Showing posts with label dining. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dining. Show all posts

Don't Miss Disney - Holiday Edition!

We all know that there are several things that are "don't miss" items on any Walt Disney World Resort vacation and the holiday season brings it's own list of must-see attractions, events, and entertainment.  In fact, I talked about what makes the holidays a bit more magical during my Disney Parks Moms Panel Application video when I applied for the 2019 panel.  Even though I didn't make the panel, I think my video sums up a bit of what makes the holiday season extra special when vacationing in Walt Disney World.  Take a look at my video here:



Excited to learn more?  Check out my top 5 things you won't want to miss to put a little extra jingle in your bells this holiday season!

2014 Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party - This is a special ticketed event on select nights at Magic Kingdom Park.  Similar to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, you'll find all the magic of the season at this party!  From top notch decorations to put the jingle in any bells to free hot chocolate and cookies throughout the park, you'll feel holly jolly as soon as you enter the park.  Don't miss the parade during this event which features a very special guest at the end!  The holiday fireworks are also an amazing end to the evening.  You will need to purchase a separate ticket for this, but that ticket gets you entrance at 4PM even though the party doesn't begin until 7PM.

Epcot's Candlelight Processional - Included with your ticket to Epcot is the chance to take part in this spiritually mesmerizing event.  Join celebrity narrators, an orchestra, and a enormous choir to hear the Biblical tale of Christmas as never before.  There are several performances each evening of this show and it is incredibly popular.  If you want to guarantee your seat, you can book a dining package at one of Epcot's restaurants with a special reservation on My Disney Experience.  For those of you choosing to attend without that dining reservation, plan to arrive early and wait in line in order to secure your spot!

Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail - We all know Disney Springs is a premiere shopping, dining, and entertainment destination, but it gets even more spirited during the holidays.  With themed Christmas trees from Star Wars to Pixar to Disney classics, you'll quickly find yourself lost in a maze of color and merriment.  One extra perk of this particular holiday attraction?  It's located outside of theme park so if you're in the Orlando area for work, fun, or as a resident - you don't have to pay park admission to enjoy with your family!

Hotel Decor and Experiences - The holiday festivities and decor aren't just limited to the parks around the Walt Disney World Resort, but can also be found in hotels on property as well.  A great way to spend a low-key afternoon or evening is by taking some time to visit different resort properties and enjoy all they have to offer.  For example, the giant gingerbread house display at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is not to be missed.  Feeling a bit more rustic?  Make a visit to Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground where you can find special horse-drawn holiday sleigh rides around the property.
2017 Dinner at Minnie's Holiday Dine

Minnie's Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine - Looking for a festive dining experience with some of your favorite characters?  Look no further than Minnie's Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine in Disney's Hollywood Studios!  This dining option is available for lunch and dinner and provides guests with a wide buffet selection and memorable character interactions.  You can find something for everyone at this restaurant and can even grab a special dining package to get reserved seating for Fantasmic later on in the evening!

This is just a sampling of some of my favorite ways to celebrate the holidays at the Walt Disney World Resort!  You'll find holiday magic around every corner and the decorations, costumes, and special events around the resort will help you create memories that will last much longer than those gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate on Main Street, U.S.A!

Ultimate Walt Disney World Planning Guide

Planning a trip to the most magical place on Earth can be overwhelming for those who are new to the experience - and sometimes even to those of us veteran mouseketeers!  There's so much to think about when planning a Walt Disney World Resort vacation, let's break it down to what you should be doing before, during, and after the all important 180 day mark.

More Than 180 Days Before Your Trip

  • Book Your Resort Reservation - It's never too early to plan your next Walt Disney World Resort vacation! In fact, there are some great specials you can find before checking out of your current WDW resort.  These deals, called bounce back offers, allow you to grab great percentage off rates or even something like free dining.  Regardless of whether your booking a bounce back offer or planning your vacation from your couch, booking your hotel is a great place to start.  You have choices when you book as to whether you are booking room only or adding a ticket and/or dining package.  Sometimes booking as a package will allow you to take advantage of even deeper discounts.  There are a number of properties to choose from when staying at Walt Disney World Resort, and you can find a guide to understanding those categories here!  By booking your WDW resort BEFORE the 180 day mark, you can take advantage of a little bit of a head start on your dining reservations as resort guests can book their dining reservations for their entire stay beginning at the 180 day mark.  Not sure if a Disney Resort stay is right for your family?  There are many choices around the Orlando area for all of your vacation needs! Here's a look at what to consider when staying off property.
  • Plan a Tentative Itinerary - Are you someone who wants to park hop 'til you drop or are you someone looking to relax more on your WDW vacation?  Looking to see and experience the newest attractions?  Want to book gourmet dining experience?  Need three days in Magic Kingdom or just one?  You can start answering these questions and lay out a tentative itinerary. My plan changes probably fifty times or more from when I start planning, so you don't have to set anything in stone.  However, having an idea of what you want to do on each day of your vacation will help you starting looking ahead to those dining and FastPass+ reservations.  I use a simple table in Word to layout my plans and track changes I make, but there's lots of ways to keep your itinerary organized.  
    With so many unique dining options, where will you eat?

