Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Signature South African Dining at Jiko

Located inside of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at the Walt Disney World Resort is a restaurant that is home to delicious South African flavors, Jiko - The Cooking Place.  I love trying each of the signature dining experiences within Walt Disney World as each offers a combination of service, atmosphere, food, and drink that is second-to-none.  Jiko has been on my wish list for a while and on our most recent trip we were able to join friends of ours from the Orlando area for a date night out while the kids stayed back at the hotel with grandma and grandpa.

Atmosphere
Jiko is situated on the lower level of Jambo House at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge; directly across from Boma.  The decor could best be described as "elegant casual" in my opinion.  The dining room was a comfortable mix of tables and booths featuring bright colors and beautiful art that is meant to symbolize the natural beauty of Africa.  Our dinner was after dark, but during the day, there are large windows that have a view of one of the savannas.  There is a small bar area near the hostess station where we were able to relax and have a pre-dinner cocktail before being seated.  The restaurant does have a dress code which requests "resort casual" attire.



Food and Drink
We found the menu to feature a lot of variety and delicious flavors.  The dinner service began with bread and we ordered a chicken flatbread appetizer.  During the appetizers, my husband ordered one of the South African wine flights to taste a variety of what the restaurant had to offer.  The pairing was reasonably priced and was smooth and delicious.  For our entrees, everyone sampled something different.  I opted to follow one of our waiter's recommendations and try the Oak-grilled Filet Mignon while Dan went with the Maize-crusted Halibut.  The filet was cooked perfectly, but I have to say that I enjoyed the flavors of the halibut a bit better.  For dessert, we once again took the waiter's recommendation and went with the Malva Pudding.  It was the perfect end to the evening!  Everything was wonderful and we can't wait to go back again!





Overall Impressions
I was really impressed with Jiko.  It definitely ranks above Artist Point in both food and atmosphere in my opinion.  When I compare it to California Grill, I think it's right on par with food, but California Grill does hold an edge with the breathtaking views overlooking Cinderella Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom.  I would look forward to returning to Jiko in the future and trying more of their diverse and delicious menu!

Friday, November 25, 2016

There's a Sprocket in my pocket!


I have to say that when I first saw the advertisements come out for the new HP Sprocket, I struggled to think about why anyone would NEED this product.  But, I as much as I questioned the need for one, I was nevertheless excited to find out that I would be able to try this newest piece of technology out with my family.   After setting it up and playing with it for a week, I have to admit that it is easy to use and a fun addition to our house.  If you haven't heard about the Sprocket yet, it's a pocket sized, inkless photo printer generating 2"x3" prints of your favorite pictures.  Think of it as Polaroids for the 21st Century.

So, how does it work?  It's incredibly easy to set up.  Once removed from the package, you want to plug your Sprocket into your laptop via the USB charging cable in order to get the battery ready to go. When you have your battery charged up, pair your Sprocket to your smartphone using Bluetooth and then download the Sprocket app on your phone.  In the app, you can select the picture you want to print from social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, or you can choose from pictures in your photo library.  After selecting your picture, you can edit to add text, stickers, or photo frames and also crop or use a filter on your image.  Make sure you've loaded the Zink paper into the printer, press the green print button, and you have your photo!  It's so easy to use and fun to play with that my four year old continuously asks me when we can make more pictures.

Being able to print pictures on-the-go can be a great way to celebrate even the smallest of moments with family and friends. The Zink photo paper also features a sticky back so you can add the prints to a collage, white board, or binder easily (just to name a few!)  I will say that I've found the coloring to be a bit off with the printer - duller than the images themselves.  I've been able to work around the problem by lightening the image using the editing tools prior to printing, but it's good to know in advance.

In the app
The finished product





















As you're completing holiday shopping for your friends and family, the HP Sprocket definitely deserves a look for anyone who enjoys capturing and sharing those special moments.  I can see us using our printer at holiday gatherings and parties throughout the year for instant photo booth fun and to print copies of favorite pictures with those family members that we don't get to see too often.  I'm anxious to continue to learn and play with all of the features of the Sprocket and can't wait to have fun this holiday season with our family and friends.  

