Eating Around The World

My Walt Disney World Dining Project

My Mom Comes to Visit: T-Rex (Lunch) August 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 8:50 pm

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I know it’s been almost a week since my last post, and I’m sorry for that.  However, my mom is in town, which means there are LOTS of eating adventures coming up.  Here’s the deal, I most definitely got my love of eating out from my mom.  When I was growing up, we went out to eat all the time.  My mom worked a lot, and going out meant that we could spend quality time together without worrying about cooking, cleaning up, or doing dishes.  Now, whenever my mom comes to town, we eat out for pretty much every meal.  We try lots of fun, local restaurants, and revisit some of our favorite chains.  It’s because of my mom’s visits that Malcolm is so easy to take out to restaurants.  We’ve been dragging him out to eat since he was 1 month old…and in those early days I had my mom as back-up, so we were able to work together to get Malcolm used to the restaurant environment.

When we were first planning her 12 day trip this summer (she’s a teacher and has summer off), she decided she wanted to go to Disney World for 1 day, and wanted to visit Epcot (she lives in Southern California, so wasn’t too worried about going to Magic Kingdom, since she goes to Disneyland often).  Then, once she actually got here, and we spent lots of time discussing Disney, she admitted that just one day at WDW wasn’t enough.  Apparently, she thought that at 34 weeks pregnant, I wasn’t going to want to spend a lot of time walking around WDW in the hot Florida sun.  Okay, now seriously, we all know how much time I spend at WDW!  As soon as she realized that I wasn’t spending my third trimester sitting on the couch with my feet up, she decided that 5 days was a much more reasonable number.

I immediately hopped on my computer, and grabbed my phone, and began some whirlwind planning.  First, I opened the touringplans.com crowd calendar on my computer, and the 10-day forecast in their app Lines, and figured out which day we were going to go to which parks.  Then, I logged onto disneyworld.com to begin the task of trying to plan meals for those days.  While doing that, I also hopped on the phone to see if they had any dessert party openings.  A couple of hours later, things were set.  We had some awesome ADR’s, a reservation for the dessert party (made only 36 hours in advance!!), and decided that we would officially be celebrating her birthday (which was in June).

This was all decided on Thursday, but, we were planning on being at Magic Kingdom’s rope drop Friday morning.  Since we wanted to be as efficient as possible (my mom is a neurotic Disney freak like me), we realized we should get her tickets and birthday button in advance.  So, we decided that we should go and spend the afternoon at Downtown Disney, where we could visit guest services to take care of business, as well as get a quick Disney fix.  Plus, we both really wanted to eat at T-rex, so we could check that out as well.

I went online to try to make a reservation, but the site said there weren’t any available.  I was super sad, because I really wanted to go, so I called the dining line, and found out that I couldn’t make a same day ADR.  That’s why the site said it was unavailable.  So, we were just going to have to go and wing it.

When we got down there, it was almost 2pm, and went straight over to the restaurant.  We were getting hungry, and figured we would have to wait a while, so we wanted to get our name on a list ASAP.  To our surprise, we walked up, and were seated immediately.  I have never had less than a 30 minute wait at T-rex, so this was super exciting!

Okay, so much like Rainforest Cafe, T-rex gets criticized often for having not-so-good food, for WAY too much money.  However, also like with RFC, I really enjoy T-rex.  I love the atmosphere, I think it’s so much fun!  And while it is expensive, I enjoy the food, and don’t find it too outrageously priced.  I brought this up to my mom while we waited for our food, and she came up with a good theory.  First, she thinks that most people have an issue with the prices because they don’t think the food is worth what it costs…that, while it’s not bad, people expect something much more out of a $30 steak.  Second, she thinks that the reason she and I don’t have so many issues with the cost, is because we are from California.  In California (and Alaska, where we lived before that), everything is more expensive, especially when compared with the mid-west and southern states.  So, when we pay $30 for steak, we just expect a steak, nothing super fancy or exceptionally delicious.  I thought this made sense, but honestly, I’m not too worried about it.  I like T-rex, I don’t mind the prices, and if others don’t like it, that’s okay with me.

The decor at T-rex is similar to that of Rainforest Cafe, except newer and with a dinosaur theme instead of a rainforest theme.  There are gigantic animatronic dinosaurs and woolly mammoth’s.  There is an ice cave that changes colors, and fossils, and geodes.  And, instead of a thunderstorm every 15-20 minutes, there is a meteor shower…and BIG one, like the one that may have wiped out the dinosaurs.  Although I would compare this to the RFC thunderstorms, I also think it is much scarier for little ones.  Malcolm has never had an issue with being scared of it…but he doesn’t seem to think it’s as fun as the thunderstorms.  He definitely thinks it’s interesting, but he doesn’t dance at laugh during it like at RFC.

Overall, the themeing is fantastic.  It’s an entirely prehistoric world, with lots of fun little details (i.e. the restroom doors read “He-Rex and She-Rex).  It is also fairly educational with lots of signs with information about the different dinosaurs and fossils…at least as long as you take the time to actually read them.  Also, like at RFC, the menu items are all given “themed” names like Mesozoic Mahi Mahi and Melalosaurus Mozzarella.

I started with their Lava Tomato Basil Soup garnished with parmesan cheese.  I ALWAYS get this soup…it is delicious!  It’s so creamy and warm and tasty and it makes me happy.  Also, I think it is a very good sized portion, and can be very filling.  I’ve gone before and gotten it as a meal at lunchtime.

For my entree I got the Triceratop Filet with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Rice, and my mom ordered Fire-Roasted Rotisserie Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cinnamon Apples (Malcolm just ate off our plates).  When my filet came out, they had me cut into it to see if it was cooked properly.  I had ordered it medium, but the filet I got was super rare.  Like, I’m seriously amazed it didn’t “Moo” at me.  Okay, now I know that I’m pregnant and I’m only supposed to eat well done beef…but, it looked SOOO good.  It was like some carnal instinct inside of me woke up and demanded raw beef.  Even though, I’m not usually a rare-meat person, I NEEDED that rare filet…so I told the waitress it was fine.  She could see that it was clearly NOT cooked as I had ordered it, and told me several times that she would be happy to take it back, but I assured her that it was how I wanted it.

Seriously, it was perfect.  It was so juicy and flavorful and tender…it melted in my mouth.  Maybe it was just because I had developed a sudden craving for raw meat…but this was the best steak I had ever had in my life.  The only sad part was that I am 8 months pregnant and therefore, don’t have a very large stomach.  I tried to eat all of it, but I just couldn’t (remember, I also had the soup).  I was also very impressed with the rice.  It was well seasoned and cooked properly, Malcolm really liked it too.

The garlic mashed potatoes, however, were not my favorite.  They were SUPER garlicy.  I really like garlic…but the garlic was completely overwhelming for me.  Although, my mom LOVED the potatoes.  She said that she had never had garlic mashed potatoes that were garlicy enough, so she was very impressed.  She was actually impressed with her entire meal.  She said the cinnamon apples were sweet and the chicken was moist and flavorful.

