Yesterday, I honestly wasn’t planning on having any sort of dining experience to write about. I thought that maybe I would end up having a Dole Whip, or a snack at Casey’s Corner that I could write about, but I figured that most likely, I wouldn’t have a new post until Thursday. I just didn’t think I would have anything to write about. Man, was I wrong!
It all started in Lines chat. Hmmm…I should probably explain what Lines chat is quickly for anyone who doesn’t know. Lines is the smartphone app managed by the website TouringPlans.com (the website for The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World). Lines gives you current and future wait times at all of the WDW parks, as well as crowd forecasts, showtimes, and lots of other really great info. Lines also has a chat feature where you can post questions about WDW, or just meet other Disney-philes. A quick warning, the Lines chat is crazy addictive, however, I can’t imagine being part of a more fun Disney community.
Anyway, it all started in Lines chat. A while ago someone asked if the Pal Mickey’s still worked in the parks. Ummm…say what? I had never heard of a Pal Mickey, and asked what it was. Basically, Pal Mickey is an interactive plush Mickey Mouse that was sold in the parks from 2003-2008. It picks up signals from infrared transmitters around the park and gives you information about the land you’re in, attractions, parade and show times, and nearby character greets. He will also tell jokes and play games to entertain you while you wait in line. Although Pal Mickey is no longer sold at WDW (you can still find him on ebay of course), he does still work in the parks, though much of the information he gives out is no longer relevant.
When I found out about Pal Mickey, I thought it was a fantastic idea and really wanted to check one out for myself. Luckily, my fellow Lines chatter and WDW touring buddy, Shane, still had one. We picked a day and scheduled a trip to the Magic Kingdom with Pal Mickey. We were trying to figure out what time we would meet up, when Shane brought up another mission: finding a Tom Sawyer Island paintbrush.
Again, this is something I had never heard of before Lines chat. Every morning, a number of paintbrushes (rumor is it’s 5, but I don’t have any kind of confirmation on that) are hidden around Tom Sawyer’s Island. If you find one, you turn it in to a cast member, and you and your party get a choice of FastPasses to either Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain. This is one of those little Disney details that I love so much. What a great way to explore Tom Sawyer’s Island and spend time with your family on a little adventure! So, when Shane suggested we look for a paintbrush on our Pal Mickey day, I was totally in. That meant we wanted to get there for Rope Drop so that we could ensure we were on the first boat over to TSI to hunt (TSI opens an hour after the park opens).
Malcolm and I got there first, but not by much, and waited for Shane at the TTC. As soon as I spotted Shane on the tram, I also spotted one major flaw with Pal Mickey. Although there are many things that are considered acceptable at WDW that wouldn’t be accepted normally (i.e. Mouse Ears, singing and dancing in the street, grown-ups cavorting with life-sized cartoon characters), it is still a bit odd to see a grown man walking around with a stuffed Mickey doll. Good thing he was meeting up with us! When you have a 16 month old with you it is always acceptable to carry stuffed animals around, no matter where you are.
We headed into the Magic Kingdom and set a course for the rafts to get over to TSI. We knew that we would have a long wait before the island opened, but we really wanted to be some of the first people over there. On the way over to Frontierland, we took our time and listened to what Pal Mickey had to say. Every so often he would laugh and vibrate to indicate he wanted to talk. We would then squeeze his belly or his hand and he would say something. For example, in the middle of Main Street he explained to us that where we were standing was designed to look like a typical American main street over 100 years ago, and pointed out that the names painted on the upstairs windows of the shops were the names of Imagineers who helped design WDW. Shane and I discussed this detail and agreed that while Pal Mickey had some good trivia for normal WDW visitors, his information just wasn’t as cool for Disney freaks like Shane and I who already knew the tip about the names on the windows.