Disclosure: I received the HP Sprocket for free as a promotional item for my participation in the HP Millennial Influencer Panel.  Opinions are my own!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Say Aloha to Moana! 5 Things to LOVE about this movie!

I was fortunate to attend an advanced screening of Disney's latest film, Moana, last week.  After falling in love with recent hits like Zootopia and Finding Dory, I was prepared to be disappointed thinking that Disney couldn't roll out yet another blockbuster animation film in 2016.  I was wrong.  Moana did not disappoint on any level.  Here are 5 things you are going to love about this film.

The Scenery - Let's start with the breathtaking setting for the film.  Taking place throughout the beautiful Pacific islands, anyone who loves island views will fall in love with these lush tropical paradises and life on the Ocean.  Moana's ancestors were experts in the ancient skill of wayfinding.  As voyagers, they used the ocean currents and the stars to explore the ocean and discover new islands.  The ocean calls to Moana the same way it did to those in her family before her.

Moana - Since we've already started talking about her, let's take a look at the newest Disney heroine.  Moana (voice of Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of the island chief and is being raised to one day lead her people.  She feels torn between her obligation to lead and her desire to be on the water.  When difficult times fall upon her island, Moana decides it's time to take to the ocean to seek answers and find the help that her people need to survive.  During the journey, she finds out just how strong she is and discovers her true identity.  

Maui - Throughout the movie, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) moves from someone who seems to be a self-absorbed Demigod to a complex character who faced difficult times as a child and is rediscovering his own courage through Moana.  His dancing tattoos and musical introduction engage audiences and keep kids laughing.  Here is a clip from the song "You're Welcome" to show you what I mean.



The Messages - Walking out of the theatre, there were plenty of things to talk about with my son.  One of the biggest takeaways he saw in the movie was the importance of working with nature.  Moana's journey is about restoring the balance in the Pacific, something that was upset years before.  The movie also reminds us to be true to ourselves and never ignore that little voice in our heads.  No matter how many times Moana's father told her that her place was on the island leading her people, she knew she was destined for more.  By following her heart, she did more than she ever knew she could.

The Music - The songs in the movie connect both the history of the Pacific with some modern fun.  There is plenty of chances to sing along for the whole family to the beautiful music.  It shouldn't be any surprise that the original music is amazing with the team that created these memorable songs including Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton"), Mark Mancina ("The Lion King"), and Opetaia Foa'i (founder and lead singer of Te Vaka). 

I attended the screening with my 4 year old son who loved every minute of the movie.  He thought Maui was funny, Moana was brave, and the chicken was funny (just wait. . .you'll see!)  Disney's Moana opens in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Like MOANA on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/disneymoana

Follow MOANA on Twitter: https://twitter.com/disneymoana

Follow Disney Animation on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/disneyanimation/

Disclosure:  I attended a free screening of the film to share a review with my readers.  Opinions and thoughts are always my own!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Favorite Mickey Meet and Greets in Walt Disney World

A trip to Walt Disney World isn't complete without a visit to the mouse himself, Mickey!  If Mickey Mouse is on your "must-do" list (and we all know he is!) there are plenty of opportunities to meet him around the theme parks and in resort dining.  With all of those chances to say hi to Mickey, where does one begin?  Here are my favorite places to meet Mickey Mouse around the Walt Disney World Resort!

Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater - I'm starting off my list with one of my all time favorites.  This meet with Mickey is located just inside Magic Kingdom.  Mickey Mouse is dressed as a magician and greets guests before he is set to go onstage at the theater.  What sets this meet apart?  The fact that Mickey talks!  Kids (and adults) have the chance to interact with Mickey in a way that is totally unique to this location.  We can't make a visit to Magic Kingdom without visiting "talking Mickey." FastPass+ is available for this meet, but may not be necessary as I've rarely seen lines longer than 30 minutes and often have spotted wait times of 15 minutes or less.