Overall, we all had a really great time.  We enjoyed the atmosphere, the food was delicious, the service was good, and it was fun.  We also got to shop in the gift store afterwards (which I LOVE as I mentioned in a previous post), although it isn’t nearly as large or as fun a shop as at RFC.  They do however have the “Build-a-Dino” section (just like Build-a-Bear), where you can build, dress, and take home your own stuffed dino.  I shudder to think how much money I’m going to spend THERE when Malcolm gets a bit older (his whole room and everything is done in dinosaurs, so I know he’s going to work me for these creations early on).

I do recommend people try T-rex, however, don’t go in expecting something inexpensive.  I think if you go into it knowing that you are going to spend some money, and if you are willing to spend money on a dining experience like this, I think you will really enjoy it.  However, if you go out to eat just to get full and don’t care about a fun theme or sharing table space with a stegosaurus, or if you (or your kids) don’t like loud noises, darkness, and intense effects…maybe you should skip this one…I’m sure you can find someplace else to get a great meal.

This was just the first of many dining adventures my mom and I have had already during her visit.  I’m trying to get everything posted, but since we’re keeping pretty busy during her trip, writing time is limited.  However, I can say that there is some awesome stuff coming up, so keep an eye out for that.

Remember, find me on twitter @scarlettashley1, or friend me on Facebook under Scarlett Ashley, to keep up to date.

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Our Ride into the Wilderness: Trail’s End Restaurant (Dinner) July 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 10:21 pm

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At the end of my last post, I said that I didn’t really have any plans for a meal, and after a couple of days I was getting antsy.  I kept checking the online ADR system, but there were just too many options and I had no idea what restaurant I wanted to check out next.  So, I posted on my facebook page asking for recommendations or ideas about where I should try next.  Luckily, Vance Cope responded with a fantastic suggestion, Trail’s End Restaurant at Ft. Wilderness.

I have to admit, I had never heard of Trail’s End.  So, the first thing I did was go to allears.net to check out the menu and pricing.  Vance said one thing he liked about it was that it was cheap, and he wasn’t kidding!  Dinner was only $22.99!  Okay, now I realize that in the real world, that’s super expensive…but at Disney, that’s really reasonable for a dinner buffet!

This was a perfect suggestion: it was cheap, it was off the beaten path, it had southern home cooking style food (which is totally my favorite type of food), it was easy to get an ADR (they seemed to have almost completely open availability), and it wasn’t a restaurant I was saving for something special.  Let me explain that last one…there are some restaurants that I am saving for something special…like, I want to do Rose & Crown some night late so I can also watch Illuminations from a patio table, and I want to save CRT for when I do Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (Oh yeah, I’m totally going to do that), and I want to do 50’s Prime Time with a large group of people (I need to up the chances of someone getting put in the corner).  Anyway, I had no special plans for Trail’s End (obviously, since I’d never heard of it), so I made an ADR for the next day.

After my experience at Hollywood & Vine, I had several people mention that maybe part of the problem was going to the buffet at the end of the serving period.  That made sense to me, so this time, I made an ADR for the very first dinner time, 4:30pm.

Once again, I left the house super early.  I wanted to have time to explore the resort before we ate, and didn’t want to have to rush.  It was a good thing I left so early!  Like I said, I’d never been to Ft. Wilderness, so I didn’t know what to expect.  I figured I would just pull up and park and walk in, right?  *sigh* Wrong again.  When you drive in to Ft. Wilderness, you have to park and then bus to the “Settlement” where all the restaurants are.  The security guard said it would only be about a 5 minute bus ride though, so no big deal.  We took our time walking from the parking lot.  They have really pretty walkways with bushes and flowers, we spent quite a while watching butterflies and looking at the horses in the Tri-Circle-D Ranch.  Once we got to the bus stop, we sat on a bench to wait for the bus…and waited…and waited…and waited.  After about 15 minutes it finally came, and then we discovered that the security guard was a dirty liar.  Our 5 minute bus ride, was a 25 minute ride that stopped every 10 feet to pick people up and drop them off…it took forever!

We finally got to the Settlement, and it was really pretty awesome!  A giant log cabin type structure, Pioneer Hall ,was the main building, and there was a playground, a beach on the lake, you could rent boats and take carriage rides…and the while thing was beautifully themed!  I immediately decided that I need to take my family camping there sometime…it was love at first sight.

By the time we got up to Trail’s End, it was only about 10 minutes til our ADR time, so we checked in and then sat in rocking chairs on the big wrap-around porch to relax.  It was only about 5 minutes before we were seated.  Even though we had an ADR, we clearly didn’t need one.  Lots of people were walking up without reservations and seemed to have the same 5 minute wait that we did.

The inside of the restaurant is decorated in a rustic, log cabin style.  It feels very warm and homey, with lots of old timey tools, dishes, and pictures as well as stuffed wildlife heads on the walls.  There is a pot bellied stove, and a canoe too…just lots of camp ground and cabin type decorations, the whole place was themed the way that Disney is so good at.

Once we had our drink orders taken (which came in mason jars…I love when country places serve drinks in mason jars!), we headed to the buffet.  I was feeling a bit nervous.  After the horrid food at Hollywood & Vine, I was worried about a similar experience.  As soon as I saw the food, I realized this was going to be different.  Everything looked fresh and colorful.  The food looked exactly the way it does when my (Southern) mom makes it.

I started at the salad bar where they had a surprisingly large selection of toppings…cheese, olives, croutons, real bacon, shrimp, cucumbers, and a wide range of dressings, just to name a few.  We then headed over to the warm section, where they had all the stuff you would be expecting: mashed potatoes, rice, gravy, BBQ ribs, carved beef, chili, macaroni and cheese, salmon, fried chicken, baked chicken, corn, green beans, corn bread, and even pizza.  The pizza was totally the odd man out, but I was glad they had it because Malcolm really likes pizza…actually, that’s probably why they had pizza…for the kids who love it so much.

When we got back to the table, and I actually got to taste the food…oh man…it was YUMMY!  It was good, old-fashioned, delicious.  The salad was so good and fresh, above average for any buffet, in or out of Disney World.  There were definitely some things I liked more than others…the rice and mashed potatoes and beef were great…but the gravy made them exceptional.  The macaroni and cheese was good, but pretty standard.  The chicken may be a bit salty for some, but I really like salt, so I thought it was perfect.  Malcolm really enjoyed the macaroni and cheese, and the pizza, but he also ate a TON of green beans and corn.  And the corn bread…mmmm…I ate like, 6 pieces of it…no, seriously…it was so good.

Then, there was the dessert table.  It wasn’t anything fancy, just soft serve (but with a decent selection of toppings), brownies, cookies, and crisped rice treats.  I had one of everything and topped my ice cream with caramel and m&m’s.  The desserts were pretty standard, but honestly, it’s hard to mess up the desserts they had.  Everything was fresh, nothing was stale or anything, so I was pleased with what they had.