I also quickly discovered another Pal Mickey flaw. When he spoke we both had to put an ear right up to him so that we could hear what he was saying. To do that we had to stop and huddle close together and stop any traffic behind us. While this wasn’t too horrible for just 2 people early in the morning when the crowds were still low, I can’t imagine doing it in a high traffic area with a large family, especially when it gets more hot and humid (and therefore, smelly as well).
My very favorite Pal Mickey moment of the whole day came when we entered Liberty Square. Mickey gave us a little intro about the land and then told us, “Don’t worry if you see a man riding backwards through the streets on his horse shouting, ‘gnimoc era hsitirB eht, gnimoc rea hsitirB eht!’ That’s just Paul Reverse!” I love that type of cheesy, schmaltzy humor. That moment made me fall in love with Pal Mickey, despite all his other flaws.
We carried him around a bit more during the morning. But just before lunch, after he was dropped by Malcolm and lost (flaw#3: You can’t trust a small child with a $100 piece of equipment, even if it does look like a stuffed animal). Luckily, we found him, but, we decided that was enough Pal Mickey. We stuck him in my backpack and he stayed there the rest of the day. We agreed that we would try playing with him again sometime, when the weather and crowds were better. However, for a busy, hot, July day, Pal Mickey was just too much of a bother.
Okay, so back to the journey to Tom Sawyer’s Island. We got to the dock at about 9:15, which meant we had a 45 minute wait for the island to open, although, we were the very first in line. We hung out there, I fed Malcolm his breakfast (which he so generously shared with the birds), we discussed Disney podcasts and other geeky Disney things…and slowly a line formed behind us. Seriously, who waits in line to get on the first raft over to TSI in the morning? Exactly! Only crazy people looking for paintbrushes. Every person who got in line behind us became the enemy. As it got closer to 10, we had gained a lot of “enemies,” and began to form a game plan.
I had heard several reports of people finding the brushes at Fort Langhorn at the very back of the island. Since that was pretty much the only tip we had, we decided to go there immediately. Plus, as Shane pointed out, they weren’t going to “just hide them in the bushes,” so the fort seemed like an obvious spot for them to be. That was pretty much our only strategy. I mean, come on, we were two intelligent adults searching for something that, in all honesty, is probably meant for children to find. Of course we were going to find a paintbrush right away.
At this point I would like to point out exactly how lame I am. I got up really early, packed up the baby, drove an hour to WDW, waited 45 minutes to drag my big, fat, pregnant self (and a 30 pound baby/toddler) around an island where the heat index was probably 100 degrees, all to find a paintbrush that we would turn in for a reward THAT I COULDN’T EVEN USE!! Malcolm is too little to go on either Splash or BTM, and, being almost 8 months pregnant, I’m technically not supposed to ride those rides either. Yeah, I know, I’m nuts. But, I wanted to find a paintbrush just so I could say that I had. Plus, then Shane would get 2 Fastpasses, which would be awesome for him.
So, we get on the raft…and they PACKED that raft, I have never seen them fit so many people on one before…and we headed over. The whole ride over I kept encouraging Shane (who was standing in front of me) with inspirational messages. Things like, “push down anyone over the age of 12,” and “don’t be afraid to throw elbows to knock people out of the way.” We get to the island and…are instantly stuck in the bottleneck crunch trying to get off the raft (and honestly, we weren’t really going to push anyone down). We finally get onto the island and people fan out everywhere. We make a bee-line for the fort. We’re walking pretty quickly (not running, because I’m pregnant and carrying Malcolm) and are the second group of people to the fort. Immediately we could tell that the dad and his son who got there first were also looking for a paintbrush, but didn’t worry too much about them. We climbed all over that fort. We looked on shelves, behind doors, in the bathrooms, everywhere…there was no paintbrush. Crap. We had no strategy at all at this point. We headed to the front part of the island. We looked in the caves, the buildings, behind walls…no paintbrush. In one of the caves, we could hear someone outside talking about the brushes, so we went to see what was going on. We found a woman who had already found two. TWO! We asked her where they were and she said they were just stuck in the bushes. What?! We had figured that was the one place they WOULDN’T be…we had completely ignored the bushes.