180 Days To Go!

  • 180 days is a big milestone in your Disney planning timeline!  This is the time when reservations for many of the activities you are interested in become available for booking - namely, dining reservations!  Using the plans you made prior to this point, you can begin thinking making dining reservations to go with your trip.  Did you book the Disney dining plan?  You'll want to make sure you're using your credits and booking one or two table service meals per day depending on the plan you booked. Most days I like booking one meal per day as a reservation.  That gives us an opportunity to sit down together and take a break from the rush of the day without feeling tied down with too many dining reservations to make the day our own while we're there in the moment.  If you don't get those reservations you wanted at the 180 day mark, keep trying!  Guests are constantly changing and updating plans so days and times may become available that weren't before.  Other reservations also open up at this point including recreation activities, makeovers, and much more! Looking for dining ideas?  Check out my restaurant reviews and also other options to try when you can't get the dining reservations you were hoping to grab.
  • Update your itinerary - Now that you have some dining reservations you may want to switch park days around or change up your plans.  This is a great time to start utilizing the My Disney Experience app.  Here you can track all of your reservations and plans in one place.  Find out more about this helpful planning tool here.

It's The Final Countdown


  • 60 Days to Go! - If you're staying at a Walt Disney World Resort or a Good Neighbor Hotel, you can begin booking your FastPass+ reservations at 60 days out.  Each ticketed guest can book up to three FP+ reservations per day.  You need to have purchased your tickets in order to reserve FP+ so make sure you have that taken care of prior to this date.  
  • Confirm information in My Disney Experience - Double check your MagicBands order on the My Disney Experience website.  You are able to customize your MagicBands by selecting a color option and can even upgrade to a character design now!  This is also the perfect time to make sure your flight information is added to reservation so that your Magical Express transportation to and from Orlando International Airport can be confirmed.  There is also a spot in the website to add specific room requests for your Walt Disney World Resort hotel stay.
  • 30 Days to Go! - This is when the FastPass+ booking window opens for guests staying off-site.  History as shown that some new times come available when this window hits to allow off-site guests a chance to still get FP+ for popular attractions.  Like with dining reservations, if you don't get what you want on the first try, keep checking back.  Guests continue to change their plans right up until the day of their trip and you can sometimes find great options at the last minute.
  • FastPass+ helps you experience more
    rides with less of a wait!
  • Finalize your itinerary - As you get closer to "D-Day" (That's Disney Day in this context!), it becomes more and more difficult to change your plans because you likely have more and more reservations booked.  With that said, it's not impossible.  Most of Disney's reservations have a very liberal cancellation policy of only 24-48 hours notice.  Just be sure to check the fine print, when booking your reservations so you know what to expect!  
While some bemoan the work that goes into planning a Walt Disney World Resort vacation, it is really a fun way to get your family excited about the trip as your countdown to creating your own magical memories!  If you are using a travel agent, they can help you manage all of this at no additional charge - just make sure they have adequate knowledge of Walt Disney World vacations.  Have specific questions?  Why not visit my friends over at the Disney Parks Moms Panel where you can ask your own questions and get answers from expert moms, dads, and Disney fans!  Happy Planning!

Where to Eat When You Can't Get Those Hard to Get Walt Disney World Dining Reservations

Eating at the Walt Disney World Resort.  It's the reason we go there, right?? Well, it's true there may be lots of fun things to during your visit to the Disney Parks, but one of my favorite pastimes is eating my way around all the parks. . .and I know I'm not alone.


via GIPHY

Advanced dining reservations for table service restaurants open 180 days prior to your stay.  Guests staying on property at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel are offered an additional perk of being able to make reservations for the entire length of stay once they hit 180 days prior to arrival.  Still, some restaurants fill up before you have a chance to score your must-dos.  No need to fear though - there are some great alternatives when the most popular options book up quickly.  While these options are often "easier to get" it's not because they are less good.  And, as a disclaimer, even these restaurants book up at peak travel times so still follow all the tips out there to book your dining reservation early!  Let's look at great alternatives to some of the more popular options!

When Your Want to Meet the Original Gang but Chef Mickey's is Unavailable - Chef Mickey's provides a breakfast, lunch, and dinner character buffet where you can meet some of the original gang, but is also a tough reservation to get.  No worries though!  There are three great alternatives to find Mickey and friends.  The first is Tusker House Restaurant located in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Tusker House is an African themed buffet that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well.  Don't let the African flair scare you if your family is not adventurous eaters - there's plenty on the buffet for the whole family to enjoy.  Here you'll meet classic characters in apparel fit for a safari experience! The second option is Garden Grill Restaurant located inside Epcot.  I LOVE this dining experience.  Again, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all character meals offered here and the food is deliciously served family style.  That's right - it's served to your table so you don't have to get up and miss a character interaction while visiting the buffet.  The whole restaurant is a unique experience too as it rotates through the Living with the Land ride.  Mickey and friends greet diners wearing their best farming gear.  Lastly, you can see Minnie and friends at Cape May Cafe at Disney's Beach Club Resort for a character breakfast.  The food here is good and it is typically not a busy location.  However, since this restaurant is located in a resort instead of a park, you may want to allow extra transportation time - resort hopping isn't always quick!

