Artist Point - Pacific Northwest Cuisine in WDW

Artist Point Menu
There are many things I enjoy about a Walt Disney World vacation, but one of the best parts in my opinion is trying out all of the delicious restaurants on property.  Did you know that more than 125 restaurants can be found across theme parks and resort hotel properties?  With choices ranging from quick service sandwiches to fine dining with some of the best chefs in the nation, there truly is something for everyone.  When my husband and I have the chance for some adult time on our vacation, we always enjoy trying out one of the signature dining locations.  Our most recent trip to Walt Disney World was for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend and we went sans kids.  We visited Artist Point, located inside Disney's Wilderness Lodge, for a late dinner with another couple.  I will give a little disclaimer before starting this review.  We had a very long and unseasonably warm 13 hour day in the parks and had a 9PM dinner reservation.  I think I was more tired than I was hungry which may have impacted some of my overall opinions of the experience.  

The location and decor of the restaurant were comfortable, but not as awe inspiring as some other signature restaurants.  There were large windows overlooking the outdoor area of the hotel while the interior featured soft lighting and beautiful murals depicting life in the Pacific Northwest. It was a pretty restaurant, but didn't compare to California Grill's breathtaking views of Magic Kingdom and the Wishes fireworks show.  

A view across the restuarant
One of several murals throughout the dining area
Our waiter made a few recommendations for the table including the Smoked Portobello Bisque.  The soup was smooth and tasty - it turned out to be my favorite item of the evening!  For my entree, I opted to go with the salmon.  Maybe I was expecting to much of a "wow" dish since we were in a restaurant that should specialize in salmon, but I wasn't overly impressed.  I felt like it lacked seasoning and flavor that could have really enhanced the dish.  In my opinion, the winner of the entree category was the Aged Buffalo Strip Loin that my friend Craig ordered.  When it came time for dessert, I was too tired to keep eating so I passed, but my husband ordered the fruit cobbler and our friends split the fresh donuts.  Both looked tasty!  Throughout the meal, the restaurant staff was able to offer wine pairings that complemented each course - something very important for my husband!

Smoked Portobello Bisque - YUMMY!  A must try!
Cedar Plank Salmon
Overall, I would go back to Artist Point again if I was staying at Wilderness Lodge, but I wouldn't go out of my way to resort hop to make it there.  There are a number of other choices that are just as good or better to check out while in Walt Disney World that are also more convenient to the parks, such as California Grill or The Hollywood Brown Derby.  

What's your favorite signature dining experience in Walt Disney World?

Review - Disney / Pixar The Good Dinosaur

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending an advanced screening of the new Disney / Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur.  My almost 4 year old son, Brody, joined me for what was his very first movie theatre experience.  What a perfect family movie for he and I to enjoy on our special mommy / son date night!

The movie begins with the birth of young Arlo.  From the time he is just a baby dinosaur, he struggles with overcoming his fears.  As an adolescent, this becomes even more challenging to him when he watches his brother and sister "make their mark" on the family while he continues to be fearful of much of the world around him.  Following some difficult times in his family, Arlo becomes separated from them and wants desperately to find his way back.  It's during this journey that he befriends Spot, his new critter pal.  Spot and Arlo, who at first seem to have nothing in common, find that they are more similar then they can even imagine.  Arlo and Spot embark on a number of adventures as they both try to find the family they seek and Arlo discovers that he is more courageous then he ever knew.

As a mom with young children, I couldn't have been more pleased with this movie.  My son loved the dinosaurs and much of the visual detail, while the message of finding your own inner strength and the power of friendship are once again found in the magic of a Disney / Pixar film.

The Good Dinosaur opens everywhere November 25th! Follow the fun at #TheGoodDino!

**I was invited to attend a complimentary screening of The Good Dinosaur to share with my readers.  All opinions are my own.

Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K 2015

As part of the November 2015 Wine and Dine Half-Marathon weekend, runDisney also hosted Kid's Races and a 5K.  Since we were making the journey to Florida for the half, my friend Craig and I decided to participate in Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K as well.  This made for a busy day of running as the 5K was scheduled for 7AM on Saturday morning and the half-marathon was set to begin at 10PM that same night.  Since this was going to be my first half-marathon, I wanted to save my energy and my legs so we opted to take it easy on the 5K.  We stopped at all but one character picture along the course and jogged between the characters.  The 5K is also considered a fun run by runDisney and is not timed.