Garden Grill - Inside of Epcot's The Land Pavilion is a semi-hidden character dining gem, Garden Grill.  This restaurant features Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip, and Dale in their best farming gear as they serve up homestyle food, family style.  We had breakfast here and delighted in the character interaction and the delicious food.  As someone who travels a lot with small kids, the fact that breakfast is served family style is a nice touch so I don't have to juggle kids at the buffet.  Another unique aspect of this restaurant is the fact that it is circular and rotates through the Living with the Land ride.  This dining experience is not as crowded as others which meant that the characters really took their time at each table - and farmer Mickey Mouse is adorable!  A great tip is to book a character breakfast here before the park opens and you can be among the first in line for popular attractions like Soarin' when you have finished eating.  For more information on Garden Grill, check out my review here.


Chef Mickey's - If you'd like to meet Mickey Mouse without visiting one of theme parks, you can have a meal at Chef Mickey's inside of Disney's Contemporary Resort.  This character meal is energetic and upbeat.  The open air concept of the restaurant with the monorail zooming through the hotel above adds to the fun.  Here you can meet the "Fab Five" in one spot - Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald.  The price of this character meal is steep and reservations are hard to come by, but it's a great way to meet your favorite Disney friends without the lines and while enjoying a buffet breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It's also easy to access this restaurant as you can take any transportation to Magic Kingdom and then either take the short walkway or hop the monorail to the Contemporary.  If you're interested in learning more about Chef Mickey's, check out my review here.

At a runDisney race - I love meeting characters out on the course of my runDisney races and coming across Mickey is one of my favorite stops!  Mickey Mouse can typically be found as runners are waiting to move into corrals and once the race ends to pose for pictures (and Minnie is usually by his side).  We all know that when you runDisney, "every mile is magic" so what better way to capture the fun and memories of the race then with a photo op with Mickey!

There are so many places to meet Mickey on your vacation, that it's easy to follow Walt's advice and never forget "that it was all started by a mouse."  Happy 88th Birthday Mickey Mouse!  See ya real soon, pal!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Nighttime Spectaculars at Disney's Hollywood Studios

For years, each trip to Walt Disney World had included a visit to Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We broke tradition on this trip and opted to skip Fantasmic! to get up close and personal with the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show.  As much as I love all of the nighttime shows throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, I was blown away by this extravaganza and would say it is a "not-to-be-missed" show.  Lasers, projections, fireworks, and music combine to make you feel like you are actually in a galaxy far, far away.  The projections highlighted movie clips from the older Star Wars movies all the way up through the latest installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I'm terrible at fireworks pictures, but hopefully you get the idea!
Now that I told you that you have to check this out, I'm also going to tell you that the show is going away. . .whomp, whomp.  Hopefully, it's just for the holiday season though and in it's absence you get to enjoy Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!  This new holiday nighttime spectacular will be shown nightly from November 14 - December 31.  It will be similar in it's presentation to the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show, but instead of droids and Jedi will feature some familiar holiday friends.  I'm sure the show will be amazing based on this sneak peek posted by The DIS on YouTube:



Whether you get to enjoy the holiday fun of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! or you are hoping for the return of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular after the holiday season, these newest nighttime shows at Disney's Hollywood Studios are amazing fun for the whole family!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

runDisney Inaugural Wine & Dine 10K

After running my first runDisney races in 2015, I was hooked and couldn't wait to plan a 2016 race getaway.  We ended up planning a weeklong family vacation that would end on Wine & Dine weekend once again.  And with a new menu of racing choices including the addition of a 10K and Lumiere's Two Course Challenge there was a lot of excitement in the air during the months leading up to the event.  Due to our travel schedule, I wasn't able to do the half marathon so the inaugural challenge was out for me, but I was thrilled to be part of the Ratatouille themed 10K.

The 10K was set to run on Saturday morning with the typically early runDisney start time of 5:30AM.  I was staying offsite at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek so I had to provide my own race transportation, which I did via taxi service to the start line at Epcot.  I arrived right around 4AM and couldn't be more excited to be at the party that greets runners.  Characters, concession sales, and a DJ all provide a fantastic atmosphere to get pumped up for the race.  Since I didn't have much else to do until the start time and I was by myself, I hopped in the very long line to meet Remy and Emile from Ratatouille.  The DJ kept announcing that the characters would leave at 5AM and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it.  Remy disappeared about 4:45, but I remained in line for Emile and ended up being the last person who got to meet him before the race started.


