would be heading to Alaska in 2011, we booked as soon as possible.  For us, one of the early season cruises worked best with our schedules – this meant that we missed seeing bears and the salmon season, but we wouldn’t have changed a single thing.  What a “Wonderful” trip we had!  Just in case it’s on your bucket list or even if you’ve been toying with the idea a teeny bit – I’d like to try to help you decide if a trip Spotting Seals in Alaska on our Disney Cruiseto the Land of the Midnight Sun is right for your family…

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Alaska Aboard Disney Cruise Line:

10. The Daylight – We got so much out of every day and night!  We enjoyed those super long daylight hours.  How strange it was to eat dinner and go to a show then stroll the deck after 10:00 pm to enjoy the view!

9. The Air – This may seem strange, but I’ve mentioned in previous posts about Alaskan excursions that the air is so clean and clear it feels like you must be breathing the freshest air on Earth.

Views from the Deck of the Disney Wonder in Alaska8. The Ship – Obviously we love Disney, but the Wonder is near and dear to our hearts!  The service, the comfort, the entertainment, the special touches – on the day the ship visited Tracy Arm Fjord (the one destination you stay ON the ship to enjoy), there was an on-deck barbecue so no one had to miss a moment of the action at lunchtime!

7. The Adventures – The list of excursions is staggering.  We zip-lined, whale watched, and explored the Mendenhall Glacier.  We explored Misty Fjords by boat and learned so much!  Regardless of age, health conditions, individual tastes, and budget – there is something for everyone.  Even the view from the ship is simply breathtaking.

6. The Ports – Each town we visited (Vancouver, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan) had a charm all its own.  Downtown Skagway, AlaskaThe history could be felt in the air.  Small enough to explore on foot, we strolled through each port and took in the unique sights of each and fell in love with them all.

5. The Souvenirs – We bought several items (okay, it was more like a huge bunch) – a couple-few (as we like to say around these parts) in each port.  Excellent prices!  We bought a crazy amount of tee-shirts because the designs and styles were terrific and the prices were incredibly reasonable.  I’ve worn the heck out of mine and they’re still holding up great!

Alaskan Wildlife on the Disney Wonder4. The Wildlife – You can see whales from the ship.  We saw many!  You actually see seals float by on their own tiny icebergs.  Bald eagles are everywhere and we even saw tiny jellyfish in the water on one excursion.  While sled dogs are not actually “wildlife” – we saw some of those, too!

3. The Glaciers – You can look at them in pictures, but nothing compares to seeing (in person) the spectacular shades of blue within a glacier’s face or the feeling of that cool, fresh air growing steadily colder as you get closer to the glacier!

2. The Unexpected – Surprises are everywhere!  On the ship when Disney characters pop up unexpectedly for great photo ops, waterfalls loudly rushing down cliff faces – so close to the ship you feel as though you could reach out and touch them.  Those seals, whales, and eagles See Alaskan Glaciers aboard Disney Cruise Lineare just waiting to be spotted!  It takes “expect the unexpected” to a new level.

1. Discovering it all as a Family!  When we traveled, Megan was 20 and Joseph almost 16.  Meg was too old for the teen club and Joe wanted to spend a bunch of time there (meeting other kids from all over the world and taking part in the teen activities) – we worried about the situation making Megan the odd girl out, but NO!  We had so much fun!  We hadn’t had an opportunity to spend this much one-on-one time with our little girl since before her brother came along.  Joseph joined us for every excursion and for dinner and the show each evening.  We had plenty of time together as a family, but I have to say – the time with Megan was especially memorable for me.  For you – there are a ton of onboard activities for guests of every age from toddler to…well, at my age, I prefer the term “mature traveler”…you get the idea.

There you go!  My own top 10 reasons to visit Alaska on Disney Cruise Line.  Have you cruised Alaska?  What did you love the most?  Is an Alaskan cruise in your future?  Tell me!