All-in-all, this was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while.  The food was great, the service was good, the price was right, and the atmosphere was pleasant.  While I was there it never got crowded, and the few families in there definitely seemed to be staying at Ft Wilderness.  I understand why a lot of vacationers wouldn’t think to go there…but, it’s a short boat ride from Magic Kingdom, it’s relatively inexpensive, and I’ll be you very rarely need an ADR.  So, if you stay on site there, or if you ever find yourself wanting a sit-down meal with no ADR’s, I whole-heartedly recommend heading over to Trail’s End.

After we ate we headed over to the play ground to check it out.  It was empty, so Malcolm was able to run around pretty freely.  I was a big fan of this play area.  We got to run around and work off our dinner, it was shady and breezy, most people were at the parks so we didn’t have to worry about crowds…it was lovely.  I think it would be a wonderful spot for me to take Malcolm on days when he is getting antsy from spending all day in his stroller, and it’s just a short boat ride over from the park.

When it was time for us to go, Malcolm threw a HUGE fit!  When I would try to lead him away from the playground, he would scream and cry, yank his hand away from me, and make a mad dash back.  By the time we got back to the bus, he had created quite the scene!  But, as far as I was concerned, he had just given Ft Wilderness his seal of approval.  I’m hoping we get to go back really soon to check out some of the other stuff there like the wagon rides, and of course, the Hoop-De-Doo Revue.

Tomorrow, my mom gets in from California for a 12 day stay, so I’m not too sure how much time I’m going to have for restaurant adventures.  I know we’re going to Epcot on Saturday, and we have 3 ADR’s for that day, and I know we’ll spend at least one day down at Downtown Disney.  I’m hoping I’ll somehow be able to squeeze in another meal at the world this week, but I haven’t seen my mom in 6 months, and I’m not going to go too far out of my way when I want to be spending time with her.

As usual, you can keep updated on what’s going on if you follow me on twitter (@scarlettashley1), friend me on Facebook (Scarlett Ashley), or subscribe to the blog!

 

Our Complete African Adventure: Taste of Africa Street Party (Harambe Village) July 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 11:06 am

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When I first heard about the Taste of Africa Street Party, I had no interest in going.  At the event in the Harambe Villiage at the Animal Kingdom, there are different  stations featuring food with African flavors, a beer and wine tasting, some food demonstrations, and a DJ and band throwing a dance party in the middle of the village.  However, the food all looked too “adventurous” for me, I couldn’t enjoy the beer and wine (due to being pregnant), and I don’t think dancing in the street when it’s 100 degrees outside is very much fun.

But then, Taste of Africa kept coming up.  Lots of people in Lines chat were saying they wanted to go, a couple of my twitter friends had gone, and then Shane asked me if I wanted to go with him so I could write about it for the blog.  I figured I HAD to go.  I knew that even if it was horrible, at least Shane and I would have a good time together, and at least I would be happy being at Animal Kingdom.

Okay, now I know lots of people don’t care for Animal Kingdom, and many even openly hate it.  I, however, LOVE Animal Kingdom!  I love the shows, I love the animals, I love the music, I love everything!  I’ve never even been on any of the rides (with the exception of the Kilimanjaro Safaris), and I still love it.  My love may have something to do with Malcolm too.  Animal Kingdom is so colorful and there are so many things to look at, plus, there is lively, percussion-heavy music everywhere, it really is a sensory playground for little ones.  Every time we go to AK, Malcolm dances more, he waves more, he claps more, he sings more…he has so much fun!

So, I decided to go.  The party starts at about 4:30pm (at the conclusion of Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle parade) and runs until park closing.  Shane and I decided we would meet for the parade at 3:45 and watch that, and then figure things out from there.  I was already really excited that we didn’t have to deal with ADR’s or exact times, so things would be more relaxed and there wouldn’t be any rushing.  Probably because of this laid back attitude, I ended up running a bit late.  It was no big deal, we just didn’t watch the parade with Shane, but met him after it ended.

A quick word about Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade…you guessed it…I love it.  I think it’s so artsy and creative, the floats are fantastic.  Also, the character interaction is really great.  I don’t know if it’s because they have less choreography, or if it’s because most of them are walking instead of riding on floats, but the characters seem to have more time to play with the crowd.  Plus, there are stilt walkers and fun music, and bubbles, and dancing…it’s just fun.  Malcolm had a wonderful time waving to everyone and high-fiving all the characters and dancing to the music.  It was a great start to our time at AK.

After that we met up with Shane, and we decided we would do a couple of things before we actually did the street party.  There was only a 5 minute wait for the Kilimanjaro Safari, which I wanted to do really bad, so we headed there.  On the ride we had a baby giraffe right next to our truck!  We also saw a one month old baby elephant (seriously, cutest thing ever), and the lions, and the rhino’s, and all the other animals!  I love the safari animals.  It’s always so exciting to know that they may come right up to the truck!  Plus, you get to help catch some bad poachers, and that always makes me feel good.

After that, we headed to the Festival of the Lion King Show.  Seriously, Festival of the Lion King, is the best show on Disney World Property.  They have acrobats, floats, fantastic singers, audience participation, a fire twirler, favorite characters, classic songs, dancing, EVERYTHING!  Again, this is another one of Malcolm’s favorite things to do as well.  He spent the whole show mesmerized!  He danced and clapped and waved and had a great time.  If you haven’t seen this show, you are missing out.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good.  We had done my 3 favorite things at AK, Malcolm was in a good mood, it was breezy and not too hot…I was ready to tackle the street party, including the exotic food and dancing in the heat.  But, we had one more stop to make…we had to buy Shane’s new hat.

So, Shane has a red hat that he wears, always.  Whenever we meet somewhere, and I’m looking for him, I just look for the red hat.  It’s like it’s a part of him.  This red hat, however, is getting pretty gross.  It’s old and faded and covered in stains, and it was definitely time for a new one.  A couple of weeks ago, Shane found the hat he wanted.  It was another red hat, it had a Disney World logo, it was simple…it was the one.  But, Shane put off buying it.  Man, I have so been there.  I think we all have.  We’ve all had that favorite purse or hat or pair of shoes, that desperately need to be replaced, but we just love the purse/hat/shoes so much, it’s hard to do.  We know it’s going to be an adjustment to the new item, and that it will never be quite the same.  It’s so hard to take that first step and make the initial switch.  Well, yesterday, the time had come.  We went into the store, and Shane bought the hat.  We stood outside, with the Tree of Life in the background…Shane took off the old hat, and stood staring at the two hats for a bit.  Then, he made a small speech, saying goodbye to the old hat, and welcoming the new one…and then put the new hat on.

Now, we were ready for Taste of Africa.  We headed back to Harambe Village, and checked out the event maps they handed out.  We were able to devise a plan easily enough, everything was pretty much laid out in a circle.  We decided to begin at Tamu Tamu, and work our way clockwise, that way we would hit all the savory stops first, then the sweet stop, then the juice tasting, and then would be in the center of the village by the band, and could finish up with some dancing.