When Your Little Princess Wants to Meet All the Princesses but Cinderella's Royal Table is Unavailable - I'll be honest, in my 30 years of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort, I have yet to be able to get a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table so I know how hard these reservations can be to grab.  With that in mind, there are two alternatives to princess dining to definitely check out.  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot features character dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that hosts an A-list cast of princesses!  This Norwegian restaurant is pricey for the food in my opinion, but it boasts great interactions with classic princesses.  The second option is the Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno located on Disney's Boardwalk between Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  This was one of my favorite character meals I've experienced on property.  Here you meet two princesses AND their handsome counterparts.  Maybe it's because I'm partial to the smolder and Flynn Rider that I enjoyed this so much?!?

When You Want a Romantic Night of Deluxe Dining but California Grill is Unavailable - Let's face it. . .the entire dining experience at California Grill is hard to top.  From the fireworks, to the setting, to the high quality food, there are few places at the Walt Disney World Resort that compare.  But reservations at this location can be tricky to catch.  There are a number of signature dining experiences to choose from, but my favorite alternative to California Grill is Jiko - The Cooking Place located in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  While you can't watch fireworks exploding over Cinderella Castle here, you still get some of the best food on property and may even catch a glimpse of some exotic wildlife while you're exploring the resort before or after your dinner.

The moral of this blog post is that there are so many great restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort, you have plenty of options to explore even if you're top choice may be unavailable.  If you have your heart set on one of those hard-to-grab reservations and can't get it on the day your Advanced Dining Reservations open, don't give up hope!  I've been able to grab some great reservations just a week or so before our trip as that's the time that people start releasing reservations that they made "just in case" or that they double booked.  For even more dining reviews, including a look at dining in Disney Springs, visit my restaurant review page here.  Bon appetite!

Get Animated at Animator's Palate on Disney Cruise Line

We're gEARing up for our next Disney Cruise Line vacation and I'm revisiting some old favorites from previous cruise vacations! Disney Cruise Line is known for bringing the magic of Disney to the high seas.  Even a simple dinner can be turned into an extraordinary experience.  This is especially true at Animator’s Palate on the Disney Fantasy.  Disney Cruise Line uses rotational dining where guests rotate their nightly dinner service through three different restaurants.  During our 7-night Eastern Caribbean Cruise a few years ago, we had the pleasure of dining in Animator’s Palate three nights and each featured a unique dining experience.

The restaurant itself celebrates the animation that Disney was founded on and continues to embrace.  Mickey Mouse inspires the chairs and the wait staff wears shirts featuring classic Disney sketches.  The art throughout the restaurant is mostly digital and changes throughout the cruise as each night features a different theme.  Fun Tip: Did you know you can request a particular order for your rotational dining experience?  I love Animator’s Palate so much that I plan to request this again as the first restaurant on a 7-night cruise so that we can visit it three times again! 

Our first night in Animator’s Palate featured a special guest – Crush from Finding Nemo.  Throughout the dinner, Crush swims up to tables and chats with guests.  He asks questions about what life is like in the human world and then teaches everyone to ride the EAC just like our turtle friends.  Kids and adults alike will have a great time playing and interacting throughout the meal.
One of the sketches on Pirate Night at Animator's Palate

The second night we dined in Animator’s Palate was Pirate Night.  Disney Cruise Line hosts a Pirate Night on each of it’s Bahamian and Caribbean sailings.  On this particular night, all restaurants on the ship feature a special pirate themed menu and the wait staff dresses as “scurvy scallawags.”  Spending Pirate Night in Animator’s Palate was a nice treat as the art in the restaurant changed to reflect pirate favorites like Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Jack Sparrow. 

The last night of our cruise was also spent in Animator’s Palate and featured the show that is unique to the Disney Fantasy and perhaps the one that people look forward to the most.  When you are seated for dinner, guests are given a paper to draw their own cartoon.  The wait staff then takes all cartoons and, at the end of the meal, you get to see your animation come to life.  Each drawing is featured alongside Disney classics in a magical cartoon experience that you won’t soon forget.  Also, all guests will have their names featured in the credits of the cartoon for contributing animation.

Regardless of which night you dine in Animator's Palate, you will certainly be treated to delicious food! With so many great options on board Disney Cruise Line, don't be shy and definitely try new things.  As you would expect, the Kids' Menus feature family favorites that will make even the tiniest artists happy to dine here.  And while your little ones probably won't want to miss a minute of the action in Animator's Palate, you can take advantage of the Youth Clubs during dinnertime so the grown ups can enjoy a more leisurely dinner.


Animator’s Palate will certainly satisfy guest appetites and quench thirsts for an entertaining evening on your Disney Cruise Line vacation!

The Edison at Disney Springs

If you've visited Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort in recent years, you have noticed the addition of more great restaurants and stores making this a top destination for visitors to Orlando. The Edison is no exception to the reputation for delicious food and a fun atmosphere.  My visit in October 2018 was a Saturday lunch reservation with one of my good friends who moved to Orlando a few years prior.  The outside presents as an industrial throwback and welcomes guests with a patio and ample outdoor seating.  It's located in The Landing of Disney Springs near some other favorites such as Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' and Morimoto Asia.