Race gear ready to go.
The course is entirely contained to Disney's Animal Kingdom.  We arrived at the course around 5:45AM and there were already several thousand people gathered.  Since we had about an hour to wait until we had to get into our corral, we joined the incredibly long line to wait for a picture with Mickey and Minnie.  Well, after an hour wait and lots of conversation with the friendly folks around us in line, we still never made it to Mickey and Minnie and now it was time to head to Corral A for the start of the race.  All morning long, the DJ entertained us with great music and now the announcers were taking over to welcome Mickey and Minnie to the starting line for the race to begin!

Waiting in the longest line ever to hopefully see Mickey and Minnie.

Ready, Set, Go!
With a little Disney magic, flurries fell in Central Florida and we were underway.  The "flurries" didn't do much to help the weather that day as the sun was rising with the start of the race and it was already in the low 70s with sweltering humidity.  The course began looping around the parking lots of Animal Kingdom and you were almost a mile in as you entered the theme park.  Once inside the park, runners raced towards the Tree of Life and followed the path to the left traveling towards Africa.  Flick from A Bug's Life was greeting runners just inside the Oasis, but we kept moving.  We did make our first character stop in Africa to say hi to Rafiki and Timon.  All of the characters along the course were decked out in their Christmas attire to usher in the holiday season.

Rafiki and Timon were waiting to say "hi" in Africa!
We then entered a backstage area behind Harambe and passed through to Asia where we found Baloo and King Louie.  The rest of the course alternated back and forth between backstage and public theme park areas.  We passed three more character stops including Chip & Dale, Pluto, and Donald Duck with Santa Goofy.  The race used the same finish line that had been our starting point.  Christmas Mickey and Minnie were on hand to greet finishers for pictures, but we didn't want to face the long lines again and were anxious to go back to our hotel for a shower and a big breakfast!

King Louie and Baloo

Chip & Dale

A big smile for Pluto!

Merry Christmas with Donald and Goofy!
Even though Disney didn't time the race, my Garmin watch at has clocked in at a finish time at about 1:20 - that's right. . .well over an hour for a 5K!  Along the course, we waited in line at 5 character stops and took one bathroom break.  I didn't care at all how fast the run was as it was by far the absolute best 5K experience I've ever had!  If you're looking to enjoy the fun of runDisney, but aren't a serious runner - don't be afraid to to sign up for the 5K.  It's accessible to runners and walkers alike and will be sure to provide a fun morning that you won't soon forget!

Back at the hotel sporting my new runDisney bling.

Garden Grill Now Serving Breakfast!

Garden Grill has been a character meal favorite within Epcot for years and now they are expanding that excitement into the morning hours by serving breakfast!  The first breakfast service took place on November 8, 2015 and I was lucky enough to be there.

Garden Grill Restaurant located inside The Land pavilion.
Like lunch and dinner, breakfast is a character meal featuring Mickey Mouse, Chip, Dale, and Pluto.  The restaurant rotates slowly inside of The Land pavilion and catching glimpses of the Living with the Land ride below.  Characters rotate to tables and we saw all four characters within 15 minutes of being seated.  We booked a late breakfast following the Wine and Dine Half Marathon the night before so characters seemed to be finishing up before going on a bit of a break until lunch reservations began.  Chip and Dale were particularly playful that day with Chip giving my hand a kiss and taking me by the arm like we were going to run away together!  He nearly swept me off my feet!

Smiling for the camera!
Good Morning from Farmer Mickey!
The food at Garden Grill was absolutely delicious for breakfast.  They serve POG (pomegranate, orange, and grapefruit) juice alongside coffee, milk, or whatever beverage you choose.  Unlike many other character breakfasts, this is served family style so if you're traveling with little ones, you won't need to worry about wrangling them around a food counter.  Table service begins with a sticky bun bake and fruit.  The sticky buns were served in a hot skillet making them extra warm and sticky!  Not long after we had finished with this first course, a large platter featuring ham, eggs, bacon, tater tots, and Mickey waffles arrived at the table.  While some of this is very traditional character breakfast food, the Mickey waffles were a bit unique, served with a chocolate hazelnut sauce.  There was also a plate of biscuits and sausage gravy.  I'm not a big fan of biscuits and gravy but my husband and friends said that this was good as well!

Fruit salad and Sticky Bun Bake

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
An assortment of breakfast goodies for the whole table to share.