At our first stop, Tamu Tamu, we discovered that it is a good idea to have at least 2 people for an adventure like this.  There was more than one thing on the menu that we each wanted to try, and we realized that it would be like that at each stop.  So, we decided we would get 2 choices at each stop, and split them.  That way we could try more, spend less money, and have less waste.  Another interesting thing we learned, all of the choices count as snacks on the Disney Dining Plan, so you can use snack credits to enjoy the food.

Anyway, at Tamu Tamu we got a BBQ pork slider, flatbread with 3 different dips, and I got a Mango Shake.  We started with the slider.  Shane immediately pointed out that the bun wasn’t heated…it wasn’t toasted or warmed in any way.  While I thought that was odd, as soon as I tasted the slider, I didn’t care.  It was so yummy!  It wasn’t anything too fancy, but I thought the “Kenyan coffee bbq sauce” was perfect.  Then, we had the flatbread with tomato hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush.  The flatbread was perfect.  It was light and airy and delicious.  The dips, however, were not as tasty.  I should point out that there is a good chance I am just not an adventurous enough eater to enjoy these particular dips, they may have been fantastic, but just not my style, I don’t know.  However, I did try everything, which would have totally made my Mommy proud.  The mango shake was also really good.  There wasn’t anything fancy, or surprising about it…it was a mango flavored shake.  But, it was cool and refreshing, so it did it’s job.

The next stop was Tamu Kibanda, and I was a little nervous about this stop.  The main thing they had there was a samosa with potatoes and peas served with mango chutney that I thought sounded really gross.  But, Shane wanted to try it, and I knew I should at least taste it.  I was SO glad that I did!  It was delicious.  It wasn’t just filled with potatoes and peas…it also had lots of spices and peppers that gave it quite a kick!  Shane declared this his favorite dish of the event.  At this stop we also got a shrimp and avocado salad with garbanzo beans that was also awesome.  It was a little cilantro heavy…but the shrimp and avocado were fresh and really very good.  This was for sure the best stop of the event.

Also, at Tamu Kibanda they were doing samosa making demonstrations, and we got to learn from a Tusker House how to make the samosa we had just eaten.  The demonstration was a little long, and a they gave lots of very basic information (we got a very elementary description of kneading), but it was fun.  Jeremy (who was our chef) was very good about answering our questions, and put up with us giggling and comparing him to Food Network chefs.  While at the demonstration, we ran into a fellow Liner, Sandy (wdwflprincess).  We had tentatively planned on meeting up with her, and she joined us for the rest of the party.

We then stopped at a sugar cane juicing demonstration.  After the very in depth samosa demonstration, I found this one a little disappointing.  It lasted about a minute, and it was just a CM hitting a sugar cane stalk with a hammer and then running it through a pressing device.  Although, we definitely saw sugar cane juicing, a little more information would have been great.

Our next stop was the Kusafiri Bakery where we got curried chicken with jollof rice and banana bread pudding.  Shane and I were both highly anticipating the curried chicken.  Not only did it sound delicious, but Shane had spoken to a CM who declared it the best dish at the event.  Sadly, we were both disappointed.  We didn’t even eat the whole thing!  The chicken was really dry, and the curry flavor was so overwhelming (and I really like curry!) that we didn’t even want to eat more than one bite each.  However, the banana bread pudding more than made up for it!  I normally don’t like bread pudding, but this was very tasty, and the vanilla sauce it was served with was delicious.  It was so rich, I couldn’t even finish my half…although I really wish I had been able to.

The final food stop, the Harambe Fruit Market, had coconut macaroons, honey pastries, fresh coconut, and fresh fruit, but, after the bread pudding we were pretty sweeted-out and decided to skip it.  Plus, it was now a quarter to eight and the party was going to end in 15 minutes and we still hadn’t even done any dancing!  So, we headed straight over to the Beer & Wine walk at the Tamu Tamu Courtyard.  Now, I’m pregnant, Shane is 20, and Sandy doesn’t drink, so we had no need for a beer and wine tasting.  However, they had a tropical juice tasting for “young travelers,” so we did that instead.  When we went into the tasting area, it was easy to find the juice tasting table…it was the one that was half the height of the rest of the tables, and was covered in colorful smiley face stickers.  I guess there aren’t too many adults that do the juice tasting.  This was one of the highlights of the event for me.  The juices were not all good, but they were all interesting, and we got to learn a lot about each thing we tasted.  Our demonstrator (who’s name I forgot, oops) was very entertaining and informative, and he gave us all smiley face stickers at the end!

We left the courtyard, and headed into the street for dancing!  Unfortunately, it was now almost 8, and we had just missed the big party finale.  The DJ (who was up on one of the rooftops) was playing some exit music, so we stood around and talked and watched the people for a bit while Malcolm danced.  All-in-all, it was a very fun event.  We had a great time, tried some new foods, learned about juice and cooking, and got to spend some good time with fellow Liners.

I asked at one of the booths if they were planning on extending the Taste of Africa beyond the 24th.  The CM said there wasn’t any talk about extending, but there was talk about bringing it back at a later time.  I’m thinking this means either they are going to make it a yearly event, similar to Food & Wine Festival, or they are going to make some modifications after this trial period, and bring it back even better at a later date.  Either way, keep a look out for it, because you don’t want to miss it!

Right now, I’m not too sure what my next dining adventure will be.  I have some fun stuff planned for late next week, but I’m sure I’ll be in the parks before then, possibly even tonight.  Make sure you follow me on twitter @scarlettashley1, or subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out when I do figure out my next Disney meal.  Also, there were lots of pictures from the Taste of Africa that aren’t going to make it into this post, but I’m going to post them on Facebook, so you can see them there at facebook.com/scarlettashley1.

 

The Legendary Tonga Toast: Kona Cafe (Breakfast) July 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 10:42 pm

Once again, this is an adventure that began in Lines chat.  A week or so ago, someone brought up Tonga Toast.  There was much excitement about this toast, and several people discussed different strategies for making it at home, or where you could find it in the parks, and there seemed to be lots and lots of drooling.  I knew I had to be in Orlando early on Monday to take Will to the airport, so I found out where to get Tonga Toast (Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort) and I made an ADR.

As usual, I made my ADR for two, just me and Malcolm.  A couple of days later, Susan (AKA weasus), a friend of mine from Lines, mentioned that she would be going to the parks the same day, so I invited her along to breakfast.  She wanted to come, so I went back online, and made a new ADR for a party of 3.  The time changed by 10 minutes, but it wasn’t any big deal to get it switched.  Later that day, Pearsons999 (another Lines chatter, I won’t use her or her families real names, just because I forgot to ask them if I could and I don’t want to do so without their permission), arranged to meet up with Susan later in the day, so I figured, let’s invite them to breakfast too!  So, Pearsons999, her husband, and their 2 teenage daughters needed to be added to the reservation.  Again, not a big deal.  I went online, made a new ADR for 7 people, the time changed by 5 minutes, but, all in all, no problem.  Then, I invited Sabrina (AKA Ofantastic) and her boyfriend Ryan, since they were going to be in the parks for Sabrina’s birthday, and Shane (AKA SnellvilleShane) just because Shane is always fun to have around.  They all agreed.  My little breakfast for 2 had steamrolled into an international party of 10!  (Pearsons999 and family are from the UK, hence, the international).