Upon entering the restaurant, the industrial theming from the outside continues.  A large clock greets customers while you check in and wait for your table.  We were seated promptly at our reservation time and found the restaurant only partially full on a Saturday afternoon at 1:00.  With the expansion of dining options in Disney Springs, availability for many of them can be found, especially if you can be flexible with days or times. On our way to the table, we walked past several recreations of inventions from the past.  There are also many casual seating options in the restaurant such as oversized chairs and couches.  The vibe inside the restaurant reminds of The Great Gatsby and a throwback to the 1920s. It's a multi-level restaurant as well which adds to the visual interest. I have seen events advertised here featuring jazz music on select evenings - this looks like a fabulous place to enjoy an evening out at Disney Springs!  While you probably wouldn't be bringing the kids out too late, it's worth noting that this does turn into an adult only (over 21) venue after 10PM.

Industry means comfort inside of The Edison
When we were seated at our table, we found ourselves faced with an impossible choice of what to eat.  The lunch menu features a wide variety of favorites including burgers, sandwiches, seafood, and an assortment of soups and salads. I ended up opting for The Edison Burger while my friend decided to give the Fish Tacos a try.  The presentation and taste were both great on the fish tacos.  My friend shared that the Mahi-Mahi was cooked perfectly and the tastes were bold and flavorful.  I'm really glad I chose The Edison Burger too.  After a few days of trying to eat healthy while working, I went all out on my final meal in Disney. The burger was topped with cheddar cheese, crispy onions, bacon, special sauce and french fries on the side - this was close to heaven on a plate!  I regret not giving the Clothesline Candied Bacon a try after seeing this served as an appetizer to the table next to us.  It features an assortment of bacon literally hanging on a cute little table sized clothesline. There's always next time, right?!?

How great does this burger look?
So what were my overall thoughts on The Edison?  I'd definitely recommend it to friends and family looking for good food and a casual, fun environment.  It's certainly a family friendly spot for lunch or dinner.  Guests can expect pricing in line with most non-signature table service restaurants in Disney with main dishes ranging between roughly $15 and $30.  With so many great places to eat in Disney Springs and throughout the Walt Disney World Resort it's truly becoming harder and harder to make decisions when planning your advanced dining reservations.  Featuring a menu that I would describe as classic American fare, this is one place where the whole family will be able to find choices to suit them.  Bon appetite, friends!

Cruising into Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen

Life is a jungle. . .and then you stop and eat dinner.  When you're up for an adventurous bite in Magic Kingdom, head over to Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen and you won't be disappointed!  The name of this Adventureland restaurant may be a mouthful, but the mouthfuls of delicious food that follow will make it all worth it.  So what makes this such a great place to eat? There's just so much to love!

Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen (let's just stick with Skipper Canteen for the rest of this post) is a table service restaurant located across from the Jungle Cruise in Magic Kingdom.  If you love the corny jokes and fun atmosphere of the Jungle Cruise, you will fall instantly in love with the theming of this restaurant!  The hostess greeted me warmly and I was quickly escorted to my table for one.  On the way to the table, we shared a few Jungle Cruise type jokes and she pointed out some of the memorabilia from the Jungle Navigation Company that is located around the restaurant.  There are three distinct rooms in the restaurant, each which tell their own unique stories.  I dined in the former family parlor of Dr. Albert Falls himself!

The waitress who served me was absolutely delightful.  I always like to ask restaurant staff what their favorite items on the menu are and there was easily so much to choose from with the delicious flavors of Asia and Africa coming to life for all of the hungry explorers!  While she shared that the Curry Vegetable Crew Stew was her favorite, I had to opt for the Whole Fried Fish as it seems like such an iconic dish for this restaurant.  I did take her suggestion and asked for a substitution to have the coconut rice.  The presentation of this fish dish is not for the faint of heart!  My boys would have been completely weirded out by staring at an entire fish standing up on mommy's plate.  The fish was cooked perfectly!  It was crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside.  I'm really glad I added the coconut rice with the dish as the sweetness was a nice addition to the meal.  While I would recommend the fish to any seafood lovers, I think next time I dine here I would opt for another dish.  With so many rich flavors on the menu, I think there is even more to explore and love here!

I dined here on the night I attended Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party so I decided to skip dessert knowing that I wanted to savor all the sweet treats that were awaiting me out in the park. As a whole, this is a fun table service dining experience inside Magic Kingdom that the whole family will enjoy.  Pricing is mid-level and provides a nice alternative to some of the more expensive character dining options that are inside the park.  Reservations here are also easier to come by then some other restaurants in the park and it certainly won't disappoint.  Bon appetite!

Top Tips for Visiting Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

Chef Remy said "If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff." With that in mind, there is plenty of good stuff to be found at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival - an annual hit at the Walt Disney World Resort.  With so much to see and do, it's easy to get overwhelmed at an event of these delicious proportions.  After a recent visit, I've compiled a list of my "top tips" to make the most of your experience tasting around the world.

Visit on a Weekday - Unlike special ticketed events, the festival runs during Epcot's normal operating hours.  Friday nights and weekends tend to be more crowded since these are times locals will  most likely be able to visit.  You can also visit throughout the day and may find midday and early afternoon park times to be less popular.

Buy a Gift Card - It's easy to get carried away with food and beverage purchases as you bounce booth to booth.  Buying a gift card ahead of time with the budget you are comfortable spending will make sure you don't wake up to sticker shock on your room charges in the morning! Epcot has special gift cards on a bracelet that you can purchase on site, but I like buying my gift cards at home before traveling.  You can save 5% buying your gift cards at Target when you use your Red Card.  You know what that means - more money to taste the world!