So, we did another round of the entire island just looking in the bushes. At least now we knew what the brushes looked like (a standard 4 inch paintbrush, like you would use to paint a fence, with a blue handle, and the bristles covered in dried white paint), so we figured we would definitely find one now.
By 11 o’clock, we were drenched in sweat, my arms were tired from lugging Malcolm, Malcolm was bored, and I had pretty much reached my limit (being pregnant means my endurance isn’t quite what it usually is). We gave up. I couldn’t believe it. I was so sure we were going to find one. Oh well. We headed to Peco’s Bills for large (free) ice waters, and sat and rested and discussed our strategy for the next paintbrush hunting mission (waiting until I give birth and leaving the kids at home are the main strategical moves for next time). While there, we talked about lunch. Shane obviously knows about my blog, and mentioned that we should try The Plaza Restaurant. I knew they did basic sandwiches and stuff, and since it was hot, I decided that was perfect. Plus, The Plaza is pretty overlooked at MK, so we figured we could get in. Whoo-hoo! I was going to have a dining adventure after all!
We headed over to the restaurant, located at the end of Main Street, and talked with the hostess. She told us we could either wait for a walk in table, which would be about an hour and we couldn’t leave the immediate area. Or, we could make a reservation to come back. The earliest reservation time available was 1:10pm. It was 12:15. Even the hostess giggled at the ridiculousness of waiting stand-by for an hour when we could just make a reservation and come back in 55 minutes. Clearly, we made the reservation.
After a couple of trips on the TTA (without having to get off, yay!!) and a hunt for an ATM, we returned. We were actually really early. Like, 25 minutes early, but we checked in anyway. While we waited we watched part of the Move it, Shake it parade, and a Plaza CM, Daniel, entertained us with some very enthusiastic dance moves (this is also when we had the lost Pal Mickey situation). After just 10 minutes we were seated.
The inside of the Plaza is really gorgeous. It’s very turn-of-the-century, art nouveau, with stunning detail and giant mirrors. The large windows make the whole dining room bright and lively. It was like sitting in a particularly beautiful Norman Rockwell painting.
While we were checking out the menu’s, one of the characters of Main Street, Penelope (Penny for short) Prose, the mayor’s niece, entered the dining room and began to make an announcement. She informed the room that the 100th family of the day had just been seated. Shane and I exchanged a look…we were both wondering…does she mean us? She gave a long speech, during which Shane and I got more and more excited and tense. She couldn’t really mean us, right? Wouldn’t we know if it was us? It can’t be us. But what if it is? Finally, she told us she had written a poem about the 100th family, and began to recite it. I listened intently. She had used a fairly basic rhyme scheme and I was carefully listening to see if she would use a word that rhymed with my last name (Litton). The poem seemed to go on forever. I have no idea what she said, except the the last word, of the second to last line was “smitten.” Smitten! Smitten rhymes with Litton! As soon as she said “smitten,” I knew it was us! I managed to keep it together until she finished her announcement that the Litton family had won (and no, Shane is not a Litton, but the reservation was under my name), and then I threw my arms up and cheered, nearly taking out a light fixture in the process (oops).
It was so exciting! The 100th table of the day! And so much pomp and circumstance! We got a certificate, and Penny came over to pose for pictures. She also informed us that we would be getting a free dessert! There are no two words in the English language that I love more than “free dessert.” Shane and I were frantically tweeting/facebooking/posting in Lines chat about what had happened, and it took us a good 10 minutes to come back down from our surprise and look at the menus.