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I was so excited!  While I really love to eat…I love socializing and meeting new people even more!  Plus, there was just something so awesome about one little chat room bringing all these people together.  I mean, sure, touringplans.com has meets and stuff that they organize in the parks; but, I bet they never imagined Lines would spawn informal meetups like this.  It’s really very cool, and I’m hoping for more situations like this.

So, the morning of the breakfast, I got up crazy early to take Will to the airport, and then headed straight to the Poly.  For once, I have no crazy running late stories; dropping Will off so early meant that there was plenty of time to get to WDW.  I did, however, have an issue with parking.  I was nervous about how parking at a resort would even work.  I had never even been inside one of the resorts before, and I definitely had never driven to one, so I had no idea how this would work.  Would they let me park there?  Did I need to show proof of an ADR?  Would they time me and give me a ticket if I took too long?  I’m not sure why I didn’t do the smart thing and just ask the folks in Lines chat (I swear those people know everything!), but I didn’t.  When I pulled up to the guard booth, I told the (very surly) guard that I had a reservation at Kona, and he waved me in and said, “parking on the left.”  Easy, right?  Sure, if you aren’t me.

Being pregnant and having a 16 month old has taught me to always try to hunt for a good parking spot.  Yes, I realize that this is ridiculous when I’m going to be walking around the parks for miles, but I do it anyway.  So, I’m driving, and I get to right in front of the doors, and I realize that I’ve driven past regular parking and am next to a blocked off valet section.  No problem, I’ll just turn around and look the other way, right?  Wrong.  You can’t turn around.  You know how you turn around?  You drive all the way out, back through the Magic Kingdom lot, almost back to the parking entrance, and you start all over.  As I’m making this circuit I realize that I will have to talk to the surly guard again.  Okay, so I know this is totally immature…but, I really didn’t want to have to face him again and have to explain that I’m too much of an idiot to navigate a parking lot correctly.  Thank goodness I had plenty of time!  I just parked at Magic Kingdom and took the monorail over.

As I rode over on the monorail, the excitement really started to build.  Not only had I never been to check out any of the resorts, but the Poly held a special fascination for me.  It looks so neat from the outside, and I’d heard so much about the exquisite themeing…I couldn’t wait to see it!  The monorail pulled up at the station, and I got out and approached the entrance.  I walked in, and I have to say, I was not disappointed.

I was on the second floor of the main lobby area, I immediately walked to the railing, and there was a gorgeous, lush, tropical waterfall right there in the middle of the hotel!  There were flowers and tiki guys everywhere, it was fabulous!  I still had about 45 minutes until our reservation time, and Malcolm and I spent that time exploring the resort.  One of the first things we did was head to the food court, Captain Cook’s.  I’m sure that seems like a silly place to go…but I had to see if it really existed…if there was really a 24 hour, self-serve Dole Whip machine…there was!!  It was beautiful!  I actually heard a little boy ask his mother what “that crazy lady” was doing when I was trying to steady my phone so that I could get a perfect picture of it.

After that, I headed up to Kona so that a) I would be the first one there and could corral our group as they showed up, and b) I could let them know that our party would only be 8 (Sabrina got sick, so she and Ryan couldn’t make it).  Everyone showed up, most of them on time (Susan!), we even ran into 2 more Liners there having breakfast!  We ordered drinks, and I had my next big excitement.

Rumor has it that WDW has really horrible coffee in general.  Since I’m pregnant, and trying to avoid caffeine (for the most part), I know nothing about that first-hand.  I do know, that most people say one of the only places to get good coffee in WDW is at Kona.  Of course, I had to order coffee.  I thought about going for decaf, but even my doctor says that one or two cups is fine, and I REALLY miss coffee, so I went for regular, fully-caffeinated goodness.  Seriously, BEST CUP OF COFFEE EVER!!  Although, I have to say, that this may be more due to the fact that I haven’t had a real cup of coffee in almost 8 months than it actually being fantastic coffee.  But, I don’t think it matters, it made me super happy.

Pearsons999’s daughters both got some drink that came with a light-up, clip-on Buzz Lightyear.  When I first saw it, I was totally jealous!  Luckily, I’m an adult and have some restraint, so I didn’t reach out and try to steal a 14 year old’s light-up toy (although, just barely).  Unfortunately, Malcolm is a baby and doesn’t have that same restraint.  Even as a grown-up, I understood his wanting a light-up Buzz, it was really cool.  I realized I was going to pay whatever I needed to in order to get him a Buzz.  Is that ridiculous?  Yes.  But I figure this is going to seem like small potatoes in 5 years when I’m standing in line at midnight for a Tickle-me-Elmo/Furby/Zhu-Zhu Pet/Cabbage Patch Kid.  I asked our waitress if I could just pay for a Buzz and not the whole drink and everything.  She said she would check, but she seemed skeptical.  A few minutes later, she returned with a Buzz!!  For free!!  Disney magic never ceases to amaze me.  And before you think that statement is an exaggeration, you should have seen Malcolm’s face…it made his day.

Now it’s time for our food, my legendary Tonga Toast is placed in front of me.  For those who don’t know, Tonga Toast is banana stuffed sourdough bread that is rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with Strawberry Compote.  You also get a choice of meat, I choose ham.  This next statement is probably going to anger a lot of people…but, I wasn’t that impressed.

Okay, here’s the deal.  It was definitely tasty, but this is breakfast people!  I love sweets and all, but something that is caked in sugar and served with what Susan called “a really delicious strawberry milkshake,” at 10 am is just a little nuts.  And honestly, the flavor was amazing.  If this had been in the late afternoon and was a dessert, I would have been bowled over.  However, it was breakfast, and I found myself coveting Susan’s Big Kahuna Breakfast (pancakes, french toast, ham, bacon, sausage, eggs, and home fries).  I nibbled some on Susan’s food, and it too, was delicious.

After we ate, Susan, Shane, and I checked out the pool and the beach, we got lei-ed (which I had to say out loud several times, giggling each time, because I am a twelve year old), and did some more exploring of the resort before heading off to Magic Kingdom.  All-in-all, it was a really fantastic morning.  Breakfast was good, the company was outstanding, the resort was beautiful…it was a perfect way to start the day.  I will for sure go back to Kona for breakfast.  The food was worth it, and if you like coffee, it’s apparently one of your only options.

While I had been exploring the resort before breakfast, I stopped by the concierge to find out more about the Taste of Africa Street Party at Animal Kingdom.  It looks like that’s going to be my next adventure!  Shane and I are going on Thursday, so look out for that post to follow shortly.

Don’t forget, you can keep up to date by subscribing to the blog, following me on twitter @scarlettashley1, or friend me on Facebook under the name Scarlett Ashley.

 

My First Ever Experience With Character Dining: Hollywood and Vine (Lunch) July 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 9:19 pm

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Most people are shocked to hear that I have never done character dining.  Character dining has become an integral part of the Disney World experience.  And really, it’s a pretty awesome idea…everyone has to eat, so why not throw in some favorite characters and create something really memorable.