Hydrate with Free Water - Yes, that's right - something is free in Disney!  You can get free cups of ice water at any quick service dining location.  It's a great way to stay hydrated and save money, both of which are important when you consider the array of drinks available during your international journey.  Cast members at these locations are happy to provide you with the cup of water and often asked me if I would like more than one with each visit.

Make a Plan - Before you begin your culinary cabaret, plan to visit the Festival Center first to get oriented to the festival and the booths.  There is too much to taste it all, so pick out your favorites.  Better yet, the Food & Wine Festival is my favorite time to recommend using a Park Hopper ticket.  Skip planning a meal and hop over to Epcot for lunch or dinner to check several items off of your festival passport, then visit again the next day to try even more!

Have Fun - The spirit of the Food & Wine Festival is to try new things, so dive in with both feet and enjoy!  Visiting with friends and family will allow you to taste even more goodies if you split the items you order.  Whether you are enjoying the flavors of Hawaii, New Zealand, Mexico, or Italy - just to name a few - your taste buds will enjoy their journey around the world just as much as you will!

So that's it, five quick tips to make the most of your visit to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  I hope you have fun planning a delicious visit!  Bon Appetite!

The Chef's Table - A Memorable Dining Experience on the Carnival Pride

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have an appetite for great food and I regularly look for signature dining experiences wherever our travels take us.  On our August 2018 sailing on the Carnival Pride, we found a gem of an experience.  Carnival Cruise Line offers premium dining options at an uncharge on their ships similar to most other cruise lines.  On the Carnival Pride, the two options are David's Steakhouse and The Chef's Table.  For this sailing, we decided to try The Chef's Table and we were certainly not disappointed.

After checking the kids into Camp Carnival for the evening, we met our friends we were sailing with in the Atrium Bar at 6:15.  When we arrived, we were greeted by one of our servers for the evening.  She greeted us by name (she had a print out with not only our names, but pictures so she could do so -  smart customer service, Carnival!) and offered us champagne or sparkling water to begin the evening.  Before I forget to mention, one big perk of this dining experience is that champagne and wine is included throughout the meal.  We chatted with some of the others that would be joining us for the evening.  The meal is meant to be an intimate experience and we were among just 16 guests.  The chef greeted us around 6:30 and then escorted us to the elevators where he explained what we were about to experience.  He then escorted us down to the galley (that's the kitchen for you land lovers!) and we had a brief explanation of how operations worked.  We were there during the early dinner seating and things were busy, but ran like a well-oiled machine with cooks and servers bustling quickly about.  We were then taken to a table in the galley for our first food of the night, but not before Katerina offered more champagne!

At the table in the kitchen we were served a selection of 4 appetizers, one at a time - each including an explanation from the chef on it's preparation.  Our appetizers included a Mango Sphere on Rosemary Biscuit, Salmon Tartar Cornets, Beef Carpaccio on an air pillow served with chocolate bacon (yeah, you just read that right!), and Double Cooked Lamb.  Everything was delicious, but I think my favorite would have to be the Double Cooked Lamb - although the Beef Carpaccio practically had a little party in your mouth when you added the chocolate bacon.  After our four tastings, the pastry chef came out to show us how to make Carnival's signature dessert - Melting Chocolate Cake.  Actually, he didn't show us - he opted to teach someone.  And being the ever eager student, I volunteered and got to be a pastry chef for a night!  It's amazing how simple the recipe is for such a fabulous little dessert!  After the brief lesson, we were whisked away back to the second floor where we entered Beauties Nightclub, which had been transformed into an elegant dining space for the evening.

Before I go any further, I should say that the chef prepped us at the beginning of the evening that the evening would feature a "tasting menu" and portions would be small.  For those unfamiliar with the process of how Chef Table's typically work, he didn't want them to be worried with small plates - assuring everyone they would be full when the evening ended.  We were served 7 courses once we were seated and by no means were they small!  Everything was so delicious, we had to keep pushing on to try it all.  Timing was beautiful throughout the evening to allow for guests to let their stomachs process a bit before pushing forward!  Partway through the dinner service, a magician came and performed for about 15-20 minutes which was a really fun addition.  The menu included Beet Blanket with Spiced Grape Tea, Crab Stack, Duck Textures, Bisque Our Way, Sea Bass, and my absolute favorite Wagyu Beef.  This was the first time I had Wagyu beef and I couldn't believe the taste and texture - so tender you could cut it with you fork!  The Wagyu was also served with bone marrow souffle which was a first for me, too.  The final course featured a selection of desserts from the pastry chef.  I was so full that I could only muster a tiny bite of each, the Raspberry Mojito and the Apricot Vanilla Gel were my favorites.  It was a sweet end to an even sweeter evening!

So, now for the big question - was it worth it???  I would answer with a resounding "yes!"  The charge of $75 per person was more than reasonable when you factor in the quality of the food, the nearly 4 hour evening, wine and champagne, and the tour of the galley.  We also received an 8x10 group picture from the evening and walked away with souvenir menus and the recipe for Carnival's Melting Chocolate Cake.  I would definitely recommend this and look forward to doing this again on another Carnival Cruise Line vacation!

Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno

Character meals are a must-do for most families when visiting the Walt Disney World Resort.  So when I new experience becomes available, Disney regulars like ourselves can't wait to try it out.  When we visited in December, we were lucky enough to grab a morning reservation for Trattoria al Forno to try the new Bon Voyage breakfast.  The dining experience promotes adventure and it surely doesn't disappoint.

The Characters - Not going to lie.  I'm pretty sure I was more excited about the characters here than anyone else in our party.  While the standard Disney line is that characters are always subject to change, the regulars here are Rapunzel, Flynn Ryder, Prince Eric, and Ariel.  Yeah - you read that right. . .two Disney GUYS!!!  Grown women will swoon once being hit by "the smolder" - trust me, I know.  As in most of the other dining experiences, a parade happens during breakfast to get little ones up and moving around.  The characters were great with everyone and the restaurant is relatively small so characters make their way around quickly without feeling rushed.

The Food - Again, this restaurant hits it out of the park.  Each table begins with a pastry assortment inspired by Tangled and The Little Mermaid which is served in a frying pan - of course!  Diners then get to choose from a menu which entree they would like and food is freshly prepared and delivered to the table.  I really enjoy this option compared to the up and down craziness of buffets.  The food was also different then what you find in most Disney restaurants.  I had the Swimmer's Delight - an egg white omelet with smoked salmon, goat cheese, spinach, mushroom and tomato with a side of roasted potatoes.  It was imaginative, themed perfectly with the entire meal experience, and delicious!

The Location - Trattoria al Forno is located on Disney's Boardwalk adjacent to Epcot.  We took a car service from our hotel to Disney's Boardwalk Resort to access the boardwalk area and then had a quick walk to the restaurant.  The location is perfect for spending a day in Epcot which is exactly what we did!  When you finish breakfast, you are very close to the International Gateway entrance to Epcot.  Bonus - you get to skip the crowds entering the park as this is a far less popular entrance.  You could also do this for breakfast when visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios as it's only a 20-30 minute walk or a brief ferry boat ride away.

I was absolutely thrilled with this character meal!  I wish my hubby would have been feeling better that morning to enjoy all that the meal had to offer.  The kids enjoyed the kids menu and had fun meeting some favorite characters and mom got to eat egg whites with goat cheese while swooning over Disney princes - does life get much better?!?

Have you checked out breakfast at Trattoria al Forno yet?

Decadent Desserts and Fantastic Fireworks!

If you have a sweet tooth and crave a little VIP experience, you won't want to miss the Happily Ever After Fireworks  Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace in Magic Kingdom.  On our most recent Walt Disney World Resort vacation, our group decided to try this out and we weren't disappointed.  I have never done one of the paid dessert parties while visiting Walt Disney World for a few reasons - namely it seems crazy to pay for premier fireworks viewing that you can ultimately get for free.  However, the experience was well worth it!

First of all, you'll want to note when booking that there are two options for the Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party.  While both begin with a dessert smorgasbord at Tomorrowland Terrace, there are two different viewing locations when it comes time to watch the show.  The first is to remain on the Tomorrowland Terrace where seating is available, but, from some reviews I've read, viewing can sometimes be a bit "off" as you are looking at the castle from an off-center location.  The other option, which we happened to select, was the Garden Viewing.  This takes you front and center with a prime location to watch the nighttime spectacular.  This is the same as the old FastPass+ viewing location if you ever used that during Wishes.  With the limited number of tickets sold, there is so much room available, you won't be crowded at all!

Stepping back to the beginning, when you arrive at Tomorrowland Terrace, you are greeted by a cast member who checks you in and gives you a wristband depending on your viewing location.  On the night of our party, the fireworks were scheduled to begin at 9 and our dessert party began at 7:45.  No worries if you're not there right on time though as it's simply an open buffet.  The desserts were quite delicious and there were certainly plenty to choose from.  My personal favorites were the chocolate covered strawberries and the chocolate fountain with fresh fruit and marshmallows.  There was also a beverage station that featured a selection of juices, including the ever popular POG juice (pomegranate, orange, and grapefruit).  There was also a selection of hot tea, coffee, and hot chocolate - which was very popular on our December night as temps were in the 30s during the dessert party.  Another added perk during dessert time is the private bathrooms for the party!

Around 8:45, we made our way down to the reserved viewing location.  It felt great to be able to walk up to a prime spot without having to be sitting and saving our seats for 90 minutes!  The show began promptly at 9 and it was AMAZING!  I'll have a separate post devoted to the show itself, but the new Happily Ever After is not one to miss.  As I mentioned earlier, we had so much room around us, Brody actually held his own dance party throughout the fireworks.  When the show ended, cast members showed us to the back of Main Street USA to exit.  While this is not a reserved exit for those in the show, it's a handy tip to remember if you're near Tomorrowland Terrace to view as there were a lot less people heading that way then the normal crowds on Main Street USA.  You still merge back with the crowd at the train station to then exit the park, but it gets you down there much quicker.

View from the Garden Viewing Location
Overall, the Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party was enjoyable for our group.  Is it something I would splurge on every trip?  Definitely not.  At $59 per adult and $35 per child, it's an added expense that certainly is not a necessity.  But it was very convenient, great viewing location, and good food.  If you're looking for a special treat on your next Walt Disney World vacation, check it out!