After meeting Emile, I headed over towards the corrals.  runDisney is nothing if not efficient at getting their races off and running on time.  By the time I made a stop to use the bathroom, corral A had already headed to the starting line and my corral, corral B, was already opened up to follow.  With the typical runDisney fanfare including music and fireworks, the first corral started promptly at 5:30 and corral B was off about 10 minutes later.


This was my first runDisney 10K and, although this was an inaugural race for Wine & Dine weekend, my understanding is that it was a familiar course.  The first 3 miles were on the roads out and around Epcot.  There were two character stops along the road including the penguins from Mary Poppins and  Flik and Princess Atta from A Bug's Life.  I was feeling energized and neither stop was overly appealing to me, so I kept on running past those characters.  Shortly after the mile 3 marker, runners enter Epcot through a backstage area and burst into World Showcase inside the Norway Pavilion.  The cast members inside World Showcase were phenomenal - cheering runners on in languages native to each country!  This also led to the next few character stops which included Geppetto and Pinocchio in Germany and the Genie in Morocco.  I was feeling like I needed some character interaction as I was already past the halfway point so I stopped for each of these.  Runners then continued out of Epcot via the International Gateway to circle Disney's Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.  Chip and Dale greeted runners at the ESPN Club and there were a lot of spectators out in the resort areas to cheer everyone on.  As we re-entered Epcot, a large Sebastian met us and the party continued into the United Kingdom.  We exited the park after running through Future World and accepted the inaugural bling in the parking lot near where we started.  As always, the course was flat and fast.



I have to say that once again I was incredibly impressed with runDisney.  Everything was organized, well-supported, and fun.  I can't say that any other races I've run have come close to the experience of runDisney.  I was also really pleased with the runner's etiquette on display this week.  Many runDisney runners follow Galloway's run/walk intervals.  Everyone I encountered on the course was signaling breaks and not walking in large groups.  I would definitely come back for another Wine & Dine 10K and can't wait for the Glass Slipper Challenge in about 100 days!!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Quick Trip Recap

We're fresh off our latest trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and I have so much to share about our vacation!  We traveled with my parents and stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.  This was the first time we've stayed off property with kids and I have to say that the Hilton was a perfect choice.  I'm going to update my review of the property with everything that we enjoyed with the kids, but in short, the pool, breakfast, and transportation made it easy to enjoy all the parks had to offer as well as relax around the resort during our "down time."

Daddy and Caleb enjoying the pool at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Our week long trip included a 6 day Magic Your Way base ticket where we visited one park per day.  We opted to spend 2 days each at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom with 1 day each at Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  Inside the parks, we tried a few new experiences including The Pirates League at Magic Kingdom and the Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple at Hollywood Studios.  Brody, our 4 year old, loved all of the Star Wars activities at Hollywood Studios in particular.  While Hollywood Studios is getting a bad rap lately due to so much of the park being closed for the addition of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land, I think this might have been one of Brody's favorite days.

My handsome Captain Hook!


Brody was an extremely brave Jedi as he battled Darth Vader and Kylo Ren!
We also tried a few new dining and evening experiences.  The Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage was a memorable evening and one that I would highly recommend to anyone with young kids.  We also enjoyed a fabulous date night out at Jiko with it's delicious South African cuisine and tried out the breakfast at Akershus inside of Epcot.  I was also thrilled to run in the inaugural runDisney Wine and Dine 10K my last day in Walt Disney World.

Meeting my doppelgänger, Snow White, at breakfast!
Just a few quick pictures from the inaugural runDisney Wine and Dine 10K
I'll admit that the week long vacation with a 1 year old and 4 year old had its trying moments, I still think that the boys enjoyed their time in the most magical place on Earth.  I can't wait to share all of the experiences with you from my trip over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned for some new and exciting posts!

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