And what Disney breakfast is complete without a Mickey waffle?
Our weekend pricing for November was $29.99 for adults.  The food itself doesn't justify that price, but it's certainly on par with other character breakfasts around Walt Disney World.  I enjoyed the change of pace at a family style breakfast instead of the hustle and bustle of a buffet.  My two favorite parts of the meal were the POG juice and the sticky bun bake.  If you're planning a day in Epcot and want a character breakfast experience without the princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, this may just be the spot for you!

runDisney Wine & Dine 2015

Waiting for the race to start.
Whether you refer to it as the Wine & Dine Half and Half or the ever clever Zap & Dash, the 2015 Wine & Dine Half Marathon certainly proved to be an unforgettable evening.  When we arrived at ESPN Wide World of Sports there were already thousands gathered outside on the fields.  Despite the large crowds, the staff and volunteers were incredibly organized and the stop at gEAR check was quick and easy!  I was running the race with a good friend of mine, Craig, and after our arrival around 8:00PM, we found a spot on the pavement to sit down and rest our legs.  Lines were long for pictures with Disney characters so we opted to save our photos for the race course and afterwards.  The DJ was just wrapping up on stage and the official Wine and Dine pre-show began with previews of future runDisney races and the after party at Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival which was just 13.1 miles away. 

Can I get a FastPass for the bathroom line?
As the pre-show was ending, the heat and humidity that had been surrounding the evening broke while the temperature dropped a few degrees, the wind picked up, and just a few raindrops fell.  Instead of moving us to the corrals at 9PM as planned, an announcement was made that storms were in the area and we would be delaying moving into corrals.  That first announcement was quickly followed by a second announcement directing runners, volunteers, and staff to evacuate from the fields and inside the stadiums at the Wide World of Sports complex.  We were inside for about an hour and, besides the incredibly long lines for the bathrooms, things were pretty comfortable.  The runDisney staff frequently made announcements alerting us that we remained in a holding pattern and they would let us know as soon as possible the status of the race.  Close to 10PM, the original scheduled start time, we had the all clear to return back outside and begin getting organized in our corrals.  As we were heading back to the fields, rumblings began to spread through the crowds about a shortened race - anything from a 5K to a 10 miler were rumored.  Once in our corrals, the official announcement came that they would cutting roughly 6 miles off of the course (the final measurement would come in at a race distance of 6.72 miles).  From what I've seen on social media in the hours and days following the race, the decision to shorten the course was made based on continued concerns of storms in the area, debris on the course at Animal Kingdom, time restrictions on the permits for road closures, the heat/humidity, and making sure runners had a chance to enjoy some of the after party at Epcot which was scheduled to end at 4AM. 
The scene inside the HP Fieldhouse.

Let's try this again. . .time to race - Part 2!!
The race started close to 11PM with runners in Corral A going off to fireworks and music!  runDisney requires proof of time for their longer races and they use this to organize runners into corrals.  Since I had not previously run a race distance of 10K or longer, I didn't have a proof of time to submit and ended up in the last corral, Corral L.  And because Craig is a great friend who wanted to stick by my side for the race, he gave up his super speedy position in Corral B to hang back with me.  Corrals were started roughly every 5 minutes and each corral had the chance to feel that special magic at the start line as fireworks and music were re-created with each start.  We were off and running around quarter of midnight, and I couldn't be happier to finally be underway!  For me, the longest part of the night was waiting in the corral for our turn to start.

Some motivation from the Green Army Men
The race course itself was awesome!  runDisney keeps runners hydrated and happy with plenty of bathroom breaks available along the course and water / Powerade stations every mile.  Around what should have been mile 9, they offered energy gels to all runners too.  The course felt great as I train on the rolling hills of Carroll County and Orlando is flat as a pancake!  There was a hill at an on ramp around the original mile 8 marker.  To take runners minds off the hill, Green Army Men from the Toy Story movies were there for character pictures and shouting orders at runners as they conquered the hill.  "Don't you even think about walking now!"  "Drop and give me three!"  That was one of my favorite parts of the race!

Made it to the lights!
The course was supposed to run through three parks including Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot.  However, with the shortened course, Animal Kingdom was eliminated.  We spent a little over 2 miles on the highways and then entered Hollywood Studios.  There were numerous character stops throughout the park and we had the chance to also run through The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.  2015 is the last year that Walt Disney World will be featuring this spectacular event and with construction slated at both Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, it will be interesting to see what course changes will take place.  The worst part of the race course was the run between Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  Runners were directed to use the walkway between the two parks which also includes the boardwalk around the Yacht and Beach Club.  This walkway was long and narrow which made it difficult to keep up any kind of decent pace, especially when you get caught behind walkers who were walking three and four across.  The one plus side of this area is that once the boardwalk opens up around the hotels, you are greeted by spectators for really the first time since the start as guests from the hotels are greeting runners with signs and cheers.  Only about 1 mile to go! 