House of Blues Gospel Brunch Review

If you're looking for a fun, inspirational brunch with delicious Southern comfort food, be sure to plan a visit to House of Blues Orlando at Disney Springs for their Gospel Brunch.  While there were families with children at the brunch, I don't think my little ones would have been engaged the whole time.  I opted to visit the Gospel Brunch with a friend on a trip and we enjoyed our adult outing.

First things first, reservations for the Gospel Brunch are handled differently than other Disney dining locations.  The Gospel Brunch is actually a ticketed event - not simply a dining reservation you can book on your My Disney Experience app.  Each Sunday, there are two showtimes to choose from to meet your vacation schedule.  Here's a tip - call the box office directly to book your tickets!  Not only will you save money by not having to pay any of the absurd Ticketmaster fees, but you can also talk to a real person that can give you advice on picking your table.  Since the event is ticketed, you actually reserve your specific table when you book.  The gentleman on the phone was great and told me he would find the best table available for us.  So not only did we save some money, but benefited from great advice.

We had tickets for the 1:00 show and arrived to Disney Springs around 12:00.  We grabbed a table in front of House of Blues and enjoyed a drink before the show began.  People started lining up around 12:30 to get in, which kind of surprised me because you have a reserved table so it didn't seem necessary to really line up before the doors opened.  Once the doors opened, seating was fast.  Each group presented their tickets to one of the wait staff and was led to the assigned table.  Our table location was great!  We were on the second tier with a perfect view of the stage and seated near the buffet, but far enough away from it that we didn't have too much foot traffic.

Speaking of the buffet, let's talk about the food.  OMG - southern goodness at it's finest!  Whether you like Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy, Fried Catfish, or Jambalaya there is something for everyone to enjoy.  If your palate is not that adventurous, you can also find traditional brunch items like omelets, carving stations, and salads.  Everything is served buffet style so come hungry!  My friend and I visited following the final race of our Glass Slipper Challenge weekend so we had room for lots of calories to fill up on!

Of course, the other highlight of the visit besides the food is the entertainment.  Each weekend features a different Gospel band but you can count on good, quality entertainment all the time!  The performance was nothing short of inspiring.  The singers and musicians had everyone singing, clapping, and on their feet.  Below is just one of the short videos I grabbed that day!




Overall, we had a great time and I would highly recommend this experience to others looking to enjoy a wonderfully entertaining show paired with quality Southern food!

Chef Art Smith's Homecomin'

With the recent revitalization of Disney Springs, Walt Disney World has it's very own food and shopping mecca within the borders of the massive resort.  We don't regularly get a chance to visit Disney Springs on our family trips as we spend most of our time in the parks with the little ones, but when I visited with my friend for a runDisney weekend, we took the chance to enjoy a few of the restaurants Disney Springs has to offer.  The first was Chef Art Smith's Homecomin'.

The decor looks like something that Chip and Joanna Gaines would have designed on Fixer Upper.  Inside and outside of the restaurant feature calming colors and a rustic country design.  We had reservations and were seated quickly after arriving.  The restaurant is not very big compared to some of the other spots in Walt Disney World, so reservations do tend to book up unlike at some of the other Disney Springs locations although you probably don't have to be on right at the 180 day mark to grab your table.

While I'm not an expert on celebrity chefs, I did know that Art Smith is famous for his fried chicken.  However, when we sat down with the menu, I wasn't sure that a big southern meal of fried chicken and heavy sides was what I needed in the middle of my Glass Slipper Challenge races.  So instead, my friend and I decided to split and appetizer and then order salads.  To give us a taste of the famous fried chicken, we opted for the Thigh High Chicken Biscuits for our appetizer. The plate included three biscuits that had both fried chicken and pickles then drizzled in honey.  Everyone was right - the fried chicken was to die for!  We thought this appetizer was the classic southern comfort food that you would expect to be delicious here.  My dinner was a simple grilled chicken salad with balsamic dressing.  Everything was fresh and wonderful.  And even though we heard amazing things about the dessert options, we decided to pass on dessert to make sure we weren't to weighed down for the race the next day.

Overall, Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' is a delicious delight located in Disney Springs.  For anyone that likes traditional down-home southern comfort food, this should be a must-do on your dining wish list.  The prices are reasonable too which always helps!  Maybe next time, I won't be on race weekend and will be able to enjoy even more fried goodness from this delectable restaurant!

I'm officially a runDisney Princess!

It's been quiet for a few weeks on the blog as I've prepared for and traveled to Walt Disney World for my very first Princess Half Marathon Weekend.  I'll be posting more details on each of these experiences in the weeks ahead, but I wanted to take a minute and give you a quick weekend recap from my trip.

Where We Stayed - For this trip, I was back on Disney property and stayed at Coronado Springs Resort.  The moderate level hotel is also a Convention Center and as such boasts several dining options, a spa, and beautiful grounds.  We were only here for two nights, but enjoyed our stay.  It's definitely one I will recommend to friends and family in the future.

Where We Ate - We had two new dining experiences on this trip.  We visited Chef Art Smith's Homecoming in Disney Springs for dinner one evening where we were delighted by some down home southern cooking.  And on Sunday, we enjoyed the Gospel Brunch at House of Blues - also in Disney Springs.  The Gospel Brunch, which features a buffet of New Orleans favorites and a gospel concert, had been on my "must-do" list for a while now and it didn't disappoint!  I also had the pleasure of introducing my friend Christine to California Grill.  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that dinner while watching the fireworks from California Grill is one of my favorites and I was excited to do it again.