There are several character dining options at WDW, and picking one to be my first was difficult.  There are some that seem to have better reputations than others…however, I already booked Chef Mickey’s, Crystal Palace, and 1900 Park Faire for my birthday, so those were eliminated right away.  Next, I eliminated Cinderella’s Royal Table because I didn’t want to prepay the $60.  The next place I considered was Hollywood & Vine.  I’d passed it several times while at DHS, and always thought it smelled good.  Then, I considered the characters.  At H&V they have Playhouse Disney characters, which means that the meal is probably aimed at preschoolers.  Now, I know Malcolm isn’t a preschooler, but I figured H&V would be more prepared to handle a younger crowd, and therefore, make my first character dining experience easier.  Perfect, I found a time (1:45pm) and made an ADR.

After my completely ludicrous experience at Liberty Tree, I allotted tons of extra time to get to our lunch at Hollywood Studios.  There was only one factor that I forgot to consider.  That factor is something I like to call “pregnancy brain.”

For those of you who have never been pregnant or had someone close to you be pregnant, I’m going to let you in on some little known scientific knowledge.  As the fetus grows it actually siphons off the mother’s brain cells to begin building it’s own brain.  The bigger it gets, the more brain cells it takes, and mom gets progressively more forgetful and stupid.  IQ literally drops about 60 points during the third trimester alone.  I have particularly seen these symptoms in myself lately.  I have gone out several times without taking Malcolm’s diaper bag (he always picks these times to have massive diaper blow-outs), I went grocery shopping 4 times in the past month and didn’t realize until check-out that I had left my wallet at home, and I can’t even count how many good iced tea’s I have lost due to driving off while they are still sitting on top of the car (where I set them while I load up Malcolm).

Anyway, basically due to my pregnancy brain, I forgot to account for pregnancy brain.

When I started the car to head to DHS, the first thing I noticed was that my gas light was on.  How could my tank be on empty?  Didn’t I just fill up yesterday in anticipation of my trip today?  Or was that when we went down to DTD a few days ago?  I couldn’t remember.  I have enough of a problem keeping our frequent trips down to WDW without being pregnant, so I didn’t find this too disconcerting.  I stopped at the station by my house and filled up.  No big deal, it maybe took a total of fifteen minutes off of the extra time I had…I still had plenty of time.

Things went smoothly for the next 30 minutes or so, until, I suddenly realized that none of the scenery I was passing looked “right.”  When did they start doing so much construction this far north on the Florida Turnpike?  I usually don’t have to deal with the bad construction areas because I exit before I reach them?  Why does this look so much like what’s going on further south near I-4? Seriously, this is the conversation I was having in my head for a good 5 minutes before I realized I had missed my exit.  First of all, it’s completely ridiculous that I missed the turn I take several times a week, every week.  It is also ridiculous that I kept up a running commentary in my head about how unfamiliar everything was (again, on the drive I make SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK) and still didn’t realize I was going the wrong way.

So, we turn around, get back on track, and I start calculating how much time we’ve lost.  I figure that we just took out another 30 minutes away from our extra time.  No problem, we still have extra time (I learned my Liberty Tree lesson well).  By the time we get on to Disney World property, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.  I’m trying to figure out how to use all the extra time we have when we get to DHS early.  I know I want to get Malcolm an autograph book, so I decide we’ll stroll around the shops and cool off before heading to the restaurant.

We pull up to the gate at the parking lot where I’m supposed to show my Annual Pass for parking, I open my wallet…and my pass isn’t there.  I can’t believe it…I can so vividly remember taking it out of my pocket and putting it away after our last visit to WDW…or maybe I’m remembering the time before?  Hmmm.  A quick search of my bag is all it takes for me to realize I have lost my pass.

I find this disturbing for two reasons.  The first is that I am super paranoid about losing important things like tickets and ID’s.  Every time I take a trip, I will check my wallet every 2 minutes all the way to the airport because I am convinced that my ID wants nothing more than to climb out of my purse and run away.  Because of this idiosyncrasy I can’t believe that I am losing something as important as an annual pass.  However, the second reason I am so disturbed?  I just did this same thing 2 weeks ago.  Yeah.  I have now lost my AP twice in less than a month.  I have seriously lost my mind.

I explain to the parking attendant my problem, and he (very nicely) lets me in without paying (you get free parking with an AP).  I have done this before, so I know that I just need to go pay a visit to the ticket booth.  We park (very far away, of course, it always works out that way for me when I have plans) and head in to DHS.  There is no line at any of the windows, so we walk right up.  I hand the ticket cast member my ID, tell her I lost my AP, and apologize for being a moron.  The CM was actually very sweet and made me feel much better about my forgetfulness.  She told me that people lose AP’s more than anyone probably realizes and they replace them all the time, often for the same people over and over.  I also found out that it is always free to get your pass replaced, even if you need it done everyday.  Sadly, the reason that put me at ease is the fact that I’m sure, in the next 8 weeks, I will lose my pass at least once more.

By this point, I have used up all the extra time I had scheduled.  I had planned to check in at Hollywood & Vine at 1:30 (for our 1:45 ADR time).  We checked in at exactly 1:45.  Although, I wasn’t getting to check in early like I’d wanted, and I hadn’t had time to stop to buy an autograph book, I was really proud of myself for managing to get through several unexpected events and still make it on time and without crying!

We only waited about 5 minutes before we were seated.  H&V wasn’t crowded at all, and they were even taking walk-ups.  I was glad it wasn’t crowded, because I had heard that the noise in the dining room can get unbearable, and now I know why.  The restaurant is set up in a 50’s diner meets cafeteria theme, and everything is linoleum and metal and other materials that allow sound to bounce around and amplify without ever escaping.  Although, this is horrible acoustics-wise, it is kind of a neat theme.  They also have Hollywood inspired murals painted on the walls, and old black and white photos of Hollywood landmarks and old-time celebrities.  We were seated at a table in a back corner that I thought would hinder our experience with the characters; however, I eventually learned that actually the opposite was true.

Our waiter, Mike, came by and took our drink order, and I learned something that made me super happy.  I thought that since I wasn’t paying for Malcolm to eat (at buffet’s, children under 3 are free), either he wouldn’t get a drink, or I would have to pay extra for it.  That’s not true!  He gets to drink for free too!  I realize now that probably should have been obvious, but I was really excited and made sure he got plenty of apple juice and even took some to go when we left.  When I got my iced tea, I drank the whole thing almost instantly, and it took a while for me to get a refill.  I totally thought that meant I was going to be miserable with an empty glass all through lunch, but Mike was a very fast learner and began bringing me 2 more glasses of tea every time he came by the table to check on us (which I thought totally earned him his 20% TiW automated tip).

Before I get into talking about the buffet and the food, I want to say that I have an especially high “buffet tolerance.”  I know many people can’t stand buffet’s and consider the food nearly inedible.  However, I love buffets.  I think they are awesome and tasty and fantastic.  All of them…Golden Corral, Hometown Buffet, Luby’s…basically, anywhere that your grandma goes for dinner at 4pm, I LOVE!!