I thought the Plaza had a perfect lunch time menu. Hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups, and ice cream. Light and simple. I ordered The Plaza Club, which was ham, turkey, bacon, and mayonnaise on toasted sourdough with french fries (you can also choose homemade chips) and a cup of tomato bisque soup. Just like I had done at Liberty Tree, I ordered enough food that Malcolm could share with me and I didn’t have to order him anything from the kid’s menu. Shane ordered the Grilled Reuben which was corned beef, swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut (he got sauerkraut on the side) with chips.
Our waitress was Jannette, and she was amazing! She was so good, that we later went to guest services and submitted a cast member compliment for her. We didn’t have any out of the ordinary exchanges with Jannette, I doubt we stood out from any of her other tables that day, but she was just so efficient, and so good at making us feel comfortable and well taken care of. For example, as we all know, it gets very hot in Florida and one of my major dining pet peeves is when my iced tea glass is empty. With Jannette, my glass was never less than half full. Whenever I got through half of my tea, Jannette was dropping a fresh glass of tea off at the table (she did the same for Shane’s orange soda). Sure, it was something very simple, but considering what a fast drinker I am (and Shane is as well), I realize that it was quite a bit of extra work for her.
One small complaint I had at the Plaza, was that my soup arrived at the same time as the rest of the meal. Normally, I wouldn’t have any issue with this, especially when I order a sandwich, but we were seated at a 2 person table, and between our drinks, silverware, napkins, and Malcolm’s toy, sippy cup, and goldfish, we didn’t have a whole lot of room. It would have been great to get the soup first just for the sake of table space.
The tomato bisque was topped with a generous portion of croutons which I was super excited about, as Malcolm LOVES croutons. The soup itself was delicious, it was fresh and creamy and everything you could want from a tomato bisque. I didn’t actually get to try the croutons, but based on the fact that Malcolm ate almost all of them, I’d guess they were yummy. The sandwich was also great. I realize a club isn’t very complicated. But, the meat was fresh and there was lots of it, the bacon was crispy without being burnt, the bread was so perfectly toasted…it was, like the soup, everything you could want from a club sandwich. The fries were also very good, they were the same as the fries at Liberty Tree. Shane also reported that the Reuben was very good, but he wasn’t a huge fan of the chips. While they tasted fine, he said they weren’t that “just cooked warm” that is so good in homemade chips. For dessert we ordered a brownie sundae that was more than enough for two. It had thick, warm brownies topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and cherries. Again, it was a very simple dish, but executed perfectly.
The execution is what will bring me back to the Plaza. I swear, for the last 24 hours I have been craving a club sandwich and tomato bisque because it was so good yesterday. These days, with the Food Network, celebrity chefs, and gourmet foods available everywhere, society has gotten much more adventurous with food. While I think it’s excellent that people are broadening their tastes, I also think that this had caused many to forget about how amazing food that is simple and classic can be. There is nothing fancy about a club sandwich, but when it is done well, it can be so perfect for lunch on a hot summer day.
Another fantastic thing was the price. My sandwich was just under $12, which is actually a really good price for a table service restaurant at WDW. Even at the counter service places many options are $10 or even more. With the Tables in Wonderland discount, I really don’t think we spent much more than we would have at a quick place, but we got the added benefit of refillable drinks, a waitress, and sitting and relaxing in the air conditioning, not to mention our experience with Penny Prose and a free dessert!
The Plaza is a fantastic hidden gem. The dining room is small, but it’s also very intimate and homey feeling, and I never once felt rushed in any way. I look forward to going back…and I assure you, I will be back. Multiple times. Possibly even today.
For my next adventure, I have an ADR at Hollywood and Vine for tomorrow. However, I have family coming into town today for their own trip to WDW, and I may end up changing my plan if an opportunity to hang out with them arises. Please either follow me on twitter @scarlettashley1, friend me on Facebook under Scarlett Ashley, or subscribe to the blog (or all three) so that you can get updates if my plans do change. I also plan on adding extra pictures of my adventures on my facebook page where I can add captions to them and explain things that way. One way or another, I’m sure I’ll have another adventure to write about in the next couple of days.