What We Did - We ran the Glass Slipper Challenge!  When you spend less than 50 hours in Walt Disney World and run both a 10K and Half Marathon, there's not much time to do anything else.  Both races were a lot of fun.  In typical runDisney fashion, characters and entertainment were everywhere you looked.  And the bling. . .oh, the bling!  It was a fabulous weekend of race medals - my new favorites in my ever growing collection.  Princess Half Marathon weekend had a very different vibe then my previous experiences at Wine and Dine.  It felt "crazier," but I guess that's what happens when you have 20,000+ women running in tutus!

As you can see, it was a short trip, but I was able to pack in many new experiences.  I can't wait to share them with you in the weeks ahead and I'm already counting down to our next trip in November - a return for runDisney's Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend events!!

Can You Handle The Kitchen Sink??

There are several things that any Disney fanatic will tell you should be on your "must conquer" list at some point during your Walt Disney World vacations.  In November, we tackled one of my bucket list items - the Kitchen Sink Sundae at Beaches and Cream.  Beaches and Cream is located poolside at Disney's Beach Club Resort just outside of Epcot.  It's a great place to visit on your Epcot park day as you can easily exit Epcot through International Gateway, turn to your right, and you're just a short 5 minute walk away.

While Beaches and Cream serves a full menu of lunch and dinner items, they are best known for their ice cream.  The decor is reminiscent of a 1950s soda shop and features diner favorites, such as grilled sandwiches and fries.  We had dinner in Epcot and then made a 7:30 reservation for Beaches and Cream to grab dessert prior to going back for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  Reservations are tough to grab for this restaurant as the inside seating area is extremely small.  There is a "carry-out" side of Beaches and Cream if you can't get a reservation inside.  They feature a smaller version of the kitchen sink sundae then what you'll find inside, but they host a full compliment of ice cream flavors.
Upon being seated, our server quickly greeted us and we shared that we were here with one thing on our mind - the Kitchen Sink.  He was happy to fill us in on all of the delicious details.  We have a picky eater in our family and our server even offered to "deconstruct" the sundae a bit and put some of the ice cream in a separate dish so that Brody could enjoy a plain treat if all of the sundae toppings were too much.  After placing our order, it was just a short wait for the arrival of our dessert.  And it arrived in grand fashion.  The lights in the restaurant dimmed and sirens went off to signal that a brave table was attempting to conquer The Kitchen Sink.

So what's in this sundae you ask?  It features ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge, cake, brownies, sprinkles, candy, and so much more.  The full list of what's included can be found on the Disney Parks Blog.  It was heaven in a bowl. We didn't quite finish the masterpiece - actually we didn't even come close, but it was enjoyable down to the last bite that we could manage.  At $32.00, the Kitchen Sink is a heavy hit to the budget, but when you think that it can easily serve a family of 4+ as opposed to paying for four individual desserts and that it's probably a splurge for a special occasion, it really isn't too terrible of a price for you get.

What do you think?  Can your family conquer the Kitchen Sink?  Don't forget one of my favorite sayings for all of your runners out there. . ."I run Disney so I can eat Disney!"

Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Even though I've been blessed with two boys, I still need to get a little Princess fix on my Walt Disney World vacations.  Luckily, with my boys both still being young, they enjoy seeing the "pretty princesses" too and we were able to grab pre-park opening reservations for breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall on our most recent visit to Epcot.  This was probably the most controversial of the dining reservations we had on the trip from a review standpoint so I've decided to summarize the experience into two categories:

What You'll Love - There are several things to enjoy about breakfast at Akershus.  Most notably is the princess interaction.  Everyone knows that a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table is next to impossible to secure, but reservations at Akershus are a bit easier to come by.  Here you'll get to meet five princesses.  While they say that princesses may vary from visit to visit, we were able to meet Belle, Aurora, Ariel, Snow White, and Cinderella.  All of the princesses were delightful to interact with during our meal.  I decided to "Disneybound" as Snow White that day, and she was so excited to see my outfit.  During the meal, there is a princess parade every 15 minutes or so where the princesses get the kids up from their chairs and walk around the restaurant.  The restaurant itself is also pretty featuring some classic Norwegian architecture and decor. 


What You Won't Love - The price for the food that you get.  I'm not going to say the food was bad, because it wasn't.  The meal comes in two parts - a buffet that you can start on as soon as you arrive and then a family style plated selection of hot breakfast items.  The eggs were fine, the potato casserole was delicious, and the selection of pastries and Norwegian specialities on the buffet were good - but when you're paying over $40 per adult for the buffet, you would expect more variety and not just "good," but "great" dining in my opinion.  What you are paying for here is the opportunity to meet and mingle with the princesses.  If that's not high on your priority list, you would be better served to dine somewhere else.  Epcot is full of fabulous dining choices around World Showcase which will be both cheaper and offer a better selection of food.

Overall, I would not go back to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.  The boys enjoyed meeting the princesses and I'm always glad to try something new in Walt Disney World, but with so many great choices around the resort, this would not be one for me to experience again.