Stopping for a selfie in Hollywood Studios
Minnie Mouse!
The race ended running through Future World at Epcot and into the parking area.  My husband and Craig's wife were cheering us on from one of the spectator areas inside of Epcot and we knew we were wrapping up.  As we approached the finish line, we noticed Mickey and Minnie greeting runners.  We pulled off the course just steps before the finish line for two final pictures before crossing the finish and getting our bling!  Once again the staff and volunteers get things moving smoothly at the finish with runners picking up medals, seeking medical attention, grabbing their box of food, getting drinks, and picking up their bags from gEAR check.  Craig and I were both feeling great after the race despite the fact that it was closing in on 2AM.  When we caught up with our spouses though, they were exhausted from hours of fun in Epcot so we opted to skip the after party and head back to our hotel.
Finish Line with Mickey!
While it was a little disappointing that my first half-marathon only turned out to be half of a half-marathon, I loved every minute of the unique Wine and Dine 6.72 miler!  My official time according to the runDisney website was 1:37:21 which included three character photo stops and a bathroom break as well as accounting for the bottlenecks throughout the course - I'm happy with that in my longest race distance yet!  The entire weekend was a lot of fun and I'll be posting more about the Jingle Jungle 5K, the Expo, and some general tips for runDisney races that I've learned in my first experience in the weeks to come.  Check out all of my other runDisney articles and I hope to chEAR some of you on as you also enjoy runDisney.  After all, "every mile is magic!"

Finding Dory - Teaser Trailer Released!

It's hard to believe that it was over a decade ago that Disney / Pixar released it's smash hit, Finding Nemo.  I was in college at the time and even as a young adult, fell instantly in love with that adorable clownfish and his unforgettable (though somewhat forgetful) sidekick, Dory.

Well Nemo friends, the wait is almost over!  Swimming into theaters near you in June 2016 is the long awaited sequel, Finding Dory.  The first teaser trailer was recently released and it looks to once again be a heartwarming adventure through the ocean with some of our favorite characters!

Even a decade later, my kids are testaments to the fact that new audiences are falling in love with Finding Nemo each year and I can't wait to share the fishy fun that is sure to follow in Finding Dory next year!

Your First Trip to Walt Disney World - Dining

Welcome to Part 2 of Your First Trip to Walt Disney World!  Today we're focused on all you need to know about dining around Walt Disney World Resort.  This is typically your next big decision following your hotel accommodations (see Part 1 of this blog series for more on picking the right place for you and your family!)  When thinking about your dining reservations in Walt Disney World, there are a few big decisions to make.

Do I purchase the Disney Dining Plan or not?
The Disney Dining Plan comes in three different tiers and may be a great option for your vacation.  The latest details on each option can be found here on the Walt Disney World website.  I highly recommend thinking about your dining needs and weigh the costs of this plan against the benefits.  If you can snag this during a "free dining" deal from Disney, it's of course a no brainer!  It's also a great option if you like the idea of an all inclusive price on your Disney vacation where you can minimize out of pocket costs during your actual trip.  However, the dining plan isn't cheap.  I've only used it once during an adult only trip where we planned several high end meals that only used one table service credit each - making this a great bargain!  On our most recent family trip, we opted not to purchase the dining plan because my three year old is such a picky eater, the cost didn't make sense.

Catch up with Farmer Mickey at Garden Grill's
new character breakfast!
What's the difference between Table Service and Quick Service restaurants?
Table Service restaurants are going to be what you would typically expect in a restaurant featuring a waiter, a menu with multiple courses, and nice surroundings.  Quick service restaurants are more "cafeteria" style where you approach the counter to order of a limited menu and then take your food to open seating in the restaurant.  There are good choices at each of these levels and your vacation will most likely feature some of each.

Do I need to make reservations ahead of time?
YES!  Table service restaurants offer reservations and you really need to make them prior to your trip.  More about the timeline for making dining reservations can be found here, but the simple rule is that they open 180 days prior.  More popular restaurants like Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey's, and Cinderella's Royal Table often book up within hours of the reservation window opening while others will feature a lot of availability up until the beginning of your trip.  Don't despair though if you can't grab your favorite reservation right away.  I've been able to get some great reservations within two weeks prior to the start of my trip by checking the My Disney Experience app frequently!

Is Character Dining the right choice for my family?
Character meals are a great choice in my opinion - especially if you have young kids!  These provide a great way to interact with the characters while getting pictures and autographs too.  Some characters will feature long lines in the parks, but you can save time by sharing a meal with them.  However, character meals can be expensive.  Make sure you look at pricing for the ones you are interested in so that you're not surprised.  One of my favorite tips is to book a late character breakfast.  You pay the cheapest price of the day and can fill up for lunch too!

There are so many great restaurants in Walt Disney World!  With so many great options, you only need to do a little research to discover the tasty delights that await you on your vacation!

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