When I first saw the Hollywood & Vine buffet, I was impressed with the selection.  They had salads, sandwiches, fruits, vegetables, pastas, several chicken dishes, beef dishes, rice, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, rolls, a dessert bar…lots of options.  As I got closer and actually began to put food on my plate, I noticed that it was all very beige.  The food seemed to almost all be the same color, and the food that was colorful looked wilted, sad, and unappetizing.  I put a little bit of several options on my plate (as well as a big scoop of mac and cheese and some chicken nuggets for Malcolm), and figured I would try a little of everything.

Sadly, the food tasted worse than it looked.  Everything was horribly over-salted (and I really like a lot of salt usually), the meats were dry, the sandwiches were soggy, and the fruit was over-ripe.  Malcolm wouldn’t even eat the macaroni and cheese (and he will ALWAYS eat mac and cheese).

There were a few edible things.  The baked chicken that they had on the children’s buffet was quite tasty, as well as a rice dish that they served that had white and brown rice, and little bits of carrot, celery, and other goodies mixed in.  Beyond that, we filled up on corn and rolls.  The dessert wasn’t too bad either.  The cookies, chocolate mousse, and strawberry shortcake were still just average though, and really, you can’t mess up soft serve.

I didn’t like the fact that I was spending so much money on bad food, and really hoped that the character interaction would be better.  Having never done character dining before, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I found out in advance that the characters circulate around the dining room visiting tables while people eat.  This sounded alright, but I had this horrible fear that every time a character came up I would have just taken a giant bite of food and my mouth would be full and I wouldn’t be able to talk and it would be super awkward.

The first character that came to visit us was Jojo (from Jojo’s Circus).  Apparently, characters aware of people’s fears about having a mouth full of food, because Jojo walked fairly slowly to our table, and made it very clear that she was coming over for a visit.  I had ample time to swallow, take a drink of tea, and prepare my camera.  She came and sat down at one of our empty chairs, Malcolm glanced at her, and then went back to playing with his dried out chicken nuggets.  He did not think that she was interesting at all.  Jojo could obviously tell that Malcolm was uninterested, and after just a couple of quick pictures she left.  When she came back around subsequent times, she always just stopped briefly, waved, and then moved on.  I was really impressed with the way she didn’t try to log a certain length of time at our table, but took Malcolm’s feelings into account and adjusted her time with us accordingly.  If she had tried to force herself on us, it would have just been uncomfortable for everyone, and her time was better used elsewhere.

The next character to visit us, Leo (from the Little Einstein’s), did the same thing, but in the opposite way.  Malcolm adored Leo!  He grabbed his nose and tried to take off his glasses and laughed at everything he did.  Therefore, Leo spent extra time at our table tickling Malcolm and playing peek-a-boo, and even seemed to come by when it wasn’t our turn in the rotation.  This is when I became really appreciative of our out-of-the-way table.  When Leo came to see us, it was almost like a private meeting.  We couldn’t see most of the restaurant, and there weren’t children from other tables yelling and tugging at Leo while he was with us like we witnessed happening at other tables.  Being sort of cut off from everything really enhanced our one-on-one time with the characters, which I loved.  I was also really glad that Malcolm was so happy playing with Leo.  I would have been really irritated if, not only was the food crap, but Malcolm hated the characters.

The next character to visit us was June (also from the Little Einsteins).  While Malcolm thought she was neat, he didn’t think she was nearly as cool as Leo (and somehow, I took no pictures of her).  While she was with us a child from another table approached her and tried to get her attention.  Once again, I was super impressed with the character’s non-verbal communication skills.  She just briefly turned to the boy and put up a finger indicating that she would be with him in a moment, and then went back to focusing on us.  Sure, it was a simple gesture, but it was clear and effective without being rude (either to us, or the little boy).

The final character who came to visit us was Handy Manny.  I have no idea what Malcolm thought about Handy Manny when he approached the table, I guess he liked him fine, I honestly wasn’t paying too much to what Malcolm was doing at this point.  Okay, major mommy confession time: I have a HUGE crush on Handy Manny.  I mean, come one, he’s bilingual, he can fix things, he’s popular, he’s sweet to old people…he’s my perfect man.  Like, I literally have naughty thoughts about Handy Manny (that’s what happens when you are a stay-at-home-mom who spends too much time watching cartoons).  So, Handy Manny came by, and I split my time taking pictures of him and Malcolm with trying to get his attention myself.  Shameful?  Probably.  But if I’m going to pay a bunch of money for a disgusting meal, I’m for damn sure going to flirt shamelessly with sexy Latino cartoon characters.  That’s just how it is.

I also want to give a little shout-out to the character attendants.  They never really seemed to be too visible when we were actually with the characters, but I know they were always around.  Also, different attendants came by several times to ensure that we had seen everyone and were pleased with the amount of time we got.  I realize that maybe when it’s crowded you may not see the same characters 3 or 4 times like we did, but I honestly would have settled for once each (well, except for Handy Manny of course).  The extra times were just a fun bonus.

In between visiting tables, every 15 minutes or so the characters, along with some other singing, dancing cast members, sang songs and did little routines from our favorite Playhouse Disney cartoons.  They also invited the kids to join in the fun and had conga lines and did all kinds of cool interactive things.  Overall, I really enjoyed all of the character interaction and activities at H&V.  I also liked the decor, and the themeing.  It was just really unfortunate that the food was so terrible.

I have to admit, I’m now a little nervous about future character dining meals.  I’m hoping that Disney doesn’t think that food quality doesn’t matter when you dine with characters, and that this was just one bad restaurant (or maybe even just one bad day).  Either way, I’m going to do them all anyway, so we’ll see how it goes.

My next meal is on Monday morning at Kona Cafe, and I know there will be some special friends along for this one!  I can’t wait…I’ve been dying to try Tonga Toast!

If anyone else wants to join me for a meal sometime, I always love hanging out with new people.  Feel free to email me (scarlettashley1@yahoo.com), contact me on twitter @scarlettashley1, friend me on Facebook under the name Scarlett Ashley, or you can comment on the blog.

 

Pal Mickey, Paintbrushes, and a Penny Prose Surprise: The Plaza Restaurant (Lunch) July 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 3:52 pm

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!

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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.

 

Still Recovering From the Sugar Shock: Goofy’s Candy Co. (Downtown Disney) July 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 10:52 pm

I would like to start by saying that I am fully aware that Goofy’s Candy Co. is not a restaurant.  However, there are times in life when you encounter something so epic that it can’t be ignored.

In the 10 months or so that I have lived in Florida, I have visited Downtown Disney (DTD) several times, often for an entire day.  It’s a great place to go with kids, there are many, many things for kids to do (and grown ups actually, but we usually do the kid things).  However, in all my time there, I never noticed Goofy’s Candy Co. (GCC).  It’s kind of tucked in the back corner, at the very end of the Marketplace section of DTD, and unless you were going to the Rainforest Cafe, or looking for it specifically, you probably wouldn’t ever notice it either.

Lucky for me, the Food Network show “Unwrapped” did a Disney World episode and featured GCC.  As soon as I saw it on the show, I was DYING to go.  It looked so magical and delicious and perfect.  I had to go.  So, I planned a trip for my first available day.  There was a week or so in between when I saw GCC on Unwrapped and when I actually visited.  Every day of that week, I imagined what it would be like.  I imagined the tastes and the smells, I created this whole fantasy in my head of what it would be like.  It got to the point that I was almost afraid to go.  What if it didn’t live up to my (now hugely inflated) expectations?  What if the candy was stale?  What if Unwrapped was outdated and all of the things I thought looked awesome were gone?  What if I hated the whole store?  Oh well, it was too late now, I had to go check it out.

From the second I walked in the door, I knew I would not be disappointed.

I can so vividly remember that first moment when I walked in the door.  I pulled the door open, and was then kind of hunched over, struggling to maneuver the stroller in the door.  I finally got us in, and then stood up straight…and froze.  The lights, the colors, the music, the smells, the rows of candy, the shelves of cookies, the wall of frozen concoctions…it was all too much.  I felt like every one of my senses was being bombarded with delight and happiness.  It was so overwhelmingly beautiful.  A cast member greeted me and asked me if I was alright, and I just stared at her.  I had no words.  I finally managed to respond with, “I’m just so happy to be here!”  I’m totally sure that cast member thought I was totally crazy.  I’m also totally sure that I don’t care.

First, the sights.  Everything is so colorful.  But not even just colorful…it’s like being inside a vibrant, cartoonish, rainbow land.  The walls, the displays, the candy, everything is so bright and fantastic.  It’s honestly beautiful.  It’s like a delightful, glittery, Andy Warhol color splash world.  I’m pretty sure that makes no sense…but words just can’t describe how gorgeous I thought everything was.

Next, the sounds.  The music was so fun.  It was all so totally themed.  They played “Candy Girl,” “Sugar,” “C is for Cookie,” and many other sweet themed songs.  It was such a simple touch, but just hearing all the fun, upbeat music about candy and other treats really made a difference.

Then, the smells.  It was like every happy, warm, delicious smell ever, combined.  I could smell coffee and chocolate and baking.  I guess it actually smelled quite similar to other stores that make their own treats, but when combined with all the other elements, I felt like it smelled better.  Like the color and music amplified my perception of the smells and made them seem better than anything else I had ever smelled.

Finally, the taste.  Well, you’re going to have to wait a bit for a description of the taste.

Let me tell you more about the shop.  Everywhere you look, there are amazing details.  There is a funhouse mirror, the store’s logo made out of jelly beans, a frozen goofy statue, mock candy-making machines (and real ones), and lots of other signs and displays to liven everything up.  Everywhere you look there is something delicious and fun.  It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory come to life (on a small scale of course).  I kind of kept expecting Oompa Loompas to appear, sing me a song about the dangers of gestational diabetes and cart me off to a room where I would be forced to eat several pounds of raw spinach.  It was like being in a story, it was just so charming.

Then, there are the actual treats.  First, there are Goofy’s Glaciers.  These are GCC’s version of your typical Icee or Slurpee or whatever.  But, there were many flavors (10 I think) that you are encouraged to mix and match in your cup.  I didn’t shell out the 9 dollars for the keepsake cup (and totally wasn’t going to get the 4 dollar throw-away cup when there was a keepsake cup available!), but, I greatly look forward to getting one another day.  See, it was raining the day I went, but, if it had been hot and sunny, I totally would have gotten one.  I think it needs to be a super hot day to do a frozen drink proper justice.  Anyway, next were the bins (and bins and bins and more bins) of bulk candy.  I love bulk candy, and again, I know I will return to get some at GCC, however, there was really only one candy I was interested in that day (don’t worry, we’ll get there soon).  There was of course also a huge selection of Disney pre-packaged candy.  Pretty much the same candy you see in the parks, although, GCC has a particularly impressive selection.  They have the suckers, the cotton candy, the cookies, the hot chocolate, the coffee, the chocolates…every packaged goody you have ever seen anywhere in Disney is probably available at GCC.

Finally, there in the middle of the main part of the store, was what I came for.  It was the counter where you can create your own treat.  You pick a base, like a crisped rice treat, marshmallows, apple, etc. then pick a chocolate dip, then pick a topping, like sprinkles, cookie bits, chocolate chips etc., and they create it for you, right there in front of you!!  This was honestly why I came.  I was so excited to design my own treat.  I grabbed my order form and pencil, and took it and hid in a corner, so that I could focus completely on my task without being distracted.  I spent several minutes going over my options.  They combinations danced in my head like an alluring cavity parade.  In the end, I decided to go with a pretty major chocolate overload.  I decided to go with a marshmallow base (mostly because it had the highest sugar content), dipped in milk chocolate, rolled in white and dark chocolate chips, then drizzled with white chocolate.  As soon as I turned in my form, and was told it would be 10-15 minutes, I became an impatient, antsy, 4 year old.

I did my best to distract myself.  I spent several minutes looking at the giant crisped rice treats decorated to look like Mickey and Minnie, and several hours looking in the glass case of fudge, dipped apples, cupcakes, and cookies.  I spent days watching the cast member actually make my yummy dipped marshmellow (the stick they used for it by the way, was actually a Mickey shaped swirly straw, which was a really great detail), and then spent several years just walking around checking out what the other CM’s were doing.  I watched a guy with a small mallet hammer sticks into apples for dipping (seriously, I thought they had a way more sophisticated way of doing that), I watched a girl make coffee drinks at the espresso bar, and another restocking bags of candy.  I think I waited for at least 15 years for my treat to be ready.  I know my watch said it had actually only been 15 minutes…but I think it was lying.  It took forever.  Finally, they called my name.

Once I had my marshmellow in my hand though, I couldn’t eat it.  It was too precious.  I couldn’t just take it out of it’s pristine, crisp, white bag and eat it in front of all these strangers in the store.  I needed to partake in private.  It was a sacred moment for me

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, and I didn’t want any witnesses.  I went and paid (it was only $2.28, which I thought was very reasonable, especially for Disney), and rushed home.

Now…for the taste.  Oh man…it was…perfect.  It was pure, decadent, chocolatey, perfection.  It was everything I wanted it to be…everything I had hoped for.  It was so blissful, I almost couldn’t finish it…don’t get me wrong, I TOTALLY finished it…but it was like staring into the sun for my taste buds…it was so powerful, I almost couldn’t take it.

There is no way that I can do any justice to my experience at Goofy’s Candy Co.  You just need to go and check it out for yourself.  Even if you aren’t a sweets person, you just have to go check out the shop.  It’s a very well themed experience, that everyone should enjoy.  I can’t say enough good things.  Go there.  Seriously.

Today I had another fun dining experience.  I went to the Plaza Restaurant at Magic Kingdom with my friend Shane.  Look for that post tomorrow!